Diamond Heart Dharma

Ancient wisdom, modern happiness


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Engaging Change: The Perfectible Month Project

Posted by DGS on September 12, 2013 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Got your attention? 

Ok, good.

Is there anything you would like to change about yourself?

If your answer is no, good for you.  Please post comments on what that feels like because for most of us, even the really happy ones, there is always something we'd like to change.

So if your answer is yes... what is the change you want?  

Think on that a minute.  We'll come back to it.   In the meanwhile have you ever considered WHY you want to change that thing?  Or if you've tried changing that thing before, and failed, you may be wondering if, or perhaps even be skeptical whether REAL change is even possible at all?  "Maybe for other people", you might say, "But not for me".

We often get identified with a sort of vortex of personal inertia which leads us to feel like "that's just who I am I guess".   And like the inertia of a large heavy object, the weight of it either seems to keep us immovably anchored and stuck where we are.  Or perhaps the inertia is moving and it feels like we are unstoppably hurtling towards some seemingly inevitable crushing destiny.

But is it true? Is that the way it is? Do we have any agency in our lives?

Sometimes our problem is that we can't see where we want to go in life or what we need to change.  That's where a teacher of some kind can be a huge help for us.  Their function is in pointing out a direction which might be beneficial to pursue.  

But even if we get that direction, sometimes we don't feel we can actually get there.  So can we?  If we can see what we want to change in our lives can we actually DO anything about it?

These are big questions with huge ramifications.  And they are ones where the answers are tightly wound around the spinal cords of our identity.   For someone on a brave spiritual journey, these are questions worth examining.

The project below is a life adventure/experiment to prove that in fact, you CAN change yourself.


One of the most important parts of this project is that YOU decide what you want to change. No one tells you what to do. This is a personal journey.  I will say that in some cases there can be a benefit to declaring to others that you are working on something so that through mere shame you are motivated to actually do it.  But that is not required here.  I think this project, let's call it the PMP, mostly functions better as a private exercise.  At least on your first go 'round.

All that is required is intention and effort.  This project is for YOU. You design it. You go through it. You evaluate it. So if you think about that, you actually cannot fail.  Ever heard that popular saying: "What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?"  Well here's your chance.

I should also say at the outset that this project is suggested for a month because that amount of time is a really good one for changing an old habit or developing a new one.

HOWEVER, depending on what you are trying to do, you can scale YOUR project to whatever time frame is appropriate for your challenge.  For many things a month is a good amount of time.  For other more challenging habits, you might want to limit it to a week, or a day, even just an hour or so.

The MOST importing thing is to follow the rules as you lay them down and then see yourself stick to them. I'll say that again.  Set your own goals.  Your own rules.  And then KEEP them.  That is the KEY to this project, and to the secret magic which underlies it.

There are no costs, no fees, no special things to buy. You don't need anything else to change your life but the will to do so and the belief that it is possible. That's what this is all about.

So let's get to it.


Below you will find a video which walks you through the steps of the project, and a downloadable worksheet to use.  But you don't even need that.  You can make your own.

Download the free PDF worksheet here.

And here's a video to walk you through it.  No audio, (so unlike the other videos in this article, you can even watch it in your cubicle.  But not for too long because you're supposed to be working.)  This is just a step by step walkthrough.  Make it full screen and pause and advance it as needed. 

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You can go ahead and get started with this.  It's got instructions on it and is all you'll need.  

But if you want to know a bit more about what's going on here, perhaps you'll invest a few minutes into the short discussion below.

Short Discussion Below

Good, you're still here.  That's a good sign of someone really motivated for change.

So as I was saying... most of the challenges we face in life are in one way or another connected to the fact that we wish things to be different than they are.  Now don't get me wrong.  This is not necessarily always a bad thing.  We may, for instance, strongly desire for a loved one to stop suffering.  Those sorts of "good desire" thoughts do sometimes enter our minds.  

But if we're honest with ourselves, (also a big challenge), we have to admit that those good desire thoughts often have to muscle their way through the mosh pit of thoughts centered around things we'd like to change about our bodies, our relationships, our status, and our feelings in the moment. (For the Buddhaheads in the audience that's basically the Eight Worldly Thoughts.  The ups and downs of Fame, Gain, Pleasure, and Praise.)

We ride the vicissitudes of these up and down fortunes like a perpetual roller coaster, the direction and speed of which often feels totally out of our control.

"That's just the way it is" we say in exasperation.  "That's just who I am" we say in justification. And yet, if we press our honesty further, it is also likely that somewhere deep inside we know this is not true.

In our best moments we sometimes connect with a feeling of spaciousness and opportunity.  In fact you could say that exactly what MAKES our best moments so great, IS the feeling of potential and possibility we only too occasionally recognize in ourselves.

And guess what.  In those moments, we are 100% correct.

(Shhh. Here comes a big secret... Ready?)


EACH of us has at our very core, an infinite perfectibility.  No one has, (or has ever had) any more perfectibility than YOU.  And no one ever will.  NO ONE.

You are as perfectible as any being who has ever lived, and... are your ready for this?  You are in fact as perfectible as the most perfect being you can imagine.  

So if you can believe that even a little bit,  what have you got to  worry about?  

This is a heavy concept if you think about it.  And it's not just some new-agey mumbo jumbo.  That's serious ancient philosophy, backed by airtight logic, and validated by modern science.  In fact we'll be exploring this concept of the lack of fixedness to things (Emptiness or Shunyata) and the understanding of what that means (Wisdom or Prajna) more in our group over the coming months.  (For some great teachings on this concept go here)

There was also a guy a couple thousand years ago who said "The kingdom of heaven is within you",  so... if that's in there, you must be pretty good inside.  Maybe even better than you realize.

It's a such a big concept that it is perhaps easily dismissed or rejected.  But just like gravity, you don't have to fully understand something to make use of it.  So let's push on shall we?

Pushing On:

Maybe you already believe this concept, or at least believe in it AS a concept, or perhaps you believe that you beieve in it.  Any of those are a good start.  

