Many brain scientists attribute much behaviour problems to chemical imbalances and this has caused some
Buddhists to question that if this is the case, how would the law of karma tally with this scientific view. It is
from normal and that his actions would not have been committed at all had this been otherwise; moreover, by
administering certain medicines, his behaviour becomes completely normal. This may be an over simplification,
but such has been demonstrated and is a scientific view. It questions why one should blame previous negative
But, this scientific approach has as many problems. First of all, those who neutralize their extreme negative
behavior through chemistry; do not become more compassionate, loving, generous, and unselfish, nor do they
develop other good qualities that they would have to develop to eradicate the negativity of past harm to others
had they followed a truly spiritual approach to their problem rather than a scientific one. So, while chemistry
may have rendered them harmless, it hasn't helped them to develop the true humaneness that a spiritual by
uprooting negativity and supplanting it with a positive view of the world, chemistry works only as long as the
chemicals are administered, and thus there are very real dangers of falling back into old dangerous patterns of
actions when those medications are no longer administered; or maybe worse.
The scientific approach can be seen in a reverse example if we look at the viewpoint of many who believe that
psychedelic drugs create a "religious" experience. The chemicals do create the illusion of spirituality; but
once the drugs are no longer in the system, the "high" come "down."
Even though it can be demonstrated by science that for much of our social and personal ills a parallel can be
found in body chemistry being awry; to conclude that this demonstrates a "cause," is extremely fallacious
reasoning. The Buddha and many saints from other traditions are not wrong on this and it is a pity that scientist
don't look a little bit more closely at the lives of the patients that they are claiming to make better. They are
simply finding ways to lull their patients into a contentment and resignation to life that is rooted in the belief
that freedom from a condition is positive; when it really isn't if it does not lead to more than a neutralizing of a
condition, without its positive counterpart activated. In the example above, this would be the creation of a
person who not only no longer has interest in killing people, but has a concern for their welfare and genuine
compassion. This no medication can create any more than LSD or magic Mushrooms can enable one to
understand the wisdom and compassion that is the nature of our clear bright knowing mind.
* * *
Asian journey. How the extra day got in the schedule I don't know, but I made the best of it by walking about
this historic city while my son Kai stayed in the hotel resting from all the travel.
What a remarkable city this is; like a little DC, friendlier and easier to get around and pleasantly
overwhelming. Our hotel was in a 120 year old building and across the street from a church built in 1761. We
were one block from the Washington Monument, in the old section of town. The hotel felt like a haunted
house and looked like one inside, but this initial impression melted away within minutes, and I felt the beauty
of a place that had seen so many diverse souls live a piece of their lives here as they broke one part of their
journey before heading for another. How many were like my own and how many stories their lives shared
within these walls I wondered, and felt their warmth and no doubt evil, and became happy just thinking about
it all, and settled in knowing my own was now added to this century plus stew of living memories.
* * *
One morning at Wutai Shan I woke up before dawn to do my prostrations and morning prayers. I had my the
water outside the temple gate. But I did not want to buy water from one of the vendors outside; I felt I some
water; and he pointed me off on a search that led nowhere. So, I returned again to the temple entrance and
approached another monk, a monk with a face like a full moon who looked at me very quietly, completely
that was indeed was all that I wanted, or why not just buy it outside for a few pennies. Actually, I wasn't sure
why I wasn't buying it myself, or doing without, until my prostrations and prayers were completed, but I was
thirsty I guess for more than water, perhaps an inner need to engage with where I was
The monk suddenly burst into laughter when he realized I was so very serious and motioned for me to give
him a container; but I had none. This provoked him to more laughter and he lovingly led me to his resting
place in the main shrine where it was his duty to watch over the shrine room. It turned out he was its main
attendant. He then took his own personal container and rinsed it carefully with water from his thermos and
proceeded to pour water into it for me. I then sat on a stone outside the shrine and he stood in front of me as
I sipped the hot water he had poured. He then recited for me "Om Mani Padme Hum" as if to see my
reaction, yes, it is familiar, or no it is not; but, instead of satisfying his curiosity, I began reciting a very
lengthy mantra of the Goddess of Compassion, Kuan Yin, in Chinese. He was surprised that I knew it and
called other monks to come listen and then he joined in with me and we were reciting it together.
