On milk in the market. . .

I’m currently studying the Fourth Council with my Dharma friend, the Venerable Tashi Nyima. This is a contemplation on the following excerpt.

Buddha From Dolpo2


The Tretayuga and later eons are flawed, and their treatises that have been diluted like milk in the market are in every case unfit to act as witnesses […] all is not empty of self-nature.






What does this mean to me?

I’ve never liked the idea of something being diluted. I feel like, no—I want the stuff before the dilution. What was that? And why can’t I have it? Our friends at Dictionary.com tell us that to dilute is to, “…reduce the strength, force, or efficiency of by admixture.” See? Who wants the strength or force taken out of what they’re getting?

We have a sense that if we’re going to consume something, it should be pure, undiluted. It should come straight from the source to you, no middle anything. It’s even a cliché in our language, “straight from the horse’s mouth”.

OrganicEven hundreds of years ago stuff was getting diluted. Dolpopa tells us that in his time the doctrine of the Dharma had become ‘…diluted like milk in the market…’. Let’s pause and think about that. These days, we are downright neurotic about purity. Have you seen the market for ‘organic’ everything lately? There’s an implied (if not actual) connection between organic and pure. And boy do we go for it. Not to be indelicate, but there’s even organic ahhh. . . bathroom tissue. So yeah, we’re for purity. We not only want it in today’s world, we demand it, and we will pay top dollar for it.

When I read Dolpopa’s line about treatises (books, teachings, etc.) that have become diluted, this organic / pure trend is what comes to mind. We take great care about putting pure, undiluted nutrition into our bodies. But when it comes to our minds, heck, we’ll believe anything, appropriate anything as our own. Don’t believe me? Are you thinking,movie as I used to, yeah, but, TV and stuff, that’s just fiction. It’s not real. That may be true. But at its most basic level, mind does not distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘not real’. If you watched it, heard it, read it—you bought it. It’s yours forever. It’s in that store house consciousness that takes rebirth, and now some Hollywood writer’s story has become your story.

Why is Dolpopa so concerned with this? The Dharma is a path to the cessation of suffering, almost like a map for the mind. If a map ismap drawn incorrectly, or North is really supposed to be South, anyone who follows that map will find themselves hopelessly lost. Unless we can   come to recognize when we’re following a bad map based on diluted instructions and directions, we can end up wandering endlessly through Samsara, lifetime after lifetime, utterly trapped in the cycle of death and rebirth.

Apply to a past situation (how would it have been different?

Bad directions. Oh gosh. Where do I start? I know it’s unfair to blame your mother, but in my case, I think I can make a valid point. It’s actually not ‘blame’, it’s more like identification of a source that I took to be pure.

My mother is not bad a person. She is a person caught in Samsara, and lost in the darkness of ignorance. Growing up, all I saw her pursue, ever, were the eight worldly concerns. She wanted to be (and remain) famously beautiful. Growing up in a small village in Jamaica, she actually was famed for her beauty as a young woman. She wanted pleasure. This she associated with money. Because money can buy everything right? She pursued praise with wild abandon. No matter how Wicked Witch of the West she was atworldly concerns home, when we went out, my mother morphed into Glenda the Good Witch. Everyone would tell her what a good mother she was, and how she took good care of her children. Gain. Oh how my mother loved running after that. If she thought she could get more of anything—money, clothes, shoes, makeup furniture, appliances—she would. Mind you, her closets, vanities,  and usually the houses were just about bulging with stuff, but she always wanted more stuff.

As I got older, I noticed that not one of the things my mother pursued made her happy. And she pursued a whole lot. As I grew up, I would ask myself how could that be? She got what she wanted, but it never worked. At about fifteen or sixteen, this truly puzzled me. The only conclusion I could draw was that my mother’s behavior wouldn’t, couldn’t lead to actual happiness.

So, when I went away to school and eventually went on with living my own life, I totally eschewed all the things I’d seen my mother pursue, and lived purely, seeking nunhappiness in something beyond worldly pleasures. I dedicated myself to the uplifting of humanity, and lived a simple life. You’d think so, wouldn’t you?


But that’s not how it worked out. I had internalized my mother’s wrong views, despite my own reflections on them. For years of my adult life, I was my mother’s daughter. I kept accumulating things, and I wanted successmore things, and I wanted to be recognized, be a famous, super-famous writer like Stephen King. I wanted to be beautiful. In short, I was firmly caught in the net of suffering that is the eight worldly concerns.

I got caught in that net because I couldn’t recognize that what I had internalized was a diluted, contaminated doctrine of happiness.

Looking back, if I could have recognized sooner that the eight worldly concerns were an extraordinarily flawed way of seeking happiness, I would have avoided a great many psychological catastrophes in my life. I wouldn’t have traded a uselessly stressful job for a condo on the beach. I wouldn’t have devoted myself to satisfying the selfish needs of another person.

If I had had a true witness to even hint in the true direction of the cessation of suffering, I would have begun disentangling myself from Samsara a whole lot sooner.

Apply to an (ongoing) present situation (how does it matter today?)

A couple of years ago, I had to make a decision about changing jobs. I could have either gone into the same job in the same industry with the same stresses, or I could have chosen a lower paid job, had less stress, and have more bandwidth to pursue the Dharma.

decisionBy this time in my life, I had been studying the Dharma with my Dharma Friend Tashi Nyima for a few years already. I understood about the eight worldly concerns. I understood about the importance of training the mind. I understood the idea of right livelihood.

Now, going on two years into my new job, I know I’ve made the right choice. My job is my field for cultivating compassion with each and every call. When I talk to people on the phones at work, I recognize how they believe all the lies that Samsara presents them, all the false promises Samsara holds out, all the diluted doctrines of happiness which, they believe, lie just beyond their grasp.

From this I learn an oh-so-valuable lesson: if we do not know the truth, we cannot recognize a lie. We will spend lifetime after lifetime chasing Samsara’s chimeras, a path that will ultimately trap us in the cycle of death and rebirth.

