Wednesday, March 29, 2006

You've got mail!

I opened my mailbox today and happily found my first issue of Shambhala Sun waiting for me. This issue is the "Annual Buddhist Teachings Issue" with a special focus on the core principles of Buddhism. I would say more, but I am too excited. I have to go read my magazine now! I'll report back on what I learn...


Tuesday, March 28, 2006


As a newcomer to the study of dharma, one of the concepts I have struggled with the most is the notion of rebirth.

We are told that rebirth is like lighting a candle. Just before a candle burns out, one can light a new candle with the flame from the dying candle. The first flame then dies out and the other one grows strong. They are not the same flame, but it is the energy from the former that brings the latter to life. So it is, we are told, with rebirth. Although there is no unified "self" to be reborn (see yesterday's post), there is a certain continuity between one life and the next, a migration of energies from one to the other.

"But wait," I say, "what is it that is reborn? What is it that continues from one life to the next?"

Clearly, the body, the physical organism that we think of as "self," dies with us. It is cremated or decomposes, and is reconstituted into the environment. So, the body (rupa) is not reborn.

Our feelings and sensations (vedana), the sensory data gathered by our eyes, ears, nose and other sense organs, must also cease when the body dies. When the switch is flipped, the lights go out, and no there is no more data input for the mind to receive. So, vedana is not reborn.

Perhaps it is our thinking mind (samjna), the mechanism by which sensations become ideas, that is reborn. Without rupa and vedana, samjna is like a disembodied head, incapable of doing anything. So it seems that it is not our thinking, conceptualizing mind that is reborn.

What about vijnana, consciousness? This is what most of us think of when we think of our sense of "self." When something goes bump in the night, it is consciousness that says, "Hey, there's something out there." The ears (vedana) pick up the sound, the thinking mind (samjna) registers it, and consciousness identifies it as something beyond the body (rupa). Could it be consciousness that is reborn?

But what about the last thread in the strand: samskara, our habit energy, our motivations and volitions? It is samskara that gives our actions karmic significance. Without motivation or volition, an action may create ripples, but it does not resonate with karma. It is karma that follows us from the moment of our birth to the moment of our last breath, and even beyond. It therefore must be samskara that survives the death of the physical body, since it is to samskara that karma attaches.


Or so many teachers have taught.

But perhaps it does not matter what is reborn. Zen Masters like Seung Sahn would say there is no use arguing about such things that cannot be known. Accept it with a "don't know mind," they would say. They say it is best to give up such intellectual pursuits, wake up and let go of samsara and worldly suffering by living in accordance with the Eighthold Path and the Precepts. Perhaps they are right that I could make better use of my mental energies to practice mindfulness and selflessness, rather than get tangled up in the thicket of Buddhist logic and cosmology.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Threads of self

The Buddha taught that there is no such thing as a unitary self. Instead, what we think of as "self" is actually comprised of five elements, referred to as the Five Skandas: form (or body), perception, sensation (or feeling), habit (also called predisposition or karmic conditioning) and consciousness.

We perceive these five elements as an aggregate and assume they are unitary, but in fact they are like strands in a cable, each one separate and dynamic. One's body, feelings, perceptions, habits and consciousness are constantly changing and evolving. So there is no stable, unitary self, just individual threads that change color, shape and texture endlessly.

These separate threads of "selfness" are wound together in a way that we think they are one strand, but in fact they are distinct. Each of these "strands" is part of an infinitely larger tapestry woven together by causation.

As much as we like to think of our "selves" as separate, we are part of the tapestry, and we are as capable of separating our "selves" from "others" as a thread is able to unravel itself from the cloth of which it is a part.

Peace to all beings.


Saturday, March 25, 2006

My first homemade mala

One of my hobbies is beading and jewelry-making. I find it therapeutic, in a way that I did not really understand until I started studying Buddhism.

Well, last night I received a handful of guru beads that I had ordered off the Internet. Inspired and excited, I constructed my first mala from black waxed linen thread, a carnelian guru bead, 6mm red tigereye beads, orange seed beads as "spacers," a single white potato pearl and a 3/4" plastic "mandala" bead:

I think for the first time, I have invested my artistic energies into a creation of spiritual importance to me. I hope that by creating Buddhist art I can create joy for myself and others.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Good news and bad news...

