Thursday, 8 October 2009

Descending the Mountain

As most will be aware by now, John Daido Loori Roshi has stepped down as head of the Mountains and Rivers Order and now appears to be approaching the end of his life.

I know him and his teachings through "
Cave of Tigers: Modern Zen Encounters", "Art of Just Sitting: Essential Writings on the Zen Practice of Shikantaza", MRO videos on-line and from the recollections of my teachers at the Western Chan Fellowship after a visit they made to him a few years ago.

He always comes across as strong and deeply compassionate and his writings are full of life and warmth. I whole heartedly recommend any of his teachings.

At this time Daido Roshi is in my mind and heart. And I keep practising. I invite you to do the same.

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Adyashanti on Enlightenment

This "knowing" you talk about is traditionally called enlightenment. As you know, enlightenment has been both idealized and trivialized in the West. How would you define it?

Enlightenment is awakening from the dream of being a separate me to being the universal reality. It’s not an experience or a perception that occurs to a separate person as the result of spiritual practice or cultivated awareness. It doesn’t come and go, and you don’t need to do anything to maintain it. It’s not about being centered or blissful or peaceful or any other experience. In fact, enlightenment is a permanent nonexperience that happens to nobody. The separate person is seen through, and you realize that only the supreme, universal reality exists, and that you are that.


Could you say a little more about the difference between mystical experiences and true awakening?

When the personal "I" merges and becomes one with everything, that’s a mystical experience. Or your consciousness expands infinitely, or your kundalini [innate spiritual energy] awakens, or you have a vision of the Buddha or Mother Mary, or you feel totally blissed out and peaceful. Even an ongoing experience of being unified with God or Buddha is just another mystical experience.

But even though they’re the highest, most beautiful states a human being can have, mystical experiences are happening to the dream character you take to be "me" - and this "me" is the one you wake up from. Awakening is the realization that you are the awakeness or lucidity that’s experiencing every moment of the dream, including the so-called spiritual or mystical, without being caught by it. As I said before, awakeness is not an experience, it’s a fact, whereas a mystical experience happens to someone at a particular place and time.

- from The Taboo of Enlightenment - Do we really believe we can awaken? Stephan Bodian talks with popular lay teacher Adyashanti, Tricycle, Fall 2004.


I knew virtually nothing about Adyashanti before reading this interview, although, having done some background reading now, I am aware that there is some controversy regarding his methods of teaching, his lineage, his relationship to Buddhism / Zen and that he discusses enlightenment openly. Nonetheless, I found the relentless enquiry of his practice over the years along with his directness and clarity to be refreshing and inspiring.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Jeromes Niece

Jeromes Neice: A new site collecting Dharma quotes, feel free to submit quotes that you value.

I'm not sure what the name is in reference to but perhaps it is apparent to others?

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Positive Qualities of a Childlike Mind

Question: What are some of the positive qualities of a childlike mind?

Tenzin Palmo:
An example of a childlike quality is when children are in the midst of intense grief and then someone gives them a lollipop. The tears disappear and they giggle and smile. They have completely forgotten that a few minutes ago they had been grief-stricken. A childlike quality of the mind really means a mind which is fresh, which sees things as if for the first time.

Once someone did a test on meditators'...brainwaves. They tested someone who was doing a formal Hindu style meditation and a Zen master. This was to find out what the difference was, because they both said they were meditating, but each was doing a very different kind of meditation. They also tested a non-meditator. Every three minutes, they made a sudden loud noise. It was regular. The first person they tested was the one who didn't know how to meditate. The first time this person heard the loud noise, he became very agitated. The second time he was less agitated. The third time there was some vague agitation, and then the fourth time he more or less ignored it. The person doing the Hindu meditation didn't react to the noise at all. He didn't hear it. When the person doing the Zen meditation heard the noise, the mind went outwards, noted the noise and then went back in. The next time, the mind noted the noise and went back in. His reaction was unchanged. Each time, the mind noted the noise and went back in.

