"Life itself is too short, there are moments in which we miss, and there are times which we may regret.
Yet, somehow through all the sadness and all the pain, we discover a moment which is transcendent and pure.
It is not dependent on living, dying, or even breathing. We are infinite souls who struggle to eke out lives in a meaningful way.
And yet we know that all of our thoughts are not a replacement for our lives."
-- Ven. Wonji Dharma
On May 28, 1957 you began your "Continuation Journey" in this lifetime. We wish you well as you travel on to the next "journey."
Just know you are forever missed.
There is a story that went around a few years ago:
A US naval ship and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland engaged in a radio conversation. The conversation was this:
US Ship: Please divert your course 0.5 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.
CND reply: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
US Ship: This is the Captain of a US Navy Ship. I say again, divert your course.
CND reply: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course!
US Ship: (Voice urgent and curt) THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES' ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT'S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTERMEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.
CND reply: This is a lighthouse. Your call.
Actually, the story isn’t true, but it illustrates a good point. It is our habit energies, our acting without attention that get us into trouble. We encounter an obstacle and ignore all warning signs that a new approach may be needed. This blind action, what is often called habit energy, can get lead us into more suffering. Often when we are in the midst of habit energy, we are experiencing the separation or desire to withdraw from others, and it is this energy that makes us afraid to open up our awareness.
What is cultivating attention?
Quite simply it means paying attention to the present moment. It means to be alert, to observe, and be aware from moment to moment.
Think of a microscope. If we are to study an object, we get out a microscope, adjust the setting, and focus the lens so that we can see the object in more detail. This is what we do when practicing mindfulness. The object becomes us. We focus on our bodies, our minds, and emotions. When we practice mindful attention regularly, the action of manipulating our focus on ourselves becomes easier and concentration arises naturally. Without practice, our minds shift from past to future thinking, we get preoccupied with being busy, and we lose connection to what is happening at the moment. We lose connection to what we are experiencing right now. You cannot see clearly if you are shaking the microscope back and forth, or if you are engaged with other tasks other than putting your eye to the eyepiece. We need to practice mindful attention by staying focused on the task at hand moment by moment.
There is a kind of paradox to practicing mindful attention, however. In Sanskrit, the word for mindful attention is Smriti, which also means “that which is remembered”. The paradox is that when we most need to practice mindful attention, it has slipped away from us. The paradox of mindfulness is occurring at these moments: we need it more when we aren’t using it!
This meme is something I’ve come across a few times in the last while, and it always makes me chuckle. Mainly I see myself and my own hypocrisy in it. In those moments when I have time to breathe and take a moment to consider my actions before I act, I try to root in the principles of kindness and compassion--qualities that I have always held in highest regard in others, and ones that I try to live up to as best I can.
But…get me behind the wheel when I have somewhere to be and all of a sudden everyone’s an idiot and the planet is populated by knuckle-draggers.
This contrast is funny because I can see how silly it is--I have become the very person I criticize. Honestly, over the last few years, I’ve had fewer incidents of actually becoming angry at others for their mistakes while driving. I used to hit my steering wheel, shout, swear (my kids called them “Mommy words,” for reference). With that said, my impulse reaction to get upset and mutter terrible names about people when someone’s driving scares me is still there.
Also, now that I’ve been practicing a while, I am more immediately remorseful for my angry words because they were not mindfully generated, and certainly not compassionate nor kind! My son was with me in one of my moments of regret for having said some things about a lady in an SUV and he looked at me, bewildered, and observed: “There’s no way she heard you--why would it matter?”
I tried my best to explain, failed to find the words, then also got to questioning myself--Does it matter?
Then a few days later, I came across these words as I was picking my way through one of the myriad books I am trying to work through:
“When we ask ourselves, ‘Does it matter?’ we can first look at the outer, more obvious results of our actions. But then we can go deeper by examining how we are affecting our own mind: Am I making an old habit more habitual? Am I strengthening propensities I’d like to weaken? When I’m on the verge of lying to save face, or manipulating a situation to go my way, where will that lead? Am I going in the direction of becoming a more deceitful person or a more guilty, self-denigrating person? How about when I experiment with practicing patience or generosity? How are my actions affecting my process of awakening? Where will they lead?”
