Renunciation: another view

August 11th, 2009

Renunciation also includes giving up our self-images, does it not? All the things that I think I am, all my thoughts about myself, my cherished fears, my self attack and so forth. All these self images are not needed, if we accept the truth of selflessness. Instead of angrily, or sleepily, or greedlily identifying with the little dreams, we identify with the fact none of these things has ever been what we really are.

We normally talk about renunciation with an emphasis on outer behaviors. E.g. “I’ll renounce crashing cars”, or “I’ll stop shouting at people”, and so on. Yet, although I don’t recall having seen an authoritative source talking about renunciation as willingly giving up self-images, its an interesting thought.

As HH 1st Panchen Lama says in The Path to Bliss, a quick way to meet the illusory self - and thus get a head start on understanding emptiness - is to pay attention when you are next insulted. That self that feels so outraged, indignant and wronged is precisely the made-up self. Just a dream. Just a trip. Not really real. Never was. Its ok, we all fell for that one…

… at these moments, when we stop and willingly let go of holding on so tight to that ‘outraged me’, because we see its not real and utterly non-productive, then isn’t that a form of renunciation?

Diamond Cutter Sutra recitation online

June 24th, 2009

The Asian Classics Institute’s sangha in Vancouver BC have recorded a recitation of the amazing Diamond Cutter Sutra, and its free online.

Kudos goes to Fred Blouin for arranging for the professional sound recording and mastering, and to Sherri Kajiwara for arranging the event, as well as Karen Husak, Floriana Albi, Deedee Leevers for hosting and support.

Opening meditation

Diamond Cutter recitation part 1

Diamond Cutter recitation part 2

Closing meditation and dedications

Choosing Paradise

May 26th, 2009

Have you ever simply sat and decided that Buddha Paradise is what you want?
To make that choice is simple, and so its rarely done. Amongst the great sea of Buddhist teachings is easy to go sailing, or float adrift, and enjoy the voyage of ‘doing Buddhism’. To surround oneself in practice is on one hand very good, but on the otherhand very samsaric as well since it can obscure that simple moment in the heart where one chooses for Heaven.

The crux of it is like this: in the pure land of a Buddha, even the idea of suffering is unknown. Despite some pictures of it, a Buddha’s world is not one of some noble soul who valiantly puts up with the difficulties of life in some special kind of way. On the contrary, Heaven has no difficulties, no fear, no guilt. It could hardly be called Heaven otherwise.

So to wish to be in Heaven means wishing not to dwell in a world of fear, of guilt. Yet, even in the midst of our practice we can working very much under the banner of guilt and fear, attack and blame.

If we value and hold on to some sense of grievance, some shred of blame, some guilt trip - we are very much choosing a world OTHER than Heaven.

If one were to sit for five minutes now, and close the eyes, become quiet, relax, and gently make the choice to not value the whole mesh of guilt, attack, blame and fear that one spins in the mind, that causes the world of attack and fear that one sees outside…

… to choose freedom from fear - for one’s own sake and for all those who have forgotten they have this choice

… to simply see that attack, guilt and blame and not thread from which peace is woven

… and so choose to side with all the Enligthened Kind who have made this same choice, and carried it through to its end.

Well, I wonder, what would happen if you did that? Perhaps a sense of peace would spread across your face in a smile, and across your soul!

Meditation Prayers set to music

April 2nd, 2009

Meditation prayers set to music by students of the amazing Buddhist Lama Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. He  was not a monk, but an enlightened Dzogchen yogi. These prayers for a meditation session are beautiful, and include the  familiar prayer ’Sangye Chudang…’, called Refuge and the Wish for Enlightenment:

Sangye chudang tsokyi choknam la

Jangchub bardu dakni kyabsu chi

Dakki jinsok gyipay sunam kyi

Drola penchir sangye druppar shok


I go for refuge

To the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha

Until I achieve enlightenment.

By the power of the goodness that I do

In giving, and the rest,

May I reach Buddhahood

For the sake of every living being.


