Archive for June, 2007


six kinds of loneliness

Pema Chödrön 

To be without a reference point is the ultimate loneliness. It is also called enlightenment.

In the middle way, there is no reference point. The mind with no
reference point does not resolve itself, does not fixate or grasp. How
could we possibly have no reference point? To have no reference point
would be to change a deep-seated habitual response to the world: wanting
to make it work out one way or the other. If I can’t go left or right, I
will die! When we don’t go left or right, we feel like we are in a detox
center. We’re alone, cold turkey with all the edginess that we’ve been
trying to avoid by going left or right. That edginess can feel pretty

However, years and years of going to the left or right, going to
yes or no, going to right or wrong has never really changed anything.
Scrambling for security has never brought anything but momentary joy.
It’s like changing the position of our legs in meditation. Our legs hurt
from sitting cross-legged, so we move them. And then we feel, "Phew!
What a relief!" But two and a half minutes later, we want to move them
again. We keep moving around seeking pleasure, seeking comfort, and the
satisfaction that we get is very short-lived.

We hear a lot about the pain of samsara, and we also hear about
liberation. But we don’t hear much about how painful it is to go from
being completely stuck to becoming unstuck. The process of becoming
unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely
changing our way of perceiving reality, like changing our DNA. We are
undoing a pattern that is not just our pattern. It’s the human pattern:
we project onto the world a zillion possibilities of attaining resolution.
We can have whiter teeth, a weed-free lawn, a strife-free life, a world
without embarrassment. We can live happily every after. This pattern keeps
us dissatisfied and causes us a lot of suffering.

As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel
that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve
resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we
deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is
the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and
ambiguity. To the degree that we’ve been avoiding uncertainty, we’re
naturally going to have withdrawal symptoms’withdrawal from always
thinking that there’s a problem and that someone, somewhere, needs to
fix it.

The middle way is wide open, but it’s tough going, because it
goes against the grain of an ancient neurotic pattern that we all share.
When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to
the right or the left. We don’t want to sit and feel what we feel. We
don’t want to go through the detox. Yet the middle way encourages us to
do just that. It encourages us to awaken the bravery that exists in
everyone without exception, including you and me.

Meditation provides a way for us to train in the middle way—in
staying right on the spot. We are encouraged not to judge whatever arises
in our mind. In fact, we are encouraged not to even grasp whatever arises
in our mind. What we usually call good or bad we simply acknowledge as
thinking, without all the usual drama that goes along with right and
wrong. We are instructed to let the thoughts come and go as if touching a
bubble with a feather. This straightforward discipline prepares us to stop
struggling and discover a fresh, unbiased state of being.

The experience of certain feelings can seem particularly pregnant
with desire for resolution: loneliness, boredom, anxiety. Unless we can
relax with these feelings, it’s very hard to stay in the middle when we
experience them. We want victory or defeat, praise or blame. For example,
if somebody abandons us, we don’t want to be with that raw discomfort.
Instead, we conjure up a familiar identity of ourselves as a hapless
victim. Or maybe we avoid the rawness by acting out and righteously
telling the person how messed up he or she is. We automatically want to
cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or

Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not
something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot
with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us
company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening
relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that
completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.

There are six ways of describing this kind of cool loneliness. They
are: less desire, contentment, avoiding unnecessary activity, complete
discipline, not wandering in the world of desire, and not seeking security
from one’s discursive thoughts.

Less desire is the willingness to be lonely without resolution when
everything in us yearns for something to cheer us up and change our mood.
Practicing this kind of loneliness is a way of sowing seeds so that
fundamental restlessness decreases. In meditation, for example, every time
we label "thinking" instead of getting endlessly run around by our
thoughts, we are training in just being here without dissociation. We
can’t do that now to the degree that we weren’t willing to do it
yesterday or the day before or last week or last year. After we practice
less desire wholeheartedly and consistently, something shifts. We feel
less desire in the sense of being less solidly seduced by our Very
Important Story Lines. So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6
seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for
even one, that’s the journey of the warrior. That’s the path of
bravery. The less we spin off and go crazy, the more we taste the
satisfaction of cool loneliness. As the Zen master Katagiri Roshi often
said, "One can be lonely and not be tossed away by it."

The second kind of loneliness is contentment. When we have nothing,
we have nothing to lose. We don’t have anything to lose but being
programmed in our guts to feel we have a lot to lose. Our feeling that we
have a lot to lose is rooted in fear – of loneliness, of change, of
anything that can’t be resolved, of nonexistence. The hope that we can
avoid this feeling and the fear that we can’t become our reference

When we draw a line down the center of a page, we know who we are
if we’re on the right side and who we are if we’re on the left side.
But we don’t know who we are when we don’t put ourselves on either
side. Then we just don’t know what to do. We just don’t know. We have
no reference point, no hand to hold. At that point we can either freak out
or settle in. Contentment is a synonym for loneliness, cool loneliness,
settling down with cool loneliness. We give up believing that being able
to escape our loneliness is going to bring any lasting happiness or joy or
sense of well-being or courage or strength. Usually we have to give up
this belief about a billion times, again and again making friends with our
jumpiness and dread, doing the same old thing a billion times with
awareness. Then without our even noticing, something begins to shift. We
can just be lonely with no alternatives, content to be right here with the
mood and texture of what’s happening.

