In Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe-la says "'Self' and 'other' are relative terms, rather like 'this mountain' and 'that mountain ... 'This' and 'that' therefore depend upon our point of reference. This is also true of self and other. By climbing down the mountain of self, it is possible to ascend the mountain of other, and thereby cherish others as much as we presently cherish ourself."

Monday, December 31, 2012

More Prayers for Cathy

Please also continue making prayers for Tamara's sister Cathy, who is scheduled to have surgery Jan 4th.

Update on Paul

Great news: He is going to have surgery on his lung because the scan showed no further spread. Please keep making prayers for him.

My CT Scan Results

More evidence that the treatment is working: My most recent CT scan showed that the 4 small tumors in my abdomen were all smaller by half and that nothing new had appeared.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Prayers for Potential City Commercial Space for KMC CA to

Copied from an email:

As many of you are aware, we are in the process of trying to make Kadam Dharma more accessible to the people of Los Angeles. In light of this goal, we have been searching for a city commercial space that would be highly visible and located in a busy, thriving area.
After extensive searching, we have found a potential venue at 7950 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood (pictured below, outlined in red).
7950 Sunset Blvd
We are now in a critical stage of negotiations with the owners of this building, and pending our communications with them over the course of the next few days, it seems they will make their decision.
Please, with compassion, make strong prayers and dedications today and throughout the weekend for the most beneficial result.
Thank you for your support of this meaningful project.

With love,
Erica Schieferstein
Administrative Director

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Update on Paul, Prayer Requests

In a development his doctors called "unusual," things are looking up for PaulA. I think we know why that is. The power of prayer!
Please keep them coming, especially tomorrow, the 29th, when we make long prayers to our Protector, Dorje Shugden.
Please dedicate not just for Paul, but also for others with cancer (for which my list is much too long but includes Cathy, Ken, Petra, and Ingrid), and everyone else who is suffering mentally as well as physically. Please don't forget to pray for those who are barely aware of their suffering, because they may be in the worst position of all.
Thank you.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Prayers for Tamara's Sister

Please pray for Tamara's sister Cathy, who was recently diagnosed with cancer and will be having surgery, hopefully next month.
Many of you know Tamara, who used to be near Seattle and now lives in paradise. She has worked very hard for the NKT in various capacities over the years and would appreciate your dedications in support of her sister.
Many thanks.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Inspiring Videos of Kadampa Buddhism in South Africa

Kadampa Buddhism is meant for everyone, as Gen-la Dekyong reminded us this year. She even suggested we check our minds to see if there isn't a thought that it as only for a certain kind of person - say, an alternative type - when Geshe-la's vision is "Everyone Welcome."

You can see how widely appealing it is by watching these lovely recent videos from South Africa on YouTube:
Where Can I Find You?
Buddhist Meditation Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa

There used to be other videos there, but I can't find them; I also tried a Google search and checking without success. I'd love to hear if you know of others.

You can see more about Kadampa Dharma in South Africa on their websites and Facebook pages:
Cape Town Tushita Center FB and Website
Johannesburg Vajrapani Center Website
Durban Mahasidda Center Website

By the way, if you're interested in this kind of news about Kadampa Buddhism, you can sign up for their occasional emails at, near the bottom of the page, just above The Learning Zone section, where it has a space for you to enter your email address then click Subscribe.

It's also very inspiring to see the worldwide map of Kadampa Centers. May it be filled with more and more of those pins indicating Temples, KMCs, Centers, Retreat Centers, Schools, and someday maybe even hospices, retirement communities, and whatever else would be beneficial.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Tranquil Retreat

"Tranquil" as in peaceful - it's not as though I got anywhere close to tranquil abiding, although there was some overall movement in that direction.
The silent Tranquil Abiding retreat in Petaluma was healthy and concentrated.
We were very well taken care of by the people at KMC San Francisco and the retreat venue, Walker Creek Ranch. (This was the first time they'd used this retreat venue, because they have to cook at their regular place and for a silent retreat they wanted a place that would do the food.)
Even though we'd never met, Sangha SusanT kindly picked us R and me up at the airport, drove us to the retreat, and when it was over, dropped us off at the Dharma house, where we'd arranged with Admin Cate to stay.
The food was delicious and nutritious, and in large quantities, which made a big difference for me because the corticosteriod Dex I'm taking makes me very hungry. They even made vegan and gluten-free dishes for us.
But when I said healthy, I wasn't just thinking primarily about the food. There was fresh air and a clean environment, and a sky full of stars at night - but there was also something that felt really healthy about the meditations, which I've never seen that way, and I wasn't focusing on a healing practice - in fact, I was trying to get rid of my body.

There were a lot of animals, from deer who were obviously used to visitors at Walker Creek and  who you could also see on the hills surrounding the site (I even saw two young bucks butting heads), to lots of bird life, including many vultures to remind me of death and a hawk to remind me of trying to soar during meditation rather than constantly flapping my wings like many of the other birds around; I like to think of myself as a baby hawk. There were the raccoons we'd been warned about who did indeed try to use their little hands to open the doors to our cabins. They raise goats and chickens, next to their large vegetable garden that they harvested to feed us.

The animal that made the biggest impression on me, however, was this cattle, who helped me generate bodhichitta, because he was just down the road from the meditation hall but was incapable of spiritual practice:

I wish I'd gotten a photo of the empty pair of slippers that appeared one day outside one of the cabins. They were like a conceptual art piece, eerily conveying the emptiness of the body.

More importantly the feeling in the gompa was very concentrated. There were almost 60 people and almost no noise. (I find it funny that I had to put in my hearing aids for the silent retreat! Without them I couldn't hear the dings that signaled the approach of the end of each session and the end. They also mask my mild tinnitus.)
You know how when you're at a big Buddhist gathering like a Festival or a Celebration, and most everyone is happy, even when it's crowded and rainy, and you get a glimpse of how powerful these teachings are and get the sense that world peace is actually possible? I had a similar sense of the collective power of our minds meditating together at the retreat. I felt swept up by the meditative concentration in the room. I realized everyone wouldn't have to immediately adopt the teachings to be affected by them. It's similar to the way we feel anxious and hurried when we're in those kinds of environments ... but the exact opposite. It was so clear how we affect each other.

It was also concentrated in that so much seemed to happen over those four short days. We started Friday evening, after dinner, with a wonderful introduction to the retreat by Gen Choma, and an hour later we were in complete silence. The schedule had five 1-hour sessions Saturday and Sunday, and I was very happy to be able to do four of them each day. Monday we did one last silent session, following by Wishfulfilling Jewel puja with tsog offering as a transition out of silence.

At the preparatory teaching months ago, we had been advised not to meditate on our chosen object for more than 30 minutes, following teachings from Ven Tharchin, the longtime Retreat Master at Tharpaland Retreat Center. At the retreat the group would do Guru Founder and Liberating Prayer with audio at the beginning of each session, and then each retreater would do their chosen prayers before meditation. Because those prayers don't take 30 minutes, I'd had to think about how to fill the time. In addition to adding a preliminary meditation to generate bodhichitta and longer pauses to receive blessings, I took the prayers at a slower pace. That turned out to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the retreat, like a scenic drive through familiar territory usually driven at a faster speed.

Some sessions were more concentrated than others, of course, especially on the Dex, but after every one I was eager to try again. It felt like playing a video game: When you lose a round, you immediately want to restart, and after much repeated effort, you occasionally advance to the next level.

Monday night we'd arranged to stay at the Dharma house, which is a short BART ride from their Center. As you may know, Saraha was the first NKT Center in the U.S., and the Dharma house was the original Center. It felt like a pilgrimage. I learned more about some of the history, including Teachers who'd served there such as Gen Losang and that Gen Choma had been their long-time Admin Director. I first knew her as a Teacher in New Bedford, MA, and had no idea she had that much karma with San Fran.

KMC SF is actively looking for a retreat place for our tradition on the West Coast, and I think Gen Choma even visited one on the way back from Walker Creek. As part of the dedication at the end of the retreat, we prayed that more retreat centers would appear all over the world. May everyone have the opportunity to enjoy this meditative experience.

