Thought for the Day: November 1, 2010
Those who choose to develop their own philosophy on life and live by their own rules,
independent of other philosophies or religious systems, put themselves as at a great disadvantage,
mistakenly thinking they are living free and uncontrived. Why not invent one's own system of
mathematics, develop one's own language, and make from scratch the many items of daily use? The
fact is we will develop our own philosophy best and easier, and cannot help but do so, by first studying
the thoughts of others and borrowing from the Wisdom of the wise, and from there making our
own unique contribution.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 2, 2010
"Go with the flow" is a bad philosophy; it usually goes downhill.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 3, 2010
A friend of mine, Saul David Rey, a yoga teacher, often reminded his students, "Where the eyes go,
the mind flows." Indeed it was a useful reminder for all of us who studied yoga in his Los Angles
Saul's was a useful lesson, not just for the yoga class, but for all of us, all the time.
Buddhism teaches us that all our sense organs must be disciplined and that they should serve us,
rather than we be enslaved by them. Unfortunately, usually just the opposite happens, and that is
senses and our predilection to find comfort in familiar thought patterns. Our mind continually
flows out through the senses, following what is pleasurable and avoiding what is not. And, even in
our thought, our conceptualizing flows into familiar patterns that we are "comfortable" with,
avoiding anything that might threaten our sense of security.
It is only when we go against this flow, when we discipline our desires and harness the energy of
desire, that we can break the chain that binds us to them and places a limit on what we can
experience as a human being. In our thought, it is when we allow ourselves to be threatened, when
we are vulnerable to ideas that threaten our sense of security, that we can grow.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 4, 2010
It is always best when beginning a practice to have humble goals. If you fail at lofty goals, you are
unlikely to pick up humble ones. But, if you succeed at humble one's, you will be encouraged to
move to more challenging ones. Thus the Chan saying, "An old hands cultivation the first year, a
beginners cultivation the second, and no cultivation at all the third year."
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 5, 2010
two primary faults of discipline are too much and too little. If discipline is too much, then we
usually the culprits that lead us too pick up disciplines out of our reach, while laziness is the culprit
behind lax discipline. Finding the right balance between the two is the key to a sustained discipline
that yields results.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 6, 2010
A lofty ambition may best be achieved by a humble solution. "Advanced" practices may be
tempting, but more humble preliminary practices are at the core of all "advanced" practice. Even
great masters with decades of experience behind them, continue to practice their preliminary
practices. They are the foundation upon which all other practices rest and cannot be removed any
more than the foundation of a building can be removed (once the structure is built.}
When we cultivate giving, patience, mindfulness, ethics, morality, virtue, compassion, and the like,
we are engaging in what many regard as "preliminary practices." But, these practices have many
levels in depth and subtleness, which we become more aware of as we move on to the so called
"advanced." Because it is our preliminary practices that give meaning to our advanced practice, they cannot
be ignored neither at the beginning, middle, or end, of our quest for enlightenment.
* * *
If too much time is spent wondering which is the best path to self realization, there won't be
enough time left to practice any of them.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 8, 2010
Daily introspection helps us to do good detective work on our own mind. Just as good police work
uncover the true source of disturbing emotions. But it works the other way as well. Poor police
work often leads to mistakenly ascribing a crime upon an innocent person. In similar manner, if we
do not practice introspection on a daily basis, we may have great difficulty correctly ascribing the
source of disturbing emotions when they do arise. If we cannot identify the source correctly, it will
be almost impossible to uproot the disturbing emotions.
If we want to be good cops of our own mind and put away for good the real culprits, introspection
should, like meditation, be a daily habit.