Now had I bought water outside like everyone else what would have happened to this joyous occasion that a
little begging brought my way. Being vulnerable has always been difficult for me; but the reality is we are
very dependent on others for our welfare. And, in order to realize this many of the models we have created
in our thinking must be let go of and cast aside. Money cannot buy priceless moments; it can buy a bottle of
water; but quench our thirst, not necessarily. Our real needs are often much more complex than they appear
on the surface.
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 5, 2011
Love is not personal; like the clouds that shed their moisture upon the land, without care where its moisture
falls; so too human love's divinity is realized in its equanimity.
* * *
to introduce us to it. Once we have received instructions, we must nurture them with disciplined cultivation
of study, reflection, and meditation. This keeps the guru ever present within us; distance can never separate
us, nor can death.
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 7, 2011
There is a Buddhist saying: "The immediate mind is the "Bodhimandala" (field of enlightenment.)" We are
ignorant because of the strong habitual tendency to look outside of our ordinary mind for enlightenment,
"riding a donkey, looking for a donkey."
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 8, 2011
distracted from it. Sometimes it is easy to be impressed by another teaching or teacher, but before thinking of
a change of direction, always ask yourself how might the same principles you are sensing in this new teaching
be working in what you are already studying. It is generally better to embody a new teaching in a teaching
you have already a background in, than abandon what is familiar to you and move on to something else.
Many things in life are like this, marriage for example.
Whenever I come across those who rub me the wrong way, those whom I find fault with, I examine these
faults and characteristics I dislike, and discover that in some form or other I own the same.
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 10, 2011
"If your mind is pure; everyone is a Buddha; if your mind is impure, everyone is ordinary," HH Trulshik
Rinpoche. These words of the great Master tell us that the way we perceive the world is not dependent on
the way the world is, but rather the state of our own mind.
Thought for the Day: September 11, 2011
"Avoid all hankerings" is advice that has been given by many great teachers. After all, it is craving
that leads to grasping, that leads to attachment, which in turn leads to the false identification of the
things we actually need. We need food, for example, and we may be vegan or vegetarian and crave
for a seaweed sandwich. Or, we have our eye on a new pair of shoes, but hold off getting them until
our own wear out. Then we get the fancy shoes we wanted. We can imagine many scenarios, but it
I am reminded of a story told by the Indian Saint Paramahansa Yogananda. He wanted an umbrella
and refrained from getting one while living in the United States for many years because it rarely
rained where he was living. But, it came to pass that he was to visit his guru Sri Yukteshvar in India,
and while shopping for gifts for his teacher he spotted an umbrella, and thought that given the fact
he was travelling to India in the monsoon season, he could justify this small gift to himself. Upon
arriving in India, however, and after presenting his guru with many wonderful gifts, and after being
graciously thanked, his Teacher inquired about the umbrella and how he just so happened to need
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 12, 2011
Evil intention that does not achieve fruition should be looked upon as an opportunity to avoid
future actions that will bring harm to others and create negative karma for ourselves. If we kill
someone with intention to do so it is a more severe consequence than if we failed in our effort. But,
because the intention was there, we will still suffer from that intention. But, it is also an opportunity
to recognize the extreme suffering we could have caused ourselves and others, and thereby presents
an opportunity for change.
While the above example is extreme, there are many times in our daily lives when our intention is
negative and is thwarted for one reason or other. Sometimes, instead of recognizing the intention as
negative, we try again to fulfill our negative ambition. This is why it is so important to always check
ones intention and see it for what it is. Otherwise we can continue endlessly making the same
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 13, 2011
alone can be the sole topic of meditation. However, not so with other forms of meditation. The
effectiveness of mantra recitation, for example, is increased greatly when we allow our awareness to
encompass the breath. But, simply reciting mantras, without breath awareness will be far less
effective. Other forms of meditation are like this too. Whether it be physical yoga or mind yoga it is
essential to first find the breath and unite with it and then begin to practice. Staying with the breath
and allowing the breath be our companion throughout a session of yoga or meditation is to have a
good and reliable guide.
