Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Five Faults of the Kleshas

(Summarized from No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to The Way of the Bodhisattva by Pema Chödrön)
  1. They enslave us. We think it's "I" who is acting, when in actuality we're being held by the throat by our kleshas. We're not in control.
  2. We welcome them. They're familiar. Indulging in hatred, lust, etc. give us a temporary relief, make us feel good and important.
  3. They last. Even after the object of our hatred dissipates, the habit of hatred remains.
  4. They grow when we feed them. "More is never enough". Give in to the kleshas thinking that they're going to go away once you satisfy them, and you find that they only come back demanding more attention.
  5. They prevent peace. There can never be world peace so long as we are all enslaved by our kleshas. We will always find ourselves pitting our emotions against one another.

Overcoming Sexual Misconduct

There's a great thread about this on the E-Sangha message boards. The first poster in his confession covered a lot of good ground, including using the four powers of confession to cleanse his misconduct, abandoning porn, and meditating on the empty nature of the self and the transient nature of existence (i.e., you're just renting your body).

Something else that helps me is to reflect on the principle of equality. If a woman I consider attractive passes me and I pay extra attention to her body, I'm doing several disservices to others. First, I'm reducing that woman to her body. If she sees herself as more than her body, then I'm alienating her and making her feel like an object. If she gains satisfaction from seeing others who think she's attractive, I'm perpetuating her identification with her body - which is a major obstacle to enlightenment. Creating obstacles to enlightenment for others runs contrary to the way of the Bodhisattva.

Second, I'm doing a disservice to all other women by saying they're not good enough to deserve such extra attention. In other words, I'm violating the Fourth Immeasurable of equanimity.

We are all in the same ship. None of us deserves to be treated better or worse than any other. All desire happiness; all deserve to receive compassion, and to drink of enlightenment.

Where Materialism Leads

A good story that shows how attachment to material goods can lead one down a dark road.

Bear in mind that I'm not trying to pick on Wal-Mart vice chairman Tom Coughlin. I'm not saying I'm any better than he is - that I'm morally superior. I'm saying that I understand.

Some people might look at this case and say, "Why would a man who makes $1M a year steal from his company?" Search within your heart. Have you ever thought to yourself, "If only I made more money...if only I could afford what my neighbor/friend/managers seems to be able to afford..."

I can't tell you how many times I've told myself, "If we were making $X more every month, we'd be set!" Well, you know what? In this past year, my family has been gifted with an increase in income. My wife is ramping her career back up, and her income is inching up every month. I've also been making a little more on the side. And it STILL hasn't been "enough"! As our income rises, so do our "needs".

We've recognized this, and are ramping down our consumption and our dependence on material things as a result. But how many people don't realize this before it's too late? They make more and more. They spend more and more. The more they get , the more they convince themselves they need. Eventually, their needs outstrip their income, and they resort to stealing under the belief that they deserve whatever it is they're not getting.

Tom Coughlin is not to be pitied, but to be identified with. If there were a case of "there but for the grace of God go I", this is it. This tendency exists in every single one of us.

I pray fervently that all of us can identify with this thinking before it reaches such extremes, and use whatever financial circumstances we find ourselves in to liberate ourselves from the bondage of ego and commercialism. May I use whatever resources I have, both physical and spiritual, to bring enlightenment to all beings. May we all use whatever resources we have in a noble manner, that we may quickly gain the wisdom and insight of powerful Chenrezig.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Mahamudra is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of direct insight meditation, consisting of shamatha (calm abiding) and vipassana (special insight). As I understand it, one first works to calm the mind by shamatha, making it more stable and increasing the space between thoughts. Once calm abiding is achieved, vipassana is practiced to detach the meditator from identifying with her thoughts, feelings and actions, so that the pure, clear nature of the mind can be perceived.

The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, wrote a wonderful Aspirational Prayer for Mahamudra. Here's the text, with robust commentary by Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Opening Up: The Levels of Bodhichitta

I can tell that I'm making progress in opening up to others. At the same time, I can tell there's still progress to be made.

A case study. My daughter mopes around the house, looking bored. I have three ways I can react to this: (1) Wait for her to ask to do something with me - and then refuse, because, you know, I have so many better things to do than play with my kids; (2) Wait for her to ask to do something with me and agree to do it, with varying levels of enthusiasm; (3) Proactively suggest that she and I do something together.

Each of these three options have varying levels of commitment attached to them. I can choose (3), but do it with such a lack of genuine enthusiasm that it's obvious I'm forcing myself into it. Similarly, I can do (1), but with a sincere regret about my own shortcomings and a strong desire to break into (2).

I've been stuck at (1) for years. Thanks to my practice, I've moved into the "middling level" of (2): I consent, but I'm still working past a lack of enthusiasm, and a belief that "my" time is being "stolen" by my other worldly responsibilities. When a similar opportunity arises in the future - which, with all the kids running around this house, could be within the next hour - I vow to shoot for (3).

Which is not to say I'll always choose (3). This issue is conscious in my mind at the moment; if it takes a day or two for this next opportunity to arise, I might forget everything I've taught myself in this post. Or the opportunity might arise in a slightly different form, and I won't recognize it.

Step by step, BC. Step. By. Step.

