|This is the sunset at the North Pole with the moon at its closest point. And, you also
see the sun below the moon.
|Basic Principles of Meditation
|Meditation: Host and Guest Positions
Meditation is simply resting the mind on a topic of meditation. When the mind wanders from the
topic of meditation, it is brought back again and made to rest there. When skill in meditation is
developed the mind no longer wanders from its meditation topic and rests naturally and
effortlessly on the meditation topic.
A topic of meditation can be anything one wishes it to be. Generally however, meditation topics
are neutral, for example, a mantra, candle light, deity image such as Christ or a Buddha image,
mandala (various ritualistic geometric designs) or even a stone, colored disc, etc. Concepts,
such as infinite space, boundless compassion, etc are also used as meditation topics. Once a
meditation topic is selected it is important to stick with it and not switch around unnecessarily,
faulting the meditation topic for ones own lack of progress. The meditation topic is, after all,
merely an expedient device to aid our inward journey. Success or failure depends little on the
device itself, but more upon how it is used.
Once the topic of meditation is selected, it is important to recognize quickly when the mind
wanders from its meditation topic. Amongst Chinese Chan Masters the illustration of the "host"
and "guest" positions were often used. A summary of these two positions the meditator is likely to
find himself is briefly illustrated below. Although this explanation is simple; a deep understanding
and awareness of these positions can take a meditator far.
High in the mountains there is an inn, beside a trail, frequented by villagers. As they move
through the mountains, these villagers sometimes come for a meal or perhaps stay for a night or
two before continuing on with their journey. These travellers are the "guests" as they come and
go; the inn keeper, who cares for the inn and tends to the guests, is the "host."
The inn keeper watches his guests come and go; he serves them, and talks and laughs with
them. But, he never gets so caught up with his guests that he forgets that it is his inn and he is
the host, the owner of the inn. If by some extraordinarily interesting exchange he was to foolishly
wander off with one of the guests, perhaps lost in conversation, forgetting all about his inn, he
would have fallen into the "guest" position. After catching himself in his foolishness, he would
have to excuse himself to the "guest" and return to his inn and once again assume the "host"
When we practice meditation, sometimes we lose focus of the topic of meditation and get caught
up in thought. This is like the inn keeper who forgot about his inn and wandered off with a guest.
In our case, we forgot our meditation topic and followed a wandering thought. Then something
inside taps us on the shoulder and reminds us we are wandering. We have fallen into the guest
position, and must once again become focused on our meditation topic and reclaim the host
In the beginning it is common to fluctuate between the host and guest positions. In fact many
beginning meditators do not recognize the difference. But as meditation progresses the two
positions become very distinct. Increasingly we will solidify our position as "host."
|Happiness and Meditation
|All living beings desire to be happy. But, the happiness we long for is often sought where it cannot be
found. We sense within us a lasting happiness that does not die, and yet we seek to find it in the
material world and sense pleasures that do not endure. We impute upon objects, people,
circumstances, etc the ability to make us happy. For example, we may think "this car makes me so
happy," "this person makes me so happy", "this job makes me so happy," as if these things had some
"happiness" quality built into them. But, if that were the case, the things that make one person happy,
should make all people happy. But clearly this is not the case, which proves that we mistakenly
attribute the quality of happiness to the object, when in truth it is a projection laid upon the object by
our own thinking.
There are as many sources of happiness as there are people and ideas; and what makes one
person happy may not make the next. Moreover, what makes one person happy does not make him
happy always. Happiness is quick to fade. The thief’s happiness disappears soon after his cash
hoard runs out, or he simply grows tired of the lifestyle. In like manner, the occupation we strove so
hard for as a youth may soon lose its appeal as the years move on, along with the happiness it
Another reason happiness fades is because conditions change. The job with the attractive salary was
a source of happiness only as long as it supplied enough cash to meet our lifestyle. But,
unfortunately, often our desires grow faster than our income and we are no loner satisfied with our
job. Even the crook is seeking out bigger and bolder targets.
The world operates on the thesis that we are all inherently unhappy and must act to become happy.
