"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

October 10, 2012

Polish the Mirror or Don't Polish the Mirror? - A Zen Controversy

There is a famous story in Zen about about a contest set up by the Fifth Patriarch, Hongren, to choose his successor.  The story of the two verses Shenxiu and Huineng is part of the "Platform Sutra."  The winner of the contest would be the new Sixth Patriarch.  Shenxiu's verse read:

The body is the bodhi tree
The mind is like a bright mirror's stand.
At all times we must strive to polish it
and must not let dust collect.

Huineng wrote this:

Bodhi originally has no tree.
The bright mirror also has no stand.
Fundamentally there is not a single thing.
Where could dust arise?

Hongren praised the first verse publicly, but secretly choose Huineng's verse, and made became the Sixth Patriarch.  Shenxiu became a teacher of the "Northern School" of Zen, and over time, the different emphases of the two verses lead to the split of Chan into "gradualist" (jian jiao漸教) and "sudden" (dun jiao 頓教) schools.

So, was Huineng "right" and Shenxius's  “wrong”?  My own heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, has commentary on this particular Sutra, and he decries the split, saying both verses point to truth.  In my practice, I have found this integral approach of Thich Nhat Hanh to be truly non-dual in a way that neither verse by itself can be.

So polish mirrors, (or tiles) or not? You get a Zen "whack" if you say yes, and a Zen "whack" if you say no!  Lol!  Seeing through views to what is skillful in any particular situation -- that, to me, is the real Zen koan here, not saying this view is more non-dual than that view!

In terms of liberation, what finally matters is openness to whatever unbinds--which might mean cleaning self-evident dust, or seeing that there’s no dust to clean.  Cleaning the mirror of consciousness of obvious dirt and stains, we begin to apprehend the mirror’s original “non-dusty” nature.  Likewise, glimpsing the “non-dusty” nature of bodhi, of original mind, we immediately see and spontaneously remove whatever would obscure this clarity.

Not being stuck in any view, we are better able to see the truth of the matter, and thus discern what might be needed in any situation.  We can then respond to any situation with greater wisdom, compassion, and clarity of mind.

Intellectual debates in Zen about whether there is anything to "do," or "not do," are, to me, just the concept-hindered mind looking at the dharma in terms of “sticky” views.  We risk missing the beautiful moon of enlightenment while arguing about the nature of the finger that’s trying to point at it!

Maybe the true Zen answer to both poems is simply, "Is that so?"  And then, go see!

October 5, 2012

A Dharma Parable: When Stomach talks to Brain

An Imagined Interior Dialog

Stomach: Wow, I can’t believe it! Steve actually chewed all of his food today at breakfast. Not a single gulp down!

Upper Intestine: No way! OMG, that makes me work so much easier. When he’s not mindful, you send me chunks of food that I can’t do a thing with. It’s as if he didn’t even it the food! All I can do is let the chunks pass along.

Lower Intestine: Tell me about it! And then, he gets all kinds of gas on the undigested food, and well, it ain’t a pretty picture.

Stomach: Gas? Tell me about it! If he gets busy writing and eating, or posting to that damn Facebook instead of paying attention to his eating, it’s “burp city” up here!

Brain: Not only that, if he eats so fast he doesn't chew the food to liquid, then the guy overeats every time, because he doesn’t give Stomach time to send me the signal that he’s physically full. Of course, even then, he has to be paying attention so he notices your “I’m full” message, Stomach.

Stomach: That’s right boss! Sometime I wonder what he’s thinking! Or if he is thinking.

(Big guffaw from brain).

Brain: Well, frankly, I’m just the brain. This Mind guy who never shows up in my neural nets, though I know he must be there, because of all the neural firing that’s going on--talk about your ghost in the machine! --seems to be rather inconstant. Sometimes, he’s so, what’s that term, oh yeah, mindful -- what does that mean? full of mind? —that everything runs so smoothly, it’s amazing. I stop firing like a Fourth of July fireworks display, and there’s a great chemical peace. My lieutenant, the Immune System, gets stronger, and can finally knock off some nasty bacteria that have set up shop in a few places. And the Maintenance Crew can finally get to some much needed repair work in the body,

Here, all the whole body and organs and parts all chime in: Yeah, (sigh) it’s so wonderful when he’s mindful. Everything just runs better, we don’t have hormones and alarm peptides roaring all over the place like damn fire engines shouting, “Fight or flight! Fight or flight! 'Danger, Will Robinson, danger!'” and getting us all jazzed up and stressed out!

