I have returned from my chemo treatment and I feel fine. It was not nearly as horrible and painful as I thought it would be. No after effects so far, except for a some slight pain in the groin area where they inserted the needle and a tube that went from my femoral artery to the aorta and then to the hepatic artery.

Now, the hospital stay itself was another matter. You’ve heard of General Hospital. Well, this place could be called General Confusion Hospital. Three different departments were overseeing my stay and treatment and none of them communicating with each other. I will spare you the gory details.

I may offer a longer post at a future date about this experience. But for now I will keep it short. No one gets much sleep in hospitals they say. That was true for me and although I feel good physically, I am pretty tired. And the idea of sleeping in my own bed tonight, that is long enough for my legs, and has the right number of pillows to support my head and back, seems like a slice of nirvana.

Actually, a lot of what I would have to say about the last three days is summed up in this post from June, Cultivating Appreciation for Suffering, which I wish I had printed out and taken with me to the hospital. I could have used the reminder.

Thank you so much for the thoughtful comments offering well-wishes and support sent in response to the last post. It means a lot to me.

Yesterday, Sept. 25th, marked the 28th anniversary of the day I became a Buddhist. I received gojukai (“receiving the precept”), the equivalent of going for refuge in the Nichiren tradition, on a bright and warm Sunday morning in 1983 at Myoho-ji in Etiwanda, California. I do not mark the occasion as the day I took faith in Buddhism, but rather the day I made a determination to practice Buddhism.  Although, to be honest, at the time, I wasn’t too sure what I was doing.

The reason I put such a great emphasis on practice is because, and this may surprise some people, practice was the drumbeat of the Soka Gakkai. The motto was always: Practice first!

I wouldn’t try to tell anyone that my practice has been perfect. And I wouldn’t trust anyone who tried to tell me the same about their practice. I learned early on not to look for saints, or try to be one.

I call myself a Buddhist. It’s just a label but I’m proud to wear it. If asked to expand on that designation, I will say that in general I follow Mahayana Buddhism or that I am a non-sectarian Buddhist. Otherwise, I’m not too interested in labeling myself further.

Since leaving the tradition I joined all those years ago, I have thought that the non-sectarian approach was a very good thing, and perhaps even the wave of the future. I envisioned Buddhists of all stripes coming together, transcending sectarian differences, and fashioning a sort of holistic Buddhism here in the West.

It seems to me that we’re headed in the opposite direction. That’s why I don’t have much use for Engaged Buddhism, Integral Buddhism, Existential Buddhism, Secular Buddhism, Speculative Non-Buddhism, Humanistic Buddhism, Post-traditional Buddhism, Neo-Buddhism, Protestant Buddhism, True Buddhism, Rebel Buddhism, Consensus Buddhism, Practical Dharma, Living Dharma, Buddhist Geeks, Dharma Punx, etc. More labels. More “isms” to splinter the Buddha-dharma further.  It’s far too splintered already. Why is simply being a Buddhist not enough?

I think it’s great that Buddhism comes in many flavors. I just don’t feel it’s necessary to give each one a brand name.

I don’t see Buddhism as a faith, a religion, or psychotherapy, although I recognize it has elements of those things. I see Buddhism as a path, a Way (Ch. tao, Jp. do), something we do not have a category for in the West, something that inevitably embraces all the “isms” listed above, if you are open to it.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to provide an alternative to some trends that bothered me. I wanted to show people that there is a way to view Buddhism that doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, ala Stephen Batchelor, and that it is possible to introduce change and innovation without redesigning the dharma-wheel. I didn’t intend to make a big splash, and I haven’t.

I also wanted to use the blog as an outlet for expression. In that regard, it has served its purpose. Nevertheless, as much as I have enjoyed blogging overall, occasionally it has been a chore, and it’s taken up time that should have been spent on other projects, or practicing Buddhism. Lately, I have not felt much like blogging.

Tomorrow, I go into the hospital for several days to receive chemotherapy treatment. When I return, I will put up a post informing anyone who is interested how it went. Sometime after that, I may resume regular blogging, but maybe not. Who knows?

