Thought for the Day: January 1, 2009
Every day we condition ourselves to think the way we do. The accumulation of
the tendencies to think in a given way are called vasanas in Sanskrit. Vasanas are
the freight train of our karmic propensities, a train that is loaded with our entire
past and not easily diverted. The ego often underestimates the vasana's powerful
momentum, and makes grand vows or resolutions; especially during the New
Year. This year is no doubt different, and many whose last years resolutions has
become dust are again making new ones.
Buddhism teaches that it is better not to make a vow than to make one that one
cannot keep. When we carelessly make vows, underestimating our ability to follow
through, we act unwisely. Vows broken simply create the vasana of breaking vows
and our will power is diminished with each broken vow. Of course, the opposite is
also true; vows kept strengthens our will power and creates the vasana of powerful
I remember a women who wished to take the five basic Buddhist precepts of a lay
person: No lying, no killing, no stealing, no taking intoxicants, and no sexual
misconduct. She was a new disciple of my teacher and was very sincere. She
wasn't sure she could keep the precept against sexual misconduct, however, and
requested my teacher allow her to take only four of the five precepts. My teacher
assented, and she made only four vows. Her decision proved very wise, as she had
more energy to concentrate and perfect the four she took, without the burden of
the one she thought she couldn't keep. Some years later she took the vow against
sexual misconduct. This all happened about thirty five years ago. I hadn't seen
her for most of those years, but a few years ago I did, and found out that she had
married, raised a family, and spent her free time serving my teacher.
If she hadn't recognized her limitations, all this could have easily gone the other
way. She could have taken the vow that she had doubts about, failed to keep it,
and given up entirely. Failure creates the conditions for failure, success the
conditions for success.
It can be seen that making vows requires serious consideration. Whether it is a
broad reaching vow, as described above, or a personal vow having to do with
one's own situation, we should be keenly aware of our own limitations and avoid
making grand vows that go nowhere. Vows should push us to our limit, but not
I have made many vows that I kept and one grand vow that I failed miserably to
keep. I vowed to sleep sitting up and kept it from the day I made it for over ten
years, I vowed not to eat for over a month twice and once for over two months and
kept them, I vowed not to physically touch money and kept it for over ten years. I
vowed not to engage in idle talk and kept it over ten years, etc. I kept a vow to
eat once a day and kept it for well over fifteen years. I vowed to go into seclusion
for life and broke it after only a few months (big ego, lack of careful consideration.)
Vows should be aimed at simplifying one's life so that one can remain more
focused on what is important. They should be aimed at bad habits and
unprofitable behaviour. They should be realistic within one's ability.
They should be carefully reflected upon. If we make vows and are able to keep
them, we can gradually make more difficult and deeper vows that cover a wider
Today is New Years Day, and I wish you all a very happy, prosperous, and
healthy coming year. May all your wishes be wise ones and fullfiled.
Thought for the Day: January 3, 2009
Excitement and laxity are two main obstacles to meditation. Too much
excitement and we can barely sit still, too much laxity and we can barely sit
straight. Finding a middle ground between laxity and excitement is essential.
An excited mind can be calmed with such practices as watching the breath,
being mindful of the inhalations and exhalations. This can be done at the
beginning of meditation practice, or later in the session. Laxity or dullness,
requires a different approach. We may try to uplift our mind through
contemplation of the reasons for practicing meditation, the consequences of not
practicing the dharma, and the importance and value of a favorable rebirth as a
human being. If dullness still cannot be shaken, standing up is an option.
Being scattered or in a torpor is a waste of time and cannot be regarded as
meditation. A mind constantly on the move from thought to thought, or sinking
into oblivion, cannot be productive. But, these are nevertheless the most
common obstruction shared by all, especially those newly setting forth on the
path. Recognizing these states and applying the proper anecdote is essential.
The Vissudhimagga, "Path of Purification" is an excellent reference work
containing valuable instructions for dealing with laxity and excitement and
other obstructions, as well.
Thought for the Day: January 4, 2009
Since Buddhism arrived in the West, a pressing question for many Christians
attracted to Buddhism has been how to reconcile it with their Christian faith.
