Thursday, 30 December 2010

Be Grateful to Everyone

Gratitude does not seem to be that front and central nowadays. Instead of appreciating what we have, we keep focusing on what we do not have. We are filled with grudges and resentments and have strong opinions about what we deserve and what is our due. We may be taught to say “Please” and “Thank you,” but what have we been taught about appreciation? In our commodified world, we see things as material for our consumption. We don’t ask, we just take. And in the blindness of our wealth and privilege, we don’t see how much we have to be grateful for. We take all that we have for granted and we live in a very ungrateful world... I think we need to work on our basic gratitude, first. Simply adding this dimension to the way we view things would be a great improvement.

Judy Lief, "Train Your Mind: Be Grateful to Everyone"

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 25th of December 2010


And gratitude takes practice. We started a gratitude practice in our family a while back now: at every meal we all hold hands and each share something we are grateful for. We usually eat together at the table and this helps us to slow down and connect, it helps our time together and our eating to be more mindful. Sometimes we are grateful for the food, sometimes for each other, sometimes for something planned but yet to happen, after a little practice it's easy to find something to be grateful for. After all, the very fact that we can sit together and share a meal means we that have so very much to be grateful for.

Humility: Breath is Truth

Some people practice throughout their entire lives just by paying attention to breathing. Everything that is true about anything is true about breath: it's impermanent; it arises and it passes away. Yet if you didn't breathe, you would become uncomfortable; so then you would take in a big inhalation and feel comfortable again. But if you hold onto the breath, it's no longer comfortable, so you have to breathe out again. All the time shifting, shifting.

Sylvia Boorstein, "Body as Body"

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 27th of December 2010


A gentle nudge towards humility - we don't need a special and challenging
Gongan (Koan) or Huatou, we don't need bells and gongs, we don't need to sit in a special posture - we have everything we need in this body to practice and to wake up.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Is enlightenment possible for laypeople?

Often we feel our everyday secular lives are in conflict with our pursuit of the teachings. How possible is it really for one who goes to work every day, has demanding familial obligations, lives among countless distractions?...

If somebody renounces the world, lives in a monastery, and studies the Buddhist teachings, they become learned and a very gentle, accomplished person; that’s... not very surprising. That’s their job; that’s what they spend all their time on. But if a layperson receives the pithy instructions on how to be able to practice the heart of the Buddha’s teachings during daily life situations, and then with sincerity and perseverance practices that, in every single moment, with mindfulness and with some kind of real integrity, and then achieves awakening while taking care of obligations, one’s duties, and one’s family, and so forth, that is truly surprising, because that’s difficult. And yet there are the profound instructions of Mahamudra and Dzogchen that are designed in such a way so that this is possible. As a matter of fact, there have been a huge number of laypeople in India and in Tibet who not only attained levels of enlightenment, in other words, became really accomplished, but also some who, at the time of death, left behind what is called the “rainbow body” as a manifest sign of complete enlightenment.

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, "Keeping a Good Heart"

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 14th of December 2010


Good news then for all lay practitioners, it's hard work but it's possible. Keep on practicing
with sincerity and perseverance, mindfulness and integrity.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Action: Get Up #Reverb10

December 13: Action
When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?
(Author: Scott Belsky)

Get Up.

It's easy to lie in bed and
think. Thoughts take over, fantasy pervades, the morning passes by. Well not the whole morning necessarily, but maybe 5 or 10 precious minutes. Getting up before the thoughts take control is always the next step upon waking.


I'm participating in
Reverb10 and reflecting on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010 as explained briefly in a previous post. Feel free to join in on your blog and/or add your comments on my reflections.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Body Integration #Reverb10

December 12: Body Integration
This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?
(Author: Patrick Reynolds)

Prostrating. One at a time, one hundred and eight times, head down, palms up, releasing.

Stillness, movement, being. Mindfulness.


I'm participating in
Reverb10 and reflecting on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010 as explained briefly in a previous post. Feel free to join in on your blog and/or add your comments on my reflections.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

11 Things - Get Real #Reverb

December 11: 11 Things
What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?
(Author: Sam Davidson)

I don't know about 11 things per se. However I have found through this Reverb10 journey that there are probably 11 minutes (or considerably more) of internet time that I don't need to
spend online and could do with eliminating. There are whole thought processes that spiral along from one internet dot to another internet dot, connecting and making all sorts of pattens.

Not only does time spent online take up time that could be spent more closely with family, formal practice, reading
real books, washing the dishes, etc. (moments of quiet joy where we can touch reality, unvarnished by thoughts or fantasies of it being any way other than it is), it also feeds these spiralling thought processes that take attention away from moment by moment awareness.

There is so much information on the internet these days and so many interesting and good things to read and places to interact with other people online. But actually I'm not convinced that being online so much is necessary or that it is contributing to my quality of life. I'm not sure I'm being useful, or of service, by being online.

Everett Bogue wrote about "
mindfulness training for the digital self" which hints at similar things, although he has his particular take on the "digital self". And there are also people such as Gwen Bell and Tammy Strobel advocating "Digital Sabbaticals". These are interesting and useful reflections, but still predicated on a necessity of being online. I don't see that this really applies to my Dharma practice.