There are more photos of the retreat, the Center and the Dharma house online if you're interested. Check out the old statues.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Good Results

Yesterday I got the results of my tumor-marker blood test: As with 2 of the 3 other patients in this study whose results I've heard, it dropped in half (in my case from 35.5 to 17, which is in the normal range). This treatment is working!
When you're on a clinical trial, everything is determined by the detailed protocol, which specifies a CT scan in a month. If it shows that the 4 small tumors in my abdomen are gone, and nothing new has appeared, I will officially be in remission and will no longer get the chemo drugs, but will continue with the experimental drug.
Thank you, as always, for your prayers - I know what a difference they make.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Preparing for Silent Retreat

Tomorrow R and I are headed to the Bay Area for a weekend unguided silent retreat. There are 58 retreaters signed up!
As you might expect, to prepare for it, we have been trying to improve our concentration, trying to prevent distraction. What I have been surprised at is how much I have been focusing on trying to avoid noise in the meditation room. This is a truly silent retreat - like the kind they do at Tharpaland Retreat Center in Scotland, where Geshe-la did a 3-year retreat and I had the very good fortune to do two week-long guided silent retreats with Ven Tharchin.
KMC San Francisco (!), formerly known as Saraha Center (the first NKT Center in the U.S.), has been great about helping us prepare. As you may know, silence at Tharpaland means no whispering but also no eye contact or gestures. The solitary retreaters there typically pull up their hoods (which makes sense given the weather in Scotland) and wear sunglasses (in a climate that's usually quite free of sun) when they go for walks. You have to turn in your cell phone. The only person you can communicate with if absolutely necessary is the Retreat Coordinator, who you contact in a note.

As part of the excellent introduction to the retreat that Gen Choma gave a couple of months ago,  and that they kindly recorded so that we would be able to benefit from it, she explained how to prevent any distracting sounds in the gompa. As as Tharpaland, you are taught how damaging it can be if someone is deep in meditation and there is a sudden loud sound. I heard a story of an advanced meditator whose inner winds were messed up when someone dropped a pot; he had great difficulty meditating for months. If you have to sneeze or cough, you teach yourself to make a small preliminary throat-clearing kind of sound as a warning to others. At this retreat, water bottles in the gompa are discouraged unless medically necessary. You are supposed to have memorized your sadhana so that there is no sound of ruffling pages. Newer meditators were directed to create a one-page version of their prayers. We were encouraged to notice any habits we have that might bother others, including cracking your joints (which I never used to be able to do but a few months ago, I started cracking my neck in the gompa), wearing noisy nylon clothes, foot tapping, etc. Gen Choma read a funny list of annoying things that meditators do that came from a student. One of the other things I notice I sometimes do is sighing. I have stopped whispering my prayers.

This Summer at our annual Lamrim retreat, I started working with being more physically still and have been continuing to try to train in it during other retreats. (I bought my zabuton, the bigger meditation cushion that goes underneath the cushion you put your butt directly on, from a local company called Still Sitting - a good name I think.) I was noticing that I'd scratch my face or rub my hand through my hair (another new habit, probably from the delight of having hair) -completely unnecessary distractions for me and others.

Another retreat tip I hadn't heard before is to stop listening to music a few days before starting, because you are likely to hear those sounds in your head when you're trying to focus on something more virtuous. It's more pronounced now because, in solidarity with my brother's family, whose house was inundated with water from the big storm, and as a former Joisey Girl who is a long-time fan, ("Born to Run" in the migratory sense), I have been listening to Bruce Springsteen's "My City in Ruins," which has the rousing chorus, "Come on, rise up!" My sister sent our family a video she found that had post-storm photos of my brother's beloved shore town with that as its soundtrack, and it made me cry.

As you may have noticed, there are a lot of tangents here. It gives you an idea of how my mind's working these days, because the other twist in all of this is that I am taking a drug that really helps me feel better but that revs up my mind. The last two weeks we were dogsitting my sister-in-law's terrier, so I've named it my terrier mind - like a monkey mind but worse, darting here and there, refusing to settle down and rest. This drug also affects my memory.

In addition to summarizing some of the key information about concentration and training in tranquil abiding from Joyful Path, Gen Choma's introduction also included valuable advice from someone who's obviously a dedicated meditator. She was just here in Seattle giving us the highlights from the International Fall Festival in Spain and mentioned meditation tips there too, such as noticing her hand position in meditation as an indicator of her mental state: She said when her thumbs are pressed together too tightly, her mind is pushing too hard but that when the oval of her hands starts to collapse, her concentration is flagging. I also starred her advice about how to reset yourself when your meditation isn't going well, by backing up and requesting blessings, and if you need to, going back through the prayers, all the way to refuge if needed.

Big thanks to Gen Choma, Admin Cate, EPC Michelle and Retreat Coordinator Eva, who are making it very easy for us to attend. Eva was one of my roommates at Summer Festival and first told me about the retreat. The power of Sangha again! She thought training in tranquil abiding would be a wonderful offering to our Guru in Portugal next Fall.

I am very much looking forward to the retreat, even with these handicaps. I am not planning on doing every session, expecting that I may need to rest, being content to take walks and read Dharma, just trying to create good causes for the future. There's no reason I can't continue this training on my own, and we may even request a Tranquil Abiding Retreat in Seattle.

For fun, I tell myself The Dudette Abides ... or tries to. (That's a reference to the quotable cult movie The Big Lebowski, which stars Jeff Bridges as a pothead bowler. There's a car in our neighborhood that has "The Dude Abides" bumper sticker.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

NKT Video of Latest Developments

A really good summary of the latest developments: Nice photos of Special Teacher Training Program, commercial centers around the world, new retreat center on Minorca, Portugal Temple photos, Chinese edition of Modern Buddhism (already sold out!), public talks all over China, study groups in coffeeshops in China, many photos of kids at Tara school, children's books coming next month, and news of Portugal Festival with Geshe-la.

Also, the Portugal website is up and says registration opens next Feb and has an FAQ.
Hope to see you there.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Trial Update

Yesterday I got my 3rd treatment and it went well. The Principal Investigator of the study stopped by when I was getting my weekly chemo infusion that's part of the trial and told me that 2 of the 3 patients in the group that started a month before me, at half my dose of the new drug, had their tumor markers drop by half! In just 4 weeks!

But I am still under the care of my beloved oncologist. Treatments go pretty much as they always have.

I wish everyone who was sick had a doctor like my oncologist. He has decades of experience treating cancer and is one of the leading experts in Seattle. He treats everyone from VIPs to charity cases and gives every patient as much time as they need! When chemo nurses have cancer, they go to him, and I learned of him from Uma. Oh, and he does email, quickly answering the long lists of questions I send him when I am starting a new treatment. He is also happy answering them in person, but I like email for some things and check in with him to make sure I am not abusing the privilege. When test results come in late, he will call me on a Friday night because he knows I want to hear them as soon as possible. He is also a husband, father and grandfather, who his nurses tell me dotes on his granddaughter. He publishes research with an assistant. Also his beautiful photos are hung around the offices. I don't know how he does it, but in his 60s he is still a mountain climber! I think  he is an emanation.

I have to say, one difference with this trial is takes a lot of mindfulness and attention to detail. I am starting to get into the rhythm, but I had to make myself a detailed schedule and write myself notes so that I can keep track, because I take the experimental drug at home, twice a day for 3 days.

My main side effect so far has been fatigue. The first week I just felt lousy - I should have taken the optional drug my oncologist suggested, because it makes a huge difference for me, although it further complicates my drug schedule. When I take it, I don't even feel like I'm on chemo.

This coming week I am off treatment - and R and I are off to the Tranquil Abiding Retreat run by KMC San Francisco.

Thank you so much, as always, for your support.


Friday, November 2, 2012


It's all lies - everything and everyone we see is a lie.
They will all say they exist. They will insist.
They will claim they are solid, real things and beings.
It is not true. Do not believe them.

They are tall tales, all of them - whoppers of immense proportions.
Do not be taken in.

They are all false. Mistaken. Wrong.
Distortions. Dishonesty after dishonesty. Deceptions and deceit.
Fabrications, all of it.
Do not fall for it.

