Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon

The Buddha was born Siddhartha Gautama, a prince of the Sakya tribe of Nepal, in approximately 566 BC. When he was twenty nine years old, he left the comforts of his home to seek the meaning of the suffering he saw around him. After six years of arduous yogic training, he abandoned the way of self-mortification and instead sat in mindful meditation beneath a bodhi tree in Bodhgaya.

On the full moon of May, with the rising of the morning star, Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha, the enlightened one.

The Buddha wandered the plains of northeastern India for 45 years more, teaching the path or Dharma he had realized in that moment. Around him developed a community or Sangha of monks and, later, nuns, drawn from every tribe and caste, devoted to practicing this path. In approximately 486 BC, at the age of 80, the Buddha died.

His last words are said to be . . .
Impermanent are all created things; strive on with diligence.


:: Tonight a luminous full moon will rise in Bodhgaya.
:: It is the final night of the year, and decade.
:: We'll be doing a Medicine Buddha puja and then a robe offering ceremony in the moonlight at the Mahabodhi Stupa (both traditional full moon practices).
:: Above India will be a lunar eclipse beginning shortly after midnight.

Really, there’s nothing I can add to this, except to wish all a joyous New Year, so am stopping my finger now.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Re-entering Bodhgaya

Sadly and joyfully, the Chittamani Tara retreat ended today at lunch. It is incredible how quickly it went, seven full days, it seems like two.

For those of you who have been reading along over the past week, I think you know that for me this was at times as much of a confrontation as it was a retreat, perhaps it’s best labeled a retreat into confrontation. That said, it was a great experience, grueling and rewarding; Khensur Rinpoche is simply wonderful, he is such a kind and wise teacher, traditionally Tibetan, and oh my gosh, those eyes . . . those of us who participated were aware from the beginning that we were sharing in a most precious aspect of Precious Human Rebirth, and we never lost that awareness.

So I come out of the retreat with a newly planted mind-resident, Tara, who is going to be extraordinary to have along for the ride (I suspect she's going to be driving at times). I like her, and I think she likes me. She'll have to be properly fed and nourished, and I think I understand how, what and when to feed her. I look forward to nurturing her, and introducing her to all the wonderful folks back in Florida.


I've been in retreats before, and it is always a little jarring to emerge and re-enter the world. This was certainly true today as I went into town to run some errands. This place is crazy, bursting with energy!!

As you know, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is arriving next week for five days of teachings beginning on Jan. 5. There is a huge tent-like structure that has been built for the teachings, it is in an enormous field known as the Kalachakra Fields, named that after His Holiness gave the Kalachakra initiation there years ago.

This is not New York or Atlanta or Denver, where His Holiness' presence would be noted by many but be just another event in town. This is Bodhgaya, the place of the Buddha's enlightenment, the most significant Buddhist site on the planet, and it is turning into what is clearly going to be "Dalai Lama-ville." I can't imagine the extraordinary love and respect and admiration that are going to be flowing through the collective mindstream of this town. Talk about psychedelic!!

One needs a pass to attend the teachings, the passes are free, you just need to have a passport and two passport-sized photos. There was a huge line for monks (there are already thousands of monks in town for the Karmapa’s teachings, which end tomorrow) but the line for foreigners was short. After about 20 minutes I had my pass.

From there it was to my favorite eating place in town, a tent restaurant named Mohammed’s, for a plate of potato/cheese momos and a cold Coke. Ran into a Swedish friend there, it was nice catching up.

Then a quick visit to the ATM to get some rupees followed by a cup of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice at a roadside stand – the seeds squeezed while you watch, it's completely delicious and costs 20 rupees, about 40 cents. This is living!

The walk back to where I am staying is about 30 minutes, about a mile either along the main road or a little longer through the neighborhood streets and fields. That was my route, it was my first time along that way since I was here two years ago and it hasn’t changed . . . chickens, buffalo, ducks, cows, pigs, naked kids running all over, people outside, sweeping, chopping vegetables, etc. Amidst all the dharma-energy, on the back roads Bodhgaya is still just a Bihari Indian village, simple and beautiful.

I can’t begin to describe how happy I am to be back here, in this most holy of places. There is such energy, the place is filing up, there are lamas and monks and nuns in their beautifully colored robes; vendors everywhere, the road is jammed with bikes and rickshaws and tuk-tuks and busses, all with monks hanging off, shouting to friends, being joyous. Chai stands, chipatis being cooked over open fire, saffron and gold robes, Tibetans, Asians, Westerners, horns honking, colors, smells, dust, complete joyous chaos. It is impossible to keep your heart from singing (why would you want to?)

Tonight is just kinda hangin’ out, doing some writing until 9:30pm (about 30 minutes from now) when I’m going to meet some fellow retreatants in the gompa to do the Tara Sadhana together.

Tomorrow will be a little bit of a sleep-in (meditation at 6:45 rather than prostrations at 6:00) and then into town for some reflective time at the Mahabodhi Stupa, and who knows what else. There is a full moon tomorrow, New Year’s eve, and we’ll be doing a Medicine Buddha puja followed by some prayers and chants to the Dharma Protectors.

I say with all honesty and humility, right here, right now, to me this is the best place on the planet to be. And as wonderful as the “outer” is, it pales by comparison to what is happening in the “inner.” My mind is soaring, I am so unbelievably fortunate to be experiencing this perfectly lovely existence, lotus flowers in my brain, woken up and alive and excited; if I can bring back just a piece of this joy to share with all back home . . .


As one decade turns to the next, a very noteworthy passage of time, the words of the great Kagyu lama Kalu Rinpoche: “In this world, every second, someone dies and someone is born. This world is constantly changing. In this world, human beings experience many kinds of phenomena, however they all have to undergo birth, old age, illness and death. Everything is impermanent. Always keep this in mind. It is essential.”

May everyone reading this have the most wonderful and auspicious of New Years, and please remember to include the cultivation of bodhicitta in your New Year resolutions, especially the ones you’ll keep!

Ok, stopping the finger now. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The kindness of our . . . fathers

Today would have been my father’s 81st birthday had he not passed away during his 79th year. I mention this as a result of the confession prostrations we do early each morning, with our parents and others visualized as being with us in the gompa, along with friends, strangers, Bodhisattvas, Buddhas, etc. There he’s been, each day front-and-center in my mind amidst quite a grand crowd.

