Thought for the Day, September 1, 2012
lighting a candle and burning incense to infinitely more complex rituals. Rituals should never
become routine, nor should meditation. Every day that we practice meditation in some sense
should feel like our first day on the job, full of expectation and responsibility. Rituals,
complex or simple, should be accompanied by ever deepening sense of mindfulness and
dedication. If our practice ever begins feeling "routine" we generally have gotten too
comfortable with it. Practice should always be challenging. Just as a good athlete constantly
sets higher goals for himself and thus increases his performance, so also, as dharma
practitioners we must set higher goals constantly. To do this within the context of dharma
Rituals are common elements of most Buddhist practice, whether it be a simple ritual of
practice is more difficult than it is for the athlete because we are working within a more
subtle, non physical realm of experience. It is primarily through the aid of study, reflection,
and calling on good teachers that complacency is avoided within dharma practice.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 2, 2012
The desire to benefit others is the most important aspect of the Buddhist Path. It is called the
Bodhisattva Ideal and it is this aspiration that should eventually permeate all aspects of our
practice of the dharma. When we do things for others in the ordinary sense it is not
accompanied by the concern nor the evenhandedness that would qualify it as bodhisattva
activity. Generally two things are missing, one, the deep concern accompanying the action, and
two, the evenhandedness of a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva treats all beings equally and has an
equal concern for them. He also has discarded any sense of himself as the bestower of
kindness. Interestingly, however, the bodhisattva begins his path by first taking his own self as
the object to express true kindness to, and gradually extends it to his family, friends, humanity
and enemies. If we cannot generate a true concern for our own wellbeing we can never
generate it for others.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 3, 2012
When Buddhists say: "Get at the root, do not worry about twigs and branches," they are
exhorting us to look at the "basis" for all our disturbances, physical and emotional. The great
Master Miphalm says: "If you can prove a tree doesn't exist, it will be a simple task to prove a
forest doesn't." This means the same as the first quotation.
If we wish to understand ourselves better, we do not need to wear ourselves out trying to
untie every knot in our head. As long as we think the string is real, we will keep tying knots
mental and physical states, and see whether or not there in fact is one, or is its existence a
mere assumption. Even if we never come to a conclusion, we are in for a wild ride that will in
time eclipse all our "personal" concerns and dissolve them into the journey itself.
Just as the lotus arises out of the mud, self-knowledge often arises out of disturbing
emotions. In fact, in as much as positive mental states can be a source of ego clinging, it is
often the case that so called negative states are in the long run the positive ones --- if we can
turn them around and use them to look within and question just who it is that owns these
Most of us are aware that Buddhism teaches "no-self" or "soul," but the reality is that we
experience suffering. So, we cannot take this ultimate viewpoint as our own. We can only
have faith that it is true and work accordingly.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 4, 2012
The interconnectedness of all humanity is inescapable. We all have an effect on each other
with each thought or deed and others effect our lives continually. In this sense there is no
real individuality. Buddhists make a meditative practice of exchanging self with others as an
aid to establishing this viewpoint in their habitual thought patterns, so that they are more in
tune with the way things are. When we spontaneously feel another's joy or suffering as our own
we have made a big move forward.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 5, 2012
A saying goes: "Man says time passes, time says man passes." Time is precious and we must
use it wisely for one day our time will come and we won't be able to say "time passes."
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 6, 2012
When you see something, a pot for instance, you look at a part of it, the handle for instance
and identify it as a pot ((through eliminating all that is not pot (help!!??) --- that is the
doctrin.)) Tomorrow you look at the same "pot" and think that it hasn't changed, but it has.
The pot has been changing since the first moment you saw it; what hasn't changed is the
"label" pot and that is what you are really seeing, yesterday, today, and for as long as you
have a pot in your life. The reason we think that the pot hasn't changed is because of our
proclivity to confuse the name with the thing. While the label pot hasn't changed, the
underlying basis of the imputation pot, has been changing all the while, moment by moment.
What has this to do with anything?
