Archive | July 2013

Always Home

Never Lose Yourself ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Live your daily life in a way that you never lose yourself. When you are carried away with your worries, fears, cravings, anger, and desire, you run away from yourself and you lose yourself. The practice is always to go back to oneself.”


This quote echoes a theme that seems to reverberating throughout my life right now: coming home to myself. Being rooted or grounded has nothing to do with geography. It has to do with that mysterious quality of “presence.” The opposite of presence is abandoning oneself, living in one’s head, disembodiment, living in the past or future, you get the idea. The beginning of sanity is always coming back to the here and now. Stability is about emotional steadiness, not how long you’ve lived in a given location. Plenty of mentally unstable people never live outside of their hometown.

I’ve always lived in Michigan. That is the past and the present. However, my values have shifted dramatically and I now prize portability. I want to be where I can do the most good. I will likely start out in Virginia, but am open to moving around for a few years.

I’ve heard of meditation as a coming home to oneself. I’ve also found an article that refers to the hara (a spot about two inches below the navel also known as the tan tien) as a person’s home. It reminds me of a saying: wherever you go, there you are. There is no real running away from oneself, no matter how hard one tries.

I’ve always been fabulous at running away from myself (living in my head). It is really sad how I have spent so many days obsessing about something, just to avoid boredom or homework. Obsession is ugly, but there have been times when I’ve relied on obsession’s energy to get things accomplished.

The problem is that if you spend enough time running away from yourself, you may never find yourself again or, at the very least, you no longer recognize yourself. On the one hand, you can never truly run away from yourself because you follow yourself everywhere. On the other hand, you can distance yourself from your real reactions to the point where you feel fake and have no idea what you truly think or feel anymore. I’ve been at that point where I wondered if there even was a “real” me because I felt like I responded so differently to various people. I now see myself as a shifting entity, always changing. The reason it’s important to stay with the moment is to keep track of the moving parts of myself. If I don’t pay attention, I can change fairly drastically without even being aware of it, and I only notice when my reaction is so obviously different than what it would’ve been in the past.

The idea isn’t to never change; it is to be up-to-date on who you are and want to be right now.

Trust and Common Sense

Tending the Flame, Dharma Discourse by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei, Book of Serenity, Case 53, Huangbo’s “Dreg Slurpers”, Featured in Mountain Record 29.1, Fall 2010

“When we see into our own nature, we realize there are no teachers; we encounter the teacherless teacher. We encounter wisdom. But it takes effort. It takes deep, deep trust. We might think of that as a kind of passive thing. In the inventory of needed supplies for a Zen practitioner, we put perseverance on top; we know that’s required. Doubt—that’s good for fuel. Put that up there on the top as well. Faith? Oh very well, I suppose I should bring that along, just in case I need it. We don’t understand that the only reason we’re here is because of deep, abiding faith, trust. But what is the faith in? What are we trusting?”

Sometimes, I wish I was more trusting. I stink at trusting. I’ve learned the hard way that other people are more than willing to take responsibility for me and my life, at the expense of my right to think for myself. I have put my trust into all the wrong people: authority figures demanding my trust and respect instead of earning them. There is a part of me that desperately wants to be a “good girl.” Wisdom knows whom to trust and not trust. Patience is being willing to wait to see the fruit of people’s lives and character.

It’s interesting to me how everyone seems to have an idea of what they “should” be doing. This might be the “teacherless teacher.” I know the ideas come from their conditioning, but some are just common sense, like doing the dishes. You don’t need a guru or roshi to tell you, “The dishes really need to be done, and, by the way, pay your electric bill on time.” If we all simply did what we already knew we needed to do, the world might be transformed.


Nirvana is Cool

Nibbana is Cool

Nibbana for Everyone

A Truth Message from Suan Mokkh

By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
(adapted and translated by Santikaro Bhikkhu)

“The word “nibbana” means “cool.” Back when it was just an ordinary word which people used in their homes it also meant “cool.” When it is used as Dhamma language, in a religious context, it still means “cool,” but refers to cool from the fires of defilement (kilesa), while in the common people’s usage it means cool from physical fires.”

