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Xmas eve

christmas 2007

christmas 2007 (Photo credit: paparutzi)

Come chant Buddhist texts at the barn on Christmas eve.

It’s a nice way to celebrate this time, enjoy the company of others, and relax. Chant is also a good way to familiarize yourself with the teachings, practice your breathing, and rouse your energy.

It will be on Monday the 24th, from 5-6 pm. There will be no dharma talk this week, but we’ll start up again next week.

This will be by donation, pay what you can. All profits for this event will be donated to a charity in Boston.

(Note: this is not a performance. Come and chant! Don’t come just to listen.)



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)



You’ll find the way


Thikse monastery. This statue of the Maitreya ...

Thikse monastery. This statue of the Maitreya Buddha is about 30 ft tall! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I pay homage to the guru, suffused with grace.

Please grant your blessings.

Please help me, a beggar, to practice.


Although you children, members of the current generation,

live in towns infested with negativity,

the dharmic connection remains.

Having heard the Buddha’s teaching

you sought me out-

this will keep you on the path.

By constantly accumulating merit you will get more devoted.

Blessings will enter your being

and the two kinds of realization will grow.


But even if you do all of this,

it’s not much help unless you reach full attainment.

I tell you this out of compassion.

Listen closely, my young friends.

When you’re alone,

do not think about the entertainment available back in twon,

or the maras will appear in your mind.

Then inward, and you’ll find the way.


When you meditate, apply patience, and hard work.

Contemplate the problematic nature of samsara, and the uncertainty of the time and place of death.

Avoid craving pleasurable things.

Then courage and patience will grow in you.

You’ll find the way.


When you request advanced teachings,

don’t long for learning, or to become a scholar.

If you do, desires and common behavior will dominate you.

You’ll throw your life in the trash.

Be humble and modest, and you’ll find your way.


When various meditation experiences arise

don’t be proud and excited about telling others,

or you’ll offend the dakinis and mothers.

Meditate evenly and you’ll be on your way.


When you’re with your guru

don’t overthink his positive and negative traits,

or you’ll find mountains of faults.

You’ll only find the way through faith and loyalty.


When you go to dharma gatherings with your brothers and sisters,

don’t try to be the first

or you’ll stir up anger and desire,

and cause problems for your vows.

Adjust, understand each other

and you’ll find the path.


When you beg for alms in town,

do not use the dharma

to deceive or manipulate others,

or you’ll force yourself down a lower path.

Be honest and genuine, and you’ll find the way.


Remember, especially, at all times and places:

don’t show off. Don’t be arrogant,

or your confidence will be overwhelming

and you’ll be bloated with hypocrisy.

If you abandon deception and be natural

you’ll be on track.


The person who has found the path

can pass on the blessed teachings to others.

Such a person not only benefits others, but himself as well.

Then, generosity is the only thought remaining in his heart.

– Jestun Milarepa

English: Three large statues of the Buddha at ...

English: Three large statues of the Buddha at Dharma Flower Temple in Huzhou, Zhejiang province. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The teachings and compassion

Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion,...

Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, 16th century image from Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just making a cup of tea in the kitchen, I had an idea for next week’s talk: the wideness of the dharma, and the wideness of compassion.

The gist of it: sometimes we have limited views about what the dharma (Buddhist teachings) is, and about what compassion is. So, come next Tuesday (4-530pm) and let’s discuss this. How varied and vast is the Buddhist tradition? What does it even mean to be a Buddhist, or to practice Buddhism? What is compassion, and how can we cultivate it?

Thanks very much to the Rowley Public Library for having me lead a discussion/talk last night. It was very interesting, and I was so glad to see some people come out to participate. It was especially nice to have someone ask for meditation instruction. That is something I love, to have someone not only express an interest in meditation, but actually ask how to do it. I hope some of you from last night’s event will go to next week’s dharma talk (Dec. 11th).

Since it often feels stingy to just promote an event here, and not offer any ideas, here’s one regarding compassion. Not that I have any great insight into the matter, this area of the teachings is one I find difficult, more than meditation practice, more than the so-called “wisdom teachings.”

One way you learn about compassion in this tradition is in terms of the “four immeasurables,” or the four “brahma viharas.” They are: equanimity, kindness, joy, and compassion.

They’re immeasurable in that they are practices and feelings that are very large. The intention cultivated becomes very large. I would also imagine that the benefits of this kind of practice are vast. They are practices of the heart, as I see it, so you could say it’s about making your heart bigger. Maybe finding that vastness, in your heart, that’s already there (but for me, it feels more like actually make your heart bigger, expanding your heart, beyond pettiness and defensiveness).

