Thought for the Day: June 1, 2010
Setting a time for meditation and an amount of time is important to give structure to our practice; but
we must never be too rigid in its application. When we sit down to meditate our goal is to meditate, not
to pass time. There is nothing wrong with cutting a session short if we feel we are running into endless
walls, despite our effort, or lengthening a session to take full advantage of a positive flow. The awareness
that allows us to know when to exert more energy and when to withdraw must be cultivated. Some
sessions may be difficult in a good way, while others are needlessly difficult, and it is important to know
possess the characteristics of meditation outlined in the sutras and that we are not simply being
entertained by our imagination.
* * *
Thought for the Day: June 2, 2010
My teacher often told his students, "try your best." And yet the path of Chan and much of Tibetan
Buddhism emphasizes the "effortless" path. So what gives? On the one hand we are advised to exert
ourselves, and on the other that the path is "effortless." The key to understanding this is to understand
that meditation is all about equilibrium and balance, and not the use of force. If we exert ourselves to
push aside our obstructions and disturbing thoughts, we are treating those obstructions and disturbing
approach would be to try to understand that the same "energy" that causes disturbances also causes
enlightenment. When disturbances arise in meditation, instead of trying to "get rid" of the problem, we
should make use of it by hijacking the energy of the disturbance and using it for our meditation. This is
what is meant by "turning a thought around." Martial artists are very familiar with this. You will find
that they seldom work against an opponent, but rather redirect the opponents energy, leading the
opponent to defeat himself.
While developing skill in meditation requires effort, it is of a very subtle kind that most of us are not
familiar with. In trying to understand this, it is helpful to bear in mind that we are not trying to do
meditation, but rather allow it to happen. It is by allowing disturbances to arise that we learn how to rob
them of their potency and thereby empower our meditation.
* * *
Thought for the Day: June 3, 2010
As we gain skill in meditation we find it becomes more and more "interesting" and yet seemingly without
anything identifiable that we are "interested" in. It is the nature of the mind to be attracted to itself and
as we come to realize this we become absorbed in meditation; then not even the meditation topic exists.
As we become increasingly absorbed in meditation we should notice that we are also getting absorbed in
our meditative experience as genuine, for if the "interest" we feel in meditation wanes when we are doing
our ordinary activities, it is an indication that our meditative "absorption" isn't quite what we think it is.
Our ordinary mind and activities are the gauges by which we should measure our meditative progress.
This is the most reliable way. It will keep us humble and inspire us to work hard in our practice while
maintaining realistic assessment of our progress and our near term goals.
* * *
Thought for the Day: June 4, 2010
What is the proper diet for a Buddhist practitioner? The most simple answer to this question is less food,
plain food, and that food should be eaten with gratitude and mindfulness. The Buddha did not promote
any special diets as to what foods to eat. The primary obstruction that we all face regarding food is greed
for it, and it matters little if that greed is for a turkey burger of a tofu burger. Simple, plain tasting food,
not only cuts off greed, but it also allows us to use our intellect rather than our appetite to select what is
the food is plain. Eating with a focused mind, either reciting mantras or contemplating the five
contemplations (the amount of work that goes into growing, distributing transporting food, that food is
medicine, whether one's practice deserves it, etc.,) aids digestion and prevents us being entertained by the
If in addition to the above we are vegetarian or vegan, even better; but these are really secondary
practices and should be viewed as such. Vegetarians and vegans face the same obstructions as those who
are not, and are often placed at a disadvantage because they often don't recognize this fact. The sense of
inherent sanctity of the vegetarian diet is really a terrible infection that often leads them to fail to
recognize the additional work they need to do.
* * *
Everything that is born dies; we all know this; but in what sense do we know it? We certainly live our is
increasingly treasure every day of our lives as an opportunity to gain merit and generate positive karma
and become more disciplined and less outward seeking.
If we practice the dharma we do not have to wait to die. Long before the body perishes we can "die" to
sign that our practice is maturing is that death becomes an urgent matter and we cannot let a moment go
by wasted; we will realize how precious a human birth is and use it to develop insight, understanding,
and awareness and avoid leaking undisciplined into the world, dissipating our energy and intelligence.
* * *
Thought for the Day: June 6, 2010
Some of us are frightened by the thought that everything is impermanent and that nothing endures. We
would like to think that everything lasts and that there is no death. However, if we consider the matter
more deeply, we cannot escape the conclusion that if things were permanent, then change and exist. It is
because we are impermanent that change is possible, it is because we die, that renewal is possible.
