Friday, August 27, 2010

The Way Of The Bodhisattva 2.1 - 2.29

The Way Of The Bodhisattva
Chapter 2 Confessions 2.1 - 2.29

To the buddhas, those thus gone,
And to the sacred Law, immaculate, supreme, and rare,
And to the Buddha’s offspring, oceans of good qualities,
That I might gain this precious attitude, I make a perfect


I offer every fruit and flower
And every kind of healing medicine;
And all the precious things the world affords,
With all pure waters of refreshment;


Every mountain, rich and filled with jewels;
All sweet and lonely forest groves;
The trees of heaven, garlanded with blossom,
And branches heavy, laden with their fruit;


The perfumed fragrance of the realms of gods
And men;
All incense, wish trees, and trees of gems;
All crops that grow without the tiller’s care
And every sumptuous object worthy to be offered;


Lakes and meres adorned with lotuses,
All plaintive with the sweet-voiced cries of water birds
And lovely to the eyes, and all things wild and free,
Stretching to the boundless limits of the sky;


I hold them all before my mind, and to the supreme
And their heirs will make a perfect gift of them.
O, think of me with love, compassionate lords;
Sacred objects of my prayers, accept these offerings.


For I am empty-handed, destitute of merit,
I have no other wealth. But you, protectors,
You whose thoughts are for the good of others,
In your great power, accept this for my sake.


The buddhas and their bodhisattva children –
I offer them myself throughout my lives.
Supreme courageous ones, accept me totally.
For with devotion I will be your servant.


For if you will accept me, I will be
A benefit to all, and freed from fear.
I’ll go beyond the evils of my past,
And ever after turn my face from them.

A bathing chamber excellently fragrant,
With floors of crystal, radiant and clear,
With graceful pillars shimmering with gems,
All hung about with gleaming canopies of pearls –


There the blissful buddhas and their heirs
I’ll bath with many a precious vase,
Abrim with water, sweet and pleasant,
All to frequent strains of melody and song.


With clots of unexampled quality,
With peerless, perfumed towels I will dry them
And offer splendid scented clothes,
Well dyed and of surpassing excellence.


With different garments, light and supple,
And a hundred beautiful adornments,
I will grace sublime Samanthbhadra,
Manjughosha, Lokeshvara, and their kin.


And with a sumptuous fragrance that
Pervades a thousand million worlds,
I will anoint the bodies of the buddhas,
Light and gleaming bright, like pure and burnished


I will place before the Buddha, perfect object of my
Flowers like the lotus and the mandarava,
Utpala, and other scented blossoms,
Worked and twined in lovely scented garlands.


I will offer swelling clouds of incense,
Whose ambient perfume ravishes the mind,
And various foods and every kind of drink,
All delicacies worthy of the gods.


I will offer precious lamps,
All perfectly contrived as golden lotuses,
A bed of flower petals scattering
Upon the level, incense-sprinkled ground.


I will offer palaces immense and resonant
With song,
All decked with precious pearls and pendant gems,
Gleaming treasures fit to ornament the amplitude
Of space:
All this I offer to the loving bodhiattvas.


Precious parasols adorned with golden shafts
And bordered all around with jeweled fringes,
Upright, well-proportioned, pleasing to the eye,
Again all this I give to all the buddhas.


May a multitude of other offereings,
Accompanied by music sweet to hear,
Be made in great successive clouds,
To soothe the sufferings of living beings.


May rains of flowers, every precious thing,
Fall down in a unceasing stream
Upon the jewels of sacred Dharma,
The Triple Gem and all supports for offering.


Just as Manjughosha, gentle and melodious,
Made offerings to all the conquerors,
Likewise I will make oblation
To the buddhas and their bodhisattva children.


I will offer prayers by every way and means
To these vast oceans of good qualities
May clouds of tuneful praise
Ascend unceasingly before them.


To the buddhas of the past, the present and all future time,
And to the Doctrine and Sublime Assembly,
With bodies many as the grains of dust
Upon the ground, I will prostrate and bow.


To shrines and all supports
Of bodhichitta I bow down:
All abbots who transmit the vows, all learned masters,
And all nobles ones who practice Dharma.


Until the essence of enlightenment is reached,
I go for refuge to the buddhas.
Also I take refuge in the Doctrine
And all the host of bodhisattvas.


To perfect buddhas and bodhisattvas,
In all directions where they may reside
To them who are the sovereigns of great mercy,
I press my palms together praying thus:


“In this and all my other lifetimes,
Wandering in the round without beginning,
Blindly I have brought forth wickedness,
Inciting others to commit the same.


I have taken pleasure in such evil,
Tricked and overmastered by my ignorance.
Now I see the blame of it, and in my heart,
O great protectors, I declare it!”


good teachings by Pema Chodron, taken from her book No Time to Lose (pg 36).

From verse 27 until the end of this chapter, Shantideva presents the practice of confession or, as Trungpa Rinpoche translated it, “laying aside our neurotic crimes.” Whenever we do something we wish we hadn’t, we give it our full, compassionate attention. Rather than hiding our mistakes from ourselves and others, we forthrightly declare them. By acknowledging them to ourselves, we avoid self-deception. In certain circumstances, we may also declare them to someone else, as witness to our wise intention.

To see clearly how we strengthen or weaken crippling patterns, we have to bring them to light. It’s like getting ready for bed at night: we easily remove our clothes in a room by ourselves, but the presence of another person heightens our awareness. The role of others, whether it’s the great protectors or our friends, is simply to hear us out, without judging or needing to fix us. In this way, confession overcomes ignorance, or lack of self-reflection.

You may ask, “Isn’t it enough to acknowledge my regrets to myself?” it does help a lot, but not enough to completely dissolve self-deception. When we express our regrets to the buddhas or another human being, we can’t kid ourselves. As an act of self-compassion and self-respect, we use a witness to expose ourselves to ourselves. Thus instead of carrying around a burden of shame, we’re free to make a fresh start. The benefit of laying aside our “neurotic crimes” is being able to go forward without guilt.

The practice of confession is an excellent way to move beyond guilt and self-deception. It relies on the view that neurosis, while it may feel monolithic or immutable, is essentially transitory and insubstantial. It is just very strong energy that we mistakenly identify as a solid and permanent “me”. Confessing, like make offerings and prostrations, helps us let go of this fixed version of who we are.

