Friday, October 31, 2003

Sunlight through the leaves of the plant on my bookcase, the office to myself, quiet enough to hear the whir of the fans and the buzz of the lights. It surprises me, whenever I meditate in my office, how noisy it is, even without people. The buzzes and clicks and throbs of unidentified machinery, weird surges of white noise, the dim roar of traffic from nine stories below. An ojective correlative to the anxieties and cravings washing continually back and forth, an everpresent unacknowledged noise in the background of my mind.

The office is tolerant of my meditation cushions -- zafu and zabuton -- and my occasional sits. The cushions perplex casual visitors sometimes. They speculate: is it a dog bed? Or do I nap there? But mostly it evokes the exagerated tact and forbearance of the non-religious. (Someone who prays and meditates in semi-public is probably dangerously unbalanced, and you wouldn't want to push them over the edge by referring to it in any way.) It's the other religious people, practicing Christians and Muslims, who will ask me about it; the athiests and agnostics appear to view the whole matter with superstitious dread. A man who's worked closely with me for years inadvertently revealed, not long ago, that he thought I was Muslim. "Not that there's anything wrong with that!" he added, in something of a panic.

When I'm bewildered by the political stories that my fellow-Americans will swallow, it helps some to remember how deep their ignorance of religion, and especially of non-Christian religion, is. And how much fear it inspires. People who are so nuts that they worship six-armed deities and won't eat perfectly good foods and won't swat biting mosquitos and chop people's heads off for sunbathing -- what's the point of even trying to understand them? All you can do is hope they won't go on the rampage.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Let all the quiet days
Turn and go softly away
Let the sun come when she pleases
And let her leave unstayed.

Light on the window, rain on the sill
Each thing moving, each thing still.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

A recent email conversation -- reproduced by permission --


I came across your name from posts to the "rational
buddhism" group. I hope you don't mind the intrusion.

I was interested in your comments on one particular
post (message 144) in which you say that you don't
particularly believe in reincarnation nor in the kind
of karma that "looks you up." I have an interest in
buddhism (and even attended KCC for a little while)
but I find my reluctance to believe in certain things,
namely karma and reincarnation, a major stumbling
block. Vajrayana practice, as I understand it,
involves certain "mystical" elements like meditation
deities. I remember trying to visualize chenrezig at
an all-day saturday event (that frankly totally
overwhelmed me).

Anyway, I guess my question is, how do you,
personally, reconcile your nonbelief in things like
karma and reincarnation with the mystical parts of
vajrayana and really, buddhism in general?

Thank you,



Hi *******

No intrusion at all, I enjoy thinking and writing
about this sort of thing.

You wrote:
> Anyway, I guess my question is, how do you,
> personally, reconcile your nonbelief in things like
> karma and reincarnation with the mystical parts of
> vajrayana and really, buddhism in general?

Actually my nonbelief in karma and reincarnation
don't clash with the mystical parts at all:
they clash with the theoretical or cosmological
parts of Buddhism. There's no legitimate way, I
think, to move karma and reincarnation out of
the center of Buddhist thought. So by some
definitions I don't qualify as a Buddhist.

If I thought of Buddhism as fundamentally a set
of beliefs about the nature of the universe and
reality, I would have a big problem. I don't,
though: I think of it as fundamentally a set of
methods for ending suffering, cultivating
compassion, and developing a more serviceable

I guess a parallel would be my attitude to
acupuncture. I think the theory behind
acupuncture is probably a lot of hooey, all
that stuff about winds and chakras and
different colored energies and what-not.
But acupuncture works, demonstrably, for
many things. The evidence for that is quite
scientific and solid. So I have no qualms
about going to an acupuncturist, even though
I know he believes in a bunch of stuff that
I don't.

Buddhist practice works. So I do it. I don't
know why it works, and I don't think anyone
else completely knows why either. (But then,
I don't think anyone knows completely how
*anything* works.)

