Monday, October 24, 2005

Nothing to Meditate On

How hard it can be to leave things are they are!

How hard it can be to not try to do something in meditation, and to not try to have an object. How hard to not contaminate your meditation by trying to find something, to correct something, or to judge it as 'good' or 'bad'.

Sometimes we judge our meditation as bad because we've not meditated much lately, and disturbing thoughts seems to proliferate more than before.

Sometimes we judge our meditation as bad because we get 'lost' in those thoughts, and they sweep us away, rather than seeing them for what they are, just empty appearances seemingly arising.

Sometimes we reject what is, our natural state of mind, and wish to substitute another for it, one that is somehow more pure, or more still, or more realised.

We don't need to meditate on anything, or take anything as an object, or reject or accept anything at all.

Simply allow ourselves to rest in minds nature, without beings swept away by thoughts and appearances that seem to arise .....

How wonderful it is when one just rests in the minds natural state, without trying to make it other than what is.

How wonderful when one just watches the arising of thoughts, not lost in them, but seeing them for what they are.

How wonderful when the mind naturally stills and pacifies, simply through simply looking, without manipulation.

How wonderful to not fabricate, to not seek to bring something about, and to allow to settle and unfold naturally.

How wonderful these Mahamudra instructions, which reveal our natural Mahamudra, our mind-as-it-is ... ordinary mind.

How wonderful indeed, to taste the bliss of meditation, and the same taste of all phenomena.

How fortunate indeed are we who contact these teachings, these teachers, these precious opportunities.

Do we take advantage of this precious congruence of conditions ... which presents itself before us?

The greatest gift, the secret of happiness ... the route to peace for all ....

How wonderful!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Reflections on Machig Labdron - The Material Devil

In reply to a question from her son, Gangpa Muksang, as to "what is the meaning of 'devil', Machig Labdron replied:

Machig Labdron"That which is called devil is not some actual great big black thing that scares and petrifies whomever sees it. A devil is anything that obstructs the achievement of freedom. ... Most of all, there is no greater devil than this fixation to a self."

Machig teaches that there are three further devils born from the fixation of ego, all of which are to be severed.

The Material Devil

The Material devil is the form that is seen with the eye. Attraction arises in relation to fine form, and the attitude of aversion arises towards bad form. In the same way, good and bad sounds, smells, tastes, and textures occur as the sense objects of the ear, nose, tongue, and body, and produce attraction or aversion. This is called the devil of dualistic grasping. One is attached to the [perceived] real existence of a sense object, and the sense organs get caught in the actual object of [attraction or] aversion. This creates the condition for harming sentient beings and thus becomes the cause of bondage to cyclic existence. For that reason it is called a devil. And it is called a devil because one is caught in the good and bad objects that really exist. Hence, 'material devil'.

Therefore, son, and good or bad thing that one clings to with attachment is a devil. Whatever the case, you must get rid of attachment and clinging. And as for form, the very essence of form is by nature empty. Therefore, son, since that form is by nature without real existence, you should meditate on that natural emptiness without attraction or aversion to form. You cannot stop form from appearing, [but realise that it is] mere appearance without grasping on to its valid existence. By elimating clinging to that mere appearance, you will be liberated from form, noble son. It is the same with sound, smell, taste and texture. Keep this in mind. This is the way of being of the material devil, and this is the way of liberation from that material devil.

Machig Labdron

How easy it is to mistake the mere appearances that arise to the mind as objects which are worthy of attachment and aversion! How easy it is to lose the perspective of their emptiness, and allow those appearances to fill the mind with their seeming solidity, until they take on a life they don't really posses, as solid, full and self-existent 'things'.

When mind rests in its own nature, then all is seen for what it is - as the play of mind, as the natural effervescence of mind, as mere appearances that dance and gyrate, but which lack any substance whatsoever. How easy it is to be seduced by appearance, and allow appearance to seemingly expand and solidify, until your awareness seems to lose its natural openness and expansiveness. And you are lost in the dark turgid solidity of forms, which oppress the mind with their seeming tangibility.

Yet when mind rests in its own nature, those very forms, those very objects which arise to the senses become the cause of realisation to arise. They become the basis on which we can let go and rest in expansive openess, and see the wafer-thin vaneer that is appearances, which merely seem to play across the field of awareness.

We can't stop those appearances from arising, though many try. Realisation isn't to be found in stopping appearances. But appearances naturally subside when mind is allowed to rest in its own nature.

Form is the material devil that seduces the mind into losing its ability to self-recognise, and to rest in itself. From is the material devil which invites awareness to shrink down and ossify, granting existence where there is none, and granting power where power brings difficulty. Not giving illusory existence to the mere play of appearance, the material devil cannot lead one astray. Not becoming entranced by the material devil, we are not led to harm living beings by our attraction and aversion to forms.

When the material devil is seen for what it is, empty appearances, then naturally compassion arises, and our actions are helpful and kind.

When the material devil entrances, then all actions become ego-centric, and along with help goes harm.

Tangible objects entrance, but are merely appearance. Without accepting or rejecting, allow what is to be. Merely as it is, yet wondrous indeed .....

Friday, October 14, 2005

Impermanence and Death

It's interesting how the death of those close to us leads to something of a Bardo in consciousness - a space where so much which seems to flow on automatic stops - a place where we are afforded a vantage point from which to view what is, one that is so advantageous to us as Dharma practitioners, and one which is often open all too briefly.

Watching the grief of my beloved wife now that her father has died has been so difficult. My father's death some 6 months back is still fresh in mind. How painful the emotions that run through the mind.

And yet, how wondrous and beautiful the opportunity which opens up to see how things are.

Clearly seeing the emotions which appear to arise - as empty appearances - seemingly solid and real, and yet, actually, ephemeral and elusive. Truly without substance or centre. How easy to hold on to these dances of mind, and take them as real and worthy of attachment.

And yet of course, they are not nothing. They are not entirely non-existent. Our pain does appear to arise. Our feelings do actually seem to come into existence and appear to our minds.

How delicate this balance - this way of seeing things - to see what appears to arise - and value those appearances - and at the same time, to see that none of that has any substanciality, and that they are all like apparitions or illusions.

How easy to fall into one-sided acceptance or rejection of dharmas. To fall into nihilism or eternalism. To fall into only seeing appearances, or only seeing emptiness. To fall into grasping at one or the other side of these dualisms.

The mahamudra is free of extremes, free of nihilism or eternalism. May all that appears to arise in our minds be fuel for development of wisdom and cause the liberation of all suffering sentient beings .....

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Impermanence - Azam Ali - Where all is Borrowed

In a world where all is borrowed,
and time like elusive dust seems to
just slip through our fingers,

all we really have are these precious moments
where we can make fertile the soil
in the garden of our hearts,
that here love may make its home
and here the mortal seed may flourish.

Only love can free us from the womb of time

for life like a magnificent mysterious cloud holds
its shape and form only long enough for us to blink,

and all our precious memories are but shadows of
time that will drift away like fallen leaves returning
to the emptiness from which they came.

Thus we are, like innocent children flowering
in the garden of souls.

Azam Ali

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Half Empty Cup?

Having just had my first real positive breakthrough with my slipped disc, after 7 years of pain, I was reflecting on what different views it is possible to form on the myriad shifting conditions of ones life, and how differently those views must then impact on your life.

I've just had a successful course of physiotherapy, and as a result, now have less pain than for many years, and some means by which I can manage my pain, without resorting to pain killers. That is quite a breakthrough!

However, I've had many rounds of physio in the past, and been referred to various different agencies and different treatments in that time.

So now that this treatment has been effective - primarily because I was referred to someone in the physio department who was a 'specialist' in back treatment, rather than to the other physios, what is my response?

Is it to curse my 'luck' that only now has a solution been found? I could have been referred to *that* physio at any time, but I wasn't. No-one thought to do so, it seems, despite the lack of success of their own treatment.