– Pema Chödron, Welcoming the Unwelcome
These words helped me realize why I don’t like that impulse reaction that I have: My intent in my practice is to be mindful in all that I do. Using harsh words in fear or anger does nothing other than to perpetuate the idea of separating “me” from “them,” creating that false sense of duality that allows us to be violent in speech, action, and thought. Even if I do this in the privacy of my own car, unheard by the people who I perceived to be “knuckle-draggers,” the direction I go into is the one of separating us all from each other--at least in my mind. My intent is to cultivate my understanding of our interconnectedness--even my "small" impulsive reaction is a symptom of that remaining belief and thought pattern. To indulge it is to perpetuate it.
As I navigate the waters of wading through feelings of grief, anger, and disbelief over yet another tragic mass shooting so close to the one that recently took place in Buffalo, the “Does it matter?” question resonates. Does it matter how I think of the victims? Does it matter how I think of the people who perpetrate these shootings? Does it matter what I think of those who oppose gun legislation? Does it matter what words I choose to talk about what has been going on, and the people who don't share my view? Does it matter if I finally apply to become a U.S. citizen so that I can more fully participate in the election process? Does any of it matter, at all?
I remember some years when my answer to all of these types of questions would have been No. I’m too small, I don’t matter, I can’t make a difference on my own…"
I’m thankful for all the teachings that have pointed me in the direction of “Yes, it matters,” because it takes all of us to be the hummingbirds to put out the fire (thank you, Rev. Anwol and Ven. Wonji), and I am very much not alone--that "alone-ness" is an illusion I created in my own mind. The small steps I can take to participate in this phenomenal world more fully, do matter. Train my brain to be compassionate and kind--always--even when things happen quickly, in a frightening way, or perhaps, especially when they happen in that way.
So very grateful for all the teachers who help me see.
Much love to all.
This morning, April 27th, I woke from sleep with the image of this drawing in my mind. I lay in bed and made contact with the image and the energies that it awoke. About two weeks before September 11th, 2001, I kept having disturbing dreams about some major disaster in New York City, where I lived at the time. This drawing was from one of those dreams.
Interestingly, I wasn't formally practicing Buddhism when I drew this. Fortunately, while devasting, the destruction on September 11th wasn't this apocalyptic. But the dreams and their imagery still resonate strongly with me. It's not because I think the dreams were somehow prophetic--I don't--rather, it's the message that this image delivers. The message was so powerful that I had to draw it, and because it is so powerful, it still impacts me and empowers me today. The message: Life = Resilience + Perseverance.
The dreams reminded me of our most vital qualities. Nature reminds us of this. Nature continues, even when all forces seem to be against it. It is resilient, and it perseveres in the most difficult of circumstances. Nature's essential nature is to live. We have all witnessed the lone sprout growing out of a tiny crack. Our bodies get sick or injured, and they work to heal. History teaches of civilizations having re-emerged from the rubble time and again. We have seen Nature/Life finding a way to flourish despite the radioactive disasters of Chornobyl and Fukushima. When all options are exhausted, Nature may seem to disappear--Life may appear to die--but it is temporary. Life finds a new path, a new form, a new existence.
We--being Nature, being Alive, being LIFE--inherit these powerful qualities. But while perseverance and resilience are essential, they alone are not enough. The enduring spark of Life needs compassion if it is to thrive harmoniously. When I drew this, I realized I was not relating to the monk in this image. I was not finding peace in depicting an existence that must artificially defy the conditions. I wanted to adapt, rebel, and thrive. Instead, I related to the sprout when I created the drawing.
However, today, I realize that we are both the monk AND the sprout (see those little halos?). One isn't better than the other; they are both necessary. Life is not separate--it is all connected. Life is one--going through a myriad of experiences together, simultaneously, persevering, adapting, disappearing, reappearing, accepting, rebelling, struggling, and thriving throughout time and space.
The dreams, this drawing, teaches me this message. During the most challenging times, I can look within and connect with the miraculous power of Life. I can perceive Life's qualities of perseverance and resilience around me, even in the midst of illness, aging, and even destruction. I can offer compassion, knowing that this essential, Natural being will find a way to continue and perhaps even thrive.
This was a post on Facebook that I thought needed to be repeated. Some may have read it; I believe it was posted on Earth Day.
Attitude of Gratitude
by Radda Sahar
The whole of planet Earth
is a sacred site.
All people are the chosen people,
and the purpose of our lives
is a spiritual one.
May we care for each other,
and for the Earth, for everything
relates to everything else.
Feeling the oneness,
may we radiate the light of love
and kindness that all may live
in unity and peace.
Buddhist compassion is empathy (understanding) AND action. Buddhist compassion is truly understanding another’s suffering or discomfort, with a genuine will to help alleviate suffering. Truly knowing and understanding suffering becomes a positive action that motivates us toward relieving suffering.