The Six Perfections by Geshe Sonam Rinchen: Generosity

Give with these three attitudes:
  1. That your aim is enlightenment;
  2. That what you give has already been dedicated to others; and
  3. That the person to whom you give is your teacher of generosity.
Shantideva's four practices that apply to all of the perfections:
  1. Giving
  2. Protecting (not sacrificing your body until it's time)
  3. Keep actions pure of polluting emotions
  4. Insure increase
When teaching or instructing, don't take the mental position that your teachings are the best, or that you have the deepest insight. (Related thought: There are 84,000 discourses of dharma for a reason! What matters about a teaching is not necessarily how "eloquent" it is, but how well it is matched to the recipient of the teaching. It's a pairing. Does the teaching move the recipient closer to true enlightenment? Then it is good and meaningful.)

Encourage others to give if they don't seem to know how. (I.e., teach a man to fish.)

"If we understand impermanence and are genuinely compassionate, we will regard our possessions as others' belongings which they have entrusted to use for safekeeping and which must be returned to them. With that attitude our property will not be a source of anxiety." (p. 22)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I'm trying to keep an amused detachment toward some of my more...egregious examples of mindlessness. It feels like that there are moments where I'm trying to be my most mindful - and those are the moments when I'm likely to do something stupid.

Two cases in point:

(1) After leaving the bank yesterday, I couldn't find my car key to save my life. I didn't leave it in the bank, and I didn't seem to have dropped it anywhere. Frustrated, I went back to the car...and there was my key. In the ignition. With the car running.
(2) Went to the grocery store today with the kids. Everything went smoothly. Until I almost drove off, leaving the groceries behind in the cart.

Can you "psyche yourself out" regarding mindfulness? I think so. Mindfulness is about being OPEN to experience - not about funneling and narrowing your attention. It's an art I have yet to master.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Faith, Courtesy of Shantideva

I finished reading Pema Chodron's No Time to Lose recently, and am taking another go at it to get a more in-depth understanding. Like most of the master teachers, Shantideva's text is dense and full of meaning - and Pema Chodron's commentary does a great job of teasing it out.

One of Chodron's recommended courses of study is to memorize at least one meaningful passage from each chapter, so you can mull it over in your mind for days or weeks. You can also use it for inspiration and insight during the day. One of my favorite passages from Chapter 2 is this one:
For if, alarmed by common ills,
I act according to the doctor's words,
What need to speak of when I'm constantly brought low
By lust and all the hundred other torments?
There are a lot of things I love about this little passage. The physician analogy - the Buddha is the doctor, you're the patient, the Dharma is the medicine - is apt as always. But I love even the minor phrasing, such as "alarmed by common ills". I like how it emphasizes that we're not alone in these "torments" of the senses. It's a common ailment of humanity that we lock ourselves inside of our own private hells, and egotistically view our troubles as more important, more devastating, more hellacious than anything that anybody else must feel.

I think back on the past year, during which I spent so much time in narcissistic pursuit of pleasure. I think of how much I trapped myself in my own mind - convincing myself that my job sucked, that my wife and family were "crimping my style", that no one would let me be me. It all seems chimerical now. It was a delusion layered upon a delusion. Shantideva's words help assure me that, however much I thought I was alone, I wasn't: my suffering is shared by billions of souls worldwide. It also reminds me that the cure is as simple as putting my faith in the elixir offered by the Three Jewels.

The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation

With commentary by H.H. The Dalai Lama.

The Six Perfections by Geshe Sonam Rinchen: Enthusiastic Effort

Enthusiastic Effort

The moral? You could die tomorrow. So don't slack off.

Tale of Drukpan Kunlek, who stood before the statue of the Buddha and said, "Once you and I were the same, but you made effort and became enlightened and I'm still in this condition because of my laziness, which is why I'm obliged to pay homage to you now." (p. 72)

Focusing on a single practice won't bring you to enlightenment. (p. 72)

Our virtuous actions take on greater virtue after we take vows, such as refuge or monastic vows. (p. 74)

The Six Perfections by Geshe Sonam Rinchen: Ethical Discipline

Ethical Discipline

The Four Powers of Confession

  1. The power of refuge
  2. The power of modifying future behavior
  3. The power of regret
  4. The power of promise

11 ways to help others

  1. Offer support in material activities, using only ethical means.
  2. Give friendship to those who are confused.
  3. Give advice to strangers whom you greet with friendship.
  4. Help and protect those who fear harm from other living beings. (We should seek to let go of our own fears, contemplating that perhaps we fear because we have caused others similar fear in another lifetime.)
  5. Give support to those suffering loss (friends, family, teacher, possessions, etc.).
  6. Give support to those in material and spiritual need.
  7. Support those who have different kinds of aspirations.
  8. Help people overcome short- and long-term hindrances to their well-being.
  9. Support those engaged in constructive activities. (Do not begrudge others their happiness and achievements, particularly in the spiritual realm.)
  10. Castigate those who are engaged in detrimental activities.
  11. Use any miraculous powers we possess to help others.

"The teachings are not a system of rules nor a fixed code of conduct to which we must adhere....Spiritual practice consists of knowing the teachings and implementing them in such a way that they bring about an inner transformation, extending our perspective beyond its narrow present limits." (p. 37)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Spiritual Tips and Tricks: The Best of Pagan Bodhisattva

This blog is meant to be used, not merely read. Here is a list of some of the posts I've made that may prove useful in your own spiritual practice. It's thin at the moment, but hopefully this list will grow as the blog ages.

Activities (Mantras, Writing Exercises, Etc.)
Prayers and Devotionals
Theory & Philosophy
The Beloved Departed

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