Brain: I know, I know little ones! But it’s not up to me. I may be the brain, but I’m just here for support of Mind. We have, what’s that term Mind uses? Oh yeah inter-being and yet, he’s not me, and I’m not him, but we never seem to be found apart. Oooh, that’s giving me a headache! Better leave the “mystical” stuff to the Mind!

Stomach: Well, Boss, at least this breakfast went well. I’m humming along happily, doing my digestive stuff, and Upper Intestine is already at work what I’ve sent him. He still can’t believe that it’s actually all chewed and dissolved! It’s the start of a good day. I don’t know what this “mindful” stuff is, Boss, but I sure hope he works on it!

Brain: Me too. But, it’s up to him, to Mind. As the Body, all we can do is do our stuff, and we’ll do it well, if he will take care of himself, which means he will take care of us, too. (That “inter-being” thing, again). Now, I wonder if he’ll make sure he gets exercise today and some fresh air (Lungs: Yaaaaaaay! Fresh air! Muscles: Exercise! Yaaaaaaay! Omg, do we need some of that! ”)

Brain: Yes, I know, I know, little ones. Let’s see what happens. Lunch time is coming up soon, but because he’s paying attention, Mind is noticing he’s not really hungry, and isn’t going to eat anyway. Instead, he’s thinking about taking a hike and doing some errands. I wonder if he will do that “mindfully” too?

Body chorus: We sure hope so!

Brain: It must be hard to be Mind. My part is easy. It’s all throwing switches and making connections and sending signals all over myself with chemicals. I often wonder what’s it’s all about, even though Mind and I are in constant dialog with each other. But I have to admit that Mind’s the one really running the show, although he often seems to forget that.

Oh well, looks like I’m going to be very busy for a while. He has an idea to write something about paying attention, breakfast, and chewing food! What in the world is that about? Hmmm, wait..... wow, this is kind of interesting.... OK, synapses, get ready for some fun!

September 6, 2012

Feeling Stuck in Emotions and Feelings? There Is a Way to Get Unstuck!

If you feel stuck in some painful feeling, emotion, or adamant sense self—Stop!  Notice it.  Pay genuine attention to it, but without judgment.  The feeling, the emotion is just that—it’s just what is!  No big deal, really.

Then, with full attention, breathe into the stuck place.  Notice where the painful feelings reside in your body.  Find the knots, the heat, the tense places.  And gently breathe into those places, too.  Imagine that your are bathing the “hurty” places with your breathe, bathing them in loving-kindness and compassion.

Let yourself really feel the "stickiness" of the feeling.  Don’t worry, you won’t get more stuck!  Just the opposite, actually.  With attention to the feeling, you will feel it begin to release, to relax.  With gentle interest, see if you can notice just what it is that is clinging to that sense of a suffering. When you fight against the feelings and strike out, you are actually just hating yourself.   All you'll accomplish is just beating yourself up and being more stuck than ever.  Don't do it!

Here's the point: if you look closely, can you really find an “I” there, a “me” there, or anything you can really call “mine,” except through the process of your own self-identification with it?  Think about it.  Do you have to call the feeling “me” and “mine?”  Is it really yours? What about the painful feeling could possibly be intrinsic to who and what you are?

Feelings come and go, with causes and conditions.  You don’t own them or control them at all.  They arise and pass away, whether you want them to or not!  The problem is, the feelings and emotions we self-identify with, well, they tend to stick around, literally getting stuck in the glue of “I” and “me” and “mine.”  But mindful attention helps dissolve this sticky, grasping, clinging “glue”—this “I glue/my glue” that entraps the energies of feelings and emotions and makes them throb and ache—because they need to be set free, released!

So, just pay attention to everything that’s going on, and try to see where you can let go, and where you are stuck.  Use your breath as an anchor and safe refuge.  Mindfulness of the breah is a safe place to come back to should you get stuck in the “glue” or get panicky about the fearfulness or strength of the emotions.  So, stay with your breath and bathe your feelings, and your “hurty places” with the gentle energy of the breath.

See your breath as a powerful yet gentle flow of love and compassion and wisdom to the places that need healing.  Your breath, and the good intention and aspiration you invest in your breath, are a powerful medicine of mindfulness that you can apply again and again to the suffering.  And be patient!  Some of these feelings may be old visitors that have stuck around so long that you now feel they are “family,” if not the ugly, uncomfortable furniture of your mind! Long ago you may have stopped really paying attention to these feelings and just accepted them and the suffering they bring.