Notice how the “Refuge and the Wish” prayer combines the act of going for refuge with generating Bodhicitta. Bodhicitta, according to the future Buddha Maitreya in the Ornament of Clear Realization, is the wish to gain enightenment in order to truly help people.

BTW, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s autobiography Blazing Splendour is one of the best Buddhism books I’ve read.

Karmic Profit Centers and

March 20th, 2009

Something lovely is happening on people are vying with each other to be the first to GIVE MONEY.
Normally we see people and businesses competing to be the first to get money. But this change is just as Geshe Michael described in the The Diamond Cutter: people competing to give money.

When we understand that wealth comes from generosity, as Arya Nagarjuna said, then we understand that to create wealth for ourselves and others, the only effective strategy is to be generous. Making micro-finance loans through an organisation like Kiva is a great way to do this: you use your wealth to help make other people successful in their businesses. And the recipients are often women, or other marginalized people in poor countries, to whom a small loan goes a LONG way, and often helps them move above the poverty line and releases the chains of dependency on begging, or loan sharks, and regular charity.

Geshe Michael calls this an example of a karmic profit center. A profit center - a body that generates profit - but in this case its because making these loans generates intense good karma, and that results as success for oneself too.

Being generous to a rich person is a good thing: it makes positive imprints in one’s own mind. Those imprints later result in the experience of abundance in one’s own life. However, being generous to a poor person who really needs it creates much stronger imprints, and thus results in more wealth for both them and oneself. Its a more powerful win-win situation. There is nothing wrong with wanting a powerful win-win situation: real generosity is not a sacrifice, and sacrifice is not real generosity. If one feels one is loosing out by an act of generosity, then one’s intention and wisdom in lacking. HH Dalai Lama calls the correct attitude ‘Enlightened self interest - yes, one is aware of the goodness that will come back to onelsef, but with the open generous attitude of excitement that comes form knowing that as one gets more wealthy, one can share even more with others. This has none of the pinched, selfish, defensive and cruel flavor of ignorant self interest. It makes for a very joyous, friendly lifestyle.

Do you know a saint who is a fussy eater?

February 21st, 2009

Since I came over all virtuous at New Years, and have been exercising and eating well, I’ve returned to the whole health and diet scene. But with it has returned a sense of what put me off before, in years gone by when I was living in the heart of the holistic health scene.
Its simply this: there is a strong belief that if only I could find the right X (sprout, juicer, water ionizer, blend of carbs and protein, etc) THEN I’LL BE WHOLE!
When put this way, it becomes clear that this is but the same type of process that we see elsewhere: believing wholeness will finally land when I get a raise, corner office, Audi A4, hot girlfriend…   In this case the chase is for the perfect organic food supplement, alkaline water, raw food regime, and so forth. But the process is identical.

Note the  belief that projects ‘wholeness’ onto one object after another. Failing to really grok that wholeness, happiness, health and general abundance does not reside in any physical object - naive people like me continue to chase after it, like chasing a rainbow. This is the definition of ignorance in a Buddhist concept. In the Highest Middle Way philosophy, things exist in dependence on a mind labeling them as such. E.g. someone is not inherently ‘annoying’: we just think they are. A picture is not inherently ‘beautiful’, though we honestly feel it is. A food is not inherently ‘healthy’, fire is not inherently ‘hot’, air is not inherently ’soft’: even though it may very validly seem that way to you.

And as soon as we get the great juicer, then we hear that actually we need to have more alkaline water. And as soon as we get the water ionizer, we find out we must have ceramic knives…..   One of the fascinating things about this process is that it just goes on and on. We may hope that sometime soon, perhaps next month, our health regime will truly settle down in perfection… but it never happens. This is easy to see: you can meet people who have been doing the ‘optimum health’ trip for decades, and yet they are constantly dissatisfied, seeking the next cutting edge health technology.