Sometimes, for fun, I think of the Who lyric, "Won't get fooled again." And then am immediately fooled again, taken in by appearances.

Of course, we want insight into the true nature of reality, but we really don't like being duped.

And you thought I was going to write about the election, didn't you? : )

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Lessons from the Storm

We know that we can learn from everything and everyone, and the storm is such a big opportunity for spiritual learning, especially for those of us who aren't directly affect and can more easily step back to contemplate it. (One of the main reasons I write this blog is so that others can learn from my experiences without having to experience them directly for themselves. For me, having cancer has been wonderful for my spiritual practice, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone.)

This disaster reminds me of the things I take for granted. I have renewed gratitude for the living beings who provide everything I need. In particular, I have been appreciating that I can flick a switch and have light, and that the heat comes on automatically. It's been raining a lot here, but the roof keeps us dry, as does my raincoat when I go out for walks with the dog. We have a fridge and freezer and pantry full of healthy food, with more where that came from just down the street. I can get in the car, travel a smooth, safe road, and go wherever I like. All thanks to the kindness of others. That's not even mentioning all the workers who have been rescuing the stranded, looking after the injured, providing shelter for the displaced, keeping the streets safe, clearing downed trees, pumping water out of roads, tunnels and buildings, getting transportation moving again, and on and on.

Renunciation also comes quickly to mind. We often convince ourselves we are in control, but a huge storm like this reveals otherwise. It is a natural disaster - this kind of sudden disruptive event in our lives is entirely natural in samsara. Whether it is losing a job, getting sick, or dying - it happens all the time. I don't want to live in a world where such dangers could strike anyone at any time.

That feeling slides easily into compassion for all the manifest suffering created by the storm. I saw an interview on TV with a couple who had a lot of water damage to the house they had been working on themselves for years. The man described how he had laid every plank of the floor and built every wall in the house. There was a lot of sadness at the loss but also the fortitude to fix it. It did, however, make me think of an elaborate sandcastle inevitably swept away by the incoming tide. My body is like that: I can build every cell of it, over and over, but there is no ordinary way to prevent it from being eroded by the tides of aging and death.

Speaking of death, I'd like to quote from a beautifully written New York Times article titled Storm Deaths, Mystery, Fate and Bad Timing
They stepped in the wrong puddle. They walked the dog at the wrong moment. Or they did exactly what all the emergency experts instructed them to do — they huddled inside and waited for its anger to go away.
Hurricane Sandy, in the wily and savage way of natural disasters, expressed its full assortment of lethal methods as it hit the East Coast on Monday night. In its howling sweep, the authorities said the storm claimed at least 40 lives in eight states.
They were infants and adolescents, people embarking on careers and those looking back on them — the ones who paid the ultimate price of this most destructive of storms. In Franklin Township, Pa., an 8-year-old boy was crushed by a tree when he ran outside to check on his family’s calves. A woman died in Somerset County, Pa., when her car slid off a snowy road.
Most of all, it was the trees. Uprooted or cracked by the furious winds, they became weapons that flattened cars, houses and pedestrians. But also, a woman was killed by a severed power line. A man was swept by flooding waters out of his house and through the glass of a store. The power blinked off for a 75-year-old woman on a respirator, and a heart attack killed her.
And the storm left its share of mysteries. A parking lot attendant was found dead in a subterranean parking garage in TriBeCa, the precise cause unclear. The body of an unidentified woman washed up on Georgica Beach in East Hampton, on Long Island.
Some people died and no one knew, not for hours, not until the storm backed away and moved on. ...
Death is coming, one way or another; let's make the most of this precious human life while we still can.

KMC NYC After the Storm

I was happy to see on the Kadampa Meditation Center New York City's Facebook page that their Center is fine but without power. (They are in lower Manhattan, and just moved into a beautiful new space on the first floor! That location seemed perfect for making it easy for people to find them and easily stop by ... until the low elevation seemed to put them at great risk for water damage.)
Their website shows that they are planning to have a class Sunday at 1pm, and 3 classes next week on "The Wake of the Storm." I rejoice! May many New Yorkers find true refuge from the storm there. At a time like this, having the Center open is such a public service. A disaster also provides an opening for things to change, and I am praying that we will all learn more about the real face of samsara and the healing nature of peace as a result.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Prayers for Storm Victims

Please pray that everyone remains calm in the aftermath of the horrendous that hit the East Coast of the U.S. and is proceeding inland. So much damage has been done to the infrastructure, it will not be quickly fixed. May everyone get the essentials they need while keeping peaceful, loving minds.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Donation Request to Help Sangha

Below is an email from Kadam Olivier, who as many of you know directs the Festival plays and is now working on the Kadampa movie of the life of Buddha Shakyamuni. I personally know Kelsang Chokyi to be a beautiful example of a Kadampa and would like her to be able to continue focusing on spreading Dharma around San Diego.
Because tomorrow is Je Tsongkhapa Day, a very special holiday in the NKT calendar, it would be especially auspicious to donate then; even a small amount would be multiplied in terms of the merit you receive. As Kelsang Tubchen said in regard to this request, "the analogy of many drops of water filling the bowl comes to mind" and I would like to add a drop. Please help fill the bowl if you wish.

Hi everyone which are very dear to me.
I would like to ask you for some help.
I would like to be able to help some Sangha friends, whom helped me very much and got suddenly in a very tough financial situation.
Last summer, in England, we were preparing some tests for the movie of the Life of Buddha, a little filming crew of twenty people, all Kadampas, volunteering without budget.
Members of our team went to another town to get some equipment that was kindly lent to us. They borrowed the rented car from a friend of the Summer Festival. In many countries, anyone driving a rented car is also covered by the insurances, which covered the car, not only the people on the contract. In England, it is not like this: it only for the names on the contract!
My friends got suddenly hit by a truck! Through an incredible good fortune, they got out safely from… the completely wrecked car. Instantaneously they were in debt of £8,752 or $US 14,000 towards the renting company! A nun and resident teacher in San Diego, Kelsang Chokyi, and the Admin Director of KMC Spain, David Tudela. Both do not work outside their centres, but have devoted their life to spreading Kadam Dharma, only for a small sponsorship. So they don’t have the resources to pay back this debt themselves, unless they would have to leave their responsibilities.
Amongst many in the film crew, we gave ourselves the goal of each to find 20 people who could give £20 ($30) and like this we could easily pay back this debt. How amazing is the power of the Sangha!
Some of you might only be able to £3, €4 or $5, and some other more. Any amount is so beneficial.
I’ll give as much as I could. I would like to invite you to help me to find £437 or $700 or even more! I know that for some of us, it might be more difficult to gather £437 amongst their friends!
The simplest is to own a PayPal account, so that you can transfer the amount in Pounds that you wish… £20 is $US 32. You can click here to access the Funds for Car Accident
I am addressing also to you to help me find more benefactors through your circles of Sangha friends, please! Please do forward this message! This is not a NKT fundraising as it is to help individuals, Kadampa friends, but we did, of course,  check with the NKT. If we would raise beyond the debt, the extra money would be given to the International Temple Fund.
I really want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and wish you all the best results from a sincere practice of giving!
With gratitude,
Kadam Olivier

Monday, October 22, 2012

Quizzes, Tests and the Final Exam

Some students are hesitant to join FP when they hear that there's a test. We used to lose a student or two right before the test, although of course you don't even have to pass.

But we get tested all the time ...

We get regular Dharma quizzes, for example, from the people who bother us at work, and we get pop quizzes when something goes wrong that we weren't expecting. How'd you do? Peaceful mind?

Whenever I get cut off on the highway, I practice immediately going for refuge, because a few inches the other way and it could have been the end of me. I want the Three Jewels to be at the front of  my mind, always, but especially then.

When I'm focusing on the advantages of cherishing others, I try to give myself repeated quizzes, asking myself throughout the day, "Who were you thinking about?" Sad to say, it's usually me.