We cannot pick and choose who to be compassionate to--it must be applied and directed to all beings universally if it is to be authentic.
Jesus, the Christ, said, “It is easy to love those who love us, and hard to love our enemies.” and a quote from the Greek Gospel of the Egyptians, an early Christian text, says, “You receive no benefit from loving only those who love you. Great benefit comes from loving those who hate you.”
Buddhist compassion is feeling oneness, of understanding intimately, of feeling a welcoming toward others. Often when people are behaving in a way that doesn’t appeal to us, it is a cry for help. They are struggling with an unmet need and are in need of open-hearted compassion.
We must be careful of how we form judgments around the appearance or behavior of another. Our judgments, often subtle, can cause us to act in ways that are not compassionate. We may let fear of the person’s apparent differences cause us to keep our distance. Sometimes that person is mirroring an unmet need in ourselves, which makes us uncomfortable. We project our suffering on them or recognize our suffering in the other. Sometimes we are concerned with how we will be perceived by others in reaching out. Compassion is not people-pleasing, with hope for approval of others or to receive praise, friendship, or gains in reputation. Compassion is feeling oneness, of understanding intimately, of feeling a welcoming toward others, regardless of who that other person might be.
What keeps us from practicing compassion?
Quite simply: stress.
Studies in biochemistry and neuroscience have shown that the practice of compassion rewires the brain in such a way that when we are engaged in compassionate acts the brain and the body cannot distinguish between compassionate acts for others and those for oneself. The boundary between us and them is literally removed. However, if there is stress, our biochemistry sets the body into a flight or fight response, which overrides the brain’s wiring and we are cut off from compassion.
Take a common example: we are feeling stressed, pressed for time, and we are running late and then we find ourselves stuck in busy traffic, suddenly everyone ELSE is traffic. WE are not the traffic, oh no! Stress causes the biochemistry to begin over-riding our compassion for the other drivers, who are likely looking at US as the traffic and not themselves. The us and them thinking emerges. We lose empathy and caring and we stop paying attention. Stress is what disconnects us and blocks compassion.
Cultivating compassion is the frontier of human evolution, it is our capacity as human beings to rise above the dictates of biochemical reactions and further our evolution. To do this, we must set an intention, to make an effort toward this aim. It is habit energy that keeps us from practicing. We get caught up in worry about getting things done, being on time, centering on actions for ourselves, and focusing on ourselves in such a way that there is little to no room for even noticing others, let alone whether they are in distress or not.
We live in a competitive society. We have been told and often believe that there is a contest of winners and losers and only the winners get what they need to have a satisfying life. The growing demands for more, of wanting, of constant production creates a hierarchy. It puts more stress on people and the balance grows more and more uneven. When we act within such a society of growing extremes, we find it more difficult to connect to those above or below us.
We have embodied this primal fear of survival into our lives, into the very structure of our society. We project strength and competence even when we don’t believe we possess them so that we won’t be cut down. The success of those around us magnifies our perceived failures. We hinder ourselves by conforming, choosing to be around, appear, and think like others so that we do not stand out. But who decides what is the right way to think, to act, to exist? We let our fear close down our thinking, our self-examination, and our compassion
So how do we cultivate compassion in our daily lives?
Cultivating compassion is a practice of deepening attention. When we widen our hearts we lose the artificial boundaries that separate us from them.
There are doorways into compassion: grief, addiction, illness, pain are some of those doorways. These are experiences where empathy and action have great powers for healing. It is easier for us to connect when we share with others who are also going through or have gone through similar struggles.
George Washington Carver said, “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and the strong, because someday you will have been all of these.”
Paying attention, practicing mindfulness is another doorway. It takes slowing down and getting quiet to perceive the sentience and being-ness that lives through all things. Rushing about, living with our minds focused on the past or future keeps us from being connected. When we pay attention, we become more aware of all that is around us. When we pause to reflect we understand that all beings struggle, that even those who trouble us, who we find difficult, experience the same kind of challenges in life that we do.
To have awareness of compassion, we are mindful of others' needs, noticing when they are in distress and what we can do to ease their pain; mindful of our speech and actions, however, small, and even of our inaction and silence, mindful of our ignoring or avoiding someone, mindful of our thoughts, our facial expressions and body language, which can silently convey our thinking. Buddhist compassion is being mindful of our impact on the earth, the environment, and of minimizing harm to others by being resourceful and not wasteful.
The true practice of compassion comes by first being compassionate to yourself. If you cannot be present with your own suffering in an embodied way, you cannot be present with another’s.
