“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, July 28, 2014

seasons change

nature's enduring rhythms, the swell of seasonal change, is reassuring and even comforting. That's the sort of thing we try to recreate in our living situations, habits and patterns that are familiar. But too much habituation and the mind and heart become dull, stagnant. With that dullness an automatic response occurs to stir the sediment, everyone has their own way of doing this. Observation, recognition and acknowledgment are the application of practical Buddha Dhamma in this process. This allows a freedom to enjoy life, the joy of being.

Friday, July 25, 2014

moment by moment

It is wise to remember none of us knows what is really going on. I have met many who would deny this, many who would agree publicly but refuse the idea inside. It could be a scary thought, but I find it liberating. The practice of letting go starts with collecting things and giving up those things comes with identifying why they were important and loosening that grip. Doing that releases such tension that there is a sudden relaxation, a freeing of energy better used for other things like life.

 The next step of letting go is to find out what we think is a fact, real, the truth and to let go of that. I like to think of those who changed their minds and of Lewis Carroll "Sometimes I have believed as many a six impossible things before breakfast." Because so often what has been believed has turned out to be wrong. I think when we get to this step is when life begins to be really fun. It is just not necessary to worry anymore.

Such a simple and fundamental quote from the canon as "Those who take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha fear not," must be interpreted personally and individually for each moment but can simply mean  - "yes, we know this is impermanent and that is fine." Either you know something is not going to last and accept that and enjoy it anyway, or you know something is not going to last and are so glad that is so. It is the nature of life.

Most people don't realize that they usually believe six impossible things before breakfast. They think those impossible things are real.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Spiritual But Not Religious SBNR

There ya go. Everything is relative, we probably agree on that. Relative to cultural or traditional Buddhists Great Determination could be said to be very much Spiritual But Not Religious SBNR. We prize flexibility and kindness as the Buddha did, remember he gave us asceticism and promoted the middle way. Ascetic practices are intended to be used short term to achieve a new level of understanding, awareness or experience but over time they have been perverted into a competition, a spiritual kickboxing match.

Relative to utter hedonism Great Determination is religious. The Buddha clarified the Dhamma and over centuries that was recorded and disseminated. The wonder of the Dhamma and the wisdom of the Buddha was the awareness that time multiplied by number of players inevitably erodes the information so built right in was the saving grace: check it out for yourself and if it doesn't work for you set it aside for now.

But we are fortunate to have so much text/scripture that does make sense and that does work. Today with the internet and other media as well as travel around the earth we have the opportunity to compare and contrast different translations and caches of ancient texts. We have no reason not to develop superb critical thinking skills so that we can efficiently gain the most benefit from translations. This guidance is being picked up by all sorts of psychologists, business leaders, medical practitioners and effectively put into practice enriching them and their clients lives. It is also being ignored by religious leaders who prefer to maintain their way of life rather than commit to change.

There are two ways to define religion - one is whatever makes sense of existence for you, the other involves a disciplined life. The Dhamma makes sense of existence for us and it also encourages - brings courage to - a guided spiritual practice.

Both Venerable Sensei and myself have a close connection to nature and together we hiked half the Appalachian Trail in 1999. This experience led to a bond that has endured and developed into Noble Friendship, the best kind of partnership to be found in any lifetime. Great Determination is found outdoors in the parks and desert, mountains and coves. The lessons we learned on the trail are the Dhamma written in experience not text. Those lessons are with us today and so we can relate to those who find the spiritual in the morning light or starry night. We are never far from it.

This post was inspired by an article I ran across here.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


When we say or when the Buddha said watch the mind, the word he used or that was conveyed in the suttas is Citta, remember he didn't hatch out of an egg alone and invent this stuff, he worked with the culture and understanding of the time which was rich and already incredibly ancient and profound in understanding.

Citta means heart-mind to be more clear. In western cultures at least since Descartes we have separated the two and raised mind alone to to great heights on a pedestal of our own making. Heart has been denigrated in our culture, heart was thought female, foolish, emotional, flighty (there is a flight of hummingbirds at the feeder in front of me right now) but the Buddha spoke of the two as one.

