Monthly Archives: April 2012


For anyone attended last week’s class, the first session of Meditation 101, this is a little reminder.

In that class, we talked some about “precious human life.” Whoever you are, whatever your beliefs and experiences, some activities seem meaningful, and some less than meaningful. At least that’s the idea. Possible problems or objections to that argument?

I think one natural consequence of that experience is a sense of renunciation: the feeling that you can really give up on, or reject certain things. I wouldn’t jump too far ahead from that to assuming a certain lifestyle is “mindful” or “peaceful.” I think there have to be a billion ways to live a goodl life. At the same time, renunciation involves an attitude change that should, probably, influence how you devote your time and energy.

Then, one possible objection is: well everyone already does that anyway. Based on their beliefs and dreams and experience, they dole out time and energy. I think that’s a great place for practice and community to come in. Those two often add a necessary tweak to your perspective. In next class, we’ll talk about impermanence. This is change, and death. Usually, death is included in the discussion of renunciation: what you take on, what you give up, could change once you start to think about the inevitability of death. Of course, it’s essential to remember that death doesn’t mean doom and gloom, it’s more like a good reminder, leading to meaning.


Emotionality versus bodhicitta

Brief jots:

In the last post, I touched on the emotionality traditionally connected and encouraged with regards to the teacher, or the “guru” as it’s known in this tradition. There are stories about master teachers, recent ones, not in the distant past, breaking into tears at the thought of their teachers. Trungpa Rinpoche famously wept bitterly when he heard that Suzuki Roshi had died. The story is that he cried so much that he actually bled, he cried blood. I remember one of my teachers in Shambhala training would get teary when she taught. Obviously, the idea is not to encourage people to get weepy at the drop of a hat. It’s a lot more intelligent than that (not complex exactly but intelligent).

Sometimes here in these parts, people get creeped out by the idea of a teacher. Even the word “guru” brings connotations of foreignness, exotic ritual, even abuse, cults. At the same time, the logic seems pretty clear, as to why you might want to connect with the teachings in such a way (and the teacher is seen as a very direct connection to the teachings, more than a lot of other routes). That being said, some Tibetan Buddhists don’t ever find a guru, and many other sorts of Buddhists get lots of benefit from the teachings without even considering that sort of commitment. If my chauvinism is showing a little here, please forgive me. (Then again, I’m mostly talking to myself, so I don’t really need to say that.)

Brief, huh?…

Being emotional has some possibilities, I think that’s the main point. Trungpa Rinpoche talks about this in the Sadhana of Mahamudra sourcebook (and today, incidentally, is a new moon day, a day to practice said sadhana).

There’s a part where he talks about this practice combining intelligence and emotionality. He compares this, I think, to the combination of space and energy, Kagyu and Nyingma, that this practice embodies. For Shambhala people, you can’t help but think of masculine and feminine as well.

Something I’ve been working on consistently for the last couple of years is bodhicitta. One way is at the beginning of practice. For a while, I associated bodhicitta with a feeling of brokenheartedness. If you read “Sacred Path of the Warrior,” the comparison is there. I think it’s important to say, though, that bodhicitta is not about getting sloppy and weepy. As I see it now, it’s about a feeling of love, more than just a feeling of being upset or hurt. Clearly, being upset has various places or functions, but just trying to feel brokenhearted is not quite the same as bodhicitta. Actually, I was going into a mode of losing it, being sad for no reason, for years, when I tried to generate bodhicitta, when it’s more about feeling love (and then working to apply this in real life).

Milarepa … new moon eve

In the last one, Milarepa was supplicating, that is to say, he was calling to his teacher, his guru. His longing and devotion were clear.