That tells us a lot about the quality of mind we are talking about. This is a mind which responds to something with attention and then returns to its own natural state. It doesn't elaborate on it, doesn't get caught up in it, doesn't get excited about it. It just notes that this is what is happening. Every time it happens, it notes it. It doesn't get blasé. It doesn't become conditioned. In this way, it is like a child's mind. When something interesting happens, it will note it and then let it go and move onto the next thing. This is what is meant by a childlike mind. It sees everything as if for the first time. It doesn't have this whole backlog of preconditioned ideas about things. You see a glass and you see it as it is, rather than seeing all the other glasses you have seen in your life, together with your ideas and theories about glasses and whether you like glasses in this or that shape, or the kind of glass you drank out of yesterday. We are talking about a mind which sees the thing freshly in the moment. That's the quality we are aiming for. We lose this as we become adults. We are trying to reproduce this fresh mind, which sees things without all this conditioning. But we do not want a mind which is swept away by its emotions.

- from Reflections on a Mountain Lake: Teachings on Practical Buddhism by Venerable Tenzin Palmo, published by Snow Lion Publications

* * *

Pilgrimage to the Cave in the Snow. In October 2010 Ven. Tenzin Palmo will accompany a pilgrimage tour, including the Indian Himalayan region of Lahaul and Spiti, Dharamsala, Tashi Jong, and Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery, and other monasteries and temples. They expect to meet with various high Lamas during the tour. Limited space is available. Read more at or email them at


I came across this quote on Integral Options Cafe a blog by William Harryman after he shared it on twitter. I thought it was brilliant for two reasons - firstly as a follow-on to my previous post Simple Pleasures: Not So Simple which also relates to ideas we have of Childlike qualities, and secondly because it elucidates so elegantly the distinction between Zen meditation and some other forms. The later being something than can at times be rather difficult!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Regret, Not Guilt

The difference between guilt and regret is that the guilt never faces the wrongdoing straightforwardly. There's just this strong emotion of "I wish it hadn't happened. I wish I hadn't done it. I wish I had never gotten angry." Or, "I wish I hadn't done that embarrassing thing," and so on. Regret is the opposite of guilt. We acknowledge it, we expose to ourselves that we have done something harmful, and how it came about from our ignorance, but we don't get caught in emotions or story lines.

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Tricycle, Winter 2004

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 1st of August 2009


I read this extract with delight, it pinpoints the difference between guilt and regret so clearly. More clearly than I had previously understood in fact! And I can see it and relate to it directly. At points in my life I have felt guilt, however, in more recent times on retreat I have felt very deep regret over past actions and it feels so very different. Somehow bigger and stronger while also humble and vulnerable at the same time.

The clarity of facing something directly.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Burning the Buddha

Americans like to refer to one of the old Zen stories about how a master took a wooden Buddha image, chopped it up, and made a fire, warming himself by its flames. Seeing this, a monk asked, "What are you doing, setting fire to the Buddha?"

The master replied, "Where is Buddha?"

The opposite goes on in America. In America we want to burn the Buddha images to begin with. You see, that monk was stuck on the form. In America, we are antiform, so the pointing goes in another direction. If you're attached to neither existence nor nonexistence, you manifest a sixteen-foot golden Buddha in a pile of rubbish, appearing and disappearing.

John Daido Loori in Essential Zen, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi & Tensho David Schneider (HarperCollins)

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 27th of June 2009


And not just in America, also in England and many other places. Perhaps as a rejection of the religion we were brought up with (directly or indirectly) and coming from a cultural situation where religion and it's associated forms
have lost meaning and trust.

Form and formless, internal and external are inseparable. When I saw this, I started shaving on retreat, folding my clothes before sleeping, minding my body as well as my mind. Not everything is always as tidy as it could be but my attention is a little more balanced and not so focussed on the formless at a cost to the form.

Training the Heart

Often we hear the adage, “Follow your heart.” But having practiced and looked at all the things that have arisen in my heart, I’ve seen that while some things were fine and beautiful, many were not so noble. The heart is not only driven by love, kindness, and compassion; it is also driven by desire, greed, and anger. We need to train the heart, not simply follow it.