So when we watch the mind we are also watching the heart and realizing there is no distinction, we reassemble an essential element of our being which has been damaged by cultural tinkering. Culture affects our underlying unspoken assumptions which are reinforced by silence around them. The elephant in the room that continues to grow until the entire house bursts. {Was this an expected element of the warp and woof of time in other words did the Buddha anticipate we would need this information to heal the damage caused by those periods of time in our culture when denial is promoted by greed and anger?} Note he didn't say watch thinking, he used a more general term, a deliberately inclusive term. Inclusive of feeling, perception, consciousness as well as labeling, judging, selecting, planning.

This is a very important part of mindfulness, it is what gives thinking flavor, temperature and texture. We can choose to watch as if there were two halves - heart and mind or we can observe the whole. Either is fine but awareness is essential. We don't choose or direct what is going on but observe and gather insight and enjoy what we observe. We don't decide to breathe and similarly we don't direct our thoughts/feelings/perceptions, we just observe. This enables the detachment and the split second of time in which we can choose our actions and be aware of our impulses to react and the roots of those impulses.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Relics of the Buddha

My goodness, I watched a video recently about the excavation of a reliquary that may have held some of the cremated remains of the body of the Buddha. The commentator kept saying this was so important to millions of Buddhists, little does he know. But it certainly sounded like that is what Buddhist care about...Wrong!
Well, at least not here at Great Determination.

In fact that is the opposite of what we think the Buddha taught, so it is quite ironic and sadly hilarious. It is lovely to celebrate a life of such generosity compassion and wisdom as the Buddha's but those remains mean nothing. The celebration is a feeling within, inside the breast of loving respect for such inspiring concepts. If that inspiration helps further our practice of the Dhamma his teaching then it is a worth while influence. If it furthers ignorance and delusion such as elevating the material dust and bone fragments, gold and jewels to 'holiness' then it is harmful and should be avoided.

The Buddha's gift to us was immaterial, unsubstantial so why would we revere form to celebrate his life? Rather we would put our shoulder to the Practice and work with all our might to travel the 8 Fold Path every moment this very moment. When we find the joy of that then we are celebrating the Buddha.

For a much much better elaboration on the true meaning of relic vs reality see Walt Whitman's Song of the Rolling Earth, thanks to Rajju Jim.


to the right there is a column of links including a list of static pages I have posted about other areas of interest.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Practice

Without training one must reinvent the wheel without advantage, without taming there is no one to trust, without guarding one is ever vulnerable to pernicious influences, without restraint resources are wasted. This is a rigorous practice, even with kindness and flexibility there is the need for persistence so one becomes a mountain. A mountain sometimes disappears in the mist and then reappears cool and shining. Sensei points out that mindfulness is awareness of mind, we watch the mind, our thoughts, we watch them arise and pass away, not just on the cushion but 24/7.

If a struggle arises and mind vies for domination, either with an unwanted thinking process or habitual pattern we can use the tricks of the trade described in Sensei's workbook The Missing Peace. Noble Speech is a good example, it can be very challenging to let go habitual patterns here. If you notice a pattern you wish to change use one of the unplugging techniques she describes, call her if you want to discuss it. A speech pattern is best changed for me by substituting another speech pattern like a chant, that occupies the speech centers of the brain and helps you to rewire your own house so to speak.

The mind that is tamed trained guarded and restrained is like a reliable working dog, a good friend, affectionate and calm, alert and intelligent. The mind that is without this benefit is like a stray, hungry and anxious, likely to snatch or snap.

Monday, July 14, 2014

what a pleasure, what a joy

speech - overused it is.

did Yoda say that?