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 14, 2011
"Find your breath" is how many yoga teachers I studied with began their classes. It is such simple
advice it can go right past us. We think there is nothing to find, for if we have lost our breath, we are
dead. This is the way we think, and why we take each breath for granted. It is a remarkable statement
of the power of enlightened intuition that the Buddha and other great past masters ever thought to
look into and discover the increasingly subtle levels of breath that inquiry can unveil. It is not just a
lot of warm air. There is an outer breath and an inner breath; watching the former leads us to the
latter. As we watch our inner breath, thoughts dissolve naturally because thought and breath are
linked. Even in our everyday lives we can see our breath become quiet when we are absorbed in an
interesting part of a novel, or something. When we are told to "find our breath" we are really being
advised to become aware of this connection and that "being aware" is it. We can get in the way if we
work too hard.
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 15, 2011
A good teacher is one who helps you to turn from self-satisfying impulses, to impulses to bring
happiness to others. As human beings we all share the desire to be happy; but it requires wisdom to
understand that this only truly accomplished when we turn from self-seeking to a more universal
altruistic motivation. Without the aid of a guru, or being around one who truly has no-self and no
attachments, it is an almost impossible task to end selfish motivation. Therefore, at every
opportunity we should draw near to those teachers whose selflessness is uncontrived and a natural
expression of their realization. We should constantly remember them in our thought, as well, for this
keeps the teacher alive within us.
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 16, 2011
The "seed" of enlightenment is within every living being. It is delicate, subtle, and to be treasured
and protected. Because it is so subtle it is not easy to discover, and once discovered it is not easily
coaxed to grow. It is very shy and does not reveal itself straightforwardly. We must work hard to
create the conditions for the seed to ripen and grow.
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 17, 2011
HH Dali Lama pointed out in a tape I listened to a few days ago that "reason" is a powerful tool that is often
poorly understood by Western practitioners of meditation. He illustrated his point by talking about the fact
that sometimes we look for shelter in meditation when we are disturbed by afflictive emotions such as anger,
jealousy, self hatred, etc, when in fact "reason" is often a much more effective antidote.
The problem that I have often observed in my own meditation experience when it is confined to mantra
recitation,visualization, perhaps even pranayama (meditation on the breath,and there are countless iterations of
this,) is the tendency to engage in these "spiritual" practices while wishing that the disturbances will somehow
disappear. Whether they will go away by virtue of the sincerity of our practice or our aspiration or the
"spiritualness" of it all is not really clear, but the wish is there.
The reality is that we can forget our troubles in meditation; and even enter very deep states of meditation.
But, unless we are very skillful, we will only succeed in covering up rather than uprooting our problems.
What I think HH Dali Lama was getting at is the fact that "simple common sense reason" about our
obstructions is a deeply spiritual practice. For example, if I am angry at Tom, and I light a candle and burn
incense, and offer prostrations to the Buddha, and then sit down in full lotus and recite my mantras, or
whatever, I am very much conditioned to think I am engaging in a more profound practice than if I lit a posed
the question to my self: "Why am I angry at Tom," and with a tight focus reasoned about the matter.
meditation, and is considered a far more effective means of untying the knot of afflictive emotions that
disappearing in a meditative lounge of one's own creation. The tradition of the Gelukpas does of course have
analytical meditation as a spiritual practice, and I think this is very much under-appreciated in the West.
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 18, 2011
Today I spent the morning thinking and contemplating the qualities of HH Trulshik Rinpoche, a Master who
passed away on September 2, of this year, and whom I had the good fortune to know to since 1967. Even the
Master very deeply for most of the morning and remembering his teachings and time I spent with him. Later,
as the early afternoon unfolded my daughter Rachel and I took off to the beach. We went to a lovely beach
called Makena, close to our home, and sat on the sand near the shore. It so happened that we sat down close
to four attractive women playing and wrestling about in the sand. What struck me most as I watched them
before my swim was that the same mind that spent the morning in devotional thoughts of my teacher, was now
getting absorbed in the frolicking of the young women beside me! And, this reelection illustrates a very
important point to understand if we are to know the true nature of our mind and become free of obstructions.