Joseph Goldstein, from A Heart Full of Peace (Wisdom Publications)

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 13th of June 2009


In the guise of Bodhisattva Manjusri, Joseph Goldstein slashes directly through so many spiritual niceties. And does so with compassion.

What is the Mind?

You should not consider the mind to be that which reflects upon visual forms, sounds, tastes, and tactile sensations. Many people think that the mind is simply that which reflects upon what is seen and heard and is able to distinguish between good, bad, and so forth. Thus they regard the sixth sense, the intellect, to be the mind. But such views are just delusive thinking. Before seeing, before feeling, and before thinking: what is the mind? This alone is what you have to search for and awaken to.

Kusan Sunim, translated by Martine Batchelor, from The Way of Korean Zen (Weatherhill)

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 29th of May 2009


When I first read this my mind just stopped and went blank. Re-reading it has the same effect. What is the mind?

A few moments later I realise just how much precious meditation time I spend indulging the intellect! And the same applies outside formal meditation also.

More practice.

How to Make Fewer Mistakes

We all make mistakes from time to time. Life is about learning to make our mistakes less often. To realize this goal, we have a policy in our monastery that monks are allowed to make mistakes. When the monks are not afraid to make mistakes, they don’t make so many.

Ajahn Brahm, from
Opening the Door of Your Heart (Lothian Books)

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 23rd of March 2009


I post this with gratitude for such a brilliant teaching that applies to all areas of life.

Simple Pleasures: Not So Simple

Sometimes we look to children to provide us with a model of pure attention or complete absorption in the moment, and we fantasize that practice will restore us to a state of lost simplicity or immediacy. When I watch my son eat ice cream, it’s easy to imagine that his whole world is nothing but pure sensuous delight. But if I inadvertently put his ice cream in the wrong-colored dish or don’t give him his favorite spoon or try to make him eat over a place mat, the picture changes. It turns out that his simple pleasure was not so simple after all. That “pure” childhood act is revealed to have many layers of opinion, likes, and dislikes already built into it (by age two!) that are required to make the experience just so.

Barry Magid, from Ordinary Mind (Wisdom Publications)

Received as Daily Dharma from on the 18th of March 2009


This email struck a chord with me and I kept it in my in-box so that I could reflect on it further. I think there is much we can learn from children but Barry Magid makes a very good point. Noticing that we have started fantasizing about some lost state is a clear opportunity to redirect our attention back to the practice, back to our life as it is now.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

The urge to do something

"ONE DAY when Pooh Bear had nothing else to do, he thought he would do something, so he went round to Piglet's house to see what Piglet was doing."

- in which A House Is Built at Pooh Corner for Eeyore, from The Pooh Story Book by A. A. Milne
Reading A. A. Milne aloud is wonderful and I heartily recommend it for the enjoyment and for the abundance of insights available.

Recently it was this opening line that particularly struck me as I often have a strong urge to do something when I am sitting in meditation: write to-do lists for work; plan out the day; plan the rest of my life; scratch my ear; move my legs - anything, so long as it involves doing something! Just sitting isn't enough.

And again in another example, when someone is talking to me I have a strong urge to do something
: solve their problem (as perceived by me); cheer them up; tell them my version - anything, so long as it involves doing something! Just listening isn't enough.

This is a reason why regular Dharma practice is so powerful: it undoes these habitual urges.

Actually just sitting is enough; just listening is enough; this present moment is enough. I am enough, no need to do something (anything) to make it so. And you too.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Work of a Bodhisattva

In President Obama's Cairo speech he said:

"The Holy Quran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as — it is as if he has killed all mankind. And the Holy Quran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind."

Which sounds like advice on the work of a Bodhisattva to me. And which person should the Bodhisattva save, to save all mankind? No need to look anywhere other than right where you are.

Video of Persident Obama's Cairo speech is also available on-line.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

an Inn for All

Realisation: The Palace that Became an Inn for All

A respected monk arrived at the gates of a King's grand palace. Due to his great fame, none of the guards dared to halt him as he entered the hall where the King was seated on his throne. The following conversation ensued.

King: Dear Venerable Sir, how may I assist you?
Monk: I would like somewhere to spend the night in this inn.