But, no more! It doesn’t have to be that way.  The first big step is to catch yourself and really notice the feelings—and to stop!  Really stop. And say, “Hey, wait a minute. What’s going on here?  What am I really feeling right now?” (Don’t get side-tracked in to why you are feeling what you are feeling.  Your mind will find every justification and blame for that—of yourself, of others, and of the world—believe me!)  The big idea here is to stop and see the feeling as just feeling, the emotion as just emotion, and to really, really pay attention to it, like a naturalist suddenly discovering some rare and amazing flower.  “What is this?”

With the “full stop,” your next step is not to “think” or analyze but to breathe.  Just breathe! And if you can, smile, to yourself, with kindness.  If you'll do this, you'll usually find you've utterly derailed the runaway train of emotions and are at the very precious still point where you can begin to awaken to what is, and what is not.  With each breath, with each embrace of the emotions and feelings with the breath, you can unbind, just a little bit. Let go, just a little bit.

Paying attention to the breath and it’s movement in the body, and in your mind, you will begin to see your capacity to just be present.  You will begin to understand that you are not what you think, or feel. You will begin to sense that, yes, you can safely include what you think and feel in something so big and limitless that nothing can ever get stuck there.  You don’t have to name this big, open spaciousness -- some Buddhist traditions call it "Big Sky mind", noting that nothing can get stick in its openness, any more than clouds can get stuck in the sky.  I love that term, and image!

But what you call it or how your characterize it isn’t nearly as important as taking the skillful steps that help you see that this spaciousness, and openness is always available.  It is our “natural mind,” or “citta,” as some traditions call it, and it never fails to “show up” (not that it goes anywhere!) when we begin to unstick ourselves by paying attention to what is going on, and then letting go of that which is not ours in the first place.

Yes, it’s a great work.  Self-identified emotions are sticky!  They can seem adamant. But, they are not!  They are not intrinsic. They do not have a real self.  They are not permanent. And the suffering they bring helps wake up so we want to let go of them—sooner or later!  So, stop, catch yourself, pay attention, work with the breath, and see what opens up.  It works!

I hope you find what I’ve shared here helpful.  It’s all right out of my own dharma practice. Believe me, like you, I struggle with my feelings, emotions, and the various traumas of the past. But I have never found anything as effective for getting “unstuck” as some of the “skillful means” (Buddhists love that term) I’ve shared in this essay, and of course, there are many many more in the buddhadharma.

With mindful, attentive loving practice, we can experience more of that Big Sky mind and the freedom that always appears from getting unstuck.  May this essay be a help along that great, and very happy way, of getting unstuck!

Steve Goodheart


The Importance of Right View in Looking at Self

Right View has two levels. First, there’s belief in the principle of karma, that what you do really does have results—and you really are the one doing it. It’s not some outside force acting through you, not the stars or some god or some force of fate. You’re making the decisions and you have the ability to make them skillfully or not, depending on your intention. It’s important to believe in this principle because this is what gives more power to your life.

It’s an empowering belief—but it also involves responsibilities. This is why you have to be careful in what you do, why you can’t be heedless. When you’re careful about your actions, it’s easier to be careful about your mind when the time comes to meditate.

As for the second level of Right View, the transcendent level, that means seeing things in terms of the four noble truths: stress and suffering, the cause of stress and suffering, the cessation of stress and suffering, and the path of practice to that cessation.

Just look at the whole range of your experience: Instead of dividing it up into its usual patterns of me and not me, simply look to see, “Where is there suffering? Where is there stress? What goes along with it? What are you doing that gives rise to that stress? Can you let go of that activity? And what qualities do you need to develop, what things do you need to let go of in order to let go of the craving, the ignorance underlying the stress? When you drop craving can you be aware of what’s happening?” All too often when we drop one craving we simply pick up another one. “Can you make yourself more and more aware of that space in between the cravings and expand that space? What’s it like to have a mind without craving?”

According to the Buddha it’s important to see things in this way because if you identify everything in terms of your self, how can you possibly understand anything for what it actually is? If you hold on to suffering as your self, how can you understand suffering? If you look at it simply as suffering without putting this label of “me” or “mine” on it, you can start seeing it for what it is and learn how to let it go. If it’s your self, if you hold to that belief that it’s your self, you can’t let go of it. But looking at things in terms of the four noble truths allows you to solve the problem of suffering once and for all.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu
A Meditative Life


August 23, 2012

Nirvana isn't Nothingness or Annihilation!