However, chances are pretty good that you don't, or can't yet allow yourself to believe it in a DEEP way.  There's just too much seemingly contradictory evidence both outside of you and inside of you to really let this concept take over.

Things look pretty fixed and unchangeable to most of us.  They sometimes seem insurmountable.  Too big to change.  So why try?  I have one thing to say about that.

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The size of the challenge or of the challenger is IRRELEVANT. The potential for change is universal.  So...if we can prove that ANY part of you is changeable, then we have basically proven that EVERY part of you is changeable.  The great Nagarjuna said as much.  "If you prove the emptiness of one thing, you prove the emptiness of everything."

Got that?  ANY part changeable = EVERY part changeable. Ok?  So all we have to do is prove that some part of us is changeable to know that our goal is reachable.  Cool huh?

And before you get ahead of yourself saying "Well may be SOME things are changeable, but that doesn't prove...blah blah blah."  YES it does actually. Think about it. There is NO part of you at all which is not ALREADY changing right now, even as you read these words. Your body, your mind, your bank account, your political ideas, your feelings about your neighbor.

ALL changing.

So there is really no arguing whether things change. The more interesting question is, can WE change things we want to change through the force of will? I submit to you that the answer is basically YES.  But maybe not in the way we want it to be.  I'm not going to go off on a new age rant about manifesting wealth or partners or world peace or any such thing.  No disrespect to any philosophy of that kind. The universe is a large and mysterious place with room for LOTS of different worldviews. But I'd just like to suggest that we start with a slightly more focused goal than world peace, or being able to fly and change things into gold.

So let's pick a goal.  Who's goal?  Yours of course.  And that brings us to...

ELEMENT #1: Choose your own goals.

This project actually sprang out of the "Vowed Morality" portion of a Six Perfections teaching. But rather than working with seemingly complex vows you may not understand or agree with yet, let's just make up our own rules shall we?

Imagine a few goals you have for yourself.  They can be big goals, but they should be doable to some measurable degree within a month (or whatever your chosen time frame is).

Not too many goals, ok? (I'm looking at you perfectionists) This exercise was at one time called "The PERFECT Month Project" until I was reminded that some people have a very creative way of preventing change. That is they perpetually set the bar impossibly high so that no one could achieve it.  If that describes you, great!  This project will give you ample opportunity to root out and work with that tendency.   We all have tendencies like this.  And they are not necessarily bad to have.  Think of them like a powerful elephant.  They are not bad or good, they just need to not be out of control.  If you are a perfectionist, you can start by setting only a VERY few or even ONE goal.  And also by making it a VERY achievable one.

On the other hand, if you are more in the lazy camp, don't make your goals too easy, like:
"I promise I won't cause any global wars in the next five minutes". Yeah, that's probably true but unless you are a world leader with an Armageddon fetish, probably not an ideal goal for you. How about giving yourself a little bit of a challenge. This is YOUR project remember. Pick something good that really hits home.

Find that sweet spot for you between "Not Enough" and "Too Much" and set your goals there. You should likely just pick the first two or maybe three things that come to your mind and jot them down.

Go ahead... I'll wait... (whistling)

Got it?

Good, You can change later if you want to. but let's look at those now. (if you didn't write them down just kind of bring them to the front of your mind.)

What are they?  Do they have something to do with changing the way you look?  How about dropping a troublesome habit?  Anyone wanting to change something about one of their relationships? Who wants to FINALLY do that thing that they've been wanting to do for so long?

Good job! First step accomplished. You see potential for change. And you have the desire to get it done which will fuel your efforts. Desire is not always a bad thing, if it is used to help you make spiritual progress.

ELEMENT #2: Examine your thoughts

You may have noticed that even in the process of setting this project up, you can already begin using it to catch yourself stacking the deck either for or against yourself. You can already start to feel where your resistances are and where your old habits want to push you.

In our group we've begun calling this sort of opportunity "Klesha Bait". This is a practice of putting your mind in a situation where the Kleshas or "Mental Afflictions" are likely to come out, and then laying in wait for them. Sometimes we do so from a sort of National Geographic point of view, to just observe and identify them.

But sometimes, when we are ready, the goal is to flush them out like a big game hunter, so that we can capture and destroy them.

Here's how to begin to do that.  Take a step back and look at your goals. What do they all have in common?

There is a HIGH likelihood that these goals are not only about ourselves (that's what we asked for of course), but also meant primarily to benefit ourselves.

This is a private exercise so take a moment now to honestly examine the goals which first popped into your head.  Don't side step this.  It is an extremely helpful part of the project.

If we want to lose weight, WHY do we want to lose it?  To look better?  Better THAN whom? Better FOR whom?  Don't get me wrong. There's no problem using this program to lose weight. I did (100 lbs and counting). But this exercise gives us the opportunity to examine what we think we want, and more importantly WHY we want it, and WHO we want it for.

This is a way of getting to the mysterious underground stream of our intentions. Our intentions are the prime movers of our spiritual trajectory.   That is because a healthy spiritual life or even just a happy life is not just about WHAT we are doing but WHY we are doing it.  Not every church going bible thumper is a Godly person, and not every seeming "heathen" is a devil. Intention is what separates these stereotypes from their individual realities. And intention is what we are working with here.

If our weight loss intentions are completely self centered then the results are simply not going to bring us the happiness we may be seeking from losing weight. Even if you win "The Biggest Loser" competition, or get an endorsement deal from a national sandwich chain, if it is all about you then you've simply swapped one struggling identity for another one. Perhaps a physically healthier one, but not necessarily a happier one.

The same is true for any goal, such as being, more well known, being smarter, being wealthier, even being calmer.  If we are trying to be more "-er" THAN someone else, then we are like a dog trying to catch its tail.  It's an exhausting exercise with no successful resolution.

SO... what do we do? Abandon our goals?

Of course not. Let's just see if we can adapt them. Take losing weight for instance. That's a popular topic.

