"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

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 is 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


Thanksgiving Thought - You Are Your Own Man or Woman

You are your own man or woman. You were not meant to be what your parents wanted you to be. You were not meant to be what society wanted you to be. You were meant to discover and be your unique and precious own self. Parents and society weren’t meant to make you in their image but to provide a safe, transitional space for your own self-development. Where this has not happened, we can and must re-parent ourselves, for we were always meant to be our own parents—that is, to know our own authority, to be self-responsible, and to able to take care of ourselves as autonomous, self-directed human beings.

Looking deep into the individual unfolding of being, one can find perhaps the greatest truth one can know: You were meant to be. You were meant to shine. You were meant to discover the All in the individual One, and in the individual One, the All.  All the philosophies, all the religions, all the spiritual beliefs systems are, at best, mere aides and guides, all pointing to the great truth in each of us.  In no egocentric sense, not getting stuck in any "self" story, the big story of the universe is you, if you know it.  But too often we are blind to the ineffable and deathless meaning within each of us.  The great joy of life is finding out this hidden yet open secret and exploring it to the end of all limitations.

Steven Goodheart


July 16, 2013

Questions You Can Ask to Bring Mindful Eating into Your Life

This weekend I worked with two questions in regards integrating mindful eating into my life—an area where I've made huge progress but also still have much healing and awakening.

The first question was, when feelings of "hunger" arose was simply, "Am I really hungry?"  Rather than being reactive, non-aware, and assuming that feelings and thoughts and images that might arise were, or are, ipso factor, real physical hunger, I resolved to look into that arising.  I stopped, and looked into it.  What did I feel? Where did I feel it? Was this feeling I was calling "hunger" in my stomach?  Was it in my mouth?  Was it in my throat? If I stopped and just sat with what was arising, under my full, compassionate attention, did the feeling stand up as being a physical need—actual physical hunger?  (If one has become out of touch with what genuine hunger feels like, then compassionately but courageously looking into the reasons and motives for that can be extremely helpful—indeed, necessary—in bringing eating and the body back into balance.)

Interestingly, of course, I saw that sometimes I was in fact hungry, with a physical hunger, or need arising out of the body's biological needs.   But more often, the hunger was seen to be, with mindful attention, something else entirely—an emotional thing, a feeling, a craving, an emptiness, that had little if anything to do with what actual physical hunger feels like.

Then, my second question was this: "What do I need to do to take care of myself?"  If I really did need food, then I would seek out food, but mindfully, and with awareness of what was going on with the food choices, and mindfulness of when I was actually full from eating, giving my body time to register the food and send the signals to my brain that I was satiated.  (Science tells me that this chemical signal is not instant but takes at least 10-15 minutes from the time you start eating; which is why it can be easy to over eat if you are not also listening to how full your stomach feels and what feels "just right.")  I also often found that the "hunger" was really thirst and that what drinking some water or having some green tea was just what I needed.

If, on asking,"What do I need to take care of myself?" I see that food is not what I really want, or need, then I stopped and looked into what the craving was all about. What did I really need?  Often I would find that I was very tense, and that a "habit energy" (a term my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh often uses) of eating to get rid of stress and attention had arisen.  The seeming "hunger" was in fact a call to take care of some "crying baby" in my feelings or emotions that needed my attention.  It was clear that eating food to quell the emotional need, or stress, was a big mistake, bad for my general health, and did not feed the "crying baby" but rather only made it more ravenous and frustrated.  (In my case, I know that this is how binge eating has arisen in the past.)

In any even, the point of "What is it that I really need" is to stop the causal chain of action and reaction and to become aware of what's arising and the causes and conditions that led to that arising (insofar as you can see that with even a little attention.)  Sometimes I found that what I really needed was to stop and take a short walk, and just relax, and let go. At other times, I sensed what I needed to do was to take care of something I had been avoiding, instead of eating to narcotize my stress and anxiety.  And so on.