Change and transformation is the nature of existence, from the moment we are born to the moment we
die, and to think that with the birth of our body we came into being, and that we will cease when the
impermanence that we develop the view most conducive to meditative inquiry, free of the two extremes
of existence and annihilation, and understand that there is transformation, but not death.
* * *
Thought for the Day: June 7, 2010
When a child is born there is great celebration and happiness but when that child grows up and ages and
finally dies everyone is wearing a long face and mourning. All the years that fill the span from birth to
death, they too were filled with many occasions for joy and sorrow. Although our underlying substance
is the same, it undergoes various changes throughout life that cause us to feel various kinds of feelings
and emotions, all sandwiched between birth and death, the biggest changes of all. If, throughout our
lives, we always seek to find and identify with the underlying substance of who we are, beyond all joy
and sorrow, we will sail through life even keeled and unmoved by pleasant and unpleasant circumstances,
as we gradually develop the skill to sink into the substance of our being. This is how we prepare for
death and create the conditions for a favorable rebirth.
* * *
monastery in Nepal (a friend and I introduced the fruit to Nepal twenty-five years ago.) Tiny shoots and
instead allow them to grow in their pots, I realized of course that one would grow substantially larger
simply because of the size of the pot it is growing in. This led me to reflect about the importance of
planting the seeds of cultivation of dharma in soil that allows for plenty of growth.
When we begin to practice the dharma we often begin with meditation because we are ignorant of the
teachings and meditation is "popular." This is like planting in a small pot, because there are no
"supporting conditions" for growth. In a monastic environment, however, meditation would be but a
single aspect of a very broad based discipline of study, reflection, meditation, the cultivation of merit
and virtue, etc. This is like planting the seed of practice in a large pot that offers plenty of room for
As lay people we have to take responsibility for our own practice. However, we can gain great benefit
from studying the ways of monastics with an eye towards building a well balanced practice that can
support substantial growth. It is not enough to work hard, we must also work smart. We must create the
"supporting conditions" for our practice, something for our practice to sink its teeth into and give a
sense of engagement. If we don't do this, we may get off to a good start but then reach a point where we
feel as if we are spring our wheels --- and we are. Our pot has no soil for the roots to grow further.
* * *
"offerings to the Buddha and one's teacher" and in this way learn to equalize all actions, whether they be
"devotional" or practical things like doing laundry. The aim is to remove any notion of "mundane" from
dedicate all his activities to the Buddha and his teacher. This causes him to perform all actions with a
sense of dedication and seriousness. No actions are viewed as trivial or unimportant, and there is no
room for laxity.
find the power of the commonplace and look beneath the surface of everything we do. Action is what we
make of it; it can be face value or deep and far reaching. It only depends on how we approach each and
everything that we do. It makes little difference if a diamond is found in a sutra text or toilet, it is still a
* * *
The power and magic of a mantra depends on the effort we put into it. Consider a mantra as a single
powerful thought that we construct to gather in and subdue all the many confused and deluded
thoughts that continually stir in our mind.
A mantra can be likened to a big wave moving towards shore and our thoughts all the ripples on the
surface of the giant sea. As the wave gathers size and strength it smooths out the sea's surface as it
moves across it on its journey towards shore. This can be likened to a mantra that smooths out the
ripples in our mind as it gathers strength through the effort and discipline we put into it.
However, it should be born in mind that the mantra is but an expedient device and once it has completed
its task it can be set aside. This can be likened to the giant wave that breaks once it has arrived at the
shore, leaving a smooth surface behind it. Once the mantra is left aside, and no longer needed, we can
practice the Hua Tou technique, or other more advanced practices, and save the mantra for more
* * *
We will follow upon yesterdays "Thought" and discuss mantra recitation today.
Anyone with a tongue can recite a mantra, but if we expect a response we must "maintain" a mantra and
not merely recite it. "Maintaining" a mantra means nurturing the recitation with good mental qualities
and dedication. If these mental qualities are absent, our recitation will be very ineffective. Good mental
qualities are our undivided attention to the mantra and a mind that is free of disturbing emotions such
as greed, hatred, lust, etc. In addition to these good mental qualities, we must discipline ourselves to
recite our mantra at a fixed time every day and for a fixed amount of time. This dedication is very
important. If we practice everyday our mantra will become like a good friend that is with us through
our joys and sorrows, good times and bad; it is as if the mantra is getting to know us as we get to know
the mantra. And just like a good friend, our mantra will have a way of leveling out our feelings and
helping us remain focused and disciplined through the ups and downs of life. Those who make mantra
recitation their practice tend to remain even and steady throughout good and bad times.