(I apologize for the sometimes glib tone. If it’s out of a lack of respect for Milarepa in any sense, or the material, then that’s my mistake, and most definitely my arrogance. Also, note the role of the teacher here. This is typical of Tibetan traditions. It’s not the only way, although it’s the main way in Tibetan Buddhism. But my point there is: if you’re getting intrigued at all by the Buddhist path, please don’t freak out because there’s the whole guru/devotion thing. That’s something I believe in, or am working on, personally. BUT it’s not the only way. So if the emotionality or the hierarchical nature of the guru/student thing freak you out, don’t jump ship. They freak me out too sometimes.)

Okay, so Mila was supplicating his teacher. He felt lonely, and missed his sangha. Then, his teacher appeared in a cloud of rainbow light. I’m going to skip, for now, over most of the story/prose sections. Here, the main lesson that leaps to mind is: the teacher and disciple are not separate, or they’re not THAT separate. The separation can be bridged, or the already-bridgedness can be revealed. Anyway. On to the next.


Inspired by the vision of his teacher, Mila sang:

“When I see my teacher’s face

and hear him speak,

the energy of my heart is stirred,

the heart prana of this humble hermit.

When remembering my teacher’s dharma,

respect and reverence appear in my heart.

His blessings enter my being

and my kleshas are exorcised.

My heartfelt song, the one before,

you must surely have heard, teacher.

Somehow, though, I’m still stranded in darkness!

Please grant me your protection.”

(So, in spite of his teacher’s appearing right in front of him, Milarepa is not satisfied. He stills feels confused. He still suffers. What’s basically a miracle has arisen, and Mila still is not happy. So, one way to read this- even at a high level of “realization,” people still want more. They still suffer, crave, and fail to appreciate actual miracles happening right in front of them. Other ways to read this- Mila wants to continue the interaction. He longs for his teacher, and just saying “thanks, ok” at the appearance of the vision would mean the end of the interaction. He keeps it going, realizing the value of talking to and learning from his teacher. Another reading- he’s a little crazy about receiving blessings from his teacher. He longs, he fantasizes, he pines. This kind of spiritual emotionality is encouraged, odd as it seems to a lot of people.)

“Indomitable effort

is the best thing I can offer to my guru.

The best way to make him happy

is to bear the difficulties inherent in meditation.”

Milarepa 4/19

So, in the previous part, Milarepa was talking about his teacher, how he wishes to see him.


“The more I meditate, the more I long for my guru.

Is Dagmema still living with you?

I’m more grateful to her than my own mother.

If she is there I’ll be happy.

Though the journey is long, I’d be happy to see her.

Though the road is perilous, I’d like to join  her.

The more I contemplate, the more I think of you.

The more I meditate, the more I think of my guru.”


(Dagmema was Marpa‘s wife, Milarepa’s teacher’s wife.)


“I would be so happy to join in the gathering there.

Maybe you’re practicing Hevajra.

Although I’m simpledminded, I do wish to learn.

Although I’m ignorant long to recite.

The more I contemplate, the more I think of you.

The more I meditate, the more I think of my guru.


Maybe now you’re giving the four intiations.

If I could join you all, I’d be so happy.

Though I have hardly any merit, I want to be initiated.

Although I’m too poor to offer much to you,

I desire to be initiated.

The more I contemplate, the more I think of you.

The more I meditate, the more I think of my guru.


Maybe now you’re teaching the six yogas of Naropa.

If I could be there, I’d be so happy.

Though I’m not hardworking, I want to learn.

Though I am not persevering, I want to practice.

The more I contemplate, the more I think of you.

The more I meditate, the more I think of my guru.


The brothers from Weu and Tsang might be there.

If that’s the case, I’d be glad.

Even though I’m not as realized as they are,

I’d like to compare notes.

Though in my faith and longing, I’ve never really been apart from you,

I’m tortured now by my need to see you.

This painful longing tortures me.

This is agony. I’m suffocating.

Please, guru, relieve my suffering!”



Sign up for one of my classes (dharma art, meditation 101) by the end of the week, and get a free dharma book!

Contact me via the site, or email me.

By Friday night!



What book, you might ask? Could be…

Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Sun of Wisdom

Practice of Lojong

No Time to Lose!