The important thing in all of this was to *stop* and become mindful of the causal chain one was caught up in when the feeling of "hunger" arose and to look into that arising.  That skillful response to hunger helps bring balance into one's life by helping one to get rid of the mental and emotional toxins that lead to addiction and loss of self presence.  (In my experience, emotional hunger and needfulness tend to arise out of a lack of being present for oneself; when we lose track of ourselves and don't show up for our own life, so to speak, we tend to be swept along by powerful emotional and mental forces that are, in fact and according to the buddhadharma, not-self.)

I hope what I've shared has been helpful.  For most of us, eating and self-nurture are tied to very powerful feeling and memories, good and bad. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for awakening, and it all begins when we stop and pay attention to what is really going on.

Asking skillful questions like "Am I really hungry" and "What is it that I really need?" can further our investigation into what's happening and what's going on below the surface of things.  Mindfulness and skillful means illuminate the road to freedom and foster a genuine self-control that is the result of letting go of thoughts, feelings, and actions that are, in fact, not-self, but merely transient self-fabrications.

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July 8, 2013

Thich Nhat Hanh's Wesak Call for Buddhist's to Walk the Walk

Every year millions of Buddhist around the world celebrate Vesākha -- also known as Wesak or Vesak or Buddha Purnima.  People sometimes called it "Buddha's Birthday,” but it is actually a commemoration of Gautama Buddha’s whole life — his birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and death (Parinirvāna).

My heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, always gives a Wesak message, and this year’s was a stirring, powerful call for Buddhists to wake up and move beyond a “devotional” Buddhism, which reduces the Buddha to a kind of god to whom one prays to grant blessings.  He calls on his fellow and sister Buddhists to rouse themselves to practice in their own lives the Noble Eightfold Path which leads to liberation.  Here is the powerful conclusion of his message:

“...Today we celebrate the appearance of Siddhartha on this planet. However, the majority of us only worship Siddhartha as a supreme sacred power with the ability to bless and to protect us from danger. Not many are able to walk the path he has walked, to handle suffering, generate happiness, reestablish communication and touch Nirvana in the present moment. Our Buddhism of today mostly is a Buddhism of devotion. What the Buddha advised us—to let go of such things as fame and sensual pleasures—we now ask him to grant us.

Practicing mindfulness, concentration and insight, walking the Noble Eightfold Path as the path of happiness in the present moment, has become only a very small part of Buddhism as it is practiced today. We did not inherit the most precious parts of the spiritual heritage that Siddhartha left. Our Buddhism has become corrupted, unable to play its original role. We need to put all our heart into renewing Buddhism, so that it can continue to play its role in generating peace for individuals, families, countries and societies. By only practicing devotional Buddhism, bowing our heads amidst incense all day long, we will not able to do that—and not be worthy to be called descendents of the Buddha—the Great Conqueror of Afflictions.”

Thich Nhat Hanh
Excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh's 2013 Wesak Message


June 30, 2013

"Bare-bones" Loving Kindness Instruction

Basic Loving Kindness Instruction from Bhante Vimalaramsi


When practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation, you first start by sending loving and kind thoughts to yourself. Begin by remembering a time when you were happy. When the feeling of happiness arises, it is a warm glowing feeling in the center of your chest. Now, when this feeling arises, make a very sincere wish for your own happiness. “May I be happy”... “May I be filled with joy”... “May I be peaceful and calm”... “May I be cheerful and kind”, etc..

Make any wholesome sincere wish that has meaning for you, feeling the wish in your heart. The key word here is “sincere.” If your wish isn't a sincere wish, then it will turn into a mantra ­ that is, it may become a statement repeated by rote, with no real meaning. Then you would be on the surface repeating the statement while thinking about other things. So it is very important that the wish you make for yourself (and later for your spiritual friend) has real meaning for you and uses your whole undivided attention.

Don't continually repeat the wish for happiness: “May I be happy... may I be happy... may I be happy... may I be happy”. Make the wish for your own happiness when the feeling of Loving-Kindness begins to fade a little.

Relax Tension

The following is a very important part of the meditation:

After every wish for your own happiness, please notice that there is some slight tension or tightness in your head, in your mind. Let it go. You do this by relaxing mind completely. Feel mind open up and become calm, but do this only one time.