The third kind of loneliness is avoiding unnecessary activities.
When we’re lonely in a "hot" way, we look for something to save us;
we look for a way out. We get this queasy feeling that we call loneliness,
and our minds just go wild trying to come up with companions to save us
from despair. That’s called unnecessary activity. It’s a way of
keeping ourselves busy so we don’t have to feel any pain. It could take
the form of obsessively daydreaming of true romance, or turning a tidbit
of gossip into the six o – clock news, or even going off by ourselves into
the wilderness.

The point is that in all these activities, we are seeking
companionship in our usual, habitual way, using our same old repetitive
ways of distancing ourselves from the demon loneliness. Could we just
settle down and have some compassion and respect for ourselves? Could we
stop trying to escape from being alone with ourselves? What about
practicing not jumping and grabbing when we begin to panic? Relaxing with
loneliness is a worthy occupation. As the Japanese poet Ryokan says, "If
you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things."

Complete discipline is another component of cool loneliness.
Complete discipline means that at every opportunity, we’re willing to
come back, just gently come back to the present moment. This is loneliness
as complete discipline. We’re willing to sit still, just be there,
alone. We don’t particularly have to cultivate this kind of loneliness;
we could just sit still long enough to realize it’s how things really
are. We are fundamentally alone, and there is nothing anywhere to hold on
to. Moreover, this is not a problem. In fact, it allows us to finally
discover a completely unfabricated state of being. Our habitual
assumptions’all our ideas about how things are—keep us from seeing
anything in a fresh, open way. We say, "Oh yes, I know." But we
don’t know. We don’t ultimately know anything. There’s no certainty
about anything. This basic truth hurts, and we want to run away from it.
But coming back and relaxing with something as familiar as loneliness is
good discipline for realizing the profundity of the unresolved moments of
our lives. We are cheating ourselves when we run away from the ambiguity
of loneliness.

Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing
cool loneliness. Wandering in the world of desire involves looking for
alternatives, seeking something to comfort us—food, drink, people. The
word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for
something because we want to find a way to make things okay. That quality
comes from never having grown up. We still want to go home and be able to
open the refrigerator and find it full of our favorite goodies; when the
going gets tough, we want to yell "Mom!" But what we’re doing as we
progress along the path is leaving home and becoming homeless. Not
wandering in the world of desire is about relating directly with how
things are. Loneliness is not a problem. Loneliness is nothing to be
solved. The same is true for any other experience we might have.

Another aspect of cool loneliness is not seeking security from
one’s discursive thoughts. The rug’s been pulled; the jig is up; there
is no way to get out of this one! We don’t even seek the companionship
of our own constant conversation with ourselves about how it is and how it
isn’t, whether it is or whether it isn’t, whether it should or whether
it shouldn’t, whether it can or whether it can’t. With cool loneliness
we do not expect security from our own internal chatter. That’s why we
are instructed in meditation to label it "thinking." It has no
objective reality. It is transparent and ungraspable. We’re encouraged
to just touch that chatter and let it go, not make much ado about nothing.

Cool loneliness allows us to look honestly and without aggression
at our own minds. We can gradually drop our ideals of who we think we
ought to be, or who we think we want to be, or who we think other people
think we want to be or ought to be. We give it up and just look directly
with compassion and humor at who we are. Then loneliness is no threat and
heartache, no punishment.

Cool loneliness doesn’t provide any resolution or give us ground
under our feet. It challenges us to step into a world of no reference
point without polarizing or solidifying. This is called the middle way, or
the sacred path of the warrior.

When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the
heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden
opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something
terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and
longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart?
The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.


Q&A- meditation, miracles, ambitions, realms of existence

Does meditation allow demons or evil spirits to enter and
possess the mind?

Meditation has been practiced in many different forms, and by many different
cultures for thousands of years. It is taught and practiced all over the
world and is gaining much popularity, especially in Western countries.
Large international corporations are sending their staff and
executives for lessons and retreats in increasing numbers. They recognize
the benefits of meditation to be improved concentration and clarity of mind, as
well as better management of stress, pain, aggravation and anger.
Neuroscientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical
School, by studying the brain waves of people who meditate regularly, have
shown that they are more peaceful and tranquil than non-meditators.
Researchers at the University
of California, San
Francisco Medical Centre, have shown that because of meditation, Buddhists
really are happier and calmer than most other people!
Some people might discourage us from practicing meditation
because of their own irrational fears. It would be wise to treat
such talk as superstitious nonsense.