King: You have mistaken! This is no inn - it's my palace!

Monk: Who owned this place before you?

King: My late father.

Monk: And who ruled it before him?

King: My grandfather, who is also deceased.

Monk: If this is where people come to live only for a while before leaving, why is it not an inn?

King: I am so sorry! This is indeed an inn. Your stay is most welcome!

The monk had wanted to remind the King of the irrefutable truth of transience, of all things material and even mental, of the fleeting nature of his life, wealth and status - despite wielding great power. Similar to the King, wherever we live, be it a big house or a small apartment, is like a hotel. Even the most valuable material things within are but items in a hotel, temporally 'loaned' to us for use. As much as we might wish to live in this hotel forever, we can never - unless we realise the path to transcend the cycle of life and death. Even this body that we have, which we think is ours to rule over is a hotel which we live in, for usually less than a hundred more years! If so, may we use 'our' body wisely and share 'our' posessions kindly!
- Shen Shi'an

I received this recently on one of the
Daily Enlightenment weekly emails and it gave me cause for reflection. What I saw was that I really don't treat my own home as well as I would treat an "Inn for All". In fact I pay much much less attention to the cleanliness and tidiness of "my own spaces" than I do to other places. For example, when I stay with my fiancée at her friend's flat, as we often do over weekends, we usually dedicate an hour or even two to cleaning the place before we leave it. We are both very grateful for the weekend loan of the flat and we do our best to leave it in a tidier and cleaner state than how we receive it. And this is not to say it is ever untidy or unclean when we get there! And I really enjoy this cleaning time we have together, it is very meditative and a nice way to offer gratitude.

So what is missing when it comes to treating "my own space" as an "Inn for All" and putting in the extra effort and love to express the respect and gratitude I feel?

I'm not sure yet actually, but I can certainly see it is missing in many areas - "my" (rented) house, "my" garden, "my" car, "my" work space... I keep
all of these relatively tidy and relatively clean, but not to the degree that I can say they are always an expression of my respect and gratitude and ready to hand over to the next (royal?) occupant!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Strive for higher self-esteem

Excerpt: Should We Strengthen Our Sense of 'Self'

Psychotherapists tell us we should have a healthy sense of self. Should strengthening our sense of self be part of Buddhist practice?

A: People working in the field of psychology often speak of our having a sense of self. But when there is a self, one tends to compare it to other selves. Out of that comparison come the ideas of low self-esteem, high self-esteem, inferiority, superiority, and equality. Low self-esteem is considered to be detrimental. We're told to strive for higher self-esteem. But high self-esteem can also be harmful. The complex of superiority brings unhappiness. It's not a compliment to say, "He's full of himself." The person with high self-esteem can make himself and others suffer. The desire to be equal, to be "just as good as" someone, also brings unhappiness. Only the person who is empty of self is happy; he has no jealousy, no hatred, no anger, because there is no self to compare.

According to the Buddha's teaching, the self is the foundation of sickness. There are many negative mental formations; when they manifest they make us and others suffer. And there are many positive mental formations that can improve our quality of being and increase our concentration and insight. We practice in order to strengthen these positive mental formations, rather than to strengthen our "sense of self." The practice of mindfulness will help these energes to manifest, and you will have a better equality of being... Mindfulness is the energy that helps us to be truly present. When you are truly present, you are more in control of situations, you have more love, patience, understanding, and compassion. That strengthens and improves your quality of being. It can be very healing to touch your true nature of no-self. Psychotherapy can learn a lot from this teaching

Thich Nhat Hanh from Answers from the Heart: Practical Responses to Burning Questions (Parallax Press)

Received in The Daily Enlightenment's weekly Buddhist email newsletter 30.04.09.