When we maintain a mantra we are like a mother who is nurturing her child. The mother feeds the
child everyday at the same time, clothes it, and cares for it with great love and devotion. The mother
makes great sacrifices to fulfill her responsibilities to her child. However, later as the child grows us and
matures it will take care of the mother, as well. When we begin a mantra practice we must put a lot into
Because it takes time to build a mantra practice, there are dangers that we must guard against. One is
that we become discouraged and quit completely, and the other is that we recite our mantra in an
undisciplined fashion, with our mind allowed to wander here and there, scattered. Mantra recitation can
be very tedious in the beginning and we may become bored. To relieve the boredom we may allow our
mind to wander while we recite; and think that it is OK to do so because we are still reciting our
mantra. This is a common wrong view. If we recite a mantra with our mind wandering, then our energy
is scattered and not supporting the mantra. If we don't support the mantra, the mantra will never
support us. It is reciprocal. So, when we recite mantras, our mind must not be allowed to wander and
muse about our day or what happened in the past, etc. We must gather in all our energy and shine it
upon our mantra.
Mantra recitation is a very powerful and effective dharma door when done correctly. It is a very simple
practice with very rich potential. Those who recite mantras gain intuitive understanding of Buddhism's
rich philosophy and many hidden truths are revealed even without study. The key is to be sincere in
one's recitation; where there is sincerity there will be a response.
* * *
We will follow upon the previous "Thought" and discuss mantra recitation again today.
When we recite a mantra it is a very delicate affair. On the one hand we don't want to grasp it too
tightly and stifle all mental activity, and on the other hand, we don't want to hold it too loosely and get
caught up in false thinking. Ideally, the mantra keeps us tethered, but not bound up. There should be a
sense of freedom when reciting mantras and never a feeling that the mantra is confining. We want to
be able to explore our consciousness, the nature of mind, but we want to do it without fickleness or
wavering; mantra recitation can provide this stability.
We can recite mantras silently to ourselves or audibly; both are effective; but we may find that silently
the mantra, but after some practice the mantra will flow almost effortlessly by merely shining a little
attention upon it. At the start, reciting a mantra may consume almost all of our attention, but as our
skill develops, a mere thread of awareness is enough to maintain our recitation. The object of mantra
recitation, as all meditation, is to reveal the nature of the mind; and as we become more and more
absorbed in seeing the minds nature, we become increasingly less aware of the mantra. But, it never
disappears completely, and should emerge unbroken as our insight into the minds nature subsides and
our everyday awareness returns. We may shift back and forth between coarse and subtle awareness
several times during a meditation session, with the mantra becoming more predominant at times, and
extremely subtle at other times. As long as we don't lose the mantra, we are maintaining it correctly. If
we do lose it, it is an indication that our meditation got hijacked by erroneous thoughts or emotions
and we must start anew.
* * *
We will follow upon the previous "Thought" and discuss mantra recitation again today.
So far we have talked about mantra recitation as meditation. However, in addition to using mantras in
formal sitting, as we have been discussing, there is also the use of mantras throughout the day, as we
go about our affairs. This more relaxed use of mantras is a means to help us go through our day with a
minimal amount of scattering of our energy in discursive thought and distracting thought.. In fact,
monks have mantras for just about every common act of daily life, from brushing their teeth, to going
to the toilet, to putting on the robes, and they have prayers that go along with all these activities. This
is all done to foster mindfulness throughout the day and make the task of meditation easier.
As lay people we too can benefit from mantra recitation woven in and out of our daily activities. Of
course, because we are not dedicating our time solely to the recitation, there will be times when we will
have to lay the mantra down to fulfill our responsibilities, and times when we pick it up again when
our attention is not demanded elsewhere. The key is to consciously and with full awareness pick up the
mantra, and put it aside the same way, the way one would a precious gem stone, respectfully and with
mindfulness. We want to avoid unconsciously losing the mantra, or accidentally reciting it, as if we
were a robot. If we are not reciting, we should have been aware of putting it down; if we are reciting,
we should have been aware of picking it up. We also want to avoid fatigue from too much recitation. If
we do this practice we should enjoy it and not feel cramped by it. The practice is to serve us and help
us grow; and not to enslave. This is true for all dharma practice.
Thought for the Day: June 14, 2010
The best way to remove an obstacle is to transform it into something positive. We should never try to
"get rid" of anything; but rather always think in terms of transformation. Think recycle; like you do
with trash. If we do this we can turn demons into protectors, evil thoughts into positive energy, and
walls into doors. Just observe your mental landscape with a mind vast as the sky, and there is not a
single aspect of your being that cannot be viewed in a new and intriguing way full of possibilities.