I could say plenty more -- there's some
support for holding this point of view within
Buddhism itself, if you take the teachings on
Emptiness seriously -- but it might be more
useful if I first knew more about your
discomforts with Buddhism. I'm not sure,
for instance, that I know what you mean by
"mystical," and I suspect that you have
some unnecessary difficulties there.

regards --




Thanks for your response. I appreciated your points
about doubt in karma & reincarnation mainly
conflicting with buddhist cosmology and that it's
possible to practice buddhism strictly for its

I think some of my problems with Buddhism have to do
with wanting to see myself as a rational person, one
not easily suckered into believing silly things about
how the world works. Visualizing Chenrezig just seemed
so bizarre to me, made me fear that I was joining some
kind of cult. That is another problem I have - does
the process that you go through as a buddhist actually
give you a clear mind or does it just convince you
that you have a clear mind when you are actually still
deluded? More fundamentally, I waver on the question
of whether I am unsatisfied with "ordinary" existence
and want a radical alternative or whether I just want
to get a little better at living than I am now.

In terms of the mystical things I am averse to, the
best example might be praying to Dorje Chang (I'm not
sure if you do that or if that's another lineage). If
I don't believe that there are any such things as
deities, how can I pray to them?

Thanks again,


> I think some of my problems with Buddhism have to do
> with wanting to see myself as a rational person, one
> not easily suckered into believing silly things
> about
> how the world works.

Ah, yes. One hates to look like a chump :-)

> Visualizing Chenrezig just
> seemed
> so bizarre to me, made me fear that I was joining
> some
> kind of cult.

An all-day Chenrezig sit is probably not
a very good entry-point for someone who wants
to see himself as a rational person! I just
practiced Shamatha for a long time, many
years, before I gingerly took up vajrayana
practice. But I'll pick this point up below.

> That is another problem I have - does
> the process that you go through as a buddhist
> actually
> give you a clear mind or does it just convince you
> that you have a clear mind when you are actually
> still
> deluded?

There probably is no way to tell really, beyond
observation and experience. I had the advantage
of watching my wife practice Buddhist meditation
for years, before I ever took a stab at it. It
was plain to me that her mind was growing clearer,
not foggier. And in general the Buddhists I know
seem a bit less deluded than the non-Buddhists,
but of course there could be lots of explanations
for that.

> More fundamentally, I waver on the question
> of whether I am unsatisfied with "ordinary"
> existence
> and want a radical alternative or whether I just
> want
> to get a little better at living than I am now.
> In terms of the mystical things I am averse to, the
> best example might be praying to Dorje Chang (I'm
> not
> sure if you do that or if that's another lineage).
> If
> I don't believe that there are any such things as
> deities, how can I pray to them?

Actually, we're traditionally instructed NOT
to believe in the deities. Quite emphatically.
We are supposed to bear in mind, as we visualize
them, that they are "not there." What you are
praying to when you pray to Dorje Chang is
your own unobscured mind -- nothing more,
nothing less.

There are a couple basic goals of deity
practices. One is to produce a vision of
something that you know damn well "isn't there"
with so much clarity and vividness that you
realize -- experientially, not just
intellectually -- that your perceptions
of ordinary things are also "visions,"
that is, that your perceptions of things are
not the things themselves. (This is something
that everyone knows, but few people really
believe it, in their heart of hearts.)

The other goal is to recognize the deity
in ourselves -- that is, to try on the
persona of a being that is perfect in
wisdom and compassion. At the heart of
Vajrayana practice is the idea that the
mind can't really be permanently or
essentially corrupted, and that it's
possible (tho extrememly difficult) to
recover its purity by jump-starting it
this way.

Whether this idea is correct or not,
I don't know. I personally have found
vajrayana practice very fruitful, but
rather mysteriously so. That is, I
notice a strong correlation between
how much I'm practicing and how much I
am able to break long-standing negative
habits. Correlation is not causation,
of course. And dealing with your own
mind, you never have a control group,
so it's hard to know. A difficulty that
just goes with the territory.

Anyway, I was a member of KCC for years
before I took up any vajrayana practices.
Plain old Shamatha, "calm abiding," (what
the Zen people call "sitting Zazen"), is
probably a better entry-point for us
rationalists, and in any case it's
considered a foundation practice, sort
of a prerequisite for the vajrayana


PS, please don't hesitate to ask more, if
you have more questions or objections. I'm
enjoying this.