From a Buddhist perspective, there is no reason to give up one's Christian faith
to practice Buddhism. However, most Christians have a "my way or the
highway" attitude. I say "most" because there are many Christians, even
monks, who have made a thorough study of Buddhism and practice Buddhist
The Buddha never claimed to be a saviour; in fact just the opposite. he
expicitly said that salvation or enlightenment was the sole resonsibility of the
individual. While Christ seems to say just the opposite; that no man enters the
kingdom of heaven but by him, what he meant by this is subject to
interpretation. But, even if we take Christ's words literally, it does not prohibit
the study of Buddhism, because the Buddha never claimed to be a saviour.
There is no saviour competition here. In a sense we could imagine the Buddha
saying, "I have some ideas that might make you a better Christian, a more
virtuous Christian, a happier, wiser, and more enlightened Christian, please
follow them and Godspeed."
A saviour is not a concept a Buddhist relies on; so naturally a Christian who
studies Buddhist doctrine and meditation techniques, will eventually have to
either step fully into the Buddhist boat or interpret Christ's meaning in a new
way. But, this juncture is very far away for most of us. When we become so
advanced in our understanding and personal development to arrive at the stage
where such a decision is critical, it is likely we will have wisdom commensurate
with the task. Until that time, why fret about such things?
Thought for the Day: January 5, 2009
Some people ask, "If there is no "Self" as the Buddha taught, who reaps
rewards and punishment, is subject to rebirth and death, experiences pain and
sorrow?" Before answering this, let us remember that the "Self" of the "No
Self" doctrine refers to an eternal soul or atman; an intrinsically existing,
eternal, unchanging entity, that is supposed to be the core of who we are. If
such a Self did exist, Buddhism teaches that it would be impossible for it to
reap rewards and punishment, liberation or damnation,experience pain or
sorrow, etc, because an eternal entity cannot be subject to change. So who, or
what reaps the results of karma?
The simple answer is that an "imagined" self reaps the fruit of karma. This
imagined self in the form of "I" reaps imagined karma that will seem very real
as long as the notion of "I" persists.
Thought for the Day: January 7, 2009
A good deal of philosophical discussion revolves around what makes up our
world. One camp says that all the big stuff is composed of small stuff, really
small stuff, so small that you can't even know it. The Buddhist reject this as an
assumption; for if it is unknowable, it must be an assumption. The problem
with the assumption is that it forces the holder to declare other things about the
unknowable assumption, such as the infinitesimal particle is eternal,
unchanging, and indestructible. Again, the Buddhist reject all this saying that
if such were the case, change would be impossible, for a bunch of forever
unchanging small stuff, would create a bunch of static big stuff. The Buddhist
position is that no small stuff can stand alone, that they are dependent on other
small stuff, which makes all the small stuff constantly vulnerable to change,
and the world reflects this.
Some mystics might claim that they have "seen" the small stuff in samadhi,
and thus know it through direct knowledge and therefore it is not an
assumption. But, this too is rejected on the grounds that the qualities ascribed
to the small stuff, eternal, unchanging, independent reality, would be
unknowable by any means, for if it were known it could not have the qualities
ascribed to it. In other words, something that is wholly independent is by
Buddhism avoids all this by taking the position that there is no small
independent small stuff, that everything is dependent on other factors, and
because such is the case, things are empty. Empty in the sense of not being
their own thing, unaffected by everything else.
Thought for the Day: January 8, 2009
Monks and nuns are not exempt from feelings of sexual desire; they just learn
how to deal with it better than lay people. They learn how to sublimate it and
calm it through contemplation, meditation, and breath. Although it requires a
tremendous effort, proper training directs this energy up rather than down. But
this is not just for monks and nuns. Householders too, can gain a good deal
from the disciplines that monks and nuns practice. If this is done, while it may
not lead to a celibate lifestyle, nor is that the aim, it will definitely lead to more
balance and depth in the relationship of couples, as all the factors of the
relationship become more even.
click here to read interview withe HH Dali Lama that includes his views
Thought for the Day: January 9, 2009
Thought for the Day: January 10, 2009
Buddhism does not for a moment deny the world we all perceive; but it does tell
us that we perceive it mistakenly. If through the practice of Buddhism, we can
gain insight into how, in what sense, we are mistakenly seeing the world, we
will see it clearly, without any further thoughts of existence or non-existence,
birth and death, self, or other.
