“In the end, it’s not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away” – Shing Xiong

Monday, June 30, 2014

what about happiness?

Oh yeah, then there's the misinterpretation of the word happiness. What is happiness?

Or  - never mind that,, ask instead what is the character brought about by a tamed, trained, guarded and restrained mind? That mind is strong, it is stable, not a boat at anchor - not anchored but seaworthy, powerful, confident and carrying all the best equipment and stores for the journey but not overloaded by any means, spare and lean, poised and in balance. Beyond contentment, magnificent.

Would that have anything to do with your original concept of happiness? Even in the time of the Buddha we humans were confused about what could bring happiness, what is true happiness. Greed, anger, delusion alter the concept of happiness until it has nothing to do with truth, but is warped and perverted, erroneous. Pointing out that the rich are often the most miserable people is an easy way to illuminate this. Since most of us are not rich it is soothing to show that wealth does not alleviate suffering. But does it alleviate greed?

I watched a video last night of a doctor teaching how stress, diuretics (including caffeine and alcohol) and a diet high in refined carbs cause low levels of magnesium in the body. Magnesium is needed for multitudes of body processes and early signs and symptoms of its lack include muscle spasms, hypertension, depression, bone mass loss, and the vicious circle of further depletion when the root cause of these is not recognized and the symptoms are treated instead. This is sooo very similar to the the lack of true happiness.

Happiness is needed for a functional and fulfilling life however long or short that may be. Early signs and symptoms of its lack are boredom, craving, dissatisfaction and a vicious circle is created when the wrong tack is pursued to attain what seems to be the solution. How is it that so many of us experience confusion about what is happiness? We are overwhelmed by messages that lead us to not trust our own good sense.

How do we learn to to discern the truths about happiness? In meditation, both on and off the cushion, discernment is cultivated (I love that word, cultivated, it implies all that is needed for a garden to produce something delicious and nourishing). What do I mean 'meditation both on and off the cushion?' This is a lifestyle. A spiritual path, something we haven't a great word for yet, I will think of something, just wait. Meditation as practiced by Sensei's students, the Great Determination sangha is 24/7. Mindfulness, awareness of mind, continuous and never ending, not perfect but persistent. The ripple effect here is not just affecting others we come into contact with and who they connect to but the many depths within us, gradually transforming body, mind and spirit.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

answer to the question (a different question)

the question is so often what do Buddhists believe? The other day I answered with the Four Noble Truths,
(I am seldom good off the cuff) But then at 0400 in the morning (of course) I had the answer quite clearly - For me the single sentence that sums it up best is:

"Not one thing leads to happiness so much as a tamed, trained, guarded and restrained mind."
 ~ the Buddha

We "John Wayne and I Love Lucy americans," get a rush of refusal when hearing such words, we have been trained to believe that "Freedom" means wild, wanton, spontaneous, ad lib, responsive, seeking, following, wanting, craving, getting, keeping, hoarding, fighting, protecting, stealing, cheating, winning. 

The words have a different feeling when gently relaxed and happy from meditation, they are not threatening, do not raise specters of elementary school principles and catholic nuns with rulers approaching. At peace, we can see that each word describes a process that is nurturing and kind, wise and compassionate. 

Sometimes it is important to remember that the best thing to say is not to speak, but to wait for a better time when all are composed and receptive and in line with the universal mind. It might not be best to provoke fear and resistance with words that can be misunderstood. Often a shared cup of tea  will answer the question better. 

