Wednesday, November 16, 2011


adapted from teachings of the Buddha  M 138

If your consciousness is not distracted and scattered externally
nor stuck internally,
and if by not clinging you do not become agitated,
then for you there is no origination of suffering....

Reading this passage by itself may be useful, but its real value comes when you actually bring it into your daily life

You might first ask yourself:
Can I notice times when I am distracted and scattered externally? When the world pulls me into its spinning?
When I let needs of others throw me off balance?

In a day or two move to the following exploration.
Do I get stuck internally? Am I so focused on keeping balance, in protecting my space, that I do not even notice others? That I don't notice small pleasures? Like the falling rain and sound of thunder? A flower blooming beside me?

Then come back to exploring balance of the two
Both in practice and in life - can I rest in a secure base of my own and open to others? Do I hear others, but also listen to my self? Do I listen to the voices of both body and mind? Internally and externally?

Also consider bringing this exploration into very subtle investigations of experience in your meditation practice.
Where does your attention go when you close your eyes? What happens to your attention after you spend some time stabilizing the mind? Is the rate of changing attention different? Do different objects draw your attention? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

yoga sutra 2:35-39

35. Being firmly grounded in nonviolence creates atmosphere in which others can let go of their hostility.
36. For those grounded in truthfulness, every action and it's consequences are imbued with truth.
37. For those with no inclination to steal, the truly precious is at hand.
38. The chaste acquire vitality.
39. Freedom from wanting unlocks the real purpose of existence.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

recognizing truth

Just as an acorn holds the potential to become an oak tree, we already possess the capacity to awaken..[the].purpose of all experience is to show us this. In a sense, perfect wisdom is woven into the very fabric of our ignorance and confusion. Pure awareness underlies all thought and perception right now...and one needs only recognize it fully in order to be free from suffering.
Chris Hartranft in his commentary on The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. Yoga here refers, not to hatha yoga, but royal yoga.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

removing the thorn

Fear is born from arming oneself.
Just see how many people fight!
I'll tell you about the dreadful fear
That caused me to shake all over.

Seeing creatures flopping around,
Like fishes in shallow water,
So hostile to one another!
--Seeing this, I became afraid.

Seeing people locked in conflict,
I became completely distraught.
But then I discerned here a thorn
--Hard to see--lodged deep in the heart.

It's only when pierced by this thorn
That one runs in all directions.
So if that thorn is taken out--
One does not run, and settles down.

This verse from the Attadanda Sutta (Sn 935-9) was published in an article by Andy Olendzki in the Fall 2006 issue of Tricyle. It was probably also translated by Andy.

He writes further:

Human society is formed by the collective action of its individuals; it thus reflects the qualities of heart and mind of each person. Peace in people's hearts creates peace in the world; turmoil in people'e hearts creates turmoil in the world.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

falling off the wheel

I've spent the past week playing with investigation of the elements of interdependent origination (dependent co-arising, dependent origination)- following them forward and backward, through arising and cessation, but keeping in mind that the processes are not linear, that elements arise together. I am being especially intrigued with ignorance as a condition for formations and with formations as a condition for consciousness.

I understand formations and consciousness to be always occurring, always flowing - that is, as long as we are alive, apparently alive. And that both of these, formations and consciousness (ordinary consciousness), are results (and cause) of interaction of this body/mind and its surroundings. Because everything we know or experience is a result of these interactions, it is all subjective, none of it is objectively true, but rather a kind of ignorance through limitations of perception (or misperception).

These mind/body interactions are necessary for us to live in the world. And they generally operate predictably within the world; but the world itself, the world we know, is built on these interactions and therefore not objectively true or real. We live and function in an illusion. If we recognize the illusory nature of things we are not trapped by experience.

...knowing and seeing in this way,
would you run back to the past thus:
'Were we in the past?
Were we not in the past?
What were we in the past?
How were we in the past?
Having been what, what did we become in the past?'

...knowing and seeing in this way,
would you run forward to the future thus;
'Shall we be in the future?
Shall we not be in the future?
What shall we be in the future?
How shall we be in the future?
Having been what, what shall we be in the future?

...knowing and seeing in this way,
would you now be inwardly perplexed about this present thus:
'Am I?
Am I not?
What am I?
How am I?
Where has this being come from?
Where will it go?
M 38:23

We are also not indifferent. The world we live in does include sorrow and joy. However, we can be free of the limitations in our perceptions and the resulting grasping of objects and views and choose to participate in more wholesome unfolding within this constructed world.