They’re also called “brahma viharas.” This tends to get translated as “divine abodes,” which is nice, but also kind of stodgy. Who says abode these days, outside of a fantasy novel, or a movie set in Medieval England? Brahma is a god, one of the main gods, in the Hindu tradition. That’s where the divine comes in. As I understand it, the idea of these practices being divine dwelling places is that you uplift yourself to a kind of bliss, a kind of superhuman or extraordinary enjoyment. It feels good to cultivate these virtues. This always seems to be the irony of suffering- it feels terrible, but we want it so much, somehow. It’s not easy to let go of things like anger, even if they feel awful (and therefore it seems like dropping them should be a piece of cake).

This is no small teaching, the four immeasurables. As I mentioned, compassion will be one of the foci of next week’s discussion. Here was my thought though. You don’t get them separately. Yes, they are cultivated on their own, in a concentrated way. At the same time, they’re not really separate feelings. You can’t be compassionate and still be unkind. You can’t be levelheaded (equanimous) without being compassionate. They go together. They’re really one thing, with four aspects.

Compassion personified: a statue at the Epcot ...

Compassion personified: a statue at the Epcot center in Florida (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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!


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






Holidays 2012

One thing people talk about is whether they’ve gotten Christmas trees yet. My family has not, yet. No lights either, although we’ll be getting both. I’ve enjoyed seeing people’s displays outside going up, mostly trees wrapped in lights, sometimes more complicated setups.

I’m going to write a little about the holidays in relation to the talk I’ll be giving tomorrow at the Rowley Public Library (Mass.).

So this is some self-promotion (come see the talk! it’s free!) but also based on stuff I’ve been thinking a lot about over the last year or so, and of course, having celebrated the holidays with varying degrees of success since I was a kid. All of this is in the context of the dharma, and of meditation practice. That’s pretty odd, in a way, although to someone who meditates, it all becomes part of a kind of stew, it all gets brought in together.

I think one direction I could take this in, which I won’t, but it would be interesting- why would a Buddhist think about celebrating Christmas? There are so many problems with that- the commercial aspect, the religious aspect, the fact that there are a number of Buddhist holidays. Worth thinking about.

Instead I think I want to write about, briefly, the idea of holidays as legitimate spiritual experiences. In one way, that’s the big question starting out- if you’re going to examine how you celebrate the holidays, in terms of spiritual practice and the path, you have to look at the possibility that holidays are not a good way to practice for a variety of reasons-

the aforementioned commercialization

not being a natural fit with your beliefs (Buddhist Christmas, Yogic Hanukah, Christian Halloween)

randomness of celebration

it being merely social or conventional

So that’s a start. Obviously, my bias is more towards the legitimacy of celebrating (eccentric) holidays as spiritual practice. Some responses to the previous problems:

Don’t do it in an overly commercial way. Don’t buy too much. Even if making presents doesn’t seem appealing or good enough, you can celebrate in do it yourself ways as far as decorating, food, and so on. Bottom line, I think, has to do with seeing that the craziness of the commercial aspect of the holidays is not pleasant, and not wholesome.

If it’s not a fit, fine. I’m greedy, though. And I like some of the holidays. (Not New Year‘s so much, because I’m not great with crowds, don’t really drink much, and I get my own, better, New Year’s in February.) Even if the fit is not completely apparent, I want to enjoy the food I’ve always eaten, some of the music (some of it), some of those old movies. This is nostalgic. That is not necessarily a problem. Another angle- there’s just tremendous energy involved in this stuff, having to do a lot with the group feeling. I enjoy that. I find it interesting, and want to make the most of it.

This one goes like this- these days are not inherently special. It’s just a day on a calendar. The day you got married, the day you were born, the day something amazing happened, these can feel like significant days. The day something very old happened, maybe something you’re not psychologically or idealogically invested in, is just another day. This used to be a big one for me. At this point it somehow seems unimportant. So what? The atmosphere exists, whether or not I’m going to contemplate Christ’s birth, or his resurrection, or the spirits going to walk among the living once a year.

(As a side note, I think part of my thought about this has to do with looking at contemporary American culture, so-called irony, and self-mockery. These fit under what one teacher called “frivolousness” the last two, that is. My very rough and unstudied understanding- at a certain point in recent history, lots of modern people lost faith. Religion, as well as the humanities, hadn’t protected us from terrible tragedies on a global scale. People felt they couldn’t assume the traditional way of having faith, of going along with the rituals and calendars, worked. The traditions seemed corrupt, bankrupt, a way to corral people, take their money, and worse. This contributed to a view of everything being equal. There was not high culture, and low culture. You could appreciate all of it. This was because, in part, it was all garbage. You could mock all of it, and find some distance, some safety, some perspective. Clearly, I have a problem with this kind of ironic remove. Watching a cheesy movie can be fun, and it’s also not the same as watching a movie that was carefully made, that touches you, or moves you.