I am not looking forward to this treatment (understatement of the year). This past week, I have revved up my meditation and chanting, and tried to get myself into a peaceful and confident state of mind, but without a great deal of success. I thought maybe my practice was too rusty. Maybe I was not determined enough, not trying hard enough. I couldn’t stop obsessing on my suffering.

Then, Saturday, I read this post at Ben Harper’s blog, One Time, One Meeting. It was one of those V-8 moments. All along, I had been missing one critical ingredient. So focused was I on my own suffering (or the prospect of it) that I had forgotten about the suffering of others. You can read the comment I left in which I explain to Ben how his post turned me around.

The two most important things I have learned in my 28 years as a Buddhist is that to find the real value of Buddhism you must practice, and that means practice for oneself and others. After all these years, I still need to improve in both departments, but I’m trying, and being a “lifetime beginner”, I am still learning.


In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My pathway led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

- Bob Dylan

Joan Osborne and Jackson Brown sing “My Back Pages”:

The first evening of Autumn: beautiful twilight but I missed seeing the satellite flash across the southern sky. This view is Northwest, toward Malibu and the Pacific Ocean.

Surprised By Evening

There is unknown dust that is near us,
Waves breaking on shores just over the hill,
Trees full of birds that we have never seen,
Nets drawn down with dark fish.

The evening arrives; we look up and it is there,
It has come through the nets of the stars,
Through the tissues of the grasses,
Walking quietly over the asylums of the waters.

The day shall never end we think;
We have hair that seems born for the daylight;
But, at last, the quiet waters of the night will rise,
And our skin shall see far off, as it does under water.

Robert Bly

For the sake of some readers, I thought it might facilitate understanding to provide a bit of background to today’s presentation of the Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna.

He refers to the 12-link chain of Dependent Origination (pratitya-samutpada). This doctrine is one of Buddhism’s core concepts, thought to have been taught by the historical Buddha himself. It describes the way existence characterized by suffering comes into being. Essentially, it is the Buddhist conception of how Samsara, the world of birth and death, the mundane world we live in, “works.”

Dependent Origination is envisioned as a chain of causes and conditions with 12 links: the fundamental state of being is (1) ignorance, which gives rise to (2) volition, which conditions (3) consciousness, which is joined to (4) name-form (the psycho-physical entity); then the (5) six-senses are activated, and they come into (6) contact with objects of desire, and as a result, (7) feeling, (8) craving, and (9) grasping arise; all of these factors cause and further condition the (10) becoming of life; and all that is becoming is subject to (11) birth, (12) old age and death.

According to Dependent Origination, all persons are interrelated through these causes and conditions, so there is no independent self-being or self-essence to be seized.

Early Buddhism accepted the selflessness of the person but not of phenomena since they promoted the idea of “dharmas” (or things) as pieces of existence that were atom-like particles. While there was some difference of opinion within the Madhyamaka school and Mahayana early on, in general the Mahayana branch of Buddhism acknowledges the selflessness, or emptiness, or both the person and phenomena.

The Dalai Lama launches into a discussion of the degrees of subtlety of these two selflessnesses or emptinesses. As far as I understand this discussion proceeds within the context of consciousness, which in Madhyamaka consists of three levels: gross (or coarse), subtle, and extremely subtle. Gross consciousness is limited to the senses. Subtle consciousness is cognition and the mind dealing with concepts, forming judgments, etc. Extremely subtle consciousness is nonconceptual in nature and is said to be “clear light”.

There’s also a reference to Sravaka and Pratyeka-buddhas. In early Buddhism these were considered as different stages of the path. The Sravaka or “voice-hearers” are disciples. This is the level of “stream entry”; they have entered the stream that flows to nirvana.  Pratyeka-buddhas are private or lone buddhas, who realize awakening on an individual or solitary basis. In Mayahana, Sravaka and Pratyeka-buddhas are viewed more as separate vehicles or ways, and are contrasted with the Bodhisattva, which is considered to be a higher path. The Bodhisattva vehicle also has various levels or stages (bhumi).

With that out of the way, we wrap up the morning session of the second day of the teachings.

Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama – Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna

June 5-8, 1997

Part XII

Verse 31 reads:

Depending upon a mirror,
the reflection of one’s face
is seen, but it does not
ultimately exist at all.

In verse 35, The Precious Garland argues that without the existence of the physical and mental aggregates, the natural sense of “I” cannot arise. In the next verses, Nagarjuna explains why:

With these three phases mutually causing each other,
the circle of samsara whirls around,
like the circle (formed by a whirling torch)
without beginning, middle or end.

But that (samsaric process) is not attained from itself,
from something else, or from both; nor is it attained in the three times.
Therefore, (for one who knows this) the fixation on “I” ceases,
and hence also karma and birth.

[The three times: past, present, and future]

True understand of no-self of person requires a deep understanding of phenomena. This is because the natural thought of “I” or “I am” cannot arise independently of the physical and mental aggregates. Therefore, what Nagarjuna is suggesting is that so long as one subscribes to a belief in selfhood, there is no possibility of arriving at true insight into emptiness.

This passage seems to reinforce the Madhyamaka-Prasangika [a sub-school of the Madhyamaka; also refers to the ‘reductio ad absurdum’ argumentation used by the Madhyamaka schools]. So far as the true selflessness is concerned there is no real difference in terms of subtlety. The difference really lies in the difference of the object in which the two selves are presented, no-self of person is the emptiness of the person. No-self of phenomena is the emptiness of phenomena. So far as the selfhood that is being negated, there is no real difference between selfhood of person and selfhood of phenomena. And this difference reinforces the Madhyamaka position against, or in contrast, to other interpretations of Nagarjuna, where there is an acceptance of the real substantive difference between the no-self of person and the no-self of phenomena, in that the no-self of person is understood in terms of negation of self as a substantial reality rather than self as devoid of intrinsic reality and there is no-self of phenomena  – it is posited differently. So it seems that this passage from The Precious Garland supports the Prasangika, in as far as the two selves are concerned, there is no difference in subtlety.

Of course, there are very important commentators of Nagarjuna, such as Bhavavineka, a Madhyamaka philosopher who read Nagarjuna in a different way.  For example, Bhavavineka accepts that there is no real substantive difference between no-self of person and no-self of phenomena, but there is a difference in subtlety. There is also a difference of subtlety of the two forms of grasping – grasping at selfhood of person and grasping at selfhood of phenomena – given that one of the implications of that kind of position is to accept that the root of unenlightened existence, the root of samsara, is really the grasping at the selfhood of the person, not the selfhood of phenomena. Therefore, in order to obtain liberation from samsara, we need to gain insight into the no-self of phenomena. According to Bhavavineka, it is perceived that the insight into the no-self of phenomena is more related to the attainment of omniscient states, than attainment of liberation from samsara.

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I had intended to post another installment of the Dalai Lama’s commentary on The Precious Garland today, but I thought I would slip this in beforehand because it has some relevance. I read on Brad Warner’s blog that Nishijima Roshi in his translation of Nagarjuna’s “Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way” (Mulamadhyamaka-karika), uses “the balanced state” for the Sanskrit word shunyata, which most of us know as “emptiness.” Some people may find it confounding. I like it.

Apparently, Nishijima is quite aware that “emptiness is the accepted translation of shunyata” but he feels it does not convey Nagarjuna’s full meaning. I think “the balanced state” is consistent with Nagarjuna’s conception of shunyata, or sunyata. But it doesn’t capture the full scope of the concept either. No one phrase or word can. I do feel that it gets a bit confusing to use a variety of different words for any single Buddhist term, but that is a personal preference. Emptiness seems good enough, as long as we understand that when we use that word in a Buddhist context, it has several layers of meaning.

Sunyata in Siddham script.

Sunya, a Sanskrit word, literally means “zero” or “nothing.” In some cases, this gives the mistaken impression that sunyata means “nothingness”, but it doesn’t. Not quite. Wikipedia says, “Sunya comes from the root svi, meaning swollen, plus -ta -ness, therefore hollow ( – ness).” For this reason, sometimes “void” or “voidness” is used.

