Monday, January 31, 2005

Meditative Picture Blogging

Another beautiful photograph by Cynthia Burgess.

Being Compassionate

Taming the Tiger by Akong Tulku Rinpoche, is really a transcription of talks given before live classes. At the end of one session, Rinpoche was asked, "What does being compassionate really mean?" Here is his reply:

My idea of being compassionate is to let everyone become part of one's life. It is to know that everyone wants happiness, just as I want happiness; and that no-one wants suffering and unhappiness. The trouble is that, due to ignorance, we don't know how to be happy, so we tend to have lots of unhappy experiences. Compassion means to be willing to help everyone equally, whether or not they are useful to me; whether they are angry or violent towards me; even if they wrongly accuse me of something. Whatever experience people give me in that way only increases the wish to help; but there should be no expectation as to the outcome, the result of that help. So if, for example, your helping someone gets you sent to prison, you learn to be thankful that you're able to take away that person's negative emotions and exchange them for your own happiness. That's genuine compassion - when you give whatever you have without expecting anything in return.
Now I know right away that there will be objections to this. Why should I jeopardize my well-being, my freedom, for someone else? What about boundaries? What about self-care? Well, remember we start with being compassionate toward ourselves and no-one is suggesting that we take on a level of heroic compassion that is beyond us at the moment. And no-one is suggesting that we engage in "idiot compassion" - that is, the kind of help that only causes us to be exploited. But think of this: What about those ordinary Germans of conscience who risked everything to have compassion on their persecuted Jewish neighbors and, as a result, ended up in the concentration camps themselves? Should they not have done that? Or is that perhaps an aspiration worth working toward? I know that I could live with myself if I helped and it would be very hard to live with myself if I didn't. And so even if I'm not so advanced at this point to take such a risk for another, I want to have that level of compassion. Wanting to is a beginning - a powerful beginning.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

"The Peaceful Mind"

Today I found myself browsing on the Beliefnet website and came across an article entitled "The Peaceful Mind" which reported on an interview with the Dalai Lama. Here is an excerpt:

In one of your books you talk about a secular spirituality. How much of a health component does that have?

Everybody wants a happy, successful life. Of course, external conditions are important, but I think that for a happy life, a happy family, and a happy community, much depends on our mental attitude. The key factor, I feel, is human compassion, a sense of caring for one another. Sometimes, when we talk about the value of compassion and forgiveness and love, people get the impression these are religious matters: When people have religious faith, these things are important; otherwise, they aren’t relevant. That kind of attitude, I think, is due to ignorance or lack of awareness, and I feel it’s dangerous.

Generally speaking, in advanced societies, the education facility is excellent. But there is a lack of something here in the heart. Sometimes, the brilliant brain can create more suffering, more trouble. So the smart brain must be balanced with a warm heart, a good heart--a sense of responsibility, of concern for the well-being of others. An individual who has this good quality automatically becomes calmer and more peaceful. So these values might promote deeper human values, not necessarily religious faith.

They also promote health. The American Medical Association Journal is doing a series of reports saying that American doctors should use meditation and relaxation therapies in combination with regular medication and surgery for most common ailments. A lot of this research was inspired by your work.

What I believe, according to my own experience, is that a calm, peaceful mind is a very important element for sustaining the body in a balanced way. When you lose your temper, immediately you feel uncomfortable. Eventually, you lose your digestion and sleep. You have to rely more and more on tranquilizers. So, whether you are a believer or a non-believer, the peaceful mind in daily life is very, very important.

I also consider human activities. Whether these activities are constructive or destructive, depends on mental attitude. If the motivation is negative, even religion becomes dirty religion. If your mental attitude is right, then human actions become useful and constructive. So the mind is very important. I think that in the medical field, more and more people may now realize this. Maybe.
I think the expression "dirty religion" is very evocative! Yes, let us guard against letting our religion drift into the "dirty" category. I also appreciate his mention of the negative consequences of losing one's temper. Yes, it's important to acknowledge anger in ourselves when it's there and to accept it without judgment. But it is not skillful to indulge it and feed it more energy. The meditative principle teaches us to notice the anger, accept it without judgment, let it go and then bring our mind back to the present moment - to whatever we are doing. This way, anger will simply run out of energy and dissolve. This is the way to real freedom - not spinning out of control and losing our temper.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Way Things Are

Deep acceptance is the way to happiness and peace. I know that's easy to say and hard to realize. When I talk about letting go of the attachment to things being different from the way they are I often get the response of intense resistance. Some things are just too horrible to be accepted, I'm told. Please remember that acceptance is not the same thing as approval. And it's certainly not the same thing as preference. It is also not about going passive; whatever action we can take to change adverse circumstances is not only legitimate, it is the way of true compassion. Deep acceptance, rather, is a letting go of that sense of impotent entitlement that makes us miserable when it is actually impossible to change what we want to change. And nobody is saying that this acceptance has to be instantaneous. It often takes me quite a bit of inner work to accept some things but I know from the get-go that the work will be worth it. The question before me is this: do I want to suffer or not? I can experience the way things are and suffer over it or I can experience the way things are and not suffer over it. Either way, I am stuck with the way things are. Akong Tulku Rinpoche has some insightful things to say about this in Taming the Tiger:

Once we are ready to accept the way things are, even the apparently hellish aspects of life can be transformed. All we need are the means and the will to accomplish this transformation. If, on the other hand, we give in to faint-heartedness or put things off, the bad will probably get worse. So we must acknowledge our experiences and commitments for what they are, whether difficult, easy or just plain ordinary. The important thing is not to become strongly affected emotionally by our perception of these circumstances and by the value-judgments we asociate with them.
Rather than directing all our energy into futile attempts to make life perfect, we could be using some of this effort to develop our tolerance and appreciation of the way things are. Such inner peace brings deep and lasting happiness; whilst the joy derived from worldly pursuits, objects and other people is invariably impermanent. We have a clear choice to make between allowing ourselves to be blown about like a feather, this way and that on the wind of change, acting and reacting to whatever comes along; or to work towards establishing some kind of stability within ourselves, independent of chance and fortune, praise or blame.