To see the source of this investigation and the other elements of the wheel read the Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta - The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving M 38 or see related Practice Board entries at

Sunday, August 14, 2011

potential of a concentrated mind

A concentrated mind, according to early buddhist teachings, can become
rid of imperfection
attained to imperturbability

In the West we are not used to knowing the mind like this. We know, intellectually and scientifically, that the brain is plastic. Plastic, or plasticity, is a contemporary word that signifies the possibility of the descriptors of mind above.

A mind that is malleable, wieldy, pliable, and steady is capable of real transformation. If you become serious about your personal meditation practice, if you give the mind time and opportunity to develop concentration, you can realize this potential.

You might keep in mind that, "this flexibility of mind is not impossible to attain, it is another thing to maintain." (quoting myself in Practice Board entry)

A course or two, even sitting every day, does not yield an ongoing transformational process. A course and a regular sitting are a good start. But a significant evolution of mind involves a steady and committed practice, a process that is usually gradual and organic, but includes dedicated time for fostering a concentrated mind. With support the mind discovers these truths.

Periodic teacher input will save you from invisible roadblocks and circuitous side tracks.

The teachings I offer are all intended to help as many people as possible realize this potential. The most immediate and accessible opportunity is a non-residential retreat for both new and experienced meditators in Houston August 19 and 20

Monday, August 1, 2011

the breathing body remembers

The self begins as an extension of the breathing flesh of the world, and the things around us, in turn, originate as reverberations echoing the pains and pleasures of our body.

...the inwardly felt sentience of the child is a correlate of the outwardly felt wakefulness of the sky and the steadfast support of the ground, and the willfulness of the caressing wind;
it is a concomitant of the animate surroundings.

Only much later, as the child is drawn deeply into the whirling vortex of verbal the contemporary child liable to learn that...human persons alone are the carriers of consciousness in this world.

Such a lesson amounts to a denial of much of the child's felt experience, and commonly precipitates a rupture between her speaking self and the rest of her sensitive and sentient body. Yet the pain of this rupture is quickly forgotten by the speaking self...

But the breathing body, this ferociously attentive animal, still remembers.

Please see the original text. This is abbreviated for a brief taste. I am quoting David Abrams from his new book Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. He uses language to bring us outside or beneath language.

I am savoring this text, reading it a little at a time and carrying the felt sense into my daily life, city life. You are welcome to work through this text with me (very slowly). At this time I am posting brief excerpts and reflections on Abram's Becoming Animal on the Citta 101 Practice Board.

Friday, July 29, 2011

creating our world

The end of the world can never
Be reached by walking. However,
Without having reached the world's end
There is no release from suffering.

I declare that it is in this fathom-long carcass,
with its perceptions and thoughts, that there is the world,
the origin of the world, the cessation of the world,
and the path leading to the cessation of the world.
The poem above translated from Pali by Andy Olendzki (A 4:45)

How We Create and Heal Our World

Though we do not create the world,
we are conditioned in the way we perceive or understand the world,
therefore the world exists according to our perceptions.
Freedom can come from working with this mind/body,
its perceptions, thoughts, and views.

Our perceptions color our thoughts/concepts and our views:
    perceptions are the immediate recognition of objects (bubbles and foam of sense experience solidifying into an object) 
    thoughts involve labeling or naming, filling out the perception with meaning 
    views are the establishment of concepts which have evolved from perceptions into an understanding of the world

The way we perceive, think or conceptualize, and the view we hold are the way we create our world. This is good news. It is much easier to bring the mind processes in line with what is true, than trying to restructure what life unfolds.

This does not mean the pain goes away, but our relationship to it is transformed. We no longer suffer. Nor does it mean we never act when action is required. We do get clearer on what actions are really helpful and which actions do not add pain and suffering for others or ourselves.

Friday, July 8, 2011

right intention

The Buddha discovered [a] twofold division of thought in the period prior to his Enlightenment... While he was striving for deliverance, meditating in the forest, he found that his thoughts could be distributed into two different classes.

In one he put thoughts of desire, ill will, and harmfulness, in the other thoughts of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness.

Whenever he noticed thoughts of the first kind arise in him, he understood that those thoughts lead to harm for oneself and others, obstruct wisdom, and lead away from Nibbana. Reflecting in this way he expelled such thoughts from his mind and brought them to an end.