When we do something we wish we hadn’t, we don’t remain oblivious; we acknowledge it with what Dzigar Longtrul Rinpoche calls “positive sadness.” Instead of condemning ourselves, we can connect with the openhearted tenderness of regret. Thus the habits of self-deception and guilt have a chance to wither away. This is the essential point of the practice of confession.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In Defense of Desires

Taken from, some useful pointers can be used for practice in our daily encounters with desires.

In Defense of Desire

Tricycle speaks with Buddhist psychotherapist Mark Epstein about making peace with our deepest longings.
Your book Open to Desire is described as a “defense of desire.” Why is a defense necessary? Many people think that if they want to pursue a spiritual path, they have to be free of desire. They view desire as the primary cause of suffering. I think this is a misunderstanding. Clinging—not desire—is where we get stuck, and it’s possible to embrace desire without clinging by infusing it with awareness. Desire, in fact, can be a powerful meditative tool on the path to enlightenment.
How so? Buddhism teaches that to understand selflessness, you have to first examine the self as it actually appears to you. A meditation on an emotion as fundamental as desire is especially useful in this light because it uncovers a strong sense of “I”: I want this. I wish I could have that. We get to know ourselves through the process of allowing—rather than denying—our desires. The interesting thing about Buddhist psychology is that it suggests that the closer you can get to actually holding the self as it appears, the more opportunity you have to gain insight into its insubstantial nature.
Can you elaborate on how this might work? We can treat desire the way we treat everything else in meditation. This means accepting it as it is, not pushing it away and not holding on to it. In Eros the Bittersweet, a big inspiration for my own book, the Canadian poet and classicist Anne Carson points out that desire implies the presence of three things: the lover, the beloved, and that which separates them. In other words, there is always a gap, an obstacle, impeding the union desire seeks. This obstacle seems like a problem, and we want to get rid of it. This is clinging. I propose that if you relate to desire in a different way—if you learn how to simply dwell in the gap it opens up—then desire can become a teacher in its own right. In practical terms, this means learning to desire without expectations.
Would that necessarily mean sitting with the desire unfulfilled? Well, the nature of desire is that it’s always at least a little bit unfulfilled. Resting in the gap—without either rushing to satisfy the desire or foreclosing the possibility of that satisfaction—is a literal attempt to open to desire in its totality, to understand it, and through this insight to come to an understanding of oneself. Denial of the desire is just another way of trying to eradicate the gap, which is what desire wants: Ultimately, desire seeks fulfillment. The practice I’m talking about encourages one to move toward that which one desires, witnessing the whole process along the way, and not simply getting lost in dissatisfaction. This approach challenges one to go wholeheartedly into one’s life and one’s desire, and also to accept whatever comes of that pursuit.
What, then, of the practice of renunciation? To experience desire without falling into the trap of clinging isn’t something so easily done. No, it isn’t. And I am truly respectful of what can be learned from renunciation. It makes room for contact with a deeper kind of desire than the everyday urges that typically arise in our lives. Renunciation can be especially useful when there’s an addictive or compulsive quality to a person’s relationship with the world. In such a case, an ascetic approach allows enormous freedom from one’s habitual way of relating.
     But there is always a question of balance. In the history of Buddhism, the monastic tradition of renunciation came first. Later, the limitations of that approach—people getting too removed from the spiritual opportunities and challenges of life in the world—pushed succeeding generations and cultures to reconfigure their understanding and implementation of the Buddha’s teachings. The pendulum swings back and forth with regard to desire—how to come to terms with the outside world, how to imagine enlightenment. Teachers and teachings arise that approach things from different angles.
I’m suggesting that the meditative path includes desire. Too many people have tried to simply push desire away, only to get stuck, or to find it errupt in their lives in destructive ways. Opening to desire without succumbing to its fixations provides an alternative to those for whom a simple denial of desire has meant a denial of their very experience of life.
An excerpt from Dr. Epstein's latest book, Open to Desire:
When I began to work as a psychotherapist, after completing many years of medical and psychiatric training undertaken after my introduction to Buddhism, I discovered how important it was to be able to admit to, or “own,” one’s desires. Freud’s initial emphasis in psychoanalysis, in fact, was all about helping people plagued with forbidden desires.
Many sincere people, drawn to Eastern spirituality, are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. In identifying the cause of suffering as desire, they struggle to eliminate it from their being. A number of these people have come to consult with me, wondering why their spiritual pursuits have not brought them the peace of mind they were expecting. To sit with them in a room is to feel someone pretending. There can be a closed, shut-down, anxious, or fearful quality underlying the way they express themselves. When I maneuver them into a willingness to be more honest about their desires, a different feeling emerges. They become more present, alive, open, and tender. The brittleness disappears. It becomes easier to breathe. All of the feelings that I associate with meditation, that I want to make accessible to people through the medium of psychotherapy, open up when people become able to treat their desires as their own.
There is more to desire than just suffering. There is a yearning in desire that is as spiritual as it is sensual. Even when it degenerates into addiction, there is something salvageable from the original impulse that can only be described as sacred. Something in the person wants to be free, and it seeks its freedom any way it can. This is one of the major insights to have precipitated out of my study of the psychologies of East and West. There is a drive for transcendence that is implicit in even the most sensual of desires. While there are certainly currents in both Eastern and Western spiritual traditions that dismiss or denigrate desire, encouraging us to forsake it through renunciation or sublimation, there is another, more controversial, alternative that I have found necessary in helping my patients.
Known in the East as the tantric, or “left-handed,” path, desire, in this view, is a vehicle for personal transformation. It is a yoga in its own right. Rather than treating it as the cause of suffering, desire is embraced as a valuable and precious resource, an emotion that, if harnessed correctly, can awaken and liberate the mind. In this way of thinking, desire is the human response to the discontent described in the Buddha’s First Noble Truth. It is the energy that strives for transcendence but, if it is to truly accomplish its goals, the seeker must learn to relate to it differently. He or she must learn how to use desire instead of being used by it. In this sense, desire is the foundation for all spiritual pursuits. As the well-known contemporary Indian teacher Sri Nisargadatta, famous for sitting on a crowded street corner selling inexpensive bidis, or Indian cigarettes, once commented, “The problem is not desire. It’s that your desires are too small.” The left-handed path means opening to desire so that it becomes more than just a craving for whatever the culture has conditioned us to want. Desire is a teacher: when we immerse ourselves in it without guilt, shame, or clinging, it can show us something special about our own minds that allows us to embrace life fully.
From Open to Desire, ©2004 by Mark Epstein. Reprinted with permission of Gotham Books.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hang on to your ego