Realization is not something coming from outside; but realizing what is already
inside. When the Buddha was asked by a simple farmer, "What is the difference
between you and I?" he didn't reply that he was the Buddha and the farmer
was a farmer. He simply said: "I have realized that I am the Buddha, but you
haven't realized that your are." The implication is obvious; the Buddha saw
things rightly, the way things are; and the farmer saw things mistakenly. It is
only a difference of perception that separated the two, and not a fundamental
Thought for the Day: January 12, 2009
A prominent Buddhist scholar, Paul Williams, some years ago made a rather
surprising switch to Christianity (link.) The reason for his switch was simply
that he found more satisfactory answers to his questions in Christianity,
particularly Catholicism. It may well be that Catholicism is a better path for
Mr. William's stage of development; for although he is a globally recognized
Buddhist scholar, he may never have been a true Buddhist partitioner.
Gaining knowledge of Buddhism has little more to do with Buddhism than
gaining knowledge of chemistry, physics, language arts, or anything else. It is
how that knowledge is applied that makes a Buddhist. Practice is the most
important aspect. Buddhism must be taken into one's heart and its disciplines
embodied in one's life. Unlike other studies, it is the study of being and how to
be, and this must be made very subjective; always aiming the shaft at oneself.
Drawing close to good teachers, is also essential, as they help us see where we
need to work and give us the encouragement to accomplish the Way.
Scholars often gain great knowledge of all the philosophical subtleties of
Buddhism; without regarding the cultivation of merit and virtue as equally
important. Thus they are lopsided; able to expound lofty principles, but unable
to live them. Both Catholicism and Buddhism offer more than most of us need
for spiritual growth; feeling a need to switch one's faith is more likely a fault of
our own than a fault of our faith.
Thought for the Day: January 14, 2009
If our mind frequently becomes crowded with things to do, it is because our
life is not simple. If we set out to do one thing and are reminded of ten other
things we have to do, we are a guest in our own lives. This way of being is not
conducive to the meditative lifestyle. The Zen saying, "When washing dishes,
just wash dishes, when sweeping the floor, just sweep the floor," is urging us
to be single minded in our actions, because this supports single mindedness in
meditation. If we are sweeping the floor and a thousand other things we "have
to do" suddenly crowd our mind, it is a sign that our life is too busy.
Everyday we engage in many activities to fulfill the responsibilities of our lives.
Each activity provides an opportunity to practice singleness of purpose, a form of
active meditation wherein we make the effort to remain undistracted by
thoughts of other tasks by anchoring our focus on what we are doing
exclusively. If, despite our efforts, other tasks persistently creep into our mind,
crowding it with other stuff to do, it is a sign that we must contemplate how to
simplify our lives.
Thought for the Day: January 15, 2009
Treasure yourself; all dharma practice begins there. Being born in the human
form is like coming into this world with a vast amount of wealth. We are all
the Buddha's trust fund babies; and if we blow this opportunity we will have
no one to blame but ourselves.
Every day is an opportunity to reflect on our positive qualities and increase
them through reflection and action in deed and thought. It is also an
opportunity to weed out our hindrances and guard against their sprouting
Thought for the Day: January 16, 2009
Thoughts arising during meditation are not friend or foe; but they become so
when their mere arisal is further developed into a chain of thinking. Some
people, knowing this, try to solve the problem by blocking thoughts out all
together; the most common mistake novices make. Instead, however, thoughts
should be allowed to rise and fall freely, ever careful not to attach to or develop
any; but simply be aware of them. Never judge thoughts as good or bad;
thinking some are OK to have while others are not. They are all OK; your
awareness of them makes them so.
Thought for the Day: January 17, 2009
Studying the Buddha dharma is a two stage process: an objective aspect
whereby we ask ourselves, "what does this teaching mean, what is it saying?"
and a subjective aspect whereby we ask ourselves, "What does this teaching
mean to me, what is it saying to me?"
Thought for the Day: January 18, 2009
Contemplation and meditation, two important aspects of Buddhist practice,
are not unique to Buddhism or any other religion, but are in fact as much a
part of being human as eating and sleeping. The Buddha only taught us how
to develop these natural human functions further, so that thereby we are
enabled to gain insight into our obstructions. In other words, he taught us
that we are usually distracted when we try to see things, and gave us the tools
to see without distraction.