Nishijima is not out on a limb all by himself with “the balanced state.” Dr. Venkata Ramanan, in his work, Nagarjuna’s Philosophy, uses a number of definations for sunyata: as “devoidness”; “as the essential (mundane as well as ultimate) nature of things”; “as criticism that lays bare the truth of things”; “as non-substantiality, nonultimacy, conditionness, and relativity of things”; “as the indeterminate, unconditioned, undivided, unutterable nature of reality”; “as Nirvana”; “as samata (sameness)”; and “as harmony, integration, non-exclusivness.”

And they are all correct.

Another term Ramanan uses in association with sunyata, one that seems similar to Nishijima’s “balanced state”, is “the undivided being.” Ramanan writes,

The ultimate nature of man is the undivided being: In regard to the nature and destiny of the human individual, this has the profound significance that man as a specific, determinate individual is not absolutely confined to his determinate nature. As an individual, man is essentially related to the rest of the world. He is also not apart from the indeterminate reality which is the ultimate ground of his very being. and in his ultimate nature man is himself the indeterminate, unconditioned reality, the undivided being. The ultimate meaning of the sense of lack, the sense of devoidness (sunyata), which is the thirst for the real [dharmaisana or ‘seeking, longing’], Nagarjuna would say, lies in the realization of this real nature of oneself.”

Since I have not read Nishijima’s work, which I gather will be published soon, I have no real idea of how he envisions “the balanced state” as sunyata, but judging merely from the words themselves, it seems that realizing this “undivided being” fully would put one in a state of balance, and as well, on The Middle Way, the balanced path, which Nagarjuna also equates with sunyata.

The most basic meaning of sunyata, however, is in the context of “svabhava-sunya” or the emptiness (absence) of self-being. In tomorrow’s post, the Dalai Lama will talk about the emptiness of self and phenomena. The Buddha in his teachings only went so far as to posit the emptiness of self. It was Nagarjuna and the Mahayana who later extended sunyata to include all phenomena.

Nishijima’s “balanced state” coincides with one other layer of meaning Nagarjuna has for sunyata, that of samata or “sameness.”


Samata: The ultimate nature of things. The svabhava-sunyata, is also called samata (sameness) to mean the essential sameness of things in their true nature . . . The bodhisattva who comprehends the essential sameness of all beings as well as of their constituent elements holds his mind ‘in balance’ and fares with equanimity of mind.”

I have always thought of sunyata or emptiness as being the great equalizer. It equalizes all people, all races, all nationalities, all concepts – everything is equally empty. Naturally, this is meant in the ultimate sense. In the mundane or conventional sense, there are of course differences between people and things. The point is that from the higher ground of transcendent wisdom, sunyata renders these differences as incidental, or actually, meaningless. Sunyata pulls the rug out from everything that can be an object to seize and cling to, and in this way, emptiness is a tool to sever the attachments born from fundamental ignorance.

There is more to say on this subject, but this will suffice for now. Sunyata is a complex term. I also like the idea of emptiness as “openness.” We cannot fit all the things in the world into nice, neat compact little boxes. Reality is open, like space, and to approach this openness, we need to be open to numerous layers of emptiness. I suppose you could say that to understand sunyata, one needs an “empty” mind.

Ramanan quotes Nagarjuna from the Treatise on the Prajna-paramita Sutra:

The samata [sameness] of all things is not made by anyone . . . not even by the Buddha. Whether there are the Buddhas or there are not the Buddhas, the true nature of all things remains eternally sunya. This svabhava-sunyata [emptiness of self-being] is itself Nirvana.”

They say humor is the best medicine. Norman Cousins famously recovered from a heart attack by watching Marx Brothers movies. I could use some humor. Last night I turned on the TV to look for some. I tuned in to the Emmys. There’s always some humor on awards shows. Well, let me tell you in case you missed it, there were jokes a plenty. Unfortunately, none of them were funny. Well, maybe they were. Maybe I’m just too old to get them. Now, that’s really funny, and the joke is on me.

Anyway, I gave up on the Emmys about half-way through and decided to create some humor of my own. At least, that’s what I intended it to be  . . . So, today’s post is a toast . . . to sacred cows.