IS IT POSSIBLE to consider a personal goal such as weight loss, in the context of trying to be healthier FOR others around you who might depend on you?  Or for being in a position to be more energetic and helpful TO those around you?

OF COURSE IT IS.  But again, we really have to stick with the honesty thing here. I know you can cross your fingers behind your back and pay lip service to this idea SAYING "I'm going to do this for others", but deep down really only wanting it for yourself. Don't let your mind off that easily. EXAMINE your tendency to focus on yourself, and even to trick yourself into SAYING it is for others, when at your heart you know it is not.

Klesha bait, remember.  Catch your mind in the act.

This is actually part of the magic of this project if you do it thoughtfully.  Before you even start the project proper, you can use your own dearest goals to examine what you are attached to and how thoroughly those attachments may keep you from even beginning to think in a more spiritual way.  Which is to say, less about ourselves, and more about others.

The primary way to do this is to dedicate your goals to or for someone else. You can dedicate the individual goals to someone or something, such as a goal to be more patient to the person whom you often lose your temper with.  And you should also dedicate the entire project to someone or something.  This can be who you are trying to be better for, or it can even be the image of that better self you will one day become.  Dedicate your efforts to that.

If you are dedicating to a person, it is likely best to do so without telling them about it. If we tell them then the project gains a high probability of becoming an exercise in guilt, or needing praise or approval, or dealing with disappointment, or pride, or a whole host of other nasty stuff. This is YOUR project remember? Just dedicate it to them in your mind and on your worksheet, and just hold that in your heart over the course of your project.

ELEMENT #3: Make it official.

Up above I called it a "form" but the power of this project is that it is actually a kind of a contract.

Fill out the form fully, and then sign and date it. Put the old John or Jane Hancock on there. Try to muster up the feeling of something even more vital and important than a mortgage, or marriage contract, or living will.

Make it serious. That will help you make it count.

Some of you legal heads out there might be saying, "But a contract has to be between two parties. I thought you said this was personal."

ELEMENT #4: Constitute a high object, for you.

I DID say that. And it IS personal.  So who's the other party in this contract? That's one of the other secret weapons in this project.

You're going to go through the downloadable document and choose a few actions of Body, Speech, or Mind to adhere to. You're going to dedicate it to someone other than yourself. You're going to pick a discrete and achievable time frame, and then...

You are going to sign this contract and present it to something or someone which you hold in the highest regard.

So... who is that for you?

Do you have such a presence in your life? If you don't is that because you think no one is above you in any way and you are the absolute architect of your own destiny? And if so, then why can't you change that thing you've been wanting to change about yourself?

We all have the CAPACITY for change, but we don't all have the facility or familiarity with how to do it. and the secret of this part of the project is this equation.

Change requires learning something new.

Learning something new requires you to be a student.

Being a student requires that you allow something or someone to be a teacher.

Now this rabbit hole gets REALLY deep really quickly and we are not saying that you have to go out and enrol in a university, or shave your head and join a religious movement.. In fact the magic of this project is such that you can constitute your own high object. Whatever or whomever works for you.

That's right. What is important here is the FEELING you have about this person or object.  And the sincerity you come to them with. Specifically it should be a feeling of REVERENCE.

Positive change requires the willingness to believe in your own potential. And a great way of doing that is to see someone or something outside of yourself who exemplifies at least a partial realization of that potential.

I like to call this "The Tony Hawk" principle. That's right. The skateboarder. Here's why.

BEFORE Tony Hawk, the 900 (spinning around in the air 2.5 times) was NOT possible.

AFTER Tony Hawk, it WAS possible.

What enabled him to do that?  Was he "superhuman"?  Some may argue, but I think tests would verify that he was "simply human".  No, what enabled him to do that was the BELIEF that he could do it, and the will to try.

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Now, AFTER Tony, at LEAST 11 people have done the 900, and who knows how many kids have gotten there or pretty close to it in their own back yards as a result of the inspiration that Guru Tony Hawk gave them.  He literally breathed life into that goal inside of them.

"I'm not a skateboarder", you say. "What does this have to do with me?"  Well if you want to do anything, it is a HUGE help to believe that it is possible. And in that respect you might want to find someone who for you, demonstrates some familiarity or even excellence with your chosen goal.  And once you've done that, then pay that quality of theirs some respect.

Maybe you have a hair trigger on your anger, and you want to be more patient. Do you have a granny or someone who was seemingly always calm no matter what?  Then get a picture of them and present your PMP contract to them.

Working with low self esteem?   Maybe your PMP goal could be to recall your divine infinite nature at least once per day. Picture someone who doesn't seem to give two hoots what others think of them, but does so in a graceful non-threatening way.  And then make them your guru of that quality and pay that quality of theirs some homage.  It can be quite helpful to daily call that person to mind who seems to recognize and embody that quality you admire.  Don't be jealous of it.  Admire it.

If you have difficulty envisioning someone, anyone, even an historical or traditional figure whom you admire, then certainly that is something you might want to think about.  Why can't you let yourself see the goodness in others.  But in the meantime, perhaps you could print out a picture of a majestic nature scene, or a spiral galaxy before which you feel awe.  Or even small innocent child whom you would not want to lie to.

This is YOUR project. Find someone or something you can feel some kind of reverence for, and then get a picture and put it in some special place for you where it will not be disturbed.

Personally I chose two teachers I have been working with whom I see as fantastic examples of the capacity to change for all the right reasons.  I put a picture of them on my home altar, and I made a big deal out of presenting this document to them in a fancy official way.  Kneeling down and everything.  

Then I laid an offering on top of my contract. An offering could be anything.  A flower, some fruit or a chocolate.  An important memento for you.  You can even occasionally go back and refresh your offering with a new flower or piece of fruit or something, to refresh your intention and keep the fire burning on your project.

ELEMENT #5: Do what you said you would do

The power of holding to your promise is IMMENSE, and it works on you in both deep and subtle ways, as does the power of NOT holding to what you say. In Buddhism one of the karmic causes of depression is simply seeing yourself say or promise things which you don't follow through with, or perhaps never even have any intention of following through with.  (for more on this concept listen to the teachings on depression on this page.)