But what is speech? I was reflecting on the use of mantra off the cushion, perhaps then it could be called chanting...I find it refreshing, pleasurable, invigorating yet relaxing like a massage for the brain. I like this little blessing chant:

bhavatu sabbe mangalam, rakkhantu sabbe devata
sabbe buddha nubhavena, saddha sotthi bhavantu te

bhavatu sabbe mangalam, rakkhantu sabbe devata
sabbe dhamma nubhavena, saddha sotthi bhavantu te

bhavatu sabbe mangalam, rakkhantu sabbe devata
sabbe sangha nubhavena, saddha sotthi bhavantu te

This is how I learned it, it may not be spelled correctly since I recall it imperfectly, essentially it invokes the good intention and knowledge of the three treasures Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha to bring well being- happiness to all or whatever it is directed to. I like especially to think of it in the broad terms Sensei has been speaking of recently.

She has been having long and joyful communion with devotees of different spiritual paths when she is out on her walks about town as she goes to meditate along the cliffs overlooking the ocean. She says she translates the language they use into terms that are meaningful to her and when she speaks to them is able to use language they can relate to and so they find a meeting of the shen, spirit that feels good to both parties. She says that only when they speak in general terms are they of one mind, but when they devolve into details that is when discord arises therefore she gently redirects back to common ground and avoids the trap of detailing.

This is how I prefer chanting, not to check for spelling, grammar or even language but to suss out the intention and implications of the rhyme and rhythm and roll with it. Then it becomes a tool for grooming the spiritual pursuit.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


The following is based on a conversation with Sensei, Ven. KC this morning -

Buddhism sprang from Hinduism. The culture already had centuries if not millenia of meditation practice under its belt when the Buddha came to be. Today Buddhist teachers are failing to teach meditation well and popular psychology is promoting a shallow and short sighted picture of the purpose and path of meditation. They are bringing the methods of attaining concentration into the mainstream but fail to emphasize the importance of cultivating virtue before concentration leaving people vulnerable to grave harm.

Cultivating noble speech, action and livelihood begins at birth for the fortunate. These people are exposed to fine examples of impeccable behavior and thought processes in friends and family from infancy. The value of appropriate and honorable behavior is praised and sacrificed for, it is held in the highest esteem. But these people are not common in any time period or location. Every little bit of this helps, one might say it develops good karma. Even one incidence, one person can make all the difference in the course of a life. One random act of kindness is sometimes all it takes to set a new pattern in motion. Often the doer has no idea of the impact they have had until much later. That is why doing the practice is so enjoyable, the results of the practice can be sensed as the sound of fine grained snow falling is heard on a winters night, so soft.

Also not taught by popular meditation courses is the fact that concentration is not meditation. Many methods are promoted to achieve concentration but that is only the beginning. Concentration is only a tool required to be able to begin to meditate. It certainly brings some benefits by itself but is not what the Buddha was talking about when he included meditation in the noble eightfold path. The strength of the mind must be balanced by kindness, a combination of generosity and compassion and some introduction to wisdom, discernment should have been practiced for a lengthy time before more muscle is added.

Similar to counteracting a pathogen in traditional Chinese medicine, the true or normal healthy Qi of the body should be strengthened by diet and lifestyle as a regular thing, then when a pathogen attacks it is important not to tonify because the pathogen might take that boost, instead we help the body/mind expel it. Cultivating virtue is supportive of our normal optimal function, concentration practice is tonifying the mind. If our concentration is directed by greed, anger or delusion the detrimental effect is strengthened.

Also semantics interfere with popular understanding. Concentration is not a forced, directed, precise laser beam of the mind, rather it is quiet, non judging, open and flexible. These are not at all the words commonly associated with concentration in our culture. This is why we have Awakening Stillness Qigong. Concentration is stillness of mind, it is often called one-pointedness. Those who are taught to sit in a certain posture, to suffer in pain as part of meditation, to correct thoughts with harsh discipline are practicing unkindness toward themselves and this is then transferred toward others.