When I first read this I was struck by a couple of things that this seemed to contradict.
  • I wasn't entirely in agreement with the apparent definition of "self-esteem" being used, I tend to view "self-esteem" as the view or opinion we hold of our own value, with little reference or comparison to other people. Obviously it will be relative to others to some degree, but not particularly in the sense of feeling we are better or worse than someone else.
  • In teachings I have received through the Western Chan Fellowship, including those of Master Sheng Yen, the instructions have been that we must first gather the mind before we will be able to transcend the mind and a state of no-mind might arise. This is often related to our sense of self in that it is first necessary to gain a clear and strong sense of self ("a healthy sense of self") before we are able to transcend this and a state of no-self might arise. Awareness starts with the self, then the question of what this "self" is follows. (However, to be clear, the underlying motivation is never to gain a stronger sense of self.)
These were first reactions though and on further reflection, the second paragraph really pulls it all together for me and I can see that what TNH is teaching doesn't really contradict the teachings I have received. I appreciate how he distinguishes the ideas of negative and positive mental formations in the Buddha's teaching from the idea of self and I find this has a valuable sense of clarity.

I also re-examined my ideas around "self-esteem" and noticed that my first reaction was a defensive response to the challenge of TNH's words. Actually I am fully in agreement with what he teaches and have in fact reflected on this before. Low self-esteem and high self-esteem are both forms of self-cherishing.

What I take in conclusion from this excerpt is: "
Mindfulness ... strengthens and improves your quality of being."

[I think this is probably also a good reminder that reading an except from a book doesn't necessarily give the whole picture being presented!]

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Enlightenment in seven days

Buddha told his disciples: whoever makes an effort can attain enlightenment in seven days. If he can’t manage it, certainly he will attain it in seven months, or in seven years. The young man decided that he would attain it in one week, and he wanted to know what he should do: “concentration” was the reply.

The young man began to practice, but in ten minutes he was already distracted. Little by little, he began paying attention to everything that distracted him, and thought that he was not wasting time, but was getting used to himself.

One fine day he decided it was not necessary to arrive at his goal so fast, because the path was teaching him many things.

It was at that moment that he became an Enlightened one.

From Issue No 195 of Warrior of the Light, a publication from Paulo Coelho.

I was particularly struck by the teaching of it not being necessary to arrive at a goal so fast. And then there is going beyond and dropping all goals, efforts and striving! But while I am still striving towards goals at least I can slow down.

Monday, 30 March 2009


The In-Between State
March 25th, 2009

By Ane Pema Chodron

We are told about the pain of chasing after pleasure and the futility of running from pain. We hear also about the joy of awakening, of realizing our interconnectedness, of trusting the openness of our hearts and minds. But we aren’t told all that much about this state of being in-between, no longer able to get our old comfort from the outside but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth.

Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It’s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not only hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength.

Yet it seems reasonable to want some kind of relief. If we can make the situation right or wrong, if we can pin it down in any way, then we are on familiar ground. But something has shaken up our habitual patterns and frequently they no longer work. Staying with volatile energy gradually becomes more comfortable than acting it out or repressing it. This open-ended tender place is called bodhichitta. Staying with it is what heals. It allows us to let go of our self-importance. It’s how the warrior learns to love.

- Pema Chodron, from The Places That Scare You (Shambhala Publications)

I was deleting some emails from my inbox this evening and found a Tricycle newsletter still there. I had a quick look to see why I hadn't deleted it already and came across the link to Pema Chodron's quote above. I realised that I had kept it to read because I was quite curious about the "being in-between" mentioned - the description offered seemed to fit my feeling in life for quite some time now; "no longer able to get our old comfort from the outside but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth."

And I could easily characterise my experience as a mixture of "
Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness" when I stop being busy with work and other distractions. These states lie under the surface, waiting for my guard to drop and to be given their fair share of attention. But how often does my guard drop? Not often it seems, but certainly last week in a big way.

What I realised last week is that my practice has taken me to a certain level where there is a sense of
"equanimity and warmth" but that this is a shallow plateau and it covers a more subtle layer of deep anxiety and fear. Events last week shook this cover and broke through the guard I had in place. Bubbling below and now free to surface are deep anxieties over the choices I make, the things I say and do that cause harm in so many (seemingly small) ways, fear of loss, of death, of meaninglessness.

The teaching to let go of self-importance hits home.

