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From “SSH”


Does the self get convinced?

crematorium at karme choling retreat center in...

crematorium at karme choling retreat center in vermont, where tibetan lama chögyam trungpa rinpoche was cremated. this stupa like structure is in the upper meadow. picture was taken by laura ross and she released it under this creative commons license. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I’m going to write a very short one about a thought I had today, or yesterday, I can’t remember.

The idea of a self, which is separate in some way, experiences, relates to world, and others-

The idea of habits as a way we keep from experiencing new, surprising, challenging things-

The idea of some sort of realization or progress on the path-


Here’s my thought- the mesh of habits we use to avoid being spontaneous, being in the world, this seems to create stasis. All of our habits and set ways seem to create stability. This is an illusion in a real sense, because things are always changing. The ground shifts under our feet, continually. No matter how stuck we are in the mud of habit and routine, we’re approaching that big surprise.

[remembered from a note tacked up on the wall at a certain meditation center I used to frequent, a quote from Chogyam Trungpa, at a teaching about the dying process… a student asked something like “How would you talk to someone who is passing away?” VCTR- “Well, you see, you are dying…”]

So being set in our ways is like a film over the eye of present, always changing experience. The self loves being set in its way, it loves habit, loves addiction, even. Working on that, is it about convincing the self, eventually, that things are, really, the way they are? Is it about getting the self to accept the nature of change?



Love to hear your thoughts





New class- Jan. 8th, nine Wednesdays from 4-5pm, “Selfless Self Help”





New class starting soon!

Picture 110

I’d like to announce a new class starting in January.

It’s called Selfless Self Help, and it’s taking place in West Newbury, Massachusetts. Let me know if you have any questions.


Upcoming Classes


I’d like to mention two upcoming classes. If you’re in the area, you should go!

One is in Rowley, this Monday. It’s at the Public Library, from 7-8 pm. This class will be the first of four on Mindfulness/Awareness. It’s also a fundraiser for the Library, all donations go to support the Library.

The other is one I’m really excited about. It’s a class called “Selfless Self-Help.” This will be in Amesbury, through Amesbury Adult Education. It will start November 5th and run for seven weeks. The class goes from 6:30 to 7:30 at night. If you’re interested in learning about compassion, or in developing a regular meditation practice, this class is for you. It will also touch on the nature of habits, and a number of shamanic elements.

Feel free to contact me about either. I hope to see some of you there!

Tuesday dharma talk/a short piece about egolessness




A reminder: every Tuesday here is a “dharma talk.” This means a period of sitting meditation, with instructions, and some discussion. Topics vary. This week I plan on working with the book the “Dhammapada.”

Also, I’m writing (slowly) so here is a little sample of something new on the topic of “egolessness.”


Egolessness has two basic usages in spiritual writing. The first is a Buddhist meaning. It has to do with the contrast between confused perception, or suffering infused perception, the contrast between that and reality (reality, in this context, being a synonym for what is beyond overly simplistic conceptions, what goes beyond confusion). The logic of it being called “egolessness” is a little abstruse, but it goes something like this: an ego is a self. A self is an idea of things as solid and separate. (In this format, then, the chair has a self as much as a person does.) In reality, the things we assume to have selves (unchanging, separate from other things in a significant way) do not. The second meaning is more about serving and helping others. If the ego means something like being arrogant, or too full of yourself, then being egolessness means being free from arrogance, being willing to work with others and serve.

It’s a little too easy to say the one meaning is equal to the other. There is a connection in Buddhism between the two, but it’s not necessarily simple or obvious. I think it’s sufficient to say that ideas about becoming less arrogant, and more able to engage with and help others around us are essential to the spiritual path (how they connect to ideas of the nonconceptual is a little more involved). It is possible to have the second meaning, service, without the first, but that is not how it’s done in Buddhism.

In regards to sitting meditation practice, both meanings come into play. First, when you sit, the concepts take a different internal position. It’s common to say something like they “fall away,” which is equally unclear, and equally helpful. There’s no way to actually feel what this means until you sit, until you actually do it. A very useful technique to have is called “labeling thoughts.” As you sit, and maintain your body is a relaxed fashion, thoughts and feelings come up, sometimes fantastically complex and colorful, sometimes very simple or repetitive. You can think to yourself “thinking” as you sit, the go back to the process of meditating.