Sacred Cow — n. informal; a person, institution, custom, etc, unreasonably held to be beyond criticism (or bad jokes).

Sacred cows make the best hamburger.

- Mark Twain

Secretly, the Buddha knew that enlightenment could only be found at Dairy Queen but he was reluctant to reveal the teaching because the people's minds were not ready for it.


Surprisingly, few people are aware that the Dalai Lama is also a pulp fiction hero.


No one gives a dharma talk quite like Thich Nhat Hanh.


Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, Robert Thurman couldn't help but be frustrated when Ron Artest broke in on his lecture to announce he was changing his name to Metta World Peace.


Actually, I do have one sacred cow.


Last week in Sri Lanka, a group of roughly 100 Buddhist monks and their supporters destroyed a Muslim shrine said to have been built on a piece of property given to Sinhalese Buddhists 2,000 years ago. One of the participants, a monk named Amatha Dhamma Thero, told the BBC that “he and 100 other monks from various Asian nations destroyed the Islamic shrine because Muslims in the country were seeking to convert the locale into a mosque.”

According to the BBC report, “The mob waved Buddhist flags and – in one picture – burnt a green Muslim flag. There have been no other reports of what happened.” Witnesses to the incident claim the police were present but did nothing to stop the destruction. The police deny they were there, but the photo on the right, published on a number of sites reporting the incident, clearly shows men wearing some sort of uniform looking on.

A local senior Muslim denies that a mosque was planned.

Sinhalese is the majority ethnic group in Sri Lanka. Most Sinhalese are Buddhist. Theravada Buddhism is the state religion. Politicians and government officials routinely make pronouncements about how Sri Lanka is the center of Buddhism, and responsible for preserving dhamma, and so on. It’s sort of a Buddhist version of American exceptionalism.

Sri Lanka has a democratic, socialist government (the President is Buddhist). And while Sri Lanka has universal suffrage, the government has been accused of human rights violations in regard to the treatment of minorities, especially the Tamil who are Hindu. To be fair, there’s probably enough questionable treatment of others to go around on all sides over there. However, since I am a Buddhist, that’s the part  that interests me.

Some time back, I read an article by Chamara Sumanapala  entitled “Can A Buddhist Be A Racist Or A Nationalist?” The gist of his piece is that Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka are “misusing Buddhism as a tool to achieve their own ends.”

Sumanapala begins his article with this statement,

An observer of Sri Lankan politics would notice that many if not all nationalist and racist elements of the Sinhalese community are Buddhists.”

The Sinhalese see themselves as a “chosen people.” This belief stems from The Mahavamsa or “The Great Chronicle”, a Pali text, actually a poem, which advances the notion that the Buddha made magical flights to the island of Sri Lanka and chose its people to be responsible for the preservation of Buddhist dhamma.

Gananath Obeyesekere, Professor of Anthropology at Princeton and a leading scholar of Sri Lanka, writes,

The Mahavamsa is not just a text that gives us information on Sinhala-Buddhist identity; much more importantly it is a text that helps to create such an identity in a way that the previous chronicle, the Dipavamsa, did not. And central to that process of identity creation is the hero, Dutthagamani Abhaya (161-137 BCE), the man who conjoins the land or the place, Sri Lanka, with the sasana, already blessed by the Buddha as a place where the Dhamma will flourish. And when the anguished king asks the monks what consequences will befall him for having killed millions of people, the monks reply, that no real sin has been committed by him because he has only killed Tamil unbelievers, no better than beasts. And more gratefully the Mahavamsa monks assign Dutthagamini a place in heaven in the proximity of the next Buddha, Maitreye.”

Of course, I don’t know the entire story of the incident last week, or how much of what Chamara Sumanapala writes is valid, or to what extent attitudes fround in The Mahavamsa have actually shaped the culture of Sri Lanka, but on the surface none of it sounds very buddistly, as Jeff Bridges would say.

Destruction, whether it be Buddhist statues carved in the side of a cliff or a Muslim shrine, is an act of hate. I’ve always thought of Buddhism as being concerned with the art of construction, specifically the construction of shrines of loving-kindness in human hearts.