"Nibbana is often held to be the ultimate goal in Buddhism, and yet it is rather ill-defined. It is considered to be remote, indicative of a superhuman vision that sees the illusory nature of the world, and hence, is free from grieving about its misfortunes. For many people, this gives Nibbana about as much appeal as an anaesthetic―and a difficult-to-obtain one at that.

So most people don’t want to go to Nibbana, there’s nothing there; nothing at all. Look at the roof and the floor here. The upper extreme is the roof, that’s a ‘becoming.’ The lower extreme is the floor, and that’s another ‘becoming.’ But in the empty space between the floor and the roof there’s nowhere to stand. One could stand on the roof, or stand on the floor, but not on that empty space. Where there is no becoming, that’s where there’s emptiness, and, to put it bluntly, we say that Nibbana is this emptiness. People hear this and they back up a bit, they don’t want to go. They’re afraid they won’t see their children or relatives.”

~ Ajahn Sucitto, ‘The Dawn of the Dhamma,’ p 97

LOL!  Don't worry, you will!  The Buddha's advice is that we don’t get stuck in views about nibbana/nirvana.  It could never be what the conditioned mind thinks!  Emptiness is not empty of anything except conditioned views and the suffering of being stuck in them.  Be assured—in Buddhism, waking up isn’t annihilation, nihilism, or disappearing into a big, undifferentiated cosmic blob.

As Lama Anagarika Govinda explains:

“Individuality and unversality are not mutually exclusive values, but two sides of the same reality, complementing, fulfilling, and complimenting each other, and becoming one in the experience of enlightenment.  This experience does not dissolve the mind into an amorphous All, but rather brings the realization that the individual self contains the totality focused in its very core. Thus, the world that hitherto was experienced as an external reality merges, or is integrated into, the enlightened mind in the moment in which the universality of consciousness is realized.  This is the ultimate moment of liberation from the impediments and fetters of ignorance and illusion.”

Instead of worrying about what nirvana is, or is not, or what "happens" in nirvana—as if nirvana was a place!—the  big idea is to be busying liberating oneself from those fetters of ignorance and illusion.  Then, we are "nirvana-ing" every day and we are walking into the spaciousness, joy, and peace that never end.


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August 22, 2012

Alan Watts - The Way of Zen - Audio Book

In the history of the introduction of Buddhism, and especially of Zen, to the West, one name that stands out is Alan Watts.  Few people did more to popularize and explain Eastern philosophy than Watts.  Long before I had a serious interest in Buddhism, I remember reading and being intrigued by his popular The Way of Zen.

For those who may not have read it, or who would enjoy hearing it read, here is Alan Watts The Way of Zen as wonderfully narrated by Patrick Haugen.  The video is in six parts, each about an hour and twenty minutes long.

Gasshō to the YouTube poster TheHallofRecords for making this dharma available to everyone on YouTube

The Way of Zen - Part 1

The Way of Zen - Part 2

The Way of Zen - Part 3

The Way of Zen - Part 4

The Way of Zen - Part 5

The Way of Zen - Part 6

Update: Awesome! A dharma friend just told me one can download The Way of Zen in PDF form here:


If you find Alan Watts’s teaching skillful, you might also be interested in this article at my main dharma blog, Metta Refuge:


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June 22, 2012

How I Work with Breath in the Body When I'm Feeling Blocked

Today, from early this morning, until around 2 pm, I really worked with the skillful means explained in a blog post at my other dharma blog, Metta Refuge.  The title of the post is "Bathing in the Breath to Heal Body and Mind," and it presents an essay by Thanissaro Bhikkhu on this very important and highly effective practice.

The work involves the meditative, compassionate working with the breath in the body—indeed, it involves consciously bathing oneself and immersing oneself and specific areas of the body in the conscious breath energy.  It's an incredibly powerful practice, in my experience, and has brought me much mental and physical healing.

This morning, when I got up, I noticed that I seemed to be "floating" -- kind of disconnected from my feelings and ungrounded.  I got to work with mindfulness of the breath in the body, and found, to my surprise, there were certain bodily areas that my breath energy couldn't reach, so to speak. (If you know how to feel the breath energy in the body and guide its movement in the body, you will know what I mean.  If not, the instructional article I mentioned, above, will big a tremendous introduction to this wonderful and highly skillful practice.)

As I got quiet with my breath and began to pay better attention to my breath and my body, I noticed that my lower abdomen area seemed blocked off from the breath energy. Since that area is powerfully linked to deep feelings, as many spiritual practices have demonstrated, it made sense that I awoke feeling rather disconnected and blocked off from feeling—from feeling alive and emotionally connected to the ground of being, True Self, Big Mind, or citta, or whatever one might want to call it.