So you could say that perhaps I could have been without so much pain had things happened differently - had someone thought to pass me on to their colleague.

but they didn't ... and that is cause and effect .... karma ..... and dependent origination.

But what of my view ... my ideas about what is? Should I hang on to what might have been, and wasn't ... and feel regret, or even anger at the missed opportunity, and all the things in life I've missed due to chronic pain?

Or should I just be grateful for what I have now .... that I'm relatively pain free ... and can now do simple things in life again?

How do we form these views? Well, we form views by selecting out of myriad facets those that fit a particular angle, a particular 'take' on things. And we leave out all the aspects that don't fit with that .... reducing something immensely complex and constantly shifting, into something simple, neat, and ultimately, untrue.

And what are the consequences of these views? Is it not the case that once we have a 'view' on things, then we always then disregard all the arisings that don't fit with this .... and just keep picking up on that which seems to ratify our view?

Do we not only selectively pick out what suits us, but also respond feelingly in such a partial way too?

Do we not have a 'mood' which is a result of the 'view' we have?

If we feel we've been hard done by all these years due to settling on a view which says it *should* have been different .. then how will that make us feel?

Or if we simple say ... that's karma, that's dependent origination ... and let go ... and just get on with what is .... without partiality ... then how will we feel?

Falsify what is, come up with a view ... then filter what comes to be .... and get caught up in negative emotions .....

or just stay with what is ... fluid, complex, shifting always .... and spontaneously respond to needs as they arise, without prejudice, without partiality .... and without reactivity ....

hmmm .... do we see life as a glass that is half full, or half empty?

Do we need to see it is exclusively either? Do we need a view of this sort?

Perhaps half-full is a more useful skillful means than half-empty ..... but beyond skillful means and provisional understandings lies what is .... which lies beyond views.

Open, receptive, responsive ....

Unrestricted .....

Allow the heart to open ... and the mind's natural expansiveness to just be ....

Friday, September 16, 2005

Wordly Things are Pitiful

Reflecting on how easy it is to get swept up in wanting and not-wanting, based on misunderstanding the impermanent and not-self nature of all things, the activities of this life, and the apparent pleasures that arise in it are seductive and yet illusory.

How true it is that that which we grasp after slips like sand through our fingers, however hard we try to grasp.

How true it seems to be that the more we grasp after that which we think will bring us happiness, the more empty we feel, and the more we feel we need to do more grasping.

How blessed are the moments when we see through this whole game, and the extraordinary unnecessary nature of the way we grope and grasp is seen in clarity of mind, to be the doomed to failure exercise it truly is.

When mind opens into clarity and emptiness, we see at once the spacious unfixedness of all that appears, and recognise the futility of grasping and rejecting that which is mere appearance.

How peaceful the mind is, which doesn’t try to mistakenly solidify that which cannot be solidified.

How beautiful the release when grasping is relinquished!

How wonderful the teachings of the Gurus, who point the path to such unmistaken realisation!

How blessed indeed are we whose path is illuminated by the clarity of their teachings!

How wonderful – Eh Ma Ho!

The words of Jetsun Milarepa, the peerless one, on the futility of grasping at worldly concerns:
Alas, how pitiful are worldly things!
Like precious jade they cherish
Their bodies, yet like ancient trees
They are doomed in the end to fall.
Sometimes bridle your wild thoughts
And pay heed to the Dharma.

Though you gather wealth
As hard as bees collect their honey,
The ills that upon you may fall
Can never be foretold,
Sometimes bridle your wild thoughts
And pay heed to the Dharma.

One may offer to a Lama
Loads of silk for many years;
But when an ill-fortune descends,
Like a fading rainbow
One's faith at once dissolves.
Sometimes bridle your wild thoughts
And pay heed to the Dharma.

Like a pair of mated beasts,
Lovers live together,
But calamity by the wolf's attack
May fall on you at any time.
Sometimes bridle your wild thoughts
And pay heed to the Dharma.

You may cherish your dear son,
Like a hen hatching her egg;
But a falling rock may crush it at any time.
Sometimes bridle your wild thoughts
And pay heed to the Dharma.

A face may be as pretty as a flower,
Yet at any time it can be spoiled by violent hail.
Think at times of how this world
Is sorry, transient and futile.

Though son and mother have affection
For each other, when discords arise,
Like foes they clash and quarrel,
Sometimes towards all sentient beings
You should feel compassion.

Baking in the warm sunlight
May be pleasant and a comfort,
But a storm of woe may rise
And choke you at any time,
Remember sometimes the deprived,
And give alms to those in need.

Oh, dear men and women patrons,
For him who cannot practise Dharma,
All his life will be meaningless,
All his acts wrong-doings!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Useless Stuff?

When it really gets down to it, how much of our activity is quite simply 'useless'?

I don't mean that it has no use at all on a mundane level, but that it is so conditioned, so led by instinct or habit, so unconscious or below awareness or choice, or simply so trivial, superficial and transient that one wonders how on earth one gets caught up in so much 'doing'.

How is this stuff so powerful? Has does it exert so much attraction that we are seduced into activity, into wanting or not wanting, into trying to gain, have and sustaining?

In a way, this 'stuff' isn't so seductive or attractive as such. In a way, nothing is inherently more or less attractive as such. In a way, it's just conditioned co-production, it's the sum total of all influences at that moment, of all conditions at that moment, that bring to bear the ability of that 'thing' to transfix us and tranform us, to encourage us to lose our natural abiding, and trade it for ignorance and duality.

But then again, it's not the 'thing' is it? It's our minds, our consciousness, our awareness that counts. It's 'us' inasmuch as their is an 'us', it's 'me', inasmuch as their is a 'me' which gets lost in this duality and illusion of solidity, which chooses or not to dive into the pool of unawareness and transient 'honey on a razors edge' pleasure.

In that moment of awareness, how does it come to be that we either abide in our natural state, we rest in minds natural state, we are Buddha Nature, we recognise Ordinary Mind ... or we get caught up in allowing appearances to well up into apparent solidity, to seem to not be merely alluring illusions, and become hard and whole happenings and things ... which seem inherently worth chasing after/away?

Mind is open, expansive and without centre. Appearances come and go ... seemingly, but do they?

When mind's nature is lost, appearances take on an entirely different nature, or so it seems. They solidify, then become 3D, they become real, and then attract and entrance.

And yet, they don't. They don't solidify. They remain empty.

Whether lost from Original Mind, temporarily, or abiding it its nature, those appearances remain the same ... empty, free of solidity or self, and illusive and like a dream. Their nature never changes. But our perception of them, and their nature appears to change. So much so that we get lost to ourselves, lost to our nature, and chase after those dreams as though our lives depended on it.

Our lives depended on it? Our lives depend on recognising the nature of all this, and helping all beings to the same, doesn't it?

Or does millions of years of evolution on this planet come down to Pop Idol, Home Makeover shows, and an endless procession of passive consumption of what you need to make your life complete entertainment?

In the moment, our awareness, mind ... appearances ... how are they?

In the moment, which road do we take .... to the heart of things, or lost in illusion?

In the moment, what enables us to take that choice, to wisdom, or to ignorance?

In the moment, the whole universe lays before us, where will we go?

In the moment ... in the moment ....

Friday, August 12, 2005

Monday, July 11, 2005

Tara and Machig Labdron

At the age of fourty-one, Machig Labdron stayed in a retreat cave in Chipug which was blessed for practice. On the fourth day of the last month of spring, in the middle of the night, the majestic Lady Tara appeared, surrounded by numerous dakinis. She bestowed on Machig the four initiations of the five primordial Buddhas according to the Udumvara Tantra...

Thereupon Machig composed a hymn of praise to each of the five Buddha families and later improvised another one in twenty-one stanzas to Tara herself. She then addressed Tara as follows: "You have shown me great kindness and given me the most extraordinary power of initiation and blessing. Yet I don't know if a woman like me, not particularly bright, and of feeble capacities, will be able to accomplish the benefit of beings..."