"Science Friday" Recommendations

"Science Friday" Recommendations (Photo credit: LollyKnit)

June moon tune


The April classes approach. Woooo

This means that also, soon the April classes will be gone. Then June/August classes.

Here are some thoughts on what those months will look like:

– Poetry of the Sages (poetry, language, and the spirit of the dharma)

– Practice intensives (daylong retreats, or longer)

– Basic meditation 2 (building on Meditation 101, we’ll extend the teachings on mindfulness, and work with a few “new” meditation techniques)

– Communication, space, mind (communication is one of those big buzzwords- what does it mean, how does this relate to energy, what’s the line between skillful communication, gentleness, and manipulation, what’s the line between skillful communication and magic?)

– Practicing with nature (meditation and dharma in the context of the natural world)

I’m getting enthusiastic thinking about it! Good stuff. If you’re interested, let me know. If you’re tentative, maybe don’t let me know, or maybe you could. If cost is an issue, as always, just “start a conversation” as a teacher friend of mine used to say. I’d rather have more people in a class, and a little less moolah than a small class with everyone “paid up.”

One more thought- Recycling! The way I see it, these groups could extend way beyond classes. If there’s interest, we could spend some time outside, walking around, cleaning up trash from an area. Why not?

Lots fermenting…


Deutsch: Bodhidharma

Deutsch: Bodhidharma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rowley talk

Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness t...

Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness techniques can help alleviate anxiety , stress , and depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m giving a talk at the public library in Rowley, Mass. It’s on stress and mindfulness. It’s free!

It’s from 630-745. The more people who show up the better!

Let me know if you need directions to the library. Here’s the description:

Almost everyone today seems to be stressed out. Everyone seems busy,
and being so busy, it can be hard to relax. On one hand, work is not
optional. Having a full life can be very satisfying. On the other
hand, not only is stress unpleasant, it has clear health consequences.
Everyone seems to be stressed out, and it’s hard to know what the
solution might be.

In this talk, we will discuss how mindfulness, especially mindfulness
meditation, could be helpful. This is a technique drawn from Buddhism.
It may be useful to people from all backgrounds. Using the mind and
the body, we can work with the material our lives give us, and find
out more about stress, emotions, and reality.

Milarepa 2

“In Jowo Valley there is a temple with a stone seat.

Are you enthroned there, Marpa?

If you are, I’d be very joyful.

Although my devotion is limited, I long to see you.

Although my faith is limited, I want to see you.

The more I meditate the more I long for my guru.”


In this short excerpt, Milarepa is thinking about his teacher. He does feel some devotion, this is clear. He misses his teacher. He also takes himself to task for not feeling more devotion, more faith. In Tibetan Buddhism especially, devotion to a teacher is considered important and worthwhile, more than in some other schools. Listening to the VCTR talk last night, he mentioned that devotion could take many forms. That’s what I’ll end with. It’s really fascinating, especially for me (!) as someone struggling with what devotion means. Trungpa said that devotion could take many forms, including being frustrated (I think) or angry at your teacher. He was not suggesting that you should hate your teacher, but the point is, I think, that devotion is not a simple thing, and can’t be narrowed down neatly into one specific experience.


June's multi-colored eyes

June's multi-colored eyes (Photo credit: kakissel)

Okay, just a very quick post.

It looks like only two classes will be offered for now: Dharma Art, and Meditation 101. More info is located on the “classes” page.

If you were interested in “Intro to Buddhism,” please consider taking one of the other classes (or both!). I hope to teach another series of classes, in June. Maybe “Intro” will appear in June. We’ll see.

If you are interested, call or email. Two people signed up last night, and will probably confirm that I’m not great at giving driving directions via phone. I’ll try! There’s always mapquest, and then driving out and calling if you get lost! We’re basically on the corner of Boston road and Green street. That big barn you see on the corner, that’s us. Please park on the street/grass.

