|Thought for the day: November 1, 2007
Undue attention to diet while treading the path to self discovery can become more of a distraction
than an aid if one is not careful. There is very little in Buddhist literature concerning the specifics
about what to eat, while some attention is given to the importance of silence while eating, eating
less, performing correct contemplation, and not seeking fine flavors. The idea is to consider
eating a form of meditation and not entertainment.
A good diet is a support to a much broader path and should be viewed as such. Within the broad
context of Buddhist practice, a diet that supports a healthy body supports a healthy practice, as
well. But, outside of this context, diet in and of itself, can hardly be viewed as "spiritual."
|Thought for the day: November 2, 2007
All disturbing emotions can be brought into the path by asking oneself, "To whom do these
emotions arise." Anger, jealousy, lust, and many other emotions can be turned around very
effectively by this means. "Hatred only hurts the hater," as the Buddha says. In similar manner
other disturbing emotions only hurt the one hosting them. But, with a little effort and
discrimination, these emotions can be used to fuel self-inquiry.
|Thought for the day: November 3, 2007
Pranayama, breath mastery, is an excellent discipline to integrate into one's meditation practice.
Because breath and thought are closely linked, where one is so is the other, where one is not
the other ceases, as well. Practicing pranayama supports quieting the mind. I practice it before
every meditation session.
Care should be taken when controlling the breath. Among books on the subject, Light on
Pranayama, by Iyengar, and Mahamudra: The Moonlight -- Quintessence of Mind and
Meditation by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, The Dalai Lama, and Lobsang P. Lhalungpa, are among
Usually it is the mind that first becomes absorbed followed by the breath. We notice this
frequently in our daily lives. As our interest becomes absorbed in something, a book, a
conversation, writing a letter, our breath slows. Pranayama is a conscious and deliberate slowing
of the breath through regulating it. However, like meditation, great care should be taken that it is
done correctly. This method should not be confused with merely holding the breath.
Pranayama's aim is to absorb thought into the breath---so there is no holding or force. Practiced
properly, however, it is an excellent tool that yields many physical benefits, while at the same time
strengthening the minds ability to focus and remain focused and penetrate beneath superficial
|Thought for the day: November 4, 2007
Mindfulness of breath, is a very different practice than pranayama, discussed yesterday. It is
much easier to practice and has far fewer dangers that warrant precautions. Mindfulness of
breath is simply bringing one's awareness on the breath and keeping it there. When awareness
wanders it is brought once again to rest on the breath. Conceptually easy to understand, it is
very difficult to practice. In the beginning, the mind is continually hijacked by thoughts that
distract its attention away from the breath. This is called being in the "guest" position. Once we
become aware of the mind's wandering away from the topic of meditation, the breath, we place
it once again on the breath and assume the "host" position host and guest position.
As we progress, gradually the mind will cease alternating between the host and guest positions
and remain firmly placed on the breath. At this point we are like a fish in the sea that may
occasionally start after a fisherman's lure, but realizing what it is before taking a bite, gives up
the chase. This intermediate stage requires constant vigilance.
As we continue our practice of Mindfulness of breath, an attraction will emerge hidden within
the breath itself. Wandering thoughts will cease to arise and the mind will naturally and with little
effort rests on its target.
|Thought for the day: November 5, 2007
Meditation has been described as ecstatic equilibrium, a term that well reflects a fundamental
aspect of meditation, "balance." Meditation is not a process of adding a new state of
awareness with all new materials, but rather making good use of what is already there. A first
step requires the use of a neutral meditation topic that will help us to realize that the same
energy that fuels anger, jealousy, doubt, lust, and other disturbing emotions can be redirected
to fuel liberating awareness. Negative energy is brought to bear on the topic of meditation and
absorbed there. As the meditation becomes stronger it balances out and neutralise disturbing
emotions. Gradually they will subside and no longer be a distraction.
|Thought for the day: November 6, 2007
Fearlessness, is key to meditative practice. The "stone" approach is motivated by fear; and as
long as the drops of disturbing thoughts are splashing off the stone they will continue to do so.
However, as soon as the "sponge" approach is adopted, they will be absorbed. This is the
correct method for dealing with disturbing thoughts. Always be open while meditating, never
|Thought for the day: November 10, 2007
"Be ordinary and nothing special," is a Chinese saying exhorting dharma practitioners to keep
their practice inside and not put it on display. The caution is warranted as attachment to the
roll of dharma practitioner often undermines our effort. This danger is much less likely if we
are living under the guidance of a qualified master, but for those of us who are not, we must
be on constant guard.
|Thought for the day: November 12, 2007
Every time you say to yourself, "I know better than that," realize that what you really mean is, "I
wish I knew better than that." The occasion of the former would not arise at all if you knew
better. Precision in our thinking is an aid to overcoming weaknesses in our practice.
|Thought for the day: November 13, 2007
HH Dilgo Khyentse says that one of the most effective practices for developing kindness and
compassion is exchanging self and others. In other words, make the effort to put others first,
to treat others as yourself. If we do this our kindness will come from the heart and a genuine
interest in the welfare of others will arise.
|Thought for the day: November 14, 2007
To study meditation without studying Buddhism first is like buying gas before owning a car.