Are stories of
miracles and psychic powers in the Buddha’s life true?
According to Buddhism, anything may be possible. Some say that the
power of the mind may allow for feats or miracles unexplainable by our current
level of knowledge. However, it could also be the case that such stories
may have been exaggerations by monks to boost up the Buddha’s image so as to
compete with other mystics and popular figures of the time.
Buddhism does not encourage blind faith, even in its own
stories. It is up to each individual to exercise their own discernment
and believe in such stories or not.
The Buddha himself said that any psychic powers, if they
exist, are unimportant. What is of far more importance is the practice of
His Teachings.

Buddhism teaches contentment, but people have ambitions
in work and also want better lives for their families. How can this be

While it is true that Buddhism considers contentment to be a virtue, it also
realizes that everyone may take different paths to attain their own peace and
happiness. In such cases, the Buddha would recommend taking the Middle
Be not too ambitious that you may cause harm or hurt to
others in achieving your ambitions. And also don’t be too contented that
your own livelihood and family be adversely affected.

What are the
different realms of existence, and are they real places?

Traditionally, Buddhists recognize six different realms or planes of
existence. These are the Hell, Animal, Hungry Ghost, Demon, Human and
Heaven realms. Some of these realms, such as the Animal and Hungry Ghost
realms, overlap our realm.

It is said that there are also different ‘levels’ within the
Heaven and Hell realms. To put this in perspective, take our own world as
an example. There are currently 193
countries in the world, spread over seven continents. Living in a
peaceful country with a pleasant climate is a far cry from being in a war-torn
country wracked by hunger and disease. It is clear that even in our own
world, there are vast differences between different countries!

Thus a Heaven realm is a plane of existence which is far
more agreeable than even the best country in our world, and a Hell realm is a
plane where conditions are far harsher than anywhere on earth. Even the
different ‘levels’ within these realms can be compared to different countries
in each continent where the living conditions in some countries may be ‘better’
or ‘worse’ than others.

There is an alternative viewpoint that the Buddha was
speaking allegorically when He was talking of these different realms of
existence. For example, a person who is suffering from severe physical
disabilities, very serious illnesses, or is mentally deranged may be said to be
reborn in a Hell realm. People who undergo lives of deprivation where
their only focus is looking for their next meal and staying alive, may be said
to be born in the Animal realm.

People who have constant unfulfilled and burning desires and
are never satisfied no matter how much they have, may be said to be in the
realm of Hungry Ghosts. Those who are overly aggressive and constantly
fighting and struggling for power and possessions may be in the Demon
realm. And people who are born with great physical beauty and wealth may
be said to be reborn in a Heaven realm. For example, sports and movie
stars who have all of these attributes along with literally millions of fans or
‘worshippers’, are often described as gods!

Quite obviously the Lower realms of Hell, Animals, Hungry
Ghosts and Demons are places of suffering, and the Heavenly realms are places
of enjoyment. However, the Buddha says that these realms are not
particularly suitable places for the practice of Buddhism, or to accumulate
positive kamma. This is because the beings in the Lower realms are
usually in too much suffering, and the Heavenly beings are too busy enjoying

Therefore, because the Human realm has both suffering and
happiness, it can be considered the most suitable place to learn and practice
the Buddha’s Teachings. Also, it is the Human realm that offers the
greatest opportunity to do good and accumulate positive kamma.

However, the Buddha also said that many Heavenly beings do
practice His Teachings and are able to achieve Nibbana. He therefore
encouraged everyone to strive for a good rebirth in either a Heavenly or Human

Whether these six realms of existence are actual or
figurative doesn’t really matter. What really matters is to maintain the
practice so as to ensure a good rebirth. This is very important as it is
only in either a Human realm or a Heavenly realm that we are able to learn and
practice the Buddha’s Teachings, and thus attain Nibbana.


What Happens When You Die?

transcription from a talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh during a retreat with five
hundred people in Hong Kong on 15 May 2007 (apologies for any inaccuracies of
mine — Editor)

In order to answer what happens us
when we die, we need to answer another question – what happens when we are

What is
happening now to us? In English we say ‘we are’ but it’s proper to say ‘we are
becoming’ because things are becoming. We’re not the same person in two
consecutive minutes.

A picture
of you as baby looks different to you now. The fact is you are not exactly the
same as that baby and not entirely a different person either. In a picture of
you as a five year old, you are not exactly the same as that child and not
entirely a different person either – the form, feelings and mental formations
are different.

In the
middle way there is no sameness and no otherness.

You may
think you are still alive but in fact you have been dying everyday, every
minute, cells die and are born – for neither do we have funerals or birthdays

Death is a
very necessary condition of birth. With no death, there is no birth. They
inter-are and happen in every moment to the experienced meditator. For instance
a cloud may have died many times, into rain, streams, water. The cloud may want
to wave to itself on earth! Rain is a continuation of the cloud. With a
meditation practitioner nothing can hide itself. When I drink tea, it’s very
pleasant to be aware I am drinking cloud.