Then there is an extra sting in the tail: we think we’re so much better than other people because we’re looking for health the natural way. We look down our noses at people who we see as either foolish slaves to the allopathic mainstream medical establishment, or the wicked, deceitful purveyors of pharaceuticals who deliberately enmesh people in false information and condemn them to a live lived through perscription drugs. Meanwhile, we are feeling ever so good about ourselves, as we compare ourselves to others. Because our goal seems to transcendent compared to the crass goal of money and fame, we get so full of ourselves and often become more blind and self righteous than any Gordon Gecko.

To summarize so far: we are on a wild goose chase for optimum health, condemned to seek but never find, because we are always looking for the source of health and wellness where it can never be: in physical things (plants, water, crystals, air, whatever). So, naturally, though we aquire these things, we never quite attain a lasting state of health - there is always more to get. Thus we keep on seeking.
Then, additionally, as we go about the quest, we get more and more jaded and aloof and arrogant.

Lord Buddha, manifesting as a monk, would eat whatever was given to Him. Jesus ate bread and wine and meat. There are countless stories of saints eating all sorts of things - Paramahansa Yogananda recounts a story of a saint who could eat burning metal. Rarely do you hear stories about saints who are fussy eaters. Yet, fools like myself become extremely fussy eaters, thinking that if only we a bit more choosy, we’d definitely manifest quantum health and elevate our hertz frequencies to enlightenment.

I love another anecdote I heard Paramahansa Yogananda say. Here’s how I remember it:  “A man came to me and told me he found the key to eternal youth. ‘Don’t tell me,’ I said to him, ‘carrot juice!’. ‘Yes, carrot juice. I drink 3 glasses ever day and look at me,  I don’t look a day over 65!’. ‘Listen to me, when Saint Peter comes for you, all the carrot juice in the world isn’t going to stop him! Don’t fool yourself, apply yourself to deep meditation, and find what eternal youth really means!’”.

Another  anecdote: Kenneth Wapnick had just taught a course on A Course In Miracles (which is a very deep study, IMHO).  A young man comes up to him at the end and says “I’m happy to say that I can see you are spiritually advanced.”. “Really”, says Kenneth, “how do you know that?”. “Because you don’t drink coffee, and you haven’t had to go to the bathroom too often during this weekend.”. Incidently, A Course In Miracles treats this same theme, presenting it as the idea of ’specialness’: we project ’specialness’ onto things and people, and from this arises a whole world of confusion.

Another anecdote: At a retreat with Shri Mata Amritanandamayi, I met a young American woman who had become a Brahmachari and was travelling with Amma and living at the ashram in India. “What’s it like?” I asked. “The food isn’t so good.” she said.

Ironically, it is exactly this quest that causes our sickness and death. The whole process of imagining happiness resides in X (whether its a sprout, BMW, line of charlie), and the whole quest to get X which arises from that basic misunderstanding, is the process of samsara. Samara, as in a verb: ‘to samsara’. And while we samsara, we always end up with a body (some exceptions are births in the formless realm) and with the body comes its inevitable decay and death. So, the very way we are seeking health ensure we never reach it.

Ironic, huh?

So does that mean we eat anything? No. Of course we make good choices about food, diet and exercise. But with a different understanding: health comes form taking care of other people. If we wish to care for others, if we speak in a way that protects others lives, if we act to protect others lives, then we create the karma to see ourselves as healthy. If we have that karma, we will experience health. No matter what we eat. If we don’t have that karma, we will experience sickness, no matter what we eat.
This is a Buddhist understanding of how health comes about.

For a case in point, check out my buddy Wade Lightheart’s site:

Ballmer on Optimism during Recession

January 8th, 2009

Steve Ballmer said something karmically very powerful during his keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show. Basically, he said its very tempting during recession to scale back our optimism, and think smaller. But remember that the technology we’re producing really does positively impact people’s lives around the world - and that need is, if anything, greater than ever. The bottom line: stay focused on serving people - this enables one to keep thinking big.

Wabi Sabi & Emptiness

January 7th, 2009

I’m reading a fabulous book on Wabi Sabi - “The Wabi Sabi House” by Robyn Lawrence.