All beings tremble before violence.
All fear death.
All love life.

See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?
What harm can you do?

He who seeks happiness
By hurting those who seek happiness
Will never find happiness.

For your brother is like you.
He wants to be happy.
Never harm him
And when you leave this life
You too will find happiness.

from the Dhammapada, rendered by Thomas Byrom

Mindfulness is the English word most often used for the Pali term sati. Originally, it was used by Brahmans, meaning “memory”, in the sense of memorizing Vedic scriptures. In order to retain large amounts of material, one needed to have clarity of mind, a keen ability to focus, an enhanced quality of attentiveness. The Buddha adopted this Brahmanical term, using sati to refer to both “remembering” and presence of mind in meditation.

In this passage from Bhikkhu Nanamoli’s translation of Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga or “The Path of Purification”, composed in the 5th century and the first comprehensive manual on Theravada meditation, sati is used in the first context in this passage:

Now as to mindful and fully aware: here, he remembers (sarati), thus he is mindful (sata); He has full-awareness (samapajanati), thus he is fully aware (sampajana). This is mindfulness and full-awareness stated as personal attributes. Herein, mindfulness has the characteristic of remembering. Its function is not to forget. It is manifested as guarding.”

Elsewhere in this same work, sati is used in the context of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (of the body, of feelings, of consciousness, of mental objects):

And in some instances by the Foundations of Mindfulness, etc., accordingly as it is said: ‘Bhikkhus, this path is the only ‘way for the purification of beings, . . . for the realization of ‘nibanna, that is to say, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness’ . . .

And further on, Buddhaghosa also refers to sati in the sense of a specific meditation practice:

Mindfulness of breathing should be developed for the purpose of eliminating the conceit ‘I am.’

So here we have a several different meanings or connotations of the same word in the same work, and when reading the first passage we notice that there are a number of other words or terms that seem to be interchangeable, having essentially the same meaning. We might wonder how does mindfulness differ from full-awareness? How is sata related to sati? This I think points to the difficulty of trying to parse the English words we use for Buddhist terms. Bhikkhu Nanamoli, in his introduction to “The Path of Purification,” describes at length the linguistic, epistemological, and even psychological problems of translation, noting for instance, that the single English word “desire” has been used “as a translation of sixteen distinct Pali words.”

In my opinion, playing semantics with Asian Buddhist terms and the various English words we use as translations is like stepping into a muddy swamp. If you can avoid it, you’re much better off.

Yet, some folks just can’t seem to help themselves. Believe it or not, “mindfulness” is a rather controversial word in Buddhism these days. It seems some people object to mindfulness. They say it’s been over-used, it’s just a buzz-word, a cliché, that it points to a watered-down form of Buddhist practice, it’s nothing more than a balm, an elixir, a feel-good term. What is never entirely clear to me is whether these critics merely object to the word or if they also object to the practice, or both.

I don’t have a problem with such criticism because they are attacking a sacred cow – I think I’ve said before there are no sacred cows on this blog – but rather, I feel it is just nit-picking which doesn’t really contribute much. Certainly, there are some who overuse and abuse the term, and in the hands of a few of them, “mindfulness” has become a marketing strategy. But I think they are in the minority overall, and as the old adage goes, a few rotten apples does not spoil the whole bunch.

Mindfulness is just a word, a sign. Other words like awareness, attentiveness, or thoughtfulness work, but perhaps not as well. Not to mention that there’s probably someone, somewhere who’d have an objection to any word that became the standard.

The most common use of “mindfulness” is in reference to the meditation practice taught by the Buddha. I believe I am correct in saying that the instructions attributed to the Buddha about this practice are the first meditation instructions recorded in history. We find them in the Anapanasati Sutra or the “Discourse on Mindfulness of Breathing.”

I often like to quote Thich Nhat Hanh: “We do not need to search for anything more. We only need to practice the simple exercises proposed by the Buddha . . .” I think this is true to some extent. While there are many other forms of Buddhist meditation, this is the foundation, the starting point. No matter what else I do, I always return to “mindfulness” at some point. I try to remember the maxim of one on my teachers, “Always go back to the basics.”