* * *
Behind every single word we speak is our breath, our prana, our vital energy. When we are agitated
our breath becomes disturbed and our words may be coarse and hurtful. If when our mind stirs we
can gather in mindfulness to focus on the breath, our breath will quieten and our words will as well.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 10, 2010
Maintaining peace within makes peace with everyone possible.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 11, 2010
A boat that is well anchored only periodically tests its line. For the most part the boat freely drifts
about without any tension on the anchor line. In similar manner, our meditation topic, whatever it
may be, for the most part remains behind the scenes, only occasionally reminding us that we have
drifted too far. If we lose our meditation topic altogether, then we will drift aimlessly about like a
boat whose anchor line has snapped. When we finally get our bearings who knows where we will
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 12, 2010
Although Buddhism teaches the doctrine of no-self, we should understand this as an ultimate
teaching. The ultimate teaching cannot be arrived at without a firm grounding in the conventional
teaching which teaches us to develop a strong sense of self. A strong sense of self is necessary for us
to develop qualities that are foundational for dharma practice, the cultivation of virtue, morality,
generosity, kindness, truthfulness and all that makes us good human beings. Conventional and
ultimate viewpoints form a seamless unity when correctly understood, and yet it is tempting for
those with poor instruction to think that conventional teachings can be given but a cursory glance.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 13, 2010
including Kailash, understand that this is the task of meditation. But, exactly how does it work?
The topic of meditation works like a mirror that reflects our thoughts. In the beginning the mirror
is not very clean and does not reflect well. But, as we practice meditation more and more, the
mirror becomes more clear and bright and we become more aware of our thoughts. It is as if our
thinking slows down and we see the thoughts go by, very distinctly, one by one.
When the mad mind slows and we become aware of our thoughts we are able to discriminate their
nature and can see what is of value and what is not. Picture for a moment standing beside a
freeway with cars rapidly moving by; it would be very difficult to discriminate much about them.
But, if the cars were to slow down, we could more easily make judgements about them. This
slowing down of the vehicles would be very valuable to us if we were told we could pick one to
Not all of our thoughts are to be discarded when we meditate; in fact none of them are. We
meditate to become aware of what is going on in our mind; not to stop what is going on. Any
random thought can reveal the nature of the mind and lead us to enlightenment. We just have to
see it in a particular way. But, if they are flying by too fast we cannot benefit by them. So we slow
down the process through meditation so that we can pick out and further examine the nature of
thought itself, which any thought can reveal. The mind is itself enlightening, and it is the task of
meditation to help us discover this.
* * *
Nature offers us so much that we can never repay her. But, we can honor nature by doing our best
to replenish what we take; and be mindful to take only as much as we need. In our relationship
with our fellow human beings, as well, we should be mindful to nurture and support as we seek to
be nurtured and supported.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 15, 2010
Many teachers teach the authentic Buddha dharma and of these there are great Masters who have
an opportunity for us to deepen our understanding. Just as a good coach aspires for students who
their understanding may be, to have students who surpass them. As students we should try to
make their wish come true.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 16, 2010
We color the world we see by our own thinking and whatever emotions, joy, sadness, etc. we
experience all comes from our own side and not from the objects or people we see. We can easily
prove this to ourselves with a simple thought experiment. Consider for a moment a time when you
saw someone you disliked intently or who caused you anger. We might have said to
ourselves,"That person makes me so angry," thinking that we became angry because of the person.
compassion and see opportunity wherever we go.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 17, 2010
Recently a friend told me he was investing in Iraqi currency and I remarked that it seemed like it
could be a worthwhile investment if the terrorism in the country subsided and people learned to
work together to build the country and stabilize the government. I thought I was done with the
conversation, but it opened up a entire train of inquiry and I found myself imagining how such an
investment would be for me and how it would effect my thoughts. It was quiet a journey.
than every that peace prevail; but unfortunately my sudden concern for the well being of my Iraqi
brothers would be colored with selfishness for my own personal benefit. This reminds me how
important it is to not only have the right aspirations; but also that these aspirations should ideally
be for the right reasons. We are taught as Buddhists the importance of right motivation; but often
this is looked upon as simply doing good things and thinking good things, and it is; but doing
good things and thinking good things unselfishly is better, and far more difficult.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 18, 2010
The problem with the way we deal with problems is that we get caught up in particular problems
without properly understanding the cause. So we eliminate one problem and in a short while
another pops up. This is like trying to get rid of an undesirable plant in our yard by chopping it
down. Eventually, it will surely spring back to life as long as the root remains intact.
problems. But, for most of us common people, being free of desire is a goal that seems so out of
reach (and out of touch with the world we live in) that we don't even try to solve our problems by
The Buddha taught that our problems are all rooted in desire; where there is no desire there are no
disciplining our desires. This is partly a problem of the authoritative and seemingly cold ways in
which the doctrine of desire is presented; it can be hard not to be put off by it.