Not only do commercial advertisers sell on the basis of "this will make you happy," but so called New
Age spiritualist market their scams to sell you happiness. The root cause of most unhappiness and all
the ills of the world is the thought that happiness is obtained, that it comes from outside. The true
happiness that we seek is not supported by what comes into contact with the skin, impinges upon the
eye, is heard by the ear, is tasted by the tongue, or smelled by the nose; it is not dependent upon
contact with the five senses. Moreover, it is not a mental construct of any kind.
Seeking happiness in external objects, people or conditions, is seeking a kind of happiness that is
dependant or supported by something other than ourselves. While this is necessary to get on in the
world and something that we all must do to function; we can go deeper As human beings we have
the capacity to know a kind of happiness that is not supported by sense stimuli or thought constructs.
In the beginning, most people are not willing to discipline their desires even though this may be the
easiest way attain happiness. Meditation is a solution for many who cannot make broad ranging
personal sacrifice; but nevertheless have an interest in deepening their level of happiness.
Meditation is really a kind of segmented renunciation of the world of sense so that we may take a look
at the nature of mind. A fixed period of time is set aside where wealth and sex is not chased after, fine
food is not indulged in, and other enjoyments are not sought. Not only are such activities renounced
momentarily; but even thinking about them is abandoned.
In the beginning a pretty dull world emerges; and if you stick with it long enough it gets even worse.
Most quit and think the meditation failed them or they failed meditation. But; if you keep at it long
enough, you will notice that you are starting to become very happy in meditation, that something very
interesting is happening, that you are in fact interested in something, but cannot isolate it. You are
discovering a happiness that is not supported by anything you can identify; and yet you are happy.
There are exceptions to this rule. Some find happiness in meditation too quickly. Some people find
that they get pretty good at sitting quietly and watching their thoughts. If their thoughts interest them,
fantasizing about this and that, they become quiet happy meditators. Know that quietly watching the
rise and fall of thoughts in your mind is not meditation; at best it is a kind of contemplation.
A closer description of what a meditator might experience were meditation successful is having the
exact same image or thought arise again and again with nothing but emptiness in between. In other
words; let us say you begin your mediation with a deity picture in mind. Normally you would have your
mind wander from the deity picture again and again, continuously having to apply effort to return the
mind to the topic of meditation. But, after some years of practice a kind a vacuous space replaces the
wandering thoughts. Whereas before you would wander from the meditation topic to various
thoughts and back to the mediation topic; now there is only an empty space that you move in and out
of as you once again become conscious of the meditation topic. This is being absorbed in the topic of
meditation. It is one of the lower levels of meditation and is a source of happiness.
|Are You a Buddhist?
A few years ago I was asked a very interesting question. The question was interesting because its answer
was so seemingly obvious that it seemed unnecessary to ask. And yet the one asking was very serious
and one of the great Tibetan masters of our time, H.H. Kusum Lingpa. I was asked, “Are you a Buddhist?”
I felt like someone held an orange in front of me and asked: “What is this?” The Master knew I had been
practicing Buddhism all my life and had been a monk for ten years. Of course, I answered, “Yes,” not
because I am a good Buddhist, for a good Buddhist would have been wise enough to turn the question
around somehow and throw it back at the Master, but rather because my ordinary understanding could
not come up with anything better.
There are many reasons one may think oneself a Buddhist. One may attend Buddhist meditation classes
and practice daily Buddhist meditation, for example. I do not remember clearly when I first regarded myself
as a Buddhist; perhaps it was during the year I lived in the Himalayas of Nepal in a Tibetan Buddhist
monastery. Although at that time I had no books to study, I was meditating most of the day (although using
a Christian Psalm for a mantra) and was surrounded by Buddhist monks. Every evening I would spend two
or three hours “discussing” Buddhist philosophy with the abbot of the monastery, Sengye Tenzin Lama.