Tara smiled, then after a quick glance at the dakinis of her entourage, she said: "Yogini, do not feel discouraged! In the course of previous lives you have studied and mastered the meaning of the scriptures of Sutra and Tantra. So today it is sufficient for me to reveal this meaning to you through mere symbols. You are a mind emanation of the Great Mother Yum Chenmo: we are inseparable. You are the wisdom dakini, the sovereign of the Vajradhatu and the source of the liberation of all phenomena. Don't lose heart. Keep your determination."

But Machig replied: "How could I possibly be an emanation of the Great Mother, inseparable from you? And in what way am I the source of the liberation of all phenomena? And where is the residence of the Great Mother?"

Tara answered, "Yogini, although in your innermost heart there is clear knowledge about the past, listen carefully and I'll explain it to you. The one known as the primordial Mother Yum Chenmo is the ultimate nature of all phenomena, emptiness, the essence of reality, free from the two veils. She is the pure expanse of emptiness, the knowledge of the non-self. She is the matrix which gives birth to all the Buddhas of the three times.

"However, so as to enable all sentient beings to accumulate merit, the Great Mother appears as an object of veneration through my aspirations and prayers for the sake of all beings. And so, through the power of my wishes and compassion, from the dharmata there appears bright light in the shape of an orange-colored bindu marked with the syllable MUM, ablaze with light. In turn this transforms into the Great Mother Yum Chenmo, golden in color, with one face and four hands, sitting in the vajra posture, her body beautiful with all the major and minor marks of a Buddha. Surrounded by her princely sons, the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions, Yum Chenmo resides in the Gandavyuha sphere of the celestial pure land of Akanistha, in a marvelous celestial palace.

"From my heart there radiates a greenish-black ray of light marked with the syllable HUNG and it enters into the Mother's heart, awaking her. Then it radiates out again gathering the power of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions and it dissolves again into the Mother's heart. Instantly, she transforms into a sky-blue dakini with one face and four hands. She is the sovereign of Vajhradhatu. From her body, speech, mind, qualities and activity appear innumerable manifestations. Among these, the mind emanation is the bluish-black Vajra Lady with one face and two hands who subjugates all demons. On the crown of her head is a boar's head emerging from her hair. Her splendor illuminating the three worlds, she gathers all the dakinis under her power. She sets all demonic forces to work as her servants; she is the source of the liberation of all phenomena.

"Now this Vajra Lady, who subjugates all demons for the sake of all sentient beings, took numberous births in appropriate times and places. She mastered the Pitakas and accomplished tremendous deeds for the sake of living beings. Finally she took birth in Tibet. She is no other than yourself, Shining Light of Lab."


Edou, Jerome. Machig Labdron and the Foundations of Chod. Snow Lion Publications, 1996, pp. 151-152.

This has always been one of my favourite passages from Machig's Namthar (spiritual biography) .... her direct meeting with Tara, and Tara's introduction to her true identity and the dispelling of her remaining doubts. Wonderful!!!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Prayer of Compassion following London Bombing

May the lives of ailing sentient beings be extended and made meaningful.
May those who are suffering from hunger or thirst obtain sustenance,
Those who are afflicted by external fears become fearless,
And everything that beings desire be granted exactly as they wish.
May all sentient beings do good and swiftly attain enlightenment.
May those in power rule with justice,
Governments be of service and ministers endowed with wholesome qualities,
And the public remain at peace at all times.
May all sentient beings be free from all possible forms of suffering.
May they attain liberation,
Their minds be free of unwholesome states,
And their time devoted to realizing their true nature.
May their be bountiful harvests in all lands.
May there be no sickness or any threat to life,
No conflict between self and others,
and peace and prosperity everywhere.
May limitless sentient beings in the ten directions be free from suffering.
May whatever they put their mind to bear fruit,
And may they attain bliss
As a result of the merit accumulated from this prayer.

'Kindly Bent to Ease Us'

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

How Mantras Work

I thought I'd post on the nature of mantras and how they work, as I've recently responded to a question asking this on a Dharma list ....

Firstly though, I'd like to say that I wholeheartedly agree with the suggestions already made that the way to truly find out what mantras are and how they work is through their practice. I suppose I should also say in passing that scientific explanations or common sense aren't necessarily going to help anyone much .... what one needs is dharma, so would not a dharmic explanation be more efficacious?

Having said that, I'd like to share something from the point of view of the four Yanas.

Mantras primarily appear in the context of Vajrayana, though they also appear in Mahayana practice too. But it might be useful to respond to your question from each Yana in turn?

From a Hinayana point of view, what we are primarily doing is recognising those dharmas which are unskilful and unhelpful to our development, and seeking to avoid them and to avoid cultivating them. So anything that helps us to stay away from those aspects of mind which are seen as unpure and unskilful could play a part in Hinayana practice. So we could use a mantra in such a way that it keeps us away from unskilful thoughts of greed, hatred and delusion through simply keeping the mantra in awareness. As long as we are fully concentrated on the mantra, then there is no space for unskilful thoughts. Indeed, one of the main ways that the word 'mantra' is translated is as 'that which protects the mind' (from the unskilful). Do you recognise this approach of eradicating unskilful states on mind in your use of mantras?

From a Mahayana point of view, what are we trying to do? We are moving away from a model of renunciation, and moving towards one where we are more accomodating and subtle. This model is one of purification, and we use mantras in the Mahayana to purify our minds. Through seeing the empty nature of both mantras and that which they seek to purify, and also the compassionate energy of that which they symbolise of the enlightened mind, we purify the unskilful dharmas in our minds through the use of mantra. In a sense, we are applying an antidote to those unskilful mental states. So can you recognise that method and view when you use mantras?

From a Vajrayana point of view, we move away from purification as a model, and employ a view and methods of transformation. As mantras are central to Vajrayana practice, I'll say a little more here. When one practices Vajrayana, the central difference to that of Hinayana and Mahayana is that you are no longer trying to create causes for enlightenment. With Vajrayana, you are practicing the result of enlightenment, as it were. You practice the result to bring about the result. So in this way, we practice enlightened speech in order to transform our deluded speech into the speech of the Buddhas. And that is precisely what the mantra is - the speech of the Buddha. Whilst we are also visualising our bodies as that of the Buddha in our Completion stage of a Deity meditation, and practicing seeing our minds as that of the Buddha, especially in the completion stage, we therefore work on body, speech and mind to transform it from unpure to pure. And mantras are therefore a part of that process.

Another aspect of Vajrayana usage of mantras is that in Vajrayana we continually learn to associate the deluded with the undeluded. By this I mean that we don't reject dharmas, and we don't really seek to purify them. Instead, we simply transform them by making the association of each unskilful mental state with the skilful mental state of a Buddha. So whatever arises for us is seen as part of the Buddhas mandala - body, speech and mind are all displays of the deity and their mandala. So we take our speech, and constantly associate it with the Buddhas speech through the use of mantras. You could also say that mantras symbolise the Buddhas speech, and this is perhaps the more usual way of putting this point I am now making, but I think that putting it in terms of habitual association brings out the transformative nature of the action a little stronger perhaps than the model of the symbol does. So again, can you see how your use of mantras fits into the view and methods of Vajrayana, and how you transform your mind through them?

Finally, a short mention for the forth yana, that of the Sahajayana, or the vehicle of co-emergence. This is what we commonly know as Mahamudra.

From a mahamudra point of view, what are we doing? We are primarily looking into the nature of the mind, in order to directly recognise that nature. So here we've moved away from renouncing, purifying and even transforming dharmas. Here the method is self-liberation, and so when we meditate we see how dharmas naturally self-liberate - we don't have to do anything to them at all. Furthermore, we see that all dharmas have the same nature - they are all empty, and yet there are appearances. Mind is seen as empty, yet there are appearances, and minds activity is unceasing.