My meditative work was to make contact with where the blockage seemed to begin—the energetic "wall," as it were—and to just patiently hold that blockage place in my breath, with my breath energy.  At the same time I was doing this, I was always bringing metta—great loving-kindness—to this blockage place. Not surprisingly, when I paid more attention, the place where I had the sensation of blockage was actually physically painful, too.  So, patiently, patiently, patiently, with each in-breath and out-breath, I just came back to the stuck place and embraced it with my full attention and mindfulness, bathing it in my breath, with love.

Sometimes, I would, so to speak, back away from the barrier, and just embrace my whole body with the breath.  As the Thanissaro Bhikkhu article explains:
"So think of yourself as totally surrounded by the breath, bathed in the breath, and then survey the whole body to see where there are still sections of the body that are tense or tight, that are preventing the breath from coming in and going out. Allow them to loosen up.  This way you allow for the fullness of the breath to come in, go out, each time there’s an in-breath, each time there’s an out-breath. Actually the fullness doesn’t go in and out. There’s just a quality of fullness that’s bathed by the breath coming in, bathed by the breath going out. It’s not squeezed out by the breath. It’s not forced out by the breath. Each nerve in the body is allowed to relax and have a sense of fullness, right here, right now. Then simply try to maintain that sense of fullness by the way you breathe. Your focus is on the breath, but you can’t help but notice the fullness."
I'd like to tell you that the work was easy, effortless, and that the barrier gave way quickly, but it was none of that.  The work today took persistence, it took right effortsamma vayama—and at times, doing the work meant being willing to be totally present with a lot of stress, mental pain, and nameless mental angst.  Sometimes, I would be able to identify the source of that mental pain, look into it, and let it go by insight into its causes and conditions, and its "not-self," impermanent nature.  But often, the mental pain's "name" (nature) was hidden from me, so I just held the pain in the breath, bathed it in the breath, holding the pain like a crying baby, with great compassion and loving-kindness.

Gradually, the feeling of blockage began to dissolve and melt in the fervent but gentle heat of right effort, mindfulness, and loving-kindness.  When I felt myself grasping or clinging at some moment of release, or disbanding of a mental knot, I noticed that the pain would come back—a clear signal of the unskillfulness of grasping at the release itself or some goal of breaking the barrier or dissolving the blockage.  Instead, I saw I had to let go of all of that—all grasping and desire to be free, or to be anywhere else than right where I was—and just be with the breath.  The attention, the loving-kindness, would do the work, without regard to a "self," suffering or not.

I did this breath work sitting, standing, lying down (though that always risks dozing off, for me!), and while doing walking meditation in my apartment. At times, my body was clearly telling me that  I need to stop and take a break.  At that point, I did stretches, some yoga poses, and some Qigong exercises.  And, I also stopped and had a little tea, preparing and drinking it with mindfulness, and paying attention to the breath so as to not lose the spiritual momentum of the work.

Refreshed, it was back to the breath work in the body! It's very important to be intuitive and listen to the body and to watch the mind for clues as to right action.  Sometimes you may need to leave the blocked area and work in other parts of the body that are more open to the breath.  Often, doing this, you may find that there were small blockages even there and you can work through them.  This success seems to energize the mind and the whole body, and you can often return to the big hurting, blocked areas with more energy and happiness and assurance.

I have sometimes had psycho-physical blockages give way quickly, but today, it tooks hours of sustained effort and concentration to clear up the feeling of emotional blockage. It was hard work! But was very good work, and there was an underlying great joy knowing that I was working scientifically, and artfully, with wonderful tools of the buddhadharma.  By early afternoon, I was able to feel my breath energy throughout the abdomen, and I felt so much more grounded and alive and back in touch with my feelings.

As I looked back over the morning's work, I thought I would share some of my experience, and the  great article by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, as a help to others.  I like to hear how others work, and I think it's encouraging to hear how others in the path of awakening make progress.  I hope you've found this sharing helpful and that it inspires you to try this practice for yourself.  The blog post at Metta Refuge shares some terrific and highly skillful instruction.  Check it out!  May all beings be free of pain and know the happiness beyond all suffering!

"Bathing in the Breath to Heal Body and Mind"

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June 19, 2012

Just *This* Breath - The Key to Meditation

Just This Breath

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Don’t tell yourself you’ve got a whole hour to sit here. Just tell yourself you’ve got this breath: this breath coming in, this breath going out. That’s all there is: this breath. As for the breaths for the rest of the hour, don’t even think of them right now. Pay attention to them when they come. When they go, you’re done with them. There’s only this breath.