We all do this kind of thing to some extent, often in the form of fooling ourselves. But some people have a real challenge with this one, and if you fit this description, this project can be a REAL life changer.

All you have to do is pick one small thing.  Just one.  Promise to do it. And then do it.

This kind of "Completion Karma" can start as a tiny crystal of willpower, and end up snowballing into an avalanche of good intention and positive change.

Seriously.  I can't stress this enough.  If you are the kind of person who feels like they have a lot of unachieved goals, then one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself is to set a very small one, and watch yourself achieve it.

It's kind of magic.  Try it.  It works.  As Nike says: "Just Do It"


See, you've got guiding angels everywhere. Even in crass commercial culture.

It may be difficult to do, depending on what goals you set. But you CAN do it.

Give it your all. Do it FOR someone else as well as for yourself.

ELEMENT #6: Evaluate without judgement

Chances are, if you REALLY wanted that goal, and you set your goals and time frames reasonably, and you constituted a very strong person to offer it to, and you did it for unselfish reasons... then you probably felt like you succeeded in your project.  And by succeeded I simply mean that you learned something about yourself.  About your ability to change and perhaps about the parts of your identity which may have been holding you back.

Congratulations!! Welcome to the world where anything is possible because you have just proven that you can change for the better simply by using desire to drive good intentions.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you did not reach your goal, that does not mean you failed. This is a "project" remember? Your experience of the project IS your result.  If you just tried to do the project sincerely, then you succeeded.  Congratulations!

What did you learn about yourself. Did you aim too high? Did you not feel really committed? Were you not sincere? Did you not want it for the right reasons?

Or... is it just possible that the goal you set for yourself was not REALLY that important to you?

Sometimes we THINK we want something, and then even when we get it, we are still not satisfied.  If that's the case, what is it that we TRULY want?

My spiritual teacher is fond of saying that "ALL desires are just aspects of THE desire, which is the desire for true and lasting happiness."

He often quotes Saint Augustine saying:

"The desire for happiness is essential to man.

It is the motivator of ALL acts. 

The most venerable, clearly understood, enlightened, and reliable constant in the world is not only that we want to be happy, but that we want only to be so. Our very nature requires it of us.


The motivator of ALL acts. That's a bold statement.  EVERYTHING we do in our daily lives is in a desire to, as the Dalai Lama often says, "Be happy and avoid pain". 

If that is so then how can this little project help us get closer to that realization? 

I suggest to you that the process of working with our goals and desires, of examining our attachments to them, of trying to modify the intentions behind them.  Of being willing to make ourselves into a student of life, and of dedicating our efforts to others instead of ourselves, these ARE the processes which will bring us to the deep realizations which awaits us.

The realizations that even though there is plenty to do, there was never anything that NEEDED to happen for us to be truly deeply happy. 

This project is an exercise in incrementally recognizing that you have infinite perfectibility. 

Once you prove it to yourself, even a little bit, then you can begin to try to live in that truth.

And that IS deep happiness.

You'll still do things.  Plenty of things.  But not in order to GET or AVOID something. 

You'll act for the sake of acting.  Because it is the right thing to do.  Because you can and you want to.  Because you've realized that living with a motivation to help others brings you that lasting happiness you were previously seeking in even your smallest most selfish goals. 

But this time with this newly enhanced worldview, the happiness lingers. 

With the right intention, your actions become something called "merit", which is inexhaustible.  Like a tree from which you pick a fruit, and two more grow back in its place.

I encourage you to try this project out.  Make it your own.

See where it leads you.

ELEMENT #7: Repeat as necessary

Call up this project any time you need it.  Each one will be different because each time you begin it, you have changed.  You are a different person each time. 

And that's pretty encouraging if you think about it.

Happy adventuring.  And adventure happily.

Download the free PDF worksheet here.

NOTE: This project is based on a number of different authentic teachings and principles.  If you'd like to learn more about what underlies this way of thinking, come check out our group, or our teacher's homepage at lamamarut.org.  And keep an eye out for the forthcoming Middle Way website which will aggregate all sorts of similar teachings, and point you to a Middle Way Center potentially close to you.  Enjoy.

New You Resolutions

Posted by DGS on January 1, 2013 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Have you heard anything like "New Year. New You" lately?


Seems slogans like this are as plentiful this time of year as scarves at a yoga studio. Why is that?  (slogans I mean. not scarves)


Several reasons come to mind. Starting of course with the ever present idea that we are dissatisfied with ourselves and wish to be someone else.

The magazines and popular media prey on our predilection for self-deprecation. It's a multi-billion dollar a year business making us feel like we are not quite enough, not yet anyway. Not until we buy, or buy into their new new thing.


Isn't it odd that in a society consumed with ego, we should think so little of ourselves? Or perhaps this is a perfect example of the way karma is working. That even if we believe ourselves to be an innocent and unappreciated hidden treasure, our self centered nature forces us to tend to see in ourselves mostly our faults.


But perhaps there is a far less cynical way of looking at this odd tendency we have.

Perhaps with some effort we could shift the energy we spend on wishing to be something, or somewhere, or someone else, and think of it as recognition that we are inherently more than we see in ourselves now.


Perhaps our yearly bouts of high aspirations, no matter how short lived, are a recurring sign of our in-built desire to attain our highest form, our greatest potential.


"This year I'm REALLY going to…____________________."


What do you fill in that blank with?  What is it that you hold so precious for yourself that you are prepared to swear a vow to reach it?


And don't be fooled by the seeming pettiness of your goals. Even the goal of losing weight can be seen in the light of more than just looking more sexy, but perhaps as being more capable, able to be more helpful, able to be around long enough to make a a real difference.  Or at the very least, just the best possible version of "you".


Lama Marut says "At the heart of every desire is THE desire. The desire for REAL happiness". Or as he says, a state of "itchlessness" where we have nothing we need to "scratch" to be happy.