So how would we view and work with mantras from a Mahamudra perspective? Primarily, we look directly at the nature of the mantra, and recognise that as being no different to the nature of mind at rest, mind with appearances, or mind with any other thought. Ultimately, they are all the same - all empty of substance and substantiality. Of course, from a relative point of view, we'd see differences in how they appear, and so this we could see when we cause a mantra to arise in our mind. In a sense, in Mahamudra shamatha, we are just placing the mind on a pure object, rather than an impure object in the case of the breath, or a pebble, for example. And in the case of Mahamudra vipassana, we investigate the nature of how the mantra appears, and how it truly exists, just as we would with any other phenomena. So again, can you recognise anything of this view and method in your use of mantra?

I hope that this will give you a little more to work with in terms of understanding what a mantra is and how it works. And hope that a dharmic perspective will give you something more valuable than any other perspective.

And finally to go back to the beginning, as it were, and to reiterate that the 'proof is in the pudding' as they say in England - so to truly know what a mantra is and how it works this must be done experiencially - in your practice, and in your person.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Live 8 and Dharma

The most powerful moment of the concerts for me was when Madonna brought on the Ethiopian woman who had last been seen as a blighted, starving child in a video shown at the Live Aid concerts 20 years ago.

It seemed inconceivable that the terrible wretch in the video was now the radiant and stunningly beautiful woman who seemed to glide across the stage. She truly seemed to appear as an angelic vision.

How emotional to know that at least one being had been rescued from that intense suffering by the caring and kind actions of beings on that day 20 years ago. If only one being was helped to this degree, then it was all worth it, but how many more were helped? It was extraordinary to know that yes, good things do happen in the world, (despite the news), and that the mass of people out there do act from generosity and kindness at least some of the time. Compassion is alive and well in the most unpromising of sources, perhaps.

For myself, I was struck afterwards that this moment was the conjunction of many things. The powerful effect seeing this woman had on me was the result of many causes and conditions coming together - dependent origination. Why it sparked so much off in me, (and seemingly not in others) was the direct result of all that which came together in the moment between me and the TV set. For others, different conditions obtained.

So there isn't an inherent existence in anything. No two people will respond alike to any one thing, as there isn't anything solid and final in what they watch, or in themselves. Just an infinity of conditions, ebbing and flowing, coming together and then dissipating, and perhaps unique conjunctions in a moment of time.

So where did my extraordinary response come from? My floods of tears on seeing her radiance, and her previously pitiful condition? What were the conditions that brought that about?

I don't really know what they were, just that an infinity of conditions there must be. And that that is true in all situations in life, at all times. All that appears to arise is compounded, is it not? And all of it is empty of enduring substance.

Live 8 brought out compassion, and also some small glimpse of the nature of how things are. And it "changed the world", as they say ....

Monday, July 04, 2005

Meditation on Mind

I thought I'd share some experiences in meditation .....

The Ocean and the Waves .... thoughts are like gossamer ripples on the surface of the ocean. Waves are not something other than the ocean. They are just an aspect of it, not different in nature. Thoughts kinda ripple on the surface of it. Really fragile hollow little things. How is it we get caught up in them so much and attach so much importance to them! They are so ephemeral and transcient and rainbow like! The image of the Magicians illusion is so true. They appear as though conjured up, and have no more substance than an illusion ... and yet they plainly appear.

The Origin .... where do thoughts come from? If the thought is intentional, i.e. I deliberately cause it to arise, then the thought seems as though it follows a current deep within or below, and the thought itself seems like a ripple on the surface. The current below, which feels much more powerful than the thought itself is what? ... Intention .... or willful action .... volition. It is plainly apparent how intention seems to be of greater weight or consequence that the effect of the intention is, that is, the thought. I guess this experience matches up with the teaching on karma, which give such a 'weight' or significance to volitions. They are the driving forces of our suffering, and our experience. When viewing my mediation experience, thoughts seem so much less 'substantial' than intention does.

Their Destination ..... where do thoughts go to? They seem like distant echoes. When the thought has gone, it appears to leave a trace, something which traces their prior existence. The thought itself though seems uttterly empty, and without substance. And the trace, the echo, is itself a thought of a kind, or perhaps not even that .... an echo of a thought, a pale reflection of what might have been, which has even less substance and solidity than that which it purports to recollect.

All of it - thoughts, recollection of thoughts, still mind - all of it seems of the same nature .... expansive, open, spacious, and without enduring substance at all. Yet there are also echoes and illusions, which somehow appear or manifest withing/around/through that open spaciousness. Located where? - nowhere, yet they seem to appear. Of what substance? - of nothing, yet they seem to appear. Of what significance? - how hard to judge. It seems as though 'stuff happens', yet its substance is wafer thin. Yet beings remain, suffering seems to be, and responding to this is the only thing which makes sense. What else makes sense in life? We all lick the honey off the razor's edge .... how to help beings see what they are doing and stop such action?

This is the question ......

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Flickering in the Wind

It is said that trying to see the nature of mind without first training the mind in resting (or Shamatha) is like trying to see around an old dark room which is only lit by a candle which is flickering wildly in the wind. How hard is it to see things, and even when we do, how can we be sure of what we see?

When the mind is trained in resting naturally, whether on objects, or without objects, then we gain the ability to see clearly and deeply into what is, and what appears to be.

So the basis for realising 'how things are' is the ability to rest the mind with stability. Mind Still. In practicing Shamatha, there is mostly placing of the mind, but there is also some analysis going on - a necessary work of checking up on our practice, noticing if there are any faults, and rectifying them with the appropriate remedies.

In practicing Vipassana (the method of looking into the nature of the mind), there is most certainly analysis - the posing of questions as it were, for us to directly establish the answers via direct perception, but there is also placement too. Without the ability to remain at rest, our analysis would just decend into proliferation of thought, and we'd be lost in that thought and carried away by it.

So both Shamatha and Vipassana contain placement and analysis, just in differing amounts.

And without the ability to rest the mind, there would be no Shamatha and no Vipassana either.

So what does it take for us to cultivate the ability to rest the mind? And what does it take to support that ability?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Mind Moving and Mind Still

"If both the moving and the calm aspects of the mind are the same, then why should we meditate and learn to reach the calm aspect?"

In an important sense, both aspects are not the same. From the relative point of view, are they the same? Do they both appear in the same way?

From the ultimate point of view, perhaps one could say they are both the same, in that they are both empty. Certainly they have 'same taste', but does that mean they are both the same?

Perhaps the traditional way to say this is that both have the same essence - i.e. that of emptiness, or the nature of dharmata. Sometimes saying they have the same reality seems to create confusion for some people .... as if reality was 'something' which is in some way existent, whether 'behind' or 'within' what we perceive ....

Whether mind is at rest or mind is moving, it has the same essence - emptiness ...

"Why do we need to purify something like Karma which doesn´t actually exist?"

Perhaps saying 'it doesn't actually exist' suggests something too strong - maybe 'doesn't actually exist in the way we think or assume it exists' is sometimes a more useful description? Sometimes we say 'doesn't exist' as that strongly corrects our opposite assumption, but we can swing too far the other way too, and so 'doesn't exist in the way we assume it to exist can then be a useful corrective.

But regarding the point of doing purification of karma practices - well absolutely, they are a skilful means. And so is cultivating a still mind. In this case, the main reason we learn to cultivate the still mind is that it is the easiest place for us to start looking at the nature of mind. In other words, we cultivate mahamudra shamatha in order to practice mahamudra vipassana.

Once we have some skill at shamatha, and are not swept away by thoughts that arise, then we are able to look at the mind at rest and see its nature, look at the mind in movement (i.e. with thoughts - usually by deliberately causing a thought to arise) and see its nature, and look at mind with appearances (i.e. the arisings from the other 5 senses), and again see its nature. What we will see will be the same essence in each case - emptiness. But the conventional nature will not be the same in each case.