When you
are parents, you die and are reborn as your children. “You are my continuation,
I love you.” The Buddha told us how to ensure a beautiful continuation – a
compassionate thought, a beautiful thought. Forgiveness is our continuation. If
anger, separation and hate arise, then we will not ensure a beautiful
continuation. When we pronounce a word that is compassionate, good and
beautiful that is our continuation.

When a
cloud is polluted, the rain is polluted. So purifying thoughts, word and action
creates a beautiful continuation. We can see the effects of our speech in our
children. My disciples are my continuation ­– both monastic and lay. I want to
transmit loving speech, action and thought. This is called karma in Buddhism.

This body
of mine will disintegrate but my karma will continue – karma means action. My
karma is already in the world. My continuation is everywhere in the world. When
you look at one of my disciples walking with compassion, I know he is my
continuation. I don’t want to transmit my negative emotions. I want to
transform them before I transmit them. The dissolution of this body is not my
end. Surely I will continue after the dissolution of this body. So don’t worry
about my death, I am not going to die.

Let us
meditate on the birth of a cloud. Does it have a birth certificate? (laughter)
Examine the notion of birth – the notion that nothing can come from something,
from no-one to someone. Is it possible for something to come from nothing?
Scientifically this is not possible.

The cloud
was water in an ocean, lake, river and heat from the sun gave it birth – the
moment of continuation. For instance, birth – before you were born you were in
your mother’s womb. The moment of birth is a moment of continuation. Is the
moment of conception the start? You are half from your dad and half from your
mum already- this is also a moment of continuation. When you practise
meditation you can see things like that.

It is
impossible for a cloud to die. It can become water, snow – it cannot become
nothing. It is also impossible for us to die. Speech, action and thought
continue in the future. The person who dies still continues because we are not
capable of using meditators’ eyes. They continue in us and around us. All our
ancestors are alive in us. Our ancestors are in our chromosomes.

I wrote a
book ‘No Death, No Fear’. When conditions are right I manifest and when not,

There is no
coming, no going. Before she manifests we should not call her non-existing.
Before manifestation you cannot call her non-being. They are a pair of

on the nature of creation and being may be the best way to understanding God.
The theologian Paul Koenig describes God as the Ground of Being. Who then
is the Ground of Non-being? This diminishes God. In Buddhism both notions of
being and non-being can describe reality. Similarly, above and below, Europe and here.

Nirvana is
the absence of all notions, birth and death, coming and going, sameness and
otherness. According to Buddhism, ‘to be or not to be’ is not a real question.

takes us beyond to a place of fearlessness. We’re too busy, so we become
victims of anger, fear. If we have really touched our nature of no birth/death,
we know to die is one of the root conditions to realise oneself.

We have to
learn how to die in every moment in order to be fully alive.

This teaching on the middle way is the cream of Buddha’s teaching. Many of our
ancestors realised this and were not afraid of death.

We should
be able to release our tensions. We are the karma we produce every day in our
daily life, if we know how, to ensure continuation. I have a disciple in Vietnam who
wants to build a stupa with my ashes. He wants to put a plaque with the words
‘Here lies my beloved teacher’. But I want to write ‘There is nothing here’
(lots of laughter). Because if you look deeply there is continuation.

I treasure
the time I have left, more for me to practise. I want to generate energy of
love, compassion and understanding so I can continue beautifully. I would like
you to do the same. Use your time wisely. Every moment produce beautiful
thoughts, loving, kindness, forgiveness. Say beautiful things, inspire,
forgive, act physically to protect and help. We know we are capable of
producing beautiful karma for good continuations and the happiness of other

When the
time comes for dissolution of this body you may like to release it easily. You
aren’t to grasp – releasing body and perception. Remember the image of a cloud
in the sky seeing continuation in rice and ice-cream waving to itself. You can
already see your continuation. The art of living is continuation. For myself
and the other beings.

Sariputra –
one of Buddha’s main disciples, Ananda and other friends went to see
Anathapindika a lay disciple who was a businessman and dying. He had made time
to come to dharma talks and weekly practice.

When the
Venerables came they asked whether the pain had diminished. He replied that it
was increasing. The monks led him on a meditation on the Buddha, Dharma and
Sangha. After a few minutes there was no more suffering and he smiled.

When you
sit close to a person dying, talk to them of happy experiences in their life.
Touch seeds of happiness in them.

The monks
asked Anathapindika to look at his feelings and perceptions. “I am life without
boundaries, this body is a residue.”

Help the
dying person not to cling to his or her body. If there is regret, help them to
see they are not their feelings. When conditions are manifested this body
manifests and when not, it goes. The nature of this body is not birth, death,
coming or going – not hurt by notion of being or non-being.