This is radical advice, I know. In my line of work I am privy to so much suffering that I am easily persuaded that a radical approach is necessary. At some point, each person will say of the way of acceptance, "It's time." And then he or she will begin, however imperfectly, however awkwardly, to practice this powerful approach to a happy life. Why not say that today? It's time.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Even MORE cat blogging!

If you want to see the best picture of Henry ever, go to my other blog, Child of Illusion. Cynthia really outdid herself with that photograph!

Extra Special Cat Blogging!

Just in time for Friday cat blogging, Paul Rogers sent in the following cat haiku (I love them - especially the one about the relative brain sizes!):

Am I in your way?
You seem to have it backwards:
This pillow's taken.

Your mouth is moving;
Up and down, emitting noise.
I've lost interest.

The dog wags his tail,
Seeking approval. See mine?
Different message.

My brain: walnut-sized.
Yours: largest among primates.
Yet, who leaves for work?

Most problems can be
Ignored. The more difficult
Ones can be slept through.

Cats can't steal the breath
Of children. But if my tail's
Pulled again, I'll learn.

Toy mice, dancing yarn
Meowing sounds. I'm convinced:
You're an idiot.

And now, the pictures!

Yvonne Perez sent in the cat pictures for today. She writes: "The sleeping cat is Harry. He is a stray that Robert & I adopted 14 years ago. The second photo is of our young "grand-kitty", Mina, who was adopted by our daughter, Sheena, when he was abandoned at her apartment complex last year."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A New "Seven Points" Resource

Marilyn Bedford has sent me the link to a marvelous site on the "Seven Points of Mind Training". I believe she got it off of Tom Vinson's blog. The site is The Tonglen and Mind Training Site and it offers commentaries by Osho, Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodron, Jamgon Kongtrul (the traditional commentary we are using in ongoing class) and Alan Wallace.

Here's an excerpt from the home page:
Mind Training is a practice in the Buddhist tradition based on a set of proverbs formulated in Tibet in the 12th century by Chekawa. Through the practice we undertake to connect with our world in an unconditionally positive way, and also to take full responsibility for our experience of it.

Unlike many practices it does not require that you sign on to a particular system of beliefs, nor is it something that you can only do on your meditation cushion. In fact, the best practice is often done out in the world, with exactly those people and situations that upset and irritate you the most.

The twin foundations of the practice are Ultimate Bodhicitta, which could be very roughly be translated as 'Open-Mindedness', and Relative Bodhicitta, which could be translated, again very roughly, as 'Compassion'.

The fifty-seven or so proverbs form a very skilful set of antidotes to the bad mental habits, paranoia, and fixed ideas that cause us so much suffering. If you are new to the practice and want to decide whether the practice is for you, you might want to take a look at commentaries on:

Sending and Taking (tonglen)
Drive all Blames into One
Be Grateful to Everyone.
Abandon any Hope of Fruition

I highly recommend this site as a way of continuing to reflect on the material we go over in class and as a motivational strategy. I certainly plan to check into it often!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

More on Impermanence

Another wonderful paragraph from Taming the Tiger by Akong Tulku Rinpoche:

We have to stop imagining that everything exists in a very solid way, either inside or outside ourselves. When we mentally strive to make things more and more fixed, we will suffer when, inevitably, changes occur. Too much involvement with our aversions and desires makes us tend to reject or cling on to the things we experience. Thus we refuse to accept change when it comes and resist it instead. Fighting such a series of losing battles causes our emotions to go up and down all the time, at the expense of our inner stability. The whole point is to realize that everything changes and so develop less attachment to what we are doing.

Wednesday life form blogging

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Compassion and Impermanence

Is compassion something we need to cultivate actively or does it simply emerge if we get out of the way? Akong Tulku Rinpoche says that it is natural and spontaneous but that it needs to be awakened. He also suggests that a proper reflection on impermanence will help in this regard.

In his marvelous book on Tibetan therapy, Taming the Tiger, Rinpoche writes:

While there is nothing wrong with enjoying our lives, we should never forget that everything is impermanent, including ourselves, and that our time is far too precious to waste. Although we can be sure that death will come, the time and place of its occurrence is very uncertain. Since we can be sure that at the time of death we would certainly give everything we own for just one more day of life, we should not put off for one moment the awakening of compassion. For when we have to leave all else behind, it is the good we have done that will give us the greatest peace and comfort.
Remembering that we are going to die does not suggest that we should live in fear and terror of death, for to become hopeless and afraid would be of no use, and would prevent us from enjoying life. Rather we should be inspired by the inevitability of death to make the most of each precious moment in order to cultivate our inner strength, loving-kindness and compassion. Then, no matter when we are to die, we will have done our best to make of our lives something valuable and useful both for
ourselves and for others.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Meditative Picture Blogging

"Many know the path; few follow it."

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Wisdom and Science

I got a marvelous email from Larry Hicks the other day in which he asked the following: "Did you happen to listen to "Science Friday" today on NPR? The first hour topic was on "Science and Faith". I was driving across central Oklahoma and it was fading in and out, but I caught some interesting segments .... It does seem to me there is a closer kinship with scientists vs "abstract" religionists than there is with "fundamental" vs "abstract" religionists ..... "

Later he observed "...that MOST of America is primitive when it comes to scientific understanding."