If the tightness doesn't go away ­ never mind, you will be able to let it go while on the meditation object (your home base).

Don't continually try to keep relaxing mind, without coming back to the home base; always softly redirect your tranquil attention back to the feeling of happiness...

A practical, Bare-Bones guide
to Loving-Kindness Meditation
by Ven. Bhante Vimalaramsi

There is much more skillful, inspiring instruction in this "Bare-Bones Guide to Loving-Kindness Meditation"  by Bhante Vimalaramsi, who is the teacher at the Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center.

To read the rest of this fine article, please go here:


May 1, 2013

The Buddha on Entrenched Views and Arguing Metaphysical Doctrines

There are some who dispute
corrupted at heart,
and those who dispute
their hearts set on truth,
but a sage doesn't enter
a dispute that's arisen,
which is why he is
nowhere constrained.

Now, how would one
led on by desire,
entrenched in his likes,
forming his own conclusions,
overcome his own views?
He'd dispute in line
with the way that he knows.

Whoever boasts to others, unasked,
of his practices, precepts,
is, say the skilled,
ignoble by nature —
he who speaks of himself
of his own accord.

But a monk at peace,
fully unbound in himself,
who doesn't boast of his precepts
— "That's how I am" —
he, say the skilled,
is noble by nature —
he with no vanity
with regard to the world.

One whose doctrines aren't clean —
fabricated, formed, given preference
when he sees it to his own advantage —
relies on a peace
on what can be shaken.

Because entrenchments in views
aren't easily overcome
when considering what's grasped
among doctrines,
that's why
a person embraces or rejects a doctrine —
in light of these very

Now, one who is cleansed
has no preconceived view
about states of becoming
or not-
anywhere in the world.
Having abandoned conceit & illusion,
by what means would he go?
He isn't involved.

For one who's involved
gets into disputes
over doctrines,
but how — in connection with what —
would you argue
with one uninvolved?
He has nothing
embraced or rejected,
has sloughed off every view
right here — every one.

Dutthatthaka Sutta: On the Corrupted
translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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

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When Feelings Like Winds Sweep the Body

"In the sky, O monks, various kinds of winds are blowing: winds from the east, west, north and south, winds carrying dust and winds without dust, winds hot and cold, gentle and fierce.

Similarly, monks, there arise in this body various kinds of feelings: pleasant feelings arise, painful feelings arise and neutral feelings arise.

Just as in the sky above winds of various kinds are blowing:
Coming from the east or west, blowing from the north or south,
Some carry dust and others not, cold are some and others hot,
Some are fierce and others mild -- their blowing is so different.

So also in this body here, feelings of different kind arise:
The pleasant feelings and the painful and the neutral ones.

But if a monk is ardent and does not neglect
To practice mindfulness and comprehension clear,
The nature of all feelings will he understand,
And having penetrated them, he will be taint-free in this very life.

Mature in knowledge, firm in Dhamma's ways,
When once his life-span ends, his body breaks,
All measure and concept he has transcended."

~ The Buddha
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April 30, 2013

How to Deal with Kickback and Reaction after Spiritual Victories

When you have made a moral or spiritual breakthrough, don't be surprised if you sometimes encounter a "kickback" or big reaction, or even a setback, right after your victory.  And then, if you aren't alert, you end up condemning yourself for a slip or fall and may think you haven't learned a thing.  Not true!

This reaction can make you doubt your victory, but what's really happening is that old, deep conditioned patterns are coming to the surface as "I" and "me" and "mine" and making a bid for your consent or acquiescence that these kleshas are in fact "I" or "me" or "mine."

This self-assertion of old, conditioned patterns can be so strong that you can almost feel like there's another person trying to assert him/herself as you.  Or, it can feel like dark malevolent external forces fighting against your progress.  Don't buy it!  It's all your mind and in your mind.

Whether we see/feel the resistance as some self-asserting old "self" or as projected "out there" as others and external resistance, you don't have to go outside your own heart and mind to deal skillfully with this noxious stuff—indeed, it's literally impossible to go outside your own mind and heart. I mean, where would that be?  