Apply to a potential situation (bringing it home to play)

When we first started studying the Fourth Council, I couldn’t understand why. After all, I’m not a Nihilist. None of the people in my sangha are Nihilists, or surely they wouldn’t questionbe there every Sunday in the Clubhouse Without a Fan. For the first couple of weeks, I really pondered this. I thought it would be quite rude to outright ask my teacher, “Yes, but why do we care at this late stage? Some of us have been studying with you for years.”

Whew! So glad I didn’t ask that, because if I had, right now I would feel like the tiniest, dimmest bulb on the string.

One of the hardest things for me to learn on my path has been the idea of emptiness. One of the first Dharma teachings I attended involved emptiness. There was a full glass of water. The question was, is the glass empty or full? This was very early on, and I thought, Dude, is this a trick question? And everyone was saying it’s empty. I just had to raise my hand and say, no, it’s full. And he asked me a question that I remember to this day as mywater true beginning on the path. He asked, if the glass were full, where would the water go? Yes. Of course. He was right. A ‘full’ glass would be a solid cylinder. Wow. That blew my mind for weeks. It made me rethink everything I had ever believed about anything.

In the same way, the discussion of functional nihilism has made me rethink the way I see the world. In Buddhism we understand that all phenoma (that which can be perceived by the senses) is empty. That is to say, they are impermanent, insubstantial, and dependent (on causes and conditions). However, Buddhism simultaneously recognizes that there is an Absolute realm that is empty of all but itself. That is to say, in this state exists true purity, true bliss, true being, true permanence. And no, there’s no train or plane to the Absolute. It’s a state of mind.

My teacher said something that rocked my world in this Dharma talk. Whenever we disregard the existence of the Absolute, he said, we fall into functional Nihilism. Most of us, he went on to say, are not philosophical Nihilists, but all of us are functional Nihilists.

When I heard that, I immediately thought, no, no, not me, I’m not a Nihilist, functional or otherwise. But sadly, we all are. The moment we fail to recognize the absolute the truth of Nihilismanother being’s Buddha Nature, we have fallen into functional Nihilism. The moment we believe we matter more than another sentient being, we’ve fallen into functional Nihilism. The moment we believe our needs are so important, we’re willing to enslave and murder thousands of sentient beings just to eat their flesh, we’ve fallen into functional Nihilism.

Recognizing this, I want to bring it into the work place. As I work with this idea of the undiluted doctrine, I want to shift my focus to working with compassion not because it’s the right thing to do, but because recognizing another sentient being’s Buddha Nature demands this response.

Since I’m late writing this two weeks after the Dharma talk, I’ve had a chance to work with this. I’ve had phone calls where people were nearly unbearably obnoxious. And I really, really worked with seeing Buddha Nature in those moments.

I only managed to accomplish it once. I was very surprised at what happened. For a moment, barely a heartbeat, I had an actual recognition of Buddha Nature in a person I couldn’t even see! The second it happened, something shifted in me. The only response possible was compassion. There wasn’t room for anything else. It was pretty amazing.

The truth is, 98% of people are very nice when they call in. It’s just that two percent. Having experienced this glimpse of Buddha Nature in another, I’m very inspired to keep working with the Two Percenters. The shift I experienced in those few seconds was profound. This experience has left me convinced that by working this way, one Buddha at a time, we can attain the union of wisdom and compassion for all.

buddha gold statue


I currently study the Dharma with the Venerable  Tashi Nyima.





On the dreadful doctrine…

I’m currently studying the Fourth Council with my Dharma friend, the Venerable Tashi Nyima. This is a contemplation on the following excerpt.

Buddha From Dolpo2


The flawless, with qualities complete, is the Krtayuga Dharma. When a quarter then degenerates, it is the early Tretayuga. If half has degenerated, it is the late Tretayuga. The remainder, when three-quarters have degenerated, is the Dvaparayuga. If there is not even one-quarter, it is the Kaliyuga Dharma, the dreadful doctrine of the impious outsiders.




What does this mean to me?

You know those five year plans? The ones where you plan out your life, and if you stick 5 year planwith it, you’ll be a success, and sublime happiness will be yours? I never found sublime happiness. Although, to be fair, I never stuck to the plan. It was hard. The plan kept changing. Year one’s goal was never year two’s goal, and by the time I got to year two, I’d changed, and I never knew if I should start a new plan or what.

Our friends at Dictionary.com tell us a plan is, “a scheme or method of acting, doing, proceeding, making, etc., developed in advance.” It didn’t feel that way, though. It felt like I had a plan for reality, and reality had. . . well, its own plan. A doctrine on the other hand is, “a particular principle, position, or policy taught…”. When I first started studying the Dharma, I kind of treated it like an Infinity Year Plan for Enlightenment. I thought if I could just plan my life right, and do this Dharma thing, I’d wake up on a golden lotus in the Pure Lands, Ami Deva would be there (maybe with an iPad) and I’d have my i-Notebook, and I’d swiftly attain enlightenment.

gravityThis is what I thought the Dharma was…a plan. A way of doing things. But now, after years of study, I see the Dharma for what it is: a principle. Gravity is a principle. It always sucks. No five year plan needed for getting old, it’s gonna happen. Aging, gravity – they’re principles that apply in a world of conditioned existence. The difference between a plan and a principle? A principle is unchanging. A principle doesn’t depend on causes and conditions. The Dhama’s like that. It’s a principle, a proposition, if you like: if we see reality as it is, we will permanently end our suffering.

But there’s another key element to a principle – it is taught. The act of teaching can lead to misunderstandings, a kind of decay. Imagine a 2600 hundred year game of telephone. Then imagine groups splintering off because their way of telling the message was the right way, the only way.

The Dharma as doctrine is like that. It’s come down to us in a disciplic succession, telephone gameyes, but two and some thousand years is an awful long game of telephone. Mistakes, misunderstandings, misinterpretations are bound to slip in. When they do, the Dharma remains the same, but the doctrine that is transmitted can become woefully distant from the original principle. It can become a dreadful doctrine, a teaching that leads only to increased suffering, increased unhappiness, and delusions that veer off the Eight Fold Noble Path.