So in 2011, I plan to reduce and re-focus my online time and presence, to allow more time to get real.


I'm participating in Reverb10 and reflecting on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010 as explained briefly in a previous post. Feel free to join in on your blog and/or add your comments on my reflections.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Party #Reverb10

December 9: Party
Prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.
(Author: Shauna Reid)
I can't say I've attended any Dharma party or practise related party this year! I did, however, attend an evening with a meditation group where Dr John Crook, first Western Dharma Heir of Master Sheng Yen and teacher of the Western Chan Fellowship gave a talk.

Two things stuck with me.

Firstly, he gave time to each question and answered each directly and fully. For example, my 9yo son who came along asked him a variety of questions such as "Is sleeping meditation?"; "What is your favourite animal?"; "Why do people use candles when they meditate?" He answered each of these questions with as much sincerity and engagement as he answered the detailed questions from adults about Buddhism and meditation techniques.

Secondly, the talking wasn't it. Being around him has a certain indescribable quality. And he returned a number of times to the question: "What is this?" Gesturing each time to the space of the present moment. Each time the room fell silent, a deeper silence than just a lack of noise. If we wake up, open our eyes, be present, what is this?

It was an enjoyable and touching evening, John is a wonderful teacher and an inspiring person to spend time with. I am always deeply grateful for the opportunity to receive his teaching and to simply enjoy his company.


I'm participating in
Reverb10 and reflecting on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010 as explained briefly in a previous post. Feel free to join in on your blog and/or add your comments on my reflections.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Beautifully Different #Reverb10

December 8: Beautifully Different.
Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful
(Author: Karen Walrond)

Or not. Reflecting on what makes me different brings me full circle to an understanding that all the times I see myself as different are all the times I create a sense of separation. A false sense.

Facing this was part of my practice in 2010 and continues to be. Giving up the story that I am somehow unique, somehow more deserving, somehow special, somehow different.

People light up when they can see and feel that you are truly present. When you aren't being separate.

First, give up the story of being different. Let it go. Put it down.

Second, be present.

Third, practise.


I'm participating in
Reverb10 and reflecting on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010 as explained briefly in a previous post. Feel free to join in on your blog and/or add your comments on my reflections.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Exploring Sangha #Reverb10

December 7: Community
Prompt: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?
(Author: Cali Harris)
My explorations of Sangha online and in real life during 2010 do not seem to have amounted to anything specific on first glance.

I am a fellow of
The Western Chan Fellowship but because the nearest group is over 20 miles away I very rarely connect with them or attend the meditation evenings. I aim to attend at least one retreat with them each year, but for various reasons haven't in 2010. There are some other local Buddhist groups, but I haven't discovered any yet that I feel moved to participate with.

I also read a few Buddhist blogs such as
Ox Herding, Cheerio Road, Jade Mountains, Zen - the Possible Way and Mountain Practice (from my blog list on the right), some more religiously than others (could resist sorry!) I occasionally comment on these blogs and connect with some of the author/practitioners via twitter.

My wife and I practice together now and then, and we share the same practice space, so in a sense the other is always present when we practice even if they aren't physically there. We are Dharma partners as well as life partners, something I am deeply grateful for. And I'm clear that my family is the most important community that I am part of, it is the very foundation that my life springs from, it is where my daily life and practice are grounded.

So what to make of it all? Of this web of loose communities I relate to?

Am I really a solo practitioner without Sangha?

Perhaps I am, I certainly value my solitude highly.

And yet, reflecting on this tonight, I don't really see myself as a
Sangha-less solo practitioner. True enough that through much of 2010 I have practised physically on my own. But even then, even when I sit alone in a room, even alone in the house sometimes, I am sitting with all those who also practice. I sit with those I've mentioned above, I sit with the esteemed masters I've only ever read about, right back to Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha, and with all the other countless unknown beings also practising awakening.

We can think we are alone, solo practitioners. Our surroundings, feelings and thoughts can conspire to support this view. But really we can't escape, when we practise, we are part of the Sangha. We are part of the living, breathing community of all beings. We simply can't do it alone. We practise together with all those from the past, the future and the present. They support our practise as we support theirs.
As we awaken, they awaken, and as they awaken, we awaken.

There is no alone.


I'm participating in
Reverb10 and reflecting on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010 as explained briefly in a previous post. Feel free to join in on your blog and/or add your comments on my reflections.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Make #Reverb10

December 6: Make.
What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?
(Author: Gretchen Rubin)

Christmas cards!

We used plain white card, felt tip pens, plain pencils and coloured pencils too! It was a family occasion around the living room table and a way to practice mindfulness together
while expressing our gratitude and loving kindness towards family members that live far away.

Moments like these are precious opportunities to wake up. No need to have expensive toys or entertainment, no need for special postures, incense or chanting. Pay attention, be present, breathe, place the felt tip onto the paper: draw. Ah.


I'm participating in
Reverb10 and reflecting on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010 as explained briefly in a previous post. Feel free to join in on your blog and/or add your comments on my reflections.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Let Go #Reverb10

December 5: Let Go.
What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why
(Author: Alice Bradley)

I let go of the need to live in the countryside.

