Monthly Archives: January 2018

37 practices: verse 19

19. To maintain focus and humility when everything goes right / how to use prosperity on the path

Though I’ve a-chieved the pin-na-cle of fame / And the whole world bows down to me in awe,

I’m rich be-yond my ver-y wild-est dreams, / What-ev-er mo-ney buys I have it all.

To see that there’s no es-sence in suc-cess / And nev-er think I’m bet-ter than the rest:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 19 audio above

“Positive obstacles: raise your hand if you’re having these.” That line elicited laughter when Pema Chodron was teaching this text at Omega Institute in 2016. She and our other teachers will have some advice for us should we ever be in this situation, but first: a word about the translation.

Continue reading

37 practices: verse 18

18. To maintain resolve when everything goes wrong / How to use ruin on the path

When I’ve lost ev-ery-thing; and ev-ery-one / A-bus-es me and treats me with con-tempt,

I’m strick-en by dis-ease and ver-y sick; / On top of that, a de-mon’s in my head,

To take on all the suf-fer-ing of beings, / Com-plete-ly free of all dis-cour-age-ment:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 18 audio above

With verse 18 we move into a new phase of bodhisattva boot camp. Verses 12-17 were about specific, limited situations brought on us by other people, and we trained to respond with taking and sending toward those individuals who harm us through theft, pain, slander, humiliation, ingratitude, and disrespect.

In verse 18 everything in our life goes wrong at once, suffering upon suffering, and there’s no one to blame or forgive. It’s just adversity, pure and simple, and it’s coming at us from every direction. What do we do now?

Continue reading

37 practices: verse 17

17. To repay disrespect with reverence / how to use humiliation on the path

If someone, my in-fer-i-or or peer, / Through pride dis-par-a-ges and puts me down,

To hon-or them as I would my teach-er / And place them rev-er-ent-ly on my crown:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 17 audio

Contemplation: Think back to a time when someone built themselves up by tearing you down, in a big or trivial way. It’s happened to all of us. Ken McLeod starts his commentary on this verse by having us imagine a scenario in a work situation. “You put forward an idea that you think will work for everyone. A colleague dismisses your suggestion with a witty comment at your expense . . . . You are left looking stupid, incompetent, and out of touch.” Or maybe you hear a rumor that someone has put in a private word suggesting that you’re not as competent/kind/honest as you might appear. Maybe it’s true, or maybe it’s not true. Either way, how did it feel at the time? How, if at all, did you respond? How does it feel now?

Continue reading

Weather, stoplights, and equanimity

The beloved Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh originated the idea of “mindfulness bells,” things that crop up naturally in our lives that we can set as reminders to bring ourselves back to the present moment, such as the ringing of a phone. In my three-year retreat, I wrote about a potentially deadly mindfulness bell that was hard to avoid within the retreat compound, and thus really got our attention.

Mindfulness is how we develop equanimity, but today we are going straight to equanimity itself, and how we can use specific situations that are not only inevitable but also tend to trigger emotional reactions that disturb our peace of mind. I’m sure you can identify others, but today we’ll just start with two: the weather, and stoplights.

Continue reading

Ego: what it is, what it isn’t, and why it matters

I just wanted to share a brief explanation of ego from Traleg Rinpoche (author of a number of books, including the best explanation of karma I’ve ever encountered, Karma: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and Why It Matters). The quote below is from a footnote in his translation of the classic Kagyu meditation manual Moonbeams of Mahamudra. This is a very technical text, so I’m not recommending that you read it unless that’s what you’re looking for. Just wanted to share this, because the question of what ego is and its role in the path to awakening comes up so frequently. [Notes in brackets are mine.]

“Buddhism does not say we must get rid of ego, it says we should overcome our mistaken notions of ego. We mistakenly think something exists over and above our psychophysical constituents [aka, the five skandhas or heaps: body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, consciousness]. That idea of ego is a myth; it does not exist.

Continue reading