As far as the second meaning of egolessness, there a few implications: a) meditation in action b) emotions and postmeditation c) not being arrogant. Meditation in action means finding ways to practice during the midst of chaotic life. There are tons of instructions for how to do this. One is to reconnect with the breath as you work, talk, whatever. Meditation in action is related to how to be in the world, as a practitioner. Maybe it’s almost impossible to “be egoless” and help others without thought for ourselves. Still, progress can be made, and being mindful through meditation in action is both helpful, and something that formal sitting cultivates. Postmeditation just means the period following meditation. You have no choice but to work with the emotions during postmeditation. (You’d do it even if you weren’t a practitioner.) There is a connection between sitting meditation and being able to work fully and properly with the emotions during postmeditation. A first step often has to with becoming more self-aware, more sensitive to what you’re going through.

Finally, being arrogant is problematic. It also very common. It’s also possible to feel arrogant after having done some meditating, or after having understood some complex spiritual idea. This is a problem, because sooner or later, said arrogance will create a communication problem, a lack of awareness, or will hurt someone’s feelings. It can sound a little overly religious or heavy handed to say “don’t be arrogant,” but it’s actually true, and has to be dealt with. It would be very difficult to be a good meditator and be full of yourself. (And remember, being a “good meditator” does not mean quickly being able to “turn off” thoughts or find some magical place of calm and stillness. It has more to do with being willing to try, and do the technique, and to face yourself.)







Thursday the 17th

I’m giving a talk on space tomorrow evening in Lawrence at the Public Library. It will be at seven pm, and I’ll probably offer meditation instruction as well.


The next four weeks


Just quickly, here is an overview of the next four weeks of Tuesdays. Each week, we’ll meditate and then discuss a text called the “Dhammapada.”

Photocopies will be available.

Jan. 8- Mind training

Jan. 15- Mistakes to avoid

Jan. 22- The goal

Jan. 29- Good and bad


Dharma talks are Tuesdays from 4-530pm. Meditation instruction is offered. By donation.

To actually know yourself is to be the buddha

Méditation d'automne...!!!

Méditation d’automne…!!! (Photo credit: Denis Collette…!!!)


Oh my guru,

who exemplifies view, meditation, and action,

please grant your blessings

and let me achieve absorption in the realm of the nature of mind.


As far as view, meditation, action, and accomplishment,

keep these three points in mind:

all manifestations, even the universe itself is contained in mind.

The nature of mind is the realm of luminosity

beyond thought, beyond form.

Those are the key points of the view.


Wandering thoughts are liberated in the dharmakaya.

Awareness,  luminosity is always blissful.

Meditate in the style of nonaction and ease.

These are the key points of practice.


The ten virtues naturally grow

within uncontrived actions.

The ten unvirtuous acts are then purified.

Luminous emptiness is never disturbed

by remedies or correct behavior.

These are the key points of action.


There is no nirvana to attain.

There is no samsara to renounce.

To actually know yourself is to be the buddha.

These are the key points when it comes to accomplishment.


Simplify these three down to one.

This emptiness is the nature of being

which only an excellent guru can illustrate clearly.

You don’t have to do a lot.

If one notices co-emergent wisdom

the goal has been reached.

This talk is a precious jewel

for all practitioners of the dharma.


– Jetsun Milarepa


Dynamic tranquility: the Buddha in contemplation.

Dynamic tranquility: the Buddha in contemplation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



The idea of balance, and mainstream Buddha

(courtesy of


I’m looking forward to seeing people at next week’s dharma talk! If you need directions/want to register just let me know. I thought I’d just do a quick one somewhat on the topic of “balance.” This is probably the number one thing people talk about when I talk to them about Buddhism, thinking it’s a Buddhist idea. It isn’t, exactly. I also wanted to write a bit about how Buddhism shows up in random American places.

So people love to mention “balance” when they talk about Buddhism, assuming they’re interested, and somewhat new to Buddhist practice and so forth. Obviously, it’s wonderful if someone is interested enough to actually take a class, and try to meditate. I don’t want to sound too harsh. The other thing is that finding some sort of balance (say, between work and family time) is natural and healthy. It just isn’t something I think the Buddha, or any important Buddhist thinker ever recommended, particularly.



One interesting thing about this is- the language we use when we discuss spiritual stuff (or anything, for that matter) can be very important. This is partly because a single word carries with it lots of associations, specific to a culture, and a given time. So, balance, as a term, connotes certain things. I don’t think it’s especially deep or helpful, although it’s not terrible.