It's a bit of a strange realisation but it's true. We still live on the outskirts of a very small city, but now we are within walking and cycling distance of my rural work and all the amenities of the city.

I previously valued living in a small rural hamlet (8 houses within sight) for the sense of isolation and direct connection to nature. I loved the view of the stars and moon at night, the sunrise and the sunset, and the gorgeous hills during the day. I loved the sense of space and how green the surroundings were. (There was still a noisy road in front of the house so it's wasn't quite perfect!) I was in a space of so much beauty and wonder to
meditate within and draw inspiration from.

Earlier this year we decided to downsize and move to the edge of the city. It was a bit of a hard decision in many ways and it probably took several months or longer for me to actually feel ready to do so.
I needed to let go. And it took time. There were many intellectual arguments I had with myself about the advantages of each location and house size. But in the end the intellect can only ever go so far and then we must go beyond by letting go.

And so I did and we moved.

And it has been great, the stars and the moon are still my early morning company. It's traffic and train noises in the earlier hours now rather than roosters though! And we still have plenty of direct contact with nature including walking more.

And in meditation the view out is different now but the view in remains the same, although both are in fact, ever changing.


I'm participating in
Reverb10 and reflecting on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010 as explained briefly in a previous post. Feel free to join in on your blog and/or add your comments on my reflections.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

A Sense of Wonder #Reverb10

December 4: Wonder.
How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?
(Author: Jeffrey Davis)

I got up early. Which for me is 5:30am. Everyday, including weekends. It's not an easy habit to form but once I got into the swing of it, it did become easier.

Regardless of the day's commitments or weather, I got up at 5:30am and went outside to exercise briefly. On clear mornings I would gaze at the stars and
the moon when she made an appearance! On other mornings and in other weather I would still breathe in the experience of being alive and outdoors in the early morning.

After exercising I would go indoors for my morning practice.

In 2011, I intend to continue getting up early. I see it as a lifelong habit really.

OK, I'll admit, sometimes when I'm really tired or get ill, I don't get up at 5:30am. Sometimes it's 6:30am and sometimes much, much later. But my intention is to get up at 5:30am every morning and I'd say around 90% of the time I do.


I'm participating in Reverb10 and reflecting on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010 as explained briefly in a previous post. Feel free to join in on your blog and/or add your comments on my reflections.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Feeling Alive #Reverb10

December 3: Moment.
Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).
(Author: Ali Edwards)

OK, I'll admit upfront my "getting it right" tendency means I find it quite hard to find one moment during which I felt
the most alive. So setting that aside, there were many moments when I felt a great sense of aliveness. One that has occurred several times and I always treasure, is the moment after an evening meditation session together with my wife.

The intimate warmth of our upstairs room, soft carpet underfoot, soft candlelight flickering, the waft of Sandalwood incense, her luminous dark eyes meeting mine after we have bowed to each other. And then embracing, warm, close, her hair tickling my nose, our heartbeats mingling.


I'm participating in Reverb10 and reflecting on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010 as explained briefly in a previous post. Feel free to join in on your blog and/or add your comments on my reflections.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Eliminate comfortableness #Reverb10

December 2: Writing.
What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?
(Author: Leo Babauta)

So... to reinterpret this, what do I do each day that doesn't contribute to my Dharma practice that I can eliminate?

Good question and even though I am loath to admit it and even publish it in writing, I think my answer is: comfortableness.

Almost everyday I let myself relax my mind in a lazy and comfortable way when I am meditating. I enjoy being comfortable while meditating, sitting still, being quiet, the body and mind held gently... and slipping over from holding gently to sitting comfortably. Staying in familiar territory, not going beyond the known into the unknown, not venturing into the zone of beginners mind, of fresh and alert awareness.

People often think meditation is a kind of relaxation and indeed some forms of meditation might well be, but Chan ('Chinese Zen') Meditation is actually a rigorous discipline, a strength training for the mind, for awareness, for letting go. It can produce a great deal of relaxation in life, in the sense that many situations can be experienced with a whole lot less tension or stress, but it's not relaxing in the sense of being lazy, sloppy and not-bothered about making an effort.

Chan meditation is about being alert and focussed in a gentle, mindful and precise way, not holding anything too tightly, but not leaving the method either. It is not about slipping away into some other warm comfortable, floating, detached kind of space. And if I'm honest with myself, I often do allow myself to be lazy and comfortable in meditation, enjoying the familiarity of it.

So from tomorrow, more focus on the meditation method, more rigour, brighter awareness and less comfort.


I'm participating in
Reverb10 and reflecting on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010 as explained briefly in a previous post. Feel free to join in on your blog and/or add your comments on my reflections.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

One Word: Fulfilment #Reverb10

December 1 One Word.
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

(Author: Gwen Bell)

2010 in one word: Fulfilment

My Dharma practice has been very much in the background throughout 2010. I didn't attend any retreats, I hardly ever went to any meditation groups, I didn't carry out any specific practice based poetry exercises (such as my Poetry Mala the previous year), I continued my daily practice attentively and diligently but without ever making anything particularly special out of it. In this sense it has simply provided the underlying framework for my daily life and also for the key events of the year. And from this perspective I feel a deep sense of fulfilment.