Knowledge of meditation alone won't get anyone anywhere. A monk I know once told me
about a bumper sticker he saw while driving on the freeway; it read, "I don't know where I am
going; but I am going like hell." You don't want to be like that guy.
|Thought for the day: November 17, 2007
A genuine concern for the welfare of others is the best indication that our practice is pointing
in the right direction. Bliss and absorption in meditation are not reliable indicators when not
accompanied by understanding.
|Thought for the day: November 18, 2007
An athlete focuses his attention to be the best in his field, a ballet dancer wishes to develop
her skills, a businessman wishes for success. In all cases, the focus of attention is to
succeed. But, all these aspirations also reinforce the false sense of "I" and "other," a sense
of separateness from other living beings with whom we share this planet. To counter this
Buddhism teaches to always try and balance out one's aspiration for success by cultivating a
genuine wish that others succeed as well, and helping them to do so. We should never take
advantage of situations if it unfairly harms another. We do not want to move forward if it
means compromising our integrity. If one wishes to create a medicine for the sake of healing
people, the motivation is different from one who seeks monetary gain. In both cases the
medicine achieves it aim, but the merit of having altruistic ambitions will serve to diminish the
"I" sense in the one, and reinforce it in the other. In everything we do, motivation should be
examined, or the cost of success may outweigh its benefits.
|Thought for the day: November 19, 2007
Sutras teach us, "all living beings have the Buddha nature, and it is only because of false
thinking and attachments that they fail to realize it." The Buddhas is instructing us here to
understand that self-realization is not an "add-on" and to concentrate on discovering what is
already there rather than adding something new. Seeing our true Buddha Nature is obscured
by a sense of "I" whose focus is limited by desires that wrongly conceptualize the self as
confined to the physical body and mental activity limited to the view of an individual self.
While not ignoring the conventional, everyday reality of the personal self, Buddhism teaches
us to control desires associated with this viewpoint so that we can make ourself vulnerable,
or worthy of the realization of that which is not confined to a personal view of self. When
attachment to the confining view of a personal self is gradually dismantled, a greater sense
of interconnectedness with others is gradually realized and their welfare becomes as
important as our own. As this is achieved through persistent practice we will become more
aware of our Buddha Nature and less bound up by false views and attachment that wrongly
confines us to the self as the individual. Thus, while not losing the sense of individuality, it is
pervaded by a more all encompassing awareness.
|Thought for the day: November 20, 2007
Observing the mind in post meditation is a better indicator of how a meditation went than
trying to make a judgement based on the meditation itself.
|Thought for the day: November 21, 2007
A sense of carrying our meditation with us when we get off our cushion and get on with our
day is good post-meditation practice. Gradually a sense of continuity will arise between
meditations, and this will allow us to become focused more quickly every time we sits down
|Thought for the day: November 22, 2007
Believe is a word to be used with caution and mindfulness. Certainly it behooves us all to
better understand the objects of our "beliefs" so that we may express our beliefs with
greater meaning and precision.
|Thought for the day: November 25, 2007
In Chan Buddhism emphasis is made on the importance of, "not being turned by
conditions" or "not being turned by states." It is relatively easy to maintain an even mind
when everything is going well, but when conditions change, and things become
unpredictable, distracting, and unexpected, etc, we often lose our focus and become
"turned upside down by conditions." During these moments our weaknesses are often
exposed, and the importance of a well balanced practice is realized.
|Thought for the day: November 27, 2007
One of the greatest advantages of studying Buddhism with a genuine teacher is that he will
help to make an otherwise abstract understanding of the dharma a subjective one. A
teacher (with accomplishment) will never allow scholarly understanding to develop in
isolation; and that is the primary and all important difference between studying Buddhism at
a university or on one's own and studying with a teacher.
Bearing this in mind, as lay people who often do not have the opportunity to draw near a
"Good Knowing Advisor," we must exert extra effort to avoid being satisfied with a mere
intellectual understanding, and exert ourselves in meditation, both analytical and quiescent.
|Thought for the day: November 28, 2007
A child psychologist once remarked to me that I should never begin a sentence with the
word "don't" when instructing my children. The reason she said, is that children simply
remove it. For example, "Don't go near the fire," becomes "Go near the fire," "Don't play with
Jimmy?" "Play with Jimmy," "Don't go in the forest," "Play in the forest," etc. She said the
better way to instruct children was by using "consequences." Instead of "Don't go near the
fire," question: "What do you think would happen if you went near that fire?" etc.
The use of "consequences" is a common feature of one of Tibetan Buddhism's most
important branches and is known as prasankika. This branch, Madyamika, does not say
that a viewpoint is wrong, but rather explores the consequences (which generally become
absurd) if it was right. But, while Madyamika arguments tend to focus on the highest
philosophical tenants, as ordinary people we can use the same principles to help us work on
our more mundane disciplines and viewpoints.
I once attended a lecture by HH Dali Lama and he was asked about sexual desire. He
explained that a mosquito once bit him on the neck and his Tibetan doctor told him not to
scratch it. He listened for a few days, but the itch started to bother him so much that he
could not resist. But, the more he scratched it the more it itched, until he had an infection
so bad he had to see his doctor again." Had his doctor used prasankika instead of telling
him "Don't" HH Dali Lama may well have thought more deeply and left it alone.
Disciplines have their reasons and when these are lost sight of the burden of keeping them
can become impossible. For this reason we should always be mindful of the consequences
of our action and knowingly walk the path.