This time of year is a reminder that we DEEPLY crave freedom from what burdens us. And it is also a reminder of something much more important.


That it IS possible.


The very fact that we try again and again to remake ourselves is, it seems to me, a recognition that there is NO PART OF US WHICH IS NOT POTENTIALLY CHANGEABLE. Or put another way, there is no part of us which is not just "potential".


Potential for what though? Now that's up to you. It can be something petty. Something worldly and self focused. Something which won't last anyway, like a more fit and tone physique.


Or it can be for something meaningful and useful, like the health which will allow you to be more helpful to others.  Or the wisdom which will allow you to see only the best potential in others.


Either type of goal is a possibility because you are neither one from your own side.


You are completely re-makeable, and if you can recognize that you are utterly remarkable. But guess what, so is everyone else. Each of us equally has this power.  As Lama Cindy Lee says, "If you think you are special, you are just like everyone else.  But if you realize you are just like everyone else, then you are quite special."


And I think that is why each of us equally hears the whispers at this time of year, to make this year THE year. To make this time THE time to really make the changes we somehow KNOW are possible.


So don't frown or avoid New Year's resolutions this year.   Embrace them.

And don't worry if you don't quite end up reaching your goal. Just try hard to set a good one and to keep it.   Set a goal which has an intention which has ramifications which lie outside of your physical form and its comforts.


On artificial calendar days like this the whole world pauses to ponder what they COULD be, if they tried. That's got to be a great sentiment to ride, and to add your own personal flavor to.


How will YOU tip the balance of this great movement?

In what direction does your "New You" face?

Tips for a New Year practice. 

This is a great time to do a perfect world meditation, where you sit down and call your holiest conceptions to you.  And then in their presence you just try to envision yourself, your entire world, and everything in it as absolutely perfect. It's sometimes surprising how hard this can be actually. But try to get used to it, and send that image forward into the new year for yourself and every being you can comprehend.


Also, if you know how to do a Fire Puja, this is a great time to do one. Or you can just wing it by writing down on a piece of paper, either the things you wish to get rid of, or the goals you would like to achieve, or both. Then if you can do it safely you can make a nice fire somehow, small or large. And then offer your wishes up into the fire.


If you're not comfortable with fire, you can equally offer it out into water or land. Don't litter of course. In water you can shred it or sink it with a rock. in land, you can bury it.


The important thing is to feel that you have sent those intentions out far and wide in a grand and meaningful way.


And then the MOST important thing, is to feel really really good about it when you are doing it and after you've done it.

One good way to do that is as you are doing it to try to recall any and all good deeds or good intentions you have had this year.  They can be big things like volunteering or studying sacred material, or seemingly small things like opening doors for people, or donating a dollar.


If nothing else, you can just focus on the good intentions of your New Year's act itself. Just the wish to be better for yourself and others.   That is a magnificent intention and the goodness of it is immeasurable.


So rejoice in your ?New Year New You" intentions. And above all, be content!

P.S. If you're looking to start a daily practice in the new year, here's a great resource for you.

A Daily Practice

The Karma Yoga of Santa

Posted by DGS on December 20, 2012 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Thanks to Dharma sister Lori for hipping me to this...

The Best Karma Yogi:  By Deb & Ed Shapiro

Karma yoga is perfection in action where our activity is of benefit to others, such as doing good, giving without wanting anything in return, and benevolent service. So who could be a better karma yogi than Santa Claus? Although his appearance may fool you, mainly because he has a habit of eating a lot of cookies, he does get good exercise going up and down all those chimneys. He also has a huge heart, loves to hug children, and is always smiling, which are signs of a good yogi.

For Santa is more than just a jolly old guy in a red outfit. A true yogi is someone who displays wisdom and compassion, and Santa is an excellent example. He sees everyone as his family, is always helping others, and he cares about you whether you’re naughty or nice. Such fine qualities are ones we may all want to emulate.

· He makes us do good and feel good. Now that’s a big one, as many of us oftentimes act selfishly and badly.

· He gives, endlessly, to everyone, all over the world, all at pretty much the same time. This indicates a truly generous heart, one that takes great joy in giving, without needing to receive.

· Yet he does not give blindly. Rather he judges what is the most appropriate gift for each. This shows great discernment, as giving needs wisdom in order to be of most benefit.

· He encourages rituals and invokes magic in every child’s life: letter writing, stocking filling, decorations, parades, milk and cookies. Ritual is an essential part of honoring anything that is greater than us, and magic is the beauty of the unknown.

· He listens to our pleas and requests and reads our letters. Meaning that he takes the time to hear us and pays attention, which we could all do a lot more of.

· He has great psychic powers: he flies in the sky with reindeer, descends chimneys without getting covered in soot, goes by many names and forms, and is extraordinarily elusive. Has anyone actually ever seen him??

· He knows where we live. In other words, he is inside every one of us.

· Most importantly, he lifts our spirits at the darkest time, bringing us laughter and joy, which is undoubtedly the greatest gift of all.

Through giving to others, a la Santa, we turn selfishness into generosity and connect to basic goodness within us, a quality of kindness that is easy to lose touch with. Giving—whether a smile, our time, a listening ear—is profoundly joyful, both to the one who is receiving and the one who is giving.

I love that idea, and have often made the argument that the way in which and the fact that "Santa" functions, is proof of divinity.  A pure example of an emanation body.  

Santa IS coming to town.  It's worth thinking about how exactly that happens, beyond the sleigh and reindeer. 

Ho, ho, ho...

Halloween Dharma?

Posted by DGS on October 30, 2012 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (0)

If we look at Haloween through Dharma eyes, what might we see?

Of course the whole thing is a fascinating display of trust and generosity on the part of the society which participates in it.  (Did anyone ever REALLY find one of those razorblades? I'm skeptical.)

But beyond that, and beyond simply acknowledging our dark side, and beyond any kind of hokey history of "Samhain" and end-of-harvest rituals, It seems to me that the mere existence of halloween and its many traditions, along with the way we pass it on to our kids, is at the very least a living example of how much we crave ritual in our lives, and the setting aside of sacred time.  "Time out of Time" as Lama Marut says.  