That point is that there are not two minds; there may be dualistic thinking, but there is only one obstructions.
That point is that there are not two minds; there may be dualistic thinking, but there is only one mind.
If I feel a strong emotion of anger towards someone in the morning and later in the evening during
meditation give rise to strong devotional thoughts and emotions; it is not two minds, but one mind feeling
thoroughly enough, we will favor our "holy" thoughts, and try to disown our "unholy" ones. Now, it may
seem natural and right to want to have good thoughts and not bad thoughts; but the reality is that we do have
both and that is what we have to understand if we are to make the most of what we got. When the Buddha
said that the "seed of enlightenment lies withing each and every thought" he was not referring to only our "good"
thoughts, but also so called negative ones, lustful ones, hateful ones, etc. In other words, the Buddha taught
to look at all thoughts as having enlightening potential. If we do this we will recognize opportunity
everywhere, in any situation, and in any mind frame. And, this very acknowledging of a so called negative
thought or emotion, this very acknowledging to oneself that this very thought has within it the seed of
enlightenment, will instantly pacify that thought or disturbing emotion and let us see it as the mantra, the
guru, the deity.
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 19, 2011
The idea of ownership creates a lot of problems. We own things, we own ideas, we own our body, we own
other people, "my" son, "my" body, "my" thoughts, "my" house, and on and on. We say "my" about a lot of
things in our world that we have no control over whatever. And, yet the concept of ownership of something,
someone, ourselves, as belonging to us is a reflexive affirmation that is contradicted by our own experience
every day of our lives. And, yet we keep on in the same thought patterns.
The idea of ownership carries with it a certain sense of control, and yet if we analyze what we "own" we will
see just how unreasonable this assumption really is. We have little control over the people in our lives, our
possessions, our own bodies, and certainly very little control over our thoughts. And, yet with all the
evidence to the contrary, we still think we do. Our ego is that big, our sense of individuality that powerful.
Why, because that is the way things are.
So, what to do about it? The first step is to make oneself smaller and this is accomplished best by taking a
good look at how little one has control over anything in ones life. The irony is that the more deeply we
realize how little power we have over what we call "our life" the more powerful we become. If instead of
being the puppeteer, we resign ourselves to being the puppet, we unload ourselves of the very unrealistic
burden of "control."
Meditation does not work when we try to control our thoughts; it works when we dance with them. It is
about harmony, understanding, and seeing; and none of this happens when we try and be in control. The
world is a stage and the music is playing all the time. We need only see without preferences, hear without
preferences, smell, taste, and touch, without preferences, to discover what is truly meaningful to us. As long
as we try to control our lives, what we see, what we hear, what we smell, taste, and touch, will deceive and
ensnare us because of the very fact of our having preferences. Abandoning preferences opens the door to
* * *
wrong inquiry. For the Buddhist the problem of a "beginning" plagues his thought like everyone else's, but
he has one advantage in that the Buddha taught that a "beginning" cannot be found, it is unfindable, and such
inquiry is a waste of time. No single thing causes a seed to sprout or a world system to be born. The Buddha
taught that everything is just as it is, interdependent.
Robert Thurman, who is HH Dali Lama's principle American student, was asked about this and said that
when we look for a "cause" of our suffering, for example, we tend to look for a single cause, as if it could
somehow be isolated and looked at. But, he says, that this searching for a single cause is like asking the
question, which came first, the chicken or the egg. When there are an infinite number of chickens and eggs,
the question becomes absurd. It is a wrong kind of inquiry.