This week's good news:

ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), the Basque separatist paramilitary group, announced a "permanent ceasefire" with the government of Spain. ETA has been responsible for more than 800 deaths in its forty-year campaign for Basque independence, including over 300 civilians. If the ceasefire holds, this represents a great opportunity for the Basque people and Spanish democracy.

This week's bad news:

An Afghan judge refused to bow to international pressure in the case of Abdul Rahman, who converted to Christianity and who is charged with apostasy, a capital offense under Afghanistan's Islamic sharia law. Despite democratic reforms pushed by Western powers in the wake of the demise of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan's political system retains many of the hallmarks of Islamic fundamentalism.

I hold my face in my two hands.
No, I am not crying.
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep the loneliness warm:
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands preventing my soul
from leaving me in anger!
Today I will try to cultivate peace within myself, and help others cultivate peace within themselves. Today I will try to cultivate peace in the world.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Wanted: Compassion

AIDS leaves 9 million orphans in Africa
Disease's impact on children still being ignored, charity official says

(From Reuters, March 20, 2006)

JOHANNESBURG - Some 9 million children in Africa have lost a mother to AIDS, British charity Save the Children said Monday, calling on donors to sharply increase aid to meet their needs.

“Incredibly, the impact of HIV and AIDS on children is still being ignored,” Save the Children Chief Executive Jasmine Whitbread said in a statement.

The charity said in a report that a lack of testing facilities meant that many mothers, especially in the poorest countries, did not know their HIV status until they were ill and unable to fight off even the simplest infections.

“The AIDS pandemic robs millions of children of their childhoods as well as their mothers,” Whitbread said. “Children are caring for their mothers, missing school, and having to work because their mothers are too sick to look after them.”

The charity called for a focus on children orphaned by AIDS as well as sick parents, adding red tape was slowing aid flows.

“Donors must spend 12 percent of their AIDS funding on proper support for children,” it said, adding this would amount to $6.4 billion over a three-year period.

In 2006, if Britain, the United States and Ireland met all their pledges, there would be $412 million committed for children -- or about one quarter of the $2.1 billion needed per year.

“This is best case scenario and it’s not yet clear whether all of the donors will meet their commitments,” a spokeswoman for Save the Children told Reuters by telephone from London.
The charity addressed its appeal to the G8 wealthy nations, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Bank and the European Commission.

Sub-Saharan Africa has about 10 percent of the world’s population but 60 percent of the people living with HIV/AIDS.

More than 3 million Africans were infected with HIV in 2005, representing 64 percent of all new infections globally and more than in any previous year for the impoverished continent, according to UNAIDS, the lead U.N. agency against AIDS.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 4.6 percent of young women aged 15 to 24 are infected with HIV, compared to 1.7 percent of young men, according to U.N. data.

Save the Children said most of the 19.2 million women living with HIV around the globe were already mothers.

“To truly make a difference we must also support children whose mothers are HIV positive,” it said.

“In sub-Saharan Africa alone, more than 12 million children under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to AIDS. By 2010, at current rates of HIV infection, this number is likely to increase to 18 million,” Save the Children said.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Light of dharma

The dharma shines like sunlight,
bright and clear,
warm and alive,
banishing the darkness and
giving color to my perceptions.

If my heart is open,
then the light of dharma
will help me see
the true beauty of the world,
feel joy in the lives of others,
give compassionately
and love all beings as
would a mother her only child.
(original poem by me)

Monday, March 20, 2006


spun from the chemicals of life
woven together, recombinant
and unstable, frayed in places,
held together despite tension,
in spite of the twisting and pulling,
the hot and the cold,
the wet and the dry.

the braid lasts only so long
before it begins to fall apart,
unwinding, snagging and
with a snap, the threads fall away,
separately falling through the air
as if they had always been
that way.

Fortunate Birth

A poem by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

In the kingdom of children
Every one of you is this child,
An innocent being
Who jumped out of heaven
And landed in Shambhala.
Fortunate birth is who you are–
Everything is perfect in your world.

Your clothing is the mist of heaven,
Your feet covered by dragon's breath,
You are the most fortunate beings on earth.
You are the children of dharma.
Nothing can close your open heart.
Other children suffer, caught in perpetual dilemma–
Because Buddha has touched you,
You are fortunate.

Be dharmic now,
Be powerful now,
Be benevolent now–
Not for me, not for others–
But because that is your blood.
When you feel privileged, use it.
When you feel ashamed, pounce.
Consume that hesitation–
It’s only a flicker of your imagination.