Your meditation needs that kind of focus if you’re going to see anything clearly. This attitude also helps to cut through a lot of the garbage at the beginning of the meditation. You may have experience from the past of how long it takes for the mind to settle down. But by now you should have a sense of where the mind goes when it settles down. Why can’t you go there right now?

Once you’re there with the breath, and you can get your balance, try to maintain balance. Again, it’s just this breath, this breath. See what you can do with this breath. Welcome it as an opportunity for making things better. How deep can it go, how good can it feel? How much of your attention can you give to it?

Ordinarily, the mind is like a command post where you’re receiving information from all directions about all sorts of different things, and it has a tendency to reserve some attention from what you’re trying to focus on right now in case an emergency comes up. But while you’re meditating you want to bring all of your attention to the breath. Don’t hold anything in reserve. If you find any part of your mind or body that’s not connected with the breath, well, get it connected. Add it on. Let the connected parts build up as much as they can with each breath.

The more fully you can be in the present moment, the better. One moment of full attention is better than a whole hour of just drifting around. Of course, a whole hour of full attention is better than just one moment, but you can’t do the whole hour at once. You can only do this moment, so give yourself fully to this moment. Don’t hold anything back."

You can listen to the full article here:

Thanissaro Bhikkhu: Just This Breath


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On Bringing Loving-Kindness Practice to Daily Life

Here is a great teaching on mettaloving-kindness practice—by the skillful and great-hearted Bhante Vimalaramsi.

This excerpt from a talk called "Metta in Daily Life" gives many helpful ideas on how to take metta "off the cushion" and into one's daily life.
Metta in Daily Life
by Bhante Vimalaramsi

"...With your daily activities, the other times, you can send Loving-Kindness to anybody. You can send it to individual people, you can send it to groups of people, you can send it to all beings, it's up to you.

But the thing that you want to try to do is start making "keys" for yourself. A key like: when you're brushing your teeth, that that's your time to send Loving-Kindness. When you're walking from your house to your car, try to use that as a key, for that's the time to open up your heart and send Loving-Kindness. Now you're going to forget sometimes, just like you do here, and that's OK. There's no problem with that. But when you see your mind is wandering, then you want to begin again. And that should be the name of this practice: "Do It Again", or "Play It Again", is that the...? [laughter]

When you're walking from your car to wherever you have to go, what are you doing with your mind? Your mind is just kind of ho-humming around, getting caught in all kinds of unwholesome mental states, or it's just kind of flying around thinking about this or that. So you use that, getting out of your car, or getting into your car, as your key to practice your Loving-Kindness. Open up your heart and, and if there's someone that you know that is suffering, send them some kind thoughts. Put them in your heart, radiate that Loving-Kindness to them.

The more times you focus on having an open heart, the more easily the practice progresses. And this is because, when you have an open heart, and you're radiating that Loving-Kindness, you'll notice it very quickly when it closes, when you get caught by thoughts and feelings and all kinds of whatever the circus is that's running in town at that day. So gently let go of those thoughts, let go of those feelings, relax. Wish somebody happiness.

When I was in Malaysia, I used to tell people to keep a little diary: how long were they able to practice Loving-Kindness during the day. And a lady came to me and she said, "You know, I wrote down every time I practiced Loving-Kindness. Sometimes it was only fifteen seconds and sometimes it was a little bit longer, sometimes it was less. And I only practiced Loving-Kindness for eight minutes during the day, that's all I could remember." And she thought she was being a failure. And I said, "Gee, that's great! That's just not regular good, that's real good! That's good practice. And, as you become familiar with doing it, it will become easier."

Now when you have your Loving-Kindness with you during the day, and then you go and sit and do your Loving-Kindness practice in the evening or in the morning, whenever you happen to do it -- I recommend the morning -- your sitting is easier, because you've been mindful during the day. You've seen that your mind has been, wandering around doing this and that, getting caught by this thought and that thought, this feeling and that feeling, and, you start working with it right then. Letting it go, relax, come back to that open heart and giving that love away.

One of the keys that I use, is, every time I see a little baby, makes me smile. So I send Loving-Kindness to that baby. It was funny, I went into a restaurant with some people, and as I was walking out there was a little, oh, must have been two or three year old baby, sitting in a high chair, and he started looking at me. And I started smiling, just because he looked so great. I mean he was just, really, really soft-faced, and he started smiling back. And then he started bobbing his head up and down. He knew what I was doing. [laughter] And by the time I'd reached the door I started chuckling. Now this was right after the Twin Towers thing, and I walked out the door laughing, and some people were walking right by the door and they heard me laughing, and they had a look of shock on their face. And then they started smiling. So that was a real successful trip. How do you affect the world around you?