As Buddhist imagery, Buddhist ideas, even a few Buddhist masters have become mainstream, you get this happening- the stuff is on people’s radar, sort of like the way a subculture becomes infused into popular culture. And like a subculture mixing into pop culture, like rap mixing into pop music, for instance, some stuff gets “filtered out,” some things change, get made more easily understandable, or easily accepted.

I have seen one particular quote from the Buddha so many times, usually in the context of a yoga website or yoga studio. It’s the most famous one at this point, and if you think about it, you can probably come up with it. (It’s the only one most Westerners know.) Not that it’s a bad one, although some translations are dodgy, I think. It has to do with the mind, and how you use the mind, or how you use your thoughts.

“With our thoughts…”

To be pretty general, we’re talking about the idea of balance, in some way, and the power of your thoughts.

The Buddhist tradition is very old. It’s nearing 3000 years at this point. It’s a little more complex than just saying, “Find a balance,” and “Your thoughts are really powerful, you should pay attention to them.”

So, how to deal with this seeming problem, the watering down of Buddhist wisdom in popular culture? I have two ideas. It really is a huge sociological issue, among other things, but here are two ideas.

1. Turn those platitudes into questions.

What is balance? What would this balance feel or seem like? Have you found this before in your life? What conditions supported it? Are there any problems with this kind of approach to life, with finding a balance?


What are thoughts?


How do they work?


How do you know you’re having them?


(By the way, it’s okay to think when you meditate. Common misconception.)


So, if people really really want to stop thinking when they meditate, why is this? What is so terrible about having a thought, or lots of thoughts?


2. Bring it back to some more solid ideas

Here are some more traditional Buddhist takes on those ideas:

There is the idea of a “middle way.” The middle way exists between extremes. Now this is starting to sound like balance, right? However, this idea is traditionally used to describe the way reality exists. That’s one way it is used. So, it’s not quite about finding a stress free life, it’s more about understanding how things are, in reality. The two extremes could be described as “nothing,” and “things.”

Things: the commonplace view- my life is real, my body is real, physical objects are real

Seems okay so far…

Nothing: my life is made of many changing and shifting parts, my body is too, physical objects themselves are changing, shifting, moving



Maybe this makes clear why people prefer to think of balance as not spending too much time at their job. This way of looking at reality, as being somewhere between a dream, and what we normally assume, is not easy at first. The idea of a middle way there, is that somehow it can be helpful to  investigate the possibility that-

people, places, things

are not exactly what we normally assume.

The example I often use is molecules- that chair appears real and solid, but we also accept that, on some level, it’s moving about.


The “middle way” idea manifests in various forms in Buddhist philosophy. A more in depth analysis would take a lot longer. Another time!


Here’s a better one: not too loose, not too tight. This one actually corresponds much more closely to the idea of “balance.”

One of the Buddha’s students was a musician. He played something similar to a guitar. You’ve probably seen someone tuning a guitar before. The student couldn’t understand how to meditate. The Buddha told him to work with his mind just like he tuned his instrument, “not too loose, not too tight.” Importantly, though, this instruction was not about how to schedule your life, but about how to work with your own mind. The question of how busy you should be, or how to order the elements of your life, are something slightly else.

Not that it’s good to spend all day at work, just that this wasn’t exactly a Buddhist idea.

It’s Tuesday

Newbury-Boston-36-Mile-Marker-L A reminder of the classes coming up, and a few thoughts-

Classes coming up- Meditation Basics 1 and 2, Foundations of the Path, and a weekly Dharma Talk.

Tonight! A talk at the Rowley Library in MA, about sanity and holiday experience.


If gratitude doesn’t arise naturally

you can’t force it.

If gratitude doesn’t arise at all,

you have to do something.


(A little poem about gratitude)


(A striking image of a “seed syllable” from the Japanese tradition, from

This post is pretty unfocused. I guess you could say it’s about symbols. That’s always a safe bet. Since holidays are the topic of conversation tonight, and something I’m thinking about these days, holiday symbolism is relevant, more or less. It’s easy enough to rattle off some holiday symbols, for the popular holidays, but what about symbols that actually invoke something? Symbols that actually create a palpable atmosphere (or maybe all symbols do that, but just some more noticeably than others).


(Another little poem before I get some coffee)


Dont’ be afraid of symbols

they’re a bridge

of sorts

to what!


…………………………………………………………………………….   …………………………………………………………………..







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