To be compassionate to ourselves we must understand ourselves, know the quality of our thinking, the habits of our speech and actions. Do they support compassion to ourselves or are we burdening ourselves and letting our lives be guided by stress and fear?
When we suffer we tend to blame ourselves. However, when we suffer, we must come to understand that there is an unmet need at the root of our struggle (it could be the need to feel safe, to feel loved, to feel healthy, etc.). Understanding the root of suffering is how we can awaken.
So what can we do?
We can get in touch with our senses. You can’t wake up to compassion if you are not fully in your body. With sincerity, contact the suffering you are experiencing and offer loving kindness. Pay attention to how the suffering causes you to pull in, to tighten the body, to close you off from outside. Sense this as an opportunity to be kind. Here is where you can begin to cultivate compassion. Deepen your attention. Understand how this can be difficult for you. Notice what stories emerge in response to your touching this suffering. Let the feelings emerge. Give them presence, unbury them—sense the unmet need that exists. Don’t judge. Instead, offer kindness and love. Say, “I see this pain. May I be free. May I be content. May I be at peace.” Give it breath. Be the space of engaged compassionate presence that you need.
Self-compassion takes practice. You will need to do this over and over. But with continued practice of self-compassion you will find it becomes more familiar and easier to engage. Additionally, the brain’s neuro-net is rewired, and that practice of self-compassion begins to open awareness and widen your heart so that there is room for others who are struggling. We learn how to see through the eyes of another person who is suffering, because we learn that we are no different than that person.
This careful attention, this mindfulness practice allows us to really see who we are so we can begin to be compassionate, know compassion and then look outward toward helping those around us. If we see ourselves through the lens of compassion, we will see all around us through that same lens. We will understand that all beings are us and any suffering must be eased as we would seek to ease suffering in ourselves.
To Come Home to Yourself
by John O’Donohue
May all that is unforgiven in you
May your fears yield
Their deepest tranquilities.
May all that is unloved in you
Blossom into a future
Graced with love.
This is a short meditation, but it has a big impact on days that are not always going the way you would like. Take a minute to write it on a card for when you wish to use it. It is written using We, but you can change it to I.
We breathe in faith
And exhale hopelessness.
We breathe in gratitude
And exhale indifference.
We breathe in beauty
And exhale insensitivity.
We breathe in joy
And exhale sadness.
We breathe in kindness
And exhale harshness.
We breathe in forgiveness
And exhale resentment.
We breath in love
And exhale isolation.
My thanks to whoever wrote this, it really spoke to me. I hope it does to you also.
Our Sunday morning Practice begins with 108 Bows. Bowing is a way to purify oneself. Before bowing I prepare the proper mindset. Through bowing I learn to humble myself and how to have a healthy body and mind. I bow to realize that other lives are just as valuable as mine. I bow to get rid of my selfishness. I bow because it is the desire of my true self. I bow for all living things, and for peace in the universe.
Lotus Heart Zen's book 108 Bows of Great Repentance is a great resource.
What started me on this topic was not the bows but the number 108. For the life of me I could not remember why this number is important. It was 3:00 am--so calling my teacher was not a good idea. Ven. Myohye would give me 108 reasons why it was a bad idea. But I could not get it off my mind. So, I'm now at my desk at 3:30 am, trying to sort some mail, I see this face, on the cover of a book, with this impish grin smiling at me. Now I can answer the question regarding why we have 108.
We have six doors of perception: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, and thought.
There are three aspects of time: past, present, and future.
There are two conditions of the heart-mind pure or impure, and
There are three possible attitudes: like, dislike, and indifference.
Korean Buddhists use this formula: 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108 bows to cut through Karma.
Thank you, Ven. Wonji Dharma for providing the answer in his book It's All Good!
Don't Know - Part 2
There are three moments we are all aware of:
The truth is that problems come and problems go. But a problem always remains problematic, even when we think we have solved it, a problem is always a problem. Problems do not transform into something else. The nature of a problem is that it is potent, triggering, sometimes even painful. We often hold beliefs that the universe has singled us out and forced its judgment upon us. It's karma! We have all heard in response.
But that is a belief born out of ego and separateness. The universe isn’t picking on us and we are not being judged. Problems are only problems when we think we have a problem. Instead, of thinking we have a problem, we can remember Don't Know.
In experiencing Don't Know, we are engaged in practicing life AND life is engaged in practicing us. Once you perceive this experience it becomes very real and unmistakable.