The holidays, I’m positing, used to have more power. People’s lack of faith, their lack of connection to their traditions, especially in America, although I’d guess in many places that have modernized, led to disconnection from the rituals and experiences of the holidays. People doubt the holidays. I think this is a missed opportunity.)

(Another side note- there are other responses to the randomness objection. One is about the actual contemplation of the meaning of a holiday. Personally, this one doesn’t do it for me exactly, but it’s there, and is legitimate, I think. So, Christmas could seem random, but if you connect to some of the ideas it embodies, then it becomes about that. It’s about the teachings a holiday embodies. Another, more interesting to me, response, is seasonal/natural. Holidays are specific to times of year. As seasons shift, things feel different. There are actually real energies that come into play at various times of year. It’s not just about the temperature changing. It’s not just a matter of nostalgia or association. Energy changes as nature shifts with the seasons. It follows that holidays connect to this. I’m enjoying playing with this idea, and practicing with it. It’s, as they say, “a bank of energy.” That’s worth exploring.)

The last one is easy enough to take apart. First, saying something is merely social or merely conventional is misguided. Social norms, conventions, what you could call a larger body language, are really powerful. How often do you just jump outside of those norms? They’re really powerful. They shape everything. Second, this begs the question: why would such social experiences arise? Why would people engage in them? Why would they last? It’s not enough to see a habitual pattern and dislike it. You have to do something more.

I wrote a lot more than I thought I would about that. Sorry for not including lots of little pictures to make it more fun. If you can, come to the talk tomorrow, in Rowley. It will probably be very different from what you’ve just read. Happy holidays!

christmas 2007

christmas 2007 (Photo credit: paparutzi)

About the “Meditation Basics” program


As I’m enjoying my day off, I’d like to write a little about the Meditation Basics classes that are starting soon.

As the title suggests, this is a good introduction for people new to the practice of meditation. At the same time, I’m sure that more experienced people would benefit as well. The class combines time spent sitting, with some discussion. If you’ve been interested in meditation and are thinking about trying it out, or have just started on your own, this is a great class for you. If you’re a more seasoned meditator, we’d love to have you here as well. The presence of serious meditators always adds something special to a group.

Group practice is valuable. I think there’s no way to overstate this. Personally, I read a lot, and meditated on my own for a few years before I got curious enough, or brave enough, to try out sitting meditation with a group (Berkeley Shambhala in California). I was so nervous going to a new place, not knowing anyone there. I remember to this day how the person at the door, who’d buzz you in, seemed really unfriendly. Weren’t meditators supposed to be friendly and gentle and caring? She buzzed me in, I walked up to the second floor, and made my way into the meditation hall. I felt like I knew what I was doing, since I’d been meditating by myself for a few years. Somehow, it felt very different though. The room was warm, pleasantly decorated, and not too crowded. But being around other people as I sat felt significantly different. Doing the technique I’d done for so long with others, and in that space, felt different. I felt exposed, put on the spot. I noticed my own thoughts and feelings much more clearly, including the feeling that I already knew what I was doing, and that I was a good meditator already.

I went back to this particular center a few times. Maybe three or four. Not too many. Somehow the difficulty of it, and the intuition that something was up there drew me in. That door guardian, who still brings up a little twinge of annoyance after all these years, somehow her presence, her unyieldingness had done something. The experience of being with a group had also. Later, asking questions of the more senior students did something valuable too. For the most part, I could just tell they had something. They were not ordinary people. They weren’t saints or gods, but they had something, and something I wanted to get for myself.

After leaving those Sunday meditations, I’d walk around Berkeley a little bit, enjoy the sunshine, probably get some coffee. Then I’d drive home to Fairfax, I think, at that point. Fairfax is an odd little town in Marin County, with a definite hippy vibe. There’s a church there that hosts a monthly (I think) rave. Normal church, but just once a month there’s a rave there, with DJ’s, people dancing. The Good Earth, I think, is the big health food store in town, and they make their own kombucha. They have this giant kombucha fungus sitting in a big jar at the back of the store. It’s really a hug kombucha creature, about three by three if I had to guess from memory.

Obviously everyone is on their own journey, with sidetracks, pit stops, crashes, and all the rest. For meditators, studying with others is a valuable part of that journey, and can be very interesting and surprising. Thanks for indulging me as I shared a little about my own trip. Here’s a little information about the Meditation Basics classes. They’ll be starting on the 11th of December.