Hang On to Your Ego

Although many believe that the ego is just a source of trouble, Thanissaro Bhikkhu teaches that a healthy, functioning ego is a crucial tool on the path to Awakening.
By Thanissaro Bhikkhu

YEARS BACK, many Buddhist teachers in the West began using the term “egolessness” to explain the Buddha’s teaching on not-self. Since then, egolessness has come to mean many things to many people. Sometimes egolessness is used to mean a lack of conceit or self-importance; sometimes, a pure mode of acting without thought of personal reward. In its most extended form, though, the teaching on egolessness posits a fundamental error of perception: that despite our sense of a lasting, separate self, no such self really exists. According to this view, to provide for the happiness of this illusory self, we not only place our hopes on an impossible goal but also harm ourselves and everyone around us. If we could only see the fallacy of the ego and understand its harmful effects, we would let it go and find true happiness in the interconnectedness that is our true nature.
At least that’s what we’re told, and often with a fair amount of vehemence. Buddhist writers, often so gentle and nonjudgmental, can quickly turn vicious when treating the ego. Some portray it as a tyrannical bureaucracy deserving violent overthrow; others, as a ratlike creature—nervous, scheming, and devious—that must be squashed. Whatever the portrait, the message is always that the ego is so pernicious and tenacious that any mental or verbal abuse directed against it is fair play in getting it to loosen its foul grip on the mind.
But when people trained in classical Western psychotherapy read these attacks on the ego, they shake their heads in disbelief. For them the ego is not something evil. It’s not even a singular thing you can attack. It’s a cluster of activities, a set of functions in the mind—and necessary functions at that. Any mental act by which you mediate between your raw desires for immediate pleasure and your super-ego—the oughts and shoulds you’ve learned from family and society—is an ego function. Ego functions are our mental strategies for gaining lasting happiness in the midst of the conflicting demands whispering and shouting in the mind. They enable you to say No to the desire to have sex with your neighbor’s spouse, in the interest of a greater happiness. They also enable you to say No to the demands of your parents, teachers, or government when those demands would jeopardize your own best interest.
But ego functions don’t just say No. They also have a mediator’s sense of when to say Yes. If they’re skillful, they negotiate among your desires and your super-ego so that you can gain the pleasure you want in a way that causes no harm and can actually do a great deal of good. If your ego functions are healthy and well-coordinated, they give you a consistent sense of priorities as to which forms of happiness are more worthwhile than others; a clear sense of where your responsibilities do and don’t lie; a strong sense of your ability to judge right and wrong for yourself; and an honest sense of how to learn from your past mistakes for the sake of greater happiness in the future.
From this perspective, egolessness would be a disaster. A person devoid of ego functions would be self-destructive: either a beast with uncontrolled impulses, or a neurotic, repressed automaton with no mind of her own, or an infantile monster thrashing erratically between these two extremes. Anyone who tried to abandon ego functioning would arrest his psychological growth and lose all hope of becoming a mature, responsible, trustworthy adult. And as we know, self-destructive people don’t destroy only themselves. They can pull down many of the people and places around them.
This is not only the view of trained Western psychologists. Buddhist communities in the West have also begun to recognize this problem and have coined the term “spiritual bypassing” to describe it: the way people try to avoid dealing with the problems of an unintegrated personality by spending all their time in meditation retreats, using the mantra of egolessness to short-circuit the hard work of mastering healthy ego functioning in the daily give and take of their lives.
Then there’s the problem of self-hatred. The Dalai Lama isn’t the only Asian Buddhist teacher surprised at the amount of self-hatred found in the West. Unfortunately, a lot of people with toxic super-egos have embraced the teaching on egolesness as the Buddha’s stamp of approval on the hatred they feel toward themselves.
These problems have inspired many Western psychologists to assume a major gap in the Buddha’s teachings: that in promoting egolessness, the Buddha overlooked the importance of healthy ego functioning in finding true happiness. This assumption has led to a corollary: that Buddhism needs the insights of Western psychotherapy to fill the gap; that to be truly effective, a healthy spiritual path needs to give equal weight to both traditions. Otherwise you come out lopsided and warped, an idiot savant who can thrive in the seclusion of a three-year retreat, but can’t handle three hours caught in heavy traffic with three whining children.
This corollary assumes, though, that for the past twenty-six hundred years Buddhism hasn’t produced any healthy functioning individuals: that the collective consciousness of Buddhist Asian society has suppressed individualism, and that the handful of dysfunctional meditation teachers who came to the West—the ones who mastered the subtleties of formal meditation but tripped over the blatant pitfalls of American money and sex—are typical of the Buddhist tradition. But I wonder if this is so.
My own experience in Asia certainly doesn’t confirm this. During my sixteen years in Thailand I met, per capita, more people with a genuinely individual outlook on life and far fewer neurotics than I did on returning to the mass-media-produced minds of America. My teacher, Ajaan Fuang, had the healthiest functioning ego of anyone I had ever met—and he knew nothing of Western psychology. This observation doesn’t apply just to the Thai tradition. Psychologists have studied ordinary Tibetan monks and nuns who have survived years of torture—the severest test of healthy ego functioning—and found that they bear no psychological scars.
So there are many Asian Buddhists who clearly know the secret of how to develop a healthy ego. Some psychologists would have us believe that this was despite, rather than due to, their Buddhist training, but that belief could easily be based on a superficial reading of the Buddhist tradition. So we need to put this belief to the test.