While this retreat, which concludes tomorrow, is not about resolving deeply planted personal issues but rather cultivating the mind of wisdom in which bodhicitta arise, you've got to deal with what comes. And, no surprise, after being in the works for a few days, a once tightly-sealed lid blew sky-high today.

As many of you know, intense appreciation of the special kindness of our parents, and particularly our mothers, has a very special role in the Tibetan traditions of Buddhist practice. This is difficult for many Westerners, who have had a rocky relationship with one or both parents, so much so that I’ve heard when the Tibetan lamas returned to India after having first visited the West, particularly America, they sadly reported being caught most off-guard by how so many Westerners see their parents as the source of their deepest problems.


There have been three “father figures” in my life, one natural, the other two from marriage. All three were significant in vastly different ways, all three are now dead.

My own father and I had a spotty relationship. He was a simple man, a hard-working factory worker, the son of immigrants who grew up in the Bronx with a mind full of issues.

In the American get-what-you-can game, he was eclipsed by his younger brother, who became a successful executive, building and managing strip-malls and apartment complexes throughout the United States. My father smoked incessantly and defiantly, even though he knew it was not healthy, and there was also an alcohol problem, especially when surrounded by family members. I don't know why this was so, what he was running from, I suspect it was partly perpetuated by the fact that he was married to a woman who did not respect him. Perhaps she loved him at one point, but never in my memory.

I remember when I was 18 years old, my father called me into his room, asked me to sit down and told me that his and my mother’s marriage was over. This happened at night, with the lights off, in complete darkness, both of us sitting on a bed. He couldn’t look me in the eye, couldn’t bring himself to connect with me intimately, even in that moment of scorching pain. After 10 minutes, not knowing what to say, I was dismissed.

Through the years we had many fallings-out, some quite serious, many of them caused by my reactions to what and why he was doing what he did, and by the end of his life I had put him into my past. Although just a few hours drive away, I was not there with him when he died. Having already slammed the lid tightly, when his funeral was held in New York, I did not attend.


My first father-in-law was an Italian-American, also the son of immigrants. He was a mechanical genius, a gritty, feisty, fiercely opinionated, passionate railroader, the proud engineer of the first high-speed Amtrak (it was Conrail then) Metroliner between New York City and Washington, D.C. He loved the railroad, having served in the rail corps in Europe during World War II, and took great pride talking about his friend and regular train rider Senator Joe, who would take him into the Senate cafeteria where they’d have Yankee Bean Soup together. This was almost 30 years ago, Senator Joe is now the vice president of the United States.

He was a great guy, zany and unpredictable, who would, laughing loudly, break into a silly little Italian jig when he was happy. He was also a loving father-in-law to this long-haired kid who, with his liberal ideas and outlooks was so vastly different from him. I believe when his daughter and I divorced, which was my doing, it broke his heart. In the years after, we never contacted one another and I was not around to witness his health decline, which was quite severe and drawn-out. I consider this a blessing, preserving his healthy image in my mind’s eye. When he passed, his funeral church was packed with people. I had loved him, but knowing I had so painfully disappointed him and preferring to keep the memory of that away from the family, I was not one of the attendees.


Father-in-law number two I never met, but he had a significant impact as well.

He was a mid-western ob/gyn who was much loved in his community. Apparently he was not only a fine doctor, but was a bit of a ladies-man; there was much talk and a posthumous lawsuit involving allegations of illegal prescriptions for a patient he was sleeping with (he was found innocent).

What was clear was that my second wife, his youngest of three daughters, was enamored with him. When he committed suicide one night, without leaving even a note to explain why, express love or say goodbye, the abandonment left a hole in her heart that I believe affected her both short- and long-term in several significant and difficult ways. I, almost completely self-absorbed in my own difficulties, a preta in our relationship, was of no help at all. The seeds of divorce had been planted, years later they blossomed.


In our Mahayana tradition -- understanding that we have had countless rebirths, through which all beings have (many times) been our mother -- we generate the mind of equanimity toward all, and from that emerges the “special attitude” toward sentient beings by remembering the love of our parents, and in particular our dear precious mothers.

We remember with immeasurable appreciation how in this life our mother suffered the discomfort of pregnancy, carried us and through great pain birthed us and suckled us and nurtured us and protected us and lost endless nights of sleep for us. We do not forget how they put us first and foremost in those days of our infancy, when, if not for their unending love and kindness, we would have perished. And there's so much more.

Wonderful to realize, fantastic to contemplate, heart-opening to meditate upon, and again, mindful that all sentient beings have been our mothers, so precious to infuse with gratitude into the intentions and actions of our everyday lives.

But we can talk more about our precious mothers another day, this one is, I suggest, for our fathers.

I am sure my father never heard of Bodhgaya, and probably thought of Buddhism (if he thought of it at all) as something weird and foreign, probably other-worldly. But here sits his son, a student of Buddhism, using dharma practice -- the best tool I know -- to work through some of the issues I put between us.

I’m sharing this writing because we all have fathers, or have had fathers, or are fathers, or were fathers, or will one day be fathers. And our father’s love and caring has been a fundamental aspect of the mechanics of our lives. Yes, they may have had flaws, there may be some things they did or do we don’t understand, they may not meet or have met our expectations, they may have even caused some damage. We may even feel anger and hatred toward them.

But with understanding, compassion and forgiveness for them will arise. And this is not an understanding primarily through your mental filters, but theirs. Understanding their frailties, their pressures, their kleshas, their karma, their suffering.

This may not be easy, but try your best to empty and then reflect. Do so, and some wonderful benefits may be realized, including forgiveness for yourself. So often we get stubborn because we feel guilt over a situation we feel too uncomfortable to change. Engage in this practice; regrets may remain, but through forgiveness the weight of guilt will begin to disappear.

And then, use the forgiveness to bring you to a mind of acceptance. Try to consider the extraordinary presence the father(s) has played in your life, and remember that all sentient beings were, in previous lifetimes, your fathers too. This is an extraordinarily powerful practice.

If you’re a father, or will be one day, please try to see and be mindful, from your children's side, of that most crucial role you play in their lives.

Really think about this, try to fully understand it without the contaminants of your own self-centered viewpoints and afflictions.

Whether directed at your father(s), your children or both, honor them by honoring the special presence of "father." Then take the essence of that honor, the appreciation and gratitude, and turn it inside-out, doing your best to manifest it in a meaningful way for every being you encounter.