* * *
Thought for the Day: June 15, 2010
"Repentance and reform" is an important aspect of monastic life. Before every sutra lecture where the
assembly of monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen are gathered, there is an opportunity for public
repentance, when anyone repent for past transgressions of body, speech, or mind, as well as vow not
to repeat their transgressions. In a monastic situation, the repentances are often very difficult, and
leave no stone unturned. They are very self-effacing. But, once the weight is released into the
assembly, the cultivator will be able to move forward with a clear conscience. This is a dharma door
much toiling on the meditation cushion.
As laymen and lay women living in society, we do not have a formal structure for such repentance; but
that does not mean we should not engage in the practice. If we bring harm to another through any
deed or word of our own, we are wise to redeem ourselves through dialog with those we harmed.
Whether the matter is large or small we should seek the opportunity to redress any ill begotten action
or word. We should do this with clarity and sincerity.
Reform, vowing not to commit the same transgression again, is the second leg of repentance. We
break the cycle of bad behavior through recognizing it, and taking steps not to repeat mistakes. This
greatly facilitates meditation progress because we are relieved of unnecessary burdens of conscience
and our conduct becomes more aligned with the dharma. Repentance and reform are probably the
most under appreciated dharma doors within Buddhism, and yet they are two of the most significant.
* * *
An excellent and lesser known form of meditation is the Chan practice called the "Hua Tou." It can
When we recite a mantra we speak the sacred syllables either silently or audibly; but when we use a
Hua Tou there is neither recitation, nor absence of recitation. We simply bring the mind to the point
where a word is about to be spoken and keep it there, neither speaking the word or letting it go. In
other words, we maintain the potential of speaking, but never quite do so. It is a very taut state of
mind, wherein the intention is firmly fixed on the word, but never lets it out.
All of us practice the Hua Tou, to a small extent, almost every day. Consider for a moment sitting at a
dinner table and wishing for some salt; you open your mouth and are just about to say "Please pass
the salt," when someone picks it up and uses it, and you have to hold your tongue for a moment. You
haven't yet asked for the salt, nor have you negated asking; your mind remains ready to say the word
when the salt is sitting once again on the table. At this moment our awareness is on our request and
we hold it there for a moment or two until we make it. If we were to consciously try to prolong this
state, we would be doing something very similar to the Hua Tou technique. Once we ask for the salt;
that is the 'word tale."
A typical "Hua Tou" might be something like "Who is being mindful of the Buddha, Who is
dragging this corpse around, Who am I." Whatever "Hua Tou" we choose, the principle is the same;
we maintain a mind pregnant with potential, but never give birth to the word. Whatever our Hua
Tou may be, it is that and only that on the tip of our mental tongue. If someone were to slice off our
head at any moment; if a word were to be uttered it would be our Hua Tou. Conceptually easy to
understand; yet subtle and very difficult to practice.
* * *
Cherish others and become compassionate;
Put others first and become humble;
Shun recognition and become virtuous.
wish to become. Contemplate the qualities you wish to have and everyday look for opportunities,
however small they may be, to practice them. Many seemingly insignificant positive actions
* * *
practice and sacred. If the action is the focus, then we are bound to get caught up in distinctions of
mundane and spiritual. If our aim is to make all activities equal, then we must always look at the doer
dharma, to look down on ordinary activity stifles self awareness and growth. Honor activity by
investigating who is acting. Find pleasure in this investigation, not in the activity itself. Everything
speaks the dharma; but we may not hear it if we don't learn how to listen.
* * *
its source, free of prejudice and bias. It is only those who are weak in their own faith that find it
necessary to cling tenaciously to their own tradition to the exclusion of others. On the contrary, one
gaining inspiration from them. We live in a very diverse society and it is advantageous for us to be
completely open to the ideas and customs of those who belong to traditions other than our own. in,
with a mind searching for truth rather than differences. Doing so cannot help but strengthen our
own religious conviction, while at the same time respecting others. Reach out and learn.
* * *
Thought for the Day: June 20, 2010
When studying Buddhist text dealing with the nature of mind it is important to understand that what
is being presented has more to do with how to study the minds nature, than what it is. These texts are
not telling us what the landscape looks like, but rather how to get there. Nothing is being established
or set up; we are simply being instructed how to think in a manner that will lead to seeing the nature
of mind for ourselves. Because living being are of such diverse temperaments there are many paths
presented to suit the capacities and diverse dispositions.
* * *
When the Buddha left his palace he was prompted to do so by four simple observations; he saw a sick
person being born and saw that that was suffering, and he saw a dead person and saw that being
subject to death is suffering. He realized that despite his great wealth he too was subject to birth, old
simple facts of life and was motivated to find a way to put an end to suffering.