One way would be to read the ancient texts with new eyes. Instead of assuming that the not-self teaching is counseling egolessness, how about assuming that it’s part of a regimen for developing a healthy ego? This idea may seem counterintuitive, but that’s no measure of its usefulness. The measure lies in testing it as a hypothesis. So as a thought experiment, let’s look at the earliest record of the Buddha’s teachings, the Pali canon, from the perspective of Western psychology and pose a question: is there any evidence that the Buddha was advocating a healthy ego?
Actually, tips on healthy ego functioning fill the texts. To begin with, the Buddha defines a wise person as one who knows the difference between what are and what are not his personal responsibilities, one who takes on only his own responsibilities and not those of others. This is the first principle in any ego functioning. Then there’s the famous verse 290 of the Dhammapada:
If, by forsaking a limited ease, 
he would see an abundance of ease, 
the enlightened person 
would forsake the limited ease 
for the sake of the abundant.
This is practically a definition of how ego functions operate well.
These insights aren’t random. They’re based on another assumption necessary for a healthy ego: the teaching on karma, that we’re responsible for our actions and that we’re going to experience their results. This assumption in turn is framed by the larger psychology of the Noble Eightfold Path. As any therapist will tell you, a healthy ego is strengthened by developing a healthy super-ego whose shoulds are humane and realistic. It’s also strengthened by the ability to safely satisfy your raw demands for immediate happiness so that the ego’s long-term strategies don’t get derailed by sudden overwhelming desires. These two functions are filled, respectively, by the Eightfold Path factors of right view and right concentration.
Right view contains the Buddha’s shoulds, which are in service to the desire to find true happiness. You divide your experience into four categories: suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path to its cessation. Then you take to heart the imperatives proper to each: comprehending suffering, abandoning its cause, realizing its cessation, and developing the path. That’s the Buddhist recipe for a healthy super-ego—a series of shoulds that are on your side, that never ask you to sacrifice your own true well-being for the sake of anyone or anything else.
As for right concentration, one of its crucial factors is a sense of bliss independent of sensual objects and drives. When you gain some skill in meditation and can tap into that bliss whenever you want, you can satisfy your desire for immediate pleasure, at the same time weakening any demand that the pleasure be sensual. As the Buddha once noted, people pursue sensual pleasure, with all of its inherent limitations, simply because they see no other alternative to physical and mental pain. But once you’ve mastered this more refined alternative, you’ve found a new way to feed the demand for pleasure right now, freeing the ego to function more effectively.
You have also learned the key to the Buddha’s strategy for true happiness: It is possible to taste an immediate gratification that causes no harm to yourself or anyone else. Genuine happiness doesn’t require that you take anything away from anyone—which means that it in no way conflicts with the genuine happiness of others.
This understanding is revolutionary. For people dependent on sensual pleasures, happiness is a zero-sum affair. There are only so many things, only so many people, to go around. When you gain something, someone else has lost it; when they’ve gained, you’ve lost. In a zero-sum world, the pursuit of your own happiness constantly has to be negotiated and compromised with that of others. But when people access the bliss of right concentration, they’ve found a way to satisfy their own desire for happiness in a way that can actively augment the happiness of those around them. When they’re more content and at peace within, they radiate a healthy influence in all directions. This is how healthy ego functioning, from the Buddhist perspective, benefits others as well as yourself.
The classic image illustrating this point is of two acrobats, the first standing on the end of a vertical bamboo pole, the second standing on the shoulders of the first. To perform their tricks and come down safely, each has to look after his or her own sense of balance. In other words, life is a balancing act. By maintaining your balance, you make it easier for others to maintain theirs. This is why, in the Buddhist equation, the wise pursuit of happiness is not a selfish thing. In fact, it underlies all the qualities traditionally associated not only with the path the Buddha taught to his disciples but also with the Buddha himself: wisdom, compassion, and purity.
Wisdom, the Buddha says, starts with a simple question: What actions will lead to my long-term welfare and happiness? The wisdom here lies in realizing that your happiness depends on what you do, and that the pursuit of happiness is worthwhile only if it’s long-term. The test of how far your wisdom has matured lies in the strategic skill with which you can keep yourself from doing things that you like to do but that would cause long-term harm, and the skill with which you can talk yourself into doing things that you don’t like to do but that would lead to long-term well-being and happiness. In other words, mature wisdom requires a mature ego.
The ego basis for compassion is depicted in one of the most delightful stories in the canon. King Pasenadi, in a tender moment with his favorite consort, Queen Mallika, asks her, “Is there anyone you love more than yourself?” He’s anticipating, of course, that she’ll answer, “Yes, your majesty. You.” And it’s easy to see where a B-movie script would go from there. But this is the Pali canon, and Queen Mallika is no ordinary queen. She answers, “No, your majesty, there isn’t. And how about you? Is there anyone you love more than yourself?” The king, forced into an honest answer, has to admit, “No, there’s not.” Later he reports this conversation to the Buddha, who responds in an interesting way:
Searching all directions
with one’s awareness,
one finds no one dearer
than oneself.
In the same way, others
are fiercely dear to themselves.
So one should not hurt others
if one loves oneself.