This is the Mahayana Buddhist path. The uniquely precious kindness of our parents is recognized, appreciated, and repaid without discrimination to sentient beings everywhere.

As for my father, maybe now, for the first time, I don’t see him, or us, exclusively from my own deluded self-cherishing side. The lid, I believe, is off for good.

I smile with a small tear in my eye as I realize I needed to travel half-way around the world to get this view, to be able to say, sincerely for the first time in many years, maybe forever, with hands folded and head bowed, Happy birthday, Dad.

Stopping the finger now, thanks for reading.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Paradox

We live in a world of sound bites . . . . advertising jingles, campaign slogans, song verses, news headlines, logos, late-night joke punch-lines, sayings we repeat to ourselves, tweets, jargon, avatars, etc. Some people resort to tattooing messages on their bodies, others adorn the walls of their homes, computer screens and t-shirts with them. Messages, messages and more messages.

So forgive me for adding one more, this is a well-known one, and is, I believe, a message significantly worth remembering. It comes from the 8th century Indian master Shantideva:

All the joy the world contains
Has come through wishing happiness for others.
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.


An aspect of our retreat sadhana has been meditating on various concepts and ideas, most of which, when see through an understanding of emptiness of inherent existence, are quite illuminating.

As many of you know, the Buddha offered a very short teaching that has come to be known as the Four Immeasurables. In it, the Buddha suggests four aspirations with which to fill our mind, each is a wish for sentient beings’ love, happiness, joy and equanimity.

We have been paying particular attention to the words expressing our aspiration for immeasurable happiness, they are:
"How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings had happiness and the causes of happiness. May they have happiness and its causes. I myself will cause them to have happiness and their causes."

This is a very profound thought, and serves as the basis for the entire Mahayana Buddhist path.

To have the causes for happiness abiding in our mind implies that the causes for our unhappiness are not present. This unhappiness (often referred to in Buddhist-talk as suffering), as referred to by the Buddha is not of the type of a splinter in the foot or the sadness one feels at the death of a loved one.

Rather, it is the everyday discontent, the every moment discontent we live with as a result of our ignorance, and our resultant desires. (No major discussion of suffering here, many Chenrezig Projecteers cups’ still runeth over from our recent Lam-rim Middle Scope studies of suffering.)

The point is this, and it is such a simple paradox that when one realizes it they cry out (or in) in amazement: as the Buddha said, as Shantideva said, as Tsong-Kha-Pa said, as the Dalai Lama says all the time, if you want to be happy, cherish others. Any and all true happiness comes from wishing (and skillfully acting to help manifest) happiness for others.

The discontent, unhappiness, depression, bad moods, anger, frustration, we feel stems from wanting pleasure (or in other words, "our way") for ourselves. We even try to make others happy "our way" as opposed to what would be most beneficial for them.

Think about this, contemplate, meditate; look at recent events in your life and see where the happiness and/or lack of happiness stemmed from.

This understanding is the most powerful antibiotic for the mind, manifest it and you will weaken and ultimately destroy the ability for your self-centered delusions, the bacteria that infects the clear mind, to harm you. It has changed the life of many, and it may change yours.


So, if this sounds like it might have some truth to it, try this . . . later tonight or tomorrow morning, after you’ve thought about this, and I mean "really" thought about it . . . set aside some time to think of making others happy. What might make them happy, what it would feel like to make them happy, how they would react to being happy. (Of course, remembering that happiness comes from thinking of others, so we’re not necessarily talking about a red Porsche or flattering talk.)

Set aside a reasonable amount of time, don’t bite off too much . . . an hour would be fantastic, as would 30 minutes, 2 minutes or even 30 seconds. Just try it.

Don’t listen to your ego, which may tell you quite convincingly this is all a silly game -- the ego does not like others truly being put before it, and its going to try to fill you with doubt. The ego knows you better than anyone, knows which buttons to push. Recognize it when it comes, and just say, "no thanks."

You may already be living a life in which you are extraordinarily generous, if so, that’s fantastic. Keep it up, but try this as well. Just move your own concerns our of the equation and focus on the happiness of others. Just a reasonable amount of time, deliberately focused on the happiness of others.

It won't cost a dime, you can do it anywhere, and is really wonderful (and for beginners a little tough sometimes) to do it when you are with others. See how this makes you feel, this focused thinking of others’ happiness before considering or striving for your own pleasure.

Play with it. Have fun with it.

Take Shantideva's verse, tape it to your bathroom mirror, and read it while you brush your teeth each morning. This is more than a sound bite; you may find a whole new type of happiness emerging, one that is clear and joyful and light and bursting with energy. It's there, in your own mind right now, just waiting to be realized. Dig it out.

Stopping my finger now, thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A new responsibility

You know how it is when you are having a guest stay at your home for awhile, you make sure they have a clean place to sleep, there’s ample food, you don’t make any plans to be away or that would exclude them during their visit, you drive them where they need to be, etc. In other words, you take on the responsibility of caring for them, and their comfort and happiness become foremost in your mind.

Well, as of this morning’s teachings, at the midpoint of this retreat, I had the stunning realization that I have a full-time visitor, not in my home or neighborhood, but much more intimately . . . in my mind. Actually, visitor is not the right word, I search for a better one . . . how about, for now, “active permanent resident”?

Her name is Tara. She is a meditational deity or yidam. She is many, many things, for purposes of this writing, let’s just say she is the aspect of ultimate wisdom, represented through the intermediary of the form aspect, or Tara.

Access to the actualization of Tara was enabled by Khensur Rinpoche, who as a blessing granted this empowerment. In retreat, I/we have spent the past three days working on the motivations and meditative “techniques” to visualize and realize her unbelievable blessings of purification, leading directly to the ability to more actually realize wisdom and bodhicitta, aided, of course, by a healthy dose of awareness of emptiness; in fact, she arises from the emptiness.

There’s a lot to this, it seems as though a whole new luminous "thing" is emerging. Until this morning it had all been very new and somewhat abstract, but this morning, bam, I got it, loud and clear.

I don’t have my arms around it yet, am not sure I ever can. But there’s something new, it is powerful, it is wonderful, and it has begun to arrive. It has been abiding deep in my mind for a very long time, and here in Bodhgaya it trusted enough to allow itself to be realized. Its caution was warranted, it is enormously precious. I will work to be a nurturing host.

Am not really sure what else to say. For now, let’s just call it a new -- and fantastic -- responsibility.