Although neither one of us understood the other’s language, I think we had more laughs and extracted
more meaning from our nightly visits than had we been wholly conversant. Sangye Tenzin enjoyed
pointing out to me that my meditation lacked wisdom, and I was more like a bear in hibernation than a
Buddhist meditating. This period was almost thirty-five years before HH Kusum Lingpa asked me his
Shortly after this period I met my teacher, Master Hsuan Hua, The lineage holder of the Chan or Zen
tradition. I worked very hard under his guidance and was assigned head of the Chan hall (meditation
hall.) Most of my ten years as a monk were spent in silent meditation and teaching occasionally, and
leading the daily group meditations.. The question of whether or not I was a Buddhist never arose---any
more than the thought of what my morning orange was.
Sometimes we take things for granted. We assume we are such and such for so long that we don’t even
know what it means anymore. Our actions lose meaning and we are trapped in mere habit. Mindlessly
(mind elsewhere) some who call themselves Buddhists go about daily rituals and meditations. Can they
still be regarded as “Buddhists?” or has rituals and meditation lost all meaning? In the beginning the right
aspiration made the practice Buddhist; but now, though the outward form is the same, complacency has
made the practice a fraud, and not at all a harmless one, for such deception is a shameful waste of time.
Sometimes we assume someone is not a Buddhist who may very well be. In 1992, shortly after my father
died, I met H H Trulshick Rinpoche one evening after he gave a lecture in Los Angeles. I had not seen him
since I was living in Nepal and he sent one of his attendants to fetch me from the crowd and bring me to
his room that evening after the lecture. After prostrating myself before him and making an offering he
asked me how I was and about my family. While telling of my fathers passing, I said apologetically that my
father was not a Buddhist, but was a good man. To this Rinpoche replied that ‘being a good man” is being
Certainly many who do not think of themselves as Buddhists and who others do not regard as such are in
fact closer to the Buddha’s heart than many of us who assume our Buddhist lifestyle Buddhist. This is why
Kusum Lingpa asked me the question he did. He was telling me to work harder.
What is Buddhism?
The Buddha was once walking through a field in the dusty plains of Bihar, India. There he was asked by a
farmer, “what is the difference between you and I?” The Buddha relied: “I have realized I am the Buddha;
but you have yet to realize it.” Indeed, elsewhere Buddhist texts proclaim; “All living beings have the
Buddha Nature, but because of false thinking and attachments they fail to realize it.”
Buddhism is the study of ones own true nature, or Buddha Nature. Buddhism is the map leading to this
discovery. You can also think of it as your Christ Nature, Self Nature, or Mother Nature; whatever you feel
comfortable with. The point is not how you chose to categorize it, but what it is. The underlying core of
being does not belong to Buddhism or any other religion. The Buddha’s teaching aims to show us how to
see beyond appearances and unite with the core. So do other religious teachings.
One need not be a Buddhist to practice Buddhism. Indeed, H H the Dali Lama has stressed that
individuals should not feel a need to change their religion to practice Buddhism. The principles of
Buddhism can be incorporated into whatever faith one may belong.
Buddhism gives us a methodology for dealing with our unprofitable and binding actions that have
accumulated over many lifetimes and are the foundation for misconceptions we have today about the
world, who we are, and our relationship to everything that we see, feel, hear, touch, taste, and think about.
Buddhism asks us to contemplate birth and death; this is the most important Buddhist teaching. Buddhism
teaches that if this is done with sincerity the right conclusion will force itself upon us. We will notice the
impermanent nature of the phenomenal world and the constant change of all appearances. This will help
us to understand the futility of wanting to possess someone, something, or some state of mind---or indeed
our own life. Accomplishing this is freedom.
Now, you might be thinking: “of course, everyone knows that!” But the aim here is to see this in a new and
transforming way. One that is not merely a conceptualized understanding, but rather an understanding
that we are part of and embody. Buddhism often asks us to take a better look at what is already before us
and always has been. The breath for example, goes in and out, we all know that; but why do we take that
for granted? Why did a Buddha have to come along and say that if you watch it carefully you may realize a
subtle breath moving within you (not air, but prana)? We all take our hearing and the sounds about us as
facts of life with little. How many of us have ever thought to merge the faculty of hearing with the sound, or
even thought it possible, or what would emerge if one succeeded. Buddhism deals with many simple
practices like these. The result is nothing distinctly Buddhist. The Buddha has no patent on such
discoveries, and certainly before the Buddha there were insightful rishis and yogis who quite
independently decided to look beneath the surface of things.