In other words, true self-love requires an appreciation that others feel self-love, too. This principle works in two ways: First, you recognize that if your happiness depends on the misery of others it won’t last, for they’ll do whatever they can to destroy that happiness. Your long-term happiness thus has to take into account the long-term happiness of others. Second, in a less calculating way, you recognize what we all have in common. If you take your own self-love seriously, you have to respect the self-love of others. In this way, compassion is based not on a sense of your superiority to those who are suffering but on a sense of mutual respect—a respect solidly based in your own self-interest.
Purity grows from providing your ego-based wisdom and compassion with a reality check. The Buddha once taught his son, Rahula, that purity is developed by examining your actions and their results to make sure that they actually cause no harm to yourself or to those around you. If you anticipate harm from an intended action, you don’t do it. If you see unanticipated harm coming from something you’ve done, you freely admit your mistake and learn how not to repeat it. You don’t cling childishly to the need to always be in the right. But if you see that you aren’t causing harm, you can take joy in the fact that you’re on the path to true happiness.
Because the Buddha saw how these enlightened qualities of wisdom, compassion, and purity could be developed through the pursuit of happiness, he never told his followers to practice his teachings without expecting any gain in return. He understood that such a demand would create an unhealthy dynamic in the mind. In terms of Western psychology, expecting no gain in return would give license for the super-ego to run amok. Instead, the Buddha taught that even the principle of renunciation is a trade. You exchange candy for gold, trading lesser pleasures for greater happiness. So he encouraged people to be generous with their time and possessions because of the inner rewards they would receive in return. He taught moral virtue as a gift: when you observe the precepts without ifs, ands, or buts, you give unconditional safety to all other beings, and in return you receive a share of that safety as well.
Even when advocating that his disciples abandon their sense of self, the Buddha justified this teaching on the basis of the rewards it would bring. He once asked his monks, “If anyone were to burn the trees in this monastery, would you suffer with the sense that they were burning you?”
“No,” the monks replied, “because we’re not the trees.”
“In the same way,” the Buddha continued, “let go of what’s not you or yours: the senses and their objects. That will be for your long-term well-being and happiness.”
Notice that he didn’t say to abandon the sense of self as a form of self-sacrifice. He said to abandon it for the sake of true well-being and happiness.
This point highlights one of the special features of the Buddha’s instructions for healthy ego-development. In Western psychology, ego-development is impossible without assuming a clear sense of self. But in Buddhism, with its realization that there is no clear dividing line between your own true happiness and that of others, the underlying assumption of ego-development is a clear sense of cause and effect, seeing which actions lead to suffering, which ones lead to short-term happiness, and which ones lead to a happiness that lasts.
This is one of the reasons why the Buddha never used terms like “ego-development” or “a well-integrated self.” The types of functioning we associate with a well-developed ego he would have described as a well-integrated sense of cause and effect focused on insights into the results of your actions. Buddhist practice is aimed at refining these insights to ever greater levels of sensitivity and skill. In this way he was able to teach healthy ego functioning while avoiding the twin pitfalls of ego-obsession: narcissism and self-hatred.
Because of the Buddha’s basic terms of analysis were actions understood under the framework of cause and effect, we have to understand his use of “self “ and “not-self “ under that framework. For him, “self “ and “not-self “ aren’t metaphysical principles. They’re mental actions that can be mastered as skills. This is why he was able to use both concepts freely in his teaching. When the concept of self was conducive to skillful action, he would talk in terms of self—not only on the level of generosity and virtue, but also on the level of meditation. If you think that meditation is an exercise in not-self from the very beginning, read the discourses on mindfulness and you’ll be surprised at how often they describe the meditator’s internal dialogue in terms of “I,” “me,” and “mine.”
As for the concept of not-self, the Buddha would advise using it whenever unskillful attachment to things or patterns of behavior got in the way of your happiness. In effect, he would have you drop unhealthy and unskillful ways of self-identification in favor of ways that were more skillful and refined. Only on the highest levels of practice, where even the most skillful concepts of self get in the way of the ultimate happiness, did the Buddha advocate totally abandoning them. But even then he didn’t advocate abandoning the basic principle of ego functioning. You drop the best happiness that can come from a sense of self because an even greater happiness—nirvana, totally timeless, limitless, and unconditioned—appears when you do.
So this is where our thought experiment has led. If you open your mind to the idea that the Buddha was actually advocating ego-development instead of egolessness, you see that there’s nothing lopsided or lacking in his understanding of healthy ego functioning. In fact, he mastered some ego skills that Western psychology has yet to explore, such as how to use right concentration to satisfy the desire for immediate pleasure; how to develop an integrated sense of causality that ultimately makes a sense of self superfluous; how to harness the ego’s drive for lasting happiness so that it leads to a happiness transcending space and time.
These principles have taught many Asian Buddhists how to develop healthy egos over the centuries—so healthy that they can ultimately drop the need to create “self.” All that remains is for us to put these principles to the test, to see if they work for us as well.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu is the abbot of Metta Forest Monastery near San Diego, California. His most recent book is Meditations3, and his next book, Handful of Leaves 5, is due out this summer.
Image: blending, Angie Buckley, 2001. © Angie Buckley