Stopping the finger, thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Advanced Course(?)

Some of you may remember when Geshe-la came to visit us in Yalaha a while back, and offered refuge to those who were ready to take it.

In preparing for this event, I asked his attendant Lois about the vows he expected those taking refuge to accept; it is fairly common practice for one to take all (or some, depending on the lama) of the five lay vows: vows to protect our minds against intentions and actions of killing, stealing, lying, taking intoxicants and engaging in unwise (i.e., harmful to anyone) sexual activity.

Lois indicated that Geshe-la would include these vows as part of each person’s taking of refuge

So, it was surprising when Geshe-la not only didn’t offer the vows, but said quite clearly that he wouldn’t accept the vows from anyone there for a period of years, that it would take that long for the vows to manifest the intended meaning in the mind, and therefore be beneficial.

This came to mind early this morning during Tara sadhana, and I found myself (perhaps) gaining an insight into Geshe-la’s intentions.

*** *** ***

Many of you know of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who is, more than just about anyone, recognized as the individual who shaped the face of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. He was a brilliant and innovative teacher who was unique among his generation of Tibetans in his understanding of Western culture and his ability to adapt traditional teachings to the needs and experiences of his Western students.

Despite his enormous success and unquestionable spiritual abilities, Trungpa Rinpoche, who passed in 1987 the age of forty-nine, remains a controversial figure. A husband and father, Trungpa openly had sex with his students, smoked and drank heavily enough to be classified as an alcoholic by many who knew him.

To most of his students, Trungpa’s unconventional behavior was as much a part of his teachings as his dharma talks. But for others with more conventional Western expectations about the way a spiritual teacher should behave, Trungpa remains a puzzle that will almost certainly never be unravelled.

Trungpa would traditionally start off new American students with a stern warning about the dangers and pitfalls of the spiritual path, and especially about what he called spiritual materialism – a term that soon became part of the vocabulary of Western Buddhists of all traditions:

Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality, we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.

*** *** ***

This is, to my mind, the advanced course. Teachings, visualizations, sadhanas, realizations, meditations, insights, refuge, dharma, sangha, are all so beautiful and wonderful, but it is so very important to at all times watch that they are ultimately tearing down “me” structures rather than building new ones. Not building, in Trungpa's words, "spiritual materialism." The end result is to get TO our Buddha-nature, not build our own individual version of it.

Tricky stuff, and I am working on how to maneuver my way through it.

I remember Ram Dass saying something along the lines that “you have to be something before you can flip it into becoming nothing.”

Well, maybe that’s the path – to learn and grow and build our spiritual self, and then, when it becomes who and what we are, that then becomes the target of transformation. Perhaps that is the intermediate step between being asleep and awake.

This implies a mindful working with the ego, allowing it to grow somewhat, but keeping it under watchful eye . . . kind of how we fill a bicycle tire with air . . . carefully . . . just enough to get it to where it works most efficiently to get us where we are going, but not so much that it over-inflates, bubbles and pops.

And once properly inflated but not overly so, we use it, in fact we ride it hard over a very rough and prickly path, being mindful to make sure, as Trungpa says, to avoid the sidetracks that the arrogance of over-inflation will lead us toward.

And then, when we arrive at our destination, we no longer need the bicycle.

*** *** ***

I believe this is what Geshe-la was aware of when he refused to inflate our ego(s) – people he did not know -- with the high-mindedness of refuge vows. A teaching in its own right, as most everything is if you just see it that way.

So it is on a retreat; time and space to plumb, and (hopefully) see where our work really lies . . . so many fantastic questions . . . am stopping my finger now, thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Test your limits . . .

"Happiness comes from cherishing others"Lama Zopa Rinpoche


Christmas morning, just finished breakfast, feel as though I’ve already put in a full day with prostrations and a long Tara sadhana . . . visions of Christmas morning, gift giving, love, gratitude, appreciation dancing around in mind . . . a special time.

I'd like to share a brief story with you . . .

As those of you who have been to the Chenrezig Project gompa (aka, my home) know, I am a nest-maker, there’s many “things” scattered about, some of them quite meaningful to me. I like to collect "stuff" . . .

The other day I was sitting at the Mahabodhi Stupa, around the back, under the spreading branches of the Bodhi tree. There are very few leaves falling from the tree this time of year, and when they do they are in much demand, people actually look up waiting for them to fall, and then race to be in best position to gather it up. For a Buddhist, there probably isn’t a more precious keepsake than a leaf from the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya. And in the days I had visited the tree, I had not seen a trace of a fallen leaf.

I was reciting a mala of Shakyamuni Buddha mantra (Tadyatha Om Muni Muni Maha Muniye Svaha), as I completed the mala I opened my eyes, and at that moment a leaf from the tree landed on the ground in front of me. Unbelievable.

I bent over and picked it up and studied it for a moment, it was green-turning-brown, not too large, perfectly formed. What a gift to bring home and place on our altar, heck, an heirloom in the making . . .

I then noticed a Thai nun walking in my direction, absorbed in practice she stopped at the site of the tree’s base, underneath which is the Vajra Seat where the Buddha sat and awoke, and as many people do she stopped, pressed her forehead against the altar spot, and prayed. After a few moments she continued on.

As she approached and we made eye contact, I reached out the leaf in offering. She looked at it, and then at me, and I said, “here, this just fell from the tree, it was meant for you.”

Smiling broadly she took the leaf and thanked me, and continued her slow thoughtful kora around the Stupa. Each time she came back around, holding the leaf delicately in front of her, she shared a smile. And more.


I’m not telling this story to pat myself on the back publicly, in fact, I hesitated in mentioning it. But today is Christmas, the day of giving and receiving gifts, and this moment under the tree keeps coming up, in a way that opens my heart each time it arises in my mind.

The Buddha was spot-on when he named the perfection of generosity as the first of the perfections on the Bodhisattva path, it is from generosity that all the wonderful things we are capable of doing and being arise. It is the fertile ground on which happiness blossoms, and for me that moment of giving something so precious in order to make another being happy is like a jewel whose brilliance brightens my mind whenever I gaze upon it.

What a difference from what would have been the case had I taken the leaf and placed it in my book, safely in my possession. That self-cherishing act would have, by comparison, been dark and clinging. I see that so clearly.

So, conditions occur, the aggregates come together in a moment of mind, and a few seconds under the Bodhi tree with a stranger become an unforgettable dharma learning moment.