Of course, the final exam is death.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I Know Nothing

After posting in "The Myth of Fingerprints,"  about how we know others - because we are essentially all the same, in that everyone shares the wish to be happy and to avoid suffering - I am now going to contradict myself and say that we know nothing about others. (As the writer Walt Whitman famously said, the poem "Song of Myself" in Leaves of Grass, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large - I contain multitudes.”) A lot of Buddhist ideas can seem contradictory on the most superficial level but actually aren't if you have a deeper understanding of them. Think of karma and emptiness, for instance, and how they mutually support each other.

A story Mary told me illustrates this humble mind very well.
She told me about how careful she was driving her nauseated son back from from treatments, travelling from one side of the city to another. Slowing down during turns seemed to really bother some of the drivers behind her, who would get frustrated and impatient. Now Mary tells herself that she has no idea what's happening with others and gives them a lot of slack.

It's a practice of humility, because my pride likes to believe it knows what's going on. It's a good reminder for us all not to judge others. We usually have no idea what's happening in their life or what's motivating them. Think of the way we make up stories about, for example, the strangers we see in airports, based solely on a quick scan of their outer appearance. With a humble mind, it's easier to love everyone, because we're not rushing to judgment about them.

Add to that the fact that I am completely mistaken about everything I see, thinking things exist the way they appear. Realizing how completely wrong I am about every single thing is a very effective way to dispel my pride.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fall Festival in Spain

Here's another cause of rejoicing: The Fall Festival in Spain. The diaries - videos, photos and text - are updated daily. They are the next best thing to attending.
Click the rectangular photo for each day for a virtual experience of the Festival, including excerpts from the teachings and meditations.
One video I particularly enjoyed is titled "Shrine Setup Time-lapse - New Kadampa Tradition Fall Festival 2012" where Kadampas zip around setting up the throne, Vajrapani shrine, and meditation hall.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rejoicing in New KMC NYC

I am so happy that the Buddhist Center in Manhattan has a large new space and is now designated as a special center called a "Kadampa Meditation Center" or "KMC" for short. "KMC NYC" has a certain ring to it, don't you think?
Their previous location was full to capacity and then some; I heard that at times, they even had to turn people away. I visited once, and was amazed that new people were able to find them at all, because the center wasn't allowed to have a sign at street level.

They will have their official opening Oct 26-28.
More info and photos on their website and Facebook page, fb/kmc nyc.

Good, Bad; Good? Bad?

On a trip to the car wash, I got a good look at my mind in action. Whatever happens, without really thinking, I automatically label it good or bad.
I'm so simple-minded. There's no subtlety in those black-and-white labels. So little thought at all.

Here's what happened . . .
  The city sent out a newsletter that had a coupon for a free car wash. I think, "good."
  Not only that, but I had the coupon in hand when I had time, the car, and was near the car wash. Also good.
  I was midway through the wash when one of the scrubbers tore off my side mirror! Bad! I was stunned. I'd been to this particular car wash several times before without incident, and I'd never heard of this happening.
   There was nothing I could do but sit there watching while the rest of the scrubbers played tetherball with my mirror, which was dangling from the side of my car by its cord. Bad!
  After exiting the wash, I talked to the manager, who immediately said they'd cover the cost of repairs. Good!
  But I was dreading telling R that the car we've been sharing now had a broken mirror. Bad!
  When I told him, however, he said "Good!" because now you can get a better mirror (it was one of the features of my car he wasn't fond of).

It's funny. (Note how I expanded my vocabulary from two words.) So was the experience good or bad? After all that up and down, I'm tempted to say I have no idea.

My comic car carma continued when I went to the dealer to get a new mirror installed. The attendant who took in my car locked my keys in the car! Bad. But also funny.
  He said not to worry because they could make another key. Good. And a spare would come in handy.
  The key didn't work; he said I must have had the locks rekeyed, which I'm sure wasn't the care. Bad.
  Don't worry - we can "break in." Sounds bad.
  On the phone R reminded me I still had the clicker to open the door. Good.
  The clicker didn't work. (Apparently they don't when the key is in the ignition. Who knew?) Bad.
  The car guy said, "We'll just use a slim jim.'' Good.
  Your car is the easiest one in the world to break into. Bad.

Reflecting on the whole experience, it seems like samsara in microcosm - wave after wave coming at me. Sometimes I'm joyfully surfing the wave, sometimes I'm barely managing to stay on the board, then a wave knocks me off and I'm getting pummeled by the waves, my mouth full of saltwater. Continually. Day after day. Life after life.
(How does that song go? "Sometimes you're the windowshield; sometimes you're the bug.")

At one point it occurred to me that thinking something is bad seems like a subtle form of anger. It's not acceptance and implies it shouldn't be happening.

"It is what it is" has become a common phrase - my Stepmom even has it as a sign hanging in their house. There's acceptance if you really believe that.

We also sometimes say "it's all good." It's not easy to actually mean it, though - not when it's about something that has happened to us.
I am working on developing a more flexible mind, one that can gracefully surf these waves. I would like to be able to learn from everything that happens, and then I wouldn't be so caught up with whether they seem good or bad. That measurement is usually based on the 8 worldly concerns, particularly comfort.
Now when unusual things happen, I'm more likely to see them as situations manifested by my Spiritual Guide for my training. (They seem so strange, they can't be ordinary, which also reminds me of emptiness.) If I could see everything in that way, it would truly all be good.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

My Trial

My clinical trial, that is.
I'm sorry I didn't post an update sooner - it seems a bit rude after asking for prayers. In my, umm,  defense I will say my life has been much more eventful than usual, not even accounting for the tire blowout, which I will try to write about that in another post.

Your prayers helped make my choice very clear: I am going to take advantage of qualifying for the clinical trial of a very promising new anti-cancer drug (technically it's not chemo, although I will also be getting 2 chemo drugs I've had before). I am so happy to have this chance, as it could be a game changer. Or not. But I am optimistic. Something tells me this could work very well for me.
There are a lot of safeguards. I can drop out any time, for any reason. In fact, even though it's an experimental drug, it's not particularly risky, and, because it's targeted at the tumor's DNA, it has fewer side effects than chemo drugs.  Those other options I was considering will still be there later if this doesn't work out.

I start next Friday, Oct 19th. I will get treatment for several days each week for 3 weeks, then there's a 1-week break, continuing for 6 months or until I go back into remission or need to stop treatment. The protocol dictated a 4-week waiting period to make sure nothing unexpected happens with the first group of 3 that's on this trial.
There had been some urgency to the decision, because I was almost in the first group and would have started immediately. I am grateful to Uma, who very quickly gave me invaluable research and advice I did not have access to. Combined with prayers and what I found out myself, from relatives in the field and the Internet, I am confident that I made the best decision I was capable of.

It's amazing to me that I qualify for this clinical trial. I first heard about this drug, which is classed as a PARP inhibitor, two years ago and have been keeping my eye on it ever since. Whenever I've brought it up with doctors or nurses, however, they've always said that even if there was an open trial, I was unlikely to qualify for it, because of my brain metastasis or the amount of chemo I've had. A clinical trial is the only way to get the drug and thankfully the drug company is paying for it because it is outrageously expensive. There are only 50 of us. So it's "suspicious" that they let me in. Not only that, but the trial is in Seattle, when people often travel long distances to be in a trial, and it is even at the same place where I have been getting my chemo the last few years. And I will still be under the care of my beloved oncologist, not the principal investigator of the trial, who is down the hall. It's very suspicious.

I am using that word after hearing a Kadampa friend use it to describe the unusual circumstances that lead to her new job. She thought the odds were very long of getting hired as a teacher when many of her more qualified and experienced colleagues were submitting many resumes and not even getting an interview. She meant it wasn't ordinary that they hired her. Prayers again. We both think Dorje Shugden arranged these conditions for us.

At class on Tuesday, Jody mentioned that Gen Khedrub used the word "suspicious" at last weekend's emptiness retreat. I wasn't there, but R told me it was based on a quote from Arya Deva that, "Even the mere suspicion that objects lack inherent existence wrecks the seeds of samsara."

This clinical trial feels like it was manifested out of emptiness by my Spiritual Guide. As further evidence, the day after everything very quickly came together, it all dissolved away, when my oncologist was, suspiciously, out of town teaching. In his absence, there were karmic, comic miscommunications and bad phone connections. No one seemed to know who I was, even though they had been given my name the previous day. I wondered if Dorje Shugden had set up obstacles to protect me, so I and others made prayers for him to continue if that was the case, but to remove them if they were in fact obstacles. When my doctor returned on Monday, everything got sorted out, and this opportunity re-appeared.