Thought for the Day: January 19, 2009
Before trying to correct a mistake, make sure that you understand it; otherwise
you will make it again.
Thought for the Day: January 20, 2009
Thoughts by themselves are very weak; but gathered together they are very
strong. A mantra can be regarded as a lens that gathers all our scattered
thoughts and focuses them. It enables us to see patterns in our thinking that
we may otherwise be unaware of.
People sometimes wonder how to recite a mantra; or if they are pronouncing it
correctly, or not. A mantra can be recited either audibly or silently to oneself,
or on a more subtle level, visualized deep within one's mind stream. One
should learn the mantra first by reciting it with a book or with a group of
people. Once it is understood how to pronounce it, silent meditation on it can
begin. Sometimes we may feel that we may be reciting it incorrectly and this
can disturb our meditation. However, these kind of thoughts should not be
allowed to disturb our meditation session. If the motivation is pure, it will not
effect the power of the recitation. The important thing is to maintain single
minded concentration with a sincere heart. When the meditation session is
over one can clear up doubts about pronunciation, etc.
Although mantras are very effective tools, they have little effect if the mind is
allowed to scatter while reciting them. Conduct must also support the mantra.
If our conduct is poor and we practice mantra recitation we are only deceiving
ourselves. Moreover, if our conduct is not in accord with the dharma, the
mantra will be without life; just a bunch of prattle. The mantra comes to life
when it is supported by right conduct, right aspiration, and discipline. When
the mantra comes to life, it becomes a mirror of our own true mind; and such
concerns about whether or not we are reciting it properly, or understand its
meaning correctly, or if its OK to recite it in English, etc will fall away.
Thought for the Day: January 21, 2009
Mantras are sometimes refereed to as "sacred syllables; but in order for this
definition to be true it should be borne in mind that the intention of the
person reciting the mantra must also be "sacred." Maintaining a pure
intention while reciting a mantra is the only way to unlock it; otherwise it
remains just meaningless babble. Some people expect some magic to happen
when they recite mantras, as if some magic wand is going to erase all
negativity and a wondrous transformation will take place. This view is much
like the view of those who believe that psychedelic drugs have some
transformative power and that by taking these drugs one becomes
superconscious. We have many modern examples disproving this theory.
When we begin a mantra practice the words may seem like dead echoes in
our mind because we have yet to realize how to unite our mind with the
mantra. This is because we have many background thoughts and our mind is
busy conceptualizing while we are reciting the mantra. This is normal at the
beginning; but if it persists we have to contemplate why. Keep in mind that
the aim is to single mindedly recite the mantra; if we are scattered, the mantra
will have little effect. It is foolish to expect the mantra to do the work for you.
It may reveal where the work has to be done; but you have to do it.
Thought for the Day: January 22, 2009
Some time ago I heard a Tibetan translator suggest that to truly understand
the dharma one should study the Tibetan language, because most of the
Buddhist texts were in that language. While this may be useful if one were
going to Tibet, it is certainly not necessary for study or practice of the
dharma. The aim of the teachings is the same whether it is spoken or written
in English or Tibetan or any other language. One needn't study a guide book
to France in French.
Neither the obstructions of greed, hate and ignorance, nor the qualities of
love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, arise in a single language. The path
leading to the abandonment of fetters, or the development of wholesome
qualities is beyond language. While words point out the path, they shouldn't
be confused with it. We should be thankful that we have the advantage of
many Buddhist teachings from all over the world translated into many
languages by scholars and practitioners who have made them available to us.
More has been offered than most of us will ever be able to read or practice.
Unless we have academic interest in joining the noble work of these
translators, for the sake of practice alone it should be regarded as unnecessary
to study the language of original texts.
Thought for the Day: January 23, 2009
We all seek happiness, genuine happiness that does not fade. This is a goal
shared by all of us. We are guided in our search by the five senses and a
conceptualizing mind that desires to possess people and things, attain
recognition from others, wealth, etc. This is our ego mind at work and it acts
as a lens that misguides us in our search, leading us to struggle in the world
of things, relationships and circumstances. This struggle has no end, because
the happiness attained is ever fading, spurring us on to new searches, and
thus the world turns and us with it.