If, however, we grit our teeth a bit and try to see how we create our problems through our seeking
to fulfil our desires, and rather than take swings at the many problems we have, take a more humble
and holistic approach by asking ourselves if perhaps it is not our own selfish intent that led to the
mess we are in. Selfish intent is of course rooted in desire and by examining and uprooting selfish
intent, wherever it is found, we also begin to deflate the balloon of desire, our problems diminish,
and we experience greater freedom in our lives. This is the most difficult approach; but it works.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 19, 2010
Throughout history human beings have created fortresses to isolate themselves from their fellow
human beings. This is the nature of samsara. Countries have their boundaries, cities have theirs, and
people in the cities put up their fences. This "fortress mentality" is hard to shake.
The most common mistake we make when we begin to meditate is to adopt a "fortress mentality,"
whereby we try to isolate ourselves from our thoughts by building a wall of meditation to keep them
out. All we succeed in doing by this approach is locking ourselves in; which is not the same as keeping
thoughts out. We become a victim of our own meditation, and instead of meditation serving us, it
binds us up.
While in our everyday world boarders and fences may have their functional value; they have no place
in meditation. Meditation should always be open. Thoughts should be allowed to naturally rise and
fall and mingle with our topic of meditation, whatever it may be. While we certainly don't want to be
dragged off by a thought, we certainly do not want to push it away either. With a thread of awareness
ever connecting us to our topic of meditation, we should allow our thoughts to rise and fall without
interference on our part, without developing them, or rejecting them.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 20, 2010
Greed is one of the "Three Poisons," which together with Hatred and Stupidity, afflict. Greed arises
because of our propensity to fantasize about various objects to the extent that we eventually think
that the objects themselves possess desirable qualities. But, if the qualities we see in objects were
desirable, then those same qualities should produce desire in all individuals. But, this is not the case.
A car buff can get all excited about a car because of the way he has conditioned his mind to think
about cars. Another person could care less about cars (but invariably be attached elsewhere.) The key
* * *
Buddhism does not have any place for a Supreme Being as Creator and this leads some Buddhists to
Buddhist, giving thanks is simply being thankful, an attitude of mind, just like compassion or loving
kindness is an attitude of mind. Most of all, we should be thankful even if we have heard but a single
word of Dharma or walked but a single step in Truth. This is indeed most fortunate.
* * *
The great master HH Dilgo Khyentse remarks in his wonderful book, The Heart Treasury of the we
want to be fundamental in establishing if we are to be truly happy. We, each of us, is living proof
of the fact that self-seeking has no end. Our needs are endless and are never satisfied by our force in
the lives of others.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 23, 2010
All attempts to define reality are doomed to failure, and yet the habit persists. Sutras only help us to
break the habit, get out of our own way, and stop obstructing ourselves.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 24, 2010
Buddhism often attracts students who have "problems" of one sort or other, in general some sort
of dissatisfaction with themselves. In the world these "problems" are viewed as disturbances to be
gotten rid of, undesirable, and targeted as a drug targets a cancer. However, the Buddhist student
under the guidance of a good teacher will find that his teacher will be quite disinterested in any
It cannot help but rub off on the student and cause him to ask himself if perhaps he is not seeing
what real important "problems" are.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 25, 2010
Buddhism teaches that we should not give rise to anger in response to negativity and this could
prompt the question: "If we don't become angry about negativity in the world, how will be motivated to bring
about positive change?" This was a question that arose at a Thanksgiving dinner with friends this
This is a question that a monk giving a lecture was stumped by. He shouldn't have been, however.
The correct answer would have been that compassion for the perpetrator(s), whether it be a nation
or an individual, is more likely to lead to an effective response. Genuine compassion will lead us to
see that the consequences created by negative actions lead to consequences for the doer that will
cause enormous suffering in the future. The seeing of this should generate compassion within us
which in turn will generate the wisdom to remedy the situation.
Anger and hatred do not generate wisdom. These negative emotions may cause us to want to
remedy the situation, but because the root of our motivation is itself negative, the result will be
as well. World history has many examples of this, and it is seen on a micro level in our daily lives.
Another point not to be ignored is the fact that to generate compassion feels good; not so anger.