Apply to a past situation (how would it have been different?

hollywood loveWhen I first thought about this, for the life of me, I couldn’t think of how the idea of doctrine applied to my past. But then I thought…love—isn’t that a doctrine we’re taught from earliest childhood? Isn’t it something Hollywood lures us with: find love and you’ll find everlasting happiness. Never mind the crying babies, the mortgage, the love life you’re too damned tired to deal with, and the husband (wife) who just isn’t the fairy tale you’d hoped for. You found love. You’re happy, right? Right?

A long time ago, in this very lifetime, I thought not only that I understood the doctrine of love, but that I’d found someone I could love. Imagine my delight with those first six months. Sadly, the entire affair dragged on for nearly nine years of my life. Those six months were just a blip on the radar of Love Found.

It’s only years later, after studying the Dharma that I realize those nine and half yearslove arose from a dreadfully decayed doctrine of love that I had internalized wholly, and without question. My understanding of love was sophomoric, to be kind; delusional, to be truthful. I truly believed that if I loved someone, not only would they love me back, but they’d love me back just the way I wanted them to. As might be expected, this led to some hellish life lessons. My misunderstanding of the doctrine we call ‘love’ was a thing far removed from the actual meaning of love. Love is simply the desire that someone else be happy. My idea of love was all about me: I was supposed to be happy because I loved.

If I had understood that simple difference all those years ago, I would have realized that the person I was with could not possibly be happy in a relationship based on fantasy, lies, and delusions. Neither could I.

Apply to an (ongoing) present situation (how does it matter today?)

The Good Neighbor. There’s a doctrine for you. Do you even know your neighbor? I’ve lived in cities all my life. Neighbors are like sunsets at the beach, you see them, marvel at them, then you move on. Okay. I’m an introvert. That doesn’t help. But still.

Again, back to our friends at Dictionary.com. A neighbor is:

  • a person who lives near another.
  • a person or thing that is near another
  • one’s fellow human being
  • a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans

neighborsThese definitions were taken sequentially from the dictionary. So it’s safe to assume this is a snapshot of how the idea or doctrine of ‘neighbor ‘ has changed over time. So, a neighbor goes from being the guy/girl next door to Mother frikkin’ Teresa. That’s a heck of a game of telephone.mother teresa

How did this happen? Why did it happen?  I’m not sure why, but I’m pretty sure about how. As we moved from villages to towns to cities to suburbs to weekend commute bedroom communities, our doctrine or principle of what it means to be a ‘neighbor’ expanded. We could even go so far as to say, if they can get to Paypal or Zelle, they’re a neighbor. . .amiright?

Is this expansion a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. I’ll leave that to you philosophers out there.

I work for a company that defines itself with the doctrine of being a “Good Neighbor”. They take this seriously. It’s painted on the walls like graffiti–only tidy, corporate, and dull. The idea is that on each phone call (I work in Customer Service), you’re to treat every single person as though they were your neighbor and they’re knocking on your door because they need help.

Applying this doctrine of  “Good Neighbor” to my work each day makes my job an opportunity to treat each call as a field of compassion to be cultivated. Of course, I have to do this in twelve minutes or less, because time is money, and this Good Neighbor ain’t trying to hear your problems all day long.thousand hands2

But seriously, this doctrine of being a good neighbor has made my job part of my practice, and I’m glad for it.

Apply to a potential situation (bringing it home to play)

arsenic and laceIn all honesty, I have to say being a good neighbor sometimes makes me long for a little arsenic and lace. They’re yelling, they’re asking why they have to pay out of pocket, they’re mad at you (because I run the company), they accuse you of ripping them off, and of course, they’re going to sue you.

When this happens, I take a step back, and I turn my mind to the Dharma. I see things as they truly are. I don’t believe there’s really no one on the other end of the phone because everything is empty. I don’t tell them to man up (or girl up) because this is all they’ve got. I don’t tell them (as one Dharma teacher says), Samsara is the fifth world from the bottom in a cosmology of a hundred and five worlds. What do you expect?

When I turn my mind to the Dharma, I hear the echoes of my own profound suffering ininferno this lifetime and countless others. I hear the ‘if only’ mind, if only my car was fixed for free, then I’d be happy. I hear the lifetimes upon lifetimes they’ve taken rebirth, and have not yet found the path to the cessation of suffering. I hear that they’re caught up in the dreadful doctrine of happiness in Samsara. I hear that beneath it all, they believe there is no way out of their suffering.

When I hear this, when I see reality as it is, compassion is inevitable. I yearn to do all I can to relieve their suffering. Sometimes it’s as simple as a sincere, “I’m sorry to hear that’. This is the power of the pure Dharma. When we see reality as it is, we can speak to the suffering of another with clarity and sincerity, and with the wish that they would be free of suffering.

Dolpopa wrote of the ‘dreadful doctrine of the impious outsiders’ hundreds of years ago. Perhaps today he may have written of the hollow promise of happiness in Samsara. He may have written of the need to recognize a decayed hollowed out promise. Only with this recognition can we hope to return to a true, pure doctrine, the Krtayuga Dharma.


buddha teaches lots






On the presence of dew. . .

Written Saturday, October 31, 2015, 11:00 AM

Currently I’m studying The Supplication with a Dharma friend, the Venerable Tashi Nyima.

This is my contemplation on the third verse.

I bow at the feet of the masters who carefully teach that

All conditioned entities are impermanent, unstable, changeable

Phenomena—like a mountain waterfall, like a cloud, like

Lightning, and like dew on a blade of grass.”

Full Disclosure: This is my first contemplation on a whole verse!