I often do listen to "Science Friday" although I didn't happen to catch the program last week. I wish I had. I suppose I must fit into the category named as "abstract religionist" for I do sense that I have a lot in common with the physicists and not much in common with the fundamentalists at all. And I too am very alarmed by the massive ignorance in our country about science as well as the rampant anti-intellectualism in general.

And so I offer you this wonderful self-blessing by Caitlin Matthews that speaks to this issue quite eloquently all the while reminding us of the importance of meditation. Enjoy!

I don the breastplate of wisdom,
the nine jewels of the gifted ones:
song of poetry,
sustenance of reflection,
strength of meditation,
deepening of lore,
response of research,
replenishment of knowledge,
illumination of intelligence,
nurture of understanding,
exaltation of wisdom.
The nine jewels of bards and druids
shield and protect my soul
from scathe this Winter day.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Cultivating Fearlessness

One of the most important monastics writing today is undoubtedly Pema Chodron of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Today I happened to pick up her wonderful book entitled, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. Most of us experience the strong tendency to avoid going to the places that scare us so a title like that can be a bit off-putting. And yet, I truly believe that most of us also have a intuitive knowing within that will welcome going to those scary places when we are equipped with the skills of meditative practice. Pema Chodron writes:

[T]he tragedy of experiencing ourselves as apart from everyone else is that this delusion becomes a prison. Sadder yet, we become increasingly unnerved at the possibility of freedom. When the barriers come down, we don't know what to do. We need a bit more warning about what it feels like when the walls start tumbling down. We need to be told that fear and trembling accompany growing up and that letting go takes courage. Finding the courage to go to the places that scare us cannot happen without compassionate inquiry into the workings of ego. So we ask ourselves, "What do I do when I feel I can't handle what's going on? Where do I look for strength and in what do I place my trust?"

Later she observes:

No matter how we get trapped, our usual reaction is not to become curious about what's happening.

The places that scare me are all political and I know that is true of many people today. But I want to stay curious - indeed to cultivate more curiosity about what is going on in the world. Since starting this blog there have been many times that I have wanted to post something from one of the newspapers that I read on line or just to comment on something going on in the world but I have resisted because, with one or two urgent exceptions, I wanted this site to be about meditation. Finally I decided that the only thing for it was to create another blog.

Child of Illusion is now up and running. I'm sure many will recognize the reference. One of the slogans from The Seven Points of Mind Training states, "In the post-meditative experience, become a child of illusion." This is an encouragement to engage the world as we find it - to take life on life's terms - all the while realizing that our perceptions are unreliable, that things are illusory in the sense that reality is not what it seems to be. Reminding myself of that slogan helps me maintain equanimity in the face of those many places that scare me in our world. Cultivating compassion for myself, for others, even for my enemies is the other crucial vehicle for maintaining peace and inner stability. And yet, I truly believe I need to stay curious and engage what I discover with authenticity. I hope those of you who are regular readers of this blog will visit the other one as well and engage in the conversation with me as we explore the issues of our day.

Friday, January 21, 2005

If it's Friday, it's cats!!!

I do love Friday cat blogging! Here's a wonderful picture of Cynthia's Simon striking the "royal pose". Doesn't he look ever so serene?

And now I want to introduce you to Ethel, one of the ferals who were living behind my little cottage when I first moved in. Unlike Edgar, Ethel has really resisted being tamed. She is quite ferocious - really a mean girl - but she comes by it honestly; she's had a rough life. She will only let me pet her a little when I feed her. At other times she swats at me or runs off.

Photos by Cynthia Burgess

Please do send me pictures of your companion animals so that they may be acknowledged and honored. I have decided to institute "Wednesday life-form blogging" for non-cat pictures so dogs, lizards, birds, ferrets - whatever - definitely may apply! But Fridays will always be for CATS. I'm sure there's something sacred about it. :-)

Conditions Conducive to Practice

This week in ongoing class we talked about the importance of creating conditions conducive to practice - one of the teachings from point seven of The Seven Points of Mind Training. Of course, it is not a good idea to cultivate an attachment to conditions. We need to be able to practice effectively when conditions are not as we would want. But if it is possible to create circumstances or a physical environment that will support our meditation, it's a good idea to do so if only out of self-compassion. Then we will have a thorough backlog of meditation during favorable situations so that when our circumstances are not so favorable we will already have the necessary skills.

If someone does not practice religious virtues when times are good, they well be unable to do so when adversity comes and faith is more urgently needed.
-- The Dalai Lama

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Meditating on Impermanence

It occurs to me that today is a very good day for giving attention to the reality of impermanence. Contemplating impermanence can serve as a focused reality check and will be experienced as both consoling and empowering. And so I give you another excerpt from How to Meditate: A Practical Guide by Kathleen McDonald:

[C]onstant change is the reality of things, but we find it very difficult to accept. Intellectually, it is not a problem; but real acceptance of impermanence rarely, if ever, enters our everyday behavior and experience. Instinctively, we cling to people and things as if they were permanent and unchanging. We don't want the nice person or the beautiful object to change and firmly believe that the irritating person will never be different.

We cling especially strongly to our view of our own personality: "I am a depressed person," "I am an angry person," "I am not very intelligent." We might indeed be this or that, but it is not the whole picture nor will it always be like that; it will change.

By not recognizing impermanence we meet with frustration, irritation, grief, loneliness and countless other problems. We can avoid experiencing them by becoming familiar with the transitory nature of things, recognizing that they are in a constant state of flux. Gradually we will learn to expect, and accept, change as the nature of life.