When I told CraigS this story about my treatment opportunity and my suspicious, he corrected me, saying, "Not suspicious - auspicious!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Meditation Inspiration

This photo makes me want to meditate.

Does anyone know where it was taken?

In the classic meditation analogy, I look forward to feeling like an eagle soaring, rather than a sparrow frantically flapping its wings.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Try Softer

In preparing for a silent tranquil abiding weekend retreat in the Bay Area next month, I've been thinking a lot recently about holding the meditation object.

For ordinary activities we're usually told - and we tell ourselves - we need to try harder. But years ago I learned from a young woman who attended KMC NY to try softer. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I find it beautiful and enjoy contemplating it.
I think the idea is to put effort into our practice, but not to have a tight mind about it. We are happy with what we're attempting but don't grasp at results. They will come naturally if we let them, assuming we have a good motivation and are following the instructions.

Gen Tharchin of Tharpaland tells us that meditation is not like storming a castle. We need to hear that, because when we first start meditating, that is often our tendency. We think that we are going to master meditation the way we've mastered other skills, with brute force, via a frontal assault. In many ways, meditation is the complete opposite of other activities. It's like a shy animal that can only be coaxed out of hiding by being quiet and not moving (aggressively storming after it is going to backfire).
There's a kind of toy water balloon that's particularly slippery and elusive: If you try to squeeze it, it will jump out of your hand. The only way to hold onto it is to let it rest in the palm of your hand. Meditation seems like that. (By the way, I like the way that echoes Pabongka Rinpoche's Lamrim book, which was edited by Trijang Rinpoche, titled Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand; not surprisingly, it's a lot like Joyful Path, but not as well organized.)

I enjoy and often find illuminating the discovery of the thought behind the thought, seeing what I'm really thinking. I noticed that I was seeing meditating as like balancing, feeling like I was on a tightrope, which later turned into a balance beam, when in fact I could view it as being on firm ground. No wonder I was having trouble holding onto my object.

Gen Khedrub often talks about meditation as "spending time with the object" and "letting some time pass." Our minds tend to be so busy, you'd think they'd appreciate a break, but that restless mind is a deeply ingrained habit.
I was even wondering if it's a bit like hanging out with a friend, although there's not even talking, so that's probably a bit of a stretch, but maybe it's helpful insofar as it suggests a mellow way to relax in an enjoyable way.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rest vs. Laziness

As we're headed into a break from class for the International Fall Festival, Gen Khedrub encouraged us to think about how to use this time wisely to recharge. He reminded us that rest, known as the power of relaxation, is one of the 4 powers and suggested that we consider how it is different from laziness. (The other 3 powers are aspiration, steadfastness and joy, and all four are to increase our effort of benefiting others; they are described in more detail in Joyful Path.)

I think about this a lot because fatigue has been my main side effect of treatment, but I also have a tendency toward laziness. How do I distinguish between them?
One way of checking is to be aware of your motivation. If your wish to take a nap feels self-indulgent, it's probably laziness, but if you rest because you need your body energized for a virtuous activity later in the day, it's probably not.

It's similar to looking at why we want to eat: Are we really hungry or just bored? Over years of practice, we get used to looking at our mind honestly. I'll admit, especially when I was a newer practitioner, I wanted to deny being angry, as though the way to being a better person was just to sweep my bad qualities under the rug (what an effective cleaning method that is!). How can you work on your faults if you won't acknowledge they're there? Purification is helpful in that you can confess them  in private to the Buddhas, and they will help you get rid of them. You can't make spiritual progress if you're fooling yourself. Geshe-la even recently told teachers (and by extension all of us), "don't pretend."

Gen Khedrub is good at describing how to evaluate our own spiritual practice, finding an area that could use some improvement, developing a wish to work on it, and making a plan for taking the next step. Sangha can help with this but many seem reluctant to offer constructive criticism when it's requested.

Sometimes when you've been sitting for a while, say, working on a project at the computer, you start to feel tired, but what you need is a change of pace, not to lie down. Taking a walk is a good test, because if it's the former, you will return with more energy, but if you're still feeling tired while walking, you should probably head back home and take it easy.

I've tried to view my body objectively, from outside, as a doctor would in assessing it. If an outside expert suggested I needed rest, that would probably be the wise thing to do. Of course, without self-grasping, there would be no laziness, but in the meantime it seems to help to view your own body as not yours.
When Geshe-la taught one Fall Festival in New York, he said that the body is outside, which was certainly not the way I thought of it, because it's me. It is outside the mind. Especially when you're sick, it's helpful to contemplate how this is true. The body is the meat jacket we put on. I find it comforting to know, even though I don't completely understand, that my body is not me. It is not even mine, as it comes from the bodies of our parents.
Thankfully Buddhism has a wide range of practices, for all kinds of experience, inclination and situations. There are many virtuous exercises you can do even lying down, some of which I've written about in Dharma on the Couch or in Bed.

Gen-la Dekyong is widely admired for her boundless energy, so when she teaches that effort comes from compassion, we take note and want to develop more compassion and to see for ourselves how it leads to more energy.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Kathi's Service

Yesterday I attended Kathi's memorial service in Seattle, at University Lutheran Church, which she had attended with her partner, Jon. It was lovely, with many fond remembrances of Kathi. The program included a beautiful photo of her with the sound in the background, reminding us that she loved the water (and used to race sailboats). The biography on the back noted that "Kathi's passion was primarily for the people she touched: students, colleagues, friends and family," many of whom were in attendance, and that "She taught respect the the differences and similarities of all people, local and global."

The pastor, Ron Moe-Lobeda, spoke a lot about love and compassion, and there were several references that included patience, meekness, and humility and other qualities we are all trying to cultivate. (I asked him about the difference between meekness and humility, because I think of them as the same thing, and he explained that meekness means non-violence.)
Other speakers included Kathi's sister Julie, who talked about how much she'd always admired her oldest sister, who taught her how to use orange-juice cans as hair rollers to get the appropriate poofiness in a hairdo, and who always had "strong leadership qualities" (which some might see as bossiness).

Because Gen Khedrub was leading an offsite meditation retreat, Jon asked me to do a brief Buddhist reading. My first reaction, when I finally picked up his message Thursday night, was fear, thinking that I am not a public speaker and have had no practice in years. But I was relating to the memory of an old self, B.D. (before Dharma). It was a bit like the analogy of the residual smell of garlic that remains in the garlic jar long after all the garlic is gone. Thankfully for everyone, I am a much different person than I used to be, and it is quite clear where any good qualities I now have come from. (Hint: It is not me - it is someone who has innumerable admirable qualities that I try to imitate.)
Relying on my Guru, the reading of Kathi's favorite passage in How to Solve Our Human Problems about patient acceptance, went fine. Afterward several people said they appreciated that teaching. I'm sure some of them were just being polite, but others expressed a deeper interest, and I wished that I'd had more copies of the book to give away. I did remind them of the title and gave them the business card for the free download of Modern Buddhism.

Please continue making prayers for Jon, sisters Lisa and Julie, brother David, and her 80-something parents, who could not make the journey to Seattle. May they find some comfort in their grief. Thankfully Jon's whole family was there and is in the area to continue to support him. His Lutheran community is also very warm and giving. After a month or so, it's common for everyone else to forget about it and get on with their lives while those who were closest to her will go on grieving.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Prayers for Paul

From Kelsang Tubchen, the Resident Teacher in Oslo and the former Education Program Coordinator at Tharpaland Retreat Center:

Dear Friends,
As some of you may already know, Paul Ashton, a dear friend and Resident Teacher at Mahabodhi Buddhist Centre in Edinburgh and former resident and cook at Tharpaland Retreat Centre has recently been diagnosed with cancer in his lung and brain.  He is undergoing tests to determine the extent of the cancer and any treatment options.  His mind is very blessed and peaceful.  
I would like to ask for your strong dedications and prayers for Paul, and for the centre and students in Edinburgh.  Please can you also ask your centres to put him on their dedication lists.
This sudden news shows how fragile things are in samsara.  
I found these remembered words from a meditation Gen Tharchin guided at FP some time ago after he had been quite sick for some days. 