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Letting Go

Very helpful teachings.
Interestingly last week I just changed my MSN messenger message to 'The more we want to let go, the more we reify'. When the student is ready the teacher will appear :). Add me on MSN at  
Judy Lief teaches us to walk through life without holding on.
By Judy Lief
IN OUR FAST-PACED SOCIETY, letting go is often paired with moving on. People encourage friends who have suffered a loss to learn to let go of the past and get on with living. In New Age terminology, “just let go” has become an all-purpose piece of advice. But we humans are very cunning: While we talk a lot about letting go, we usually find a way to have our cake and eat it, too—to let go and still manage to hang on. In fact, it is easy to use the notion of letting go as yet another ego-tool. We can use it to prop ourselves up, to cloud things over, and uphold our illusion of solidity. We are so clever: we can take a concept like letting go, so threatening to our ego-fixation, and turn it completely on its head, so that instead it becomes a credential, an ego adornment. We can take pride in our letting go and revel in how pure we are now that we have pared down and simplified and become so much less materialistic. We can mask our laziness by seeing it instead as a letting go of ambition; we can mask our inability to connect with other people with the more spiritual notion of letting go of frivolous attachments. The possibilities are endless. So if we are to deepen our understanding of letting go, it is important to begin with an insight into how easily it can be distorted. Then we may be able to discriminate between a pretense of letting go and the real thing.
To learn to let go, it is necessary to understand how averse we are to change, and how attached we are to our idea of a solid, separate self. At times, of course, we do want change, for various and sundry reasons. But when we begin to bump up against the fact that no matter what we want or do not want, change just happens, we begin to feel a little uneasy. We feel protective. Of what? We’re not completely sure, but we hang on anyway, struggling to secure our ground. We are reactive and we dig in our heels. The greater the threat, the more tightly we hold on. We try to capture something moving and to make it still, so that an experience that has come and gone seems still to exist. Viewing our life as something we can fix and possess, we become completely attached to our mental snapshot of ourselves and equally threatened by its potential loss. We have taken a tiny speck of the vastness of the universe and staked it out as our territory, and now are stuck with protecting it from change.
HOW DO WE DEEPEN our approach to letting go and undercut some of these distortions? The Buddhist teachings provide a pretty clear answer. The starting point is realizing that letting go is not a dramatic moment we build up to some time in the future. It is happening now, in the present moment—it is not singular but ongoing. Letting go is based on our present realization of the reality of impermanence.
Change is continuous in spite of our efforts to resist it. We begin to realize that we do not have any way to stop it or to slow it down. The more we try, the more we suffer. But there is a way to let go, to break this cycle of suffering. We can slow down and have a closer look at our experience of it. When we have a look, we begin to realize what we have been doing, and the whole enterprise begins to feel more and more dubious. It becomes more difficult to hide from what in our hearts we know to be true—the fact of impermanence. We recognize that we have fabricated a false and fixed identity based on self-deception, delusion, and fear; that we have enslaved ourselves to the never-ending project of shoring it up. And we begin to long for another way of going about things. The process of letting go begins at the point when we recognize how trapped we are. Being trapped is the bad news, but the fact that something or someone has recognized we’re trapped is the good news. It’s as if we have spent all our life living in a house with very dirty windows, so dirty we had no idea any windows were there. What at first had seemed quite cozy gradually begins to feel claustrophobic. We begin to question what has been so safe and familiar. That questioning is very powerful. To our surprise, as we gingerly explore our little house, a smidgen of dirt falls off a window and we discover a peephole—we see that there is an entire world outside. That tiny glimpse awakens our desire to be free.
Even the smallest glimpse of freedom heightens our awareness of the pain we have created by our ego-fixation. Seeing the contrast is what inspires us to go forward on the path. In particular, each time we sit on the cushion and meditate, we relax and let go a little bit more. The notion we’ve held onto—that if we don’t keep up our ego-momentum something bad is going to happen—dissolves bit by bit. In a traditional analogy of walking the path, it is said that our ego-attachment is like a pair of shoes. Without such shoes we wouldn’t start out on the path, although as we walk along, we find that our shoes begin to break down and wear away. But if someone told you to toss out your shoes right at the start, you would be offended. “How dare you! Do you think there’s something wrong with my shoes? I love these shoes!”
As you walk the path, the letting go happens naturally, just as your shoes wear away. You do not need to make a dramatic statement by tossing them out; you just need to continue on. The path that initially seemed so inviting and accommodating slowly and surely begins to be more sandpapery and scrapes away tougher and tougher layers of leather.
From beginning to end, the path of dharma is about letting go. As we let go of one thing along the way, we find ourselves attaching to the next. As we let go of gross attachments, we find our more subtle attachments becoming heightened. For instance, we may let go of clinging to material possessions, but then find ourselves totally attached to our philosophy of simplicity. It is hard to let go of things, harder to let go of ideas, and even harder to let go of spiritual pretensions. Over time, as we familiarize ourselves with the many subtle twists and turns of letting go, we begin to be more savvy about how ego steps in to appropriate the entire process. In the millions of mini-decisions we make day by day and moment by moment, we are challenged each time either to let go or to re-solidify. To let go cleanly—without re-solidifying—we can practice what my teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche referred to as “disowning”:
Even though the acceptance of what is happening may be confusing, just accept the given situation and do not try to make it something else; do not try to make it into an educational process at all. Just see it, perceive it, and then abandon it. If you experience something and then disown that experience, you provide a space between that knowledge and yourself, which permits it simply to take its course.
The letting go itself is not held, but immediately dropped. Then letting go becomes simple and natural, like a snake shedding its skin.
The process of letting go is a tender one. We should notice the poignancy and humor of this very human struggle. It is less of a battle and more a path of acceptance and accommodation to the natural arising and dissolving of our ordinary experience. The two-step process—first letting go, and then letting go of the letting go—allows us to approach the idea of letting go gently, precisely, step by step. In doing so we see that even though we so often tend to re-solidify our experience, between the letting go and the re-solidifying there are real glimpses of openness.
ALTHOUGH LETTING GO IS SOMETHING that happens all along the Buddhist path, it tends to rise to the surface most vividly in relation to death. When dealing with terminal illness, someone else’s or, finally, our own, we are bluntly confronted with the ultimate futility of holding onto anything. Our concept of our own mortality, once safely distant and abstract, suddenly gets close and personal in the face of death, exposing powerful emotional undercurrents and deep attachments. At this point, telling someone to simply “let go” may not be very skillful or effective. The problem with the phrase is that there seems to be something solid to let go of, and someone solid to do the letting go. Furthermore, trying to force an experience tends to be a stumbling block in terms of practice.
Death has a way of bringing us back to what is most essential. In the presence of death, I have found that many extraneous concerns and preoccupations fall away quite simply and naturally. A lot of letting go just happens, simply and effortlessly. So we can approach death by attuning ourselves to its presence and all that it has to teach us. In that heightened atmosphere, our own sticking points become more obvious. In working with a dying individual, we can begin with our own letting go—especially letting go of how we want that person to be. We can relax our opinions and moral judgments as to how that person is going about dying. We can be a more true support, less cluttered by our own fixations. On that basis, we can encourage the dying person to use her remaining time to continue on her journey—to let go of attachments and distractions, and at the same time to hold what is truly meaningful.
In terms of our own practice, when we ourselves come to die, we can remain in the space between holding on and letting go. In that space, you are not trying to get rid of anything or force anything to happen. Instead, you are being present with experience, whatever it is, as it arises and falls. Things go, accept that, be with what is. Being present is the best way of letting go, and, curiously, as we let go we become more present. It may even be possible, as Trungpa Rinpoche suggested, to die with curiosity, and to breathe our last breath without expectation or regret.
Judy Lief is a Buddhist teacher, a close student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and the author of Making Friends with Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality. She lives in Vermont with her husband, Chuck, and her dog, Jasper.
Image: Vulture, Angelo Filomeno, 2004, embroidery on silk shantung stretched over linen with crystals and garnets, 116 x 80 inches. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND MARIANNE BOESKY GALLERY, NEW YORK
Obviously, letting go is more than just relaxation. It is relaxation based on being in tune with the environment, the world. One of the important principles of letting go is living in the challenge. But this does not mean living with a constant crisis. For example, suppose your banker calls and says that your account is overdrawn, and the same day your landlord tells you that you are about to be evicted for failing to pay your rent. To respond to this crisis, you get on the telephone and call all your friends to see if you can borrow enough money to avert the crisis. Living in the challenge is not based on responding to extraordinary demands that you have created for yourself by failing to relate to the details of your life. For the warrior, every moment is a challenge to be genuine, and each challenge is delightful. When you let go properly, you can relax and enjoy the challenge.
From Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chögyam Trungpa; ©1984. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Undivided Mind

A very helpful article for Dhamma practitioners. Interesting to notice how of late the articles that appeared seems to be guiding me towards a certain direction.