The reason of course it took a Buddha to come along and tell us to take a better look at ourselves and the
world is simple: We are being constantly distracted by the world. There is a difference between seeing the
world and being distracted by it. The Buddha came along and said; look everyone; you are being dragged
about here and there and not recognizing what is right beneath your nose! Things are not as they appear
to be! Take a good look!
The Buddha pointed out that not only is the outer world of appearances not as we habitually take it to be;
but also our inner world is also confused by many false views. Foremost of these false views is the notion
of self as the body. If the body is injured “I” am injured, if the body feels pleasure, “I” feel pleasure, if the
body dies, “I” die. More subtle, but equally false is the identification of self with mental states such as
anger, jealousy, hatred, love (as the antonym of hate), and numerous mental conditions, in short the
sense “I” that identifies with the body and mental fabrication.
The Buddha pointed out that we can disentangle ourselves from many false views by means of simple
analyses. For example, if we desire a boat and work hard to get one, upon receiving it we are happy. We
conceive the thought that I am happy because I got a boat---the boat made me happy. But, if the boat
brought me happiness, why can't a boat bring everyone happiness? Clearly there is no happiness in the
boat; and yet we frame our thought as if it did, thinking: “Oh, the boat brought me so much happiness.”
This kind of happiness can be extended in an infinite number of ways, personal relationships make me
happy, fame makes me happy, a good dinner makes me happy, and so on. Somehow we think of these
externals as the giver of happiness; at least for a time, until the storm wrecks the boat, the relationship
falls apart, and the dinner makes you sick.
The example of the boat is not brought up to discourage boating, nor the good dinner to discourage
eating, nor the fine relationship with the sexy opposite; but rather to show how we get ensnared in the
world of things to the extent that we cannot get free. Let us continue with the boat analyses for now, you
can later extend it as you please. The boat brought happiness because we constructed thought
formations that it would. If those thought formations were not created, the boat would not have had this
capacity. So basically we created a thought of dependency upon the boat and now our happiness is
dependant upon getting it. This kind of dependency leads us to believe that external things bring
happiness and the more we extend our thought like this the more attached we become to the outside
world. And worse yet, the greater our sense of separation becomes.
The obvious way to free oneself of this mess is to stop constructing our thoughts around acquiring things,
people, positions, status, recognition and all forms of ambitions, and take a good look at our life. This
sounds easy, but it is not. The reason it is not is because we have been conditioning ourselves to look
outside, lifetime after lifetime, and to suddenly stop is impossible. Even to try to suddenly stop is ill
advised, for thwarting desires is never as good as channeling them. So, we must begin disengaging from
the world gradually. It is important to understand that by disengaging we do not mean necessarily
outwardly disengaging, but rather changing our inner perception of outward facts. The outward
appearance of our world is of little importance, but how we regard our world is everything. The Buddha is
an equal opportunity employer, and no way of life is excluded from Buddhism. Buddhism never
discouraged people from pursuing their goals in the world, as long as that pursuit does not bring harm to
others. But rather the Buddha’s teachings show us how to free our minds from attachment to results. For it
is not the results of actions that bring harm, not the boat, the beautiful lover, or wealth, but attachment to
By pointing out the nature of all forms of dependant happiness, the Buddha wants us to ask the question if
there is a form of happiness that is not supported by things, or conditions, such as success or failure.
Dependant is an important word here, for it arises again and again in different contexts in Buddhist
thought. In the present context dependant simply means that we are under the assumption that something
external is going to produce a desired state of mind or is producing one. Of course, attaining whatever it is
only fosters the false notion of ourselves as separate from the world we live in. Happiness or sadness is
not inherent in the object gained or lost. But it is difficult to see this.
There is a saying, “In the affairs of others, even the fool is wise; but, in ones’ own affairs even saints make
mistakes.” The reason we make mistakes in or own affairs is that we are blinded by them. We become so
ensnared by our ambitions and they take over. How can we avoid this?
Why Build a Buddhist Practice?