Even under the guise of living the BuddhaDharma, of embodying the teachings, so often I think I am Right in my choices and my actions, that I know best. And I mean this in relation to my own life but of course our lives are not separate and the effects ripple outwards. And when I see that, I see that it is only about guarding, about preserving this identity, staying safe: self-importance, self-cherishing.

But really I don't know what is right or best, I am just stumbling along one mistake after another.

Perhaps I can try open-ended tenderness.

Thursday, 5 March 2009


The Lord [Buddha] asked: What do you think, Subhuti, does it occur to the Stream-winner,* ‘by me has the fruit of a Streamwinner been attained’? Subhuti replied: No indeed, O Lord. And why? Because, O Lord, he has not won any dharma. Therefore is he called a Stream-winner. No sight-object has been won, no sounds, smells, tastes, touchables, or objects of mind. That is why he is called a ‘Stream-winner’. If, O Lord, it would occur to a Stream-winner, ‘by me has a Stream-winner’s fruit been attained’, then that would be in him a seizing on a self, seizing on a being, seizing on a soul, seizing on a person.

- Diamond Sutra

* Stream-entry is the most basic attainment that serious practitioners strive to attain in this lifetime.

I received an email from
The Daily Enlightenment's weekly Buddhist email newsletter today that included a link to an article on Moonpointer called Are You a Very Serious Practitioner, which in turn contained the above quote from the Diamond Sutra.

I was struck by the relevance of this to some recent pondering I had been doing after reading some articles about people making claims to their own enlightenment. People seem to take quite different views and positions on this matter and it can get quite heated and controversial.

While pondering, I also observed my own reaction to such claims and my reaction to other people's views. I had the distinct urge to seize a view and hold onto it as part of my identity, to take sides. And this of course leads straight into judgemental thoughts about myself and about others.

...And yet I just wasn't so sure. Firstly I wasn't sure about the correctness of any of the views and secondly I wasn't sure about the need to actually hold (onto) a view.

So I appreciated the quote from the Diamond Sutra and happily stopped worrying about seizing or holding any view. No need to seize anything, just return to the practice!

Monday, 23 February 2009 be a 'nothingist'










Sky Burial



Pounded into pieces

Light an incense

Blow the whistle



Out and out

- 13 April 1986, Beijing

I discovered the Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian (高行健 ) last week via a reference in a novel I was reading. Sadly it seems that this poem is the only one to have survived his 're-education' during the Cultural Revolution and it does not appear that he has published any poetry since, although he has published 5 novels and many plays.

From an interview in the Guardian:
"Literature can't merely be an expression of self - that would be unbearable," Gao says. "You have to be critical not just of society and others, but of yourself: each subject has three pronouns: 'I', 'you', and 'he' or 'she'." He sees such self-scrutiny as a safeguard: "If you're not perfectly conscious of yourself, that self can be tyrannical; in relationship to others, anyone can become a tyrant. That's why no one can be a Superman. You have to go beyond yourself with a 'third eye' - self-awareness - because the one thing you cannot flee is yourself."

The interview also includes this excerpt from The Case for Literature, translated by Mabel Lee, published by Yale University Press:
"Without Isms is neither nihilism nor eclecticism; nor is it egotism or solipsism. It opposes totalitarian dictatorship but also opposes the inflation of the self to God or Superman. It hates seeing other people trampled on like dog shit. Without Isms detests politics and does not take part in politics, but is not opposed to other people who do. If people want to get involved in politics, let them go right ahead. What Without Isms opposes is the foisting of a particular brand of politics on to the individual by means of abstract collective names such as 'the people', 'the race' or 'the nation'."

All such thinking aside, I posted this because the poem touches me deeply. I read it and feel like weeping for the fragility of a human life, the pain and sadness of impermanence. And yet the simple beauty also. Come. Gone. Out and Out. Indeed! A reminder to let go, always to let go. Sadness? Let go. Pain? Let go. Happiness? Let go. Positive thoughts? Let go. Negative thoughts? Let go. Opinions? Let go. Hopes? Let go. Judgements? Let go. Emotions? Let go. This body? Let go. This mind? Let go. Light an incense.

Let go now, don't waste a precious moment, this life might be over sooner than we expect.