You are the blessed people on this earth.
Every atom of your being is Buddha–
What's left is joy.
You have no excuse;
Don't sulk.
You can be sad, for sadness is
the most genuine expression.
Expression of goodness is who you are.
Being a child of dharma is dilemma.
Being a child of dharma is freedom.

Consume this hesitation of not knowing.
Never doubt,
Only walk forward.
Love everything,
For that is why you are here.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Impermanent moon

Alone I stood in the crisp air on a moonless night,
the breeze fluttering at my side.

The trees quiver their new-grown leaves
standing furtively in the darkness.

I look up to see a swirling palette of clouds
completely smothering a waning moon.

For an instant, the moon breaks free,
illuminating the trees, casting long shadows.

But then, in an instant, it is gone,
as the clouds swirl over the moon again.

(an original poem by me)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

n = ∞

Gareth and Will have posted some brilliant, stimulating discussion on the principles of karma and dependent occurrence (pratitya samutpada). Gareth sums up the discussion thus:

Will’s most recent post at ThinkBuddha, Conditions, includes a wonderful summation of Karma, although he doesn’t use that word, and pratitya samutpada; dependent arising. In his post Will asks:

How many conditions are sufficient to give rise to any particular event: what value for n will give us a complete set of conditions?

He then takes us through the logic, and concludes that:

So it seems that only n = ∞ will give us a complete set of conditions for any particular arising

Or to put it another way, any event is dependent on an infinite number of conditions. I find it impossible to comprehend how vast and complex this web really is. And yet every day it’s essential that I try.

I reduce the world in to manageable chunks, trace back the conditions as far as I’m able, or as far as seems reasonable, and then think I understand the cause behind and effect. How else can I move forward?

I've thought a lot about these questions today. Since it is indisputable that "only n = ∞ will give us a complete set of conditions for any particular" event, it is impossible for my mind (or any individual consciousness) to identify all of the conditions predicate to a given event. However, I believe that Right Mindfulness offers the best possible way of working through the thicket of causation and occurrence.

If I open my heart, mind and consciousness to observe all of the phenomena of the present moment, I can be aware of most if not all of the conditions that are truly within my control. Those things which I cannot control, either because they are beyond my reasonable ability to affect (like the weather, the price of skim milk in Nashville or the outcome of elections in Kazakhstan) or because I am not aware of them (like who is going to ring my telephone tomorrow at 4 p.m.), are not things for which I accumulate any karma.

However, if I am mindful, I will see that there are things I can control--my actions, my thoughts, my feelings and my speech--which in turn can affect future events, proximately or otherwise. These are the things for which I am responsible and these are the things I should focus on as I make my way through this life. However, there is a limit to how even my actions can be proximately linked to events around me.

I heard an interesting blurb on NPR yesterday. A gentleman was explaining how Julius Caesar's last out-breath was comprised of billions (or trillions) of molecules, which left his mouth at the moment of his death and were dispersed into the atmosphere in a very mathematically predictable way. He went on to say that those molecules, in one form or the other, are still floating around somewhere--at the bottom of the ocean, in the air, in the soil, etc.--and that every breath we take likely contains one or two of the trillion molecules that Julius Caesar exhaled when he died on the floor of the Roman Senate on March 15, 44 B.C.E.

When I heard this I thought it was an apt metaphor for the causal relationship between my acts and the lives of people halfway around the world. It is possible that the half-gallon of skim milk I bought tonight may indirectly affect the lives of innumerable people whose lives were touched by the milk, the cow, the truck that carried them, the truck driver who drove the truck, etc. However, since it is beyond my comprehension to identify all of those causal relationships, it would be paralyzing to analyze the impact of my actions on the innumerable events to which it relates.

I believe it is fair to say that the best I can do is be mindful. So, for instance, I minimize the number of trips I make to the market by car, I recycle the plastic container, I buy organic when I can, I shop at the store that pays their employees most fairly, I treat the checkout lady and bagging clerk with kindness, etc. I do not believe it is a cop-out. I believe it is a reasonable use of my limited mental and emotional resources to focus my mindfulness on those conditions that are most proximate to me.

How does the Bodhisattva--a human being, a mortal man or woman--help the sentient beings of the universe achieve nibbana? One sentient being at a time. The Buddha does not demand omnipotence. He has shown us how to better ourselves and those whose lives we touch by living the Eightfold Path.

We are not responsible for n = ∞. We are responsible for our own thoughts, feelings and actions, moment by mindful moment.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What is Buddhism?