Well, consider yourself. You have a physical form, feelings, volition, perception and
consciousness. When you think of yourself you put together these five things and call it "I."
These five things change every moment, but the label "I" remains the same, and this is what
you "see" to when you think of yourself. Again, a case of confusing the label, with the basis
of imputation. The problem with all this is it leads to an "I"dentity crisis.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 8, 2012
Mindfulness as we know is a most important element of Buddhist practice, almost equal to
having a compassionate aspiration. Of the many forms that "mindfulness" assumes, one of
practical importance is mindfulness in activity. What exactly does it mean to be mindful
Generally, our intention while doing things is not single. We have many thoughts occupying
our mind that are not relevant to what we are doing. No wonder the Buddha had to instruct
his monks not to sweep into the wind! If we can do things without thinking of other things,
then whatever we are doing becomes like a meditation. No task is too mundane as to not
warrant our full attention. We should do what we do with intention, deliberately, in a
focused way. If we can do this it does not matter how grand or humble our activity may be,
because the potential for mindfulness does not favor any particular activity.
We empower our life by paying attention to seemingly insignificant affairs. In fact, it is our
ability to absorb ourselves completely in mundane activities that is the most significant
indication that mindfulness is being achieved. If we favor some activities over others, we are
not realizing the equal potential of all that we do. Mental pliancy, the ability to give our full
attention to anything is very helpful here.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 8, 2012
When in doubt, ask yourself --- and don't argue.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 10, 2012
It is a blessing to be able to practice meditation and we should be cautious that this sense is
never lost. The dangers of losing this awareness is that meditation may be put on a pedestal
and worshipped as something that we do rather than something we partake in like food.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 11, 2012
If we pretend we are a deity much of what we do will be called into question. When
practicing Tantra and we place ourselves as the deity in the center of the Mandala we are
certainly taking on a big responsibility. This is one consequence of Tantric practice I have
been thinking a lot about lately.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 13, 2012
I acquired a Baby Grand piano two days ago. It wasn't supposed to be purchased, but
rather I volunteered to store it for my son's piano teacher if she failed to sell it before
moving off this island to be with her son. My motivation was in part to help her out, but
more to get the free use of a very good instrument before it sold (it was to remain on sale at
I don't have a place for it in my house, nor funds for it, and my composer friend who I
emailed for an opinion was a definite "no" for various reasons, including the fact that the
new digital ones produce equal the sound quality at half the price and a 10th the size. That
was the final "no buy," for me.
But, when the mover came with it and set it down where the dining table was, which is
adjacent to the shrine, it looked like a deity, as if it had lived there forever. Also, my son's
piano teacher got stung by a bee the day before and had a severe allergic reaction, and lost
vision due to floaters in her left eye the same day. She was feeling very down and I
remembered months ago her saying that she wouldn't leave the island without first selling
the piano. I began calculating what karma was tied to her vow not to leave the island before
selling it. Why were such negative and inauspicious things happening to this loving
generous person. Of course I thought about it, but I really couldn't afford the $4,000 , not
to mention figuring out where to eat since the Piano went where the dining table was. But,
I was nagged that I should get it.
I thought about all the ill omens that my son's dear piano teacher was having the day before
departure, the piano not clashing with the deities, but looking as one of them, and of course
the love my son had for that piano. So, I bought it and the piano teacher almost fell over.
I usually have doubts when shifting my mind so radically, but felt this was a right decision.
I felt a strange karma going on. The piano was there less than an hour and I went out the
house to pick up my son. As soon as I walked out the door a nicely, professionally dressed
women came and said to me that a couple of months ago her friend gave her my card so
she might attend the weekly dharma teachings I host at my home and she decided today was
the day to drop in for she was too shy before. Even though I had no idea she was a
composer I invited her in to see the new piano. Oh! You bought my fellow composers
piano; who is it for, she asked. My son, I replied, and she said that she wants to come
compose with him sometimes, and come to meditation classes, as well. So what is the lesson
here? I don't know; come ask the piano.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 14, 2012
If the dog is black; why then when you see a black cow you don't think it a dog?