The very strength, even ferocity, with which these old self-identifications can arise merely show how much we may have identified with some old way of being and doing.

The kleshas—the hindrances or mental poisons of the mind—always lie and misrepresent.  It's NOT the case that you didn't have a breakthrough; it's just that often even very big breakthroughs don't get rid of all the junk in our mental basements.  That takes ongoing work and patience, helped and inspired by the light of our big breakthrough.

So, hang in there!  Over years of spiritual practice, I've almost come to expect such reactions and kickbacks as just part of the path of awakening.  Sometimes, a big breakthrough really is a clean break. You just move forward with new grace and authority. But more often, speaking for myself, I've been tested and tempted after the fact to be deceived by my old conditioning coming as "I" and "me" and "mine."  It's like Jesus talking about "the devil" or the Buddha talking about "Mara."  In reality, these things are just your "shadow stuff" not some supernatural power or authority.

When reactions to progress arise, see through the lies of setback or failure, and stand your ground in what you've seen and won.  The great Galilean teacher said, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" as well as "Resist not evil."  Both ways are skillful. [See "Non-resistance and the Art of Resisting without Resisting!"] Standing your ground in the face of reaction to progress is a skill that doesn't require belief in metaphysical powers or evil, anymore than "Mara" in Buddhism is a real entity or a metaphysical evil.

Don't be tricked or fooled! Know yourself!  Know your "enemy" but know it as not-self!   Everything you need to win full liberation and freedom is within each us and within the scope of our practice.  With each victory, we learn to trust this ourselves and our practice more fully and deeply.

A breakthrough is a breakthrough.  Sure, there may be more work to do. So what?  That just means we are human!  Love yourself and roll up your sleeves and move on to new fields of awakening.  You can't be defeated, and even apparent setbacks will make you stronger as you learn from them.

Steven Goodheart

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April 26, 2013

Spilled milk and the Dharma in Everyday Life

"There can be no real spiritual growth without deeply understanding ourselves just the way we are. Momentary peace and bliss is very encouraging but that alone cannot bring transformation." ~ Sayadaw Jotika

To me, the two keys here are understanding "just the way we are" and the understanding that we have to practice presence. With mindfulness, using the tool of "noting" what is arising, we can pay attention to what we are sensing, feeling, seeing with non-resistance and full acceptance. That path leads to liberation.

For example, I was cooking lunch in the kitchen today, and I spilled some milk, making a mess, and felt really irritated at myself. Since today I'd been making progress in paying attention, the irritation isn't just mindless; I catch myself in the moment and note, "Feeling really irritated with myself." Observing more keenly: "Feeling self-judgmental — what is that about? All I did was spill some milk. Because this happened, (I moved my arm the wrong way), that happened -- I spilled the milk. That's all — just cause and effect. So, what is all this self-judgment behind the initial irritation?"

Looking into self-judgment with curiosity and full attention... what do I see? Oh, man, I don't want to see that ugly psychological stuff! That can't be me. I can't be that way. "No," my dharma understanding encourages me, "look into this and *understand deeply, * without judgment!" More painful feelings arise, and I see big self-hating going on... no, wait, I can't feel that! Self-hate is wrong!

But in this light of awakening, self-hatred is neither right nor wrong. It just is. So, I accept: feeling self-hatred. Self-hatred is what I feel. Don't resist. Just see it as it is. Hold it in full loving attention. Get some help from my friend and anchor, the breath: Breathing in, I feel self-hatred. Breathing out, I embrace myself in compassionate presence. I just get quiet and work with the breath for a while. Then, seeing self-hate as just self hate, being totally present with the self hate, I feel something wonderful happening...without effort or thought, insight arises... self-hate is not-self! It arises in mind with causes and conditions; it passes away in mind with changing causes and conditions. Just that. Nothing more. Not "I" or "me" or "mine."

Self-hated is anicca, transient, and self-hate is anatta, not self. This is not an intellectual view or metaphysical position to believe; it's something I've actually now seen and known for myself through practicing presence and attention and non-resistance to the arising and passing away of things.