"Countless living beings take rebirth as animals, hungry spirits or hell beings.  This is happening right now.  This is the reality.  Over the past few days I have become acutely aware of the need to make preparations now.  Suddenly death can come even in the next hour. 
Make preparations.
Stop idle chatter.
Stop meaningless activities.
Practice energetically.
Live every day as though it were your last.
Promise to do this.
Especially ordained Sangha.  It is included in ordained vows. 
Stop meaningless activities.  
Stop idle chatter - completely meaningless, in fact one of the 10 non-virtuous actions.
Stop procrastinating.
Indulging in distraction.
Don't waste precious time, precious energy.

The lord of death doesn't need any invitation.  He can come at any time."

Later he said:  "If we die and we don't meet Buddha in our next life - we are in big trouble."

I found these words had a big impact together with the current situation.
Samsara is cruel and unexpected.

Here is a photo of Paul:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Update on R's Dad

Wednesday we flew to Baltimore to see Richard's Dad, Roger, and his wife, Nancy. Fortunately, his situation is much better than we expected. It was a bit of a false alarm. But it is good to be here, partly on behalf of Richard's four siblings, because it is the best way to see what is really going on. Roger was admitted to the ER, and it turned out he had an infection. For the last week he had been spending almost all his time in bed, but Richard has been able to help him. Tomorrow his Dad is going to an inpatient rehab center nearby for a few weeks to get stronger, especially in his legs. They will be able to monitor him better, as he was not taking his medications correctly.
The situation is a bit complicated, the way it often is with elderly parents, but he is on the mend, and I think there are more good changes on the way.
Thank you so much for your prayers.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Prayers for Richard's Dad and His Wife

We just got a panicked call from Richard's Dad's wife, Nancy, that he is not doing well. His Dad is 91 and has Alzheimer's. She said that it was a "very difficult situation," but I don't have any details yet. Please make prayers for them, especially for Nancy to have a peaceful mind.
Because today is a tsog day, your prayers will have extra strength.
Thank you very much.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Kathi Passed Away

Kathi Brezeale died last night, at the very nice hospice facility where she spent her last few days.

I am glad that I got to see her yesterday, even though she had her eyes closed the whole time. She was comfortable and peaceful, and her family was very happy with the care they all got at Evergreen.

They say that hearing is the last sense power to go, which is good because her friends and family were exchanging lovely stories about Kathi, and there was even a lot of laughter. I am so glad I got to meet her family. I am sad about Kathi, but could feel all the love coming her way.

Please make prayers especially for her family: her partner, Jon, her brother and sisters, and her parents.

Here is one more photo of her - the one she used on the website of the university where she was a professor of religion and women's studies:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Saw Kathi Yesterday

She was peaceful and comfortable. Resting with her eyes mostly closed when I was there, but she would open her eyes and smile every few minutes, as she did when I showed her the Buddha Shakyamuni statue Dachog sent for her. She's in a very nice hospice facility.
Thank you for all your prayers.

Wisdom and Obstacle-Dispelling Prayers Please

I am shameless about asking for prayers for myself, and really need them now. Deciding on which chemo route to go has never been so complex, so I really need wisdom blessings - as do we always, especially if we are leaders of countries; pray for them too. (Of course, what I really need is the realization of wisdom realizing emptiness, which would mean I wouldn't need anything else.) There is a choice between a promising clinical trial and more proven treatments, and if the latter between a dizzying range of options.
I also need any obstacles dispelled that might prevent my insurance from paying for my current top 2 choices.
Thank you so much.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Kathi on Hospice

I was shocked and saddened to hear this evening that my good friend Kathi just went on hospice. I knew that her last scan results were disappointing, in that the tumors in her abdomen were larger and that there were lesions on her liver, but I didn't expect this outcome so very quickly.

Please make prayers for her, her partner, John, and her whole family. Her parents arrived from Louisiana to be with her, and her brother and sister are there too.

She was a regular at lunchtime meditations on Mondays with Gen Khedrub and often stayed for lunch afterward to socialize with Sangha. When she was first diagnosed, she took the book How to Solve Our Human Problems with her to the hospital, reading and re-reading the section about patient acceptance. Kathi found so much solace and wisdom in that teaching.
Speaking of teaching, she's a professor and dept chair of Religion and Women's Studies at a university in Tacoma, south of Seattle. She bought a "Peace Is Possible" water bottle from the Center's bookshop and displayed it prominently on her desk, especially for a course she was teaching that asked how much peace is possible, where she surveyed students' beliefs at the beginning and end of the term.

"Hug Your Kids a Little Tighter"

I've been moved and inspired by the personal stories of Mary, who I recently crossed paths with, even though she's been coming to Prayers for World Peace with her kids for her while. (I didn't meet her sooner because I don't usually go to that Sunday class.)
Her young son, who's 5 now, is in remission from leukemia. She kept a blog about his health condition, and friends and family were always offering to help, with cooked meals or money, for example. Mary said that she didn't need food, because her son couldn't eat, so she couldn't eat; and she didn't need money, because she spent all her time at the hospital and didn't have any time or interest in going shopping. She would request them instead to "Hug Your Kids a Little Tighter" and to give love to whoever they were with. I found that so beautiful - it makes me tear up thinking about it.
I have more stories from her I'd like to share, but don't want to add them here, because I don't want anything to distract from her very simple but deeply heartfelt request.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Photo of Val at the NY Temple

Amy, the Education Program Coordinator at KMC NY, sent this lovely photo of Val in front of the Temple shrine; click on it to get a larger view:

It felt good to make prayers to the Buddha of Compassion for her, but I'm sure she was already in a good place.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Small Recurrence

While R and I were at our Center's monthly powa prayers yesterday evening, my oncologist left a message with the results of the previous day's brain MRI, torso CT and blood tests. The good news is that there's nothing in my brain or liver or heart or bones. There are a few small nodules in my abdomen, so it's considered a return of the cancer, a diagnosis which was seconded by tumor marker, which went from 15 to 25 in a month. I won't know anything else until I meet with Dr K, but I expect there will be more chemo in my future. I have been enjoying being in remission but, thanks to Kadampa Buddhism, know how to deal with being out of remission too. Prayers appreciated, especially that I and all others with the wish will be able to attend Geshe-la's teachings in Portugal next Fall.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"The Myth of Fingerprints"

I've always loved this lyric by Paul Simon from the song "All Around The World" on his Graceland album:
It was the myth of fingerprints
I've seen them all and man
They're all the same
Gen Jampa taught the same concept, in very different words, in his public talk at the Olympic Sculpture Park last week. I'm loosely paraphrasing here, but he said that we tend to emphasize our differences with others, grouping people into all kinds of different categories, which often makes us feel separate from them. Sometimes we even think, "I don't understand them at all." If we examine very carefully, we can see fine differences in the loops, whorls and arches of someone's print, just we can distinguish different superficial characteristics of different beings, but in essence we are all the same, in that we all want to be happy and to be free from suffering.
When we cherish others, we consider them important. Gen Jampa told us that we can respectfully disagree with someone politically, but we can find agreement in thinking they are important. Because they agree with that, we have found some common ground, on the most important matter : )

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Val Passed Away

Val died peacefully yesterday afternoon.
I don't have any details, just my grief and compassion for her family, especially her daughter.

The Importance of a Good View

Yesterday I read a story in the local newspaper about a dispute between neighbors over a tree. One guy, a former professional baseball player, wanted his neighbor across the street to cut down an old tree so that he could have an even better view, even though the tree had been there for years before they built their house. The sufferings of samsara! Even if you live in an exclusive neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes, you can find things to be unhappy about.
Then I heard it in a different way: It is crucial to have the right view, essential to your happiness in fact - for example, cultivating the view that sees others as important.

Monday, September 10, 2012

News of Val

Prayers are working - please keep them coming.
I heard yesterday that Val is in an induced coma after heart surgery, but her husband and her doctors are optimistic. Although serious, that is much better than having a "foot out the door," as I had thought. She's a tough one and has come back before. May she do so again.