Explain to someone else (making it my own)

When I knew I was going to write about this, the first thing I set out to do was to prove it wrong. But to do that, I had to understand it better. What’s this ‘conditioned entities’ thing all about? Well, it’s anything that arises from cause and effect. What? No. That definitely can’t be true because absolutely everything arises from cause and effect. If this is true, that would have to mean that every thing is impermanent, and unstable, and changeable.

I tried really hard (I had two weeks) to think of some ‘unconditioned entity’. But no go. I couldn’t think of one single thing. The moment when my mind was finally forced to that conclusion was pretty heavy duty. I think I was driving home from somewhere and I thought to myself…Yes, it’s true. And…wonderful!

 The tail end of that thought caught me by surprise. Wonderful? Yes! Imagine if the pyramids in Egypt were still sparkling brand new, fresh as the day the Pharaohs got buried there, wouldn’t that be weird? Worse yet, imagine if that really truly horrible meal you ate last year to be polite and not hurt any feelings were still there in your stomach undigested!

dandelion girlYes, I thought to myself, yes. This conditioned thing is good. Imagine a world where cause and effect had no…well…no effect. Ice would never melt, even in hot sun. Our bodies would never age. No. That’s not a good thing—you like having teeth don’t you? And worst of all, I think, karma would be carved in some kind of unforgiving, immutable stone.

This would mean that whatever direction we chose for our lives, we’d be stuck with it. Think about that. Do you really still want the things you wanted when you were sixteen?

In our existence here in samsara, our biggest tug of war with impermanence is that we want selective impermanence. You know, like—I want to age to 25, stop there, never grow older, but keep learning and becoming wiser. But that’s not how it is. We age, we grow, we learn, and if we’re very fortunate, we gain some wisdom along the way. It’s a package deal.

Conditioned existence itself, “like dew on a blade of grass” passes moment to moment without our ever seeing it. The great benefit, the great joy of this is that every moment that arises can become a cause of suffering or a cause of happiness. It’s our choice.

Every moment, it’s our choice.


 Apply to a past situation (how would it have been different?)
There’s a scene in an old movie called “The Time Machine”. In it the time traveler moves through hundreds of years in a matter of seconds. You see buildings melt into rubble, then brand new sparkling time machinebuildings rise, then crumble into rubble as he jets forward in time. I was fascinated by that. I wondered when my house would crumble like that, and what would rise in its place.

Decades later I got involved in a relationship. We both vowed that not only would we love each other forever, but we would love each other in EXACTLY the same way we loved each other that day at that moment.

Talk about naïve, right?

I spent a horribly tortuous decade of my life struggling to keep that vow. It was terrifying. As soon as something changed, I felt like—no. No! Things have to stay just like they are—forever. If I could have found Old Man Time, I would have done him in.pushback time

And change did of course come, but not in the way I feared it would. I changed. I wanted different things. I wasn’t in love. I grew tired of the struggle.

All of this struggle had a predictably disastrous outcome—what else could the ending have been but disastrous and painful, and heartbreaking?

If I could go back and whisper in the ear of my younger idealistic self, I would tell her that change is part of life. I would tell her that when we try to hold back the rhythms of cause and effect, we will bring upon ourselves a Tsunami of pain and suffering. I would tell her that in the end change will come, better to welcome it, no matter how frightening. I would whisper that anything permanent is a delusion, fueled by hope and fear. And I would certainly tell her that change, as fraught with danger as it may seem, is better than entombing yourself in a delusion of unchanging permanence.


 Apply to an (ongoing) present situation (how does it matter today?)

Since 2012 (maybe 2011), I have been through layoffs that included hundreds of people, other layoffs that came once a quarter, and finally the sale of the company I worked for. The very first layoff was terrifying. Even though I knew I’d get a good severance package—still—it was heart stopping and heartrending to see people be escorted out.

By the third or fourth layoff, I just kind of waited to see if my name was on The List. When the company got sold, I was furious! What? Getting sold to some rinky dink, nouveau riche, mom & pop family-owned operation whose true name should be Greedsters, Inc.? And who, I might add, was (and continues to be) very evasive about the whole idea of a severance package.

It took me a long time, a few months to realize the truth of the situation I’m in. I find myself at a point in my life where anything is possible. Of course, it’s always been that way. But now, I’m aware of it.

Aside from the overt acts of not showing up and/or not doing my work, whether or not I have a job is utterly beyond my control. Of course, it always has been. But awareness has a certain magic about it, or maybe I should say a certain grace. But more on that later.

The truth about my job is that the position I fill is on someone’s spreadsheet beside my Greedster, Inc. Employee ID Number. When the formulae in that spreadsheet indicate that my position can be filled for much cheaper in say. . . Mumbai or Puerto Rico. . .the Greedster, Inc. Employee ID Number will be changed and my steady paycheck will evaporate—kinda like dew on a blade of grass.

So each day, I work with what I have. This situation forces me to bow to impermanence and cause and effect.

balloongirlIn doing this, I am finding that when we bow to impermanence, our life takes on a certain grace, a certain lightness of being. Not to wax too poetic here, but we come to realize that we came to samsara with nothing, and we will leave with nothing. Rather than being depressing, as I thought that realization would be, it is in fact buoyant. I mean that literally. When we become aware of the true state of conditioned existence, then we can let of the terrible weight of hope and fear. Why? Because there’s no question: Yes. You are to lose absolutely everything you have acquired in samsara. No one gets out alive.

There. Now you know how the movie ends. The only question remaining is: do you want to struggle against impermanence until your last breath, or, do you want to live with the grace of impermanence and use your every moment to move toward true bliss, true permanence, true purity, true self.


 Apply to a potential situation (bringing it home to play)

Last year I took a vow to give 125 hats / scarves to the Jonang Monastery in Tibet. I took that vow in December, 2014. At the outset, I couldn’t turn the little wheel on my Addi knitting machine fast enough. Wow! I thought, at this rate, I’ll have 250 hats and scarves to give. In other words, I believed with a brand of blind faith, that things would remain exactly as they were.

As you may imagine, things changed. Depression snuck up on me. The slough of despondencymenopause baseball bat smacked me around. In short, I spent four months of my life in a quicksand morass of depression and despair.