Overall, there are three classes. I highly recommend that you take them in order, from one to three.

We start with sitting meditation, which focuses on the breath. This technique, sometimes called mindfulness, is the foundation of various sorts of practice. It’s the technique that all the others taught here are built on. In Basics 2, we learn walking meditation, and a kind of body-awareness meditation. Again, the mindfulness technique in Basics 1 is the foundation the things like walking and body awareness are built on. In Basics 3, we learn contemplative meditation, and some other forms too.

Of course, there’s also discussion. This is a time to talk about what’s on your mind, and to ask questions about the techniques we’ve learned. There are also some discussion topics. Basics Two focuses on the teaching known as the “four foundations of mindfulness.” Basics One is a little more general. We cover a lot of different ideas. Here a few:


The meaningful life

Preciousness of life, and gratitude


Letting go

Cause and effect


The mind


Overall, the three courses are a great introduction to meditation. I think they’d also be a great refresher for people who’ve been sitting for a while, and want a reminder. Classes held in Newbury MA, about forty five minutes from Boston.

Winter into 2013

Dharma Talk

Tuesdays, starting December 11th

4-5:30 pm $5-10 by donation

Meditation Basics 1

Tuesdays, December 11th-January 29th

10-11:15 am $75

Meditation Basics 2

Thursdays, December 20th-January 24th

10-11:15 am $75

Foundations of the Path

Thursdays, December 20th-January 24th

11:30-1:30 pm $75

Call (978) 462-9737 for information, or to register.

So what is “meditation basics”?

For anyone interested, here’s a little about the series called Meditation Basics.

The emphasis is more on practices than on the intricacies of Buddhist thought. Not that the intricacies are bad; they’re wonderful, but they’re not for everyone. To get an actual feel for the practices, it’s probably best to show up and try a class.

But what are the classes like? Well, Basics 1 one focuses on mindfulness meditation. This is sitting meditation. Actually, there’s a lot to work on just with this technique. There’s a lot of depth there, and a lot to be discovered. It’s also a foundation for other techniques.

Basics 2 works on some other practices. It continues with the practice of mindful sitting meditation. We work on walking meditation, and also the practice of “the four immeasurables.” This is an introduction to contemplative meditation. In some ways, it’s more intellectual than mindfulness practice.

As you can see, we don’t do anything too exotic, or complicated. Part of the idea there is that learning foundational practices like mindful breathing allows people to do other practices (like visualization) better, if they want to at some point. It’s like doing strength training in order to get better at playing soccer, or baseball.

Basics 1 and 2 coming up in a few weeks. Basics 3 will probably be in the near future, and here’s what that covers: more mindfulness, and what’s known as “body scan” meditation. Another technique is taught as well. The body scan turns the mindfulness developed in other practices, and turns it inward, into the body.

This is what Basics covers. Not too much philosophy, lots of practice.

365/220 The meaning of mindfulness, Aug. 08, 2011

365/220 The meaning of mindfulness, Aug. 08, 2011 (Photo credit: ConnectIrmeli)

New classes on the way! Other thoughts will probably be included!

As I keep chipping away at the Milarepa material, and posting that here, it will show up, here. Or churning away, as one teacher put it, comparing Milarepa’s words to milk, which must be churned, and can then be transformed into milk, butter, and cream. In any case, I plan to keep working on that.
It’s a big task, a lot of songs. It’s interesting to me how a task that big can seem both totally undoable (how could you ever complete all of them, it would take either a monumental one time effort, or just years of smaller continued efforts) and casually very doable- if a song or two a day takes years, then so be it. It takes years, and means not a whole lot of effort, at least short term.

Anyway, classes… This was probably not clear, since I didn’t mention it directly, but the classes offered right now are part of a curriculum, and one that will be changing over time, but a curriculum nonetheless.

This is to say that, yes, I am just a guy offering some classes on meditation and theory, but, then again, I actually have a vision, buzzword that’s often a little annoying, or a plan, maybe, for the kind of education I’m offering.

One pretty traditional setup in Tibetan Buddhism is the “three yana” structure. This is one thing I’m basing my classes on.

So, in order to keep this post to the point, and not too boring, I’ll draw this to a close. Classes are being offered, and you’re invited to attend! Of course, if you are somewhat interested but not sure, you could attend one, and then decide.

Again, there is a curriculum, and it is based on this three part structure of the “yanas.” The next post, which you can skip if you don’t want a detailed explanation of the curriculum and plan for courses, will go over what this structure means more or less, and how I’ll be implementing it.

Oh, it’s also the anniversary of the first turning of the wheel of the dharma, the first official teaching the Buddha gave. Happy turning of the wheel!



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