UPDATE: The Artsy website has wonderful page profiling Gao Xingjian and his artwork. Do check it out.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Caring for Ourselves this Valentine's Day

The practice of metta (lovingkindness), uncovering the force of love that can uproot fear, anger, and guilt, begins with befriending ourselves. The foundation of metta practice is to know how to be our own friend. According to the Buddha, "You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." How few of us embrace ourselves in this way! With metta practice we uncover the possibility of truly respecting ourselves. We discover, as Walt Whitman put it, "I am larger and better than I thought. I did not think I held so much goodness."

Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness

Everyday Mind,
edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book.

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 14th of February 2009

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The universe may one day perish, yet my vows are eternal

The Most Venerable Master Sheng Yen let go of his physical body and left behind great compassion and great vows in this world

What I am unable to accomplish in this lifetime, I vow to push forward through countless future lives; What I am unable to accomplish personally, I pray for everyone to join forces to promote

Busy with nothing, growing old.
Within emptiness, weeping, laughing.
Intrinsically, there is no "I."
Life and death, thus cast aside. ~ Venerable Master Sheng Yen

The Most Venerable Master Sheng Yen, founder of Dharma Drum Mountain, passed away at 4:04pm of the afternoon of 3 February, 2009, at the age of 80.

The Master has dedicated his whole life in promoting the idea of "uplifting the character of humanity and building a pure land on earth" through the manifestations of his own physical body and actions. The Sangha community and followers of Dharma Drum Mountain around the world will uphold and fulfill the Master's wishes so that great compassion and great vows will continue in this world.

The Most Venerable Master, who humbly called himself "a monk amidst the rain and snow", was voted as one of Taiwan's fifty most influential people in the last four hundred years. A review of the Master's life depicted a life of drifting from place to place, facing endless trials and dramatic turnarounds. As a child the Master was always sick and frail. After receiving monastic ordination in Wolf Hill, Jiangsu Province, China, and throughout the period of performing chanting rites for the deceased, serving in the military, studying in Japan for his PhD degree, propagating the Dharma in the United States of America, the founding and establishment of Dharma Drum Mountain, the Master always found a way out of all difficulties. In times of hardship we can witness his compassion, through his unswerving determination we can witness his wisdom through Chan practice. To the Master, life is a journey of practicing the Dharma.

In 2004, the Master, well aware of his poor health, made a will and instructed that after he passed away; instead of a traditional funeral ceremony, a Buddhist memorial rite should be held. It should be simple, solemn and economical, all flowers and wreaths are to be declined, just the chanting of "NAN MO A MI TUO FO" (Homage to Amitabha Buddha) so that we will all be joined in the Pure Land. Since he fell sick, the Master's attitude to life and death is not to wait for death, fear death or seek death. Instead he followed his vow
"The universe may one day perish, yet my vows are eternal" and continued to lead everyone forward on the path of building a pure land on earth.

In September 2006, the Master handed over the position of Abbot President to his disciple Venerable Guo Dong, symbolizing the transmission of the Dharma Drum Mountain lineage from generation to generation. In regard to the issue of selecting the Abbot President, the Master had clearly stated that regardless of whether a bihikkshu or bhikshuni was elected from within Dharma Drum Mountain or engaged from outside, when the person takes up the position of Abbot President, he/she also receives the transmission of the Dharma Drum Mountain lineage and will not abandon the vision and direction of Dharma Drum Mountain.

Under the leadership of Abbot President, Venerable Guo Dong, the Sangha community and followers of Dharma Drum Mountain throughout the world will inherit the past and continue forward in carrying out the practice of "Four Insistence" - to insist upon the ideas of Dharma Drum Mountain, to insist upon the Three Types of Education, to insist upon the Four Kinds of Environmentalism and to insist upon the practice of orthodox Chinese Buddhism – to support the vision of Dharma Drum Mountain as they had done in the past and to jointly fulfill the will of the Master in the building of the Dharma Drum University.

In accordance with the Master's will, his ashes will be returned to the earth and buried in the Life Memorial Garden.