With the help of a very good friend, I was able to make my way out of the deepest bits of the quicksand. As I lay panting on the shore, recovering, rediscovering my life—I panicked. Four months! And not one hat or scarf had rolled off my Addi. I was a long, long, way from 125. I wasn’t even in shouting distance.

I almost wanted to just let myself slide back into the quicksand. But before I did, I asked in desperation—how do I give back a vow? I tell you, that vow was wrecking my nerves.

The answer was so simple, I missed it. When my friend repeated it, I was just about bowled over. Change the vow. That was the answer. That’s it. Just change it. [Disclaimer: This is not true for all vows.]

Well, I tell you, that’s given me a world of relief. I feel the shore expanding, the quicksand drying on my legs and falling away as I pull myself free of the slough of despondency.

This seems like a small thing, but it made me think of all the other absolutes we have in our lives. We come up with all these “Have To” things in our lives, and somehow we come to have a faith in the imputed immutability we grant them. We will even change our lives to match the “Have To”. Wow. That’s a little bit crazy.

No. I say no to that. All that we see around us is, by its very nature, subject to cause and effect. All that we witness in samsara not only will pass away, but is passing away before our very eyes, with every breath.

Would we try to hold onto a wave in an ocean? Or a breeze rattling the leaves of a tree? These things and all that we see in samsara are ephemera. Their permanence arises from our deluded mind.

Once we understand this, we can appreciate the fleeting beauty of a waterfall, or a cloud, or a drop of dew on a blade of grass. We can appreciate each moment as it arises and falls away, and know that within each and every moment there exists a cause for our suffering or a cause for our enlightenment.

Which will we choose?


On the next hour. . .

Currently I’m studying Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones with a Dharma friend, the Venerable Tashi Nyima.

This is my contemplation on the first two lines of verse 80 of the root text of Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones.

heart treasure

The third part, my exhortation to relinquish everything and practice;

Though you may well miss the point, just slipped out by itself.

Yet, since it in no way contradicts the words of the Buddhas and Boddhisattvas;

It would be truly kind of you to put it into practice.


Full Disclosure: This is my first contemplation in a long time. It was nerve wracking!

Written Saturday, September 23, 8:00 AM

Explain to someone else (making it my own)

The calendar has become such an icon of our culture. The sixties had Jimmy Hendrix. The seventies had disco. The eighties had unbridled greed. The nineties had all things New Age and crystal. Here we stand in the twenty-first century with the calendar. It’s not even a watch so you can see what time it is now, it’s a calendar so you can see where you will be.calendar

On top of this, a mere calendar isn’t enough. The true status symbol is a crowded calendar. One must have things to do at every waking moment of the day. This, samsara tells us, is success.

Is it? Is it really? Patrul Rinpoche asks us, “How many people in the world will die within the next hour? Can you be certain you won’t be one of them?” Where does the hour of our death go on our calendar? Which slot is that? Can we really afford a whole hour? I mean, you’re just lying there (if you’re fortunate) doing nothing, right?

Sadly, samsara buries us in things to be done, things to be acquired, things to be achieved. But not one of these myriad things will free us of the cycle of suffering. Not one of the things on our calendars will lead to the cessation of suffering.

Yes. Life comes with many things to be done. This cannot be denied. But I look at it this way. If I were in prison, and I wanted to get out, my mind would always be on escape. No matter what I was doing, who I was talking to, my mind would be on getting to freedom.

In the same way, here in the prison of samsara, shouldn’t our every thought be of freeing ourselves? Shouldn’t we live as though everything we did could be a step on our path to enlightenment?

I think the time has come to put “escape” on our calendars.


 Apply to a past situation (how would it have been different?)

A while back, when I was totally caught up in corporate culture, the company I worked for sent a group of us to a series of classes about how to organize our lives “for success” with a very famous brand of corporate calendars that I’ll call Cubby.

Cubby comes with a slot of everything, and by God, every slot had to be filled. This was long before the cell phone plague of constant, umbilical connection overtook us. Back then it was very prestigious to walk around with your Cubby calendar and whip it open if someone dared to interrupt your oh-so-carefully planned day. Under Cubby rules, they would have to be penciled in because. . . well…you were on the path to success.

This calendar “system” as it’s still called, was not merely a yearly calendar. No. Nothing so sFive Year Planimple. The Deluxe Cubby System (no, I’m not making that up) comes with a Five Year Plan. What am I doing here–taking over the world?? Oh my holy God! A what? Didn’t Russia have Five Year Plans? How did it work out for them? I heard they went all to pieces.

Anyway, at the end of each calendar week there was a space to summarize whether you were on target for your Five Year Plan, what progress you’d made, and what you needed to do better. This is one serious calendar system. It even comes with “Quadrants” to identify what matters, what really matters, and what really matters right now. I kid you not.

This happened sometime back in my late twenties, early thirties, and I bought into Cubby one hundred percent. I was never on target with my Five Year Plan because what I wanted kept changing.

Looking back on the whole Cubby episode in my life, I can notice that I truly believed that doing stuff—‘getting more done’ in the corporate parlance—would make me a better person, an absolute success. And one day, that would lead to happiness.

If I could go back and talk to my younger self, so full of hope and fear, I would ask her to think over one simple question. Where on the Cubby calendar is there a slot to reschedule aging, disease and death? Then I’d give her a book of matches and lighter fluid.


 Apply to an (ongoing) present situation (how does it matter today?)

Lo these many years later, I find myself still in the corporate world. Cubby, I’m sure has moved to tablets and iPhones and “Seminars for Success”. My job is pretty much dominated by the calendar because of my frequent interactions with attorneys and their deadlines. If you think someone can’t hyperventilate via email, spend a day at my desk.

I keep my calendar in Microsoft Outlook, and on my phone, of course. And I do things that must be done. I meet deadlines. I deliver products. I hold the hands of the nervous and fearful. I get to the doctor and the hairdresser reasonably on time.