> PS, please don't hesitate to ask more, if
> you have more questions or objections.

Okay, I'll take you up on that offer! One of the lines
I remember from the Dhammapada was something like,
when you have a lesser happiness and you see a greater
one, it only makes sense to put aside the lesser for
the greater. To me this is saying, ordinary life is
okay, but what you get from following the buddhist
path is so much greater that it's worth the
sacrifices. That's something I can't seem to decide
yet. I mean, why should I have to give up a beer now
and again, a glass of wine with a nice meal? When I am
attracted to a beautiful girl, why should I want to
try to focus on the disgusting or loathsome aspects of
her (advice I have come across more than once to
counteract the afflictive emotion of lust)? Why should
I not become angry when I see gross injustices causing
suffering to innocent beings?

The major competing alternative vision of happiness
for me is something along the lines of eat, drink, be
merry. I want to be as open and loving as I can. I
want to try be a positive influence on the world
around me. But I also want to have fun, to enjoy life.
Is the happiness that can be achieved through hard
work on the buddhist path truly greater than secular
happiness? Would buddhism be so effective in helping
me to become open and loving that it would be worth
the hard work and the things I would have to give up?

Lots of questions for you. I really appreciate your
willingness to field them.



Ah, well, this is why you go for the Tibetan
tradition :-) This is *not* a path of
renunciation. There are a lot of wild men
in this tradition -- yogis who left monasteries
or never went into them, who broke precepts
left and right. The original Buddhist tradition,
which the Theravadins still keep up, emphasized
extinguishing desire & anger & so forth
altogether. It's a perfectly good path, and
probably a safer path. But in the vajrayana
we *don't* want to extinguish desire: we want
to harness it & transform it.

You do have to get the upper hand of your
desires, even in this tradition, which does mean
working to undo compulsive craving. If you
*have* to have a fancy new car, even though you
can't afford it, or if you *have* to try to
seduce a woman even though she's married to your
friend, or if you *have* to have a fifth of
whiskey to face the afternoon-- that sort of
thing -- then your life is simply going to be
too turbulent to allow any kind of meaningful
practice. (And you'll be miserable to boot, in
the long run.)

Sure, one of the five precepts for lay people
is that they not drink intoxicants. I have a
drink now and then and feel fine about it: I
think I understand well enough what that precept
is aimed at to know what kind of drinking it
refers to, and having a glass of wine at dinner
isn't it. (Although if I *had* to have that
glass, it probably would be it -- it's not the
object of desire, but the quality of the desire,
that's crucial.)

I don't think of it as two competing kinds of
happiness at all. I haven't made any sacrifices,
and I don't plan to make any. Giving up
compulsive cravings is not a hardship -- it's
a relief. & it opens up the world to all kinds
of unexpected pleasures.

There are unworldly pleasures too -- glimpses
of the bliss that may be at the end of the path.
Sometimes that can happen in some kinds of
practices. Sometimes it just comes down out of
nowhere as a free gift, apparently -- all my
life I've been susceptible to moments of
inexplicable, apparently unmotivated joy, when
everything I experienced was almost unbearably
beautiful. I imagine enlightenment to be like
that, but sustained, and I guess that's what I
think I'm working toward. I don't know if
anyone ever actually gets there.

I don't mean to denigrate the Dhammapada or
the Theravadin tradition at all. The path of
renunciation is a valid one, and I think for
some people it's probably the only one. There
are some people for whom worldly pleasures are
just plain toxic, and they have to get away
from them, just as a alcoholic has to get away
from alcohol, altogether, all the time. But
Tibetan lay Buddhism, as practiced at KCC, is
a quite different path.




Thank you very much for sharing your perspective with
me. For some reason it makes me feel good to think
that a buddhist path is possible for me, which is what
your emails have convinced me of. I guess maybe I was
reading too much Theraveda stuff and maybe taking
everything a little too seriously. Your words have
also reaffirmed my sense of affinity for KCC (although
I've no plans to be in Portland anytime soon). Anyway,
thanks again and I wish you the best with your
practice and life. Or lives! ;)




Glad I could help. It's easy to take things
too seriously, or too literally anyway,
especially if you come out of the
monotheistic traditions, where scriptures
are often taken to be absolutely valid all the
time in all circumstances -- it takes a while
to get used to the comparatively free-and-easy
way Buddhists often relate to their scriptures.