Not fulfilment in these sense that anything is finished and closed. But fulfilment in that no particular aspect of my life feels like it has a gap or key element missing. There were plenty of ups and downs over the year. Plenty of joy and sorrow. And yet it doesn't feel like there is anything missing.

Imagining 2011 in one word: Leadership

I would like to take my Dharma practice a step up in the next year and explore how to be a leader in some way. It might be through further writing on here or my poetry blog, or it might be through starting a local sitting (meditation) group as my wife and I have pondered on a number of times. It might just be a clearer sense of leadership in my own life through the Dharma. It might be something totally different. it feels like the next step in a way though, a step out from my current comfort zone perhaps.


I'm participating in Reverb10 and reflecting on
my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010 as explained briefly in a previous post. Feel free to join in on your blog and/or add your comments on my reflections.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Don’t get swept away by emotions

If you are a good horseback rider, your mind can wander but you don’t fall off your horse. In the same way, whatever circumstances you encounter, if you are well trained in meditation, you don’t get swept away by emotions. Instead, they perk you up and your awareness increases.

Pema Chodron, "Bite-Sized Buddhism"

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 10th of November 2010


My experience of this kind of increase in awareness is when I manage stay in the present, in any situation. At work, at home, on the train, in conversation, when a particular emotion arises
and I am aware of it while staying in the present, there is a heightened feeling of being alive and in a kind of flow. Not being swept away. Riding the flow. Not following a particular emotion off into one story or another. And as Pema Chodron indicates, this applies across the board, not just to emotions. Emotions are strong distractions from the present for some people and in some circumstance, but for other people and at other times, phone calls, gossip, questions, the weather etc can be strong distractions.

I can easily be pulled away from the present when I am at work and it seems that phone calls and emails are piling up an endless list of tasks to do. I can easily fret and worry and turn away from the tasks at hand for a comforting distraction. And yet, when I stay present, the flow of emails and phone calls and requests for attention from colleagues can perk me up and I can dance with liveliness through all the tasks that need doing. I can ride on the flow of the present moment with just what is in front of me.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Dharma Reflections #Reverb10

You may have noticed the #reverb10 badge over on the right? I heard about Reverb 10 from @GwenBell via a retweet of @RowdyKittens and I thought I would participate by using the prompts to reflect on my Dharma practice (i.e. life!) in 2010.

Perhaps you'd like to join in yourself?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Each bow is a chance to wake up #openpractice

Bowing is the act of our small self bowing to our true self. Our small self is the “I, my, me” that feels like a separate person. Our true self has no idea of being separate, because it is before all ideas and thinking. Each bow is a chance to wake up from the illusion that we are somehow separate from the universe. In the physicality of palms touching the mat, of knees on the ground, and of standing up again, there is only the activity of bowing.

Jane Dobisz
, "Up and Down"

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 21st of November 2010


In the full article Jane Dobisz shares that she does 300 prostrations (bows) each morning on a retreat and that Zen Master Seung Sahn did 1000 daily for a considerable number of years. 300 is quite something I imagine, having only ever done 108 prostrations in each session myself, let along 1000!

I have also read that for a considerable period of time during his early training Chan Master Sheng-yen did 500 prostrations each morning on top of his extensive monastic duties.

There is something incredibly powerful about bowing or prostrating that the quote above picks up on. As it notes in the full article, "We in the West don’t bow to anything or anyone. Not to God, not to Buddha, not to our parents, not to each other." And because of this, it seems to me that there is an enormous richness of practice and of life itself that we miss out on. And that is why my forehead will be on the floor 108 times tomorrow morning, as it was today...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Instant gratification

Consumer culture is modeled on instant gratification. We say we want a close relationship with a spiritual mentor, but when that mentor’s guidance challenges our desires or pushes our ego’s buttons too much, we stop seeking it. At the beginning of our practice, we profess to be earnest spiritual seekers, aiming for enlightenment. But after the practice has remedied our immediate problem - the emotional fallout of a divorce, grief at the loss of a loved one, or life’s myriad setbacks - our spiritual interest fades, and we once again seek happiness in possessions, romantic relationships, technology, and career.

Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, "Shopping the Dharma"

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 23rd of October 2010


What Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron writes is indeed very true for so many people. And at the same time it is so often true for myself, and no doubt others, in a more immediate sense even though we continue to practice diligently after "
the practice has remedied our immediate problem." When our teacher challenges us or our practice challenges us, who hasn't thought: "This isn't what I wanted for a spiritual practice"? And who hasn't been tempted after a marvellous experience of one kind or another to avoid further practice for a while to dwell on the experience and cherish it? "Best not meditate again too soon in case it turns out terrible and I forget the wonderful experience I just had!" Or the opposite: "Back to the cushion, I want some more!"

Instant gratification.

It's what so much of our current culture is about, it takes a concerted effort to turn away from it, to go against the stream. But if we want ourselves and others to be free, what choice do we have, really?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

There's no such thing as power-meditation #openpractice

Just as the title says, there is no such thing as power-meditation. It takes time, practice and diligence. And it takes patience to build up to sitting for longer periods.