I talked to two store owners in Amesbury today about possible classes. So, welcome to the website!

If you want to show up on Sunday for meditation, too, let me know.

So that this post is not just practical announcements, I’ll share one thought that’s been bouncing around some in my mind.

I’ve written about the four thoughts that turn the mind before.

1. Precious human life    2. Change     3. Cause and effect   4. Suffering


As for that last one, here’s a fuller version of the contemplation.

“In the three lower realms and even in the three higher ones

there is not an instant of absolute happiness.

I will avoid the root cause of my samsaric existence

and practice the excellent path of peace to enlightenment.”


That’s a lot right there.


Look at the first half: in the realms, there’s not an instant of absolute happiness.


The realms refer to ways you can exist, psychologically, or physically. There are two meanings there. Physically, we’re humans. We are not animals right now. We’re humans. Psychologically, it’s a little more complex.

The “portrait” of the six realms is: hell beings, ghosts, animals, humans, giants, gods. (Counting to make sure it’s six, okay that’s six.)

Already it’s pretty complex. On one hand, there’s the idea of different kinds of beings in the world. Most Americans would probably buy into only humans and animals. The rest might seem like superstition or myth. That’s fine. I wouldn’t ask anyone to take this on faith initially. There are plenty of folks, however, for whom the idea of spirits or gods is real: not myth, not metaphor, as real as humans and squirrels and birds.

The psychological take is more comfortable for more Americans, and (more importantly) more useful. This means each “realm” or world of being, of those six, is related to a style of thought, perception, emotion, et cetera.

Here they are, super quick.

1. Hell beings- extreme aggression, anger

(everything seems to be attacking you, as if the world were on fire or very sharp)

2. Ghosts- extreme craving, desire

(you want so much and even when you get what you wanted, it turns out to be unsatisfying or painful, and you keep on wanting)

3. Animals- ignorance, stupidity, being habitual

(you’re serious about what you do, and you do it, in your style, over and over, you’re stuck, with no sense of humor)

4. Humans- desire and pickiness

(this is desire of a more refined sort: you really develop lots of ideas and preferences and systems built up around what you want, what will provide comfort and security)

5. Giants- competitiveness, jealousy, paranoia

(constant comparison, trying to outwit situations and people, constant battling, but not in the rough sense of the hell beings, trying to win or come out ahead)

6. Gods- pleasure, bliss, absorption, escape

(this might sound great, but the experience of extreme pleasure is merely an escape from reality: not only is it not totally satisfactory, it only lasts for a while, after which you move into more unpleasant states of being, like if you wake up with a hangover after “too much fun”)


Sorry about babbling on here. I’ll wrap up. So, those six realms are a psychological map of existence. Back to the “reminder.”

In the three lower realms (hell, animals, ghosts), which are intensely full of neurosis, suffering, and even in the three higher ones (humans, giants, gods), there is not an instant of absolute happiness.

Here it gets simpler.

The implications: there is not one instant of absolute happiness in those conventional styles of being. Not even one instant.

There is not one instant of absolute happiness. Why go after absolute happiness? I think we already do. Then people suffer. The instinct to really be happy, for absolute happiness, is a longing for sacredness in this world. We don’t get there through the six realms, or through being neurotically entranced with the world. We want absolute happiness. That instinct leads to suffering, but if followed out according to a path (not just Buddhism, but a path) the suffering could lead to the absolute.

Overall, being crazy (normal) won’t get you happiness. It will just make you suffer. Seeing that suffering exists could be a good reminder to work through said suffering, and find out what absolute happiness means. Of course there are no guarantees at all. It’s very dangerous. The question following could then be, how does happiness or becoming sane work, in terms of the six realms?

Representation of samsara in Budism (detail).

Representation of samsara in Budism (detail). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A traditional depiction of Marpa painted on a ...