There's a couple books I'd recommend: "Buddhism
Without Beliefs," by Stephen Batchelor -- he was
a monk in the Tibetan tradition for many years,
but eventually broke with that tradition, which
he sees as having accumulated too much
superstition. I don't agree with everything
he says, but it's a very thoughtful book, by
someone who's earned the right to talk about it.

The other book would be "Tantra," by Lama Yeshe.
A beautiful introduction to what tantric practice
(which roughly corresponds to what we've been
calling Vajrayana practice) is all about.

Would you mind if I posted our exchange on my
blog, if I took out names & email addresses?
I think a lot of people have the same questions,
though few ask them so clearly.

warm regards -- & look me up if you do come
through Portland --


Tuesday, October 21, 2003

We drove up to Multnomah Falls yesterday, Martha and I, and we had a talk that cleared my head considerably.

So many things in play here. It's become clear to me, though, that I should no longer keep a "practice journal" -- not that I mean to censor my thoughts when they tend toward practice, necessarily; but that there is a certain privacy and reserve I should keep about it. Without that reserve the practice tends to escape my ownership, to move into the space of things I ought to do. And we know what happens to those :-)

We talked about teaching Dharma. I've been watching the impulse to do that, and what I see ain't pretty. An impulse to "tag," to spray-paint my name on any available surface: except in this case the surfaces are human beings.

Then there's the impulse toward contact -- how to disentangle *that* from tagging? I don't know. Clearly I can't live without it -- though I understand finally, I think, what impels hermits and yogis to head for the woods -- plain simple straightforward desperation. How can anything change in my soul when all my attention is directed to greedily watching for reflections of my ego from other people?

But of course contact is also inextricably tangled up with compassion, loving-kindness, and empathetic joy.

What this works around to in practical terms is -- no more presenting myself, in my blog, primarily as a meditator (which has been rather deceptive anyway.) Only if I do that can I safely give some breathing room to the desire to make contact with it. And that has the incidental advantage of opening the scope of what I post about.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Woke at 4:30, slid silently out of bed, and sat for a few minutes -- just shamatha, no time for ngondro -- and then we drove Tori and Ashley to the airport. So they're off to Japan.

We went out to breakfast together, Martha and Alan and I. Alan full of grief at his sister's departure. He got a vast strawberry waffle, and speared great wedges of it, secured with huge strawberries, trailing plumes of whipped cream, on his fork; and then he took large bites out of this mass.

I was embarassed; I wanted him to stop; I wanted people to know that we had in fact taught him to eat like a civilized creature. But knowing his grief, his sense of abandonment, I held my tongue. There's a time to teach table manners and a time to let them go.

My own father had no sense of that. He lived, by inclination and training (he was a science teacher), in what he thought of as the objective world, and he felt it was his duty to make us all live there, too. The subjective world was unreal and illegitimate. The quintessence of a life worth living, of a human life, was rising above subjectivity, above the tyranny of emotion, and above (what he saw as) its concomittents -- irrationality and local prejudice.

It's the common world-view of science and I owe a lot to it. It makes me uneasy to depart from it with Alan. I worry that I'm short-changing him by not holding him to that discipline -- it is good to learn that grief doesn't make you exempt from table manners.

But it's even more important, more basic, to understand and recognize your emotional responses. And Alan's sophistication there is way past what mine was at twice his age. He doesn't have the inexplicable irrational eruptions of rage and losses of control that I had at thirteen. His emotions are altogether more workable. He knows, when he's pestering his sister and her friends, why he's doing it, and he is able to curb and moderate himself. He knows what upsets him and how he responds to it. And he cuts other people slack when he recognizes that they're upset. Simple understandings, simple skills: but I acquired them much later in life and at much greater cost.