But non verbal communication is sometimes denied and ignored as well in our culture that bombards us with words continuously. So as Sensei points out all the time each situation is different and should get its own response. To add to Katagiri Roshi's words: "Sometimes, you have to say something."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

wonderful question

“How would your life be different today if you knew that you would not wake up tomorrow?” 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

pics from boat trip

Sensei volunteers at the senior center teaching Meditation, Living Enlightenment and Awakening Stillness Qigong. In thanks they allowed her to take a companion on an outing so she asked me to join her on a whale watching expedition. We walked to the center and got on a bus with a couple dozen members to Newport Beach, a cozy little seaside village. The boat was from Davey's Locker, and if it was their primary boat for that excursion it was 65 feet long per the website. We spent most of the trip near the stern where we could be close to the water. We saw dolphins and elephant seals, beaches and boats, the weather was great, the water calm and we both loved it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

the Dhamma path

The previous post contains the standard calls to arms of today. But how did the Buddha, the "fully self awakened one," the human being whom scholars suggest may have been the most intelligent human being who has ever lived, and who dedicated his life to finding and sharing a way to achieve a perfect true happiness in this life, how did he suggest we deal with cruelty and injustice, bad luck and despair?

First I will say that the troubles we have today are not that different from the troubles people had in the Buddha's lifetime. They look different, it appears worse, but is it? We have evidence of previous mass extinctions, we know of wars and diseases and disasters occurring throughout historical time.

This person, the Buddha, found out it is possible to be truly happy despite the horrific events of our time, and it is possible for that happiness to be helpful, beneficial, graceful and wonderful. To achieve this happiness a change of perspective is necessary. How do you change perspective, what does that mean? It means looking at the issue from a different place, in physical terms it means moving, in psycho-emotional or spiritual terms it still means moving.

It is easy to see and imagine moving physically, climb a hill to get a better vantage, but spiritually it is difficult to see where to go to get a better vantage, vantage means viewpoint. He taught how to find that better viewpoint. He began by sharing that there is a better viewpoint, that it is possible to get there, and then he taught us how to get there. For around fifty years he taught over and over to all kinds of people the means of finding true happiness, not of creating it because it already exists, but how to find it.

What is that viewpoint? It is a mind free of attachment. Attachment is like a valley full of trees, vines and thorny bushes, that is where we are unable to see the landscape around us, as we leave attachments behind we rise higher and gain space to see farther.

The Buddha gave us a plan, the Noble Eightfold Path, a map, directions, for gradually dropping attachment, how to do so in the best possible way without causing harm to ourselves or other. I am a "Buddhist" because the Dhamma is reasonable, makes sense and works for me. It helps make life an adventure, understandable and tolerable while at the same time amazing and awesome.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

supporting this Ted talk

Will Potter: The shocking move to criminalize nonviolent protest

This is not new news but it is something we don't deal with directly because of the difficulties involved, ie: time, threats of loss and unknown consequences, but it reminds me of Martin Niemoller's words:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.
Next it reminds me of Margaret Mead's words: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." 
and then it reminds me of the Lisa technique - where we once had a boss who wrote flaming emails, telling the crew how we were all lousy and doing such a bad job and not working hard enough or fast enough, the emails were so bad none of us wanted to open them and actually stressed about them - so I decided to see what would happen if I said, over and over, "Lisa writes the nicest emails." 2 weeks was all it took, everyone in the crew received the email praising our work up and down and the job changed after that. I think we can use that same technique for the world as well.

From Paul Brunton's Notebooks - What the Quest is

"Many aspirants wrongly believe the quest to be a movement from one psychic experience to another or from one mystical ecstasy to another. But in fact it is a movement in character from animality to purity, from egoism to impersonality." - Paul Brunton

Nature always amazes with the continually increasing complexity in all directions, there is no end to the grandeur. This is true in our lives as well since we imagine and are part of all we perceive. We move from lifetime to lifetime and moment to moment ever changing, and to imagine a conscious choice in our becoming is to hold the hand of ***. 

I don't like the words we have for ***, they are limiting and crooked, they miss the mark by a long shot so I am just going to use ***.  As the character develops, the movement from one perception to the next increases in awesomeness, my favorite big word, awesomeness. That is what the sunshine and the birdsong are, evidence of awesomeness.

Yesterday while considering how Sensei keeps finding more validation for her own understanding, I heard: "we don't need more people to talk about enlightenment, we need people doing it."