"Buddhism does not accept a theory of God, or a creator. According to Buddhism, one's own actions are the creator, ultimately. Some people say that, from a certain angle, Buddhism is not a religion but rather a science of mind. Religion has much involvement with faith. Sometimes it seems that there is quite a distance between a way of thinking based on faith and one entirely based on experiment, remaining skeptical. Unless you find something through investigation, you do not want to accept it as fact. From one viewpoint, Buddhism is a religion, from another viewpoint Buddhism is a science of mind and not a religion. Buddhism can be a bridge between these two sides."

(His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama)

My lineage

Although I am primarily a solitary practitioner, I do sit from time to time with a local meditation group, the Orlando Zen Circle (led by a local university professor, Claudia Schippert), which is an offshoot of the Gateless Gate Zen Center in Gainesville, Florida. Abbot K.C. Walpole, the resident director of the Gateless Gate Zen Center, was a student of Bon Hueng (Mark Houghton), who in turn was a student of Zen Master Seung Sahn.

That said, I do not confine myself to Kwan Um teachings. I am a devoted reader of Thich Nhat Hanh's books and articles (oh, how I would love to hear him in person), as well as the teachings of HH the Dalai Lama, Pema Chödrön, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein and Sylvia Boorstein. I see Kwan Um as a vehicle for me to develop myself spiritually, but I do not limit myself to the teachings of Korean Zen.

I have been devouring every Buddhist book I can get my hands on. I would love to hear any recommendations you have, sangha-brothers and sisters out there in cyberspace.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Carpe Diem

Affairs and business will drag on forever,
So lay them down now and practice the Dharma.
If you think tomorrow is the time to begin practice,
Suddenly you will discover that life has slipped away.
Who can tell when death will come?
Think often of this,
and devote yourself to the study of the Dharma.
(From the tenth of Sixty Songs of Milarepa)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Zen of sushi

I love sushi.

One of the reasons I love sushi is the Zen-like "now-ness" of the experience.

Sushi is eaten with great deliberateness, taking time to mix your wasabi into the soy sauce so it is perfectly cloudy, alternating between sushi or sashimi types, and eating a soy-dipped sliver of ginger after every few bites of sushi.

Every flavor is savored, every texture is treasured, and every mouthful lingers on the tongue for a few extra moments.

The chopsticks force you to eat slowly and deliberately, unlike the backhoe-esque implements we use to shovel western food into our mouths.

I never cease to be awed at the simplicity and artistry of nagiri.

I think I will try to eat all of my food with some of the mindfulness I experience when I eat sushi.



A refuge meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh:

At the foot of the Bodhi tree, beautifully seated, peaceful and smiling, the living source of understanding and compassion, to the Buddha I go for refuge.

The path of mindful living, leading to healing, joy, and enlightenment, the way of peace, to the Dhamma I go for refuge.

The loving and supportive community of practice, realizing harmony, awareness, and liberation, to the Sangha I go for refuge.

I am aware that the Three Gems are within my heart, I vow to realize them.

I vow to practice mindful breathing and smiling, looking deeply into things.

I vow to understand living beings and their suffering, to cultivate compassion and loving kindness, and to practice joy and equanimity.

I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning and to help relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon.

I vow to live simply and sanely, content with just a few possessions, and to keep my body healthy.

I vow to let go of all worry and anxiety in order to be light and free.

I am aware that I owe so much to my parents, teachers, friends and all beings. I vow to be worthy of their trust, to practice wholeheartedly, so that understanding and compassion will flower, and I can help living beings be free from their suffering.

May the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha support my efforts.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Defenders of the Faith

From today's New York Times:

March 12, 2006

Defenders of the Faith

FOR centuries, we have been told that without religion we are no more than egotistic animals fighting for our share, our only morality that of a pack of wolves; only religion, it is said, can elevate us to a higher spiritual level. Today, when religion is emerging as the wellspring of murderous violence around the world, assurances that Christian or Muslim or Hindu fundamentalists are only abusing and perverting the noble spiritual messages of their creeds ring increasingly hollow. What about restoring the dignity of atheism, one of Europe's greatest legacies and perhaps our only chance for peace?

More than a century ago, in "The Brothers Karamazov" and other works, Dostoyevsky warned against the dangers of godless moral nihilism, arguing in essence that if God doesn't exist, then everything is permitted. The French philosopher André Glucksmann even applied Dostoyevsky's critique of godless nihilism to 9/11, as the title of his book, "Dostoyevsky in Manhattan," suggests.