But the real heart of mindfulness, in all its different senses, is found in daily life. We want to learn to do things with better attention and focus, teach ourselves how to avoid the bad habit of doing one thing while thinking of something else. By merely practicing anapanasati, we can become more observant, and learn how not to taint what we observe with judgments, preferences, or prejudices. We train ourselves to stay calm in situations that tend to provoke irritation or anger. We learn how to deal more effectively with our problems, worries and anxieties. The list goes on and on.

The benefits derived from “mindfulness” practice are not easily obtained. It requires effort, and it can be hard, even painful at times. They are not “gifts”, unless you consider them as gifts you give to yourself. When we say that mindfulness can be virtually any activity whatsoever, we mean we can learn to apply mental disciple to almost any situation. We’re trying to stop reacting to things so mindlessly. And we certainly don’t mean that mindfulness itself accomplishes anything. We do it. This is jiriki we’re talking about. Self-power. “Mindfulness” only works for us when we make it work.

Another quote I probably use too often is from Robert Thurman, who once said, “Buddhism is just a bunch of tools.” A handyman has various tools and they have various names. It cuts down on confusion. Makes it easier to identify a tool when you need one handed to you. We have to do the same thing in Buddhism. Concern about the names we give the tools is missing the point, I think. Isn’t the function of each tool far more important?

The sati arisen inspired by breathing (anapana) is “mindfulness of breathing.” This is a term for sati that has as its object the sign of in-breaths and out-breaths. The recollection arisen inspired by peace is the ‘recollection of peace.” This is a term for sati that has as its object the stilling of all suffering.”


I woke up yesterday morning and noticed a Peregrine Falcon perched on the utility pole outside one of my windows. They come and sit there from time to time. So do some of the Red-Tail Hawks around the neighborhood. Rarely do they linger long enough for me to grab my camera and snap a pic. This one yesterday did, though. You’ll see it below. Not the greatest photo of a Peregrine Falcon that’s ever been shot, but the best one I’ve taken. So far.

It’s interesting, here I am in the middle of a megalopolis and yet, there is a plenitude of wildlife around. I saw a raccoon for the first time in a long while the other night. Sometimes around 5 or 6 in the morning, I’ll see coyotes trotting up and down the street. And we have skunks, rabbits, possums, along with the usual assortment of squirrels, crows, hummingbirds, sparrows, and of course, the hawks and falcons. A few rats here and there.

Yesterday’s falcon put me in mind of a poem by St. John of the Cross. He was a Spanish priest who lived in the 16th century. I guess he was also considered a mystic. I don’t know a lot about him, other than that he’s been a Catholic saint for several hundred years and he wrote some pretty good poetry.

This one is called “Of Falconry.” I cut it out of the L.A. Times Sunday Book Review section about 15 years ago. Kathleen Jones, whose book, The Poems of St. John of the Cross, I found at Google Books, says,

Falconry was a popular sport among the Spanish nobility, and the imagery of the loved one was frequently used in secular love songs of the period . . . St. John was putting a gloss on a secular poem, and turning it into an analogy of the soul’s search for God.

Searching for God is obviously not my cup of tea, nevertheless, it’s a fine poem and translated by John Frederick Nims:

Of Falconry

Upon a quest of love,
hope sturdy and steadfast,
I flew so high, so high,
I caught the prey at last.

In this divine affair,
to triumph–if I might–
I had to soar so high
I vanished out of sight.
Yet in the same ascent
my wings were failing fast–
but love arose so high
I caught the prey at last.

Just when this flight of mine
had reached its highest mark,
my eyes were dazzled so
I conquered in the dark.
I gave a blind black surge
for love–myself surpassed!
and went so high, so high
I caught the prey at last.

The higher up I went
there, in this dizzy game,
the lower I appeared,
more humble, weak, and lame.
I cried, But none can win!
and sinking fast oh fast
yet went so high, so high,
I caught the prey at last.

Then–marvelous!–I made
a thousand flights in one,
for hope of heaven will see
all it can wish, be done.
I hoped for this alone;
I hoped; was not downcast.
And went so high, so high,
I caught the prey at last.