We all want to make the world a better place, but giving rise to negativity will never help us achieve
our aim. While it is a natural response to be angry when we see injustice etc in the world, it is not
the response that will be ultimately effective. It is a conditioned response that arises because of the
way we have responded in the past, and this conditioning can be reversed through right thought
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 26, 2010
Yesterday I talked about how action motivated by anger cannot bring about positive results
because the root, anger, is itself negative. Well, today I glanced the headlines and saw this quote
from the new South Korean military chief: "We will put our feelings of rage and animosity in our
bones and take our revenge on North Korea." We can easily picture in our mind how this kind of
attitude would smother out and possibility of Wisdom, and stifle any intelligent response to the
current situation. No wonder they have been technically at war for over fifty years; their anger and
animosity towards each other will keep them separated as long as this attitude remains unchanged.
* * *
One of the constant lessons my teacher, Master Hsuan Hua, taught us as monks is to never use
force to accomplish one's end. Cultivation of the dharma should be interesting and we should feel
hooked. We should never feel we have to force ourselves to meditate or study dharma books. If we
feel this way it is an indication that we are not approaching the dharma from the right angle and
developing a proper spirit of inquiry. Generally it is laxity in practice that prevents us from getting
over the hump that transforms dharma practice from a chore to an interesting and absorbing
aspect of our life that is ever fulfilling. We should look forward to dharma practice like we look
forward to a good meal; it is a time when can become intimate with ourselves and be nourished
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 27, 2010
"Intention" is the single most important factor in all dharma practice. Whatever dharma door we
practice, whether it be manta recitation, service to others, yoga, or any of the thousands of
methods that we use to awaken our mind, effectiveness and intention will be closely linked. If the
intention is not clear and selfless, we can clean monastery dishes for a lifetime and accumulate little
merit. The mantras we recite may sound sweet, properly enunciated, and melodious, and yet
without proper intention bring little benefit. We may feed an impoverished village for a hundred
years, and yet selfish intent can drain all merit from our deed. We can leave the home life and
become a monk for many lifetimes, and have the wish for fame and notoriety reduce our merit to
that of a common person.
If our intention is pure, however, all dharma doors will bring our wishes to fruition. We may not
have much to give, but what little we give will gain great merit if we have pure and unselfish
intent. We may be poor at enunciating mantras correctly, and yet single pointed intention will
allow each syllable to float upon our inner winds and illuminate every corner of our mind.
Once there was a novice who wanted to become fully ordained so intently that he could think of
nothing else and almost forgot to eat or sleep. He finally went to an ordination ceremony and
when the ordination Master said to him the words: "Come here" the young novice became
enlightened even before receiving his robes. (I am paraphrasing here from a talk of His Holiness
that Dali Lama.)
What we do is important; why we do it is more important. We should constantly scrutinize our
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 28, 2010
Yesterday I talked about the importance of pure intention in dharma practice. The central point
being made was that pure intention is necessary if we are to realize the full benefit of our practice.
This of course begs the question, "isn't it the practice of dharma that is supposed to purify our
intention?" The answer is that while dharma practice can purify our intention, it does not do so
necessarily. If the form of our practice is clung to it will become a mechanical gesture with no life
force behind it. As soon as the thought arises, "I am doing good" the merit of the practice begins
to drain away. A true practitioner gives no room for such a thought to arise. But, this in itself is
almost an impossible achievement, one that can elude even the most serious partitioner.
As with everything we do, the sense of self creeps into dharma practice, and this is what
undermines intention. We become complacent very easily, we may assume that we are gaining
merit when in fact we may be fattening our ego. This is a pervasive problem within all dharma
practice and why pure intention is so rare. To do good without thinking "I am doing good", "I am
serving others," "I am working hard at my meditation" is a rare achievement. For the person who
is really doing the work, there is no room for such thoughts to arise. The joy of the practice itself
and the interest we have in doing it, will leave no room for such thoughts, because we are so
hooked by what we are doing that we don't even think about it.
* * *
Thought for the Day: November 29, 2010
If you view the world through rose colored spectacles even your faults will look good. It is
important to know when to remove them.
* * *
was only through their own effort. Self reliance is central to Buddhism's soteriological concerns.
* * *