This argument couldn't have been more wrong: the lesson of today's terrorism is that if God exists, then everything, including blowing up thousands of innocent bystanders, is permitted — at least to those who claim to act directly on behalf of God, since, clearly, a direct link to God justifies the violation of any merely human constraints and considerations. In short, fundamentalists have become no different than the "godless" Stalinist Communists, to whom everything was permitted since they perceived themselves as direct instruments of their divinity, the Historical Necessity of Progress Toward Communism.

During the Seventh Crusade, led by St. Louis, Yves le Breton reported how he once encountered an old woman who wandered down the street with a dish full of fire in her right hand and a bowl full of water in her left hand. Asked why she carried the two bowls, she answered that with the fire she would burn up Paradise until nothing remained of it, and with the water she would put out the fires of Hell until nothing remained of them: "Because I want no one to do good in order to receive the reward of Paradise, or from fear of Hell; but solely out of love for God." Today, this properly Christian ethical stance survives mostly in atheism.

Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God's will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God's favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward. David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way, when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God's existence.

Two years ago, Europeans were debating whether the preamble of the European Constitution should mention Christianity as a key component of the European legacy. As usual, a compromise was worked out, a reference in general terms to the "religious inheritance" of Europe. But where was modern Europe's most precious legacy, that of atheism? What makes modern Europe unique is that it is the first and only civilization in which atheism is a fully legitimate option, not an obstacle to any public post.

Atheism is a European legacy worth fighting for, not least because it creates a safe public space for believers. Consider the debate that raged in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, my home country, as the constitutional controversy simmered: should Muslims (mostly immigrant workers from the old Yugoslav republics) be allowed to build a mosque? While conservatives opposed the mosque for cultural, political and even architectural reasons, the liberal weekly journal Mladina was consistently outspoken in its support for the mosque, in keeping with its concern for the rights of those from other former Yugoslav republics.

Not surprisingly, given its liberal attitudes, Mladina was also one of the few Slovenian publications to reprint the infamous caricatures of Muhammad. And, conversely, those who displayed the greatest "understanding" for the violent Muslim protests those cartoons caused were also the ones who regularly expressed their concern for the fate of Christianity in Europe.

These weird alliances confront Europe's Muslims with a difficult choice: the only political force that does not reduce them to second-class citizens and allows them the space to express their religious identity are the "godless" atheist liberals, while those closest to their religious social practice, their Christian mirror-image, are their greatest political enemies. The paradox is that Muslims' only real allies are not those who first published the caricatures for shock value, but those who, in support of the ideal of freedom of expression, reprinted them.

While a true atheist has no need to boost his own stance by provoking believers with blasphemy, he also refuses to reduce the problem of the Muhammad caricatures to one of respect for other's beliefs. Respect for other's beliefs as the highest value can mean only one of two things: either we treat the other in a patronizing way and avoid hurting him in order not to ruin his illusions, or we adopt the relativist stance of multiple "regimes of truth," disqualifying as violent imposition any clear insistence on truth.

What, however, about submitting Islam — together with all other religions — to a respectful, but for that reason no less ruthless, critical analysis? This, and only this, is the way to show a true respect for Muslims: to treat them as serious adults responsible for their beliefs.

(Find the original article here)

A distaste for "Mega"

Today my husband and I went to the Virgin Megastore in Orlando to find a Grateful Dead CD he wanted. Smack dab in the middle of Downtown Disney, across the street from the House of Blues and Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe (whose motto is "Live, Love, Eat"). The store was, as its name suggested, mega--two stories, with a footprint about the size of a football field, with a jillion CDs, DVDs, video games, T-shirts and other claptrap, plus an overpriced cafe.

I found the whole thing kind of revolting. The over-the-top commercialism and insipidness of the whole thing made me feel kind of uncomfortable. As I walked through the aisles, I felt like I was running the gauntlet, trying to avoid being sucked in by the marketing extravaganza that was beckoning shoppers to splurge (who doesn't need a pair of cotton terrycloth Andy Worhol wristbands?). Ultimately, the environment itself was so distasteful to me that any temptation I had to pick up one of those 1970's-esque "Italia" track jackets pretty much evaporated as soon as it arose.

We bought our Grateful Dead CD (Fillmore West 1969) and promptly went home.

I was so glad.