But whenever thoughts of the second kind arose, he understood those thoughts to be beneficial, conducive to the growth of wisdom, aids to the attainment of Nibbana. Thus he strengthened those thoughts and brought them to completion.
Bhikkhu Bodhi on right intention
If you consider this awhile and begin to work with it, there may first be frustration if you are putting much effort into expelling and strengthening thoughts. Please avoid this trap. Seeing clearly, seeing the two kinds of thought occuring is transformative in itself. In time the mind will naturally turn toward what is wholesome. This wholesome turning cannot happen if we are blind to what is occuring in the mind (The buddhist meaning of ignorance here is more like foggy or uninformed).

Monday, June 13, 2011

dharma gold

                                                              Andy Olendzki lecture notes

I am just back from Barre Center for Buddhist Studies and a series on Wisdom teachings, part of the Integrated Study and Practice Program. Some students in the course named this black board image dharma gold when the rainbow appeared under Andy's notes. I have been capturing some of his lecture notes on camera. This one is not as 'active' as my favorites, but the image is central to understanding buddhist psychology and skillful practice - a still representation of dynamic reality.

This is the beginning of our Wisdom sessions.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

invisible harmony

...invisible harmony [is] more powerful than the visible.

Heraclitus, 5th century B.C.
translation, Panikkar,
p.7 Rhythm of Being

If we live at the tip if the unfolding moment, we are in touch with everything, with the whole world, with what is real, what is true. In this moment, in the midst of our immediate experience, whatever that experience is, we can ride free of the limitations of personal and communal constructions and of the sorrow of having never come into contact with life at all.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

living as gem-like flame

The service of philosophy, of speculative culture towards the human spirit, is to rouse, to startle it to a life of constant and eager observation.

Every moment some form grows perfect in land or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood or passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive to us--for that moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself...

How should we pass most swiftly from point to point and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy?

To burn always with [this] hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy is success in life.

Walter Pater (1919)
Thanks to Joseph Prabhu in The Rhythm of Being

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

more integrated brain

There is increasing evidence about the need and benefit of movement for a healthy brain - and specific information about how and why this is so.

A little does a lot. Every movement counts. There are immediate gains for our health, quality of life, as well as brain function.

We can no longer be serious about the development of mind and brain without incorporating movement - or at least developing a better understanding of human anatomy and physiology.

Get started with more information. The following quotation is from the website of John Ratey, MD.

Spark Your Brain!!!

Adding exercise to your lifestyle sparks your brain function to improve learning on three levels:

First, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, mood, and motivation;

Second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and

Third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.

John Ratey

Monday, April 18, 2011

increased rational decision-making

Research report released today (done by Ulrich Kirk and others)

Summary: when assessing unfairness, meditators activate a different network of brain areas compared with controls enabling them to uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior.

These findings highlight the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision-making.

Frontiers: Original Research -Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the Ultimatum Game.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

for an integrated brain

Six-part plan for facilitating the brains capacity for development and deepening integration.

The six parts of the plan are a list from Dan Siegel, MD. I've added comments and practice suggestions.

1. Aerobic exercise

Consider not just exercising but paying close attention to the body as it moves. Can you notice movement without identifying the particular body part or muscles working?

Are you exerting energy in a balanced way? Are you overworking the body? Or under working? Are you alert and relaxed even as you increase exertion?

Or going further, can you notice stillness of mind within which the movement flows?

Consider also the quality of mind and the state of body after? Was your exercise mindful?

2. Sleep: adequate and restful

Just as it is good for our children to have a bedtime routine and a wind down time, so, too, for us. Are you giving yourself a balanced day, including work and relaxation?

Your system needs balance. Optimal performance requires you give yourself some rest and relaxation, even if you think you don't have time - especially if you don't have time!

3. Nutrition and Omega 3s

Seigel emphasized Omega 3s, but also mentioned overall good nutrition. Consider thinking of food and medicine. For an highly intuitive and supportive move into healthful eating see This link came to me through the Whole Foods mailing list.

4. Relationships

The Buddha suggests that if you want to be a kind person hang out with kind people. If you want to avoid being angry, limit your exposure to angry people. Whatever qualities you want to foster can be facilitated by increased exposure to them in others and to awareness of those qualities in your own continuum of experience. Like wise with what we want to diminish.