And what's the lesson? Giving up, giving in, just plain giving -- that’s the truly transformative experience. Generosity opens our heart, frees us from attachment and is the basis of all good qualities. It’s the foundation of the Buddhist path.

The Buddha said that a true spiritual life is not possible without a generous heart. Generosity is the very first paramita or quality of an awakened mind. The path begins there because of the joy that arises from a generous heart. Pure unhindered delight flows freely when we practice generosity. We experience joy in forming the intention to give, in the actual act of giving, and in recollecting the fact that we’ve given.

If we practice joyful giving, we experience confidence. We grow in self-esteem, self-respect and well-being because we continually test our limits. It is indeed a path worth walking.


Again, it’s Christmas morning. A great day to "think and be" generosity in each opportunity that arises, whether planned or not, and to be generous not just with things, but of your attention, your listening, your caring, your knowledge, your wisdom, your love, your karmic fruits, yourself. To family, friend, neighbor, pet, stranger, and yes, if the opportunity is there, even enemy. Test your limits.

If you have the karma to understand and learn how that engenders true happiness and joy in your heart, I believe you will have given yourself the most sensible and precious Christmas present you will ever receive.

Be merry . . . be generous.

Stopping the finger now, thanks for reading.

Christmas Eve 2009

It’s about 10pm; Day One -- the first full day of retreat -- has just come to an end.

Not so easy, we started at 6:00am with prostrations to the 35 Confession Buddhas (purification practice); following that was the first of four Chittamani Tara sadhanas (practices). Sandwiched between it all was a two-hour teaching (focusing on refuge and the Four Immeasurables) from Khensur Rinpoche, and breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The sadhanas are fantastic but not so easy to stay focused, there’s much prayer, visualization and meditation and the mind slowly wanders away from the object of attention when it gets tired. And it’s during the wandering that for me, with the mind open, so much comes up. Marriages. Children. People. Places. Events. All kinds of stuff.

With it being Christmas Eve, during tonight’s meditations there was an unplanned romp through Christmases past. I think sweet and heart-warming for many, for me, tonight, not so much.

Yes, there is sweetness, lovely images, so cute and warm and special and loving, but tonight they were heart-string connected to the pain (for all involved, especially the kids) of divorces and broken families and destroyed dreams. Ex-husband and "part-time dad" are forever. My regrets, my guilt. It may have all happened years ago, but here the lid is off and up it all comes, razor-sharp and pungent.

There’s a teacher, I believe it was Rajneesh, who said you’ve haven’t really meditated until you’ve cried . . .

So, in the swirling mist of it all I remember . . . mindfulness . . . go back to the visualization, Tara Tara Tara Mother Tara . . . utpala flowers in her hands . . . . delicate light robes and precious ornaments . . . the letter TAM radiating green light from her heart. So beautiful . . .

Next up from the dark recesses, the realizations of how many Christmases there have been. I am 57 years old, and many of my age are fond of saying that our fifties are the new thirties. But eighty is still eighty, and it isn’t so far away anymore.

Ahh, Tara . . . her liberating radiance flowing into my crown and throat and heart . . . Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha . . . again, so beautiful . . .


This is the essence of practice. Faith and mindfulness and confidence and attention are required to do this kind of work: to keep our mind in focus and concentration on aspects and qualities that are resident within and tremendously beneficial. It is, in a way, kind of a paradox of practice, how we sit through the pains and boredom and mental distractions, but we cannot expect anything.

Monkey mind. NYC-kid-from-Queens mind. Old guy’s mind full of memories and experiences. Rarely do we realize how utterly controlled we are by our thoughts.

But here I am in Bodghaya on Christmas eve, sitting with a group of dharma students from all around the world, telling myself: “Just do the practice, plant the seeds, learn how the mind works, recognize and dispel the kleshas, focus, visualize, nourish, enrich.”

So I inwardly smile, straighten my spine, let the thoughts go where they may, and with patience and love go back to nurturing Tara. There is no fixed way to be a human being, but there are consequences. This path resonates with me; I welcome the consequences.

"Changes in attitude never come easily," says the Dalai Lama, "their development is a wide, round curve that can be negotiated only slowly – not a sharp corner that can be turned all at once."

Happy Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Wednesday afternoon in Bodhgaya, breezy and cool. We’re in the process of retreat commencement, which gets underway for real in about two hours.

The retreat I’ll be participating in is Cittamani Tara, which is the highest yoga tantra aspect of the Tara manifestation. It is “under” Cittamani Tara that the various Taras abide, including the popular Green and White Taras.

This afternoon there will be a formal ceremony in which each of the retreatants will, under Rinpoche’s guidance, be granted the permission (i.e., empowerment) to take this retreat. Rinpoche (Khensur Rinpoche) is in the gompa now, with a small handful of monks, preparing it for the events to follow.

Last night was the first retreat-related event and it was quite wonderful. Rinpoche conferred the oral transmission of Tsong-Kha-Pa’s 14th century text The Principal Aspects of the Path on those in attendance.

An oral transmission is quite interesting, and precious.

As many of you know, the Principal Aspects of the Path is Tsong-Ka-Pa’s pithy description of the importance of renunciation (the mind that seeks liberation), bodhicitta and wisdom, these three teachings provide the essence of all the Buddha’s teachings. It is a short text (we’ve studied it at Chenrezig Project) consisting of 15 verses.

When a lama provides students with an oral transmission of a teaching, he is inviting the students to join the lineage of the teaching, and he both reads and explains the text as he knows it to be best understood -- his intention is to transfer and implant the meaning of the text in the mind of those who are receiving the transmission. He does this by merging his mind with each of the students and “delivering” the meaning of the text directly into their minds.

Students traditionally do not take notes or allow their mind to wander during the transmission, but instead sit still, with meditative open mind, listening to what is being said. It is in a way like listening to music, REALLY listening to music, not through headphones sightseeing from a bus, but in a quiet peaceful place with no intrusive distractions.

So, this is what occurred last night, receiving the oral transmission of The Principal Aspects of the Path from Khensur Rinpoche. A mind-to-mind-to-mind lineage connection all the way directly to Tsong-Kha-Pa. Unbelievable.

