"When understood, the Buddha’s universe..is anything but alien and inhibiting. It is a world full of hope, where everything we need to do can be done and everything that matters is within human reach. It is a world where kindness, unselfishness, non-violence, and compassion achieve what self-interest and arrogance cannot. It is a world where any human can be happy in goodness and the fullness of giving." ❦ Eknath Easwara

April 11, 2016

Meditation and Contemplation Nuggets from Ajaan Fuang Jotiko


§ Many were the times when people would tell Ajaan Fuang that ― with all the work and responsibilities in their lives ― they had no time to meditate. And many were the times he'd respond, "And you think you'll have time after you're dead?"

§ "When the mind's not quiet ― that's when its poor and burdened with difficulties. It takes molehills and turns them into mountains. But when the mind is quiet, there's no suffering, because there's nothing at all. No mountains at all. When there's a lot to the mind, it's simply a lot of defilement, making it suffer."

§ One meditator noticed that his practice under Ajaan Fuang was making quick progress, and so he asked what the next step would be. "I'm not going to tell you," Ajaan Fuang said. "Otherwise you'll become the sort of amazing marvel who knows everything before he meets with it, and masters everything before he's tried his hand. Just keep practicing and you'll find out on your own."

§ Another student disappeared for several months, and on her return told Ajaan Fuang, "The reason I didn't show up is that my boss sent me to night school for a semester, so I didn't have any time to meditate at all. But now that the course is over, I don't want to do anything but meditate ― no work, no study, just let the mind be still."

She thought he'd be pleased to hear how intent she still was on meditating, but he disappointed her. "So you don't want to work ― that's a defilement, isn't it? Whoever said that people can't work and meditate at the same time?"

§ "Meditating isn't a matter of making the mind empty, you know. The mind has to have work to do. If you make it empty, then anything ― good or bad ― can pop into it. It's like leaving the front door to your home open. Anything at all can come strolling right in.

§ "When the meditation goes well, don't get excited. When it doesn't go well, don't get depressed. Simply be observant to see why it's good, why it's bad. If you can be observant like this, it won't be long before your meditation becomes a skill."


§ A meditator in Singapore once wrote a letter to Ajaan Fuang, describing how he applied the Buddha's teachings to everyday life: Whatever his mind focused on, he would try to see it as inconstant, stressful, and not self. Ajaan Fuang had me write a letter in response, saying, "Do things ever say that they're inconstant, stressful, and not self? They never say it, so don't go faulting them that way. Focus on what labels them, for that's where the fault lies."

§ "Even though your views may be right, if you cling to them you're wrong."

§ One of Ajaan Fuang's students told him that she had reached the point in her meditation where she felt indifferent to everything she encountered. He warned her, "Sure, you can be indifferent as long as you don't run into anything that goes straight to the heart."

§ "Whatever dies, let it die, but don't let the heart die."

Excerpts from: Awareness Itself
Ajaan Fuang Jotiko
Compiled and Translated by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff)


April 7, 2016

Try Learning From Your Mistakes

If you simply brood on the mistakes you made in the past, you don’t leave yourself the energy needed to act skillfully in the present moment. It’s a matter of priorities: Where are you going to focus your energies to get the best results? The reflection connecting the principle of karma with equanimity is meant to clear the decks so that you can focus right there, on your present actions. That’s where the true issue is. That’s what underlies the basic structure of reality.
When you can focus here, you don’t get all caught up in all the “what ifs” about the past: “What if I had done this? What if I hadn’t done that?” All those “what ifs” about the past are a massive waste of time. The important “what if” is: “What if I act skillfully now?” Try that out."
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Intelligent Equanimity
Excerpt from:

March 31, 2016

Thich Nhat Hanh - On Not Getting Caught in the Buddha's Teachings

"It's the same with the [the Buddha's] teachings. If you are caught by the teachings you cannot be transformed, you cannot practice. You have to be very intelligent and very careful about receiving the teachings. So, the teachings that I give now, please do not be caught by them. "All teachings must be abandoned, not to mention non-teachings." It says in the Sutra on the Better Way to Catch a Snake that if we are caught by the non-teaching it is very dangerous. So the Diamond Sutra has taken the teaching from that sutra and tells us we should not be caught by the Dharma and we should not be caught by the non-Dharma either, in both the meanings of the word dharma: objects and teachings.
We say that the Dharma is very precious. But if we are caught by ideas then the Dharma becomes an obstacle to our practice. Just like someone who wants to cross the river. He needs to make a raft. But if he thinks the raft is so beautiful that he carries it on his head and does not want to cross the river, or if after he crosses the river he puts the raft on his head and walks away with it, that is ridiculous. The raft has served its purpose, it's no longer useful. The same with the teachings. The teachings are helping us. If we keep the teaching, if we boast about it, then it does not have any use. We should use the teaching like a raft to bring us across the river. And then when we've crossed the river we can leave the raft there for someone else to use.
If we look at ourselves we see we are more or less like that person. We learn a little bit of the teaching, we think we understand it, and we are proud that we are able to get in touch with the teaching. We think that the teaching is number one, the best. But if we don't want to use the teaching to cross the river, then we are that stupid person, nothing less. After I'd been studying the Diamond Sutra for twenty years I got in touch with the Sutra on the Better Way to Catch a Snake. Then I knew that the Diamond Sutra has it's origin in the Sutra on the Better Way to Catch a Snake. The French publisher has just put the two sutras together to make the book Thundering Silence.
So we should not be caught by the raft, and we shouldn't pursue the non-Dharma either. If we get caught in the non-teachings then we are also caught, we are not liberated. Being caught in the idea of non-Dharma is even more dangerous than being caught in the idea of the Dharma. For example when we are caught in the idea of "being" the Buddha taught many ways for us to overcome and transcend the idea of "being". But when we get caught in the idea of "non-being" then that is even more dangerous. In the Ratnakuta Sutra the Buddha says that it's better to be caught in the idea of being than to be caught in the idea of non-being. When you are caught in the idea of being you can use the idea of non-being to cure that sickness, but once you are caught in the idea of non-being you cannot overcome it with the idea of being. So you have to overcome both the idea of being and the idea of non-being. You should not be caught in the idea of a sign, a mark. But you also should not be caught in the idea of signlessness. Even if the Buddha has taught that if you can see the signless nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagata. We have a tendency to grasp at the signless when we leave the sign…"
Dharma Talk on The Diamond Sutra, given by Thich Nhat Hanh on December 11, 1997 in Plum Village, France.


August 8, 2015

How to Stop Losing Oneself in the Endless Desire for Experience

"When the soul wished to experience something, she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters into her own image." ~ Meister Eckhart
This rings true to me, psychologically, and while I don't know the full context of this quote by the wonderful Mr. Eckhart, in Buddhism, what is described here would probably be seen as part of the Twelve Nidānas of dependent origination (Pratītyasamutpāda) -- how suffering arises by "fabrication" based on fundamental ignorance. For a Buddhist, the key here is looking into the *process," that is: "the wish to experience something" -- and then entering into -- self-identifying -- with what arises from that desire to "experience." And getting endlessly lost in experience after experience without real awareness of what's going on and that one is lost in an endless fractal of cascading causes and effects. In becoming "self," ironically, one loses self in self-replicating processes that have little if any presence or real awareness.
As a practicing Buddhist, I can tell you this "loss of self in projective selfing" is not an easy problem to solve in terms of an actual practice. Is there an answer to this conundrum -- which could also be called the "desire for becoming" -- that is truly liberating and not murderous, world-denying, or identity-annihilating?
I am still working all this out in practice, but part of the solution seems to be developing the skill to more and more become conscious, alert, and aware, when the hungry, grasping desire to experience arises. And further, seeing how that unexamined, mindless desire -- "thrown out before" the soul, to use Eckhart's turn of phrase -- is mere fabrication, with no "there there," no real substance, a pseudo "I." With practice of mindfulness and attention, one can see how the impetus to "experience" is simply the impersonal restless hunger, agitation of the "monkey mind" just wanting, wanting, wanting -- wanting the next "banana," the next branch it is swinging to in order to grasp it -- and yet, never satisfied when it grasps (embodies) its fabrication. The irony is that while all this "monkey business" is going on, genuine presence and genuine being quietly await our discovery! (And out of that genuine being, genuine doing arises naturally and is bright joy and freedom of manifestation)
With some measure of quiet mind, which formal meditation practice can greatly develop, one is able to stop this mindless self-projection process and simply *observe* it, without getting lost in one's own self-fabrication. With the stopping, with the quiet, one rests, and begins to get in touch with what some Zen teachers call the True Self (an ironic term for a system that also speaks of anatta -- not self!)...but, that just means being -- just what it is -- the "this" which shows up in the quiet, alert, bright observant mind. And then, as I said, actions arises not from hunger, not from needfulness, not from grasping at things, but out of a natural sense of what is right, good, proper, and skillful.
When this awakening happens, when the mind grows bright and sensitive to what is, you know without a doubt you are on the right track. Then whatever action is taken - - as its natural, appropriateness is revealed -- is far more skillful and has far less suffering because one is not so attached to attaining "results" and mere "experience. Then, instead of an endless, unsatisfiable desire to experience, experience, experience, one begins to simply be, wherein being and doing are simply different ways of describing one thing. And that one thing is the freedom of the liberated mind.
Essay: Steven Goodheart