All of us observe the same four facts of life that the Buddha observed, but we do not draw the same
conclusion. We don't draw the same conclusion because we are busy with our own affairs and allow
ourselves to forget the real facts of life that might spoil our party. So our kind of observation is a
very different kind of observation than the Buddha's. The Buddha's observation was fearless because
he was not afraid to see clearly the truth of what he observed and draw conclusions that would
drastically effect his way of life and cause him considerable hardship. As common people we can gain
great benefit from simple observation of the facts of our daily life. We don't need any dharma
teaching, the world is always speaking the dharma, but we must observe it impartially, and fearlessly,
and make judgements about what we see without any selfish guarding and protecting what in truth
may be bringing us more harm than benefit.
* * *
says; our eyes are open and yet we don't see what is in front of them. Our own busy mind is all that
we see; consumed by our own affairs we do not see what is right before our face. It does not have to
be this way.
Our everyday ordinary lives are intertwined with a spiritual significance that we seldom are aware of;
we see what is on the surface, but not what is going on beneath it. Are the things we are doing
tending toward liberation or attachment, and why, are important questions to ask ourselves.
"Observation" is the way to ask this question; to seek answers through observation. This is true for
the most subtle spiritual truths as well as the most mundane problems of life.
* * *
My teacher often said: "Everything is a test to see what you will do; if you don't recognize what is
before your face, you'll have to start anew." Life offers many lessons and we are constantly being
tested to see what we have learned. It is our ability to respond to the unexpected that tests the
validity of our understanding, as the familiar is seldom a stage for this. Whatever the context may be
that we learn something, the test of that understanding will be in an unfamiliar context. That is why
we should always study the underlying principles at work and imagine many different ways that they
* * *
Thought for the Day: June 24, 2010
There are many different levels of mantra recitation, from subtle to coarse, depending on our ability,
when we recite mantras while engaged in daily activities, while other times our mantra recitation
becomes very subtle and powerful, as when we engage the mantra during a formal meditation. How
subtle it becomes depends on our ability.
Mantras are like a canvas on which the nature of mind is revealed. Just as an artist's art begins with a
blank canvas; a mantra is a lifeless group of syllables, very coarse and uninteresting, when we first
begin to use them. But, as we devote time and energy to the mantra, the nature of the mind is
reflected in it, just as the blank canvas comes to life through the artist's effort and skill. When the
artist completes his work, the canvas is no longer seen; in a similar manner, as our recitation of the
mantra becomes more subtle, our attention will be on the minds nature, and not the mantra, which
like the canvas for the art, almost disappears from our awareness, existing only as a support.
* * *
Take every opportunity to listen to sutra explanations from a teacher who has penetrated the
meaning, as his understanding illumines every word he utters and has the ability to penetrate deep
within the listeners' minds and hearts and bring out the meaning.
* * *
Thought for the Day: June 26, 2010
Be prepared for the unexpected; but don't prepare for the unexpected.
* * *
Thought for the Day: June 27, 2010
Being mindful is selfless service.
Whether we are giving our time or material things it should not be a hand out, but rather a helping
hand. We are there to help those who put forth effort; if no effort is being put forth, there is no
point in being involved at all.
future lives. Any number of people listening to dharma discourse will have a wide variety of much
on the mind-ground we have prepared as the dharma we are receiving.
Making our mind a pure vessel for receiving the dharma is the focus of the early teachings of the
Buddha, when he revealed the path for developing merit and virtue and leading a sound moral life.
These early teachings help us to build a solid foundation for receiving and understanding the later
teachings. Even these early teachings are received in a variety of ways according to the need and
karmic propensities of the hearer.
The later teachings on emptiness, the nature of mind, etc. are more advanced teachings pointing to
the ultimate status of things. These teachings are also received in a wide variety of ways according to
the way we have conditioned our mind. In as much as the Buddha is not a saviour but rather a
revealer of the way to salvation, we each have a big responsibility, ourselves. The Buddha is our
friend and ultimate refuge and guide, but he is also teaching self-reliance, and the importance of
having strong faith in ourselves, that we too can become Buddhas, the ultimate offering we can make
to the Enlightened One.
If we have no thirst, there is nothing to quench; it is our responsibility to create a deep desire to
know; the Buddha will take care of the rest. Our primary focus, first and foremost, is not to gather a
lot of knowledge, but to create a deep longing to know and understand; which leads to knowing
awareness without an object of knowledge. A true dharma practitioner is never satisfied, always
hungry, and his mind is a field of blessings.
* * *