The practical application of all this is to stop looking for what caused this or that feeling that we have, event
that we have experienced, sickness, world we live in, and instead look at it as it is, as many interconnected
links in a chain that is beginningless and endless
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 21, 2011
ability to put into practical use what has been studied. These three: contemplation, study, and meditation are
like three legs of a stool, which together provide a firm foundation for spiritual growth, but singly provide
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 22, 2011
Our mental state at any given moment is the result of many ingredients. It is like a soup that is tasty when it
has the right mix, and easily fouled when a spoiled ingredient is added.
* * *
nothing is fun." A Buddhist might mean something similar when he quotes Nagarjuna who said, "Where
emptiness is possible, all things are possible; where emptiness is impossible, nothing is possible." And,
Taoists simply talk about being in the "flow." My own teacher, Master Hsuan Hua, who was the strictest
disciplinarian of any teacher I have known or even heard of, once cautioned me not to work too hard at my
spiritual practice. It is a point that I have spent half my life trying to absorb.
If we work too hard at our dharma practice we will be unable to interact with the underlying forces that make
a practice successful. Our egos can be so big that we are so busy trying to move forward that our own efforts
become our biggest burden. Correct practice is not just effort, but also knowing when it is time to rest and
absorb and allow the natural powers we have to unfold within. When we begin to see how to be still and
accomplish more by working less, and realize that being passive is as powerful as being active, work becomes
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 24, 2011
Everyday interactions often have concealed within them deeply spiritual messages.
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 25, 2011
Today HH Dali Lama remarked in a tape I was listening to that years ago during the Iraq war he actually felt
a sense of pity for Saddam Hussein. He said that of course he was a terrible dictator; but at the same time
that many nations were blaming him for his "war crimes," none of those nations asked themselves, "where did
all that war equipment come from." The Dali Lama went on to say, that the tanks, airplanes, and guns he used
were no produced by themselves!
In our daily lives we often blame others for the hurt and pain inflicted upon us, and sometimes we are so
busy doing that, that our negative thinking obscures the roll we may have played in bringing about the misery
inflicted upon us. No matter how negative someone may behave towards us, if we can step back from it and
ask ourselves "how did I create the opportunity for this to happen," we will almost always find some
responsibility on our own part.
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 26, 2011
The other day a women stopped by to look at a cottage I am renting and asked about the purpose of the
prayer flags in my yards. I explained that they are printed with mantras that are blown across the property by
the wind. She then described her own life values, which were very admirable, but then added; "but, I am not
a Buddhist." I replied, "Yes, you are, but you are not burdened by the notion of being "Buddhist."
* * *
Our "thinking mind" is either your friend or enemy, depending on how you use it. Those new to meditation
use of the mind. Thought should never be "cut off." If we are practicing meditation, regardless of the form
we are practicing, awareness of our thought is enough, using the meditation topic as a vehicle to help us do
this. In certain forms of meditation, analytical meditation, for example, we actively use the mind to reason
reason it out. These points are in scripture for the sole purpose of helping us realize the nature of our natural
awakened awareness. In this sense analytical meditation is no different than mantra recitation, deity
Our everyday "thinking mind" is to be guided, but never "cut off." When we watch our thought, whether in
meditation or in active life, our job is only to point it in the right direction, and stay out of the way. It is sort
of like raising a child; you want to give them direction, but not walk the way for them.
* * *
away, but over time we will have to ask ourselves if we are willing to embody the teachings, or content
ourselves with knowing about them.
* * *
Thought for the Day: September 29, 2011
I have been practicing Buddhism for over forty-five years and still have nothing to show for it. I can only say
that I have had such a good time trying that I wouldn't exchange my life with anyone's. I recently read an
article by another "dharma practitioner" that claimed that after a lifetime of spiritual practice he and many of
his friends are feeling spiritually destitute and full of doubt about the value of their spiritual quest. The
underlying assumption he expressed is that most of his generation probably feel that way too.
The joy of spiritual practice is in the practice itself and not in anything special "happening." If we find
ourselves anxious about results, it is a sign that we are not working hard enough at our discipline. The
discipline of spiritual practice is its own reward and if one works smart and hard there will always be joy
hidden within the effort itself.
* * *
* * *