I remember running through the neighborhood in my cheap plastic mask and rayon cape, in search of unimaginable treasures, certain that there was magic around every corner, feeling so free I nearly burst with excitement.  As if normal time and (most of) the normal rules of reality had been suspended, at least until I got home.

But the whole enterprise seems more to me than mere hedonism.  We generally live our lives in a self gratifying way anyway.  What makes this one specific time so special?  What is the energy of it?  What are we trying to create or destroy?  What truth are we trying to ritually reinforce and remind ourselves of.

Well it's probably not a stretch to say that Death Awareness is pretty high on the list.  

At halloween we are hardly able to avoid the many images of skulls and ghosts and grim reapers and such.  And when we do encounter what we consider a good or true or scarily effective instance of these macabre realities, we don't cower (for long).  We actually laud it with compliments.  Think about that.  Some grisly image which at any other time would seem ridiculously out of place or unsettling, becomes a cause celebre.  

"Oh, that's awesome!" we say.

What is that kind of reaction saying about us during this special time?  The time when tradition holds that the "veil between this world and the next is the thinnest". Are we recognizing that we live in a space between various realms of existence.   A "bardo" between the ghosts of the past and the mysteries of the future.

Isn't it interesting that we crave at least once per year to ritually look at the truth and fact of death, and to not only find beauty  and humor in it, but to make offerings to it, in the form of sugary treats.

Of course many other cultures have similar kinds of rituals.  The "Dia de los Muertos" in some Latin communities for instance.  Or the fantastically celebratory Jazz Funerals in New Orleans.

It seems to me that besides the otherwise morbid imagery, these precious ritualized times are an effort by us to recall at least two very important truths about our lives.  

First, as we've been saying, these special times certainly allow us a safe way to haul the honesty of death out of the closet.  

Not so long ago (and still in some communities) death was not hidden from us so much as it is today.  It was a much more expected and commonly experienced part of life. In fact a recently passed on relative would often be taken care of by the family themselves, and even dressed and respectfully displayed in the living room, before being buried in the back forty.

Perhaps our modern antiseptic view of death is part of the reason why today there exist extreme death defying sports and extreme slasher type movies.  Because for all their craziness, there is at least something true in them which they are reminding us of.  There wasn't any need for X-Games or "Saw" movies during the dark ages I'd guess.

Some part of us longs to remember the truth of our limited time here.  Why?  

I suggest that the purpose of us compulsively making this highly ritualized observance of death is not to be depressed or morbid, but rather to rejoice in the impermanence of life, and thereby to remember to DEEPLY appreciate its preciousness.  

This is something we far too often overlook, and I think we all crave not to do so.

I think the other vital part of this holiday which we seem to want very badly to remember is that if this time is rare and precious, and our form is temporary and changing, then... what do we WANT to be in this moment.  What MIGHT we be capable of being?

I think the recognition of this special "in-between time" is a not too subtle understanding that each moment is a time of infinite possibility.  

Have you ever seen an otherwise mild mannered co-worker dressed in an extravagant or hilarious Halloween costume?  Does even your genteel mom or your quiet uncle go bananas at this time of year with a fake knife through the head or a full sized gorilla suit?

Looking past the sometimes inappropriate costumes, who as a child didn't enthusiastically don some kind of superhero or princess outfit, or something very much like it?

Why is that?  Where did that character come from?   Did we REALLY need permission to do that?  Do we still?

Perhaps some deep part of us actually does recognize that there is no part of us which is NOT potentially a superhero or royalty.  

Perhaps that is what we crave to recognize most of all at special times like this.  

That we hold within ourselves INFINITE possibility.  That the common temporary form we identify ourselves with most every other day of the year is not our TRUE self.  

That there is a special ineffable part in all of us which deserves to be recognized, and that THIS self, is something which is not afraid of death.  In fact it laughs in its face.

Perhaps it is in these moments when we bravely face our deepest horrors and voluntarily scare ourselves silly, that we finally recall not only what truly matters, but even, what might be possible. 

That seems like something worth offering a snickers bar to.  Doesn't it?  Or maybe Reese's or Jolly Ranchers are more your thing.

So look around yourself this Halloween and imagine yourself in a rare and sacred world surrounded by magical beings.  

And then look within yourself and find that most precious part of you which is longing to be set free.   Ask yourself "What are you gonna BE for halloween."

And then BE that, and open the door for it, fill its bag full of candy, and send it running through the streets in wild ecstatic joy.

Things exist as they are named

Posted by DGS on September 27, 2012 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (1)

So Yes, we changed our name.  

But why?

Long story.  Here's the gist.

We admire the classics.  They are awesome!  They got us where we are today.  They are classy.  They are stylish.  They work great, and they cannot and do not need to be forgotten or replaced.

And yet...

Sometimes it is also time to make adjustments.  NOT to change the core of what worked.  Not to abandon the principles which moved us forward.  But to be true to them BY adapting them for where and how we travel today.  

We don't abandon what works.  The core engine of our practice, we embrace. We rev up.  We kick into gear, and we floor that sucker!!!

All aboard!

A Charter

Posted by DGS on August 17, 2012 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (1)

As our amazing Dharma family grows and strengthens, we've had ample opportunity to see what a family we've become, and how powerful we can be together, either in service opportunities, or putting on Lamapalooza, or just making a group pilgrimage to a fantastic retreat, and representing our Sangha with flying colors.

So thinking about this and what has made us work and how we can perpetuate it as we grow, the time seemed right for setting out a sort of "Charter" of who we are and whom we strive to be.

But we wanted it to be a different kind of document. One that fully understood impermanence, and change, and falability, and imperfection, but allowed for greatness, and encouraged agreement and openness, and a TRUE sense of a selfless shared purpose.  

Here's what we came up with:

Feel free to download and use this for your own organization if it suits you.