My reflection is this: the beauty in Wabi Sabi is that it hints at emptiness. Emptiness is the Buddhist equivalent of ultimate reality. Also called Natural Nirvana, it is the one thing that causes no one offense. Emtpiness, as my holy Lamas Thich Nhat Hanh and Geshe Michael Roach say, always needs to be understood in terms of: emptiness of what?

The thing-which-emptiness-is-empty-of is called ‘gakja’ in Tibetan. Getting this idea down is very important for unravelling a lot of confusion on this subject. For example, consider a kid scared there is a monster under its bed. The father looks down, shines a flash light, and shows the kid there isn’t. That bed is empty of monsters. Monster, in this case, is the gakja.

But in a Buddhist context, the gakja is more subtle. Actually, there are various levels of gakjas, each one increasingly subtle. Different schools of Buddhism ascribe to some, but not to others. The philosophical school called “Highest Middle Way” (madhyamika prasangika), which HH the Dalai Lama says is the most profound and complete view that reflects the true intent of Lord Buddha, takes the gakja further than any other school. But that is a story for another post.

For now, looking at Wabi Sabi, lets think of this.

Firstly Sabi - how some objects and settings hint at the beauty seen in time passing. This indeed is the first, most basic idea of emptiness: things lack a permanent, unchanging nature. (BTW the gakja here is ‘unchanging nature’). While we conceive of things as set, permanent, unchanging, there is a kind of mental stiffness; by contrast when we are open to the simple fact of things changing - even moment by moment - there is a sense of spaciousness, and openess. For example, when we are having a great time at a party and don’t want it to end, we can get all tight and desperate and find increasingly silly ways to get the party to continue. Whereas when we are having a good meal with friends, and know its drawing to an end, there can be a sense sandess but also fullness. This touch of bittersweetness is somehow very satisfaying, when we are open to it. There is a conguity: we know things are ending, we’re not pretending they aren’t. We are aware of how things are  … and in the awareness the dinner is over, is the suggestion that we can start another meal sometime soon.We are simply aware of how things are, without pretending differently - and by the way the Tibetan word for Dharma is Cho - which means ‘how things are’.

This is why objects that bear the mark of time can be so beautiful. If we have the right frame of mind, they nudge us back to this awareness and appreciation: the bittersweet yet beautiful, and quite real. Sober, yet soft.  By contrast, objects that seem to pretend all is hunky-dory, we will never die, everything is fine… these objects seem to reflect that ignorant, sorry state of mind: that manifests itself as the drunk person trying to convince people to keep partying, or the old woman who’s face looks like a monster because she has had a few too many plastic surgeries. More unattactive than these outer manifestations is that inner naivity, imbecility, that pretends we can make the joys of this life last forever.

As we acknowledge that things end, we also acknowledge that things begin. Ending a good dinner with friends, as we all say goodby, once we’ve hugged, and then they turn to walk off to catch a taxi - there is a moment of quiet. A pregnant pause. The dinner is over, but the next activity of the evening hasn’t yet begun. In this quietness, a soft mind can feel the fullness of possibility. The infinite possiblity of the next meal we may have together. Its this emptiness, this fullness of possibility, that is basis for good dinners. All great meetings arise out of such pregnant pauses. Sabi objects hold a reminder of this fullness of possiblity. Its not just some dreary reminder that everything dies: a good death meditation, according to Je Tsongkhapa, is one that energizes us to make every day full of the most beautiful, good acts of serving others that we can manage.

The fence

December 31st, 2008

the fence

Walking around the garden this morning, little is left above the snow. These stalks had a mildly randomy look to them, and I like the simplicity of the white snow and sky, and dark fence. The stalks get lost against the dark fence, at least with my little cellphone camera, but I like how they look jagged against both the snow at the bottom and sky at the top. I tried flipping the photo over to see if it looked the same both ways, but it doesnt.

Home Temple

December 31st, 2008

Home Temple

This is a lovely angle on the back porch of our house, that makes it look something like a temple. The columns and prayer flags give it that touch, and the white snow and sky that form the border make it look cosy and remote. Which, frankly, is a perfectly accurate description of the place!