Previously when I meditated using a stool, I was comfortable sitting for an unbroken period of 30 minutes regularly and repeatedly, 40 minutes comfortably and fairly often, and even a full hour on occasions. When I shifted to sitting cross-legged I had to start over by sitting for an unbroken period of only 5 minutes! I would then sit for 40 minutes using the stool as the 5 minutes cross-legged was as much about getting used to the posture and accepting the new sensations as it was about meditation. Part of the ongoing
adjustment process that is important for any long term practice. As I gradually got used to the posture and my flexibility increased, I built up to sitting for an unbroken period of 10 minutes, then 15 minutes and then 20 minutes. However, as the title implies, sitting for 5, 10 or 15 minutes isn't getting into meditation very much. Yes it can calm the mind a little and yes it can increase focus and attention, all of which are good and beneficial, and don't get me wrong, they are brilliant starting points for a practice, but these barely skim the surface of meditation. In my experience, 20 minutes is really just starting to touch on meditation. It allows enough time for the mind and the body to settle and for the method to start to take hold.

So I was very pleased when I decided to try sitting cross-legged for 30 minutes on Thursday and found that I could do it quite comfortably! So from Thursday I have changed from sitting 2 periods of 20 minutes to sitting a single period of 30 minutes. And today (Sunday) I sat for 2 periods of 30 minutes. During the second period a thought did come to mind that it could easily turn into a test of endurance rather than meditation. You know the kind I'm sure, where you silently bargain with yourself: "Just count 10 more breathes, it must almost be time! Focus, can't be long now...!" It didn't though and I was deeply grateful for the extended & deepened morning practice.

May sentient beings depart from suffering
May the vows of the donors be fulfilled.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Delivering Sentient Beings #openpractice

I've decided to share my practice activities on this blog in a "Open Practice" kind of way. See C4Chaos for more explanation on this idea as I've taken it directly from him as per his invitation! I was also somewhat stirred up by the passionate call of Everett Bogue in his blog post "Why We're Here" - what he expresses about his Yoga practice is how I feel about my Chan practice. I'm not sure what it will lead to or how regularly I will post like this but I want to explore. Do feel free to join in! Actually I'm a bit nervous about it as practice is rather a personal and intimate activity in my experience.

Taking the first of the month as a cue for no particular reason I altered my practice from Monday to include prostrations.

My current daily practice:

1. 5:30am wake up
Get out of bed and get dressed. (Seriously this is vital!)

8 Form Moving Meditation
I do a pared down version of the exercises outdoors, in the manner that I learnt them on retreats run by the
Western Chan Fellowship (I'm a fellow). Most WCF retreats involve early morning exercises outdoors and standing or sitting exercises indoors between some sitting meditation periods. Interestingly some of these exercises / meditations have been around a long time, for instance the Chan Master Tsung Tsai in George Crane's "Bones of the Master" did some of the same exercises when training as a young monk in Inner Mongolia.

3. Altar set up

I light 2 candles and 1 stick of
Sandalwood incense that burns for around 30 minutes, then I make a small water offering. Finally I blow out the candles again rather than leave them burning the whole time because I find them too smoky and too oxygen hungry!

4. Prostrations

I do 108 Chinese style full prostrations (not Tibetan style where they lie right down with arms out-stretched) in a continuous flow and count using my mala. I have the mala wrapped around my wrist 3 times (to stop it swinging around) and count the beads through my thumb each prostration. I also recite A-Mi-Tuo-Fo 阿弥陀佛 in my mind while prostrating to maintain focus and I place my attention closely on the exact movements of my body and posture the whole time. It's a pretty intense workout for the body and mind!

5. Sitting Meditation

First I do 15 minutes sitting meditation (left leg on right leg) and then changed position and do another 15 minutes sitting meditation (right leg on left leg). I simply place my attention on the breath and hold it gently there. In the last two days I have found myself caught up in thoughts, concerns and plans about work quite often and have had to consciously bring my attention back to the method each time.

6. Recitation
Finally I recite the Four Great Vows, the Three Refuges and then a Transfer of Merit, all taken from the WCF liturgy.

So that is a basic run-down of what I do for my daily practice. Of course the doing is only part of the equation.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

A Cold Bowl of Samsara

A man would know the end he goes to, but he cannot know it if he does not turn, and return to his beginning, and hold that beginning in his being. If he would not be a stick whirled and whelmed in the stream, he must be the stream itself, all of it, from its spring to its sinking in the sea.

Le Guin, Ursula K., A Wizard of Earthsea in The Earthsea Quartet, Puffin, London, 1993. p120.


I am currently enjoying re-reading the Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K. Le Guin, this time aloud to my 9 year old son. I am struck again by all the gems of wisdom subtly woven into the wonderful story-telling.

This particular quote reads as a description of samsara and how to live in it. The different demands and pressures of family life, work commitments, social interactions and more are all forces that "whirl and whelm" me in different ways. I get tossed about through different emotional states, mental states, and physical states. This is a reason to practice - to be the stream. To give up resisting and surrender to life, to be at ease.