The practice of non-attachment is one of the most powerful dharmas leading to liberation.
But, if we go overboard denying ourselves sources of pleasure, we can become detached
from others and our concern for their welfare, and in so doing defeat the a principle
function of non-attachment. So, it is important when practicing non-attachment, that we
develop inner joy developed through meditation that balances out any sense of
deprivation. Otherwise we will become angry renunciates of little use to ourselves or
anyone else. This is why we must rely on good teachings so that we can skillfully develop
the inner qualities of our being even as we are dropping off attachment to outer ones.
"Over negation" is very harmful. A balanced effort will maintain an inner tranquility that
is a necessary foundation for spiritual progress. Our egos can tempt us, often successfully,
to push beyond our limits, and it is important to guard against this tendency.
Enlightenment is the goal; but the motivation to achieve that goal must not be overly
* * *
Yesterday I talked to a friend who has been reading Edgar Casey and has become very
interested in knowing about her past lives. She is a lovely seventy-five year old women who
spoke with great clarity and enthusiasm. I always find it interesting listening to people who
get excited about past lives because if you ask them what they did yesterday or a week ago
they either forgot or find it a tale to boring to tell. Within Buddhism knowledge of past
lives is very common, but never a worthy goal. If such knowledge comes our way by chance
we are taught to let it go and not cling to it in any way.
The fascinating topic for a Buddhist is "who" it is that is subject to past and future births
and "who" it is that is present. If you buy a used car, you are not going to be asking how it
drove a few years back; but you will want to know how it is likely to drive a few months
and years from your purchase date. So, you take a good look at its current condition. The
same principle applies to spiritual development. Our concern is the present and expanding
our immediate experience and deepening it.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 16, 2012
When we practice meditation and many things arise in our mind we tend to view them as
“other” because they are not what we are supposed to be meditating upon. Because we
view them as “other” we tend to wish them to go away or actively attempt to push them
out of our head. However, the truth is that these appearances that disturb our meditation
are not really the intruders we take them to be. They are no more “other” than anything
else in our head, including the topic of meditation itself. It is only designated “other”
because it is other than what we desire to be the object of our intention, otherwise known
as the meditation topic. Now, while it may be better that they were not sharing the stage
with our meditation topic, by considering them “other” we only encourage them to remain
Thoughts and emotions that arise in our mind and seemingly intrude on our meditation
are not “other” than our beloved “Om Mani Padme Hum” or any other topic of
meditation. If we understand that what we call “other” is free of any possibility of “being”
apart from what we give it we are taking the first step in dissolving the diversity of thought
into the meditation topic itself. At some point in our lives every thought and emotion that
intrudes upon our meditation topic was empowered by the same mind that empowers our
meditation today. These “intruders” have no self nature of their own; they are no other
than a display of our own mind. We cannot put them up for adoption. And, the job of
meditation is not to get rid of thoughts and emotions, but to understand them.
If you understand that there is no “other” in your mind, that there is not one thing that
you experience that could possibly exist without you, then you will understand that there is
no “other.” No matter how unpleasant a mental phenomena may appear, it appears that
way because you view it as “other.” If you strip it of “other” it will appear as energy which
can be directed and dissolved into the meditation topic.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 17, 2012
Much of what is involved in the course of ordinary business and social activity we move
through as a matter of course, often with consequences that are not supportive of our
practice of dharma. It is easy to unwarily make decisions that can benefit ourselves at the
expense of another. There are so many rules governing conduct and the cultivation of
virtue that it is almost impossible to keep track of them all. But, if there is a common
denominator it would be harmlessness, or ahimsa, a Sanskrit word Mahatma Gandhi
brought into the English vocabulary through his living example. It is a rudder that can
steer one's life through many obstacles.
* * *
As unenlightened beings it is very difficult to unselfishly benefit others because our view of
benefiting them is colored by the thought of doing something for them, and we are the
giver and they the recipient, and it is hard to shake it from our head that the recipient is
not in some way ingratiated to us or below us. So, there goes the merit.