One of the central teachings of Buddhism is that all searches for happiness
should be selfless. He taught us to go against the flow of our desires and
begin to think about the happiness of others, placing others before oneself.
Many dharma practitioners do this through generating bodhicitta, the mind of
enlightenment (for the benefit of all sentient beings) in their daily prayers
and meditation, while others are actively doing this practice in their
workplace and ordinary activities. Whichever method we choose to make
dominant, we should of course do both. The important thing is to break
away from the idea of “I” as an individual, separate from all other
individuals, and to realize the “I” that is truly concerned for the welfare of
others. As this sense of “I” emerges, we will begin to realize true happiness.
Thought for the Day: January 24, 2009
Contentment is a virtue that often slips into complacency which it is not. As
a Buddhist monk for ten years I had the advantage of the guidance of a
enlightened master who would not allow complacency to slip into my
practice. Now he has passed away and I have to guard myself against it;
which can be a difficult task.
When we first set out on the path of the dharma we all have a considerable
difficulty establishing a routine and sticking to it. If we are persistent
however, we will succeed, and look forward everyday to our devotional
activities. These will vary according to the path chosen, but share a similar
goal of cutting off attachment and mistaken views.
Whatever our practice may be, it needs to be constantly renewed, or
complacency will surely creep in. This complacency is called attaching to the
form of the practice. A good teacher will constantly keep his disciples off
balance and not allow this to happen. The challenge of meditation will seem
as formidable after years of practice as it did at the beginning.
Those of us who do not study with a teacher or are not in day to day contact
with one, must make it our own responsibility to prevent complacency from
creeping in. We do this by constantly examining our attitude and view
towards our practice and make the paramita vigor, foremost. No matter how
long we have practiced, it requires vigor to practice correctly. If we are not
vigorous, we will penetrate a little way, and get stuck there, complacent with
our achievement. Meditation, whether on the cushion or active life, should
always be alive, engaging and challenging.
Thought for the Day: January 25, 2009
There is no “out there” in Buddhism. There are no gods or heavens that are
completely separate from our ordinary world, that we will earn our entrance
to through leading an exemplary life. For the Buddhist, “out there” will
always remain “out there” for as long as that assumption persists. The
Buddhist starts with the assumption “here” rather than “out there” and
“here” always remains "here" until it is realized. For the Buddhist aspiring
towards enlightenment, the thought that he is seeing his enlightened nature
every moment, and yet failing to recognize it, is a rather maddening
experience, one that spurs him on.
Thought for the Day: January 26, 2009
The Buddhist teaching of "no self" is a teaching of the highest order of
Buddhist philosophy. Paradoxically, in order to achieve the aim of this
teaching, the view and realization of "no self, a strong sense of self must be
developed. Without confidence in oneself, personal integrity, self respect,
and strong motivation, it will be almost impossible to practice the teachings.
The same is true of desire. While ultimately a desireless state is taught to be
a higher form of consciousness than one that is bound up in desires; the
Buddha taught that desires should be transformed rather than cut off. In
other words, desire should be used to untangle the knot of desire. The
Buddha taught that desires, such as the aspiration to benefit all sentient
beings, desire to give assistance to others, desire to practice the dharma,
serve one's teacher, and free oneself and others from suffering, many such
desires, are desires that liberate.
Although from the ultimate perspective there may be no self and no desire,
few of us have attained that level. Because we are bound up with a sense of
self that is governed by desire, if we wish to attain enlightenment we must
learn to work with what we got. All of us have good desires and wholesome
views of self that we can deepen and nurture. We also have desires and views
of self that would serve us well to abandon. This being the case, opportunity
exists within each of us. It only requires a little common sense and the effort
to discriminate between that which entangles and that which liberates.
Thought for the Day: January 27, 2009
The Buddha taught that if we know an entire sutra, teach that, if we know
a chapter, teach that, if we know a page, teach that, if we know a
paragraph, teach that, if we only know a line, teach that.
We should teach what we know by word and example. When teaching
others, Buddhists are in general instructed to only teach if asked; they
never should prostesize/evangelize.
When teaching others, never hold them to your own standard; but rather
hold them to their own standard. This requires that we carefully assess the
goals of our student and more importantly his commitment and ability.
Within the context of his own paradigm should we guide him.