And meditation is the key to practice here. Daily sitting over time provides a sense of stability and I feel that I can at least ride the stream, if not actually be the stream.

The challenge though, as alluded to in the last post, is that meditation is just like sticking your face directly into a cold bowl of samsara! All the different forces that I think and feel so sure come from the world around me, somehow follow me onto the cushion and delight in dancing around and around in my mind! So, back to the method, again and again. It's hard work. It's hard work in daily life to turn away from all the distractions thrown at me and it's hard work in meditation to turn away from... the very same distractions!

Please note though, I'm not complaining. Meditation is a powerful skill and all skills require hard work, sustained effort and practice over time.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The big problem with meditation

Emptiness simply means an absence of reactivity. When you relate to somebody, there's not you and me and your little mind running its little comparisons and judgments. When those are gone, that is emptiness. And you can't put it into words. That's the problem for people. They think there's some way to push for an experience such as emptiness. But practice is not a push toward something else. It's the transformation of your self. I tell people, "You just can't go looking for these things. You have to let this transformation grow." And that entails hard, persistent, daily work.

Charlotte Joko Beck, "Life's Not A Problem"

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 27th of October 2010


Really this is the big problem with meditation. It "entails hard, persistent, daily work" and nobody else can do it but yourself. I like that Charlotte Joko Beck tells it straight as it is. I could also break it down to two aspects - 1. Getting yourself to the cushion everyday, 2. Sticking to the method throughout the allotted time period. Daydreaming, even 'unpleasant' daydreams can be incredibly enticing.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

From This Shore

This is a lovely photo-blog "From this Shore - Images of the crossing over"

“From this shore to the other shore:” a common metaphor for the crossing from samsara to nirvana, delusion to wisdom, in East Asian Buddhism.

The photographs and interviews here are part of an on-going project to both document and express the lives of Buddhist nuns.

Found via the
Somewhere In Dhamma blog. _/\_

Monday, 19 April 2010

Inconvenience or Opportunity?

Spiritual practitioners thrive in unpredictable conditions, testing and refining the inner qualities of heart and mind. Every situation becomes an opportunity to abandon judgement and opinions and to simply give complete attention to what is. Situations of inconvenience are terrific areas to discover, test, or develop your equanimity. How gracefully can you compromise in a negotiation? Does your mind remain balanced when you have to drive around the block three times to find a parking space? Are you at ease waiting for a flight that is six hours delayed? These inconveniences are opportunities to develop equanimity. Rather than shift the blame onto an institution, system, or person, one can develop the capacity to opt to rest within the experience of inconvenience.

- Shaila Catherine, "
Equanimity in Every Bite" (Fall 2008)

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 19th of April 2010


This is the timely reminder I got today - the day I found out that my flight (tomorrow) to Taiwan for my wedding has been cancelled due to the ash from the
Iceland volcanic eruption. Practice is never anywhere other than right here and now - in the thick of this stress, worry and anxiety!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

To Be An Atheist Is To Maintain God

To be an atheist is to maintain God. His existence or his non-existence, it amounts to much the same, on the plane of proof. Thus proof is a word not often used among the Handdarata, who have chosen not to treat God as a fact, subject either to proof or to belief: and they have broken the circle, and go free.
To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.

Le Guin, Ursula K., The Left Hand of Darkness, Gollancz, London, 1969. p123.


I am currently enjoying the The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, having recently read the Earthsea series. Her writing is exceptionally good in my opinion and although her novels often get classified as Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Teenage Fiction they are truly beyond such categories. They are deep and engaging explorations of what it is to be human and are full of both subtle and direct wisdom. And they are written in a direct and simple manner.

I think that the above quote is a well illustrated gentle move towards non-duality. And the skill referred to was also demonstrated by the Buddha.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Practice of Poetry and Meditation


People often confuse meditation with prayer, devotion, or vision. They are not the same. Meditation as a practice does not address itself to a deity or present itself as an opportunity for revelation. This is not to say that people who are meditating do not occasionally think they have received a revelation or experienced visions. They do. But to those for whom meditation is their central practice, a vision or a revelation is seen as just another phenomenon of consciousness and as such is not to be taken as exceptional. The meditator would simply experience the ground of consciousness, and in doing so avoid excluding or excessively elevating any thought or feeling. To do this one must release all sense of the "I" as experiencer, even the "I" that might think it is privileged to communicate with the divine. It is in sensitive areas such as these that a teacher can be a great help. This is mostly a description of the Buddhist meditation tradition, which has hewed consistently to a nontheistic practice over the centuries.


SPENDING TIME with your own mind is humbling and broadening. One finds that there's no one in charge, and is reminded that no thought lasts for long. The marks of the Buddhist teachings are impermanence, no-self, the inevitability of suffering, interconnectedness, emptiness, the vastness of mind, and the provision of a Way to realization. An accomplished poem, like an exemplary life, is a brief presentation, a uniqueness in the oneness, a complete expression, and a kind gift exchange in the mind-energy webs. In the No play Basho (Banana Plant) it is said that "all poetry and art are offerings to the Buddha." These various Buddhist ideas in play with the ancient Chinese sense of poetry are part of the weave that produced an elegant plainness, which we name the Zen aesthetic.