We will understand not only that change simply happens but also that we can bring about change. We have the power to change what we are, to develop and transform our minds and lives.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Function of Analytical Meditation

An outstanding book on meditation according to the Tibetan tradition is How to Meditate: A Practical Guide by Kathleen McDonald. At the beginning of Chapter 2, entitled "Appreciating our Human Life" we find a powerful statement about the cause of unhappiness and dissatisfaction:

The function of analytical meditation is to help us recognize and cut through the mistaken attitudes and ideas that cause unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Our experiences in life depend upon how we think and feel about things, and because most of the time we do not perceive things the way they really are, we encounter one frustrating situation after another.

As long as we blame our parents, society or other external factors, we will never find any satisfying solutions to our problems. Their main cause lies within our own mind, so we need to take responsibility for changing our way of thinking where it is mistaken, that is, where it brings unhappiness to ourselves and others.

This can be done through meditation, by gradually becoming aware of how we think and feel, distinguishing correct from incorrect attitudes, and finally counteracting harmful attitudes by the appropriate means.

Actually, the idea that the cause of my problems is in my own mind is good news because I have some choice about that, don't I? If the cause of my problems were external (and I'm powerless over what is outside me), then I would indeed be helpless and trapped. Taking responsibility for changing my own way of thinking is the path to genuine liberation.

I realize that a lot of people reading this blog will have real challenges tomorrow regarding how they think and feel. As you know, I support taking action and engaging in protests and demonstrations when we feel our country is headed in a dangerous direction. However, it is vital that we do not destroy our own happiness in the process. We can accept that things are as they are and still do what we can to make a difference. But we will only hurt ourselves if we descend into overwhelming aversion or grasping or numbing out. I encourage us all to be gentle with ourselves and to work with our minds skillfully - however we may choose to observe tomorrow.

Peace be with you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

"Not one damn dime"

A few days ago I mentioned the importance of activism as a part of one's spiritual practice. Remember, the meditative approach to life does not mean acquiescing or going passive in the face of dishonesty, oppression and injustice. And so as Inauguration Day approaches I want to call your attention to a form of activism you might want to consider taking. Center participant Paul Rogers sent me a very eloquent email on the nationwide protest action recommended for Thursday. I reprint it here in its entirety:

Last week I got an email that I lost almost at once, but the idea was pretty basic and fairly easy to be a part of if you want.

On January 20, 2005, George Bush will be sworn in for his second term. If you disagree with his waging war against the people of Iraq, if you disagree with his gutting of policies put in place to protect the environment, if you disagree with his give aways to the wealthy by destroying progressive programs, if you disagree with his curtailing of personal freedom, if you disagree with his constant dishonesty, if you disagree with his abandonment of the Constitution to kiss up to special interests...well you get the idea.

On January 20th, do not make a single purchase anywhere for anything. Don't put a single dime into the economy on that day to register your disgust with his arrogance. Buy your gas, do your grocery shopping, buy your Nikes, and get that six pack on Wednesday. Wait to go to the bank, pick up your prescription, get a drink at Quick Trip, and buy a dozen dough nuts until Friday. Not one damn dime spent by nearly 50% of the country on that day will remind George Bush that his election was not a mandate, but a squeaker.

Not one damn dime on January, 20, 2005.

I will definitely be participating in this boycott. I was actually scheduled to participate in a meeting in Oklahoma City on Thursday but have begged off due to my commitment not to spend any money that day. I can't get to the City and back with out getting gas. I do urge everyone who values compassion for the environment and for the poor to participate in this demonstration. And I will also recommend doing either the Tonglen compassion practice or the Metta lovingkindness practice on the 20th for all who will be hurt by this administration's policies. Finally I want to call your attention once more to the Dr. King quote I posted yesterday. Indeed, let us not be silent about things that matter.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Martin Luther King Jr Day

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. "

- Martin Luther King Jr (1929 - 1968)

Monday Meditative Picture Blogging

Cynthia Burgess is such an amazing photographer that I really want to post some of her work in addition to the cat pictures on Fridays. So I have decided to institute "Monday Meditative Picture Blogging"! I will offer a photograph of Cynthia's that lends itself to contemplation or that helps calm the mind and settle the inner awareness. Here is one of my favorites that I hope you'll enjoy:

Sunday, January 16, 2005

It's all about being happy.

Today, at the invitation of Center participant Cathey Edwards, I gave presentations to both the seventh grade class and the senior high class of All Souls Unitarian Church. What surprised the students the most - and the grownups present as well - is that the purpose of meditation is to learn how to be happy. So I thought I'd share with you today some great Dalai Lama quotes about just that - and about some other topics as well. Enjoy!

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them.

Spend some time alone every day.

The purpose of our lives is to be happy.

The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.

There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.

Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.

We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.

Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness and compassion.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Honoring Peace and Integrity

I can do no better today than to reprint an email I received from Tulsa Peace Fellowship and to say that today, more than ever, I agree with the opening quotation by Dr. King:

"There comes a time when silence is betrayal." Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thousands of citizens will be converging on DC this week to demonstrate at the inauguration ceremonies. If you, like us, don't have the time or money to go but dearly wish to have your sentiments known, there are local activities that day here in Tulsa, as in other cities around America.

Tulsa Peace will be holding peaceful demonstration...
on the sidewalks at 4th and Denver beginning that morning at 10:30 am and lasting through the daylight hours. If you can make it for all or part of this vigil, please join us for what time you are able to spare. PLEASE DO NOT PARK IN THE POST OFFICE PARKING LOTS. You can make your own signs or contact Joni LeViness at
to help with sign making for this event.

If you are the energetic bicyclist...
a group of demonstrators on bicycles will be meeting in front of a the Army Natl. Guard recruiting center at 5970 E. 31st at 1:30 pm. They will put up black ribbons for all the dead and yellow ribbons in support of the troops and do chalk outlines to represent to the continuing death toll in Iraq, both military and civilian.