But O, what agony, to sit and watch him eat that way! Took all I had. And I'm grieving at Tori's departure too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

I am not, by the way, depressed. Far from it. Such a beautiful day. A drenching rain at noon, and then a clear blue sky moments later, and now a soft gray sky lit by the setting sun, and all the buildings warm shades of peach and apricot & all the wet trees glistening. On such a day I run up against the only thing I ever feel is missing in Buddhism -- that is, that there is nobody to thank for all this -- for the sun and the wind and the rain.

Thank you, anyway.
Depression. People who have never suffered it don't get it. You can be talking along with them, thinking you're talking about the same thing; it's all the same words -- then suddenly you realize they're just talking about being bummed out, a little sad, a little blue. They have no idea of that terrifying weight bearing down on you, of the state of mind in which suicide seems the only rational response to the world. And so when they think about anti-depressants, they imagine taking drugs so that you just don't have to feel bad, ever. A whimpy thing to do.

So: to those of you who haven't suffered depression -- no. That's not it. Oh, I have no doubt that the drug companies would love everyone to be taking anti-depressants to cure the passing griefs and sadnesses of everyday life. But everyone I know who takes anti-depressants does so simply to stay alive.

A person in a severe depression doesn't have bad feelings every once in a while. He doesn't return occasionally to despairing thoughts. He is in constant emotional pain, and every single positive thought, every single impulse to action, is met by a host of despairing thoughts. Every one. I'm not exagerating here. Every single one. The idea of brushing his teeth. The idea of eating breakfast. The idea of getting dressed. The idea of going to work. The idea of lifting the curtain to see what the weather is like. Every one of them is met by a swarm of bitter, ridiculing thoughts.

By the time a depressed person has gotten to work, he's already fought dozens of exhausting battles with his own mind. Won some, lost some. He's looking forward to the same all day.

What do anti-depressants do? Well, they don't stop you from feeling bad or having gloomy thoughts, at least none that I have taken do. What they do is stop the swarming. There's space between the despairing thoughts, there's time to lift your head and think, "maybe there are other ways to be."

There's still all the work to do. You have to undo the cognitive habits of depression. You have to change your life to avoid the things that trigger depressive episodes. You have to meditate, or pray, or whatever it is that your people do to learn to know their psychic world. You have to pay attention. You have to exercise and eat good food. If you don't do the work, anti-depressants won't do it for you. All they do is open the space for that work. You still have to do it.

Okay. Back up a bit. This is what anti-depressants do when they work. When you have the right kind, or mix of kinds, in the right dosages. The way medical care is given in America, at any rate, you will probably also have to do this work all by yourself -- establishing the right kind of drug and the right dosage. People talk about anti-depressants being overprescribed, and maybe they are; I don't know. I do know that they are under-monitored. Anyone who prescribes anti-depressants and then just sends their patient off with them should have their license to practice medicine revoked, but it's a common -- maybe the most common -- scenario. What ought to happen is several months of experimentation and close observation, till the right drugs and the right dosages are established: and unfortunately even when that's been established, it can change, probably will change. Unless you luck out (as I did) you won't get this kind of care. You'll get a randomly selected drug from the current pharmacopia, prescribed at a fairly arbitrarily chosen dosage, and be sent on your way.

So you need to do the research and experimentation. Don't, for God's sake , take unsafe doses -- if the largest usual dose doesn't work, then it's the wrong drug, that's all, or else it needs to be taken in tandem with something else. If possible, verify your results with someone who knows you well. "Have I seemed different in the last two weeks? In what ways?" And remember that many of these drugs have a long ramp-up time: it can be a month or two before they start having significant observable effects.

Last caveat. Read the damn labels and pamphlets, and pay attention to them. It's likely enough that your doctor has never read them, but you need to. If they tell you, for instance, not to suddenly stop taking the drug -- to tail off slowly, if you're going off it -- then don't stop taking it suddenly, and tail off slowly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Listening to the Dharma leads to contemplation, contemplation to meditation, meditation to the direct experience of mind -- that's what Jamgon Kongtrul says. Then he adds a few lines specially for me:

Thus the previous stages act as causes for the arising of the latter.
When this is not the case, it is like desiring results without any cause.
You may claim that your accumulation, purification, and practice are most excellent,
Bemoaning the hardships of a practice that is merely conjectural.
This kind of experience will not lead to conviction.
Without conviction, you are stranded in doubt,
And doubt is the only supreme obstacle.