All living beings desire happiness, but few find it. Lasting is in italics here for emphasis because I want to
differentiate two kinds of happiness, one that endures and one that doesn't’t. Relative happiness does not
endure because, as mentioned above, it is supported by things, events, and people that don’t endure. If
the source does not endure, how can the result? Often people rebel against Buddhism because they fear
that their world will be threatened by undertaking a Buddhist approach. This is a misunderstanding.
Buddhism does not suggest that we abandon our world, but rather understand its relative nature. Indeed,
it does little good to renounce the world, as it is the very world that bogs us down that when rightly
examined can lift us up. We undertake a Buddhist practice to develop the skills necessary to examine our
world. Without these skills the world would continue to ensnare and we will always be subject to it and
controlled by it. However, if we examine our world we can learn to dance with it and learn a good deal
If we do not have a Buddhist practice (or similar practice) it is likely that we assume that we know better how to become
happy and don’t need any assistance. This is the way of the world and why most people die as ignorant as when they were
born. This is the nature of samsara, the world of illusion. Some of us are born with a thirst to escape this world of samsara,
but most of us are so ensnared by it that we know nothing else; we thirst after thing, events, people, discarding one and
finding another, with no end in sight. Few take the time or know how to stop and really contemplate what is going on in their
lives. Often, even the thought of doing so is frightening, let alone making it a daily ritual. We may feel the very foundations of
our being threatened by such scrutiny. This is the ego at work trying to make you feel as if you cannot live without the world
you created. But, even this is wrongly put. It is not that you cannot live without the world you created (that threatens the ego);
but rather that you cannot live without regarding the world you created as the foundation of your being. We begin practicing
Buddhism to discover whether of not the foundation of being is really what we think it to be.
There are ultimate and mundane reasons to practice Buddhism. When I first began to seriously practice
Buddhism I wanted to become a great yogi; not even understanding what this meant. I pictured myself as a
respected teacher, full of self realization. It took me many years to realize that my goal was no different
from someone grasping wealth in business or fame in the movies. In fact, I discovered my goal was even
more dishonest because I was cloaking purely selfish aims in spiritual garb. It wasn’t until I met my teacher
that I realized what an ego trip I was on and slowly took it apart. In the beginning it is best to have humble
aims. Rather than aiming at perfect enlightenment, aim at being a better friend, more honest
businessman, more loving spouse, contented person, moral and ethical person, happy. If the ultimate goal
of Buddhism is absolute perfect enlightenment, the beginning lies here.
Skill is necessary to disentangle from the tangle of samsara. Buddhism has many forms of practice
suitable for individuals of varying natures. Perhaps this is one of Buddhism’s greatest assets. No other
form of religious practice has developed so many techniques to suit the diverse inclinations of people as
Buddhism. Let us look a moment at some of these practices.
Basic Buddhist Practices
Most people associate Buddhist practice with meditation, quietude, withdrawal from the world, etc.
Meditation, in particular, is considered a Buddhist practice. This false view is reinforced by the many
meditation centers and retreat centers, where, often for a fee, one can join in scheduled meditation
practice. But, the fact is, there can be no meditation without first building a foundation for it. To simply sit
cross legged staring blankly with eyes open or shut, making ones mind a blank, is not meditation, nor is
watching the rise and fall of thoughts (this is contemplation.) It is unlikely that one can learn to meditate by
sitting on a cushion in this manner. The Chinese say this kind of meditation is like “boiling sand grains
expecting to get cooked rice.”
Buddhism begins laying a foundation for practice by urging its followers do some house cleaning. Anything
dishonest, unethical, immoral, mean, harmful, basically anything obviously unprofitable in the way one
conducts ones affairs is gradually eliminated. This is all relative. Once on my first trip to India, as a naive
trusting person, I got a lesson on honesty and ethics from a source many would think unlikely. I had went
to a market place shortly after arriving in Calcutta to change some money. The amount was five hundred
dollars, a huge amount of money in 1960s India. I found a black market money changer named Chico who
was running a sandal shop in New Market, a tiny stall amongst hundreds of others. I gave Chico the
money; but he said he could not change such a large amount and that I should return tomorrow. I decided
to leave the money with him and went on my way. Upon arriving at the home of the Bengali family I was
staying with I was asked about my day. Hearing of the money changer and my five-hundred dollars the
general consensus was that we would never see it again. Cliiford, their son, insisted he come with me the
following day to make all threats necessary to get it back, although he was convinced none would work.