A critical mass bike ride will depart from the Recruiting station a little after 2pm and ride downtown to meet up with the TPF demonstration at 4th and Denver, stopping to put up a mix of black and yellow ribbons in appropriate locations.

Some of the ribbons and chalk outlines will be done around the city the night before the ride, as well. Anyone wanting to contribute black and yellow ribbons or chalk, or participate in the ribboning or bike ride, please contact

All demonstrators for the day's events are asked to wear black as a sign of mourning for the death and devastation that has been wrought upon our country and the world.

"We can no longer afford to confuse peaceability with passivity. Authentic peace is no more passive than war. Like war, it calls for discipline and intelligence and strength of character, though it calls also for higher principles and aims. If we are serious about peace, then we must work for it as ardently, seriously, continuously, carefully, and bravely as we now prepare for war." ~Wendell Berry

Friday, January 14, 2005

It's cat blogging time!

Another Friday. Another wonderful opportunity to post cat pictures!

First of all I give you a cat from the Young-Vinson household. Tom Vinson writes:
"This is Nickie, our most nearly normal cat, surveying her domain."

Next I want to introduce you to Edgar Finlay - one of the feral cats who was living behind my little cottage when I moved in. I managed to capture him along with the others about a year ago so he's been to the vet. Edgar is now quite tame and is really very sweet.

Finally, here's a new picture of Henry sitting in my lap with a typical expression on his face that definitely exposes his attitude!

The Finlay cat photos are by Cynthia Burgess.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Duty of Happiness

This week's issue of Time magazine is about the science of happiness. A lot is reported that we already know: money can't buy happiness, optimistic people live longer, owning pets lowers blood pressure and contributes to happiness and some babies are just born happy. Although there's some evidence that we seem to be hardwired for our level of happiness, the brain actually can be changed in that regard. Eight Steps for lifting our level of happiness that are based on sound research include:

1. Count your blessings.
2. Practice acts of kindness.
3. Savor life's joys.
4. Thank a mentor.
5. Learn to forgive.
6. Invest time and energy in friends and family.
7. Take care of your body.
8. Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardships.

You will not, I'm sure, be surprised when I say that the practice of meditation can particularly help us with number eight. In fact, were it not for meditation I personally do not know how I would manage to deal with stress and hardships in a healthy way. Interestingly, the mindfulness that comes from regular meditation helps with the other seven on the list as well.

There is much to in the cover story to be commended and I really suggest that everyone find a copy and give it a read. Perhaps my favorite part of all is a quote by Robert Louis Stevenson:

There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits upon the world.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Science of Consciousness

Every morning I log on to The Guardian, a British newspaper I've read since I lived in Ireland. This morning's issue has a fascinating article about some research into the science of consciousness entitled, "Scientists hunt the ghost in the machine". An Oxford study is examining the role of religious faith in pain management and tolerance:

The scientists will apply a chilli-based gel to the skin of volunteers and ask them to try different strategies to lessen the burning sensation, including asking people with strong religious beliefs to draw on their faith to cope with the pain.

The experiment is one in a series that sees scientists join forces with philosophers, theologians and brain surgeons to tackle some of the most profound questions of the human condition: what is the nature of consciousness and how do religious beliefs manifest themselves in our brains?

...The study of consciousness and brain processes that give rise to strongly held beliefs have for long been on the periphery of scientific research.

With the advent of techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, which can take snapshots of brain activity, scientists believe they can obtain meaningful answers about how consciousness arises and what makes belief systems so widespread and resilient...

The study could help to reveal how faith is represented in the brain. Other projects will look into the conditions that make people susceptible to strong yet irrational beliefs, such as the age people are exposed to certain ideas and the frequency with which religious messages are reinforced.

..."People are realising these are the most exciting questions that anyone can ask," said Lady Greenfield. Understanding the basis of religious and other types of belief could help to shed light on the surge in fundamentalism and terrorism.

"One of the fundamental reasons why religious beliefs have to be taken seriously ... is that they are potentially very dangerous, and that can be true of other dogmatisms too," said John Brookes, professor of science and religion at Oxford.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Hatefulness and the response of compassion

Yesterday, I received an unsolicited email (from someone who is a stranger to me) trashing liberals and applauding the torture of prisoners. I know the internet is vast and impersonal in many ways but I can't help but initially feel somewhat violated and poisoned when I receive email wishing violence on people. This person claimed to be religious and furiously defended her position when I posed the question, "Whom would Jesus torture?"

I don't understand how the religion of those who claim to follow the one who said, "Love your enemies" can be used to justify viciousness and cruelty. But then in my internet browsing this morning I came across an insightful comment on a message board that explains it:

All you do is tell people that their worst impulses are holy, that their most disgusting prejudices are the will of God. They like hearing that.

We liberals have it tough. We ask people to think. We ask them to see nuances and be fair and occasionally consider other people's needs. No one wants to do that.

The meditative principles are based on compassion for oneself and for all beings and so we cannot be meditators of integrity unless we are willing "to see nuances and be fair and occasionally consider other people's needs." Actually we are to consider other people's needs more than just occasionally; we are to consider them all the time.

On reflection today it became important for me to purify my consciousness of the ugliness I encountered in the email exchange of yesterday. It was also important for me to realize that my correspondent was motivated by the universal motivation - the aspiration to be happy. She did what she did and she said what she said because on some level she believed it would make her happy. My job is to understand that and to forgive and so I found myself using a wonderful prayer of forgiveness by Caitlin Matthews I came across some years ago and now use regularly. I hope it brings peace and serenity to you all.