Tu Fu said, "The ideas of a poet should be noble and simple." In Ch'an circles it has been said "Unformed people delight in the gaudy and in novelty. Cooked people delight in the ordinary." This plainness, this ordinary actuality, is what Buddhists call thusness, or tathata. There is nothing special about actuality because it is all right here. There's no need to call attention to it, to bring it up vividly and display it. Therefore the ultimate subject matter of a "mystical" Buddhist poetry is profoundly ordinary. This elusive ordinary actuality that is so touching and refreshing, all rolled together in imagination and language, is the work of all the arts. (The really fine poems are maybe the invisible ones, that show no special insight, no remarkable beauty. But no one has ever really written a great poem that had perfectly no insight, instructive unfolding, syntactic deliciousness—it is only a distant ideal.)

So there will never be some one sort of identifiable "meditation poetry." In spite of the elegant and somewhat decadent Plain Zen ideal, gaudiness and novelty and enthusiastic vulgarity are also fully real. Bulging eyeballs, big lolling tongues, stomping feet, cackles and howls— all are there in the tradition of practice. And there will never be—one devoutly hopes—one final and exclusive style of Buddhism. I keep looking for poems that see the moment, that play freely with what's given,

Teasing the demonic
Wrestling the wrathful

Laughing with the lustful

Seducing the shy

Wiping dirty noses and sewing torn shirts

Sending philosophers home to their wives in time for dinner

Dousing bureaucrats in rivers

Taking mothers mountain climbing

Eating the ordinary
appreciating that so much can be done on this precious planet of samsara.

- Extract from
Just One Breath: The Practice of Poetry and Meditation by Gary Snyder
on Adapted from the Introduction to Beneath a Single Moon: Legacies of Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry. Edited by Kent Johnson and Craig Paulenich. (Shambhala Publications)


It is well worth reading the full article to appreciate the wisdom and eloquence offered by Gary Snyder.

The "Helper" Syndrome

One of the themes of practice is the gradual movement from a self-centered life to a more life-centered one. But what about our efforts to become more life-centered—doing good deeds, serving others, dedicating our efforts to good causes? There’s nothing wrong with making these efforts, but they won’t necessarily lead us to a less self-oriented life. Why? Because we can do these things without really dealing with our “self.” Often our efforts, even for a good cause, are made in the service of our desires for comfort, security, and appreciation. Such efforts are still self-centered because we’re trying to make life conform to our picture of how it ought to be. It’s only by seeing through this self—the self that creates and sustains our repeating patterns—that we can move toward a more life-centered way of living.

- Ezra Bayda, from “The ‘Helper’ Syndrome,” Tricycle, Summer 2003 (unfortunately subscriber access only)

Received as Daily Dharma from on the 11th of November 2009


A tricky koan: when we see our motivation behind a good deed is actually self-centred, should we still act?

Looking for Meaning

As long as we insist that meditation must be meaningful, we fail to understand it. We meditate with the idea that we’re going to get something from it - that it will lower our blood pressure, calm us down, or enhance our concentration. And, we believe, if we meditate long enough, and in just the right was, it might even bring us to enlightenment.

All of this is delusion.

Steve Hagen, from “Looking For Meaning,” Tricycle, Fall 2003

Received as Daily Dharma from on the 12th of November 2009


Mañjuśrī's sword wielded by Steve Hagen! This is something I frequently remind myself of - stop trying to get something, stop trying to add meaning: just meditate. Or just eat. Or just do the dishes. Etcetera.

Spiritual Experiences and Spiritual Realizations

In Buddhism, we distinguish between spiritual experiences and spiritual realizations. Spiritual experiences are usually more vivid and intense than realizations because they are generally accompanied by physiological and psychological changes. Realizations, on the other hand, may be felt, but the experience is less pronounced. Realization is about acquiring insight. Therefore, while realizations arise out of our spiritual experiences, they are not identical to them. Spiritual realizations are considered vastly more important because they cannot fluctuate.

The distinction between spiritual experiences and realizations is continually emphasized in Buddhist thought. If we avoid excessively fixating on our experiences, we will be under less stress in our practice. Without that stress, we will be better able to cope with whatever arises, the possibility of suffering from psychic disturbances will be greatly reduced, and we will notice a significant shift in the fundamental texture of our experience.

- Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche, “Letting Go of Spiritual Experience,” Tricycle, Fall 2004

Received as Daily Dharma from on the 22nd of November 2009


A very good distinction to bear in mind and help us stay grounded in practice and in daily life.

You can’t practice all by yourself

Each of you - not separately, but in the cauldron with all beings, cooking and being cooked—is realizing awakening. Not you by yourself, because that is not who you really are. You by yourself are not Buddha-Nature; but your being in the cauldron of all beings is realizing the Buddha-Way. This is the total exertion of your life.

You also can’t really be flexible and free of fixed views by yourself. To decide for yourself what flexibility is is a kind of rigidity. Living in harmony with all beings is flexibility. It is a kind of cosmic democracy. each of us has a role in the situation and gets one vote. You cast your vote by being here like a great unmoving mountain. Please cast your vote completely: that is your job. Then listen to all other beings, especially foreigners, especially strangers, and especially enemies.