But there’s something on my calendar at work that pops up every hour—breathe–it says. This is a reminder to either take a few seconds to silently recite mantra, or if it’s reasonable, to recite mantra and then silently read a prayer from the stack of “flashcard” prayers I keep on my desk.

path4For me, this is a constant reminder that I am here in samsara, caught in a cycle of suffering, and no matter what I’m doing at the moment, my life’s work is to achieve enlightenment, one step at a time, so that I may free myself and all sentient beings from suffering.

This sounds very high-minded, like. . .really? Every hour? Well, yes. It translates to taking an extra minute to reassure an attorney that yes, I understand their deadline, and yes, we’re doing all we can to meet it. It translates to saying a few light words to someone who looks sad, overburdened with samsara. It translates to remembering that no one gets out of samsara alone. There is no separation. Until we are all free of suffering, no one is free.

Like a prisoner, I’ve taken the instruments meant to imprison me, and used them to further my endeavor toward freedom. If we are to escape samsara, we must learn some way of using what lies in our lives to further our steps on the path.


 Apply to a potential situation (bringing it home to play)

These days, I’m almost tempted to buy a Cubby calendar just to luxuriate in the feel of all the empty space I would leave on it.

A Dharma friend of mine says…do less. At first, I thought—what? Have you seen my life? Mind you, I’m unmarried with no kids. But still, samsara sucks me in.

Ever notice how on Monday mornings at work, the question is—so what did you do this weekend? At times my jaw just about drops when I hear what people squeeze into forty-eight hours! People have stopped asking me this question because my answer is always the same. . . “not much”. They sort of give me a pitying look and move on. After all, there’s stuff to be done, right?

In truth, that’s a small white lie. I do quite a bit on weekends, but I try to make my activities as focused on my path as I can. For a long while, I did too much. That led to a mini-breakdown. But nowadays I choose three—maybe four things tops—to do on the weekend.

As time goes by and I feel more rested and more confident, I’m starting to want to do more. But then I think of my Dharma friend. . . do less. I’m finally beginning to see what that means. The less we do (that is unnecessary), the more chances we give the mind to turn to the Dharma.

The Winter season is approaching and I have a commitment to deliver 125 hats and scarves. I’m behind. My first instinct is to spend every waking moment knitting. This may work short term, but long term it will lead to exhaustion and disaster.

So, as I work on this wonderful project over the next couple of months, I will remind myself that every stitch can be a step out of samsara. What kind of future escapee would I be if I was too exhausted to escape when the time came to go?

Death is certain, but the time of death is unknown. There are countless ways to discard the body. There are eighty-four thousand gates to the Dharma. Shouldn’t our every step be urgently moving us toward one of those gates of freedom?


What came first? Are you sure?

Ramblings. . . March 29, 2015

Currently I’m studying the Dharma with a Dharma friend, Tashi Nyima.

One of the things Tashi shares with us quite a bit is that everything, absolutely everything we do begins in the mind.

Sometimes, I just want to say. . . no way. I just did that. . .ex nihilo…It came from nowhere. But if I follow the act back to its inception, sure enough, there’s a thought right there at the start of things.

reanimatorsSo, I’m reading this book written in the Lovecraft tradition, Reanimators. It’s a story written in the Lovecraft world, so of course there’s a mad scientist.

I’m up to the part where the mad scientist guy is thinking back on how he got himself into this mess. And how did it all start? Like this, “It was little more than a notion at first, but it then grew into a thought, and then an idea. Before long it was a plot and then a plan.”

Hmmm..sounds familiar.

This reminds me of one of my favorite mind training prayers:

As the wheel follows the ox that pulls the cart,

all my thoughts, words, and deeds have consequences.

Bless me to keep my view as high as a white-tailed eagle’s,

and my conduct as careful as a blind man’s on a steep mountain trail!

If only the mad scientist had caught those dastardly thoughts before they became deeds!

If only we could catch our mad scientist mind in the act, and see with perfect clarity that all our thoughts, words, and deeds have consequences!

The name of this mind training prayer is Life and Death. Really? Is it that serious? I believe it is. Every action matters; therefore, every thought matters.

My mind is still mostly mad scientist. . . I ain’t there yet!


Just Enjoy The Ride . . .

Currently I’m studying Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones with a Dharma friend, Tashi Nyima.

We are currently working with Verse 62:

heart treasureClinging to mind’s perceptions as true is the delusion that causes samsara;

If you leave the mind in its natural state, free from thoughts, it is Chenrezi—

It is none other than the Sublime Unwinding in Ultimate Mind.

In ultimate mind, the Dharmakaya, recite the six syllable mantra.

Note: When Tashi talked about this verse, he talked about emotions as being a ‘call to action’. That really resonated with me. Yes, I thought. It’s that almost irresistible feeling that you have got to do something. I think of it as the force sucking you from an airplane when the cabin’s depressurized, and there’s this pull just sucking you along and you feel absolutely helpless to stop it.

Ramblings . . . March 24, 2015

I’d never thought of emotions as a ‘call to action’ before.

This morning in sitting practice, my emotions were all over the place. That’s pretty ‘normal’ these days. I’m not sure if it’s menopause or just age. Or maybe I’m becoming sensitized to what’s been there all along.


This morning I was really angsting over all the emotions coming up, and I was sort of desperately thinking. . . oh no, not another day like this.

And then, mind came up with something that turned out to be totally true. . . Just enjoy the ride.

This is a reference to a really, really old Pepsi commercial that Britney Spears did way back in the dark ages of 2001. Part of the catchy pop tune lyric is ‘just enjoy the ride’.

This morning those words meant nothing to me.

But today, at work, something happened that triggered a response of extremely afflicted emotions. Oh man… my fingers were flying across my keyboard. I was like a race horse coming to the finish line. I was just about to hit SEND, when it hit me. . . I’m caught. I. Am. Totally. Caught.

My mouse was hovering over SEND. My heart was galloping along. I was literally a second away from answering that call to action. And I thought. . . what do I do?

