|Thought for the day: March 5, 2008
The rituals of daily life have a two fold purpose; one to fulfil the task at hand, and the other to
reach beyond it. No matter how ordinary our life may appear, as we give greater attention to it,
we will discover richer meaning in everything that we do.
|Thought for the day: March 6, 2008
Buddhist sutras teach us that the world is the stepping stone to enter the spiritual life and it is
here that we must be engaged. But, the Buddha also taught his disciples to discipline their
thought, and five senses while thus engaged so that they can not only become more effective
in the world, but see beyond it, as well. While it is important to engage in the world fully, we
want to avoid becoming "charmed" by it. Our ability to engage should be balanced with an
equally strong ability to disengaged.
It is interesting to consider that "frivolous" activity is not only a reason that we don't move
beyond the "world," but it is also a reason that we don't move forward in it. Forgetting a moment
all things "spiritual," consider how we tend to divide work and free time. "I am at work" or, "I am
off now." We are not light bulbs that should be switched on and off like this. But rather, we
should learn to shift our form of engagement from the demands of work to another form of
engagement that will keep it from being idle or running out our mouth in idle chatter and
frivolous activity. My Teacher, Master Hsuan Hua, often said that it is only false thinking that
makes the mind tired. Relaxation may call for a change of focus, but it does not need to leak
out in meaningless talk and activity.
If at the end of each day we take a few minutes to practice "still consideration" of our day, we
will learn to discriminate where our energy is leaking out and start plugging up the leaks.
|Thought for the day: March 7, 2008
"Who am I?" is the primary question we are all asking with varying levels of intensity and depth.
The aim of both Buddhist and Hindu religious literature is to give us the tools to probe deeper
and avoid the pitfalls of wrong inquiry. The conclusion of the probe is well known by the
testimony of those saints who have arrived and it is that there is no ultimate referent to "I." The
leading Western philosopher of our time, "Ludwig Wittgenstein," in his "Philosophical
Investigations," reaches the same conclusion, "The "I" thought has no referent." Other great
philosophers without "religious" affiliation have arrived at this conclusion, as well. So what is
the difference between the philosopher and the saint if both have arrived at the same
conclusion? My view is that the "I" thought does not arise in the saint as it does in the
philosopher. While both have arrived at similar conclusions, the sense of "I" still persist in the
philosopher while for the saint it has dried up.
If we study the life of Wittgenstein, (The Art of Genius, is an excellent study of his life) we will
find that he was very frustrated with his inability to end the persistent doubts in his mind. The
fact that they never ceased to arise plagued him until his death. It is as if he could not quite
own the conclusions he arrived at. This is not a criticism of the conclusion of the philosophers,
indeed the depth of their understanding is no doubt far deeper than many monks. But, it is an
expression of the limitations which I believe is a more one sided approach than the path of a
Buddhist monk, for example. For one thing, the inquiry of a Buddhist monk would be coupled
with the fact that any conclusion must generate a sense of compassion. His entire approach
will be governed by this.
While inquiry into the nature of the "I" is at the core of spiritual practice, one must be cautious
of the dangers of making misguided inferences based on the conclusion of no "I." A false
sense of freedom is the most common mistake people make. Freedom has to earned and as
long as the sense of "I" persists we must deal with its demands in a rational and serious way. In
no way to either Buddhist or Hindu teachings encourage acting free. Freedom will arise when it
is earned and is not a choice we make.
|Thought for the day: March 8, 2008
When we subject the "I" to the critical analyses of deep insight samadhi it is found to be
without a referent. This is the conclusion spoken of in various teachings of "no-self." When we
come out of this meditation the sense of "I" again persists. This is like a person awakening
from a dream, who knows that he has had a dream, but cannot recall it. However, as one
becomes more familiar with the sense of no-self in meditation, the "I" will gradually weaken
and disappear. This all is a long process extending over many lifetimes.
Often Buddhists and others who speak of "No-self" are criticized as being nihilistic. This is a
very wrong view to hold, and unfortunately one that turns many away before they even have a
chance to investigate what Buddhists and others mean by "no-self."
In short no-self means that the "I" no longer arises in the saint as it does in a common person.
He is still very much aware of his body, responsibilities, personal property, etc. However, he is
not confined by these things and does not define himself by them either. Personal identity no
longer forces itself on the saint.
The individual sense of "I" forces itself upon us because we have conditioned ourselves to
think in terms of an individual harnessed to a body and its demands. We define ourselves by
this. This sense of "I" is what is dismantled through inquiry and what emerges is a new identity
not confined by the restraints of a personal self and yet very much aware of them.
It is often said that it is not the things and so called lure of the world that is a danger, but
rather our attachment to them. As long as we are subject to the attractiveness of what the
world has to offer, it is better to keep our life focused on what is necessary and refrain from
chasing what is not.
|Thought for the day: March 9, 2008
The inner tangle and the outer tangle,
this whole world is entangled in a tangle,
and so I ask the Buddha this question,
How does one untangle this tangle?
