The practice of non-attachment is a key element of Buddhist practice and Hinduism, as well. It is our
attachment to the material things of the world, not the things themselves, that obstructs self-realization. place
upon them a value that they do not merit. This value placement on things, people, social position, etc.
detracts from our own self-worth because it is an external value placement; we are essentially valuing
ourselves based on externals.
It does not matter how much or how little we have, as long as we value ourselves based on externals we
are prevented from finding our true worth within. Whether we have very little or a great deal it is
attachments that hinder. To illustrate this point a yogi once told me the following story about the Indian
King Janak; noted for his practice of non-attachment, despite having great wealth and possessions.
Once the king was frolicking with his wives in the river near his palace, merrily playing and splashing
about. The palace caught fire and was soon engulfed in flames. The King's attendant rushed to the river
bank to inform the King, who despite hearing the news continued playing in the river as if nothing had
happened. His attendant didn't think the King heard him and continued yelling "Your Majesty's palace is
on fire." Finally, to shut up the attendant, the King acknowledged the attendant with a four-word reply:
"I'm in the water." But, that is not the end of it; for the attendant had a reply of his own: he yelled back
to the King, "But, your Majesty, my cot and blanket are in the Palace."
So, here we have a great King with enormous wealth, who despite his wealth was able to practice the
dharma of non-attachment, and, a servant who had little, but was greatly attached to what little he had.
The point being made is that the practice of non-attachment should not be conflated with renunciation.
Renouncing the world is not necessary for the practice of non-attachment. It is our attachment that is
renounced, not necessarily the things themselves.
King Janak was a historical king noted for his generosity and his practice of non-attachment. This story
from his life should set a useful example to us who live in modern society where we tend to place great
importance on what we have. If we accumulate attachment to the material world as fast as we rise in it,
then we are master minding our own downfall; but if we can rise in the world without attachment, then
whether we gather much or little, we will be unobstructed.
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 2, 2010
Dharma practice would be easy if we didn't make it difficult.
* * *
often seems that they are out of sync. We see people doing right actions, but reaping no reward or effect
of actions, whether they be outwardly manifest actions or subtle actions of thought.
If we examine karma more carefully we will notice that the Buddha taught that cause and effect can have
even after many years. Because the consequences of right and wrong actions are not always apparent, the
Buddha laid out a clear set of teachings known as the vinaya that teach us how to live our lives in a way
that is dharmic and will support growth and higher understanding. His sutra teachings are more subtle
and teach us how to meditate on the nature of the mind and how to reason correctly so that we can
properly develop our intellectual faculties so that they serve us to correctly conceptualize the path we
must walk, in other words, develop the right view.
We do not have to adopt a religious perspective to see cause and effect at work; it continually manifests
itself in our daily lives. Sometimes actions bring immediate effects that can be tied to the cause, and
sometimes the effect is delayed and it is more difficult to connect it with its cause. Many diseases of the
body can be an example of this. In the same way, our spiritual well being or lack thereof is linked to
causes that are not always obvious. Knowing this we should rely on the teachings to guide us and have
faith that in following them we are creating causes that will bring about the fruit of higher
* * *
Letting things go is not the same as getting rid of them. It is a different attitude of mind. Meditation
practice across a wide swath of Buddhism teaches the importance of letting things go; but nowhere is it
taught that things are to be rejected from the mind or prevented from entering. There is a big difference
here, and it is a point that is often not clearly understood.
Pleasant and unpleasant thoughts enjoy the same status for the Buddhist meditation practitioner;
neither are to be entertained or rejected. We are simply instructed to allow them to appear as if before a
Everything is equal and a manifestation of the mind; what is this mind before a single thought arises?
That is what we should be looking into, not the thoughts themselves.
To understand the pristine mind before a thought stirs we must begin by viewing all thoughts equal; as
the mind's display. While nothing is rejected; nothing remains; thoughts dissolve of their own accord.
No effort is required on our part except staying out of the way; and therein lies the difficulty.