Prayer of Forgiveness

Healer of Hearts, Counselor of Souls,
Each morning the miracle of life is renewed in me;
As I have been restored, time after time
So now do I pass on the merciful gift to ______________.
On my part I release him/her/them from any bond of anger, blame, recrimination.
May all corrosive links between us be dissolved.
By the blessed balm of peace and concord.

Discussing Spiritual Matters with Your Doctor

I subscribe to a very interesting periodical called Science and Theology News. In the October 2004 issue I found a report on the subject of discussing spiritual issues with one's physician. Here are some highlights:

Patients wanting doctors to ask about spiritual issues is not a new issue. However, a new study shows that 91 percent of patients in outpatient sites in Ohio still report their doctors have never asked about spirituality.

Gary McCord, a researcher at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, and his team found that 83 percent of respondents wished to discuss their spiritual beliefs with their doctors, no matter how patients defined the word "spiritual".

"I think the most important thing is that patients want their physicians to provide patience, compassion and hope," said McCord....

"A useful future study might be looking at the 17 percent that don't want to discuss spirituality and why they don't," said McCord. "Maybe a person has another outlet for discussing these things, and maybe they'd rather do it there."

I agree. It would be a very interesting study. I would want to know if the reluctance is about not valuing spirituality or if it's perhaps about a lack of trust between doctor and patient. And if there were truly a belief that such a discussion is inappropriate, I would want to know the background to that conviction. As we learn more and more about the mind-body-spirit connection we are increasingly aware of how important it is not to compartmentalize the different aspects of ourselves. Meditation is a powerful tool for experiencing all the aspects of ourselves together. Because meditation is "knowing what's happening while it's happening no matter what it is", we are less likely to tune out the mind and spirit while attending to the body. All the evidence points to the fact that our overall health depends on a true integration of all three.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Spirituality and Activism

More and more I am seeing how important it is to take action to address the political injustice and ecological devastation that our world is experiencing in an ever growing way. And so I will probably be bringing examples of such matters to your attention as I encounter them myself. The issue of bringing our spiritual practice and activist energy into congruence is discussed in As Above, So Below by Ronald S. Miller. Here's the pertinent passage:

Traditionally, spiritual seekers have practiced their disciplines as part of the solitary quest for enlightenment. Today, the distinctions between spirituality and social activism are blurring, and engaged forms of spiritual practice are cropping up everywhere, based on the notion that genuine wisdom and compassionate action are not incompatible. Indeed, given the gravity of the environmental crisis and the extent of political and social injustice around the globe, they are of necessity joining forces. In this enterprise, spirituality completes itself in political action, and activism acquires a soul.

The above passage was written in 1992. How much more true it is today with our greater awareness of the current threat to our planet by humanity's consumer-driven behavior. How much more true it is with war and the threat of war continuing to intensify. How much more true it is with our current political climate of bigotry, intolerance and eroding civil liberties. Consider making courageous action a part of your meditative practice for this is truly the path of integrity and compassion.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Prerequisite for Meditation

Someone gave me a copy of a very interesting little book: Learning to Dance Inside by George Fowler. In it, Fowler takes a look at what is required in order to begin a meditative practice:

You don't have to practice any specific techniques to purse this path. And, fortunately, you don't have to have a quiet temperament or special talent for concentration. You don't even have to have complete control of your imagination (that's good, because it can't be done anyway). You don't have to sit in a darkened room and light candles or listen to themeless music. You don't have to dedicate a huge swath of time to it or have a certain kind of soft-spoken, unflappable personality. Nor do you have to give up an interest in incarnate things such as delightful food and passionate sex.

All that you must ensure is that, more than anything else, you hunger for peace and joy - your ultimate fulfillment.

All being want to be happy, we learn from the meditative tradition. Meditation is the way for it really to happen. I look forward to seeing you all in class!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Loving Yourself

I'm amazed sometimes by how many people refuse to believe that it's right to love themselves unconditionally. Resistance to this idea is undoubtedly the greatest cause of suffering I know and it not only causes suffering to those who cannot or will not love themselves; it also causes suffering to loved ones, friends and colleagues. Those who do not love themselves are typically ruthless in their judgment of others. And so I was especially pleased today when I came across the following passage from A Year of Living Consciously by Gay Hendricks:

On the surface it might sound like loving yourself is a selfish act, but it is actually the ultimate act of selfless giving. Egotism and bragging, for example, are so painful to behold because they are signs of self-hatred, not self-love. They are desperate attempts to call attention to yourself after you've sunk into self-loathing. One moment of genuine self-love can result in a lifetime of compassionate contribution to others. One of my friends, a yoga teacher and single parent with several children, told me, "If I take a few minutes in meditation each day to resonate with myself, I can do things all day with and for my kids. But if I don't take a little time for me each day, I end up feeling resentful about all the demands they make."

We could all take a hint from her discovery. Many times in my own life I have gotten mired in relationship conflicts only to realize after a while that the conflict had nothing to do with the other person. When you love the unlovable parts of yourself - anger, fear, grief, or whatever else - the problem with the other person clears up.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Another Friday Cat Blogging!

Cat blogging is definitely addictive! I got an email from Marilyn Bedford a few minutes ago saying "It's 2:15... Are the cats too cold to come out today?" :-) One of my favorite political blogs is Eschaton hosted by Atrios. For the record, Atrios hasn't posted his cats yet today either. But pretty soon, some Eschatonian is bound to post "Kitties, kitties!" on one of the message boards. Once you get used to cat pictures on Fridays it just isn't a proper Friday without them.

So here you are. First of all I give you Tux Rains, the very self-satisfied cat who lives in the home of Paul and Adrienne Rogers and Allison Rains. I definitely wouldn't want to mess with Tux - not with that attitude!