Now, the day after, is the meaning of this text in my mind in a way that it never has been before? Perhaps. Time will tell. I have been thinking about it a lot, in particular how the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment -- renunciation, bodhicitta and wisdom -- are all interrelated. Like so much in the vast mandala that is Tibetan Buddhism, everything leads to something else, and is dependent on that something else, and this goes on and on. Moments of consciousness, skhandas, impermanence, occurrence, dependent arisings . . . the mala of the mind, always moving from bead to bead.

Khen-Rinpoche delivered the transmission in Tibetan, he has a deep strong voice which can be sing-songy in that endearing Tibetan way when appropriate. He smiles a lot, broadly, and can also be quite serious. He is not a large man, but has unmistakable presence. A dharma-bum friend who is here and is quite familiar with the Himalayan/India dharma scene, simply calls him “the jewel.” Rinpoche has brought with him from South India a translator (into English) monk who is a scholar, very clear and easy-to-understand.

So that’s where it’s at for now. I am undecided as to whether I will do any blog writing during the retreat or not. I’m not ruling it out, if I see it as a distraction I won’t write, but if it becomes a vehicle for processing what’s occurring in a different, beneficial way (which writing can frequently do), then I will. Certainly sharing what's happening here feels good in a bodhiciita-ish kind of way, I will apply wisdom to the situation and renounce writing if that arises as the correct path. There you go: bodhicitta, renunciation and wisdom, all working together -- ha!! (But very samsaric, clearly NOT the "applications" Lama Tsong-Kha-Pa had in mind.)

Until the next time, am stopping the finger now. Thank you for reading.

And ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

True Mastery (from Lau Tzu's "Hua Hu Ching")

Do you think you can clear your mind by sitting constantly in silent meditation?
This makes your mind narrow, not clear.

Integral awareness is fluid and adaptable, present in all places and at all times.
This is true meditation.

Who can attain clarity and simplicity by avoiding the world?
The Dharma is clear and simple, and it doesn’t avoid the world.

Why not simply
-- love your children,
-- help your brothers and sisters,
-- be faithful to your friends,
-- care for your mate with devotion,
-- complete your work cooperatively and joyfully,
-- assume responsibility for problems,
-- practice virtue without first demanding it from others,
-- understand the highest truths yet retain an ordinary manner?

That would be true clarity, true simplicity, true mastery.

Adapted from Hua Hu Ching, the Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu, edited by Brian Walker, HarperSanFrancisco, 1994

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oh boy.

Morning with the Karmapa and après (veggie momos) lunch at the Mahabodhi Stupa . . . wow, this is what I call precious human rebirth!!


The shortest daylight day of the year broke cold and clear, after a 6:45am meditation (led by an ex-Theravadic monk) and some hot tea with chipatis (Indian flat breads), I joined the crowd of happy monks and lay people walking up the road to the Kagyu monastery for the Karmapa’s teaching.

His pre-teaching chanting was magnificent, and as those in the packed temple joined him it was truly beautiful -- am not sure it makes sense that something can be so heart-warming that it sends chills up and down the spine, but this was.

The morning teaching was quite nice, again following Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend -- a talk on respecting our parents, followed by a very precise discussion of generosity and how it relates to those on the Bodhisattva Path, and then a sincere discussion about Root Gurus and their importance to those on the Tantrayana path. It is so precious to sit in a beautiful Tibetan-style temple with people from so many different countries, all being taught the inner workings of these qualities of human behavior that are the best in the world, by this dignified, wise and young ancient lineage holder. And then, with a chant the morning teaching ends and he departs, and with minds freshly touched, we walk out into the warming Indian morning.

Some things don’t change, and one of those is the Tibetan Om restaurant, the best Tibetan place in town. Always crowded, just large tables and benches, find an empty spot, say hi to your new eating neighbors and choose your meal . . . for me it was momos, Tibetan dumplings filled with shredded cabbage and spinach.

From the Om it’s a ten minute walk to the Mahabodhi Stupa, the large iconic temple that serves as the Eiffel Tower of Bodhgaya, it is the image everyone sees. The stupa itself stands where Siddhartha awakened into Buddhahood, inside is a beautiful golden statue of the Buddha, said to be in the very spot, facing in the same direction, as Siddhartha did 2,500 years ago when he awoke. Right here.

Butting up against the temple is the famous Bodhi tree, the grand-offspring of the tree under which Siddhartha became enlightened. A cutting from that tree was taken to (what is today) Sri Lanka, and then a cutting from that tree was brought back and planted in Bodhgaya. That tree, the most famous on the planet, exists here today, it is a ficus tree, with a magnificient broad trunk and wide-ranging branches.

The stupa and the tree sit in the middle of a kind of beautifully unique multi-level park, which from the air is a mandala, filled with hundreds of stupas, statues, gardens, and historic spots. People from all over the world come here to do kora (cirumambulate) around the stupa, meditate on the grounds or under the tree, pray, chant, do prostrations, read sutra, recite mantra, reflect, contemplate, think, appreciate. Simply an incredible place for anyone to be, and for Buddhists, all the more special, because this is it, the spot, where it all began.

This is where I spent my afternoon. It feels like home.

Under the tree, walking, sitting, talking to various people, taking pictures, etc. Fantastically surreal precious time. On occasions I’d be sitting, then open my eyes and see where I was and feel a deep sense of "wow"! -- it's a sense that's hard to describe; the essence of spirit, the stuff of poetry.

(I smile as I look at some of the adjectives I’ve used in the past few paragraphs – incredible, fantastically surreal, special, beautifully unique, etc – and the thing is, none of them really touch it, that open-hearted, magically precious combination of conditions and aggregates that all come together like some kind of nuclear mind fission of bliss. I know, I know, there he goes again, off on a joy-rant, but in my mind this is how it is, really.)

In the guidebook it says “Mahabodhi Stupa” -- but in each and every mind that experiences what exists there is a name that emerges from the deepest recesses, a name consisting of feeling and wonder and beauty, and it goes vastly beyond any words ever spoken or written.


After the last of the Karmapa’s teachings in the morning, I’ll be back at the Stupa in the afternoon, preparing to enter my seven-day Tara retreat, which begins tomorrow evening.

Oh boy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Words like tea . . . .

A beautiful winter Sunday here in Bihar, very similar to the December weather in central Florida: cool, sunny and a definite chill as the sun sets. Quite a nice day for the first two of the Karmapa’s five teachings on Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend.

Observations . . .

This may be Bodhgaya, India, but from the inside out, at least to me, these teachings have an L.A. look-and-feel.

The organization around these teachings is decidedly western.