A traditional depiction of Marpa painted on a rock on Holy Isle, Firth of Clyde (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Today, I decided to write some about the famous meditator Milarepa. I just discovered that on the “Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa” website a new series of talks has been posted. It’s about Milarepa! Very auspicious.

That’s the link. The first talk is just audio, but there are videos too.

The first talk is mainly about lineage, the Kagyu lineage. There’s also a lot about the levels of a teacher: how you relate to a teacher, and how this can change along the path. These things might not be of interest to someone just starting out, getting interested in meditation or Buddhism. Committing to a teacher, or one specific tradition can seem scary, old fashioned, or not necessary. It’s actually not necessary unless you want to go “all the way,” in my opinion. You can learn to meditate and leave it at that. That could be beneficial. Of course if you get into it, and start get intrigued by the whole culture of the thing, or if you start to get attracted to the path in some ways, you might keep going, and then find yourself in a tradition. So making a choice about this kind of thing is not completely either/or.

I set out trying to write about Milarepa. It looks like I won’t really get to that today, without writing a lot. Just very briefly, Milarepa is an example of a person who had a difficult early life, did some very bad things, and went to the dharma to try to find redemption. He was a “confused person,” just like all lineage holders were, before they reached enlightenment. Eventually, he found a teacher, went through all sorts of trials and tribulations just to get teachings, and went off to practice. This is interesting in light of how easy it can be to get instruction these days in the West. Some people have had to struggle a lot to just get the teachings. And then Milarepa didn’t leave it at that. He went off to retreat, often in caves, to meditate and practice, to change his mind, to discover the truth. You get the idea.

He expressed his realization in songs. These spiritual songs, or teaching songs, have been revered and studied for hundreds of years. I have been reading them, very on and off, for a little while. I don’t like the translation that’s out. It’s flower and unneccesarily archaic sounding, as I see it. I’d like to post my “versions” of the songs. This is very very arrogant in a sense. I don’t speak Tibetan. I can’t translate the Tibetan text. I have no real basis for disagreeing with the style of the translations (Garma C.C. Chang translations), and moreover, of course, I wouldn’t even be able to read Milarepa, without the extant translation. So there. But still, I’m extremely picky about the way the dharma is translated and expressed. So that’s my project- to rework the Milarepa translations, to a form I’m happy with.

“As I think of you, my father Marpa,

my suffering is relieved.

This hermit will now sing you a song of devotion.”

Marpa was Milarepa’s guru, his teacher. The guru is often referred to as “father” in traditional texts. Milarepa was a hermit, at this point in his life.

“Above the Red Rock Jewel Valley, in the east,

There floats a bunch of white clouds.

Underneath like an elephant rearing up

there’s a huge mountain.

Next to it, like a lion leaping, there’s another peak.”

This is a description of the landscape. There are many of these. I don’t find these very interesting. I do think they have some symbolic meaning, but am not sure of what it is. Elephants and lions are traditional images used in metaphors. If it is a snow lion, a mythical beast, it could mean certain things, although I don’t know if that’s the case, could be an ordinary lion. The elephant is often associated with strength. The Buddha compares the mind to an elephant at one point. Elephants are strong and can be good workers, or can rampage and destroy everything in their path. In another song, one of the siddhas, could be Maitripa, says “let your elephant mind wander free.” The idea there is that there’s a seeming contrast between training the mind, disciplining it, and allowing it to be, allowing oneself to wander, to let go. I think that’s the general idea.

Now, these landscape descriptions show up constantly in Milarepa. I’ll offer for now some very general thoughts and associations with the caveat that I’m not translating the Tibetan, and these are just some very basic generalizations and mental doodlings. I may ask other more experienced folks in the near future with help, help with translating, and help with interpreting.

Also, there is just the sense, I think, that Milarepa loves and appreciates nature. He is a hermit, and reaches a point where he loves solitude, meditation, and his surroundings. In terms of us ordinary folk, appreciating nature where you can, the idea of renunciation in the midst of life are relevant there.

More than enough for now. Thanks for reading!


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