Undivided Mind

Becoming Whole
By Rodney Smith

Over the last half-century, Buddhist practices in the West have grown in popularity. Mindfulness has become associated with stress reduction, enhanced immunological protection, psychological well-being, and profound states of happiness. In many cases, mindfulness has been uncoupled from the Buddha’s teaching altogether and is a stand-alone cognitive therapy for the treatment of various mental difficulties, from depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The term anatta, which means “no [permanently abiding] self or soul,” is at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching, but with our Western emphasis on psychological health it is perhaps inevitable that this essential aspect of the teaching is downplayed or even avoided. Emptiness, after all, stands in opposition to many of our most important values such as self-reliance, individual initiative, and the pursuit of pleasure. We want the contentment and happiness promised by the Buddha, but with “me” fully stabilized and intact.
This selective approach to Buddhism would seem to allow the best of both the Eastern and Western worlds. We can use the techniques and practices that serve our immediate purpose without asking the deeper spiritual questions concerning our very existence. Best of all, the methods work, and the benefits of greater mindfulness dramatically affect both our mental health and the ease of our life.
The story would end happily here, except that there is a rub when we pare back the dharma, the Buddha’s teaching. Externally we see the earth’s environment eroding before our eyes, the population soaring, and our natural resources diminishing. We see unparalleled greed and anger forming greater divisions within an evershrinking planet. At a time when the world pleads for kindness and compassion, we see cultures continuing their ancient bickering while forgetting their shared heritage.
Internally our problems continue as well. We hurt, and we do not understand why. Fear, desire, and grief fill our life. Our psychological sophistication should solve our problems, but therapies and self-improvement methods do not seem to diminish our isolation and separation. We would like to feel compassion for all beings, but our own problems are so demanding that we have little time to include others in our heart. We try to compensate for these shortcomings with more socially engaged activities, but we find that our motivation is often based in righteousness, which further divides the world.
Through all our techniques and procedures, the sense-of-I remains the cornerstone of our existence. When we look at our experience, we appear to be the center of the universe. All experiences seem to confirm our central place in life, and every input is interpreted through the lens of self. We hear about the corrupted power of the ego but seem unable to shake off this ever-present sense-ofme. Its authority seems absolute; most of us eventually acquiesce to its rule, and we engage our dharma practice carrying the sense-ofme along within our spiritual development.
Many of us incorporate a gentler and kinder spiritual “me” into our practice, which is in opposition to the worldly “me,” the troublemaking twin that needs a resolution. We then play the familiar theme of divide and conquer, pitting our spiritual ideals against our worldly reactions. Eventually we see that calling the ego different names serves to strengthen its overall grip and control, which inevitably leads to greater pain and ill will.
Some of us pursue the path of wisdom to weaken the ego’s influence, and we have genuine insights into the ego’s insubstantiality, but we may return from those revelations with the power and force of “me” very much intact. The ego has a way of claiming reference to its own demise by saying, “Oh, I just had an experience of my own emptiness.” No matter what we do, no matter how many revelations we have regarding our true nature, we still seem to organize the world around the basic premise that “I” am in here looking out at everything else. At some point the sincere dharma practitioner realizes that as long as the “I” is the governing force behind thoughts and emotions, then our internal world will be filled with abstract arguments and the external world will be laden with conflict and struggle. We begin to further understand that the cause of our suffering is not what we do but the way we perceive, and until this obstacle is addressed, all actions of body, speech, and mind will predictably reinforce our old perceptions of self and other, problem and solution, and limitation and freedom.

Spiritual practice is stepping out of the assumed reality of “me” by understanding what the “me” is and withdrawing energy from its perceptual fixations. The Buddha made the realization and integration of anatta central to his teaching—we are without separate existence; that is a fact. When we align all our practices and efforts with this fact, the spiritual path becomes quite simple and transforms everything we do. All the monasteries, renunciations, restraints, skillful means, full-lotus posture, and nose-tip awareness, all of it, has only this intended purpose. We must be very careful not to carry the assumption of separation to the practices that have the intended purpose of stepping out of self-deception. If we do, we will be reinforcing our egoic conditioning and move in the opposite direction from the freedom of the Buddha.
Much of my early practice carried this contradiction. My heart genuinely sought the truth, but I conceived of freedom as a very long and arduous process that needed focused determination and hard work. My efforts were directed toward surmounting myself. “I” was the problem, and “I” would apply effort toward resolving the difficulty of “me.” Often my teachers spoke of lifetimes necessary to achieve awakening and the long cultivation of mental qualities that freedom depended on. I thought of freedom as something that I was working toward but that was not accessible now.
After a few years of strenuous retreating, I ordained as a Buddhist monk and went on a pilgrimage to Bombay in January 1980, to visit the renowned sage Nisargadatta Maharaj. I had known of him years earlier through his book I Am That. After a few days of bantering back and forth about my attachment to being a monk, he said, “You are like a man holding a flashlight, trying to run beyond its beam. The view you are holding…is undermining your intent.”
“You don’t understand Buddhism,” I retorted.
“You do not understand the truth,” he replied.
I was righteous, but he was right, and his message stuck. As the days unfolded, I lost my arrogance and my identification with the Buddhist robes, leaving me naked and exposed. By directly pointing to the truth, Nisargadatta destroyed my spiritual structure, purpose, and frame of reference. In their absence, something awoke with an upsurge of energy that seemed impossible to contain. It exploded with the revelation of what the Buddha was pointing to: The path that Nisargadatta revealed was not a search but a find, not a struggle but an abiding, not a cultivation but something intrinsic to all. I had been committed to the long-enduring mind of practice but not the essence, not the inherent freedom that was immediately available. From this vantage point, there seemed far too much methodology in the Buddhism I had been practicing and not enough release.
he Buddha’s Eightfold Path can either build upon or dismantle the sense-of-self, depending upon how we use it. When aligned within its proper orientation, the path appears like a perfectly formed diamond, each facet complimenting the beauty of the whole. After my meeting with Nisargadatta, the Buddha’s teaching became breathtaking in its simplicity and elegance. The entire path was, and had always been, accessible. Prolonged retreats in silence or conversations over dinner had the same reference point. Nothing was ever at odds with its opposite. Every practice and action had its place and appropriate time, but never contradicted or enhanced what was already there. Everything was perfectly together, and every movement arose from that perfection.
This was the beginning of my understanding of lay Buddhism. A lay Buddhist is one who fully embodies his or her entire life of work, family, and relationships without spiritually prioritizing any activity. From this perspective all moments are equally precious, and whether we are practicing formal meditation on retreat or showing up for ordinary moments of our lay life, freedom is never diminished. The unequivocal resolve not to move away from where we are is essential. Once we abandon the belief that there is a more spiritually useful moment than the one we are in, we have embraced our life and infused it with the energy for awakening.
There are three impediments to lay Buddhist practice. The first is the belief that monasticism and long retreats are the only way to realize one’s true nature. In Asia monasteries have served as the central training ground for aspiring Buddhist practitioners, and because of this strong history within a monastic tradition, much of Buddhism is derived from that formal culture. Now, as the Buddhist tradition settles in the West, monasteries have played a diminishing role in the training and teaching of Buddhism, and in their place residential retreat centers have formed as substitute monasteries. The lay Western Buddhist often undertakes intensive training during residential retreats, which last from a few days to several months, much as their predecessors did within monasteries in previous centuries. All of this has given rise to an emphasis on a silent, secluded life as being central to Buddhist training.