So without the ability to reside in shamatha and not get swept away with thoughts, we are not able to cause thoughts to arise, and to see into their nature. We'd just be caught by those thoughts, and carried away, and then lose our ability to see deeply.

So we aren't trying to get away from mind with movement all the time, and just be in mind without movement, or still mind .... but using the practice of cultivating mind without movement so that we have the ability to look directly at the nature of the mind - however it is ..... when we can look at mind however it is, then it doesn't matter any more how it is, we can always just look deeply. So all of life, all of our experience becomes fertile ground for seeing, all of it comes onto the path, and all of it is truly 'practice'.

(responses on a Dharma list)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Hospital Dharma

Hi there, just a quick post (and unusually personal post) to say that I've been in hospital for a week due to a slipped disc. It's been a painful time, to say the least, but at least one which gave me much time for reflection.

It was very sad being in the hospital - there were a lot of very old people there in the ward with me, suffering greatly, many of whom were so lonely, and really disorientated, and really not with all their faculties. It was heartbreaking seeing them so.

All in all it was an extraordinary experience in the hospital - so much going on around me, and so much opportunity to meditate, pray, and reflect on life. I'm struck so powerfully over how my life is so very full of blessings, and I felt much gratitude and joy whlst in hospital. There truly appears to be so much suffering in the world. And yet one sees people trying to alleviate the sufferings that beings undergo.

So much seemed to happen whilst in the hospital, yet what truly happened?

Something of a Bardo, an opening, a blessed chance to assume a somewhat altered vantage point, and have the space free from obligations to bring much awareness to bear.

How vicious indeed are the illusory sufferings of samsara ..... may all beings immediately awaken from forgetfulness

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Reflections on Ryokan

At night, deep in the mountains I sit in zazen.
The affairs of men never reach me here.
In the stillness I sit on a cushion across from the empty window.
The incense has been swallowed up by the endless night;
My robe has become a garment of white dew.
Unable to sleep, I walk into the garden;
Suddenly, above the highest peak, the round moon appears.

In my early days of Dharma, I was so inspired by Ryokan and his poetry. My hero was Milarepa, and the ideal of the hermit, in a cave or hermitage, far from other humans, solitary, sat in meditation - the idea of this was my source of strength and sustenance. What a beautiful ideal - sitting long hours, looking deep into mind, with only the seasons, animals and nature for company. What more could one want!

It's funny how life pans out. Early on in my Dharma days, my first daughter was born, and my life became the family man. Yet my ideal remained the hermit. The way in which I held these two simultaneously - engaged with family and society, and renunciate of worldly ways was the dynamic and story of my Dharma practice. As the years have gone by, my meditation and practice has become less and less about being in particular conditions, and more and more about simply seeing into the nature of mind, however the shimmering shapes that appear in it may be.

More and more I feel like the hermit inside, who lives in the world, yet is somehow not bound by it. How beautiful the image of the Buddha, who thoroughly embodied this - in this world, yet not of it! How must that be like, to fully live that to the core? Not caught on the hooks of desire and ill-will, not grasping at appearances, but able to freely move through them as you would move through a rainbow.

How wonderful it is to have family and friends, to experience the richness of what arises in life, yet not be bound to it through falsely imagining solidity where there is not. As my mind loosens, and appearances slowly release their entrancing grip on attention, I find an openess and freedom to glide and slide. How beautiful this release from the tightness of grasping!

If the fruits of practice are this sweet with my poor efforts and realisation, then how must the ultimate fruit be!!!!

May all beings find this peace through loosening the intoxication of illusory appearances, and find the freedom of compassion that flows from the mind that is released!

(This poem is so beautiful ... the wonderful way Ryokan describes how things are ... just the bare description, without judgement and interpretation ... and as always, the beautiful ending .. the moon appearing .... one feels something of how that would feel in that context ... how beautiful, how fitting, how perfect, each thing in its place, just what it is, nothing less, nothing more .... simply 'thus' ....)

Friday, June 03, 2005

Reflections on Ground Mahamudra - Jamgon Kongtrul - Vajra Song

Since no essence exists anywhere,
Its expression is completely unobstructed and manifests everything.
Pervading all of samsara and nirvana like space,
It is the ground of all confusion and liberation,
With its self-luminous consciousness
And its alaya-vijnana.
As for the cognitive aspect of this neutral state,
Its essence is empty and its nature is luminous.
These two are inseperable and are the quintessence of insight.
It is space, ungraspable as a thing.
It is a spotless precious clear crystal.
It is the glow of the lamp of self-luminous mind.
It is inexpressible, the experience of a mute.
It is unobscured, transparent wisdom,
The luminous dharmakaya, sugatagarbha,
Primordially pure and spontaneous.
It cannot be shown through analogy by anyone,
And it cannot be expressed in words.
It is the dharmadhatu, which overwhelms mind’s inspection.

From the Vajra Song of the First Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche

Will I ever tire of reading these types of songs, and allowing them to speak deeply to my being?

Each time I come across another song by a realised master, trying to express the inexpressible, another ray of light illuminates my heart, and opens my mind, just a little.

A glimpse ... an opening ... a sudden loosening of concepts, and the arising of openess and let-go-ness - expansive luminous openess:
"It is the dharmadhatu, which overwhelms mind’s inspection."

These words go deep into the heart, and cut like a knife through my 'must-know' mind, allowing a spaciousness of mind to arise, and devotion to fill the heart. How blessed indeed we are, us of fortunate karma, to meet with these excellent teachings, so ever-potent across illusory time and space!

How 'ever-present' the gurus, their words endlessly echoing, always there, always being, always resonating. Never not having been, always there. The illusion of arising, seemingly just heard, yet always known, always close, always waiting to be revealed, the thin veil effortlessly lifted.

May these moments of illumination fill all beings mindstreams, and remain endlessly present, until even the word 'samsara' is no more heard!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Reflections on Phukong Tulku Rinpoche - My only thought is of my Lama

My only thought is of my Lama.
My only prayer is to realize
Oneness with his Buddha mind.
I have no other practice
Than following the natural flow, freely enjoying
The sublime freedom of nonaction.
Meditation beyond fixation,
Aimless and free from all constrictions and limitations,
Mingling my mind with his
In the wisdom of Dharmakaya, naked reality.
All the intentions of the Buddhas are perfectly fulfilled.
This is the jeweled essence of my heart's pith instructions
Placed directly in your hand,
Like Buddha in the palm of your hand.

- Phukong Tulku Rinpoche

How extraordinary the difference has been for me, moving to Vajrayana practice. In a sense the Guru Yoga and Deity Yoga has totally transformed meditation for me. You could say that I'm doing same old Shamatha meditation, for example, but now with the context of Guru and Deity presence. Meditation, utterly suffused with devotion. Mediation embedded in prayer.

How different it's been invoking the blessings of the gurus and deities to every meditation and activity. Still me in a sense doing the work, yet with that 'something' extra - the field of blessings - suffusing the mindstream.

How wonderful to be graced with this precious blessing. How wonderful to have the great good fortune to have stumbled across these teachings and teachers! What great good fortune that so many things have come together in this life, so that obstacles are revealed as opportunities, and all that was called 'bad' is now a play of mind.

May all beings have the same great good fortune, and find the way out of this web of illusory suffering!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Faith and Emptiness

It seems that for many people the word `Faith' is problematic. For
many people, the reason why is become of the negative connotations
that they have with that term. For some, that is based on bad
experiences they had with previous religious affiliations, or contact
with those of other religions. For some, it is because they wish this
religion of theirs to be as different as possible from other
religions. For some, it's because they wish this religion to be as
`rational', and `empirical' as possible. Often, related areas such as
ritual, prayer, devotion etc, etc are also problematic.

So the notion of Faith is often dealt with in such a way as to allow
such people to `accommodate' this aspect of Dharma and the teachings.
We may set up things up to make it more palatable for us, and thereby
allow us to `take onboard' something of this part of the teachings.