I realized today that I have started to lose much of the craving and attachment that has been socialized into me for thirty some-odd years. When I think I have to have (or buy) something, I pause and think about why I feel that way. Now, nine times out of ten, I realize that whatever it is I want, having it won't make me feel any happier. And that one time that I do decide to get that thing I want, it is because it is something I need--really need--to accomplish some end, not to satisfy a want.

The Buddhas are right. Non-attachment is freedom.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


a drop of water falling into the pool
my separateness is transient

i am an aggregation
of an innumerable multitude
molecules of hydrogen

rapid electrical pulses
travel the neural pathways
I see you

If there is no separateness
and all is togetherness
our destinies are shared

wobbling through the air
the droplet hurtles downward
and with a almost imperceivable splash

(an original poem by

Friday, March 10, 2006

Hello from another sentient being

This is my dog, Jakey.

Jakey is a ten (?) year old Rat Terrier whom I rescued in Austin, Texas.

In this photo, he's giving me "the look," which means he wants to go outside.

So outside we will go ;-)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Visit from a sentient being

As I was walking out to put a letter in my mailbox, I found this little fella clinging to the iron gate in front of our door:

He's a tiny Southern Spring Peeper Frog. I saw him clinging above the latch on the gate (he later moved to another part of the gate, shown above), and--reminding myself that he, too, is a sentient being--opened and closed the gate carefully so as not to disturb him.

Isn't he beautiful? The photograph leaves a lot to be desired. (Blame the photographer.)


Brokeback Mountain

I saw Brokeback Mountain last night and was pleasantly surprised. After all the pre-Oscar hype, I expected this film to be more political than it was. It turns out to be a classic story of forbidden love and betrayal (of one another as well as their wives). Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger were great, as were the actresses playing their characters' wives and daughters (including Brooklyn Proulx, daughter of Annie Proulx, who wrote the short story upon which the film was based).

Ennis (Ledger) and Jack (Gyllenhaal) loved one another genuinely, but dealt dishonestly with their wives, going on "fishing" trips every several months to rendezvous together in the Wyoming wilderness. These betrayals ultimately had karmic echoes for these two men, who felt compelled by societal pressures to build their lives upon a fiction of heterosexuality. The film certainly illustrates the idea that the wrongs you commit against others (in this case, adultery - clearly a form of sexual misconduct verboten by the Five Precepts) will come back to haunt you later.

I recommend this film to you all. Please go in with an open mind, and disregard all of the press and hype. Brokeback Mountain isn't a politically-charged polemic on homosexual rights. It's a love story. The love in this case happens to be between two men.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sharing the dharma

As new as I am to Buddhist practice, I am so happy with how it's changed my life that I find myself sharing Buddhist ideas with my non-Buddhist friends.

For instance, a lady I work with was coming really unglued today about a frustrating situation with a manager, and I suggested she take a few deep breaths and focus her attention on the "out" breath. I demonstrated, then she did a few breathing exercises, and calmed down.

I'm not a dharma teacher by any means, but nonetheless I find myself sprinking bits of the dharma everywhere I go, because the ideas of selflessness, compassion, non-attachment and impermanence have really pervaded my thinking.

Does this happen to any of you other "novices" (newcomers to the dharma and sangha)?

Uno, dos, tres, quatro...

Okay, so Gareth, the proprietor of Green Clouds, has prompted us to share a sliver of ourselves by playing the four things game.

Here goes:

Four Jobs I’ve had
Bookstore clerk
Corporate counsel
Contract manager

Four films I can watch over and over again…
English Patient
Saving Private Ryan
Legends of the Fall

Four places I’ve lived
Denver, Colorado
Boulder, Colorado
Austin, Texas
St. Petersburg, Florida

Four TV programs I love
Pimp My Ride
Meet the Press
Homicide (sadly, now in syndication)

Four Places I’ve been on vacation/holiday
Glasgow, Scotland
Burlington, Vermont
Copenhagen, Denmark
Key West, Florida

Four of my favourite dishes
General Tso’s Chicken
Thai-style Mussels
My mom’s chili
Fish tacos

Four Websites I visit daily
BBC News

Four places I'd rather be right now
In my husband’s arms
On a Florida Gulf Coast beach
Sitting around the campfire with my husband, brother- and sister-in law and their spouses
Anywhere, travelling

Four Bloggers I’m tagging
The Buddhist Blog
American Buddhist
Van Gogh Chica
One Foot in Front of the Other