True meditation begins when we step off the platform of method, whatever that may be - a mantra, an element, a color, and enter what are called the jhannas or the measureless spaces, the brahmaviharas. This is where we encounter being. Here is where the barnacles and crusty accumulations of life drop away and we are renewed. Move from the object of meditation into this most wonderful state. This is indeed safe and natural for everyone, kids often have the ability but then lose it in the process of living, so you may remember a time you experienced this before. If so you know the wholesomeness of it. And you can return to it, it takes time because it is a gradual path, it cannot be forced, but is ready for you to welcome it back as it welcomes you.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Medical Research is remarkably unreliable

“Oh dear,,,” I looked at the links headings collected for us to view as students in oriental medicine research class. I read the first article: “Science has lost its way,” and began the second: “No longer possible to believe much of clinical research published” By the Editor of The New England Journal of Medicine. Before getting very far I am already swept up in the tide of validation for my personal decision making process and since I frequently have to defend that against exhortations from Acupuncturists here at Emperor’s I want to respond thoughtfully. Perhaps I can cause others to consider carefully how they treat and teach as health care practitioners.

1. It does no good to simply become cynical. Cynicsim is a way of numbing us to the fears created by our stories of past and future. Fear reveals that we are entranced by the stories we tell ourselves and so not awake in the present moment. What gives us numbness also causes the accumulation of “Phlegm,” the most persistent endogenous pathogen in TCM.
2. The situation will inevitably change, but we can help make that change favorable for us and all things by following certain guidelines.
3. Focus on the positive. Attention is what creates, naturally what we pay attention to is what we experience and cultivate and bring to us. This requires persistence and then when it happens we must forego the inclination to quit and let it ride but continue to apply effort.
4. What could be positive about this? We have the opportunity to unite as a species and elevate our collective intention to one of valuing impeccable behavior and the achievements that brings. Each one of us is capable of frightful, awesome, glorious accomplishments that could rival nature, but most of us cannot conceive of such a thing, much less even bear witness to nature.
It is our worthy challenge to awaken to existence, and often waking takes a splash of cold water.
5. The proof is irrefutable that we have no reason to send patients to western bioscience for health care. If an individual has an inclination, an intuition, any idea of what they need then it should be our job to help them clarify that and pursue it. Such clarification cannot be made with analysis, discipline or any “left brain” attempts. This sort of discernment comes about through meditation, dropping stories, disengaging attachments. It is not accomplished in a fifteen minute office visit.
6. Greed is at the root of a great deal of corruption in all walks of life. How can we alter this? Only by counteracting it in ourselves. As we cultivate generosity, compassion and discernment greed gradually drops away. As we lose it those around us lose it too and those around them and so on in an ever spreading ripple.
7. Anger is a common response to stories of corruption and betrayal of trust. Anger is defended and clung to by those who engage in it. Anger is recognized as a pathogenic factor in TCM, causing heat and therefore wind, interfering with bodily processes and wreaking destruction. How can anger be obliterated? By first making the choice to obliterate it. That is the biggest step for so many. Thereafter cultivating compassion, substituting a compassionate thought for a harsh one, uprooting unkindness beginning with how one treats one self.
8. Delusion is prevalent among most humans. We fail to discern what is true happiness and replace it with shallow, short lived or harmful pleasures. We live in fear and speak and act from fear of what is not real at all, just stories we have made up about either the past or the future. How can we correct delusion? By acknowledging what is real, by cultivating awareness of the present moment. Yes, we all die. Yes, change is the one thing that can be truly guaranteed. Yes, change is what it is. Let it come and let it go is the process we must choose either to enjoy or endure.
9. The discernment that corrects delusion provides correct understanding of the source of illness and also forms the basis for selecting elegant solutions.
10. Once we start thinking outside the box we are no longer confined by it. Stop responding to the bullies and keep on going and soon they will be trying to catch up. Its all good.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

best speech mantra

"Say only what is true, helpful, kind and invited."

We frequently come back to this intention, it is a continuous process of absorbing and reflecting, with each inhaled breath the intention is brought in and with each exhalation the intention is beamed out, so we become a lighthouse signaling "this intention is known, this intention has been recognized, is guarded and governed by benevolence. There is the harbor, seek shelter there alongside me."