From what we now know about brain chemistry, the way we treat others actually influences their brain chemistry and cell function. From what we understand from Buddhist science of mind is that our treatment of others influences our mind and body as well. The kind of treatment we extend to others or receive from others creates health or proclivity for disease. Humiliation and shame are not just unpleasant and psychologically damaging, but harmful to the functioning of the organism on a metabolic level.

5. Novelty

Be open to variety. Try something new everyday. Simply changing your routine is a simple way to do this. Sitting in a different chair, taking a different route to work. Choose to be open and willing to explore. Take a creating course.

6. Mindful Attention (focus and mindful awareness)

Awareness is the most important step, not only to health, but to freedom. Without awareness we operate unconsciously out of past conditioning. Events come together in every moment, causes and conditions both from within our personal historical experience and within the context of the moment, from immediate events in our environment. With awareness we can learn to focus skillfully. This skillful focus is something we develop in a mature meditation practice, once we have learned the basics of practice - relaxed and alert attention to breath and body and a muscle for returning again and again to this simple focus.

Practice suggestions

Do a benchmark check. Where are you with the six step supports for brain/mind health? With this awareness you will naturally begin to take advantage of knowledge of these prescriptions and of our understanding of plastic capacity of the brain.

Please be aware that you don't need to make a project of any of these. Your natural inclination to health combined with this information will modify some choices you make. Through awareness and knowledge you have added another skillful element to the causes and conditions creating the next moment.

This writing evolved from our discussion of Siegel's suggestions and their relationship to practice that came out of our cyber sitting April 7, 2011.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

thinking emergently

Awareness of causes and conditions, the limiting nature of our constructions, and keeping our perspectives loose (letting things unfold) are alluded to in the passage below. David Brooks speaks about skillful thinking in dealing with some difficult contemporary issues.

"Public life would be vastly improved if people relied more on the concept of emergence...

We often try to understand problems by taking apart and studying their constituent parts. But emergent problems can’t be understood this way. Emergent systems are ones in which many different elements interact. The pattern of interaction then produces a new element that is greater than the sum of the parts, which then exercises a top-down influence on the constituent elements.

Culture is an emergent system. A group of people establishes a pattern of interaction. And once that culture exists, it influences how the individuals in it behave. An economy is an emergent system. So is political polarization, rising health care costs and a bad marriage.

Emergent systems are bottom-up and top-down simultaneously. They have to be studied differently, as wholes and as nested networks of relationships. We still try to address problems like poverty and Islamic extremism by trying to tease out individual causes. We might make more headway if we thought emergently."

What he is saying is very valuable. May he be heard!

I'd like to add only one thought - that we see all experience as emergent.

David Brooks in NY Times article, Tools for Thinking 2011/03/29
Link to original New York Times article

Saturday, March 5, 2011

internal freedom

"Mindfulness practice offers the restraint necessary to overcome the tug of desire upon the senses. As we notice the mind wandering off to explore a gratifying train of thought, or as we notice the body's urging to nudge ourselves into a more comfortable position, we gently abandon the impulse and return attention to the primary object of awareness. We do this again and again, until the mind becomes content with being fully present [with] what is manifesting here and now in the field of experience, rather than rushing off for some other form of stimulation. As the mind settles down it becomes considerably more powerful, and thus more empowered."

Please notice, "we gently abandon the impulse." Thoughts and sense desires will arise. But we don't try to get rid of them. We notice what is happening. In doing so there is clear seeing of what is arising, of what is present here and now.

"In this mode [mindfulness] the mind is said to be unlimited, and is capable of experiencing freedom through wisdom. Its freedom comes not from the license to broadly explore a shallow terrain, defined by its likes and dislikes, but rather from the ability to shake off the contraints of desire altogether and plunge deeply into investigating the field of experience as it is. It turns out that what one sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches, or thinks, is not as important as how one does this."

The quotations above are taken from an article by Andy Olendzki published in Tricycle (Summer 2007). The article is a commentary on The Parable of the Six Creatures S 35:247

Thursday, February 17, 2011

samadhi practice

from Dining Room at the BCBS (2011/02)

The next four months I'll be exploring and sharing the practice of samadhi. As well as reading the blog and tweets, you are invited to participate by joining one of the online groups for deepening practice and attending our retreats.