Those who seek liberation for themselves alone cannot become fully enlightened. Though it may be said that one who is not already liberated cannot liberate others the very process of forgetting oneself to help others is itself liberating. Therefore those who seek to benefit themselves alone actually harm themselves by doing so, while those who help others also help themselves by doing so.
- Muso Kokushi (1275-1351)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


C'est un monde sans frontières
Everything coalescing in the ether
Lives like globs of wax in a lava lamp
Pulling apart and merging without end
N'est pas le monde et moi
Je suis le monde
Le monde c'est moi
What happens to others
Happens to me
What I do to others
I do to myself
Seated in zazen
I see through the walls
I break through the boundaries
I widen my worldview
I reacquaint with le monde beyond.

(original poem by Dharmasattva)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Wishes for a good week

Like the petals of the lotus,
embracing the new day,
open your heart to the world
and leave kindness in your wake.

May all of you, and all sentient beings, have a wonderful week.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Swimming in samsara

The waters seem so wide,
stormy and turbulent;
the wind blows cold
and the salt stings my eyes

But if I keep my head up
and ride the peaks and troughs,
I will be able to breathe
and will stay afloat

Aye, the waves will roll
no matter what I do;
it is up to me to swim
and roll along with them.

(original poem by me)

(Photo courtesy of Green Clouds)

The roots of suffering

As a tree with strong uninjured roots, though cut down, grows up again, so, when deep craving is not rooted out, suffering arises again and again.

Dhammapada XXIV: 338


All of us have the ability to root out the unsated wanting that naturally grows within our hearts. We can learn the discipline of mindfulness that enables us to know intimately that wanting, learn to recognize it and uproot it before its shoots and tendrils overrun our lives.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Chains of our own making

That's not a strong fetter, so say the enlightened,
the one made of iron, of wood, or of grass.
To be smitten, enthralled, with jewels & ornaments,
longing for children & wives:
that's the stronger fetter, so say the enlightened,
one that's constraining, elastic, hard to untie.
But having cut it, the enlightened go forth,
free of longing, abandoning sensual ease.
Those smitten with passion
fall back into a self-made stream,
like a spider snared in its web.

But, having cut it, the enlightened set forth,
free of longing, abandoning all suffering & stress.

(Dhammapada XXIV: 345-47)
My comment:
We imprison ourselves by our thoughts and by the way we act on them.
Buddhism refers to the problem of "craving," which in English brings to mind bodily cravings like our desire for a certain food (chocolate, candy, etc.). But what is really meant is the blinding want that we feel, the feeling of incompleteness and unfulfillment that we feel, and which we try to alleviate by seeking and acquiring things, material or otherwise. Sometimes it is food or drink, sex or drugs, but for some of us it is status, achievement or wealth. Think of the workaholic, spending long hours in the office, week after week, year after year, plugging away at her computer. "If only I could _____, then I would be happy."
Buddhism teaches us that it is the unsated wanting that causes so much of our suffering. The feeling of unfulfillment leaves us feeling inadequate, empty, desperate, jealous or frustrated. The wanting itself drives us to do things which are harmful to ourselves and others: working too much, neglecting our loved ones, turning away from others in their time of need, using intoxicants, food, sex or other things to distract us from our unhappiness.
Sheryl Crow says it most succinctly in her song Soak Up The Sun:
"It's not having what you want
It's wanting what you've got."
The key is to let go of the wanting and to embrace the world as it is, mindfully.
Easier said than done. That's why it's called "practicing" Buddhism.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Four Great Vows

Sentient beings are numberless
I vow to save them all

Delusions are endless
I vow to cut through them all

The dharma is limitless
I vow to learn it all

The Buddha's way is inconcievable
I vow to follow it

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The path

Practicing meditation...
Saying the mantra...
Learning the dharma...
Reading the words of teachers like Pema Chödrön, Thich Nhat Hanh and Jack Kornfield...
Living mindfully...

These things have, in a few short months, radically changed my life. I am happier. The difficulties of life don't get me down the way they used to. I control my emotions and react constructively when other people act in ways that would previously have made me angry, frustrated or disappointed. I control the controllables and let go of the rest with a thoughtful shrug. I feel stronger, more resilient, and yet more vulnerable, empathetic and accepting.

It's not that life itself is easier or simpler. It's not that bad things don't happen, or that people don't do disappointing things. It's just that my view of things and my response to them is more wholesome.

I am glad that I have chosen to walk this path.