Nibbana is nirvana. In Buddhism, you get the same words slightly differently in Pali and Sanskrit.

That said, I am excited to know that nirvana is about coolness. That just strikes me as perfect. We all need to “cool off” sometimes. It is currently July as I write this. Cooling off is immediately urgent. People are dying because they can’t.

We all know what it’s like to have our minds stuck in an endless, obsessive, defiling loop.  At such times, nothing appeals as much as getting off the emotional roller coaster and cooling off.

As the earth continues to warm, we may see more and more Buddhism and other tropical-origin religions. We will be able to relate to that better, as opposed to, say, Northwestern European Reformed Christianity. The attractiveness of the warmth of a hearth will gradually be replaced by metaphors such as, maybe, a cool glass of iced tea with friends. “Keeping the home fires burning” may be replaced by the idea of swimming together in a cool autumn lake. Even now, the expression sounds more like a marital hell than bliss. The warmth of the sun may lose its appeal to the cool reflection of the moon on a pond.

These subtle shifts of language are huge in implications in terms of evangelizing. Rule #1 in communication is “Know your audience.” These shifts are imperceptible at first. Give it a generation and ask yourself the last time you remember hearing about “keeping the home fires burning.” Even now, when was the last time you heard someone referred to as a “good family man”? Whoever defines the terms of the debate has already won.

Does it work?

 Dharma Talk given at Still Mind Zendo, New York Cityby Sensei Janet Jiryu Abels

“A person’s theology was a matter of total indifference to the Buddha.  To accept a doctrine on somebody else’s authority was in his eyes an “unskillful” state which could not lead to enlightenment because it was an abdication of personal responsibility.  He saw no virtue to submitting to an official creed.”


Even some Christians have a similar approach: looking at the fruit of a person or action. Who cares about the opinion of an asshole? If you don’t respect or admire someone, why would you take advice from them? This is the essence of the Buddhist concept of “unskillful.”

To me, part of American ingenuity is its practicality. If something does not perform its intended function, its use or maybe even existence can end without negative repercussions. Simply because something worked in the past means very little, if anything, today. Why are you spending time and energy doing something that you already know doesn’t work? We all do it, and it is insane.

I like the Buddhist approach: abandonment of all things unskillful. There is no need to fight something that doesn’t work. Just find something that does work. This opens the door for things like the Japanese 5S system: organization and efficiency at its finest.


Right and Wrong

Good question, Good Answer, by Ven S. Dhammika, at


“A Buddhist looks at three things—the intention behind the act, the effect the act will have upon oneself and the effect it will have upon others.”


Can one be good without a god? Definitely. Instead of being about a juvenile obedience, it is about intention and self-responsibility.

I started taking responsibility for myself in 2000, when we were considering getting long-term-care insurance. The reality of the Huntington’s really hit me. I was going to have to take care of myself. I needed a skill set I could take anywhere. No more excuses. Whatever went wrong, I needed to figure out how to fix it.

Going to school only reinforced my self-reliant tendencies. I started losing interest in the whole “waiting on God” concept. I saw what a copout it really was. While some of my friends waited for a sign from above, I actually got things done. They are still waiting. And they always will be.

I’m not saying I have control over everything. I do what I can and let go of the rest. I can do nothing about what others do. Letting go of everything beyond our control is one part of adulthood. The other part is doing what one can. You do what you can first.

 Your intentions are made plain by your actions, without one word of discussion. What I discovered is that people see the effort you make and/or what you accomplish and support can come from the most unlikely of people. People want to support winners. They can see if you make the effort or not. This world desperately needs certain skills and you will be in demand if you exhibit them. Doing what needs to be done is powerful, but it is very threatening to those who think their permission is something you require before moving forward.

I’ve learned that the best means of dealing with reactionary people is to deal with them as little as possible. I just say what I need to say. If people agree, fine; if they don’t, oh well. If people react poorly, my job is to not respond on their level. Their reactionary behavior is their issue, not mine and I leave it at that. Their actions reflect only on them.