Developing Don’t Know is very important in developing meditative awareness. At this point on our path, we may begin to experience a shift in our wider awareness. Events of life begin to lose substance, not that they don't have an impact, but the impact is less impactful. It is almost like experiences in our lives become like ghosts--they linger, but lose weight. This lingering sensation can be pleasurable and informative, or it can be uncomfortable even frightening at times. This awareness of ghostly lingering is our ego-ic state trying to resist the freedom of Don't Know.
Some part of your being is resisting the inevitable discomfort that awakening to Don't Know gives rise to. Don't Know and our ego-state are closely linked. In fact, Don't Know won't be perceived if we don't have some awareness of our ego-state. Remember we are both experiencing the absolute and relative simultaneously. Our practice doesn't encourage us to abandoned one over the other, yet the ego may want to convince us that the relative experience is most important.
The ghostly state of the lingering experiences of the ego in relationship to Don't Know is what comprises the whole of our experience in life.Our approach in life is best if it is practiced as though it is a continually unfolding experiment, of which we are the scientist observing and taking notes. If we drop the programming (the beliefs that try to distort our direct experience) we open ourselves up to living life and life living us.
Of course, in the beginning, and along the path, we follow a particular program of practice, look to beliefs to guide us and there is nothing wrong with that. But we must remember that while we may be learning this way, true reality is not programmable. There are no beliefs or concepts in living life and in life living us.
The challenge is that there is no way of knowing where we are on the path. We have no way of evaluating how well we are doing. We can determine a general starting point and we can keep track of our engagement along the way, but once we start the path of practice, we can only continue through our own individual commitment. That individual commitment depends on if we allow ourselves to have direct experience. Direct experience only occurs when we have dropped discursive thinking and when duality ceases to arise in our minds. Otherwise, our experience is distorted through the ego state that wants to take everything we perceive, separate it, and break it apart into polar opposites.
This is an excellent example of unprogrammed experience, in which we are simultaneously experiencing hot and cold—each in its own individuality. This is the experience of Don't Know in relation to the ego-state.
Don't Know is a state of total awareness--it requires nothing to sustain it. Don't Know is there. It is happening. When we are open to Don't Know we can feel that sense of totality. Using the flashlight metaphor, we perceive the light, but we are aware of all the space around us at the same time, not only what the light illuminates. So Don't Know is really a broader, more encompassing version of the present. Think of our experience of the present as the stills of a film strip. Our brains can only perceive the individual frames. Frame. Frame. Frame. Our brains stitch together the frames and it appears smooth and as though one continuous image. But that is not a complete understanding of the present. What is a film without light? The light that illuminates the film strip is Don't Know.
While Don't Know is not of the realm and function of the intellect, our ability to experience Don’t Know actually sharpens our minds and improves the intellect. Without the experience of egoless insight, we risk accepting things through distorted thinking and perceiving and this can form the basis for delusion.
Through this delusion, we begin to believe that everything appears predictable. But then "something" happens--as it inevitably will--that isn’t what we have accepted or predicted. Most of the time we react negatively. "No, no! This isn't how I want it. This isn't how it is supposed to be!" We resist, we delve deeper into separation and suffering arises. However, we can also understand that this "something" that happens is simply Don't Know reminding us of the truth of reality. If we accept this reminder, our experience becomes REAL. If we disregard this reminder we commit to confusion and disappointment.
Our practice of meditation (sitting meditation often being the most powerful, but really all kinds of meditation) can open us up to Don't Know. The more we open up to Don't Know and experience it directly, the easier it will be for us to navigate that uncomfortable state of navigating both the relative and absolute experience. The easier it is for us to be in that direct experience of Don't Know, the more we truly understand our own nature--the nature of reality--and the easier will be for us to act in accordance with Correct Situation, Correct Relationship, and Correct Function with confidence.
I would like to share with you some of Thich Nhat Hanh's thoughts on death and dying:
Please do not build a stupa for me. Please do not put my ashes in a vase, lock me inside, and limit who I am. I know it will be difficult for some of you. If you must build a stupa though, please make sure you put a sign on it that says, 'I am not here.' In addition, you can also put another sign that says, 'I am not out there either,' and the third sign that says, 'If I am anywhere, it is in your mindful breathing and in your peaceful steps.'
No coming, no going,
No after, no before.
I hold you close,
I release you to be free.
I am in you
And you are in me.
Thich Nhat Hanh's 10 Rules for Life:
1) Find your Buddha mind
2) Have compassion
3) Stop seeking others approval
4) Be open to the mysteries of life
5) Be aware of your body
6) Transform your suffering
7) Keep to your convictions
8) Cultivate stability
9) Get rid of anger
10) Practice meditation.
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members