I say all this not by way of criticism, but rather to point out
something that I seem to see happening at times, and with the
intention of trying to point out that we are not necessarily neutral
in our approach to the Dharma, or in opening to the teachings, but may
have a lot of `baggage' which influences how we receive those
teachings. Indeed, this is Karma and Dependent Origination.

One may find that over the years our views change, and that things are
not quite as black and white, or dualistic as we once thought, and the
neat differences between religions and approaches are not quite as
hard and fast as they initially appeared (or we might not!).

One example might suffice – the neat distinction between so called
`blind belief' and `faith' (in the Dharmic sense). It is said that
faith is very different from such blind belief. Yet how much blind
belief is their in our minds and actions every day? Do we assume that
the sun will rise tomorrow, or that we will wake up from sleep
tomorrow. Or that we won't die today, or that our next breath isn't
our last?

On what basis? Perhaps, on the basis that the sun came up yesterday,
for example? How do I know that? My memory? How do I know that is
accurate? How do I know that what appears to memory accurately
`records' that which actually happened? By what objective criteria
could I possibly judge?

What is a `memory', what is `what is actually happening right now'?

As we look deeply into things, we may find that they are not as solid
and certain as we once thought (again, we might not!). We might find
that things (things?) are utterly groundless ... utterly without any
centre, solidity or certainty. On what would we base ourselves then,
in certainty? Do the Three Jewels have solid and definite existence as
real, concrete objects that we can grasp? If so, they would be `selfs'
or non-empty, would they not?

Do they not appear a certain way, though ultimately are without solid
existence. Do we not find that though they are not ultimately solid,
we can depend on them, on the way they appear to us? Is it not because
of their emptiness, their utter groundlessness that we can depend on them?

If so, faith is based on something that is not solid. If so, our every
act is based on appearances that arise, but ultimately are found to be
without solidity at all. If so, and this is my point, our response in
terms of faith/belief is something which isn't a solid thing relying
on a solid thing, but more of the nature of a skilful means which
takes something as it is, as something empty yet appearing, and which
therefore doesn't yearn for the solidity of certainty which is the
solidity of selfhood.

The act of faith is not solid, and neither is that on which the act of
faith is based. The experience in which faith is grounded, which gives
us confidence, is not solid, and cannot be found when searched for.
And yet neither is it non-existent. Faith isn't therefore a certainty
based on something solid and real, and neither is it a blind belief
based on something which doesn't exist for us. But instead, it is
something which shimmers somehow between the two seemingly dualistic
poles (faith as confidence vs. blind belief) ... something which is a
resonance and response to what is, something which is drawn out of us
in many different ways … But always on the basis of what is 'deepest'
or `truest' in us resonating which what is 'deepest' or 'truest' in
the nature of things. When the bell tolls, the heart responds. And
that response is 'faith'; however you describe it, or translate the term.

(a recent post to a Dharma study group)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Reflections on Rainer Maria Rilke - On Hearing Of A Death

We lack all knowledge of this parting. Death
does not deal with us. We have no reason
to show death admiration, love or hate;
his mask of feigned tragic lament gives us

a false impression. The world's stage is still
filled with roles which we play. While we worry
that our performances may not please,
death also performs, although to no applause.

But as you left us, there broke upon this stage
a glimpse of reality, shown through the slight
opening through which you disappeared: green,
evergreen, bathed in sunlight, actual woods.

We keep on playing, still anxious, our difficult roles
declaiming, accompanied by matching gestures
as required. But your presence so suddenly
removed from our midst and from our play, at times

overcomes us like a sense of that other
reality: yours, that we are so overwhelmed
and play our actual lives instead of the performance,
forgetting altogether the applause.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

This poem has really struck me this last few days. The images of ourselves, our egos, playing out roles like an actor playing to an audience. How we adjust our actions to create an effect on the world, yet this ego which is constantly adjusting and 'acting' doesn't truly exist.

and then, onto the stage, comes death, who truly cuts through all this acting - a dose of 'reality', if you will. How deeply the knife of death cuts, and strips away all the acting and pretense. It seems as though death has a reality which this ego does not, and so the actor of ego leaves the stage, at least temporarily. Death appears with the passing on of a loved one, their physical presence missed, though their 'presence' continues. How extraordinary that our actor drops his mask, ego drops away, and we 'get real', still 'acting' yet no longer 'acting', if you see what I mean?

And yet, when we look deeply, death has no more reality than the ego does. Both seem to appear, yet have no actual substance.

and yet, this illusory death has the effect of stripping away the unnecessary, and revealing the essential, 'playing our actual lives, instead of the performance, forgetting the applause'.

How extraordinary, this seeming loss and gain ...

'But as you left us, there broke upon this stage
a glimpse of reality, shown through the slight
opening through which you disappeared: green,
evergreen, bathed in sunlight, actual woods.'

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness

Because of the unobstructed nature of the mind, there is a continuous arising of appearances.
Like the waves and the waters of the ocean, which are not two (different things),
Whatever arises is liberated into the natural state of the mind.
However many different names are applied to it in this unceasing process of naming things,
With respect to its real meaning, the mind (of the individual) does not exist other than as one.
And, moreover, this singularity is without any foundation and devoid of any root.
But, even though it is one, you cannot look for it in any particular direction.
It cannot be seen as an entity located somewhere, because it is not created or made by anything.
Nor can it be seen as just being empty, because there exists the transparent radiance of its own luminous clarity and awareness.
Nor can it be seen as diversified, because emptiness and clarity are inseparable.
Immediate self-awareness is clear and present.
Even though activities exist, there is no awareness of an agent who is the actor.
Even though they are without any inherent nature, experiences are actually experienced.
If you practice in this way, then everything will be liberated.
With respect to your own sense faculties, everything will be understood immediately without any intervening operations of the intellect.
Just as is the case with the sesame seed being the cause of the oil and the milk being the cause of butter,
But where the oil is not obtained without pressing and the butter is not obtained without churning,
So all sentient beings, even though they possess the actual essence of Buddhahood,
Will not realize Buddhahood without engaging in practice.
If he practices, then even a cowherd can realize liberation.
Even though he does not know the explanation, he can systematically establish himself in the experience of it.
(For example) when one has had the experience of actually tasting sugar in one's own mouth,
One does not need to have that taste explained by someone else.
Not understanding this (intrinsic awareness), even Panditas can fall into error.
Even though they are exceedingly learned and knowledgeable in explaining the nine vehicles,
It will only be like spreading rumors of places which they have not seen personally.
And with respect to Buddhahood, they will not even approach it for a moment.
If you understand (intrinsic awareness), all of your merits and sins will be liberated into their own condition.
But if you do not understand it, any virtuous or vicious deeds that you commit
Will accumulate as karma leading to transmigration in heavenly rebirth or to rebirth in the evil destinies respectively.
But if you understand this empty primal awareness which is your own mind,
The consequences of merit and of sin will never come to be realized,
Just as a spring cannot originate in the empty sky.
In the state of emptiness itself, the object of merit or of sin is not even created.
Therefore, your own manifest self-awareness comes to see everything nakedly.
This self-liberation through seeing with naked awareness is of such great profundity,
And, this being so, you should become intimately acquainted with self-awareness.
Profoundly sealed!

Verse 27,
Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness,

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Effort and Letting Go

There is this profound play between application of effort, and letting go.

Sometimes, and in some ways, one has to galvanise ones energy, enlist ones desire, focus aspiration, and strive for the goal. Whether that is in terms of life overall, or a particular moment within it, there is the need to make an effort.

And then, there is letting go. Opening profoundly to what is, and allowing it to be, just as it is. How hard is it to see something, and not 'touch' it with the mind in a way that changes and transforms it?

I feel the Yin-Yang diagram models very acutely the ideal nature of awareness and effort.

Within the Yang of effort, lies a small circle of Yin, or letting go. And within the Yin of letting go lies the small circle of Yang, effort. So each contains something of the other within.