This is so in the methodology of registration and admittance, complete with multi-colored wrist-strings (looking very much like blessed protection strings, but are they?) determining the order in which one is allowed to take a seat in the temple, to the graphic logo (kind of a Tibetan-looking Nike swoosh), which is everywhere, including the fleecy vests the security people are wearing. And virtually everyone in any important-looking position of authority is western (with requisite full-color event laminates around the neck). And not just western, but, uh-oh, American, the ultimate western.

It may sound as though this is criticism, but it’s not (well, maybe a little amusedly emotional). It is seeing something different and not altogether comforting for me, who tends to be a real traditionalist in the things I love (Tibetan Buddhism, baseball, etc). Yes, paranoia is a delusion, but wasn’t it Hunter Thompson who called paranoia a normal reaction to life in today’s world? OK, let's be Buddhist, call it the suffering of change.

I will admit things are running smoothly and on time, something one never says about anything in India and, as an attendee, this is very nice.

Just understand that Orgyen Thinley Dorjee, the 17th Karmapa Lama, head of the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu school, is going to be the face of Tibetan Buddhism in the west one day, and in this public face he’s probably not going to be very organic. It’s not a large leap to see him one day as the center of a type of corporation, with lots of behind-the-scenes planning and pre-production and handlers. He’s already been to the USA, he came earlier this year and made teaching appearances in New York, Colorado and I believe Seattle. Well-marketed, sold-out appearances all.

So, take note. He’s 24 years old, beautifully handsome, has eyes like black diamonds and a strong mellifluous voice. He is the 17th Karmapa, a mind of exquisite wisdom-potential and the Tibetan spiritual heir apparent to the Dalai Lama. He survived and prevailed in a disputed recognition fight to become the spiritual leader of his school, the Kagyu, whose lineage dates back to Marpa and Milarepa and has very strong organizational roots in the USA.

Times are changing and we Americans have a history of taking things that are pure and good, assimilating them into the culture and in the process polluting the natural preciousness that made them so unique in the first place. And it appears that culture has very long arms, to this observer it's greatly influencing the Karmapa teachings here in Bodhgaya. (Are we looking at Kagyu, Inc.?)

OK, the teachings. Very basic and pretty good. The morning teaching, which I thought was very effective, included a brief look at Nagarjuna, and then, following the text, the differences between Buddhists and non-Buddhists (refuge), a discussion of the three scopes (Chenrezig Projecteers, can you believe it?), a very nice teaching on the three objects of refuge (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) and the motivators for going for refuge.

The afternoon teaching focused on the Tenfold Virtuous Path, i.e., the remedies of the three non-virtuous activities of body, the four of speech and the three of mind. I thought this was a more basic teaching than this morning’s and seemed directed to the large amount of westerners in the audience rather than the monks. (In fact, the Karmapa said that this teaching was chosen due its focus on advice for house-holders (as opposed to monastics) practicing the Dharma – so there again, that Western influence?)

The Karmapa's teaching style is good: he knows his material, is articulate, constantly correcting his translator to get the perfect word, and he is funny at times, with quips and facial expressions that are engaging. He is so young, and yet so strong, so calming, so confident. This is a major teaching for him and he’s doing it well; he said to smiles that he hopes his words “satisfy like tea” – and they do.

But make no mistake, western influence aside, for those here, and especially the Tibetans, who oddly are not so much in attendance at the Karmapa teachings, the main event, the Ocean of Wisdom, rolls into town in two weeks.

OK, stopping the finger now, thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

In case you're feeling particularly self-important today . . . this from the New York Times Magazine, March 11, 2007

It’s “Dark” Out There

George Smoot’s (2006 Nobel Prize winner in physics) and Saul Perlmutter’s (Berkeley, likely future Nobel Physics prize-winner) work is part of a revolution that has forced their colleagues to confront a universe wholly unlike any they have ever known, one that is made of only 4 percent of the kind of matter we have always assumed it to be — the material that makes up you and me and this magazine and all the planets and stars in our galaxy and in all 125 billion galaxies beyond. The rest — 96 percent of the universe — is . . . who knows?

“Dark,” cosmologists call it, in what could go down in history as the ultimate semantic surrender. This is not “dark” as in distant or invisible. This is “dark” as in unknown for now, and possibly forever.

If so, such a development would presumably not be without philosophical consequences of the civilization-altering variety. Cosmologists often refer to this possibility as “the ultimate Copernican revolution”: not only are we not at the center of anything; we’re not even made of the same stuff as almost all of the rest of everything.

“We’re just a bit of pollution,” Lawrence M. Krauss, a theorist at Case Western Reserve, said not long ago at a public panel on cosmology in Chicago. “If you got rid of us, and all the stars and all the galaxies and all the planets and all the aliens and everybody, the remaining universe would be largely the same. We are completely irrelevant.”
(end snip)

From Heart Sutra to Karmapa

Have just completed my second day here in the Indian state of Bihar, and it was eventful . . . a two hour drive with some folks to a town called Rajgir and then a hike up the mountain to the Vulture’s Peak, the site of the deliverance of one of Buddhism’s most important teachings, the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, aka the Heart Sutra.

After sitting in meditation in the cave that is known as “Shariputra’s Cave” and many readings aloud of the Sutra’s text, and recitations of the well-known mantra (Tadyatha Om Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha) it was a hike back down the hill in the cool air and rapidly warming sun of Indian winter, lunch in Rajgir and a visit to Nalanda, the Buddhist center of learning from 427 to 1197 CE.

Nalanda has been called one of the first great universities in recorded history. At its peak, it attracted scholars and students from many parts of the globe e.g., China, Greece etc., and housed thousands of monks and teachers. A favorite site of the Buddha (both pre- and post-enlightenment), it is uniquely beautiful, peaceful and inspirational. And oh, the history . . . for those of you in our recently completed Bodicharyavatara class, Nalanda was where Shantideva’s initial teaching of the text occurred. Today it is ruins, but find a nice shady place in the soft grass, and sit, and . . .

After a jarring, gritty, people/cow/buffalo/truck/dog-dodging jeep ride through the Biharian countryside and villages, it is good to be back in Bodhgaya, while my mind is soaring, my body is tired and sore. And here comes my old Indian friend, the smoke-fog-smog-induced cough and sore throat.

The Karmapa teaches Nagarjuna

So, a large day, and all in all, a fantastic lead-in for tomorrow . . . the beginning of three days of teachings from HH the 17th Karmapa!