I am free
from birth or death. That practice helps me.

cried. Ananda asked, “why are you crying?”
“No, I don’t regret anything,” Anathapindika replied.
“Why are you crying?” asked Ananda.
“I cry because I am so moved by such a wonderful practice as today,”
Anathapindika said.
“We monastics receive this every day,” said Ananda.
“There are those amongst us lay people who still need this, please tell the
Lord Buddha this.”
Ananda promised to tell the Buddha, and Anathapindika died smiling peacefully.

Thich Nhat
Hanh gave an illustration with a box of matches.
Holding up an unlit match, he said, “there is flame, but the conditions to
manifest it are not here now.”
Then he lit the match and blew it out.
He said when the conditions were right (the conditions being his hand striking
the match to the matchbox), the flame became. And when the conditions
were not right, the flame was extinguished.


Discovering Our True Buddha Nature

Venerable Tenzin Palmo’s Teaching

We own our Minds
As I’m sure you know the essence of the Buddhist path is mind training, which in the West is known as meditation.
In the Buddhadharma it takes the central place, everything else
revolves around it. And this is as it should be because in one way the
mind is the only thing we have. Apart from it, we cannot experience
anything either within ourselves or without. If the consciousness
goes, we’re like a log, we’re just a corpse, or a vegetable if our
heart is still beating.

The essential problem in our lives is our own Minds.
is very important to appreciate that the essential problem in our lives
is our own minds. As long as we are always blaming things on the
outside – our upbringing and our parents, our environment, our
workplace, our spouse, or the district or the country or the world, or
Samsara, we will always be going outwards, trying to mend little bits
here and there, applying stickers and Band-Aids over our problems. But
the basic dissatisfaction, the basic problems, don’t go away no matter
how hard we try.

try so hard to arrange things on the outside, so that they fit in with
our ideas of what would make us happy and content. But it doesn’t
work. We are like that proverbial rodent on the wheel, just going
round and round and round, exhausting ourselves and going nowhere.
Sooner or later we realize this. Then we start looking for answers to
our problems. Why are we dissatisfied? Why are we not happy? That is
when people begin to turn inward and look for an inner answer to their
problems. As soon as we do this, as soon as we turn our attention away
from all the external problems and turn it into ourselves and see that
basically our problems stem from our own responses to life, then we
should feel enormous relief. After all, if all the problems come from
the outside, or if all the problems stem from our infancy, which, after
all, is gone and irrevocable, then there’s not much hope. But if the
real answer lies in the present, right now, within us, then there’s
enormous hope. Therefore Dharma practitioners should always be very
joyful and not look so solemn!

We need to tame and cultivate our own minds.
an Indian scholar and practitioner of the 7th century, points out that
the world is covered with thorns and thistles and stones and pebbles
and that if we walk barefoot across that kind of path, we will always
be stubbing our toes and hurting ourselves. So what are we going to
do? Are we going to carpet the earth? That’s not possible. But if we
take just two pieces of leather and put them under our feet as sandals,
or shoes then we can walk anywhere and we are protected. But like
trying to carpet the earth, if we try to make the whole world, our
entire external environment, perfect and smooth and without conflict,
we’ll find that’s impossible too. We are always going to meet people
who annoy us. We are always going to meet situations that don’t come
up to our expectations. This is the way things are. And if we hope
that we can somehow create an external environment which will always
come up to our expectations, then we are always going to be sadly
disappointed. But we don’t need to do that because if we learn how to
tame and cultivate our own mind, then we can deal with everything

We can change Ourselves!
is wonderfully good news because we do own our minds. We cannot always
change the external environment. We certainly cannot change many or
most of the people we encounter. But we can change ourselves and once
we are changed, everything changes. Things are still going to happen
to us that we can’t prevent, but how we respond to those situations
that we can deal with will then profoundly influence the results of
whatever situation we are in. This is so important because how we
respond to situations will not only change those situations but also
create our future. Our lives are basically in our own hands. We have
so much responsibility but this is a wonderful thing – our life in our
own hands. We don’t have to give it away to anyone else. We don’t
have to blame anyone else. We don’t have to blame ourselves either.
How we respond moment to moment to moment creates our life for us.
This is why different people meeting with very much the same kind of
situation react differently – some are broken, some are exalted. Same
situation, different mindset.