Continuing with the breath and presence, the knotted, painful energies release. I feel happy. A great hindrance has been diminished, toxins removed.  I feel clean. I feel light, in all senses of that word.  I smile like a Buddha!

The Four Noble truths are once again proved in action: First Noble Truth: there was suffering; the path is to look into that and see that suffering just as is; Second Noble Truth: with that non-resistant looking, the causes and conditions for suffering came to light; Third Noble Truth: with presence, insight, and non-resistance to what is, the end of suffering naturally arose; Fourth Noble Truth: practicing this mindfulness, attention, and compassionate presence are the path that leads to the end of suffering.

So, this is what can happen when you spill some milk! — if you are willing to really be with all that arises, whatever your particular "knots" and hindrances may be, minor or major. And to me, this is the great joy of the dharma, for there is a path of liberation and we can find walk it in the simplest and most mundane aspects of our life. Indeed, in a great, non-sectarian sense, the dharma is our life it is what is — it is simply the way things work, when we know. We just don't know this fully yet. But if we will learn how to listen to that in us which *does* know it, that inner light will guide us all the way home.

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April 23, 2013

Meditation as a Total Way of Living

"I have read Vimala Thakar's article 'Meditation, A Way of Life.' Here are some of the things I really liked in it:

'... unless there is an innate passion to find out, to discover for oneself one will not be equipped to live the meditative way. Meditation is a total way of living, not a partial or fragmentary activity... Life is neither occidental or oriental... There is no excitement in a real enquirer, there is a depth of intensity, not the shallowness of enthusiastic excitement... Then that state of observation begins to permeate the waking hours. Whether you cook a meal, go to the office, or while you are talking, the state of observation begins to permeate all activities of the waking hours... When the state of observation is sustained the sensitivity gets heightened, and from morning till night you are much more aware than before...

...It is no use concentrating your attention upon the activities of the mind, to the exclusion of the rest of your way of living. Meditation is something pertaining to the whole being and the whole life. Either you live in it or you do not live in it. In another words, it is related to everything physical and psychological... Thus, from the small area of mental activity, we have brought meditation to a vast field of consciousness, where it gets related to the way you sit or stand, the way you gesticulate or articulate throughout the day. Whether you want it or not, the inner state of your being gets expressed in your behaviour...

...This co-relation of meditation to the total way of living is the first requirement on the path of total transformation... Very few of us realise that constant verbalisation is one of the greatest obstacles in the path of meditation... Life is a homogeneous whole and you can never fragment it... To be aware of the lapse or the gap is itself a kind of observation.'" (Vimala Thakar)

Quoted in "Snow in the Summer"
Ven. Sayadaw U Jotika

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April 12, 2013

The Difference between Self-pity and Compassion for Oneself

Even as indifference is the "near enemy" of equanimity,  and clinging is the "near enemy" of love, self-pity is the near enemy of genuine compassion for oneself.   Why?  Because self-pity―as hard as it may be to understand when we have been actually wronged or had a terrible life―*always* involves our own complicity with our sense of being a helpless victim.  Self-pity fosters an egocentricity that reifies our victimhood and solidifies our self-identification as mere pawns of others or of the universe.

Genuine compassion is a kind of "tough love,"  Genuine compassion has insight and wisdom.  It looks into the *entirety* of our suffering, shining light on *everything* ― not only the wrong that's been done to us and injustices, but also how we may have consciously and unconsciously participated in that victimization.  Genuine compassion uncovers how we may have internalized being helpless and seeing ourselves as victims for others to use (often, this occurs when we were children). Genuine compassion brings light to how we are now living out and re-enacting again and again that original victimization, covered over and justified by our self-pity.

That said, self-pity is *not* to be ignored or rejected or put down, but looked into!  It's so easy to say to oneself, or to say to another, "Grow up!  Get over your self-pity!"  But such admonitions simply reveal that the person saying them simply hates the self-pity in himself or herself and can't stand to see it in another!  How unkind and lacking in compassion our own secret hates and secret guilts can make us!