* * *
Finding a teacher we have "affinities" with is important; but a very difficult task. The teacher we
respond to is not necessarily the one that feels right, but more the one that we will make great
sacrifices to follow. The mark of a good teacher is his ability to inspire his students to make the any
other way. Another quality of a good teacher is his ability to help his students see that the qualities
they see in him, they too have; and inspire them to bring them out. In other words, a good teacher is
one that stops you from thinking that enlightenment is "out there somewhere" and thereby diminishes
the boundaries between you and him.
The same that can be said about teachers applies to teachings. If we do not have the good fortune to
study under the guidance of a good teacher, there are abundant books we can be inspired by and learn
how to practice the path from. When looking at texts it should always be with an eye towards practice.
We need not read a lot; but we should constantly be asking ourselves, "what does this mean to me,
how can I apply this in my life?" If a teaching does not make sense here and now, we should move on
and find something that resonates, one that we can easily see an application, now, where we are.
The study of Buddhism, whether with a teacher or not, should always be with a mind towards practice
and gaining an inner realization. A good teaching is one that will make us work.
* * *
The early teaching of the Buddha, the abidharma, talk about two kinds of actions, those with prompting
and those without prompting. Basically, the concept is very simple: for example, I may see a elderly had
already demonstrated it. This is giving without prompting and is far more meritorious.
be so divided. Of course the aim is to refrain from negative actions and engage in good ones. In
either case, it is our aim is to learn to practice the dharma without prompting, gradually allowing the
dharma to become a natural outflow of our being. But, in the beginning it will be largely contrived and
therefore prompted as we break old habits and ways of doing things.
Central to Buddhist practice is motivation and the concept of prompted and unprompted is an aid to help
us examine our motivation. We should never allow ourselves to be content simply by engaging in
right action, but should also strive to engage in right actions for the right reasons, spontaneously, in
an uncontrived way. Buddhism teaches us to deepen our sense of purpose as to why we do things and
not allow ourselves to ritualistically engage in right action. It must come from the heart and
spontaneously; this is the aim.
* * *
lust, and many other disturbing emotions. These foundational practices help us develop basic human
qualities and take from our shoulders the burden of selfish intentions and the afflictions that arise
While engaging in preliminary practices we are removing hindrances that prevent us from practicing
higher teachings which are concerned with self-realization. It is a mistake to engage in teachings
concerned with self-realization without engaging in preliminary practices first. It can be tempting to
skip the foundational practices and move on to more advanced training; but this is like trying to climb
a mountain with a heap of garbage on one's back.
When practicing preliminaries we should do so with a humble attitude knowing that it is not so much
that we are working our way towards enlightenment, but rather that we are removing hindrances so
that we can work towards enlightenment. There is a difference.
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 8, 2010
* * *
all been mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers to one another, so today is a day for all of us. But, the
Buddha was not in a celebratory mood when he pointed this out to us; but rather he was teaching us
contemplating our own relation to family and the caring we offer to those closest to us, and gradually
extending this nurturing feeling to embrace all sentient beings, that we align ourselves with the way
things actually are. It is only a question of identity whether or not we are able to feel a true
compassion and concern for the welfare of others. If our focus in life is family and friends we are
confining ourselves to a very narrow perspective. But, if we can take as our focus our countless
rebirths, then our sense of family will be greatly expanded.
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 10, 2010
Happiness eludes our effort when it is our own we are seeking, but when the benefit of others is our
focus, our own naturally follows.
Thought for the Day: May 11, 2010
as if it is imposed from outside, and the second, which the Buddhism places great emphasis on, is
rules, this is even true in Buddhism, we should gradually move from following to imposing. This is
accomplished by gaining familiarity with the goal of dharma practice and understanding the There
are two ways to engage in ethical discipline, the most common is engaging in ethical discipline
obstacles obstructing our reaching it. When we understand that ethical discipline targets the very
obstacles we wish to remove, then we will understand the need for ethical discipline and knowingly
impose them as the best means of achieving our aim.