When a wise man, established well in Virtue
Develops Consciousness and Understanding,
Then as a bhikshu, ardent and sagacious,
he succeeds in disentangling the tangle.
|Thought for the day: March 12, 2008
Merit comes in many forms. It could be making offerings to the sangha, supporting a charity,
offering one's time to benefit others. Whatever one does to dedicate one's resources, material,
mental, or physical, towards the benefit of others is merit. Merit is the basis that supports
meditation and spiritual inquiry. It is very difficult to progress without it.
|Thought for the day: March 13, 2008
Meditation almost always begin with a fumbling around trying to find the correct way, but this
fumbling through the corridors of the mind will gradually become less clumsy as we exercise
patience with ourselves and persist.
|Thought for the day: March 14, 2008
The nature of the mind is revealed in a single thought and yet this nature remains elusive and
difficult to see. Our thoughts are like naughty children whose behavior changes as soon as they
are watched. If we can be still we can catch glimpses that reveal how we engage with thoughts
and give them an owner, an owner that is assumed to be truly existent, but really is not. If it were
not for creating an owner for our thoughts we would be free and unhindered.
|Thought for the day: March 16, 2008
Most of us are familiar with the "Zen" garden. These gardens are no longer confined to the
monasteries of Japan and China, but can be found adorning the properties of many homes and
commercial buildings. They are reflections of a monastic culture that emphasised the fact that
enlightenment can be found within the ordinary acts of daily life. And, many such awakenings are
well documented in works such as the "Blue Cliff Records" and the lives of Masters. So the
question may arise, "Why don't others become enlightened doing their gardening or floor
sweeping, or other tasks?" The answer is that the way the monk gardens is not the same as a
common person. We may well create a garden that looks the same, but what we see while
creating it won't be the same. Our approach is different because our viewpoint towards the task is
different. Through meditation and study the monk will use his mind in a unique way that we
cannot gain access to without similar discipline.
For the Zen or Chan practitioner, the activity in his life is an opportunity to practice and reflect his
insights during the stillness of meditation or study. In this tradition the likelihood of an awakening
during stillness or activity is equal, and this is the way it should be. In this tradition there is no
intrinsic holiness in sitting cross legged or reading sacred scriptures. While it is a common
misunderstanding that this tradition does not study, they do study and emphasize its importance
as much as any other tradition, if not more, but their emphasis that book learning and inner
meditative quiet must find expression in activity in order to be considered worthwhile is
If we want to transform our activities into meditative exercises we need to change our way of
approaching what we do. A slight shift in attitude can make an ordinary activity one that is multi
layered and full of meaning. Their is no reason that we cannot be fully engaged in what we do if
we take the time to study and meditate on the nature of the mind. Thinking causes action and
action causes results; we simply must learn how to think.
|Thought for the day: March 18, 2008
Mistakes can be corrected, but far more energy will be required than making them.
|Thought for the day: March 20, 2008
A key to finding stillness in activity is choosing activities that are neutral and don't excite the mind or
body; and yet offer the movement our bodies need to be healthy and energetic. Exercise that allows
us to maintain an inner focus offer an opportunity to extend our meditation beyond the cushion,
provided we leave the Ipod and cell phone at home, of course.
|Thought for the day: March 21, 2008
What does the no-self doctrine mean to someone who is in survival mode trying to make a
mortgage payment to ward off a foreclosure-hungry lender; or anyone else in survival mode, for
reasons that threaten their physical or material well being? This topic came to my mind the other
evening after discussing the problem with my friends wife who is a social worker. Reason seems to
go on vacation during these times. After our discussion it caused me to think about how survival
mode would effect my own meditation and the problems others might have while in such a state.
The cliché "death bed repentance" comes to my mind in this context. This saying points to the
inefficaciousness of a conversion after a lifetime of ignored opportunities. As Buddhist we are
taught to be preemptive and prepare well in advance for bad times.
This "preparation" extends from the very subtle contemplations of life's meaning to the most
mundane of ordinary affairs. Making sacrifice during good times when we have the opportunity to
make them, will make for a soft landing when times are less congenial. The time to think about
exercise is not when your sick.
|Thought for the day: March 22, 2008
Discipline is an important aspect of Buddhist practice, but must be skillfully managed. If water
flowing along the gutter is blocked carelessly it will find another way and that way will be the path
of least resistance. However, that path may be of no benefit. If, on the other hand, we dig a little
path directing it to our garden, it will flow there and water our plants. Simply blocking the five
senses, whether in mediation, or vows discipling our actions, is not enough, and may bring more
harm than good. The energy must be skillfully redirected and find expression in meaningful outlets.
|Thought for the day: March 23, 2008
The sense of "I" is a contextual referent; it cannot exist in a vacuum. It is dependent upon the
objects we see, sounds we hear, sensations we feel, mental factors, etc. Apart from these factors
the "I" simply cannot be found. It is impossible to imagine an "I" that objectively witnesses this
relationship, because we do not exist independently of the factors of existence mentioned above..
Realizing that we do not exist outside of the context of our mental and physical environment
paves the way towards understanding dependent origination, or emptiness.
|Thought for the day: March 25, 2008
When selecting a teacher look for lineage first, this is very important. Teachers who come from a
long lineage of masters are themselves certified to teach. Their understanding has already been
scrutinized. Avoid what I call the "self proclaimed enlightened ones," those who interpret the
teachings in a new way and they themselves certify their own teachings. Books are the same
way. Before studying popular dharma, study traditional dharma (the boring kind that is not on the
best seller list.) This will enable you to recognize who among the pop-dharma teachers is
expressing ideas that are within the scope of Buddhism.
|Thought for the day: March 26, 2008
What one gets out of an experience depends more on how one looks at it, than what the
experience is. How we see things is more important than what we see. Our viewpoint colors our
It is a difficult task, but many Masters have taught that one should look at every experience as
an opportunity to become enlightened. If not enlightened, one would think that with a little effort
we should be able to learn something from each experience. But, often disturbing emotions block
these opportunities to learn. Greed, anger, jealousy, lust, are so disruptive that the mind cannot
be supple enough to see what is going on beneath the surface of things.
|Thought for the day: March 27, 2008
There are no "fixed" dharma's, and that is why clinging to dharmas is so hazardous. A dharma is
only as good as its application; unwisely practiced it will be a disservice to oneself.