The King and the Fool

Posted by DGS on May 7, 2012 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (1)

There are many stories about the rise and fall of King Arthur and the many royal adventures that surrounded him.  Many legends with many lessons.  From Sir Thomas Malory's collected stories to Clive Owen's action packed movie, there have been many stamps put on this iconic figure.  But in my estimation one of the MOST important treasures of this family of stories has largely fallen out of common knowledge.  


Like all great legends, the tale you know today as the story of King Arthur was built upon a tale told before it, which was in turn built upon a previous tale, and so on.  Like many of the great modern European cities today which are built layer by layer on top of their ancient predecessors' hovels, the subsequent layers tend to play up the epic but perhaps end up obscuring some of their own greatest treasures.


See, I'm not really trying to talk about King Arthur here.  Not exactly.  I want to talk about a fool in his court.


One of the earliest foundational tales on which the modern day Arthurian stories are built is called Parsifal, (or Perceval, or Parzifal, or several other spellings)  Let's just call him Perceval or Percy for short.  Probably the most famous of these stories was written around the turn of the 13th century by a guy with the awesome handle Wolfram Von Eschenbach.  How'd you  like to be able to swing that one around town?  "Reservation for Mr. Wolfram Von Eschenbach? Your table is ready sir, no need to wait."  But its earlier source is by a guy named Chrétien de Troyes, and his is closer to the one I like.


I'm going to avoid too much academic mumbo jumbo because much of it is in dispute or contradiction anyway and I'd almost certainly get something wrong.  Suffice it to say that this story had some VERY deep and esoteric meanings.  Earlier in my life I was quite interested in the western mystery schools and this story and the figure of "Percy" figured quite prominently in many of their relatively modern incarnations.  


But why?  What is the story?  


Hold on a beat, I'm getting to it.  First let me make a connection or two.


My Teacher, Lama Marut, is an outstanding scholar of another famous epic.  The Bhagavad Gita.  The Song of the Lord.  This is another great legendary story about a royal being called to great service.  Arjuna, the great warrior finds himself on the field of battle leading a righteous army in defense of his homeland, against what he discovers is an army made up of his relatives and loved ones.  Naturally he's kind of in an existential pickle.  In his paralysis he turns to his humble charioteer, a blue dude named Krishna who unbeknownst to Arujuna just happens to be an incarnation of the divine.  

 "What should I do?" he pouts and whines, and though Krishna doesn't literally do this I always kind of picture that great moment in the movie "Moonstruck" where Cher slaps the bejesus out of Nicholas Cage and says "Snap out of it."   

Krishna tells Arjuna that he can't just stand around twiddling his thumbs, (or doing anything else with them).  He tells Arjuna that he MUST act.  That in fact it would be better to do the thing which is before him to do, and to do it with his best wisdom, than to try to do anything else.  This battle before him is in fact exactly what he was put on this metaphorical field to do.  


To which Arjuna basically replies "Huh?"  And then Krishna proceeds to patiently teach his hard headed student for a dozen or so chapters till he gets the point.  


Cut to another "Gita"  This one is called the Ashtavakra Gita.  The Song of the Dude with Eight Crooked Limbs (loose translation).  As it turns out my teacher is also an incredible scholar of this remarkable text, and I recently had the remarkable good fortune to get a tiny introduction to its wonders.  Perhaps not so coincidentally this is also the story of a royal dude who asks his teacher what he should do.  In this case though, the guy asking, King Janaka, is kind of an honors student.  His parents probably would have had one of those "My kid is an honor student" bumper stickers on their chariot, if they had bumper stickers back then.  Upon asking his teacher Ashtavakra how he should live, Ashtavakra gives him a short soliloquy and BOOM, Janaka completely groks it.  (I love to use that groovy 70's word grok, which just means he totally and completely grasps the message and all it's ramifications.)


The details of the ensuing chapters of this Gita are not the subject of this article either.  And I'm not sure I'm fully qualified to relay them yet anyway.  But what I will say is that after his BOOM moment, Janaka is an awakened being.  And then he and his teacher start chatting about what things look like from their perspective.   It's truly remarkable and sometimes a bit controversial.  But one of the most valuable things I took away from it is that an awakened being is not burdened by all sorts of dogma or rules, and certainly not by the feeling of needing to BE somebody or DO something.  An awakened being just does what there is to do, wisely and contentedly.  


Ok, now back to Percy.  I promised you a story.  So here it is.  I'm going to kind of summarize it because there are so many versions of it and some of them are even in robust Germanic Opera form, and I can't hit those notes without dogs everywhere howling.  So with apologies to scholars of Arthurian legend, let's just get on with it.


A King is injured.  In some tales it's King Arthur himself.  In others it's a guy often called "The Fisher King". (also the title of a decent movie by Terry Gilliam)  Whom this king actually represents and where and how he got injured are a deep rabbit hole.  Suffice it to say the king is obviously representative of at least a part of us, and as the King is dying so is his Kingdom.


Naturally his homies are a little bit upset.  And by homies I mean the brave and gallant Knights of the Table Round.  You may know some of their names, because after all they're famous right?  Galahad, Lancelot, Gawain, Lionell, Kay, Bedivere, Palomedes, Dagonet, you get the idea.  A regular posse of big bad dudes.  And I mean REALLY tough.  You know, "Legendary".  These guys are in it for the glory.   They've spent their life smiting foes and fighting battle after battle to establish their names and to win larger and richer domains.  Honor is a BIG deal for these guys.  Though Freud was still some time away, the EGO was certainly alive and well inside their shiny metal suits.  


And now this great and noble King lay dying, and the prognosis is not good.  In fact it is SO bad that the only suggested remedy is for the King to drink from the "Holy Grail".  Not something you can find at Walgreens.  You may have heard of it before, at least from the Indiana Jones movie. Now I know that the symbolism of the Holy Grail could fill up a hundred books, and I've probably got 25 of them.  In at least one interpretation it is purported to be the cup that Jesus was supposed to have used at the Last Supper.  Let's just say for simplicity's sake that they are really looking for the cup of Christ.  An actual cup, that must be found to heal their King.  Ok?