Our Untamed Mind is Causing us Misery
the Buddhadharma says that all things are mind. What it means by this
is not that there is no external reality, but that we cannot know that
external reality except through our minds. Even our senses – our eyes,
our nose, our ears, our taste, and our touch – are conditioned by our
human body. Everything that we see is only how it is brought into us
through our senses and then interpreted to us by our minds. Beyond that
we cannot know anything. Even modem physics says that everything that
appears so extremely solid is really mostly space with just a few
little atoms whirling around in it. In just one cell, the distance
between the nucleus and the rest of the neutrons and electrons moving
around is the same as the distance between the planets and the stars –
a vast amount of space with very, very little in it. Yet to us things
are very solid. If I hit somebody with something, that person would
certainly feel it. So it’s not that it’s all our illusion on that
level. Nevertheless, how something is and how it appears to us are two
different things. Therefore we should learn not to take things so

tend to think everything is so real. The people that we meet also seem
so real. We ourselves are so real, and along with that, our thoughts
and our emotions are so real. They seem so solid. So when we think
something, when we have an idea, we absolutely believe it. We think
that it is really true because it’s what we believe. It doesn’t matter
that everyone else is telling us we’re crazy. I know because this is my
thought. The same is so with our emotions. We believe so deeply in our
happiness, our sorrows, our anger, our greed, our jealousies, and our
joys. We think they are really true. When we’re down, we’re down, and
we’re going to be down forever. When we’re up, we’re up and that’s it –
we’re never coming down again. We’re completely encased in our thoughts
and our emotions. It’s as though there’s no distance, as though we’re
completely suffocated. It’s like being in the middle of a big ocean and
the waves rolling over us are our emotions, our thoughts and our
beliefs. And there’s no separation. This is me. That’s why people are
suffering. Even when we remember something that happened when we were
children and caused us a lot of distress, we totally identify with it –
even to the present day. We cannot drop it. We think this is me, this
is who I am. And it causes us so much grief. Presumably many of you
have realized this and that is why you are all sitting here now because
we realize that the mind, untamed and untrained, is causing at least 98
percent of our misery. We’ll give a little two percent to the external
environment but if our minds were really together, we would be able to
deal with that too.

How much Attention do we Give our Minds?
we look at our mind, what do we have? Usually it’s utter chaos. We all
sit here looking very much like a lot of Arahats and Bodhisattvas but I
wonder, if we had a microphone attached and everybody could hear
through a loudspeaker what we were thinking, wouldn’t it be a
revelation? And wouldn’t we have an incentive to train our minds?

the problem is that we give so much time and attention in our culture
to taking care of our bodies, to training them, to making sure we’re
very healthy and that we eat the right kinds of food and keep ourselves
clean and decently dressed. Of course, in itself it’s important but how
much attention do we give to the mind? How much exercise do we do for
the mind? How much cleansing? Do we adorn the mind with beautiful
thoughts? If we could open up our mind, would it look like a beautiful
palace or temple, or would it look like a junk heap? Only each one of
us can know how it is. And if we wouldn’t want to live in a garbage
site, we should realize that as long as our minds are untrained, that
is exactly where we are living because the closest thing we have, the
only place where we can actually live, is within our mind. That’s our
home. It doesn’t matter if you’re living here in Cambridge or if you go to India or Korea or Japan
or wherever. It doesn’t matter what external environment you have, the
one thing you take with you is your mind. How much attention do we give
to that?

Integrate Practice into our Daily Lives
then, you come here and you sit. And while you are sitting you are able
to see what is going on inside. Most people don’t even have a clue what
is going on. They’ve never even asked. So already you have a wonderful
advantage in that you at least have the desire to look inside, because
that’s the last place most people would want to look. So I congratulate
you on that. However, as I’m sure you’re all very aware, merely coming
together every day to sit is not enough. It’s not enough because the
Buddhist path is a path of transformation. It’s about taking our
untamed, unenlightened minds and turning them into our genuine Buddha
nature. There are many other things that need to be done in order to
create this inner transformation. Now, there are many, many things one
could say about this but I’ll limit myself to two main points. One is
that it is essential to have a practice that completely integrates
one’s sitting and one’s everyday life.

of the things which is extremely admirable about the Zen tradition –
one among many things – is that it has this appreciation that everyday
life is practice. This is so important, to realize that every single
action we do throughout the day, if done in a state of presence, of
really being totally with the action in the moment, being completely
aware in a non-conceptual presence, is the essence of the practice.
Therefore, whatever one is doing, if one does it with this
non-conceptual awareness, it is the same as if one is sitting in

Be Aware of the Presence of our Minds
The essence of the practice is to develop a mind which is totally
present, totally vast, spacious and conscious, instead of our ordinary,
untrained mind, which is just chatter, chatter, chatter. Unless you are
really very well trained, normally what happens is that when you are
doing one thing you are thinking about a hundred other things. The one
thing you are usually not thinking about is what you are really doing.
This is why people always have this sense of frustration about the
state that they can get into while they’re sitting and then their
everyday life. Sometimes the deeper the practice of sitting, the
further one seems to be from the practice of our everyday
consciousness. The only way to link the two is by carrying, as much as
possible, that sense of presence into everything we do.

kind of presence does not need to be very tight and narrow. There are
times when our attention needs to be one-pointed. When one is driving,
for example, one has to concentrate to a certain extent on what one is
doing. When one is doing anything very, very precise – for example, a
surgeon who is operating – one needs to be very, very one-pointed. The
surgeon does not need at the point of operating to have a very
panoramic awareness. Nonetheless, for much of the time, it is important
to know how to develop this very spacious mind – not a tight, hard kind
of mind which at the end of the day would lead one to feel completely
exhausted, but a mind which is very open but completely aware,
completely poised and attentive. It looks very casual, very relaxed
even, but it’s very precise.