The next day, we arrived at New Market and found Chico attending his stall. He greeted me with a smile
and handed me my rupees. Clifford counted the money in astonishment. I asked Chico why he didn't’t
cheat me and he pointed to a picture of a bearded baba on the wall and said: “My guru teaches me not to
steal.” (As a side note, I looked up Chico fifteen years later and he had become very wealthy, owning
several department stores throughout Calcutta----honesty pays!) When beginning a Buddhist practice we
should not think that radical outward change is necessary; but rather look at our everyday lives as an
opportunity to guide our actions with higher principles. If our occupation, association of friends, in short,
our daily routine is to change let it be a holistic change that comes about as a part of our growth. In the
meantime we should use our ordinary lives as the testing grounds of Buddhist principles.
Buddhism teaches mindfulness as an essential tool of inquiry. The mind continually wanders from thought
to thought, fantasizing about this and that. Mindfulness brings simple awareness to the task at hand as a
means to still these fluctuations. This certainly need not be confined to a seated meditation practice; but
should be practiced during the course of normal activity. Seated practice can be used as an aid to
familiarize oneself with the fluctuating nature of the mind, but is not essential. If one can learn to be
mindful while active, seated meditation will be performed with far more skill. This being said, anyone can
safely allot a small amount of time, say one hour, to seated meditation.
If one’s mindfulness is practiced during activity the question arises how one does it. There are many ways
of doing this, not all of them suitable for all activities. Labeling movements, for example, is one activity
whereby physical movements are labeled: I am lifting my arm, I am pulling this wire, I am sitting down, I am
rising up, and endlessly this seemingly monotonous ritual of labeling accompanies our activities. This is all
done with the sole purpose of halting the minds fluctuations and our addiction to them.
Staying focused to the task at hand and not engaging in unnecessary conversation is another way to
discipline the mind. One need not be a Zen master to see this. In fact much of preliminary practice is as
much common sense as Buddhist; perhaps that is one of Buddhism’s appeals.
To be continued
Most Buddhist who are vegetarian got over the fact shortly after becoming vegetarian. But, there is a
strange group of Buddhist individuals who try to make vegetarian eating " A Buddhist way of Life." Nothing
could be further from the truth. If the practice of eating a certain way was as beneficial as these vegetarian
elitists would have us believe, myself and the hippie companions of my childhood would have been
enlightened long ago. The fact is that compassion is the important thing; and to think that compassion is
confined to vegetarians is demonstrably untrue.
Most Buddhist who are vegetarian do so for two reasons: because a vegetarian diet is more "satvic," or
pure. Meat is "rajistic" inclines one towards negative emotions like anger, hatred, excessive desire, etc.
than vegetarian food. Satvic and rajistic are Hindu terms that are used extensively in the philosophy of
ayuervedic medicine, the philosophy of medicine and diet that is considered the world's oldest. Tamasic,
is the third quality of medicine and food, the one that brings torpor or sluggishness. Of course, often
foods and medicines are a combination of the three, usually with one predominant. It goes without saying
that one should try to eat as pure (satvic) as possible, and this would, based on food, be a vegetarian
diet. The other reason for a vegetarian diet is obvious; non-killing.
But, pure eating is not necessarily confined to the food, For example, the Buddha allowed his disciple to
practice various vows dealing with food. Most of these were designed to control ones greed for fine
flavors, etc. One of these practices was "the any house beggars practice." Naturally, in a culture where
monks begged for food, overtime monks got to know where the good handouts were, and there they went.
So, a monk who undertook the "any house beggars practice" forsook the luxury of choosing where the
good grub was to be had and tossed his lot to chance. No doubt because most of the homes were Hindu,
the food was mostly vegetarian. But, because many of the Buddha's followers begged in fishing
communities, fish was also on the menu.