The Most Venerable Master Sheng Yen once said,
"Where there is life, there must be death. If one cannot face this reality it will become one’s greatest barrier in life, if one can regard death merely as a fraction within the eternal time and space then death is not an end to life but the beginning of the next."

Original Article on the Dharma Drum Mountain website

Master Sheng Yen's will can also be found here in English and the same page carries links to photos, videos etc.

There is also a statement on the Western Chan Fellowship (which carries his lay western lineage in the UK) website

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Dusk on the River

There's a Zen story in which a man is enjoying himself on a river at dusk. He sees another boat coming down the river toward him. At first it seems so nice to him that someone else is also enjoying the river on a nice summer evening. Then he realizes that the boat is coming right toward him, faster and faster. He begins to get upset and starts to yell, "Hey, hey watch out! For Pete's sake, turn aside!" But the boat just comes faster and faster, right toward him. By this time he's standing up in his boat, screaming and shaking his fist, and then the boat smashes right into him. He sees that it's an empty boat.

This is the classic story of our whole life situation.

Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are

Everyday Mind
, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 29th of January 2009

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Ten Diseases of Meditation Practice

1. Entertaining thoughts of "is" or "is not."

2. Thinking Zhaozhou said "no" because in reality there is just nothing.

3. Resorting to principles or theories.

4. Trying to resolve the hwadu (koan) as an object of intellectual inquiry.

5. When the master raises his eyebrows or blinks his eyes taking such things as indicators regarding the meaning of dharma.

6. Regarding the skilful use of words as a means to express the truth.

7. Regarding a state of vacuity and ease for realization of truth.

8. Taking the place where you become aware of sense objects to be the mind.

9. Relying upon words quoted from the teachings.

10. Remaining in a deluded state waiting for enlightenment to happen.

Edited from: Larkin, Geri. First You Shave Your Head. Berkeley, Celestial Arts, 2001, pp. 67.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Clear and Transparent

Like the little stream
Making its way

Through the mossy crevices

I, too, quietly

Turn clear and transparent

- Ryokan

What we talk about when we talk about meditation.

If you do decide to start meditating, there's no need to tell other people about it, or talk about why you are doing it or what it's doing for you. In fact, there is no better way to waste your nascent energy and enthusiasm for practice and thwart your efforts so they will be unable to gather momentum. Best to meditate without advertising it.

Every time you get a strong impulse to talk about meditation and how wonderful it is, or how hard it is, or what it's doing for you these days, or what it's not, or you want to convince someone else how wonderful it would be for them, just look at it as more thinking and go meditate some more. The impulse will pass and everybody will be better off - especially you.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are

Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 16th of January 2009

Friday, 9 January 2009

A flower / A weed

A flower falls even though we love it,

And a weed grows even though we do not love it.

- Dogen Zenji

Saturday, 3 January 2009


When we stop ignoring the futility of samsara, we enter the path of liberation. Without self-reflection, we can't take this step. Habitual tendencies cause us to ignore impermanence, karma, and the suffering of samsara. We ignore the preciousness of our human birth and our potential to work with our mind. We ignore our vulnerability, which is the cause of so much suffering. When we remain in denial, even if we take refuge thousands of times, nothing will change. Denial is the first thing we must really give up.

Seeing the futility of samsara brings a sense of discenchantment, or brokenheartedness. This is the realization that everything we've ever taken refuge in, from time immemorial, has been unreliable. From this realization, feelings of tenderness and sadness* arise toward our world - along with a deep sense of renunciation. Longing to move closer to the truth, we realize there is no more genuine refuge than the Three Jewels.

This is not just Dharma "propaganda." When you take refuge, it's for your own sake. Nobody benefits but you, and nobody suffers but you when you take refuge in samsara. It is your choice: You can take refuge in samsara, or you can take refuge in waking up. But at some point, you do have to drop your doubts and make up your mind.

*Tib. skyo chad. This feeling of disenchantment or brokenheartedness is cherished by all the great masters as the root of developing genuine renunciation.

Kongtrul, Dzigar. It's Up to You: The Practice of Self-reflection on the Buddhist Path. Boston, Shambala, 2005, pp. 41-42.

Link to Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche's oganisation Mangala Shri Bhuti.