The Headless Man and Other Mistakes

Today driving back to my house from the Temple, I saw a headless man walking along the street!
He was like a visitor from a hell realm, missing his most crucial "limb."
Or that was how he looked from the back.
I was relieved when I saw him from the front that it was just that his hooded head was bowed down so far forward that his head disappeared. Most people who are bent over are C-shaped, with a curved back, but he was more F-shaped, with a straight back and a head almost parallel to the ground. He seemed to be walking just fine, not shuffling along the way many people with structural problems do.

At Summer Festival, Gen-la Dekyong encouraged us to collect these false sightings, these gross mistaken appearances, even to keep a notebook of them, because they help undermine our confidence that "seeing is believing," and thus help us overcome our subtle mistaken appearance, our belief in those solid things "out there," that have no relationship with our mind. My first reaction was that I rarely had gross mistaken appearance - but I was mistaken about that too. (A notebook? I'd only need a scrap of paper, I thought.)

Yesterday morning I had another false sighting: I was taking the dog for a short walk down the block. I looked up to see a beautiful quarter moon in a mostly blue sky. For a few moments, the moon seemed to be racing along, but it was the clouds blown by the wind in front of the moon that were actually moving. It was like when you're on a train in the station, sitting at the window and looking out, and it feels like you've started to leave the platform. But it's actually the train next to you that's in motion - you haven't moved at all.

Gen-la gave a personal example: She saw a brown shape scurrying across the path and started making prayers for this little mouse. When she realized it was only a dead leaf blown by the wind, she told herself, "You're so daft, saying prayers for a leaf!"

After hearing the teaching, I saw a bowl with a banana peel as a pile of sliced lemons and a thin stick, I think, as a slug, a cousin to one I'd seen earlier in the shower, but its shape was so stick-like that to this day I'm still not sure if it was a stick or a slug - I didn't want to investigate further.

It's good to be wrong sometimes. It's humbling. And that is a good state for learning.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Prayers for Val

Please make strong prayers for Val, a longtime practitioner from KMC New Mexico. She is very sick.
at Brazil Festival

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mothers - Human and Others

I noticed that I'm finding it easier to see other living beings as my mother - but that it's with animals, not people. More and more, when I see a spider or a dog or an ant, I think, "mother," whereas when I see a friend or a teenager or a baby, I think friend or teenager or baby.

I've gotten over some of the hurdles that typically prevent us from seeing others as our mother, such as believing in the continuity of consciousness and rebirth. Now it makes sense, intellectually, that every being could have been my mother in a previous life, and from there it just takes a little more faith - because Buddha has no reason to lie and everything else he's taught me has proven to be true - to believe every single one of them have cared for me that way. I can also see how this view is very beneficial.
Even our language reflects the understanding that we have multiple mothers in this life: mother-in-law, stepmother, adoptive mother, mother figure.

But other hurdles remain.

Why for me does it seem easier to see as my mother beings who are a different species? In some ways, it seems backwards: Shouldn't it be easier to see beings like me as being related?

On the few occasions when I do see a person as my mother, it tends to be someone with motherly qualities, like Gen-la Kunsang, who exudes loving kindness. They also tend to be older than I am - that's partly because I'm seeing it in terms of math (how could someone younger possibly be my mother?).

Well, at least I know now what I need to work on: Seeing other people, no matter what their age or gender, as my mother.

In the classic children's book Are You My Mother?, a baby bird sets out to look for his mother, asking that question of everyone and everything he meets, including a cow and a steam-shovel.
There could be some Buddhist versions of the book. One could feature the bird encountering different kinds of animals and people, and the answer would always be, "Yes, I'm your mother." Another version, to parallel the original, could be recast with only inanimate objects, such as computers, dishwashers, vending machines and pickup trucks - all non-mothers. There could be another version titled "Are You My Guru?" and again the answer would always be "Yes," because we can see everyone, everything, every situation as our Guru, viewing it all as teachings for our benefit manifested by our Guru.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Testing My Practice

One of the great things at Festival is the gems of wisdom you hear even in conversation. This Summer Kelsang Khandro mentioned offhandedly that you can tell whether you're actually practicing by whether you can make yourself happy. Brilliant! I'd never thought of it like that. It's such a clear, easy way to find out how your practice is doing.
If you've read even the first page of Modern Buddhism or heard Gen-la Dekyong teach this year, you know the definition of Buddhism is "the practice of Buddha's teachings."
We have all kinds of ways to brighten up our minds when they start to go "dark" as Gen-la called it ... and hopefully we're paying enough attention to our state of mind that we can catch the decline early, when it's easier to turn around. (The beginning of anger is often compared to a small fire; we want to douse while it is still small. But when my mind is going bad, it feels like I'm digging a hole, and when I've found myself deep in a hole, it's much harder to get out of.)
There's a quote I like that's often attributed to Elvis Presley, but seems more likely to have come from a writer named Roger Babson: "When things go wrong, don't go with them."
Usually we think of mental practices - from vizualizing Buddhas to remembering emptiness to generating compassion, and so on - but at Summer Festival everyone was reminded that physical prostrations are a great way to turn your mind around, because they purify your energy winds (of course, to be effective this should also be a mental prostration).

Prayers for a Leaf

While teaching about emptiness this Summer Festival, Gen-la Dekyong was describing gross mistaken appearance, where we mistake one object for another common object, such as seeing a hose as a snake. She was encouraging us to notice our own examples by describing how she had taken a dead brown leaf blown by the wind for a little mouse scurrying across the yard. Laughing at herself, Gen-la said she was "daft" for nearly making prayers for an inanimate object!
I was thinking that I didn't have this kind of mistaken appearance very often, but then I soon found two examples: I saw a bowl with a curled-up banana skin as sliced lemons, and a small stick as a thin black slug like the one that I'd seen earlier that day.
Because we have so much faith in what we see, recognizing these mistakes helps undercut that confidence and helps lead us to understanding subtle mistaken appearance, believing that the things we normally perceive truly exist.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Karma and Reliance

At Summer Festival one of the questions I heard that people were contemplating was the relationship between believing in karma and relying on a Spiritual Guide. The New Heart of Wisdom, which Geshe-la is going to formally introduce at next year's International Fall Festival in Portugal, briefly addresses this question:
"... the effectiveness of our Guru yoga practice depends on the strength of our belief in karma. If it is weak we will neglect to engage in practices for accumulating merit, purifying our negativities and receiving Buddha's blessings, and then our Guru yoga practice will be just empty words."
It hadn't occurred to me that they were related, so I have more thinking to do.
We were also encouraged to think deeply about the many levels in Geshe-la's books, particularly Modern Buddhism, and that imagining we're reading his books in the company of Guru Tsongkhapa will help us discover the deeper meanings.

Carpe Diem

This common phrase (usually translated as "seize the day") might seem a bit out of place on a Buddhist blog, as it's commonly associated with hedonism, but I heard an echo in the Stages of the Path prayer:
This human life with all its freedoms,
Extremely rare, with so much meaning;
O Bless me with this understanding
All day and night to seize its essence.
Seize the day, seize the moment, seize your life - make it meaningful, by putting Dharma into practice as you go through your usual routine.

Annie Dillard, my favorite non-Buddhist writer, in her piece "Living Like Weasels" in the collection called Teaching a Stone to Talk, describes an eagle with the skull of a dead weasel still attached to its neck; the mammal probably attacked the bird and never let go. She uses this as an analogy to "stalk your calling":
I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you're going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even ...
This idea has been giving energy to my meditation on our Precious Human Life. Of course, all life is precious. Buddhists try to practice non-harmfulness by not killing animals, even small ones, like mosquitoes, and ones we tend to abhor, like rats (I'll confess I'm still working on loving them). We try to learn how to help and protect them - for example, by fishing drowning fruit flies out of drinks (you'd be surprised how often they survive!) or by reciting mantras to them.