Original Perfection

Perfection Revealed

Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi
Gateless Gate, Case 9
Jingrang’s Nonattained Buddha

Featured in Mountain Record 25.4, Summer 2007


“Sometimes students ask me if there is any hope for this world. My answer is, “No, there is no hope.” But there is practice. Practice has nothing to do with hope. Practice begins with coming home to the moment. When you come home to the moment, you come home to yourself. You give life to the buddha, which just means that you give life to your true nature, the nature of the universe.”

Part of the beauty and severity of Buddhism lies in its forbiddance of distraction. And hope is the ultimate distraction. Hope is always about later, not now. Things will be better when…

I love the idea of meditation being a coming home of sorts, to your original perfection. The Christian doctrine of original sin is the ultimate means of social control. “You were born bad. Come to church and obey me and maybe you can go to heaven.” I fell for it for so long that it grieves me. I like Shunryu Suzuki’s saying, “You are perfect as you are and you could use a little improvement.” Nobody is perfect, but disapproving of ourselves is the beginning of a lifetime of shame and being manipulated. Been there, done that.

The problem with original perfection? It undermines our consumerist society to its very foundation. How do you promise someone a moment of peace (for a price, of course) when that person can literally sit anywhere and have that peace at any time? What happens to our economy when people are satisfied with their lives? Perhaps, at that point, resources could be distributed more according to need and less according to social class. What a concept.

Don’t Think, See

Venerable Henepola Gunaratana: Chapter 4: Attitude from Dharmaweb

“Don’t ponder: You don’t need to figure everything out. Discursive thinking won’t free you from the trap. In mediation, the mind is purified naturally by mindfulness, by wordless bare attention. Habitual deliberation is not necessary to eliminate those things that are keeping you in bondage. All that is necessary is a clear, non-conceptual perception of what they are and how they work. That alone is sufficient to dissolve them. Concepts and reasoning just get in the way. Don’t think. See.”

Thinking things to death does not help. Thinking is often a smokescreen, meant to obscure and prevent revelation. I first learned this lesson in Alanon. There is a pamphlet named “Alcoholism: A Merry-Go-Round Named Denial.” The lesson in it is simple: if you want to know what’s really going on, stop listening and start watching. The truth is in the actions, not in the dissemination of misinformation. Buddhists understand this. Christians don’t.

My pastor was talking in a worried tone about the young people he encountered when he ministered at an archdiocesan camp. The kids asked questions that showed they were developing a non-Orthodox worldview. His solution? Parents should talk to their kids more. I feel his solution misses the point.

Why does talking to their children miss the point in this case? It usually wouldn’t, but when kids are looking for spiritual answers at a camp, something is already missing at home. Kids are hearing what their parents are saying and watching what their parents are doing and there is a disconnect, or they wouldn’t be asking a total stranger for advice. They don’t know him from Adam. For all they know, he could be a pedophile. He’s not one, I can assure everyone. He is exceptionally careful in terms of appearances and he loves his wife greatly. But these kids don’t know any of this.

Do I think these kids are deliberately rejecting their parents as role models? No. The executive part of the brain does not fully mature until one’s early 20s. What these young people are doing is completely subconscious.

What does the future hold for these young people? They will likely keep asking questions of all sorts of people and looking at people’s behavior. The person they admire the most will have their undivided attention. Or, one day, they will get asked a question that they cannot answer and they will ask a question the other person answers to the questioner’s satisfaction. That will make a lasting impression. My point is that the person with the most spiritual influence in a young person’s life can be a classmate, a teammate, an online chat partner, or a complete stranger.

My priest was grateful that the congregation did not give him a problem with taking time off to go to camp. Of course no one protested; when he is absent, few people miss him. It would be far more complimentary if people protested his absence. The lack of protest should give him pause, but he has become the king of missing the point. His definition of respect is people telling him what he wants to hear in the way he wants to hear it. It’s all about words.

Here’s my point: because of his behavior in the past, I do not admire him or desire to be like him in any way, shape, or form. He has never made things right. Due to that, I do not seek guidance from him. I am careful in picking my role models (now that I’m in my mid-40s). The reason kids are looking to him for advice is precisely because they do not know him at all.

Talk does not help when behavior doesn’t match. The best theology is no substitute for integrity. Kids understand this instinctively. As Venerable Henepola Gunaratana said, “Don’t think. See.”