If you’re interested, you’ll find a vastly different translation by Sims of this poem that appeared in the August 1958 issue of Poetry Magazine here.

Needless to say, 9/11 was a traumatic event. No one in this country was unaffected by it. There is not one life it has not changed. For myself, ten years after, I am still moved to tears when I view some of the images of that day.

America came together on September 11, 2001, and for several days afterwards. We were united by our fear and horror, and then by a common resolve to see our way through the tragedy. It did not hold for long. Rather soon, we were once more divided. Ten years after, we’re still at it, clawing and scratching at one another, and it is wearying.

Ten years after, we still lack a proper perspective on the event. Our unity was exploited, transformed into a call for patriotism and a battle cry. I have never been convinced that it was merely an attack on America. The Twin Towers were a symbol of global capitalism. That’s why the complex was called The World Trade Center.

Before long, a reckless president desperate to find something to be about, lied to us and led us into a needless war. The invasion of Iraq had more to do with a money-making opportunity called the Rebuilding of Iraq than it ever did with 9/11. Ten years after, how do we reconcile the deaths of 4474 Americans in Iraq with the 2752 who died on 9/11?

Ten years after, we seem to lack perspective on so many things. Our priorities are out of alignment with reality. We go out of our way to honor the first responders, and yet, looking at it objectively, they acted as we expected them to, for they get paid to risk their lives. And the same with the military, they find themselves in harm’s way because they volunteered for that duty. We don’t expect any less from them. I don’t disparage their service or their courage, but I wonder if we don’t inflate some acts of heroism out of proportion.

When I think of America’s heroes, I think of coal miners who brave dangerous conditions each day to provide this nation with electricity. I look forward to a time when coal is no longer needed. But today, I wonder why these heroes on whose shoulders so much depends remain invisible to us, forgotten until a mine collapses. Where are their national monuments? When do we consecrate memorials to their fallen?

When I think of heroes, I think of construction laborers, farmers and ranchers, steel workers, aircraft pilots, electrical workers, sanitation workers, fishers, loggers – these too are dangerous jobs. When will we as a nation mourn their sacrifice? Where are their steel crosses?

Ten years after, I have mixed feelings about 9/11. I find these anniversaries disturbing. All the words about security, resilience, honor and bravery, seem rather empty to me. Yesterday we dedicated a memorial to the heroes of Flight 93, and yet, no one is quite sure what transpired during the final moments of that flight. I suppose it was inevitable that they would pass into legend, like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie at the Alamo. But I had hoped for something more, that we might see beyond the fog of legend.

Ten years after, I wonder what we have learned from 9/11 and what should we have learned? Was the lesson merely how to manufacture a better mythology? To be more paranoid? In response to the attack, was our only recourse to attack someone else? It’s said that you should know your enemy. We’ve identified our enemy as being Muslim, but do we know the Muslim world any better now? Perhaps in a tactical sense, we might, but do we know the heart of Muslim people? Do we have any better understanding of the causes that have driven so many of them to terrorism? Have we reached out with real compassion to the vast majority of Muslims who reject terrorism?

I think what we should have been learning during this time is something about ourselves. Ten years after, we should be able to see more in ourselves than just resilience and courage. Ten years after, it seems we have not increased our knowledge. Ten years after, we should have greater insight into the evil that lies in human hearts and compels people to commit mass murder. I can’t help but feel that great events should produce great wisdom.

However, ten years after, we do not seem much further along. Monuments, crosses of steel, and speeches do not really heal, they only soothe, as remembrance alone is at best only a band-aid on the wound that is still sore and festering, ten years after.

When a good person sees mortals oppressed by old age and disease, attacked by a hundred pains, tortured by sorrow and fear from birth to death, moved by compassion she directs her conduct for their well-being: when she sees a world oppressed by instruments of pain in the region of hell, she seeks for the thunderbolt of knowledge which surely breaks these instruments of pain. She seeks for the strong plow of knowledge in order to clear the field of the world, which is covered with the scrub, thorns, and weeds of passion and hate, and all tangled with thick undergrowth of false doctrine.

- Candradipa Sutra