Discipline should always come from within. If it feels that it is coming from outside, this means that
we must work harder to understand our goal and the hindrances that prevent us achieving it.
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 12, 2010
understanding of the context and audience of the original teaching. The Buddha taught true principle
using analogies and imagery readily accessible to his audience who were mostly uneducated farmers,
fisherman, and tradesman. His audience was also predominantly male, sometimes comprising mostly
Buddhism should always be studied with a mind towards practical application combined with an
monks. In our modern society women form a significant part of the Buddhist community and our
life is far more sophisticated than it was at the time of the Buddha. But, these appearances are
misleading as our underlying problems have not changed, even though we have covered them up
very well with our "achievement." The only true advancement, however, may be the fact that in our
modern society there are many more women who practice the dharma and this makes Buddhism
relevant to a greater audience; aside from that it is appearances that have changed, and not much the
underlying principles that the Buddha is trying to convey and see how these principles can be
applied in our own life and circumstance. If thoughts of irrelevancy creep in, we should know that
we must look deeper.
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 13, 2010
Exchanging self for others is a common Buddhist practice that teaches us social responsibility. This
practice is very simple to understand, but one that requires energy and meditative skill to develop. It
is a wonderful practice support for meditation and helps us to develop the right view.
would it be if everyone thought this way and acted as I am acting. We may narrow the focus of this
exchange to a single individual or radiate it out to include all humanity. Everything we do, whether
in action or thought, has its effect on others. In some small way we are constantly influencing our
world; and as we understand this deeper our inclination to discover what right action and right
thought really are will grow.
* * *
efforts. But then the question arises how can we, whose vision is obscured by this basic ignorance,
contemplate correctly to remove it. The answer is that we apply the antidote which is dependent
arising, or the selflessness of ourselves and the phenomenal world.
Where there is the view of self there is ignorance; when this view is removed ignorance is removed.
The view of self of material things is the view that things exist independently and are therefore real
objects. The same is true for ourselves as individuals. The view of self is the view that there is an
underlying essence that is independent of everything else. The way to counteract this deeply
ingrained view is to contemplate just the opposite, that ourselves and things exist depending on many
factors. If we continually examine and search for something unique and independent, we will not
find it; and this inability to find anything that can truly stand alone, will gradually awaken us to the
truth of selflessness, or the dependent nature of both the world and ourselves.This selflessness should not
be confused with non-existence; but should be understood as an affirmation of the
interconnectedness of all things and events and humanity.
* * *
two primary aspects of meditation. Generally, we first practice samatha and later vipasana, for take
as its object.
A suitable object for samatha is anything one chooses, it could be a Buddha statue, a candle, a stone,
will display itself; in that sense there is no such thing as the ideal object, because the meditation
topic is merely used as a support, just as a binder might be used to hold a concision of herbs
together for making pills; it is the herbs that are important, not the binder. In this analogy the herbs
could be likened to devotion, sincerity, focus, sacrifice, effort, all the various qualities that develop a
strong meditation practice; the Buddha image, candle, stone, etc., serve as the support for these
Vipasana looks at the display that emerges from our practice of samatha. This display will have
various qualities according to the strength of our practice of quiescent meditation. Using the
previous analogy of the herbal medicine, this stage can be likened to taking the pills we have
concocted and seeing their result.
As our understanding of the mind's nature develops the realization that insight meditation and
quiescence meditation cannot be separated will be and inescapable conclusion and we will merge
samatha and vipasana into a single practice. Until one arrives at that conclusion oneself, however, it
is best they be practiced in stages.
* * *
we have too little we have nothing to appreciate. Although the aim of Buddhist practice is to
transcend desire; it is not achieved by either having too much or too little, but having what one
needs. Recognizing what one's needs are and living within them leads to contentment and this
contentment is conducive to dharma practice.