I laughed aloud when I read these lines over my slice of pizza at lunch, and kept breaking into laughter as I walked down the street back to work. "Bemoaning the hardships of a practice that is merely conjectural." Surely that's 95% of what I do in this blog.

Monday, October 13, 2003

So tired of struggling against myself, this decades-long inconclusive trench warfare, this miserable war of attrition. Sooner or later one side will run out of energy, maybe, and there will be a victory. Or, much more probably, I will simply run out of life.

The more exasperating in that I don't believe in it. I don't believe there's a wicked Dale and a good Dale struggling for dominance here. Or a good-soldier Dale and an artist Dale facing off. the whole thing's absurd, a mistake, a misunderstanding.

Why am I so often tied up in knots, immobilized? I act like a prisoner, doggedly waiting out my sentence -- passive, sullen, and given to secretive plotting. I pour my energy into mild trangressions -- writing here, for instance, when I'm supposedly working, or going to the strip clubs when I'm supposedly at the gym, or studying German over long breakfasts when I ought to be meditating -- while my "official" activities, my actual work, my dharma practice, my relations with my family, my exercise -- get squeezed into the times when my guilt has gotten the better of me and insisted I do something, for god's sake.

So it goes on.

Is it better than it used to be? Has there been any improvement over the years? Well, yes. The transgressions are less destructive. I believe in them less, they're a little less compulsive. But the basic structure of my psyche hasn't changed much. Much of my life I spend thinking like a prisoner. I'm just an older prisoner, now, less apt to kick against the pricks, cagier in my subterfuges. And in some ways it's worse: my lunges against living this way, though they were by far the most destructive phases of my life, at least reflected a determination to change things.

Ngondro seemed to be threatening to really break this open, but now it's been incorporated into the structure. Now it's part of my "official" life, the life I live for show, the life I do as little in as I can get away with. Of course, I've only managed to absorb it that way by not really doing much of it. I think it still has the potential to break things wide open.

I'm reminded of William Stafford's poem about a prisoner having locks smuggled into his cell in pies, sneaking extra fetters in past the guards, working carefully by night to fit extra bars into his cell-window. That's the sort of prisoner I am.

For the present. In some versions of the story. There are others.
Reading How the Swans came to the Lake, a history of Buddhism in America. I was struck by one passage that described a woman who had lost her temper with her kids the night before. She asked a Zen Roshi if sitting zazen would change her so that she wouldn't lose her temper with them so often. According to the book the Roshi and his friends had a big laugh about that, at the idea that sitting zazen would change someone.

Maybe I understand why they were laughing. Maybe because you can't contain Buddhist transformations, you can't predict you'll come back from a sitting-raid with a the particular change you wanted, the particular dharma-booty you had in mind. Or maybe because in a very real sense, nothing changes. Bokar Rinpoche said simply "There is nothing to do. Nothing to do." And he meant it.

But I also understand that these were single men laughing at a woman raising children. If a man had asked them if sitting zazen would allow him to have a direct perception of emptiness, which would be precisely as silly a question, for precisely the same reasons, they wouldn't have laughed. And in fact they were wrong, demonstrably, measurably wrong: in fact sitting zazen (or practicing any other version of calm abiding) does correlate with losing your temper less often.

Roshis or not -- I have more respect for a woman trying to extend the limits of her compassion than for a bunch of men (who have removed themselves from the difficulties of child-rearing) congratulating each other on the sophistication of their understanding of the Dharma.

I wonder sometimes how women can stand to practice the Dharma. Sometimes the sexism's so strong you could cut it with a knife; other times it's just a whisper. But it's almost never absent.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Carefully now. Trying to put this battered practice back together.

Three evenings in a row, going to talks by B. Alan Wallace on science, mind, and buddhism. Good talks, but doing anything in the evening breaks the fragile routine that my practice rests upon. Baffled again by how strong and how weak my practice is.