And below is Henry Finlay looking adorable.

Please send me pictures of your own cats so that they can star one Friday! We'd like to get as many Center cats featured as possible.

And now, I will make a serious posting below!
Happy Friday!

Taking Everything in Stride

I want to share with you another passage from Zen Therapy by David Brazier.

Taking everything in one's stride means that nothing matters to oneself personally. It does not matter whether we die or not. If we are going to die, let us do it well. Life includes dying. A good life includes dying well. We are talking here, then, of a state in which the survival passion called ego is out of the way. This is the state in which our relation to the rest of the universe is as the relationship of one hand to the other. The left hand does not seek its own benefit at the expense of the right. We are all limbs of one life.

It's not unusual in my work with individuals for the subject of personal mortality to come up. It is also not unusual for there to be great fear involved. What I have discovered is that when the fear of death is relinquished other fears tend to be dissolved as well. Nothing is more liberating and supportive of personal happiness than a deep, utter acceptance of death. Meditating on impermanence will help. So will cultivating a deep concern for other beings - human and non-human. Most of all we will be released from our fear of death by giving ourselves unconditional compassion and by realizing that we are given such compassion by our Spiritual Friend, however we understand that reality. I pray for your blessing, great and completely worthy spiritual friend. I pray that you will cause love, compassion and perfect charity to arise in my mind.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Healing Oneself

I am reading a rather marvelous book entitled, Zen Therapy by David Brazier. Toward the end, in the chapter entitled, "Coming Home", Brazier relates the following story:

I remember a client who would come to me each week with an unending catalogue of personal disasters about which, it seemed, she could do next to nothing. Nonetheless, through the window of the room where we met there streamed sunshine. Sometimes I would draw her attention to it and we would enjoy a few moments of silence together. It was springtime. "When I go away from here," she said to me once, "nothing has changed in my situation at home, but somehow I feel I have been turned around, so that I do not see it in the same way." I really had nothing to offer this woman except the sunshine, but through our being together she healed herself."

What Brazier was describing was not "positive thinking" (as might be assumed) but mindfulness. When it would have been easy to ignore the sunshine, they noticed it. Noticing brought the client into the moment and gave her the ability to cultivate a perspective on her situation that was different from the one she brought with her into the consulting room.

Stop. Just look and be aware. Just listen and feel and taste and smell. Let yourself be in the moment. What can you use in your environment that will be a prompt for such mindfulness? Through mindfulness, faithfully practiced, through being together with others who practice mindfulness, we can indeed heal ourselves.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Refreshing Candor

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has admitted to doubting the existence of God due to the tsunami disaster in an article quoted by the British newspaper The Telegraph.

" would be wrong" if faith were not "upset" by the catastrophe which has already claimed more than 150,000 lives.

"Every single random, accidental death is something that should upset a faith bound up in comfort and ready answers. Faced with the paralysing magnitude of a disaster like this, we naturally feel more deeply outraged - and also more deeply helpless."

He adds: "The question, 'How can you believe in a God who permits suffering on this scale?' is therefore very much around at the moment, and it would be surprising if it weren't - indeed it would be wrong if it weren't."

Dr Williams concludes that, faced with such a terrible challenge to their faith, Christians must focus on "passionate engagement with the lives that are left".

I find this enormously refreshing. Sadly, I have discovered in my reading today that many fundamentalist Christians are saying that the tsunami was God's punishment visited upon those who aren't Christian and that we in America who were spared such a disaster were protected because the beliefs of so many in this country are the so-called "right" ones. Needless to say, I am appalled by that interpretation of events. I wonder if such religionists have ever read the book of Job. There are also many right wing people recently who have declared that since many tsunami victims are Muslim, we shouldn't help them because Muslims are our enemies. I am appalled by that too - inexpressibly so. Even if it were true (and it's not), have such people forgotten that Jesus taught us to love our enemies and do good to those who despitefully use us?

And so it is indeed refreshing to come across a religious response that does not attribute this disaster to God's wrathful or even neutral will, that instead sees the response of faith as being the action of compassion rather than the passing of judgment. I agree with Rowan Williams that the challenge we all have, no matter what our belief system, is that of "passionate engagement with the lives that are left." As meditators the foundation of everything we do is compassion - compassion for ourselves, compassion for our loved ones, compassion for strangers and, finally, compassion for our enemies. May it be so for each one of us.

Hanging on a Cross of Iron

One of my favorite political blogs is Hullabaloo by Digby. Yesterday Digby posted this amazing passage:

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."
--Dwight Eisenhower 1953 speech

Sometimes we find rich teachings on compassion in unexpected places. We expect to find such teachings from religious figures or humanitarian workers. How moving it is to find these words from the mouth of a professional warrior.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Refuge Remembered

This morning, as I dodged the raindrops while rushing into the office building which houses the Center, I had a strong sense of appreciation for the refuge provided by that shelter. Most mornings, however, I don't think of it. I just walk in as part of my normal routine. But if it's very cold or very wet my gratitude for warmth and a roof are significant. I continued to experience that sense of appreciation as I settled down for the morning meditation sitting. And I found myself feeling an enormous gratitude for everyone who contributes financially to the Center thereby making it possible for us to pay the rent so that we have a meditation hall in a building that shelters us from the elements. My gratitude for the Three Jewels of refuge was intense as well. For just as I take refuge in the building from the rawness of a chilly, wet day, I take refuge in an interior sense as a way to relieve my own suffering - suffering caused by the mind poisons of anger, greed and delusion, suffering caused by my desire to have things be other than they are. And so I take refuge in my own fundamentally enlightened nature (even though I haven't fully realized that nature yet) - that is, who and what I really am on a deep level, not my ego or my self-image. I also take refuge in the richness of the wisdom teachings throughout all the ages and from all the great religious and philosophical traditions that offer a path to liberation. Finally I take refuge in the community of those on the path of awakening whether that community is experienced in the three or four people in the meditation hall on a given morning at 7:30 or is understood as all beings everywhere for all time.