The deeper reading is that self-pity is not some "childish" self-indulgence that we must scorn into submission!  Self-pity is a screaming red signpost saying, "Trauma here!  Something to look into!"  Genuine compassion knows that self-pity is a defense mechanism that our minds figured out as a way of defending itself.  The problem is, self-pity greatly cripples our life and our ability to actually break free of the past and to do good in the present.  Self-pity thwarts essential self, essential self-expression, creativity and a joyous openness to life.

We all have moments and times of self-pity; that's just human.  But when self-pity has solidified into a *way of being* and a habitual way of interacting with the world and others, then this is something to look into, finally, with genuine compassion, with curiosity ― "What is this habitual self-pity all about?" — and with great courage of heart and patience.

However we get stuck in patterns of self-identification, the fact is that each of wants to be all that we can potentially be, without fear and with no need to justify our humanity and human failing to anyone.  All that ever matters is that we are working at becoming a full human being, and nobody can judge that or tell us how that should be.


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March 20, 2013

How You Can Participate in the World Day of Metta 2013

World Day of Metta, March 20, 2013!

On March 20, 2013, the organizers of the World Day of Metta are asking people all around the world to open their hearts and from 12 PM to 2 PM, local time, to meditate on and offer the following metta to all beings of the world:


May all beings have fresh clean water to drink

May all beings have food to eat

May all beings have a home

May all beings have someone to share love with

May all beings know their true purpose

May all beings be well and happy

May all beings be free from suffering

Today, I shall do what I can to make this so.

The offering of metta, or loving-kindness, to others is a non-denominational act.   You don't have to believe in anything except the power of love to change the world! Compassionate hearts of all persuasions, or no persuasions, are invited to join others around the world in 2 hours of loving-kindness.

The goal of the World Day of Metta is to say this Metta at least once for each of the 7 billion plus humans on the planet, as well as all the sentient beings who share the Earth with us.  Visit the Web site for more information about participating!

At my main blog, Metta Refuge, those who are interested in learning more about the Buddhist practice of metta can find a wealth of information and dharma teachings on how to do loving-kindness, or metta, meditation.

A good place to start is the Basic Metta page, which gives beginning instruction explaining  how to do metta, or loving-kindness meditation as taught by the Buddha:

At the Basic Metta page you can download free PDFs by experienced dharma teachers for your personal study.  You will also find links to introductory articles by some outstanding Buddhist teachers:

Ajahn Brahmavamso Teaches Loving-kindness

Bringing Metta to Daily Life—A Talk by Bhante Vimalaramsi

Metta—The Healing Power of Visualizing and Radiating Love Toward Others
(Acharya Buddharakkhita)

May We All Be Happy—Beginning Metta
(Gil Fronsdal)

At Metta Refuge you will also find many articles about loving-kindness meditation that will help take your deeper into your metta practice.  You might want to look into some of these articles:

Metta Phrases for Dealing with Self-Hatred and Self-judgment

The Karaniya Metta Sutta and Healing Through Loving-kindness (with Music)

Audio Dharma-An Introduction to Metta by Gil Fronsdal

Metta in the Moment

Goodwill—Not a Pink Cloud of Cotton Candy Covering the World

I look forward to joining my brothers and sisters in every nation in this great world-wide metta on March 20, 12 PM to 2 PM local time!

The Great Aspiration of Metta

As a mother, at the risk of her life,
Watches over her only child,
Let him cherish an unbounded mind
For all living beings.

Let him have love for the whole world
And develop an unbounded mind
Above, below and all around,
Boundless heart of goodwill, free of hatred,
Standing, walking, sitting or lying down,
So long as he be awake,
Let him cherish this thought,

This is called divine abiding here.

~ Karaniyametta (Metta) Sutta


You might enjoy reading a Metta Refuge essay I wrote after my two hours of metta for World Day of Metta.  I explain some of the ways I approached the metta and also share some insights I have learned over years of practicing loving-kindness meditation. You can read it here:


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February 28, 2013

Clinging, Letting Go, and Mourning in Our Dharma Practice

Jack Engeler

As long as we cling, we don’t awaken. So how do we let go of clinging? How do we let go of anything that we cherish and believe is essential to our happiness? That’s the crucial issue in practice, as it is in therapy and as it is in life.