Then I breathed. . . and recited mantra.

I did that for three breaths, a total of six mantras. And I have to be honest, the first two breaths, I was thinking. . . oh man…this isn’t gonna work. It’s not. . .

Those three breaths seemed like an eternity. I completely experienced the anger, the resentment, the . . .whatever. But most importantly, I experienced it as something that was rising and falling like waves in an ocean and simultaneously, I experienced myself holding onto (clinging) to the emotions arising. I could see myself “clinging to mind’s perceptions as true”. I couldn’t stop clinging, but I could see that I was doing it.

monks on rollercoasterThen suddenly my perspective shifted. For a split second (in those three breaths it seemed like forever), I experienced the emotions as undifferentiated energy. It was bliss! I could . . . just enjoy the ride.

After that, the emotions were very much in my face again, but the call to action had nowhere near the power I had imputed to it before I took those three breaths.

I opened my eyes (I often wonder what people think of me sitting there with my eyes closed), and I rewrote the email. Even better, the email resulted in the outcome I had actually wanted.

This sounds like a very small moment, but it was incredible. I think that’s because the emotions were so strong, and I was THIS close to blindly following that call to action.

Something similar happened yesterday, and I was able to catch myself again.

Wow. If this keeps up, I could actually begin to experience peace and clarity in my days at work!

These experiences have made me think of something I pulled from Tashi’s website, “Understand that pain is your spiritual friend, because it is the cause of renunciation.”

For sure. Absolutely. In these last couple of days I’ve really learned that renunciation isn’t the act of giving up any material thing. It’s the act of realizing the cause of your suffering and giving up that cause. If I hadn’t been suffering so much with those afflicted emotions, I wouldn’t have tried anything. I would have just gone on with my day.

So, there you have it . . . I ain’t there yet.

Let’s hear your thoughts. . .just between you and me. . .When your afflicted emotions are in your face and it’s all you can do not to throttle someone—and enjoy it . . . what do you do?

Hint: “Hide the body” isn’t the right answer. . .

On the taste of things…

Currently I’m studying Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones with a Dharma friend, the Venerable Tashi Nyima.

This is my contemplation on the first two lines of verse 47 of the root text of Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones.

heart treasure

“To recognize flavors as a sacramental feast is the crucial point of offering.

Attachment to taste as delicious or disgusting is liberated into its own nature.

Free of grasping, food and drink are substances to delight Supreme Chenrezi;

In the self-liberation of taste, recite the six-syllable mantra.”


 Full Disclosure:

I found this verse extremely hard to put into practice because it’s so hard to divorce food from the sense of taste.

Written Sunday, November 23, 5:30AM

Explain to someone else (making it my own)

Growing up, we used to say grace over dinner, but only on Sundays. As a kid, I totally undegracerstood why. Sunday dinners were awesome! They had all the good stuff. During the week you could end up with dry overcooked food that got eaten because it was better to eat than to get yelled at for not eating. But on Sundays, there was salad and everything. Sometimes there was even desert. So sure, I was happy to mumble on Sundays, “God is good, God is great, Thank you for this food. Amen.” With all those delicious smells rising from the table, when I said grace, I had only one goal: getting through the words as fast I could.

I didn’t understand why we had to thank God for anything. I saw my parents get up and go to work every day. My mother went food shopping and cooked. All God did was show up in His house when you went to church on Saturdays. What did He have to do with anything about food?

At that age, when my mother said it was a shame I was throwing away food when there were starving kids in Africa, I thought it was another Motherism, kind of like, ‘Don’t open your umbrella in the house, it’s bad luck.’ And what was so bad about starving? I’d be starving after school sometimes, but then I’d open the refrigerator and eat something. Didn’t kids in Africa have refrigerators?

In the west, for the most part, we have an absolute indifference to where our food comes from. Even if you’re vegan, there’s still this sort of indifferent unconsciousness toward food. We go to the supermarket (or Whole Foods or Sprouts), buy what we like, take it home, cook it how we like, and for the most part, we eat and put the leftovers way. More thought goes into doing the dishes (should I run the dishwasher tonight, or wait another night?) than goes into eating a meal.

We take for granted that some foods are good, delicious, while other foods, not so much. When I first came to Texas, I couldn’t believe there was deep fried okra on a restaurant menu. My memories of okra are of slimey green things that stayed as far away from my side of the table as possible. But there it was. Apparently people pay good money to eat deep fried slimey green things in Texas.

How often do we stop to ask ourselves about this? How often do we stop and say…how can that be? Is deep fried okra good or not? Is slimy good or not? How can some people like it, but others can’t stand it near their plates? If we thought about this, we might come to realize what Dilgo Khyentse says about taste, “…it is only the mind that clings to tastes as being delicious or disgusting. Once the mind realizes that such attributes are unborn and devoid of any existence, the pure nature of every flavor can be recognized.”

What? Does that mean deep fried okra is a good thing? I do a lot for my practice, but I draw the line at deep fried slimy vegetables. And don’t bother telling me it’s not slimy when it’s deep fried. Memory is a powerful thing.

I think what Dilgo Khyentse is telling us here is that the okra is simply there, with certain attributes. It is our mind, based on our previous experiences that imputes ‘slimy’, ‘disgusting’, ‘tasteless.’ Once we realize that these imputations arise from the mind, we are freed of attachment to ‘good food’ or ‘bad food’. Once that happens, we can begin to see that food or nourishment of any kind is always a gift. After all, why are we here in samsara? To get rich? To be beautiful? To be successful? To live the American dream? No.

We are here in samsara for one reason and one reason only: to remember our non-difference with our true Buddha Nature. Seen in this way, every nourishment and sustenance, whether it takes the form of food or friendship, or just a kind word is a gift. It is a gift meant to sustain us on our journey of remembering who we truly are so that we may help others remember who they truly are. If we approach food this way, we can begin to work with our attachment to ‘good food’ and ‘bad food’, and begin to take food onto our path to compassion through wisdom.