think it was Suzuki Roshi who said that the way to control your cow is
to give it a vast pasture You don’t have to put a rope on it and tether
it with about two feet of space. Give it a wide pasture and why would
it go? Likewise, if we try to keep the mind too tight it’s going to
rebel or get exhausted and stressed. But if we allow our mind to become
very vast but we are nonetheless aware of what the mind is doing in any
moment, then the mind becomes naturally relaxed and quiet. It quietens
down, but we are present with what we are doing in the moment.

example that comes to mind about this is the following. When I was
living in >India, I lived up in the Himalayas at about 12,0000 feet
in a small cave. In the summertime, sometimes a shepherd would go by
with his flocks. He would just go by, there was a meadow below the
cave. One day a teenaged boy came up. He had obviously never been with
the sheep before so he was terrified of losing even a single one,
especially the goats, which were always running off. He was very, very
nervous. He knew that if he lost any sheep he’d get a big beating when
he got back, so he was keeping them tightly together in the flock. All
day long, whenever I looked out, he was sending them over here and he
was sending them over there, keeping them very tightly together, with
the result that at the end of the day the sheep were extremely nervous.
They hadn’t really had anything to eat and the boy was completely
exhausted. The next day the regular shepherd came back up. He was an
old guy and he did what he always did which was to take the sheep down
to the meadow, leave them alone, go and sit up on the little hillock,
lie out there with his bottle of beer, and just watch them. So, of
course, the sheep wandered about and there was plenty to eat, so they
ate. Then, after a while, they just sat down. The shepherd spent the
whole day just watching them, keeping an eye on them. At the end of the
day he rounded them up and took them back down and everyone was happy.

Keep a Relaxed and Mindful Mind
is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. If we try to keep our
minds too rigid, too controlled, all that happens is that we get very
stressed and uptight. I’m sure you’ve seen that happening. People try
so hard to be perfect and good and not lose anything and keep their
minds the way they’re supposed to, but all that happens is that they
end up with a kind of nervous condition in the body that the Tibetans
call Rlung, where the prana in the body, the energy or Qi, goes
completely crazy. It’s because we try too hard, and all that happens is
that we end up very nervous. Instead, what we should try to do is keep
the mind very relaxed, very spacious. Not relaxed, spacious, half
asleep and losing it, or just chattering away and loose, but a very
spacious mind in which the central awareness is absolutely poised so
that whatever is going on in the body, with the feeling, in the mind,
or in the environment, we know. We’re not lost in our memories of what
was happening yesterday or last year or when we were children. We’re
not lost in our thoughts and anticipations of what’s going to happen
next or tomorrow or next year. We’re not commenting, we’re not judging.
We’re not carrying on our usual fantasies and mental chatter. We are
with what is happening in the moment, just with it, that is all.

Now, if our minds can sustain that presence then whatever happens we
have the space to deal with it. Whatever comes into the mind, we
recognize it, we accept it and we let it go. We don’t hold onto it. We
don’t identify with it because, coming back to what I said before, our
problem is that we try to identify. We identify with our memories, our
thoughts, our feelings, our emotions. We think this is me, and
therefore we suffer. We need to see that memories are just mental
states, emotions are just states, feelings are just states, the
thoughts that come into our minds are just mental states. They’re like
bubbles. They arise, they expand and they burst, to be replaced by
other bubbles. This is not who we are.

Discover the True Nature of Our Minds
nature of the mind is like the vast sky, like a huge, blue endless sky,
very clear, very, very deep and stretching in all directions. It’s vast
and infinite and clear and empty and transparent and luminous. That is
the nature of the mind. Our thoughts and feelings and memories are the
clouds appearing in the sky. Sometimes the clouds are white and fluffy
and we’re happy. Sometimes they’re big and black and there’s thunder
and lightning and we’re utterly distraught. But either way, they don’t
affect the nature of the sky. However black they are, the sky is not
solid. However light and pretty they are, the sky is not any more
beautified. You cannot make the sky any purer or dirtier. The sky is
just something that is, and it’s transparent and luminous and clear. So
why not identify with the sky rather than with the transitory clouds?
If we realized that all the thoughts and emotions that come up in our
minds are just the play of the mind and that the mind is a vast ocean,
to use another metaphor, and that these thoughts and feelings are just
waves that rise and sink back into the ocean again, we would realize
that we should not take them too seriously.