But "precious" in the context of this meditation means the spiritual potential that is only available when you're a human being. We think that once-in-a-lifetime opportunities shouldn't be missed - but what about this once-in-a-lifetimes opportunity? It's so big, we can't see it. Buddha is always encouraging us to have a bigger mind: thinking beyond this life, beyond ourselves, etc. Usually we think of thoughts inside our mind like objects within a room, and sometimes it seems like these Buddhist objects are bigger than the little space of our room. We need a bigger room. We need to push back the walls of our mind in order to expand.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

blog on holiday

Gone to Festival - no posts until I get back

Friday, July 6, 2012


Lately I've been spending some of my time "un-shopping," as in the opposite of acquiring stuff - getting rid of it. Inspired by Dachog, who's been passing along items she no longer needs or uses to family, friends and charitable groups, I have been cleaning out my closets, office, and basement. It's a good teaching about attachment: When you first get it, the object makes you happy; then you're indifferent to it; and finally it becomes a burden.
I don't really like shopping anyway, and now I feel even more disinclined to buy much of anything, except food!
It feels so good to clear out some room, especially when you can find a good home for unwanted items. To me it seems like a form of purification. The empty spaces in my closet make me so happy - absences that are only notable to me.
I spent a couple of weeks a few summers ago helping a friend clear out her mother's house. Her mother was a hoarder: She went to the dump to pick up stuff! (They had a kind of Please Take box there.). I learned that when you're a hoarder, everything is valuable, from garbage to heirloom furniture, and trying to recycle even a single box is traumatic.
My family taught me to be frugal, and we kept a lot of things that today I would pass along, but we weren't that extreme. We operated on the idea that "it might come in handy some day;" now I think "somebody could be using this right now." As the saying goes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Hey, it's an emptiness teaching!

Even keeping straight what goes in recycling vs compost vs garbage takes some mental effort, but I think of it as a mindfulness practice. I also consider it part of cherishing others - animals as well as humans - because it protects the environment.

As the public-service portion of this post, I'd like to pass along (recycle) some of what I've learned about recycling. Here in Seattle we have city-wide curbside collection, not only of paper and cardboard, bottles and cans, but also of compost.
In addition, there are businesses that you can drop off for free items they don't take in the recycling bin.
There may be equivalents where you live.

* Styrofoam packaging - the white kind that tends to turn into little "pebbles" - drop off at Ikea or the Seattle Lighting Outlet store in South Seattle. I was glad to learn that there's a way to reuse it, because it takes forever to decompose in a landfill.
Packing peanuts, you may already know, can be dropped off at a lot of places that do shipping, such as UPS stores, because the peanuts can be directly reused. (The kind that dissolve in water are compostable, and shipping stores won't take them anyway.) See P.S. below for more info - MW 5/18/2013

* Bottle caps - You have to remove them from the bottles you're recycling in Seattle, but you can recycle them at Aveda salons, The Sneakery and Whole Foods. As it says on a neighborhood blog, "Aveda accepts caps that twist, specifically from shampoo, water, soda, milk and other beverage bottles, pharmaceutical lids, flip top caps on tubes and food product bottles (such as ketchup and mayonnaise), laundry detergent caps and some jar lids such as peanut butter. Caps need to be rigid, so they do not accept lids from plastic tubs, like yogurt [or margarine or cottage cheese] – those go in curbside recycling." I read online that they grind them up and turn them into caps for Aveda products.

* Electronics - there are a lot of places that will accept computers and related items; for old audio-visual equipment, I like Friendly Earth in South Seattle, because of their mission statement: "By recycling your electronics with Friendly Earth, you’re not only helping to improve your environment, but your community too. We take the proceeds that we receive from recycling and donate that back to charities, shelters, schools, environmentalists, and other organizations in need."

* Eyeglasses - various chains that sell glasses ( LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical, Sunglass Hut) accept any type and pass them along to the Lions Club, who provide them to people all over the world.

* Bike inner tubes! There's a company in Seattle called Alchemy Goods that makes them into messenger bags, belts, wallets, etc.; I've seen some of those items for sale as the Fremont Market. Alchemy told me that Greg's Green Lake Cycles, among other bike shops around town, collect the inner tubes for them.

* Rags - Even clothes that aren't suitable to resell at places like Goodwill can be pulled apart and reprocessed into fibers for paper, upholstery, and insulation materials. There's a collection bin at a gas station in our neighborhood that goes to a recycler called ReTex.

* Toiletries - drop off  soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deoderant and toothpaste etc. at AAA.

Other things I didn't know:
- Corks - yes, they can go in the garbage, where they end up at the dump, but they can be reused to create things like shoes, flooring, and insulation. Drop them at participating ReCork wine stores, such as Bin 41 in West Seattle, City Cellars in Wallingford or DeLaurenti in the Pike Place Market.

- Shredded paper goes in the compost, layered between clean green yard waste.

- Bubble wrap can be recycled. "Bundle it together in a plastic grocery bag and place it in your cart. Bubble envelopes cannot be recycled and must go in the garbage." (If you're sending out packages, there are compostable equivalents you can use instead.)

- Alkaline batteries (AA, AAA, C, D, 9v) - yes, the disposal kind (as opposed to rechargeables) can go in the garbage, but it's even better for the environment to collect them and take them to a place, such as Ikea, that will send them on so that the steel and zinc can be recovered. I read on the Earth911 website that "If you do decide to put alkaline batteries in the trash, you can take extra steps to prevent leaking [by] putting multiple batteries in the same plastic bag or securing the ends of each battery with masking tape."

- Plastic plant pots - if they're rinsed off can go in the recycling cart. As it says on the City of Seattle Public Utilities website, "An alternative is to Re-use for your own plant starts and house plants or check the King County Materials Exchange to find nurseries that may reuse the pots."

- Medications - I remember how disappointed my family was that my Dad was commanded to pour my Mom's expensive, powerful drugs down the toilet, so I was glad to read that they can be taken back to some Bartell Drugs so that they don't pollute the water or pose a risk to anyone by keeping them around the house.

P.S. re: styrofoam

In the May 20, 2013 issue of The New  Yorker, there's an article called FORM AND FUNGUS: Can mushrooms help us get rid of Styrofoam?"" by Ian Frazier; here are a few excerpts of the key points:

"Many plastics were invented to imitate natural substances, like rubber, wood, bone, silk, hemp, or ivory. Ecovative’s invention, in postmodern fashion, creates natural substances that imitate plastics.
[The company is a ] startup that has turned a college project on the generative, tensile and biodegradable properties of mycelium into a business that could challenge Styrofoam and other polystyrene products dependent on a hydrocarbon-heavy manufacturing process.
Pieces of Styrofoam swirl in the trash gyre in the Pacific and litter the world's highways and accumulate in the digestive systems of animals and take up space in waste dumps ... Foamed polystyrene breaks down extremely slowly .. and a major chemical it breaks down to is styrene, listed as a carcinogen in the 2011 toxicology report issued by the NIH.
The packing material made by their factory takes a substrate of agricultural waste, like chopped-up cornstalks and husks; steam-pasteurizes it; adds trace nutrients and a small amount of water; injects the mixture with pellets of mycelium; puts it in  a mold ... 4 days later the mycelium has grown throughout the substrate into the shape of the mold, producing a material almost indistinguishable from Styrofoam in form, function and cost. ... When broken up and thrown into a compost pile, the material biodegrades in about a month.
The products can be made almost anywhere, with local agricultural wastes and minimal use of energy. ..."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Inter-Dependence Day!

Here in the U.S. we celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, whose most famous line is "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed ... with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (As a Buddhist, I read "men" as sentient being.) I wish we had applied what we learned from being colonized to our relationship with other countries.
But Richard likes to call it "Inter-Dependence Day," which is a reminder of the web of kindness we live in and dependent relationship.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Dharma in 2 Words

WillS in Seattle used to ask people to give him Dharma in 2 words. When Will asked our Teacher, he replied "Be quiet." (I don't know whether to add an exclamation point or not, as I wasn't there to hear it first-hand.)
It's a good Buddhist party game or conversation starter.
What would you say?

Here are a few ideas:
* Let go.
* Be happy.
* No harm.
* Pray hard.
* Inner peace.

What if you were given a 3rd word?
* Bliss and emptiness.

What if you only had 1?
* OM ....