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 17, 2010
The quality of our meditation is far more important than the time we spend meditating. Sometimes
setting an amount of time can become a hindrance if one is not careful. If we make the resolve to sit
for one hour a day, for example, we might sit in our shrine room with little on our mind but
wondering when the time is up. This is a kind of mental laxity that can arise from the mistaken
benefit. It does not. There must also be various accompanying qualities concomitant with our
meditation, energy and exertion, being two of the most important ones, without which we will fall
into laxity and find ourselves waiting for the session to end.
* * *
Many teachings are "provisional teachings" that are to be understood in a particular context. When
discrimination to guide the choices we make, rather than basing them on our own likes and dislikes.
Our behaviour conditions likes and dislikes and as such are not necessarily reliable. We may like
something that brings us no benefit, or even harm, and dislike something that is beneficial simply
because of the choices we have made in the past. In other words, likes and dislikes are usually rooted
in habits we ourselves have created and are therefore unprincipled. Buddhism emphasizes the use of
reasoning to discriminate right and wrong actions, rather than likes and dislikes. We are taught to
examine our actions and intentions and make sure that the are in accord with the dharma.
* * *
expect results; nor should we in our everyday practice. The form of our practice is merely a support
the form, we must look ahead where the form is leading us and dwell there, looking back on the for
form for support only. We cannot allow ourselves to be deluded about this. Confusing the form of
practice with actual practice reflects extreme mental laxity and must be avoided. If we are not
feeling this we are not working hard enough.
The same principle applies to moral and ethical discipline. The practice of celibacy, for example, is a
form of practice and as such is merely the foundation for real practice. It is from the basis of celibacy
that we learn to direct inward the energy that would normally flow out into sexual activity. The
practice of celibacy is no guarantee that we will learn how to direct this energy and if we merely
think that celibacy alone is enough, it is almost a guarantee that we won't. The jails are full of such
examples. The point here is that moral disciple clears the way for real practice, but one must reach
beyond the form of the foundational discipline.
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 20, 2010
It is said that enlightenment is not apart from a single thought in the mind. This means that a single there is
enlighten us, we will merely weary ourselves in a futile struggle that cannot bear fruit. The ordinary
mind and the ordinary affairs of our lives are pregnant with possibilities; it is a waste of time to
imagine otherwise, when the effort should be spent on seeing this.
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 21, 2010
Just as there are many stages to enlightenment, moving from coarse to progressively more subtle
stages on the path; so too do our negative states have course and subtle characteristics. When we
practice discipline to eliminate negative states, such as greed, anger, jealously, lust, etc., we move
from the coarse manifestation to the more subtle manifestations of these negative states. As we do
so it is sometimes easy to think that we have overcome a negative state when all we have done is
eliminate its coarse manifestation. We must guard against this and cultivate alertness and keen
awareness to recognize subtle, inner negativity even when it is not outwardly manifest. This inner
discipline and vigilance is extremely important.
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 22, 2010
If we try to contemplate our faults and mistakes, which we all should do, it requires a bit of
patience and meditative skill to remove our own personal bias from the equation, something
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 23, 2010
"What is meditation?" This is a very broad question that can lead to the misconception that
techniques to bolster this conclusion. However, if one were to examine the various techniques one
would observe that they all have the same goal. The goal of all meditation practice is to learn how
to inquire into the nature of the mind without projecting any possible conclusions. In other words,
meditation should look like a big question mark with nothing following it. The bigger the question
mark becomes, the greater our skill in mediation. This question mark is referred to in scriptures as
the feeling of doubt or the spirit of inquiry and other such terms.
Paradoxically, skill in meditation is measured by the sense we have of the enormity of what we
don't know, rather than the confidence of knowing. When we fearlessly allow the burning question
mark to grow and given up on all answers, we are opening our heart to true knowledge and
awareness. As long as we look for answers we will not find any, so we should immediately cease
looking and concentrate on the question.
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 24, 2010
Faith should never stifle self reliance, and belief should not lead to intellectual laziness.
"its all in your mind," etc., expounding philosophical platitudes with varying degrees of
understanding to back it up. However, there is a tremendous difference between the assumption
that "everything is empty," because we know the wise have said as much, and finding out for oneself
through exalted reasoning that "everything is empty." His Holiness the Dali Lama points out that
the former is like a thief saying, "I did not steal," when he did; the latter is like an honest person
saying, "I did not steal," when he didn't. The words are the same, but used with different intent.