April 25, 2015

On Sending Metta to the Nepal Earthquake Victims

Metta is a thing of the heart and has to do with generating and expressing goodwill and loving-kindness to various beings — oneself, close friends, near friends, “neutral” people (people you know of but don’t know personally) and the hardest of all, “difficult” people, or even “enemies.”

In doing metta, as understood and practiced in Buddhism, one does not do a mantra, as such. e.g., repeating  “may this person be happy.” The phrase or thought one uses, such as “may John be happy” is simply an “anchor,” even as the breath may be anchor in meditation—that is, something to return to again and again when thought wanders away from presence. The idea is not to simply, mechanically repeat, “may John be happy, may John be happy, etc. etc.”   Such repetition tends to lead to mental dullness and can be mesmeric, putting  one to sleep (figuratively and literally!) instead of developing insight and alert attention to what is going on and being felt.

That said, in my own loving-kindness practice, I have found it very helpful in some cases to be as specific as possible when establishing the object of contemplation and presence.  For example, if you are inspired to do metta for a friend, naming that friend and holding them in thought, remembering what you love about them, their good actions, and so on, is very helpful in maintaining focus and evoking feelings of loving-kindness and good will.

Today, like many, many others my attention and goodwill and loving-kindness, have turned to the earthquake  disaster in Nepal.   Beyond donations, or being able to do something physically, one can feel helpless in the face of a far-away disaster, but I am among those who feel that prayer, and metta, can make a difference, affecting general human consciousness, and yes, even affecting human situations in some measure.  (The beneficial, helping effects of metta on my own body are for me something beyond question, and the real and good effects of metta for others is also something I’ve  seen for myself and that others have confirmed.)

The bottom line  is that painful, difficult human situations deserve, and need, what metta brings to the table. (And yes, what heartfelt prayer can bring to the table, if one works in that field) At the very least, what metta does for one’s own heart, when we hear of terrible human situations, is essential to moral and spiritual progress.  So, today, since learning of  the Nepal tragedy, I’ve been doing metta, and as I mentioned above, very specific metta for the dear beings in Nepal.  I thought it might help to share some of the “anchors” that I’ve been using in this work:

 ♡ May those trapped in ruble be found and saved.  May the rescuers be led by wisdom and spiritual intuition in finding and freeing those trapped.

 ♡ May those trapped in the rubble not lose heart. Beyond hope and fear, may they feel that within them that is comforting,  safe, and home.

 ♡  May those who have lost family, loved ones, and friends be comforted and find comfort in love and care and attention  to one another.  May these loses turn hearts to expressing our higher, more unselfish, and loving nature.