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dalai lama spoke up


 I had not heard any response from Buddhist leaders about this ("Buddhists" attacking muslims in Myanmar) before now, I am grateful for his words. But I have not looked for speeches about this either, so it is not fair to think others have not already spoken.

Following that I have to be reminded that forgiveness is the greatest thing anyone can do, and fanning the flames by speaking is not beneficial.

I am not a leader, but I am out there, at least for some people, and I am accountable in the spirit realm, where the "guidelines" are elegant - Sensei, who is a leader would point out that we are not there so we cannot know what is really happening and cannot judge anyone regardless because we do not know their experiences or the ripples of their actions ( we don't even know the ripples of our own actions unless reported to us secondhand, the ripple effect is not seen by the stone as it enters the water. )

Also as we discussed yesterday in the sangha skype meeting, we guide our ripples by cultivating generosity compassion and wisdom via the noble eightfold path. We tame train guard and restrain the mind providing the nuture that such a thing needs to become strong, stable, incisive and flexible. Part of that guarding is to be present now, to focus on positive, helpful information. It sounds as though we would turn our backs on bad news and disregard the suffering of others, but this couldn't be farther from the truth. As we improve our own being we counteract suffering via the ripple effect.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

If you could only read one book this is it

the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda. (According to Sensei) her book is a good supplement to this one.  Wow! better read this!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Health Care Choices for Health Care Practitioners

Health Care Choices for Health Care Practitioners

  1. News Flash: You are entitled to your opinion about what you would do in someone else's position but you are not entitled to an opinion about what they should do.
  2. Fear is delusion based on thinking of a future which does not exist, use present moment awareness instead.
  3. Technology is a tool that enhances the senses, does not change perception or interpretation. We only see what we expect to see.
  4. What would you do if you were on a deserted island or were the only person in the world and were blessed as you are are?
  5. The perceived world is created by collective and individual mind. An individual mind is capable of altering the body it inhabits  - DROPS -Don’t Resist Or Push away, Soften.
  6. Knowledge of self is not simple or easy. Discern patterns and motivation via meditation supported by practice of eightfold path. Cultivate awareness of dependent origination. Trust discernment when it arrives. You are the light rely on yourself, do not rely on anyone else, the Dhamma is the light, rely on the Dhamma, do not rely on anything else.
  7. “Maybe,” ~ Wisdom recognizes the ripple effect and does not rely on value judgements:
Grandmother owns a farm, one day a horse wanders into the barnyard and stays. neighbors say “oh what good luck!” grandma says “maybe.” Later the grandson is thrown by horse and breaks leg - neighbors say “ oh what bad luck.” Grandma says “maybe.” Later the army comes by looking for conscripts, the grandson can’t go because his leg is broken, neighbors say “oh what good luck!” Grandma says “maybe.”  etc etc
  1. Everything in life can be a step or a lesson, we should not be too quick to decide if something is good or bad, should consider the root of the judgement, why we like or don’t like, consider who else might benefit or be harmed.
  2. We come into this life by choice, how we live is our choice, what happens to us is our choice, how we respond to what happens in life is our choice, time is not linear and every moment diverges infinitely but we choose which path to pay attention to.
  3. The one guarantee in life is death. We are all going to die, when and how may be or may not be predetermined but the fact is all of us do. It is the living that we should focus on.
  4. The body is infinitely malleable reflecting the mind, if you can change the mind you can change the body.
  5. Most people don’t practice awareness at all, react from habitual responses, are trained in greed anger and delusion. It takes great good luck to learn that the roots of happiness are generosity compassion and wisdom, to learn what those words mean and even greater luck and also determination to practice, to cultivate, to change.
  6. Death is a great gift, a motivator, a reset program.
Wake up! life swiftly passes by, this is the only moment, don't miss it!
Practice like your life depends on it, because “Not one other thing leads to such happiness as a tamed, trained, guarded and restrained mind.” ~the Buddha