We call our practice "insight" meditation, because in it we see the truth of anicca, dukkha, and anattà [impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and selflessness]. But insight alone is not transformative. Not in therapy. Not in meditation. Not in any process of transformation. How many times have you understood quite clearly what you should do, see very clearly into some old pattern of behavior and why it doesn’t work, and yet find yourself still repeating it? Coming to see that someone or something needs to be surrendered and surrendering it are two different processes. It is the hard, working-through of insight that makes the difference.

At its core, this always involves coming to terms with some loss. Because genuine insight always challenges us to give up something we’re clinging to: a long-held belief, a mistaken image of self, a misplaced hope, a habit or familiar way of doing things, the assumption that someone we love will always be there. True insight means seeing things as they really are (yathà-bhåta), not as we want them to be. Coming to this acceptance is the work of mourning.

Mourning—letting go of the way we want things to be—is much harder than coming to understand that we must let go. We seldom, if ever, just accept anything, especially anything that threatens our safety and security, what we feel we need to survive. Most of the time, when reality doesn’t accord with our wish or the way we think things should be, we only come to accept it gradually, haltingly, sometimes with despair, always with resistance. Without grieving what we are being forced to give up, we don’t let go. Grief-work is precisely about coming-to-acceptance of a new state of affairs in which something we have cherished is absent. Through the work of mourning, insight becomes truth; maladaptive clinging and desperate holding on are surrendered and we start to live again.

This is never more true than in dharma practice, since what we confront and have to surrender is our clinging-to-self (attavàd-upàdàna)—a belief about who we are and how we are—that we have cherished for so long and believed essential to our happiness. Experiencing the reality of anicca, dukkha and anattà in each and every moment is the ultimate threat to our ego and security. Coming to an acceptance of these truths, which run counter to everything we want to believe and evoke the archaic fear of not existing, is the work that leads to awakening. Not samàdhi [concentration], not insight, but acceptance.

The two people I know who experienced awakening very shortly after beginning formal practice, one in six days and one in six weeks, were both women who had suffered great losses in their lives not long before, and who were themselves close to death. One had lost her husband and two of her three children and had been given only weeks to live by her doctors. The other had made three suicide attempts. It was not because their samàdhi was good (though it was). Both had already experienced profound anicca, dukkha and anattà. Both were already grieving deeply. Neither was holding on to much any more. Mourning had prepared them, much as the shock of his father’s death and subsequent poverty prepared the Sixth Zen Patriarch’s mind to awaken without formal practice on hearing the Diamond Sutra.

Awakening happens when self-grasping stops. Any experience of anicca, dukkha or anattà that is direct enough and deep enough will stop it. From one point of view, the higher "stages of insight" in vipassanà are just a way to introduce us to a direct and deep enough experience of anicca, dukkha or anattà that our mind will stop grasping. But Buddhist literature is full of stories—like that of the Sixth Zen Patriarch—that tell of awakening without formal meditation practice in someone whose mind has reached a point of readiness, someone who is no longer holding on to much.

Some of us have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, before we let go, and so there tends to be more struggle in the process. For others, it’s not a lot of struggle. Their conditioning and preparation is different. Mourning is a dramatic word, but the basic process is the same. There’s no way around that. Whatever the path and however the practitioner comes to it, the path turns on the working through of loss, acceptance and surrender—at every moment, but especially in the process of awakening.

So insight and mourning go hand in hand. We can’t give up what we don’t understand. We have to come to know something for what it is before we can let go of it. We try to short-circuit this process all the time: "All right, take me, I give up, I surrender." But premature surrender never works, because it isn’t based on fully facing whatever needs to be faced and working it through. Letting-go is not something we can just decide to do and do it, not when it comes to our most deeply held and our most cherished beliefs and attachments.

This is a somewhat different way of thinking about practice and what leads to awakening, but how could it be otherwise? If we’re going to let go of the ways of being and acting that constrict us, our ways of holding on to ourselves, then that’s going to confront us with loss. And the only way we can deal with loss and finally let go is through some process of mourning.

This excerpt comes from a day-long workshop given by Jack Engler at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies on November l, l997.