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."

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 ....

New Tharpa Website

Hey, have you seen the new Tharpa website? It has some neat new features. For example, go to a book, then click the Explore tab. Clicking Content shows you the Table of Contents, and clicking Read brings up some pages of the book (hint: you have to click the page to get the pages to turn and to see the actual text).

Many of the books are available in various formats, including MP3s and eBooks, with more to come. There's also a stationery section, which has greeting cards, postcards, and message cards.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Most likely all of us have had the experience of wanting to help someone but having them ignore our advice, even when they solicited it. I can recall times myself when I know someone has a great suggestion for me, but I have some kind of block that prevents me from acting on it, at least right away. Or I mistakenly think it's not helpful, even though it would be if I tried it out. I suspect we are like that for the Buddhas, because they are so much wishing for us to head toward happiness but see us take so many wrong turns.
It's like they're sending us those postcards that say "Wish you were here," from a place like New Zealand, only nicer - far nicer than we can imagine - and we're living in a grimy city that's choked with pollution, and we think that's just another way of saying "Hello". Besides, we think, it's so far away - it would be so much trouble getting there, even if we could make it.
So our Spiritual Guide is inviting us to the Pure Land, and we're replying that we're busy with other engagements.
He's trying to steer us in the right direction, and we keep going astray. At first I was imaging my Guru as my driver, but it's probably more useful to see myself as the driver and him more like the navigator. Sometimes I listen to his directions and sometimes I don't; often I forget to even ask him, even though he's been there and I haven't. Then I pictured him as a GPS, like one of those navigation systems people put in their car that talks to them, giving them turn-by-turn instructions. Why do we trust our "navi", but not our personal Buddha?
As we're driving through our day, sometimes we're going too fast and miss our turn, or we just didn't see it even though our GPS told us it was coming up. The system patiently recalculates our route based on where we really are, as opposed to where we were supposed to be.
Our Guru GPS can be like an inner compass if we're willing to use it.
It has additional features not available in the commercial systems - directions to take an exit for a rest stop or to pull over to help someone, for example.
Let your Spiritual Guide do the job you hired him for, I tell myself.

P.S. When I got in the car today, "I'll Take You There" was playing : )

Saturday, June 23, 2012


This morning while lying in bed, I was contemplating dissolving my body into emptiness by considering how what I think of as a single unit is actually made up of various parts ... and each of those parts is itself made up of parts, and so on, following the classic Buddhist pointing-out instructions on trying to find our real body. Instead of the word "dissolve," however, what came to me was "disintegrate." I hadn't noticed before how that word is built - "dis-integrate" - because that's not the way it's pronounced, and I usually think of disintegration as a general decay or fading away.
I found it helpful to see the word broken up into its parts(!) that way because it shows me that the word means to take something integrated and separate it into parts, just as I was doing.

Of course, what integrates my body is my mind: My body is simply an idea, a word, a label I assign to a grouping of physical components.
When I'm on autopilot - that is, almost all the time - I think of my body in terms of integration: My mind unites all my body parts into a whole. I think of my body as a discrete unit, not as a bunch of components unified by a concept, a mental act of thinking "my body."
My body seems to be the fundamental unit, and it often seems as though there's no other way to conceive of it.

But there are other ways of viewing the body. For example, in addition (subtraction, really) to breaking our body down into pieces, we can build up groups of bodies into larger units: into teams or crowds, for example. Or families. Americans are often described as individualistic, whereas some other societies are said to be family-oriented, that the basic unit is the family, not the person. Can you imagine really thinking that way?
As Geshe-la says in Eight Steps to Happiness, in the section on the kindness of others:
Without others, we are nothing. Our sense that we are an island, an independent, self-sufficient individual, bears no relation to reality. It is closer to the truth to picture ourself as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings.
Just as we can mentally disassemble our body into parts, we can use the body itself as a part, to mentally assemble the larger body of humanity, for example.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bodhichitta / Bodhi-tea-ta

I've always loved the analogy of the tea and the teacup that helps us understand the 2-part wish of bodhichitta: We want to get enlightened (wish #1), but mainly so that we can be the most benefit of others (wish #2, our main wish). In the same way, we want to get a teacup so that we can have a cup of tea - the teacup is just a "means to an end" as Gen Samten said in his introduction to the US Festival this year. For some reason his point really made an impression on me when I heard it in April: Even though I've heard it before. I need to hear it again & again.

I remember hearing that listening to Dharma is like driving a stake in the ground: Usually we need to hit the stake again and again until that piece of wisdom is driven home - that is, unless the ground (your heart) is really soft or you're really strong (lots of merit).

For fun sometimes I like to pronounce bodhichitta as "bodhi-tea-ta" because it reminds me of the analogy, which tells me - again - that it's not ultimately about me and my happiness, even though that's (ugh) still my default mode.