It is quite exciting and the town is buzzing. His Holiness’ teachings total 10 hours over the next three days (morning and afternoon sessions) in the huge, beautiful and newly built Kagyu temple, not far from where the Dalai Lama’s teachings will take place after the new year. He will be teaching in Tibetan with simultaneous English translation.

And these teachings should be quite precious, the Karmapa will be transmitting Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend – a work frequently quoted by Tsong-Kha-Pa in our own Lam-rim teachings. The Letter is said to be the earliest overview of the major points of the Mahayana sutras. The great Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna (1st - 2nd century A.D.) wrote it as a letter of advice to a king with whom he was friendly.

Despite its short length (only 123 verses), Letter to a Friend is condidered to be a monument in the Indian Buddhist tradition. It covers the whole Mahayana path with clarity and memorable imagery, perhaps why it's so widely quoted by Tibet's great masters and scholars in the many commentaries they have written on the Buddhist path. (This text was later reorganized and expanded as a foundational element of the Tibetan lam-rim literature on the graded stages of the path to enlightenment.)

It is incredible to be here; this will be a noteworthy teaching, so beneficial to the minds of those in attendance. If this was America (well, truth is, a teaching of this sort would not take place in the West), it would be hugely expensive and much in demand. Here in India there is no charge (same as HHDL’s teachings), and through the methodology in which the advance registration was handled, everyone will have a chance to sit directly in front of him – and to receive a personal blessing – during one of the five sessions.

So that’s what’s happening here in dusty little Bodhgaya . . . there’s no rest for the weary but/and it is all good, call it intense dharma mind-seeding. It’s why so many travel so hard to get here (sharing my jeep to Rajgir today was a Canadian, a Swede, a German, a Londoner, a Swiss and a Singaporean).

And how precious to have Nagarjuna’s wisdom presented by someone as brilliant and articulate as the Karmapa, undoubtedly Tibetan Buddhism’s brightest rising Bodhisattva star.

All in this far-away place, where enlightenment has been known to happen . . .

More soon, stoppng the finger now.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The aggregates of India

Sent from Delhi – 12.17.09


Intensity of senses; bright, acrid, crowded, colorful, filthy, glorious, riotous, psychedelic, exotic, difficult, mind-bending, heart-opening, ancient, pungent, poor, historic. A land of unending spirituality and horror and exquisite beauty; not segmented by neighborhood or region or time of day, but everything packed together, existing side-by-side, swirling together, ready at each and every moment to explode in the mind like a thunderbolt of consciousness. The aggregates of India, indeed.

It’s been almost two years since I’ve been there, and I clearly remember what someone told me on my first trip: India is a place where you are so happy to leave when the time comes to go home, and as soon as you get home you begin thinking about and planning your return. Yep, so true.

I am aware of the “back there vs. up ahead” of time one feels with each foot in a substantially different time zone.. It’s now 12:35am back home in Yalaha, and 11:05am of the same day in India – I’m sitting on Continental #82 from Newark to Delhi, somewhere 33,000 feet over Greenland – yes, the world IS a globe and it’s shorter to travel over the narrow curve rather than in a straight line.

It’s a completely free feeling -- time matters not, day of week matters not; now dark outside, soon it will be day, followed by the next night. And then we land. Twenty-seven days later it’s back on a plane for the long flight home. Between now and then . . . a palate of experiences.

From Plane to Train to Tuk-Tuk

After a morning in Delhi the overnight train straight east across the country to the state of Bihar, bordering Nepal to the north,very poor and recently pounded by monsoon flooding, disembarking at 4am in the sinister town of Gaya and then a tuk-tuk (small motorized three-wheeled rickshaw) 15 kilometers to Bodhgaya, as my dharma sister (and India/Nepal-traveling companion of past days) Maya calls it, the Vajra Seat, the place of Siddhartha’s awakening 2,500 years ago.

I spent a month in Bodhgaya two years ago, I don’t imagine it has changed very much since then (if you’re interested you can read some of the reports in the posts on this blogsite). It is a difficult place, immensely air and water polluted and very dusty, crowded, noisy and disease-ridden.

So, why there? Why the long trip to Bodhgaya again? Because shining through the difficulty of getting to and being in Bodhgaya is enormous opportunity for growth, both worldly and spiritual. Call it grist for the mind’s mill.

The Tibetan people are gathering there in mass, in this place of the Buddha’s enlightenment. There will be tens of thousands, in their November-March tent city on the fields near the Tibetan monastery. The annual Monlam gatherings will be taking place, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa will be in attendance leading prayer, practices and teaching, followed by five days of teachings and a long-life empowerment with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

Nuclear dharma in this ancient little town on the Ganges plains. As Lama Zopa would say . . . unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable.

*** *** ***

At this time of year there are many acorns falling off the trees in my central Florida hometown of Yalaha. If you’re fast enough to beat the squirrels and pick one up and look at it, you may see many things, but what you don’t see is an oak tree . . . and even if you know you’re holding an insipient oak tree, you’ll be disappointed if you try to get any shade out of it.

Well, the Buddha said we are all like acorns, we have the ability and potential to be perfect, our minds have the ability to be completely clear and omniscient. We’re like acorns, needing the proper conditions to reach our potential . . . and that potential is there in every one of our minds . . . all sentient beings. There’s nothing mystical about it, it’s all rather scientific, actually. And it’s been spelled out, on a path that people have been walking for the past 2,500 years, a path that began with an awakening under a Bodhgaya full moon.

So, now I return to Bodhgaya, where for centuries thousands have journeyed through heat and monsoon rains to find enlightenment . . . I am amazed and honored to be a part of the lineage, to immerse myself in this rich and precious environment.

Having been there once, sight-seeing and soaking it up, I now come with work to do -- to refocus and deepen my dharma practice (karma allowing), which has become somewhat undisciplined and scattered of late. I do this for myself in order that I may become a more meaningful father, friend, partner, neighbor, co-worker, teacher -- in summary, a more meaningful and beneficial human being.

We all have minds capable of the truly magnificent. We all have the potential to do so much for those around us -- if this potential arises in my mind just a little bit more often, abiding with just a touch more understanding enabled by these upcoming days in Bodhgaya, the benefits will dwarf by millions any difficulties encountered along the way.

Thanks for reading, in the darkness below we just passed over Iceland. As a Tibetan friend says as he concludes his e-mails, I am stopping my fingers now.