That sounds good to me.
She said it won't be easy but I asked to go along. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

oops - no work on the WBMG

Venerable was informed they could not have three monastics from the same tradition organizing the WBMG, something the person who asked her never thought of I suppose.

Wise in principle and on paper, but is a good example of how discernment developed in meditation and the cultivation of generosity compassion and wisdom would have lead to keeping the spirit of the rule, which is to bring together monastics of different traditions to enhance awareness of differences and commonalities and nurture friendships.

Venerable is not of the same tradition as the other Bhikkhunis organizing the event except on paper. They are universes apart, but those sorts of differences are inconvenient and uncomfortable to those who rely on the written word.

Venerable is not discomfited. She is just as glad. I actually think that two from the same tradition should not be organizing the event together, and it is up to those involved to acknowledge reality rather than paper and act from generosity compassion and wisdom, but those things have to be cultivated on a daily basis, they can't just be pulled out of a hat.

Off I go to work on that...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

George Bernard Shaw said:

"Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."

One of the truly amusing twists Mara threw into the pot was the concept of No Self. This has engaged and entertained possibly millions for a long time. Of course there is a self, of course it is not concrete, permanent, or "real," because the self is purely illusion, but it is with most of us for life.

Dropping the stories that make us who we are can be a relief. Nature abhors a void though so this can be counter-productive, we can however substitute and practice fluidity, flexibility in our definition of self with great benefits.

Creating the self is something anyone can do because we all have imagination. Many people say they have no imagination but they have fear - can't have fear without imagination.  Choosing who we want to be and embodying that image is not so far out as it sounds. As a practice it gives us space and energy by supporting the illusion that it is a game, a choice, worthy and enjoyable. This is similar to empowerment, develop a clear image of the being you wish you were and then begin to act as if you were. It takes time, is gradual, can be temporary or all consuming, part time or 24/7. What else have you got to do? Could you do those things better if you were someone else? If you had more energy, more confidence, more clarity? Do some research and start to do what you want to do. Keep the fundamentals of generosity compassion and wisdom and you can't go wrong. Play - laugh, have fun, enjoy.

Paul Brunton's notebooks

"Meditation is properly done when one feels happy and joyous at the end."

-from volume 4 of Paul Brunton's notebooks Meditation and the Body, ISBN 0-943914-18-3. Sensei is quite happy about the opinions and observations found here. These are older books, he died in 1981, was quite a prolific author, had traveled to India and became a yogi.  The notebooks are available for free reading online at Paul Brunton.org

Many of the recent books on meditation depend on scant research and even less experience so haven't much to offer a seasoned practitioner, when she finds one who has both background and research and the information offered is consistent with her own experience she is quite happy to share it.

Google him and check out the book. Meditation is not a wandering-bumbling, on again off again kind of entertainment and relaxation activity. It is an athletic practice of mind-body-spirit. We can and should be efficient in practice, for as the verse to end a day of practice states:
wake up! life swiftly passes by, this is the only moment, don't miss it!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Venerable Sensei

Today Sensei came home with some unusually appropriate dana - she received a fancy chocolate bar and a can of mixed nuts during her meditation overlooking the ocean. Then she received an email inviting her to plan the program for the western buddhist monastic gathering - and she hadn't even been planning to go!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


"Everything is ok just the way it is."

This doesn't mean don't do anything, it means acting from a balanced position.

Balance like that of a Yogi or martial artist comes from preparatory practice. The cultivation of generosity compassion and wisdom is the most significant work we can do, and should resistance to this arise it can be pegged for a form of the three poisons.

When the practice gets too tight or too heavy, laughter is essential to spread the Qi and lift the mind. No lead balloons here, they don't do the work. This is a continuous back and forth effort to maintain forward momentum.

How can we act with equanimity when the problems that face us are so great?

We have to let go, we have to know that everything is ok just as it is, even though it is not. Everyone wins in the end, everything is temporary, everything is constantly changing. How can we cope with the nature of being? I have already said, really investigate and actively cultivate generosity compassion and wisdom.

bangkok news

here is a link to an article about Thai cultural Buddhism, good education and strong stimulus to promote Great Determination.