Our practice themes will include, in order:
  • What is Meditation?
  • Mindfulness of Body
  • Mindfulness of Feeling
  • Mindfulness of Mind
  • Mindfulness of Mental Objects
  • Jhana
  • Brahma Viharas
  • Right Effort
  • Working with Mental States

These themes follow the structure of the Integrated Study and Practice Program offered by the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. They will enrich work we have already done and encourage deeper investigation.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

highest blessings

If you find any one of these blessings in your life dwell with it awhile. What will arise is gratitude in the heart. Just choose one - or one at a time. Some may not apply to you, may not even seem like blessings. In this case just skip over. Recognizing any in your life is an acceptance of that blessing. Paying attention to blessings naturally facilitates their further arising, their increase and their deepening.

These are the Highest Blessings

For all those who are concerned for happiness
and ever long for peace,
what are the Highest Blessings?

avoiding those of foolish ways
associating with the wise
and honoring those worthy of honor

These are the Highest Blessings

living in places with of suitable kinds
with the fruits of past good deeds
and guided by the rightful way

These are the Highest Blessings

accomplished in learning and craftsman skills
with discipline, highly trained
and speech that is true and pleasant to hear

These are the Highest Blessings

providing for mother and father's support
and cherishing family
and ways of work that harm no being

These are the Highest Blessings

giving with dharma [Truth, Integrity] in heart
offering help to relatives and kin
and acting in ways that leave no blame

These are the Highest Blessings

steadfast in restraint and shunning evil ways
avoiding intoxicants that dull the mind
and heedfulness in all things that arise

These are the Highest Blessings

respectfulness and humble ways
contentment and gratitude
and hearing the dharma [truth, wisdom] frequently taught

These are the Highest Blessings

patience and willingness to accept one's faults
seeing venerated seekers of the truth
and sharing often the words of dharma

These are the Highest Blessings

the holy life lived with ardent effort
seeing for oneself the noble truths
and the realization of nibbana [freedom]

These are the Highest Blessings

although involved in worldly ways
unshaken the mind remains
and beyond all sorrows spotless, secure

These are the Highest Blessings

they who live by following this path
know victory wherever they go
everyplace for them is safe

These are the Highest Blessings

Mangala Sutta - to hear the monks of Abhayagiri Monastery chant the Highest Blessings follow this link

Saturday, February 12, 2011

destiny remains our choice

"Our destiny remains our choice." 
Barack Obama State of the Union 20110125

I had a message from a friend, Solange, suggesting we consider a day a month without electronic devices. We did this a few times when our son was growing up. These were very beautiful days. They deepened and enriched our relationships.

Pulling the plugs (in various ways) are opportunities to stop and see what is happening right now.  We can't all get away for retreats, but we can bring some retreating into our lives. Every time we do so we see something new. We see the beauty in small things. We see things that have been bothering us that we couldn't even notice because we were so busy. With some unplugged days, we can reorient our lives before stepping again into the flow. Stepping in with greater awareness and with broader vision, less deluded by the appearance of things.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

new year inspiration

Ask not what your [country] can do for you,
but what you can do for your [country]!

JFK, Jan 20, 1961

I was in junior high when JFK made this powerful speech. My father was particularly moved by this line. He was one of that "new generation." Dad quoted this line about service five years later when he decided to leave his work as a high school principal in peaceful rural Iowa to join the Teacher Corps.

In June of 1966, when I headed for college, he went to a summer training in Indiana. In the fall he and the rest of my family, mom and three younger siblings, packed up and moved to Indiana.

This took him to work in South Chicago and Gary in the late 60's and early 70's, years that cities were burning with civil unrest. He was the only administrator in his teacher corps training program. He became a peace maker in vicinity high schools - moving in when there was trouble, listening and responding to resolve the issues.

This particular job was not for everyone to do. It was his to do. It was the right choice for him. A choice he recognized and enthusiastically said yes to.

Now, 50 years after JFK's challenge, let us begin the new year with his challenge. The challenge may not be a government program. It is likely to be something right in front of you that needs to be done for the good of society and other human beings. Something you are drawn to do, even inspired to do.

We have gifts to offer. Let us share them. Quoting or at least paraphrasing Joanna Macy, "We are the people we are looking for."

What is for me to do? What is for you to do? Just because a task is noble does not mean it is mine or yours. We only need to be faithful to our own sense of integrity. We don't do something noble. A great noble gesture is more likely to be grandiose, and not really helpful at all.

Instead we do simply what needs to be done. What needs to be done now. What needs to be done by us. That is true nobility, true integrity. And individual integrity is just what our world needs.

May it be so.