 Apply to a past situation (how would it have been different?)

When I was younger I had a very adverse relationship with food. I used food to comfort myself. Many days on the way to school I would buy candy at the local candy shop with my lunch money. When lunch money ran out, I’d use my pocket money. I used to go for potato chips, almond joys, bubble gum…kid food.

candyIn third, fourth, and fifth grade, I enjoyed school. I had truly gifted teachers. But I didn’t fit in with the kids around me. There was extreme emotional discomfort in going to school every day. The candy offered me comfort. By the time I got to high school, there was an experimental program that put all the nerds together in our classes all day long. We were isolated from the general population of the school, except at lunch time. And of course, we ate with each other.

That was heaven. We all didn’t fit…but we did it together!

Looking back on that time in my life, I can notice that the role of food in my life was very distorted. I imputed to food the ability to comfort me, and to dull emotional pain. In fact, the pain didn’t go away, it increased. I always ate those foods in private, because I was ashamed of how much candy I ate. If I could have taken a step back, I may have noticed that the candy was a stand-in for things in my life I thought I needed so badly: my mother’s care, friends who didn’t make fun of me, a school that didn’t seem like an all day prison.

If I had been able to let peace and clarity arise, I may have noticed that the candy was actually impermanent, insubstantial, and dependent. I may have seen that the comfort I imputed to the candy was arising from the nourishing gift of my own Buddha Nature.

Had I been able to see these things at such an early age, I may have turned toward the path sooner, and sought a different kind of nourishment and comfort.


 Apply to an (ongoing) present situation (how does it matter today?)

The biggest thing going on in my life right now is the 125 Vow. Each day, I work on something toward the vow, whether it’s buying yarn on sale, or learning a new pattern from YouTube, or actually working on a pattern.

This week I’ve finished my first scoodie, a hat and scarf combination, and I’ve discovered new yarn territory. I’ve lived in this location for well-nigh nine years and never, ever visited the Hobby Lobby that arctic exploreris no more than a five minute drive away. I always went to Michael’s, which is just across the street from Hobby Lobby. This week I discovered new yarn in Hobby Lobby! I felt like an Arctic Explorer forging unknown territory through virgin ice. Yes! And it’s in the Jonang colors.

In working with this verse this week, I really had a hard time understanding what food would be like if it were liberated into its own nature. A lot of times this week, when I ate, I tried to imagine…this food is neither good nor bad. It’s just nourishment. Did that work? Not so much, because I’m here to tell you, I wasn’t feeling up to experimenting with the true nature of okra.

But I ‘accidentally’ found something that did work. (It’s in quotes because my Dharma friend Tashi says there are no accidents or coincidences–there’s karma.) Anyway, I came home after a long day at work, and I was very tired. All I wanted to do was curl up under a warm blanket and lose myself in a nice soothing Alison Weir history book on my Kindle.

As I was winding down my evening, I glanced at my Addi (my knitting machine), which had a scarf on the needles. Let me tell you about the Addi. All you have to do is turn a crank. You can knit a row in maybe two minutes, if you’re going very slowly. I cranked out a row. Ahh…that felt good. So I tried another one. Before I knew it, I’d cranked out about twenty rows. Twenty minutes had slipped by in nearly perfect peace.

mountain streamI stopped and went back over my evening, and what I had been planning to do, and thought about how I’d been drawn to stay at my work table with the Addi. I realized it was like being thirsty, and scooping up just a taste of sweet, fresh water from a mountain stream. But that water feels so good winding through you, you have to have more, so you settle down for a good long drink.

Working on the Addi, which is working on the 125 Vow felt like that. It was nourishing to me. It nourished my sense of peace and well-being. In short, it nourished my awareness of my non-difference with my Buddha Nature. In those few minutes, I experienced the gift of what it can be like to be nourished by activities that are in accordance with the Dharma. As I was working on the Addi, I didn’t experience attachment, because I wasn’t in a hurry. After all, I have a whole year. I wasn’t clinging to the activity. I was keeping my vow.

Once that experience opened for me, I was able to experience nourishment in that sense in a whole bunch of things. Saying a sincere good morning to someone at work became an act of nourishing both them and me, because for a very fleeting moment, I realized our non-duality in relation to each other. In baking cookies and scones for the office, I felt again that sense of being nourished by the act.

Although Dilgo Khyentse talks specifically about food in this verse, in practice, I experienced that any activity that is in accord with our true Buddha Nature is a gift that will nourish and sustain our experience of our non-difference with our Buddha Nature.


 Apply to a potential situation (bringing it home to play)

Hmmm….this is a tough one. I’m not really sure how to put this into practice. I’d like to try out the sacramental feast that Patrul Rinpoche talks about, but I’m not sure how to bring that into my life.

On Thursday, November 20, my Dharma friend Tashi gave a talk about getting in the way of suffering. I feel somehow that this verse is related to that, but again, I’m not sure how to bring it into my life in practice. Here goes…

Today, many families will gather around tables laden with food whose centerpiece will be a dead bird who began life as a sentient being, was then enslaved, brutally murdered, and then sold for a higher price per pound than he or she was worth when they was alive.

Perhaps, in this season which celebrates giving thanks with a holocaust against thousands of sentient Girl_With_Turkey black and whitebeings, I can, with each prayer I say this week, have the intent that the families gathered will awaken enough by next Thanksgiving to realize that this holocaust is a collectively unskillful act. I can pray with the intent that their Buddha Nature may be nourished to the point where they awaken sufficiently to the suffering of other sentient beings to develop a mild nausea with samsara. I can pray with the intent that their Buddha Nature will be awakened enough that by next Thanksgiving, their nourishment will come from being impelled by compassion to get in the way of suffering.

If everyone reading this would say just one prayer with this intent, we will all nourish our non-difference with our Buddha Nature, and at the same time weaken the clinging and attachment that makes the manifold sufferings in the bright aisles of samsara possible.

om mani padme hum…