Hang out with people who are capable of making a commitment to you and your life, and who require that you make a commitment to theirs. Hang out with people who care about you, with people who need you to develop and who say so. Make such a commitment and don’t break that bond until you and all beings are perfect.

You can’t make the Buddha-Body without a cauldron, and you can’t make a cauldron by yourself. You can’t practice all by yourself: that is delusion. Everything coming forward and confirming you is awakening. Then you are really cooking.

- from
In It Together an article on by Reb Anderson Roshi extracted from his book Warm Smiles from Cold Mountains.


I feel such warmth and humility radiates from Reb Anderson Roshi's writings despite not having met him or attended any of his retreats. The full article is well worth reading and absorbing, especially for those of us who primarily practice all by ourself as it sometimes can seem.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Don’t expect to like it

In Karen Maezen Miller's 5 tips for meaning in cleaning, tip number 4 struck me:

4. Don’t expect to like it. Just do it anyway. When we expect things to be more enjoyable or rewarding than they are, or when we devalue them as menial and insignificant, that keeps us at arm’s length from our own lives. Most of us think we have to follow our bliss somewhere else. But when you’re really present in every moment, even when you’re just scrubbing the bathtub, you scour away the scum of dissatisfaction that dulls your happiness.

Well, actually they are all striking, to the point, no-nonsense wisdom, but this one particularly struck me. When I think too much and speculate on whether I will like something or not, inevitably it gets in the way of actually doing it, of actually showing up. Like getting up early in the morning
to exercise. Or to meditate. When I lie in bed, all warm and cosy, I can spend quite some time thinking about whether I will like getting up or not.

In the end I am never quite sure if I actually do like it or not.
Because when I get up and exercise, there I am and exercise is happening. Meditation too. In being there, in showing up, there isn't any concern about liking or not liking, there isn't any dullness.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Bricks in the Mud

Finding happiness is mostly a matter of perspective.

I remember one afternoon as I was sitting on the steps of our monastery in Nepal. The monsoon storms had turned the courtyard into an expanse of muddy water, and we had set out a path of bricks to serve as stepping-stones. A friend of mine came to the edge of the water, surveyed the scene with a look of disgust, and complained about every single brick as she made her way across. When she got to me, she rolled her eyes and said, “Yuck! What if I’d fallen into that filthy muck? Everything’s so dirty in this country!” Since I knew her well, I prudently nodded, hoping to offer her some comfort through my mute sympathy.

A few minutes later, Raphaele, another friend of mine, came to the path through the swamp. “Hup, hup, hup!” she sang as she hopped, reaching dry land with the cry, “What fun!” Her eyes sparkling with joy, she added: “The great thing about the monsoon is that there’s no dust.” Two people, two ways of looking at things; six billion human beings, six billion worlds.

- Matthieu Ricard from "
A Way of Being."

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


Matthieu Ricard presents such gentle, warm and humorous
wisdom. More often than not I would seek to offer a different way of viewing the world to the first friend, rather than mute sympathy - with predictable results! Another opportunity to bring awareness to the impulse before the action take place.

Friday, 22 January 2010

6 FAQs on Veg*ism

Moonpointer has a very useful series of Frequently Asked Questions on being vegetarian or vegan, including many links to useful resources for more information. It is based on discussions that arose from the The Daily Enlightenment E-newsletter article Why Veganism is Not an Extreme Way of Life and covers several different perspectives. I feel it makes quite a compelling case for being vegan which has given me considerable food for thought. ;-)

It also draws my attention back to the Surangama Sutra which I have wanted to read / study for a while now due to it's central place in the Chan school of Chinese Buddhism and several personal encounters with aspects of it, particularly the mantra.

Donald Watson the founder of the Vegan Society, is quite an inspiration for compassionate and healthy living.

A quote to finish with:

"Practical veg*ism is a 'Middle Path' that veers away from extremes of unhealthy apathy to the plight of animals and unhealthy obsession with unrealistic demanding of absolutely no death to be involved in one's food."

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Untie the Boat

When we first brought one of our teachers to the States, we asked him what he thought of the American dharma scene. We had started these different centers and were very proud of what had happened. He said that he thought it was wonderful but that sometimes American practitioners reminded him of people sitting in a boat rowing very strenuously, with great sincerity and effort, but refusing to untie the boat from the dock. He said we reminded him of that in our fixation on transcendental experiences to the neglect of a sweeping view of how we're behaving day to day, how we're speaking to our family members, how we're taking care of one another, or whatever. That's why I think it is tremendously important to continually open and expand our understanding of where freedom is and where the dharma lies.

Sharon Salzberg, "The Dharma of Liberation," from the Spring 1993 Tricycle. Read the complete article.

Received as Daily Dharma from on the 24th of December 2009


A very nice reminder that spiritual practice can easily be compartmentalised and seen as separate from our life, rather than living our whole life as our spiritual practice. Also a good reminder to check now and then to see if we are too busy chasing enlightenment to look after the people and things around us that need attention.