This morning -- quiet gray light -- I dusted the offering bowls and the butter lamp and my photographs of Sarah and Michael and my little wooden Buddha. 6:30 -- too late to practice and still have my leisurely breakfast -- so of course practice goes by the board.

But as I padded into the kitchen -- thinking of the fact that today's Friday, Dionna and Cassidy's day -- the thought came into my mind that there's nothing all that strange about the difficulty I have maintaining practice. I'm only intermittently convinced that Samsara won't bring me lasting happiness, and I don't think I'm ever convinced that practice will. It's just a hope. In such circumstances only the routine of a monastery or a retreat would be likely to hold me in a consistent practice.

There's a reason why the Ngondro practice always begins with the Four Thoughts. I am such a beginner, such a rude, awkward beginner. Without the Four Thoughts firmly in mind, of course I'll wander.

1. How incredibly rare it is to have come into consciousness as a human being, with access to the Dharma and the resources to practice. Winning the lottery is, by comparison, an everyday experience.

2. How fragile this existence is. Today I probably walked past a dozen bacteria that could have killed me within hours. They just happened to miss, today. The drunken bozos in their pickups happened to run down some other pedestrian today, and not me. The aneurism happened to pop up in someone else's heart today.

3. How all these pleasures, even the ones that pan out, come to an end, or go sour: they carry the seeds of anguish and loathing in them.

4. How all my habits drive on, and on, maybe even past death, past this universe. Ten billion lifetimes in a million universes frittered away in anxiety and craving, each gulp of salt water making me thirstier, each surrender to habit making the next surrender more likely. As Alan Wallace said, it's not the materialist concept of death that's scary. Non-existence, a light going out? That's a piece of cake -- all my troubles over -- whatever mess is left, somebody else will have to clean it up! No, what's scary is the thought of these habits living on, life after life.

I don't think I have the thoughts in the right order, there. Not even sure I have them separated into the right slots. But contemplating those is what will bring me to practice, if anything will.

And this is my daughter's eighteenth birthday. That may also counts as "a thought that turns the mind," I hope. Her girlfriend made a beautiful scarf for her. I can practice for them, if not for me -- always easier for me to motivate myself for others' benefit than for my own. (Not because of bodhicitta, I'm afraid, but just because I believe in others, and I don't believe in myself, not really. I don't really believe I'm a real person.)

Enough, for now. May you all be free of suffering and the causes of suffering. May you all have happiness and the causes of happiness. May you all never be without the sacred joy that is without suffering. May you all dwell in the great equanimity, impartial, free of attachment and aversion. Amen.

Monday, October 06, 2003

The Uses of Hypocrisy

I wrote the following to Anne at underabell.blogspot, a couple days ago, when she was wondering whether this was a good time to undertake practice:

It's always the wrong time, for all kinds of perfectly good reasons. You just have to practice anyway. Practice when you're not in the mood, practice when you can tell it won't do any good, practice when you don't have the time, practice when you've got no discipline, practice when you're too upset -- tired -- confused -- uninspired -- to practice.

The problem with waiting for a better time is that the only thing that's likely to make better times for it is -- practicing.

It was great advice, I think. I did have the grace, at that point, to be embarrassed by the fact that I was writing that when I hadn't practiced for four days. Embarrassed enough that I went right back to practicing, and I've been practicing daily since.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Can I just talk? Listen. Everything I do is an attempt to get attention, and to win approval. Would I do anything, I wonder, without at least an imagined audience? Would anyone?

I grow reckless, wild. I think maybe you have to be desperate to practice the Dharma.

Kalu Rinpoche said "you have to want enlightenment like a drowning man wants air. "

Push has come to shove. This is shove. Here we are. We can pretend not to be here, but we can't back out.

I want more. Always want more. To really admit that the "more" isn't there -- is that death? That's Goethe's take on it. Or are the Buddhists right? Is there a luminosity and compassion concealed by the anxiety for more? A direct perception of interconnectivity, an expansion of awareness? You could read it either way. I do read it either way, every day.