The courage of the writer Santisuda Ekachai and of Thailand's first bhikkhuni Dhammananda is inspiring. We stand beside them and must not forget that.

I have preserved the article in case it becomes unavailable via the link. Perhaps this is similar to those who preserved relics or copies of sutta commentaries. Certainly the addition to the Therigatha by bhikkhuni Dhammananda is worth preserving. The historical value of the documentation of Thai cultural interpretation of Buddhism is of interest and a good starting point for practice in many areas: letting go of opinion, letting go of frustration, letting go of sadness, cultivating gratitude, forgiveness, compassion, generosity and wisdom.

If we have learned anything from the 60's and from the feminist revolution that is still fizzling, barely, it is that anger is counterproductive. A chronic problem takes time to correct, efficiency is of utmost importance and that takes elimination of useless complaining. Cut to the chase and practice compassion, generosity and wisdom. It may look illogical but it can be discerned as ultimately unbeatable.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

explaining TCM

I was just talking to a fellow student about the value of pharmocognosy and he mentioned it was to help in explaining how it works to clients, and I was reminded of how I have heard interns explain TCM to inquirers over the phone. I thought about what a help it would be to have a class to explore this subject but there isn't one, so I should make it for myself, and then share it. New project!

Monday, June 2, 2014

hold peace

this is a creative process, it is not a discipline, a job, a task but instead is like making art. Like other practices it is not just pulled out of the hat but takes preparation. Establishing a non judging mind is essential, this can be done with morning pages (see Julia Cameron's the Artists Way) Qigong, compassion meditation, or many of the exercises in Sensei's workbook The Missing Peace. Then instead of buying into what the media tells us, or experience tells us, or common sense tells us, we can imagine peace, prosperity, magic, well being happening right now for everyone, including those we are afraid for or afraid of. But don't do it with the head, do it with the heart.

This morning a clear window opened for me to see the 200+ girls taken from their school in Nigeria becoming the 200 new world leaders, a guardian congress of innovators and guides to creating a sustainable, co-creating, caring and responsible global culture. Be the change you want to see. We are all our own 3d printers, we build with our imagination, it is something we really do, so make it what you want.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


@19:40 a rumbley in the tumbley, borborygmus of the earth's tummy gave me a start, I didn't even have time to get the leash on the dog before it was over though. This was the first one I felt, the others were just loud and visual. The very first sounded like an explosion and was centered in Marina Del Rey 11 miles away and miles deep in the ground. The second sounded like an explosion too, I was walking the dog by a chain link fence that rattled and shook, I looked around for a fire ball but all I saw was the light posts swaying side to side. This one was actually bumpy and not very noisy. Weird, but I will take it any day over a tornado.

being a nunk

Sometimes Sensei asks me," do I feel like a monk?" I have to say no, I just feel like a weirdo, but I do the work, I stick with it and sometimes some insight or delight hits and then I feel like.. something.

I often think it would be wonderful to live in a monastery, among dozens of others, having a daily routine but then I realize what a fantasy that is, not a bad one, just another fantasy. If I mention it to Sensei she firmly derides it and reminds me that the grass is never really greener on the other side of the fence. She also likes to point out that the work will be the same wherever I go... I hate it when she's right.

But really when we have lived in monastic settings I did enjoy it very much. I like access to practice routines, group meditation, study, I like the sense of community, of contributing and sharing support.

The other day a fellow student at the college asked about my living situation and remarked it must be hard. I know there are others out there in similar situations. It is good to keep in touch with them, that is why I hope to attend the Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering. If I can't go for some reason I can enjoy the contact vicariously by others attending.

Someday when I have graduated and am developing a health provider practice that coincides with this spiritual practice I would like to visit communities and eventually settle into a few. In the Buddha's day monks roamed most of the year but settled together in the rainy season, perhaps we will be able to do such a thing. I have experienced and would like to give to others the benefits of Body Mind Support for the practice of the BuddhaDhamma.