 ♡ May the doctors and nurses and medical helpers be strong, and may they be supported and appreciated  for all their valiant efforts in an overwhelming situation.  May the international community respond swiftly and immediately to the medical needs of this disaster.

 ♡ May the people of the world, the leaders of the world, hearing of this disaster and great need, respond quickly and generously to minimize suffering and death.

 ♡ May this tragedy in our world remind us — if we need to be reminded — of the  transience of all things and of the great preciousness of human life. May such suffering and loss be an impetus to living a more selfless life, a more loving and caring life.

 ♡  May all beings be safe and secure.
If the ideas in this post are new to you, or intriguing, here is a some basic instruction on metta from some really fine dharma teachers that can be of great help in developing the heart:


♡ ♡ ♡

December 31, 2014

A New Year's Message from Thich Nhat Hanh

Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on December 28, 1997 in Plum Village, France
Beginning Anew
The New Year is a great opportunity to begin anew. Because many people look at the new year, the year to come, with hope. "I will do better next year," you promise yourself...Of course we have made mistakes. Of course we have been not very skillful. Of course we have made ourselves suffer. Of course we have made the people around us suffer. But that does not prevent us from beginning anew and to make things much better next year, or even the next moment. We should look at our suffering in such a way that the suffering can become a positive thing.
Of course you have made some mistakes. You have been unskillful. All of us are the same. We always make mistakes. We are very often unskillful. But that does not prevent us from improving, from beginning anew, from transforming. The Buddha said that if you have not suffered, there is no way you can learn. If the Buddha has arrived at full enlightenment, that is just because he had suffered a lot. The suffering was the path that helped him to arrive at full enlightenment, at full compassion, at full understanding. If you want to go to the Buddha, you need your suffering. Because if you do not know what is suffering, then there is no way you can come to the Buddha. You have to come to the Buddha with all your suffering. Suffering is the path. By true suffering you can see the path of enlightenment, the path of compassion, the path of love.
According to the teaching of the Buddha, it is by looking deeply into the nature of your sorrow, your pain, of your suffering, that you can discover the way out. If you have not suffered, you cannot go to the Buddha. You have no chance to touch peace, to touch love. It is exactly because of the fact that you have suffered, that now you have an opportunity to recognize the path leading to liberation, leading to love, leading to understanding. Don’t be discouraged when you see that in the past you have suffered and you have made other people suffer. If we know how to handle the suffering, we will be able to profit from our suffering. It is like an organic gardener. If she knows how to handle the garbage, she will get a lot of compost for the growth of her vegetables and her flowers. It is with the compost of the suffering that we can nourish the flower of understanding, of peace, of love. That is why we have to learn how to manage our suffering, how to cherish, how to preserve, how to transform our suffering.”


October 30, 2014

Opening Up to the Sunlight of Awareness - Thich Nhat Hanh

"Beginning meditators usually think they must suppress all thoughts and feelings (often called “false mind”) in order to create conditions favorable to concentration and understanding (called 'true mind'). They use methods such as focusing their attention on an object or counting their breaths to try and block out thoughts and feelings. Concentrating on an object and counting the breath are excellent methods, but they should not be used as suppression or repression. We know that as soon as there is repression, there is rebellion - repression entails rebellion. True mind and false mind are one. Denying one is denying the other. Suppressing one is suppressing the other. Our mind is our self. We cannot suppress it. We must treat it with respect, with gentleness, and absolutely without violence. Since we do not even know what our 'self' is, how can we know if it is true or false, and whether or what to suppress? The only thing we can do is to let the sunlight of awareness shine on our 'self' and en-lighten it, so we can look directly.
Just as flowers and leaves are only part of a plant, and just as waves are only part of the ocean, perceptions, feelings and thoughts are only part of the self. Blossoms and leaves are a natural manifestation of plants, and waves are a natural expression of oceans. It is useless to try to repress or stifle them. We can only observe them. Because they exist, we can find their source, which is exactly the same as our own.
The sun of awareness originates in the heart of the self. It enables the self to illuminate the self. It lights not only all thoughts and feelings present. It lights itself as well."
- Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart


October 23, 2014

The Power of Skillful Restraint

The non-violence of Buddhism, the willingness to simply be with what is and what arises, without resistance, is one profound truth of Buddhism. But as Neils Bohr once famously commented, the opposite of one profound truth may be another profound truth -- for some profound truths are in fact complementary.
And another profound truth of the Buddha is that when thoughts, feelings, emotions, arise, it is not skillful to simply give free reign to them and act them out. We are to bring all our wisdom, courage, insight, and sila -- awakening moral virtue -- to that arising, and bring restraint to the unbridled mind. As the Dhammapada says:
The one who keeps anger in check as it arises,
As one would a careening chariot,
I call a charioteer.
Others are merely rein-holders.
Dhammapada v. 222
(as translated by Gil Fronsdal)
So, Buddhist practice involves skillful non-action *and* action, skillful non-resistance *and* resistance. As the Buddhas is recorded as saying elsewhere in the Dhammapada:
Guard against anger erupting in your body;
Be restrained with your body.
Letting go of bodily misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your body.
Guard against anger erupting in your speech;
Be restrained with your speech.
Letting go of verbal misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your speech.
Guard against anger erupting in your mind;
Be restrained with your mind.
Letting go of mental misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your mind.
The wise are restrained in body,
Restrained in speech.
The wise are restrained in mind.
They are fully restrained.
Dhammapada v 231-234
(as translated by Gil Fronsdal)
Is there restraint that is freedom? Is there restraint that is non-binding? Can we non-resist what arises, as simply "dhammas," as "the truth" of what is, and yet bring harm-reducing insight and loving-kindness to that arising? That's what the Buddha taught. We have to practice, and find out for ourselves. Restraint, in the Buddhist sense, can be a place of binding or of unbinding. Only through practice can we know which is which.
If we are riding a runaway chariot, maybe it's time for a little restraint, not as an act of self-repression but as an act of courageous self love grounded in wisdom and our desire to be free of suffering.

HIGHLY recommended!
click image to see book:


December 11, 2013

What to Do When You Fall Into "Waiting for Something to Happen" Mode

Try to notice when you fall into the mode of “waiting for something to happen.” Note that if you are “waiting for something to happen,” you are not really present, but fixated, sometimes even obsessed with some future occurrence. Note how your “center” is not presence, but some hoped for, or dreaded, upcoming event.
Living in anticipation of the future, constantly returning to the thing that’s going to happen, you have no present, no presence, but live as kind of ghost who is projecting presence into something that may or may not happen in the future. So, just make note of that: “Waiting for something to happen,” and then return to your breath, to the present moment. What shows up when you do that, when you return to the now? What is really going on, right now, right here? Whatever it is, that’s what needs your attention.
But what if what's going on right now is my anticipating or worrying about something that’s going to happen! Ok, good! That’s good to know! Just realizing that, and not being lost in that, means you’ve come back home, even if just for a moment! So, pay attention to that worry or anticipation, by not by being lost in the anticipation, or worry, but by coming back to the breath, to presence and really looking into the anticipation, or the worry. What is that? Don’t beat yourself up! Just note what it is.  And return to the breath, and presence.
What you are anticipating might be a “big happy,” something you are really looking forward to. Well, good! Note that: “I am really feeling happy about what’s coming! I can hardly wait!” Great! Know and feel that you can hardly wait, and then come back to your breath, your anchor, and presence. 
Or your “waiting for something to happen” mode might be dread about some upcoming event. Well, then it’s good to see and know that! Note: I am really feeling worried about that phone call I have to make, that doctor’s appointment, that report I have to hand in.” Whatever it is, just note: “I am feeling really worried, nervous, afraid about what’s coming. I am dreading it.” And then, stopping the “runaway train” by paying real attention to it, come back to the breath and feel the solid groundedness of the breath in the body.  Be kind and reassure yourself: I am more than my thoughts and feelings.  I choose to be authentically present with whatever shows up.
Repeat as necessary, and with each return the the breath and presence, relax your face, your body, and smile to yourself and perhaps say: “I am here. I am present. I am solid in my breath.” And then return to whatever it is you need to be doing at the moment, but with a sense of paying attention. You may feel yourself slipping into “waiting for something to happen” mode or you may suddenly wake up and realize you’ve been in it for a while without even realizing it. We all do that!  Well, just realize that — I’m in “waiting for something to happen mode.” Relax, smile to yourself, and return to the breath. Repeat as necessary, cultivating patience and compassion for yourself as you come to understand your “stuck” places.
Remember, you are not “waiting for something to happen.” You are presence itself. The big show is you, not what’s going to happen! As we settle into our presence, then these thoughts and feelings can come and go like clouds in the sky. We see them, we recognize them — hey, that’s a cumulus cloud, i.e., hey, that’s a big worry, or a big joy — but we don’t cling to them or self-identify with them. We don’t drift off with them into unconsciousness and wake up miles from home in strange territory. Or if we do - lol! — and we all do! — we simply come back to the breath, and remember that we are the sky, not the clouds.
As we grow in skill and confidence in being present, we can then enjoy the sky show without harm and with more innocence and freedom from suffering. No longer “waiting for something to happen,” we are what is happening, and mindful presence always unbinds us and sets us free!
Steven Goodheart