So you use as many different keys as you can remember, to, let go of whatever you're thinking about -- it's not that important anyway -- relax, come back to your heart-space and feel that open up, and then send that Loving-Kindness. You're standing in line at the grocery; what are you doing with your mind? " Awh, this lady's got a lot of stuff, it's going to take a long time, aww man." And you know, everybody else in line is doing the same thing. "I can't wait to get out of here, I've got other things to do, I don't want to be here." So you can have compassion for those people.

Now, what's the definition of compassion? Compassion is seeing another person's pain, allowing them to have that pain and loving them anyway. When I would go into the hospitals, when I was doing that quite a bit, I'd walk into somebody's room, smiling. And, ok, they have a lot of pain, they're really in serious trouble, they're getting close to death. OK. That's a sad situation. That's right. And I can love them anyway. Now it was real amazing because, people would tell me that when I walked in the room, it felt like some fresh air came into the room.

Now, if you know somebody that's depressed and you walk into the room where they are, how does that feel? Not very nice. Your have a choice at that time: you can either take their depression and become depressed right along with them, or you can allow them the space to have those kind of feelings, and love them. They can go through whatever they want to, that's their karma; they want to get caught by these things, that's fine. But, ultimately, I'm responsible for me. So what I wind up doing is just radiating Loving-Kindness and wishing, quite often it's all beings. And after a little while the energy in the room starts to change.

Now, when you have strong Loving-Kindness, when you're able to focus on it very deeply, there can be some heat arising in your body. And this heat is a healing energy. And when you focus very strongly with Loving-Kindness, when you practice enough, your mind becomes very calm. And because your mind becomes calm, their mind becomes calm. And when their mind becomes calm, then they start letting go and that depression starts to raise up a little bit. It starts to dissipate a little bit in them.

So you can't take another person's pain away, no matter how hard you try or how much you indulge in their pain; you only make yourself suffer. The more you practice focusing on Loving-Kindness and having an open heart, that's where the healing is. The more you can radiate that feeling of happiness and love, the more you can smile -- and laugh once in while, the more you effect the world around you in a positive way by your example. . ."

You can read the full talk by Venerable Bhante Vimalaramsi here:
and you can learn more about this wonderful teacher here:


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June 12, 2012

The Middle Way of Balance Between Concentration and Discernment


In practicing the Dhamma, if you don't foster a balance between concentration and discernment, you'll end up going wild in your thinking. If there's too much work at discernment, you'll go wild in your thinking. If there's too much concentration, it just stays still and undisturbed without coming to any knowledge either. So you have to keep them in balance.

Stillness has to be paired with discernment. Don't let there be too much of one or the other. Try to get them just right. That's when you'll be able to see things clearly all the way through. Otherwise, you'll stay as deluded as ever. You may want to gain discernment into too many things—and as a result, your thinking goes wild. The mind goes out of control. Some people keep wondering why discernment never arises in their practice, but when it does arise they really go off on a tangent. Their thinking goes wild, all out of bounds.

So when you practice, you have to observe in your meditation how you can make the mind still. Once it does grow still, it tends to get stuck there. Or it may grow empty, without any knowledge of anything—quiet, disengaged, at ease for a while, but without any discernment to accompany it. But if you can get discernment to accompany your concentration, that's when you'll really benefit. You'll see things all the way through and be able to let them go. If you're too heavy on the side of either discernment or stillness, you can't let go. The mind may come to know this or that, but it latches onto its knowledge. Then it know still other things and latches onto them too. Or else it simply stays perfectly quiet and latches onto that.

It's not easy to keep your practice on the Middle Way. If you don't use your powers of observation, it's especially hard. The mind will keep falling for things, sometimes right, sometimes wrong, because it doesn't observe what's going on. This isn't the path to letting go. It's a path that's stuck, caught up on things. If you don't know what it's stuck and caught up on, you'll remain foolish and deluded. So you have to make an effort at focused contemplation until you see clearly into inconstancy, stress, and not-self. This without a doubt is what will stop every moment of suffering and stress....