Is it truly possible to make the right sort of effort to transform ones mind, or just to be aware, without seemingly 'within' that an element or sense of letting go, of opening, of allowing to be?

And is it possible to let be, without somehow 'engaging' that (well not for me, who hasn't reached a level where such 'letting be into minds own nature' is a totally natural and continuous process).

Like gently holding a bird in ones hand, one holds dharmas in ones awareness. Moment by moment, one raises the effort of awareness, and allows that awareness to just be, with whatever it 'sees'.

Generation stage practice involves putting forth effort, yet there is letting be within that, like the Yin in the Yang.

Completion stage practice rests in what is, yet that lies poised on the wave of what has gone.

There's the spirit of inquiry which seeks to penetrate how things are, and the resting in 'not-knowing', which allows for non-holding, non-judging, and non-appraising. How do we penetrate the mysteries of how things are, without a profound effort to 'see' and 'know'? Yet all effort is 'fabrication', and alters that which is seen, so letting go allows for the natural unfolding of 'how it is as it is'.

This dynamic seems to be seen in many aspects of the spiritual life ... putting forth, and letting go, at one and the same time.

The question is not which is better, but how to you encompass both, and know which to emphasize when?

And that is answered in experience, through trial and error, through reflection and experience .... through the blind man groping along the path :-)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Clarity and Emptiness

How dreamlike is this life ....

Bringing experiences to mind from the past - they are like shimmering dreams, with a life of their own, never quite the same, and seemingly not like the experience in the present which seemed to inspire them.

And that experience in the present, which had previously seemed so solid and real - the more I come back to awareness, the less that which seems to appear in awareness has any solidity at all.

It's funny - you'd think that the more aware you were, the more crystal clear things would get, wouldn't you?

And yet it doesn't seem to be like that. Yes, there's a vividness to phenomena as the mind settles and things are more 'clearly' seen amongst the spaciousness of a still mind. Yet as you look, things melt away in that awareness, and shimmer and slide before the mind's eye. Like mirages, thoughts, sights and sounds seem more brightly there, yet present nothing more solid to awareness than dreamlike illusions.

It's a strange conundrum, that things appear more bright and clear, as mind settles, yet simultaneously they lose their assumed solidity. Simultaneously more there, and yet less there.

And all the criteria used to describe this, and analyse this ... also the same way ... the sharpness of the intellect, and vision, which brings things into focus, and the melting away of things once in that gaze ....

hmmm .....

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Tomorrow is my father's funeral. He died just over two weeks ago.

I have nothing remotely profound to say on the subject. Time has flowed on ... and thoughts and feelings have come and gone. Things have been arranged, and challenges taken up.

So much seems to have happened, such an extraordinary mixture of rich experiences.

I reflect that when my mother died some 20 years ago, before I had the benefit of Dharma, I was utterly devastated, and it dominated the following years.

My father's death comes at a time when I have some support and perspective in Dharma ... what an extraordinary blessing that is. I am surely amidst waves, currents and ocean, and yet I can still see what is wave, what is current and what is ocean.

There is a continuity ... my dad is present now, profoundly so ..... I miss seeing him physically, but his presence is strong nevertheless.

An amazing man .... how blessed I have been to have him as a father ....

How can we ever repay the blessings we have been given?

May all beings experience a Precious Human Life, and realise its fulfillment, in complete and perfect Enlightenment.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


The limitless expanse of emptiness
Is luminous with all-pervading light,
In clear mind sky, free from complexities,
The rainbow of phenomena shines forth.

Where neither confusion nor freedom has ever existed,
The father and mother of all, Universal Goodness,
Dwell in the secret great bliss beyond thought
Yet reveal the miracles of love's unceasing play.

Whatever the eye sees is sacred vision,
Whatever the ear hears, the voice of truth,
Whatever thought arises in the mind,
Is own self-liberated self-awareness.

May all awaken to the great perfection!

(source unknown - where is this from?)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Inhabiting the 'world' of Vajrayana in my practice, it seems that the symbolism of events is very much transforming my sense of 'sacred' and 'profane'. As appearances arise, they seem to naturally take on or perhaps, reflect, characteristics of the Vajrayana symbolism of my sadhana and practice. So when the wind blows during my sadhana, I sense Dakinis gathering around. When the rain drops, deva's bless the practice. As events transpire, then levels of meaning and significance beyond the 'scientific' or 'materialist' unfold, and the world of appearances reveals richness and resonance.

It's a seemingly natural process ... not one where I'm forcing interpretations onto events, or trying to make things a certain way. I'm not consciously trying to imbue a sense of sacredness or significance onto things. It seems a bye-product of practicing a certain way, of having a certain view, and employing certain methods, which are broadly Vajrayana in origin.

May I see all beings as Buddhas,

May I hear all sounds as Mantras,

May I recognise all thoughts as Wisdom ..... I recite at the close of meditation, and allow to percolate through my mindstream. And a sense of that is reflected in my general experience, feeling something which is hard to put into words, but which relates to 'meaning', 'belonging' and 'home'.

Practice sometimes unfolds in surprising ways .... effortlessly, and without contrivance. For someone with such a philosophically materialist background, I've certainly gone on a surprising journey.

May the dakinis dance by all beings, and grant their blessings in the mindstreams of all who suffering from ignorance.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Response to Suffering

How often it is that our response to our own suffering is to grasp at the very things which bring about our suffering!

We seem to have a wrong 'gameplan' - one which says that having or grasping this or that experience will make things 'right', and not having or pushing away something will lessen what is unsatisfactory. So when times get tough, or we feel disatisfied, we seem to want to grasp onto these ephemeral experiences, and push and pull at them to attain what we seek.

Yet what we seek surely comes from letting go of this gameplan, this uncontrolled desire to make the world right via accepting and rejecting experiences, and seeking the perfect situation.

When the going gets tough, we often retreat into trying to beat Samsara at its own game, only to find that the wheel goes round, and actually spins faster. When the pressure is on, we may choose to not meditate, but to watch TV or whatever turns you on, seeking relief in that which cannot bring it.

How interesting that this 'vicious circle' is a tendency in something which is described as an endless circle. It's as if things compound themselves - we suffer, so we grasp ever stronger at that which binds us to our suffering. And so the wheel goes round, and we are ever more bound to the wheel, tighter and stronger.

Sometimes it takes an act of courage to not grasp at the samsaric straws, and have faith in the methods of the Buddhas, however seductive the straws seem.

Then the more we reject the attempted quick fix, the straw, the more we see that the true path works, the more confidence we gain in the teachings and the more faith we experience for this path.

And this too builds up, a 'non-vicious' circle, empowering our actions and thoughts. A pressure builds up which pushes us onwards, even when we falter, a momentum which guides and supports us.

Step off one wheel, and step onto the conveyor belt!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Reflections on Padmasambhava - View and Conduct

Do not lose the view in the conduct;
If you lose the view in the conduct, you will never
have the chance to be liberated.
Do not lose the conduct in the view;
If you lose the conduct in the view, you stray into black diffusion.


This seems to be an ongoing theme for me, working with the interplay of Relative and Absolute Truth. What resonates in Padmasambhava's teaching for me is that one-sidedness greatly diminishes our practice and progress.

The view for me is fundamentally rooted in the 'openess' of how things are, Shunyata, the ineffable, indefinability of all. As I look, all melts away before the gaze of minds eye, including minds eye. And yet, things certainly 'seem' to appear, dancing and entrancing - the play of appearance.

So what is conduct? Conduct is skilful action, which is rooted in understanding of Karma. Without understanding karma, then there's no way to act skilfully, for the benefit of oneself or other beings. Actions have consequences, so acting skilfully brings benefit all round.

And yet, this is the level of Relative Truth ... the level of how things appear to be. Karma 'appears' to be, it 'appears' to be true. But when we look deeply, no karma is seen, no consequences are seen ..... indeed, no action is seen either.