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November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Thought - Gratitude for Awakening Light

In dealing with and working on your difficult mental and emotional stuff, always remember that the dark cannot impose upon the light in you. Mental darkness has no being to it, for it is only the mental argument of absence, not the actual presence of absence! The light is always present; it can’t go anywhere, it can’t go away, because illumination is the very essence of natural mind itself.

Even when we feel overwhelmed by mental darkness, the ever-presence of light means there is always the possibility to stop and step back and to see clearly what's going on—
that’s called awakening!  Instead of being lost in self-identification with some suffering sense of self, when we remember to be present and pay attention, we immediately gain a larger perspective. We gain freeing insight into the self-feeling, self-thought of being overwhelmed by "my" pain, "my" sorrow, "my" suffering. The light breaks the "self" illusion, giving us rays of hope.

Well, who or what able to have such a remarkable, freeing perspective, such awakening awareness, except a mind informed by light itself?  If it was all darkness within us, we wouldn’t even know suffering as suffering!  We wouldn’t even have the feeling or thought, “I’m overwhelmed by my pain, my sorrow, my suffering.”  We would just suffer dumbly, forever in ignorance of any other possibility.

The ability to see, to have perspective, to step back, to come back to our center, indicates our native ability to awaken. That’s the light!  It's always present. Nothing can take that awakening capacity from us; it’s just built in to the very nature of consciousness itself. Even the impetus to wake up comes from that native light of mind. We are never really alone; we companion with the light, always.

So, remember, when doing deep self-investigation, it is the awakening light, not mental darkness, that always has the upper hand and last word.  Light leads the way when we look within ourselves seeking to discern the causes of suffering. Light means attention and paying attention. But it’s more, for coming back to our anchor, the breath, and paying attention, we come to know light as a power and a living presence. This awakening light is not passive!  It enlivens us.  It's not a thought, but it is mind.  It's not a feeling, though we feel it.  The awakening light dispels the darkness of fear, pain, sorrow. Light is life!

Sometimes our simple waking up to the light within us removes the dark without process or mental argument or struggle. Other times, we may have to very consciously and mindfully shine the spotlight onto the whatever is dark and hidden, and we have to courageously persist. In either case, never forget that light always remains victorious in itself, is never defeated, and the darkness never overcomes it.

Nothing can take this light from you. Look deeply, letting go of self, and you realize you are the light.  Our great life work is to awaken to that great truth and power. Aligning ourselves with light, loving the light, always remembering the light, holding fast to the light, we find this inner illumination is faithful, reliable, trustworthy. Mental storm clouds may hide it, even as clouds can hide sun, and at times we may despair.  But the original radiance of mind exists beyond all conditions and is always ours to have and to know.

Steven Goodheart