From READING THE MIND — Advice for Meditators

from the Talks of K. Khao-suan-luang (Upasika Kee Nanayon)
Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Other Teachings by Upasika Kee Nanayon and highly recommended:

Pure and Simple: The Extraordinary Teachings of a Thai Buddhist Laywoman

An Unentangled Knowing


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June 11, 2012

The Truth Beyond Emptiness and Dependent Origination

Madhyamika Teachings

By Nargarjuna And Gyalwa Götsangpa

Everything in it is merely inseparable appearance and emptiness the union of the two truths.

Analysis of verses from Shenpen Ösel — 
the clear light of the Buddha's teachings which benefits all beings

Those whose intelligence has gone beyond existence and nonexistence 
and who do not abide in any extremes 
have realized the meaning of dependent arising, 
the profound and unobservable truth of emptiness.


Transcending existence and non-existence / the inseparability of appearance and emptiness / the union of the two truths: when one really understands dependent origination, then one transcends all extremes, like existence and non-existence. Because, the true nature of everything, including the mind, is beyond the four extremes of existence / realism, non-existence / nihilism / idealism, dualism and monism.

It is inconceivable, beyond all description / conceptualization, beyond causality space and time, beyond all dualities, beyond all karma formation. It is even beyond the conventional truths of dependent origination and of emptiness, beyond this duality. It is called the union of the two truths, the inseparability of appearances and emptiness. It transcends all. -- the two truths, like dependent origination and emptiness, are not different, not the same.

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April 11, 2012

Using the "Cradling Technique" to Deal with Fear


"It is usually futile to try to fix or omit fear or grief. We make room and time, tune in to what we are feeling, and cradle it, i.e., grant it legitimacy. When we take these steps, a shift may occur: something opens and we are empowered.

Picture the father who stops what he is doing to listen to his whimpering child.

He squats down to his level, tunes in to him, and hugs him in his pain. Then the child feels heard and valued as he is. Such mirroring equips him with an enlarged sense of his own identity and hence of his own power.

When I feel grief or fear, I sit and let myself feel it all the way, capturing the unique felt sense of it, connecting it to any childhood pain that resembles it.

I sit in my fear and forlornness, accepting its inconsolability, without running to my usual hide-outs: turning on the TV, looking for sex, eating, drinking, taking a tranquilizer, etc. I simply feel and breathe the feeling throughout my body.

When the feeling passes, I return to my normal routine.

This is how I nurture myself effectively. Thereby, I am less likely to look for any body or thing to fulfill me or fill me. As I service myself this way, I am no longer so needy. Now I can love needlessly. I get over my fear as I love myself in this self-parenting way! The more I let myself feel my feelings, the more do I expand my capacity to feel. I even increase my capacity to love maturely!

Love will no longer mean: you are the right size doll for my cut-out collection but you are who you are and I correctly assess and respect your dimensions. I no longer embellish them to use you as a way of denying or fleeing my ultimate loneliness.

When we open ourselves to our feelings, our hearts become soft and accessible to ourselves and to others. The unguarded heart is the only cell from which the prisoner fear can be released.

Fearlessness does not consist in having less fear or no fear but so much more love that we go beyond fear! Fear is the porcupine on the trail as we hike: interesting, but not stopping us and not to be eliminated, since it belongs to the ecology of the psychic path.

Fear-based decisions prevent us from accessing our deepest needs, values, and wishes. We are sometimes driven or stopped by fear because it feels too overwhelming for us. Here is the triple A technique that may be helpful in dealing with fear:

First, ADMIT that you feel afraid. This breaks through all the rationalizations by which you talk yourself out of the fear or make it into something else. Instead of saying, "I am kind of uncomfortable around her, "say "I am afraid of her." Since our automatic reflex is to deny the extent or reality of our feelings, a good rule might be to admit the fear even more fully than you feel it.

Secondly, ALLOW yourself to feel the fear fully, i.e., defenselessly, with no escape, with no attempts to get rid of it. Shake, shudder, do whatever it takes for you to experience the emotion. Let this emotion stay in motion through you. I let the fear go through me like lightning and I trust that the earth will receive it and disperse it. When fear goes to ground in this way, we are truly grounded and we feel equipped to face fear from a place of power in ourselves.

Third, and not necessarily immediately after steps one and two, ACT as if fear could not stop or drive you. You can act as if you were fearless. This is the truth because you actually contain all human opposites so you do have fearlessness inside you.

It is only that you have not accessed it. Now you do not act from fear, you act with fear. (A courageous person is one who feels just as scared as you but acts bravely.) This plan adds resource-fullness to your defense-lessness."

This excerpt if from one of David Richo's many healing and skillful books:

When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full

For more in-depth dharma articles and instruction, visit:  METTA REFUGE

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