Karma certainly seems to take place, and yet, it is ultimately empty.

Loosing the view in the conduct would mean believing, fundamentally believing that your actions exist, yourself and the recipient of your actions exist ... and their consequences too. And you'd be reduced to doing good deeds .... which is great, but will not allow you to put a end to Samsara through seeing through the whole wheel which turns. You'll do a great deal of good, but not attain liberation.

So acting with skilfullness, ultimate attention to skilfulness, but not caught up in believing in an actor, and action, and those acted upon. All are empty.

But once again, if you loose your conduct in the view .... if you think that as all phenomena are ultimately empty then nothing matters, it matters not which way you act, then again you'll fall into error and the path will be lost. Padmasambhava calls this 'black diffusion' ... a wonderful expression for being lost in the mists of directionlessness.

In another teaching Padmasambhava talked of keeping your view as high as possible, but your actions as fine as can be .... neglecting neither.

Though your view be like the sky, let your conduct be as refined as flour.

Clear enough, but in practice for me, an interesting locus. Without a definitive realisation of emptiness, I constantly slip and slide across the twin errors mentioned in the quote. The middle path .... acting with perfect conduct, yet not caught in the three-fold error of projecting a doer, a done to, and that which is done .... this is a fundamental challenge. My focus changes moment to moment, and day to day. Now more on conduct, now more on view .... like a sheepdog corralling the sheep ..... nudging view and conduct into better alignment .... working in harmony, and working more deeply. Depth and harmony. Working on both, and keeping them hand in hand.

View and Conduct.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Fiddling With Samsara

More car stuff - I've noticed this tendancy I have in the car to fiddle with the controls - not just when I set out, but pretty much all the way through a journey. I diligently adjust the heater - hot, cold, up, down - the wipers and windowscreen washer .... the radio - volume up and down .... demisting the back window ..... somehow there seems to always be something which isn't quite as it 'should' be, something in need of a tweak, an adjustment, an increment up or down.

What am I doing?

Yes, I'm making sure my arthritic joints in my leg don't get too cold, whilst not making the car hot enough so I feel sick from the stuffy-ness.

But the constant fiddling, the restlessness of it, the attempt to 'control' the environment?

There's a strong sense of trying to 'fix' Samsara, to make it right, to make it perfect. I'm trying to get on top of it, to make it how it 'ought to be', to somehow turn it into what it isn't .... to make imperfect somehow perfect.

I sense this 'control freak' tendency, which wants to make the world right, to set things straight. And my car is an arena where this tendency is clearly seen and felt. A microcosm world where my controls are all within reach, and whilst I can't get everyone else to drive properly - at least within my bubble I can try to get ahead, get a grip, and get control!!!!!

But somehow, it never is quite the right temperature, the windows are never quite clean, or at least, in both cases, they may be for a moment, then the winds of Impermanence sweep them away, and they settle again, imperfect and not as desired.

More opportunities to let go, to loosen the grip which wishes to do the 'God' thing and set everything right .... and allow things to unfold a little without my vice-like mind trying to control .....

Letting go!

Monday, January 31, 2005

Is This All There Is?

I was sitting next to our bath last night, with my toddler playing with his bubbles. And I was reflecting that for many years, when I first came to practice, and first had children, I used to feel very strongly that my goal in life, the goal of spiritual life, was 'somewhere else', 'something else', and not really doing stuff with my children, or other 'mundane' activities.

Being mindful, right here, right now .... surely there was more to life than this? Was this the highest goal of Buddhist practice, of life? Surely there was transcendental experiences? Mystical insight? Living on a plane vaster and deeper and more *real* than this? However much I wanted to see *this*, right here, right now, as where it was at, and truly opening to that as being a moment well lived, the best possible way to live it in that moment .... well, it was never enough.

And I was reflecting last night .... after all these years .... do I still feel something of this ... that somehow there is something much vaster to attain, somewhere else to get to? The answer was definitely 'yes'. But did that goal, that aim in life, did that actually impoverish my current existence, my living right here where I am now? Well, the answer is 'sometimes'.

Sometimes I feel a restlessness that wants to go beyond, that wishes to transcend the whole thing ... that is straining at the leash. But sometimes I feel a profound sense of gratitude, of belongingness, of wonder and beauty and opening and sheer rightness. And then all desire for more slips away.

Playing with my child, watching his pleasure as he splashed us both until all was soaked. I opened, I connected, I let go.

Is it enough?

Yes and No .... I can love more, I can understand more, I can let go more, I can help more.

But for now, I can accept that this is how it is, and this is a good place to be ... a moment ... empty, luminous .... just what it is .... on the way to other seemingly luminous moments .... equally empty ......

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Drive Like This!

What an odd tendency I have! When I'm driving I invariably catch myself, every 10 minutes or so, looking what another driver is doing, and thinking in my mind "that's not right, don't do that, do it like I do"! Whether it's turning without indicating, driving inches behind the car in front of them, hogging the fast lane, or just plain sitting in the wrong car, at regular intervals there seems to be something which I feel should be changed.

How odd. It's *me* that knows how things 'should' be. It's *me* that has the 'answers'. Other people's way is wrong, and mind is right. When they do what I think is wrong, my mind protests, and I suffer. I look, judge, attach, react ... and suffer .... what a strange succession of mental states.

Of late, this habit has become rather transparent, and one which I can see coming up almost before it arises. No longer caught in the grip of an unconscious process, I watch the arisings with amusement and some distance. But nevertheless, they continue to arise. Maybe not as often, but now and then.

So the good news - over time, with practice, these things happen less, are less hypnotic, and cause less suffering.

The bad news? Probably most of us in the world are going around doing this to each other in our heads ("this shouldn't be like that ... do it like this!") ... or worse, making each other do things our way (pretty easy to think of examples here).

Letting go of this control freak tendancy, to want things a certain way, *our* way, and allowing the world to 'be' just a little more. Cultivating peace in our hearts with the way things are .... and thereby fully experiencing what actually is, rather than getting a hint of it, and immediately jumping to 'fantasy mode', as our mind races to play out thoughts and judgements and scenarios.

Letting go of 'should', letting go of 'my way is best', and allowing a little of what is to just be how it is.

Sometimes in that, we see more than we thought was there.

Sometimes in that, we see more of ourselves than we thought was there.

Letting go.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Hi all - I've just got back from an enforced trip to the other side of the world, and am happy to receive so many kind messages regarding my absence, and happy to be back posting :-)

Just a short reflection - I necessarily had to spend a couple of weeks in an environment where I couldn't meditate, where I couldn't read a Dharma book, and where I couldn't even see a Buddha image. What an interesting experience! That was the first time I've been in that situation since coming back to the Dharma in this life. I can't pretend that I'd choose that aspect of separation from the other signs of the Dharma, or lack of formal practice, but nevertheless, this particular Bardo provided an interesting and useful vantage point from which to view how things are. As always, a change, a disjunction in ones 'normal' way always throws up a lot ... and this sure did!

One thing that struck me in particular was how in the course of the two weeks, I gradually went from having a fairly strong sense of what I was experiencing being a series of empty arisings in mind, to having a stronger sense of there being a 'me' who was experiencing stuff that was 'outside' of me. So instead of a play of appearances with seemingly different flavours of 'insideness' and 'outsideness', there was a very strong sense of dualistic divide, of self and other, of me and the world. Very interesting! This was a very gradual process over the two weeks, a gradual settling out of solidity in these perceptions ... this 'self' becoming more solid, these 'others' becoming more solid, more real .... very interesting indeed.

So today is my first opportunity to meditate formally again, which I'm really looking forward to.

I'd gone from first to third world, from one culture to another, one religion to another, from city to not even village, from one language to another .... extreme temperate differences, timezone differences, all manner of change ... a profound shift which had a strong Bardo sense to it .... an inbetween ... a not quite my 'normal' .... how interesting .....

and now back :-)