* * *
When we search for something we have an idea what it is we are looking for. We are
looking for a donkey."
The search for enlightenment is actually a search to discover what binds us up. If we
identify this and apply the proper antidote enlightenment gradually appears. So,
realization does not come about by searching for it, but rather searching for what it is that
is hiding it. There is no other way of going about it. But, many, if not most people try. It is
a beginner's mistake; it is an old hands mistake, too.
If we understand that spiritual practice, including meditation, has the principle aim of
revealing the nature of hindrances clearly, rather than creating a fantastic experience, that
fantastic experience will come to us as the hindrances are removed because it was never
not there. But, if we search for what is there all along, without removing the hindrances
first, we will never see it.
What is being pointed out here is the importance of having a correct reference point for
spiritual practice. The technique may be the same, but if the technique is not applied with
the correct viewpoint or aim, progress will be impossible. Spiritual practice does not
create enlightened states; it reveals misguided, erroneous ones. If an enlightened state were
the result of spiritual practice, it would not be a true enlightened state, but a fabrication ---
the kind "enlightenment" that many New Age books have been written about as
"authentic" by their self-proclaimed "enlightened" authors. Unfortunately many vulnerable
individuals are mislead by their deception as much as they are themselves.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 19, 2012
HH Dali Lama in a teaching on developing Wisdom I was listening to yesterday discussed
meditation on the "I" thought. He advised to sit in meditation and when the mind
becomes completely still, borrow a corner of that stillness to try and catch the emergence
of an "I" thought. This kind of investigation is vipassana meditation, or insight meditation
and it is usually practiced with its complement, Shamatha , quiescent meditation. Although
we use the "I" constantly in our speech and random thoughts throughout the day; we will
find it is very shy when we actually wait looking for it.
The above practice can be very difficult and a way to lead up to it is the practice of
labeling thoughts as they arise, basically redressing each thought, categorizing it, etc.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 20, 2012
One of the most unique aspects of the Buddha's teaching is his disclaimer: "Don't take my
word for it.".
Even within the Buddhist teachings themselves their are many disagreements upon what
the Buddha meant when he gave teachings. Keep in mind that the Buddha's teaching
career spanned forty-nine years, during which time he walked primarily on foot in the
dusty plains of Bihar, India, one of the poorest, most lawless, and illiterate and destitute
Indian states. He taught almost daily, arguably the longest teaching career of any Sage in
history. During this period he taught hundreds of teachings, many of which were sermons
that went on for weeks or months, covering thoroughly the three aspects of his teachings:
Conduct, Concentration, and Wisdom. These teachings are again broken down into what
are called "definitive" teachings and "Interpretive" teachings, but never the less, the
Buddha's disclaimer applied to both kinds of teachings.
The fact that the Buddha emphasized that his teachings should be analyzed for logical
consistency and thoroughly analyzed as to meaning, there arose many disagreements as to
what the Buddha actually meant, and from these disagreements the many schools of
Buddhism arose. Generally, these schools are classified in a hierarchal fashion, which
surprisingly holds together well, even though each school claims itself the highest! It takes
some digging and thoughtful reasoning about the scriptures to see that even though a
particular school will claim itself the highest, it will generally be found that what this
school really is saying that it is an aid to understanding the next school up the ladder.
What this all boils down to is that the "highest" school is the one that will work in our
present point of development. We should study what we can understand and prove it to
ourselves, through analyses and reasoning. If we don't take this additional step of proving
it to ourselves, we will gain intellectual understanding, but not understanding that brings
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 21, 2012
It is not that distracting thoughts disappear that a person with skill in meditation remains
unengaged in them, but rather because he has becomes so engrossed in meditation that he
loses interest in them. Who watching a volcano erupt would pay attention to a fire fly? So,
the correct process is allowing whatever arises in the mind to be, and focus on developing
the meditation topic.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 22, 2012
HH Dali Lama points out that even if we are in a temple in meditation posture or
performing rituals with our body, or even while attending one of his lectures, we could
be committing heavy offences. Being physically present in a sacred place does not
necessarily mean one is mentally present.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 23, 2012
Yesterday I attended the morning service at a local Dharma center here on Maui. Part of
talk "inherent existence" and the "five aggregates" was mentioned many times and never
explained. I could not but wonder if the audience knew what these were, particularly
"inherent existence," as understanding this was central to the talk. I will talk a bit about
Inherent existence is the ability of a thing to exist as a separate entity and it is the way
the untrained mind generally perceives the world. We see objects as enjoying a nature of
their own independent of the perceiving subject. We also see them as whole objects and
permanent. They somehow exist from their own side, and we from ours. This is one
reason we seem to live in an external environment.