Next time you take refuge in a welcome building from unpleasant weather, remember to take refuge on a more profound level as well. Accept that things are as they are. And let yourself appreciate that reality deeply.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Community and Compassion

This year for Christmas I gave Cynthia a desk calendar with sayings of the Dalai Lama for each day. I confess to an ulterior motive in that selection! I knew that I would be raiding her desk for good quotes --- and that's what I did today. I found two that are really pertinent to the issue that has captured my attention this morning.

"Life's purpose of happiness can be gained only if people cultivate the basic human values of compassion, caring, and forgiveness."

And this one:
"Our survival depends on community, like bees or ants."

Why did I select these two wisdom observations? Well, I came across a short article this morning in The Progressive that disturbed me very much because of the absence of compassion reported upon. I reprint it here for your reflection. Read it and then come back and ponder the sayings of the Dalai Lama again. Then I recommend doing Tonglen (compassion practice) for all concerned: for the tsunami victims and also for the members of the Ayn Rand Institute and for all who do not understand the value and importance of altruism.

Taking market ideology to its cruelest end
By Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive

Here's a story I thought was a hoax.

It came in by e-mail on Dec. 30 from the Ayn Rand Institute, and it had an Onion-type headline that read: "U.S. Should Not Help Tsunami Victims."

So unsure of its kosherness was I that I called up the author, one David Holcberg at the Ayn Rand Institute.

He vouched for it, though.

The piece began by focusing on the "private organizations and individuals" that are helping the victims. "Such help may be entirely proper, especially considering that most of the affected by this tragedy are suffering through no fault of their own," the piece said.

"May" be entirely proper? Is there a doubt?

And of the more than 133,000 who have died, did any die through fault of their own?

The thrust of the rightwing libertarian group's piece was that the U.S. government "should not give any money to help the tsunami victims" because "every dollar the government hands out as foreign aid has to be extorted from an American taxpayer first."

The folks at Ayn Rand don't believe in taxation.

And beyond that, they don't even believe in altruism. All they believe in is the market.

Check this out: "It is America's acceptance of altruism that renders them morally impotent to protest against the confiscation and distribution of their wealth," the piece said.

It calls this altruism "a vicious morality."

What's vicious is letting millions of people go hungry and homeless and without clean water or medical care.

This self-parody would be easy to laugh off if it did not represent the apotheosis of free market idolatry, idolatry that is worshipped at the highest levels of our government.

Reprinted from The Progressive:

Sunday, January 02, 2005

"Accept that you are accepted..."

“Sometimes… a wave of light breaks into our darkness and it is as if a voice were saying, ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you… Do not seek anything…; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.’”

As far as I’m concerned nothing else the great theologian Paul Tillich wrote comes close to the power, the startling, staggering, perfect truth of this famous “acceptance” statement. I sometimes think that if I were the rector of a parish I would be tempted to repeat this quote to the same people every Sunday for a year --- I think it is that important.

This experience of being accepted is not dependent on any belief system. But the question is sure to be asked: who or what does the accepting? I'd like to suggest that if you are a Buddhist you might experience being accepted by your own enlightened nature or by the Three Jewels. If you are agnostic or atheist you might experience being accepted by your own deepest, truest self - that self that is more real than your wounded self or your ego. If you are a traditional theist that acceptance may be experienced as coming from the Divinity of your understanding. Perhaps for everyone there can be the sense of being accepted by the Universe. In that regard there is a corresponding freedom when we have accepted that things are as they are. The story is told about Margaret Fuller who once exclaimed, "I accept the Universe!" It was Carlyle who then responded, "By God, she'd better."

All that being said I think it better to leave the "who" or "what" question alone. After all, Tillich did say "Do not seek anything... do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted." What would happen if you sat in meditation using this last sentence as your meditation support? In other words, just sit and let it be real and true that you are accepted? If we were to adopt this practice as a New Year's aspiration rather than taking on heroic resolutions I'm sure the freedom we would experience would be rich and profound.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Working for Peace in the New Year

A very happy New Year to everybody. As many of you know, I do not recommend making resolutions. They tend not to work and simply prompt a sense of failure when they are not kept. But I do recommend something called aspiration. Aspiration is what keeps us firmly on the path of awakening. Aspiration combines intention with energy. Aspiration keeps us from giving up or yielding to despair.

One of my deepest aspirations is to do what I can to work for peace - all kinds of peace: peace in the world, peace within all my relationships and peace within my own mind and consciousness. And so I thought I'd introduce you today to the Mission Statement of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship ( Perhaps their aspirations can inform and inspire ours.

The mission of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), founded in 1978, is to serve as a catalyst and agent for socially engaged Buddhism. Our aim is to help beings liberate themselves from the suffering that manifests in individuals, relationships, institutions, and social systems. BPF's programs, publications, and practice groups link Buddhist teachings of wisdom and compassion with progressive social change.
Our practice of contemplation and social action is guided by our intentions to:

Recognize the interdependence of all beings

Meet suffering directly and with compassion

Appreciate the importance of not clinging to views and outcomes

Work with Buddhists from all traditions

Connect individual and social transformation

Practice nonviolence

Use participatory decision-making techniques

Protect and extend human rights

Support gender and racial equality, and challenge all forms of unjust discrimination

Work for economic justice and the end of poverty

Work for a sustainable environment