If we read in dharma books about things and events being "empty" or that we should not dwell
on disturbing emotions and thoughts, but just "let them go," unless we can actually own these
statements of fact through our own meditation and reasoning, such truths are no more
meaningful to us than someone else's money. Unless we want to fall into the pitfalls of New Age,
as Buddhists we have an obligation to ourselves not to cover up or conceal our ignorance behind
Sagely Wisdom that is not our own, but rather do the work necessary through analytical
meditation, discipline, and insight meditation, to put our own stamp on the truths revealed by our
* * *
A truly great piece of art will have a new appeal almost every time we look at it. A strong
meditation practice is like this; the form may be the same year in and year out, yet each session has
its own unique qualities that inspire and keep our thirst for realization alive.
* * *
The recitation of mantras is the mingling of mind and mantra; and the sanctity of neither is
partner's part contributes to the success of the marriage. A common mistake is to view mantras as
inherently sacred and that by reciting them some magic will occur that wipes away our
obstructions, a view that leads to mental laxity and renders the mantra impotent. Correctly
reciting mantras is extremely hard work, a discipline that demands that we muster up all our
mental and physical energy. If we empower the mantra with a pure and disciplined mind, the
mantra will empower us as well, like couples do each other in a successful marriage.
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 28, 2010
Negative emotions such a greed, hatred, lust, jealousy, covetousness, and a host of others are
common afflictions that we all have to deal with on various levels from coarse to subtle. Modern
process; whereas the Buddha taught to simply release them where they arise, to let them go
without examination. Once the thorn is removed from the foot, there is no point in wondering
what kind of tree or shrub it came from, how long it is, its color, etc; we simply toss it and go our
Of coarse in theory releasing disturbing emotions sounds very good; but in practice how do we do
this? We may wish to let them go and dissolve of themselves, but in practice it is not so simple.
Buddhism addresses this problem with a teaching called the substitution of opposites, which means
that whatever negativity that is being released we plant its corresponding positive cause in its
place. The same energy that might otherwise be placed in analyzing the negativity removed (and
inadvertently giving substance to the problem) is placed instead on initiating positive initiatives
don't simply remove the bad seed; we must also plant a good one in its place.
* * *
Thought for the Day: May 29, 2010
Abandon looking for solutions until the problem is thoroughly understood.
* * *
to facilitate ordinary communication and action. The Buddha and other sages have no problem
with this usage; but they do have a problem with the assumption that there is a referent to the
term "I" that extends beyond this conventional usage, the more subtle belief that there is an
underlying reality to the "I" thought. The assumption is not a harmless one; it is in fact the
primary reason that we turn endlessly on the wheel of birth and death. The purpose of self
inquiry, asking the fundamental question, "Who am I" has as its function the dismantling of this
subtle misconception, while leaving our ordinary notion of "I" in tact. Even though the referent
of "I" cannot be found, we are taught to devote our lives to the search; for each persona must
find out for himself that it cannot be found, its unfindability, and until we do so we will entertain
the subtle notion of its existence.
* * *
more popular; but they will be forgotten in a few years, while authentic dharma reaches into
centuries to come.
It is a trend today to take on the task of interpreting ancient scriptures into a presentation that
suits the language and customs of today; the result, however, is often biased by the authors' own
views and a proclivity to interpret the teachings to reflect them. The pity is that what is often
packaged as "Buddhist" is something else entirely.
If we lack the intellectual dexterity, energy, and patience to unpack the ancient texts into
meaningful instructions that are relative to the present, we are fortunate that in our modern times
there are many texts written by renowned Buddhist masters that have made published
commentaries on the most significant Buddhist literature. These are often done as paragraph by
paragraph interpretations that show both the original texts and the relevant commentary. These
are what we should rely on in addition to our study of traditional sutras and their centuries old
* * *