you sit and meditate, if you sit with sincerity, then you are
definitely able to at least glimpse this transparent nature of the mind
and from that, at least, touch who you truly are which is something
infinite and vast. Usually, because we identify with the transitory
personalities we happen to be assuming in this lifetime, we seem to be
such little solid masses, one against the other. It’s me and everything
that is non-me. Everyone else is out there, and then there’s me.
Everyone is thinking me, me, me. But when we touch the nature of the
mind, which is our true nature, our Buddha nature, then we see that, of
course, we are actually all completely connected. The sky is not one
sky and then there’s another sky and then another. There’s just sky,
and it is infinite and vast. It is not my sky versus your sky. It is
not my Buddha nature versus your Buddha nature. It’s just Buddha
nature. There’s just mind. Therefore, we are all very intricately
interconnected with each other.

we realize this, then we realize that just as we wish only to receive
kindness, respect and love from others, so also others would like to
receive these things from us because others are us at a very profound
level. Which brings me to the second point which is that it is very
important in our practice to not simply develop through the head,
through the intellect, to learn how to clarify the mind, but also to
learn how to open up the heart.

consists of the unity of wisdom and compassion, wisdom and love. Wisdom
alone is not enough. It’s like the two wings of a bird. You cannot have
one wing without the other wing. You need both wings in order to fly.
When our minds become a little settled, a little more peaceful, a
little clearer, then we are able to see things more clearly, with less
confusion, with less self-reference. We begin to see things as they
really are. And when we begin to see things as they really are, one of
the first things of which we become aware is the pain of others.

most of us go around – successfully or unsuccessfully – putting on a
brave front, trying to be as cheerful and look as competent as we can.
But scratch the surface a little and you come across this enormous mass
of confusion and pain and uncertainty and hurt which so many people
carry around and don’t know what to do with. Now, just as we, when we
are suffering, need someone to at least look at us with kindness, so
all beings want that. It’s not that we all want to immediately rush off
and join Mother Teresa. But at least in our lives, in our everyday
lives, meeting the people with whom we meet, we should treat each one
with respect and kindness. Is that too much to ask? Again and again,
one finds that when people take up a Buddhist practice, they become
very cold. I wonder why. There is so much talk about compassion. But
often it ends up being rather intellectual. It doesn’t seem sometimes
to percolate down into people’s hearts. So people are not spontaneously
kinder, are not necessarily the sorts of people that one would actually
go to with one’s problems. Even in Sanghas, people are polite with one
another, but are they kind? After all, if you are in a Sangha, you are
each other’s family. If you’re not nice to each other, then to whom can
you be nice?

we talk about our practice we say that we are practicing the
Bodhisattva path and the Bodhisattva path is to save all sentient
beings. But just who are these sentient beings? I mean, it’s nice and
easy to sit on one’s carpet and say, ‘Well, I’m going to save all
sentient beings.’ It’s very comfortable to feel altruistic and think
that. But then you go home and you meet your husband or your wife or
your mother or your father or whomever and they do something to annoy
you and you completely blow up. The fact is that for all our talk about
love and compassion, we must look at ourselves and say, ‘Are we
actually nicer people for all this? Have we actually become kinder? Is
our heart really warmer than it was when we started?’ If it is, then
very good, keep going. If it isn’t, then we’re in trouble.

practice has to be from the heart. If our practice isn’t from the
heart, it has no validity. The head is the computer, but the genuine
mind is at a much profounder level than that. When we talk about mind
in Buddhism, we don’t just mean the intellectual side of it but the
whole emotional part, the intuitive, the very deep level of our being
which does not reside up in the head. So if our sitting practice is all
up in this computer part of the brain there will never be any very
profound transformation. We have to bring our practice downwards. It
has to permeate through our whole body, every cell of our body. This is
a very, very crucial point.

are very head-oriented in the West. Those of you who have been
meditating for any length of time have, I’m sure, experienced moments
when the mind, or the computer, fell away and you were in another state
of consciousness, one much clearer and vaster than our normal state of
consciousness. This is the consciousness we have to connect with. When
we connect with this consciousness our hearts open up and genuine love
and compassion appear. When we have this genuine profound insight which
is completely linked and combined with spontaneous love and compassion
– even if only for just a short time – then we know we are genuinely on
the Buddhist path. Until then, as long as our practice is still
basically theoretical, or basically still head-oriented, we have quite
a long way to go. Once we genuinely reach to the profound levels of our
Buddha nature then we can really start to meditate.

course, insight into our true nature is not the end of the path; it’s
the beginning. Therefore, while it’s important, and wonderful, to sit
every day, it’s also important to bring that quality of mind as much as
possible into your everyday life. At the same time, cultivate a
softness, a kindness, realizing that every being in front of you is
trapped just as you are in Samsara, and like yourself, needs a little
kindness. If you cannot manage that much, then why are you saying that
you are doing this for all sentient beings? Those beings include your
family, your colleagues, people that you meet in your everyday lives,
when going to work and in your social lives. It is very important that
you realize that each person in front of you is unique and uniquely
important because they are the one person in front of you. Therefore,
they are, at that moment, your Dharma practice. Where else is your
Dharma practice?

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June 2007
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