For a few people, a full lifetime as a monastic or living many years on retreat is a wise direction. Each of us has a unique spiritual design that pulls us toward freedom. The problem arises when we listen to others for our direction, or think we “should” do something because others have done it in the past. Spiritual growth is a fine-tuning of our ear to the needs of our heart.
What obscures this understanding in many of us is the belief that the silent retreat is a priority over other expressions of life. When we believe we are not where we need to be for spiritual growth, we relegate our daily life to a secondary tier. We energetically pull out of our spiritual life and wait for the appropriate secluded moment in order to fully engage. Leaning toward or away from any experience creates an anticipation of fulfillment in the future, and the sacred that exists here and now is lost. Discovering the sacred within all moments is the hallmark of awakening.
We often feel our everyday existence is a distraction from our spiritual intention. When this happens, life is divided between the sacred and mundane, and the mind pits one concept against the other. But belief shapes reality, and if the belief is maintained that the sacred lies somewhere else other than Now, our spiritual life will be governed by that limitation. The truth is that the sense-of-self is not separate from the moment in which it is arising, any more than the sense-of-self is outside the mind that it thinks it possesses. In fact, realizing the undivided mind also heals the dualistic notion of “me” being outside the moment.
We cannot delay fully embracing the moment. To do so maintains the divisions within the mind, the division between the mind and the body, and the division between the organism and its environment. All divisions are attempts to keep us from the truth of what is right here. When this is understood by the sincere practitioner, there can be no more hesitation, no more postponement, and no more pulling back and waiting for a more opportune time. It is literally now or never.
Suddenly the Buddha is found in the middle of relationships, work, and family, within all activities, reactions, thoughts, and emotional responses. Nothing is outside Now, because no boundary is drawn to separate Now from then. The message of the Buddha is equally relevant in all locations and at all times. Until this is fully realized and until there is no movement to escape this environment for a better spiritual setting, we will continue to suffer.
The second way in which lay Buddhist practice is impeded is through misunderstanding the teaching of the long-enduring mind. Buddhism is full of metaphors of time that disarm us. “You have cried more tears than the waters of the great oceans,” says the Buddha, speaking of our endless lifetimes in terms of inconceivable numbers.
I have heard some students express hopelessness with these numbers. They interpret the metaphors to mean that it takes endless reincarnations to achieve freedom. I believe the Buddha uses these analogies to point toward patience. The numbers he uses are so vast that he seems to be taking time away, but he certainly is not discouraging our efforts. When time is removed, so is the future expectation of what and when something might occur. Anticipation is actually counterproductive to the practice, because by waiting to be fulfilled in the future, we drift away from what is immediately present.
Perhaps the Buddha’s use of time is also an attempt to motivate us out of complacency. Through these analogies he seems to be pointing out that if we do nothing, nothing will change, and we will spend endless lifetimes lost in our divided mind. These examples are a call toward urgency—but it is an urgency moderated with patience. Patience is essential on the spiritual path, but delay is not. Patience invites the timeless back in, and practicing becomes a waking game, not a waiting game, because patience is the state of full wakefulness.
The most important understanding for a lay Buddhist is the immediate availability of awakening. Awakening need not arrive after a long, protracted practice history unless we believe that this is necessary. We deliberately delay our readiness because we are divided about what we really want. We practice until we are tired of preparing for what has always existed here and now, then we become quiet and surrender.
The question of readiness is really a question of intentionality. Do we want this or not? If we do, we have to look squarely at our competing interests. We can use our time most skillfully by observing the value and limitation of our opposing desires. A fully engaged lay life allows continuous feedback regarding those interests. Most of us indulge our desires rather than learn about their limitations, but that learning opportunity is always present. Again, it is the sincerity of the student that will determine whether her life is a hindrance or a support to her spiritual growth.
A third way a lay approach to spiritual fulfillment can be impeded is by investing the sacred within particular practices and conditions. When I was younger, I followed the example of an experiment once performed by Krishnamurti: I placed a rock that held no special significance on my mantel and bowed to it each day. I did this deliberately to see whether I could infuse a unique quality into something completely ordinary, simply by incorporating the rock within a morning ritual. At the end of a month, the rock held a special, holy place in my perception.
The Buddha statue, the zafu [cushion] we sit upon, the saintly picture or poem, the states of mind accessed in meditation, solitude, or even nature itself, can all become accentuated beyond the ordinary by infusing them with special attention. When we invest the sacred into specific conditions, we feel spiritual only when we are having those experiences. The rest of life goes spiritually unnoticed.
Spiritual forms and rituals can be very helpful in focusing our intention and providing a doorway to the sacredness of all life. They can awaken a sensitivity of heart and allow our mind to become quiet. Forms and rituals become a problem when they stop representing a gateway into oneself and become an exclusive presentation of the sacred, such as the belief that the only way to commune with God is by going to church or taking a walk in nature, or that the only way to meditate is to be alone in quiet surroundings. When we think of rituals and forms as the only way to access the sacred, the rest of our life is placed on spiritual hold. The lay Buddhist begins to recover the sacred in the most remote areas of life, in the midst of difficulty and dissatisfaction, loneliness and despair. The reality of problems is challenged and investigated, and life begins to thrive free of circumstances and conditions. The heart takes over and is resurrected from the conditioned habits of mind.
The lay Buddhist harbors no defense, seeks no shelter, and avoids no conflict for the resolution of wholeness. It is here in the middle of our total involvement that this alchemy of spirit can best be engaged. Our life becomes focused around this transformation as our primary intention for living. We find everything we need immediately before us within the circumstances and conditions we long begrudged ourselves. Spiritual growth becomes abundantly available and is no longer associated exclusively with any particular presentation of form. 

Rodney Smith
 is the founding and guiding teacher of the Seattle Insight Meditation Society and a guiding teacher of the Insight Meditation Society, Barre, Massachusetts. He leads classes and retreats throughout the United States. He is also the author of Lessons from the Dying, a book that grew out of the many years he spent in hospice work.