Now, as far as diet goes, who is closer to the Buddha's heart, the monk carefully choosing his homes for
the delicious vegetarian morsel, or the monk who begs by chance? This brings us to a big problem
vegetarians have to deal with, greed. If you mix a vegetarian meal with greed, the pure satvic meal
becomes impure or rajistic. So what is the benefit of pure food? The old saying, "better a dried morsel
where love is; than abundance with hate and greed," comes to mind here. In fact vegetarians face all the
problems the non-vegetarians face while eating. They can eat with anger, hatred, stupidity just like
Those who claim that vegetarianism is a "Buddhist Way of Life" are reading more into this beneficial
practice than there is to be gotten. It is good to be vegetarian, no doubt. It is an aid to the path and does
not require a lot of effort. But the real issues that being a Buddhist forces us to face requires a
tremendous effort. It is unlikely that we will even recognize what these issues are, let alone address them,
if we are spending our time on a platform trying to turn vegetarianism into a "Buddhist Way of life." Thank
heaven Buddhism is more than that. Realizing this will require more energy than the vegetarian
fundamentalist are willing to exert. They would rather spend there time hawking their vegetarian ideals
than address these. Rather than talk so much on diet why not talk on compassion and put the topic of
vegetarianism in the broader context to which it belongs?
What is proper mindfulness? One of the primary focuses of Buddhist practice is the practice of
mindfulness; but what exactly does this mean? Being mindful means being conscious of what one is doing
and on a more subtle level, it means being mindful of what one is thinking and feeling. But, I want to talk
first about the relationship between mindfulness and intention.
If I set out to do something and forget whether I have done it or not, I could not have engaged in that
action with mindfulness. This happens surprisingly often; even those of us who profess to practice
mindfulness are often guilty. How often have we “locked” the house door and afterwards drove off
wondering whether we have locked it or not? We may have even reminded ourselves that it is something
we often forget to do, and make a conscious intention to do it, and no sooner we drive off a little bird is
tapping us on the shoulder asking us if we had locked the door. A doubt creeps in and we realize that we
don’t know whether we did or didn’t lock the door. So, while it would make our home more secure if we did,
as far as being mindful is concerned it makes little difference. If it was locked we did it with as little
mindfulness as if it were left unlocked. But, why don’t we know whether we locked it or not and why are we
doubting whether we did or not?
Knowing what our intention is is one thing and completing that intention is another. As Buddhists we are
assuming right intention, intention that does not bring harm to others and is beneficial. Intention gives us
the opportunity to serve the Buddha by fulfilling our intention with mindfulness, no matter how insignificant
the action may seem. No action is really insignificant. It may seem so on the surface, but if we dig deeper
we will see that seemingly trivial lapses of mindfulness can reveal larger problems. Let’s see how this
Distractions seem to arise in the most inopportune moments, like when your leaving your home, for
example, and a thousand thoughts cramp your mind all demanding your attention at once, just when you
are locking up! Suddenly the attention we are supposed to be giving to making sure the sliding glass door
is locked and the rear door, and the front door, is scattered in a million directions and we engage in the
lock-up like a ghost going through motions with no sense of clarity whatever. We drive away still filtering
through our thoughts when we come out of the clouds with a doubt whether or not we locked up properly.
We probably did, but that is not the point. The point is we doubt whether we did, and we doubt whether we
did because we were not mindful when we locked up, we were distracted.
Now the problem with being distracted is that a distracted mind does not tend toward liberation or self-
realization. The reason the Buddha taught right intention and mindfulness is that they are qualities that
help us to become free. Being mindful in daily life is like being focused in meditation; it reflects the true
nature of the mind. Ordinary actions done with mindfulness are very powerful and liberating.
Everything said above about mindfulness in daily life is of course true for our devotional exercises. When
we arrange flowers on the alter or light incense we should do so consciously without a mind busy thinking
about the affairs of the day and scattered. We should generate reverence and devotion and perform
appropriate contemplations when making such offerings and doing prostrations. It is our mindfulness that
empowers these devotional actions and it is our mindfulness that makes them worthy offerings to the
Buddhas and Bodhisatvas. Without mindfulness we are performing mere rituals.