This is the way things appear to the unreflective mind, but the way things appear, is very
different from the way things are. If a thing only existed from its own side, independent
of any other factors for its existence, how could such a thing be known? What would we
be able to see in that object that would allow us to believe it is independent and self
produced? If we could know what that was, then we would share the same quality, and
that would entail that the object is not truly independent, nor is it external because it
shares a quality with us which makes it not "other."
The fact is that everything is interdependent and exists as it does because of a vast
network of interconnectedness. This subject is too vast for this "thought" but hopefully
it points to something we should all be meditating on and thinking about: "inherent
As for the five aggregates, they are form, feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness
and it is what we impute the label "I" upon. We are taught the "I" cannot be found in
the collection of these aggregates or separate from them, and that the label "I" persists
by force of habit and has no real existence of its own. As long as the label is confused
with the basis of imputation, the five aggregates, we will identify with them as who we
are and attach to them as who we are.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 24, 2012
If you are fighting with yourself in meditation it is because you cannot surrender.
Meditation battles are best one by being conquered.
* * *
Just as in the world conflict is a part of everyday reality, so in the lives of each one of us
there is always going to be conflict. In the beginning of a spiritual journey it may be a
battle between good and evil; but, as our actions become increasingly pure and we lead
seemingly blameless lives the conflict becomes more a battle of principles and the
wisdom is realized by discerning well amongst choices that may all seem excellent and
yet following the one that is the right medicine for you personally.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 26, 2012
HH Dali Lama points out that knowledge of the dharma is a good thing if it leads to
practice, but a negative thing if it becomes a source of pride.
While confidence is a good thing to cultivate, pride is of little value. Confidence in
oneself is necessary to take up the spiritual journey, but pride of little value. In
particular we should never feel proud that we are benefiting others; it is as much an
opportunity for ourselves as for those we benefit.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 27, 2012
A friend is someone who makes you a better person, not necessarily someone you like.
* * *
Thought for the Day, September 28, 2012
proceed correctly. Je Tsonkhapa and many other great Buddhist masters point out that
this is particularly true when meditating on "emptiness" or the lack of "inherent"
existence. If we wish to remove someone from a crowded theater we cannot find that
person unless we know what he looks like. If we simply remove everyone from the
theater we will not accomplish our objective. Similarly, in our quest to discover the
empty nature of our mind, we simply remove all thoughts and arrest all thinking we will
be guilty of over negation and perhaps arrive at a nihilistic viewpoint. This is not what
we want to achieve. Understanding clearly the "enemy" will help us avoid extreme
emptiness requires study. Such book as the Adornment of the Middle Way are particularly
helpful on this topic. (See audio section.)
Thought for the Day, September 29, 2012
When thought is agitated and difficult to calm watch the breath. If you watch the breath
and it is still difficult to calm take a walk. Meditation with an agitated mind is not
helpful. During such times we should be less solution oriented in our thinking and
more active in trying to understand the nature of the problem itself. The solution is not
apparent because we don't truly understand the problem Often simply understanding the
problem properly dissolves it rather than solves it.
* * *
interest in what others who are wiser and gone before us came up with. Whether we are
beginners or advanced on the spiritual path, we should always ask ourselves what we
think, for this stimulates interest in what is really important. It also puts our personal
lives into proportion and gives us a better perspective on how to engage with ordinary
affairs in a more balanced way.
* * *