You can imagine the scene right?  The challenge is put forth and then one knight after the other steps boldly forward to announce in the most valorous and chivalric way possible "I shall retrieve the Grail to heal the fallen King."  And then on his horse he hops and sallies forth toward a great and noble quest, squires trailing and hobbling after him.


Just like this, they all proclaim their great intentions and then head out to the far ends of the earth, on fantastic legendary quests.  


And guess who else wants to save this King?  You guessed it.  Our boy Percy.


Trouble is he's never been that great at the whole "deeds of arms" stuff.  Oh some stories have him winning some battles and a joust or two.   But some portray him as a bumbling dimwit, just sort of along for the ride because his daddy had a noble name.  Let's put OUR Percy somewhere in between.  Not a complete dolt, but a simple man.  Someone IN the fray of things, but not really a part of it.  An observer, often overlooked.  Quiet.  A nice guy without grand designs on fortune and fame.  This will be our Perceval.


So our Perceval, he tries to quest for a while.  But he fails.  That's another long story.  He was SO close, all he needed to do was ask the right question, but he didn't know it.  So he returns home humbled, to care for the wounded King.


Out in the wide wide world things are not going so well.  For years the Knights of the Round Table have been "questing", and to be honest they are dropping like flies.  Many meet grizzly un-glamorous and ignominious ends.  Others quit the quest entirely and hide, too ashamed to return to the King empty handed.  ALL of them, all of these macho world conquering superhero types have begun to believe that either there IS NO GRAIL to be found, or despite what they previously thought of themselves at the outset, none of them is apparently worthy enough to find it.  They have failed.

They've made GREAT efforts to be sure, but in this case victory was not to be had by great effort.


Meanwhile back home, the King approaches his death.  Frail, wan, a husk of skin and bones with sunken eyes.  He struggles even to breathe.  Beside him, ever loyal, sits Perceval.  In the face of the futility of the quests of the various knights, the King and indeed his entire Kingdom have lost all hope.  Death is but a few breaths away.  The feeble King glances at his loyal friend Perceval, with a loving and grateful twinkle in his eye.  He wants to speak but is too weak to do so.  He can barely even drag his dried tongue across his thin parched lips.  


Sensing the King's thirst, Perceval kneels beside him, gently raises his pale head, and then taking a cup from the King's bedside, he raises it to his royal friend's lips

and slowly lets a few drops slip over the edge into his mouth.  


The King's eyes open wide with a startling look of long forgotten awareness.  Emboldened he reaches his shaking hands up to steady Perceval in helping him drink more and more deeply until he has drunk every last drop.  As he lowers the cup, the once frail King now looks strong, healthy, robust, full of color and energy.  He looks down at his hands and sees that the cup he and Perceval are holding IS the Holy Grail.


He looks up into Perceval's eyes, in wonder and amazement, and asks his loyal friend, "Where did you find it?"


Equally curious Perceval simply answers this.  "I did not seek to find the Grail dear King.  I knew only that you were thirsty, and so I gave you drink."


And THAT is the heart of the story which I have been thinking so much about lately.  Cue music.  Pull out the Kleenex.  


Do you see why this story has been handed down from lip to ear for so long?  See how this message keeps repeating itself in other traditions like the two "Gitas" above?


This story holds a great and powerful truth.  See, the REAL "hero" stories are not so much about paragons of ACTION, as they are about paragons of the ability to act wisely when it counts.


We so often spend our lives on grand quests, in pursuit of one great goal or another whether worldly or spiritual.  We get all tied up in our identities.  We enshroud ourselves in dogmatic armor and carry one particular color of battle standard.  And then we sally forth, bound and determined to fulfill our quest or die trying, and often willing to take a few casualties with us along the way.  


The problem is that the fortunes at the end of those grand quests are generally things which we cannot take with us. But the damage we do to ourselves and others along the way, THAT has lasting ramifications.  The one thing which will last, the one thing which will ruin or save the Kingdom is our simple acts in our everyday regular old lives.  


No grand quests necessary.


You simply look out and see the nobility of the beings around you.  You don't necessarily need to try to BE any great hero or DO any great works.  You simply see that there are worthy beings in front of you and that they are thirsty.  And then you give them drink.


You do what is there before you to do, out of love.  And that IS wisdom, in perhaps the deepest way possible to understand it.


If this makes sense to you, then give thanks to all the great teachers and storytellers for sharing this wonderful secret with us.  And don't forget to pass it down from your lips, to the precious ears of the ones you love.


It is a true treasure worth remembering.  Worth living.

Balancing Family and Dharma

Posted by DGS on April 12, 2012 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Lama Cindy Lee has this great way of occasionally using her magical internet powers to connect some of her students from around the world and have them answer each other's questions and discuss a subject. She first gives gentle wise guidance, and then the conversation is started. What a great way to teach!


Recently the teaching was to discuss answers for and viewpoints about a question she had been asked, namely; "How does one balance Family life and Dharma Life."  I was fortunate that she included me in this discussion.


So here's my short answer on how you balance Family and Dharma. 


You don't.


The way I have been looking at things recently, I feel that if you are "balancing" Family and Dharma then they are separate things.  I have come to believe that if I am seeing them as separate, then I am actually OUT of balance.


The way I am personally TRYING to look at this is that I have a lot of different FORMS of Dharma practice.  Among them I have a formal study Dharma practice.  I have a group study Dharma practice.  I have a community service Dharma practice.  I have a professional occupation Dharma practice.  I have an artistic Dharma practice.  I have a personal minute to minute Dharma practice.  And I have an overriding FAMILY Dharma practice which both subsumes and supports all the others. Of course there is really only one Dharma practice, but the Western reductionist mind tends to be able to see it more clearly when it takes separate particular shapes.


Mind you, I'll be the first to say that I don't always succeed at executing all of these as true Dharma practices, at least not in the moment.  Many times even the grand gestures we find ourselves performing in a family context are actually done to support our ego or to inflate an identity we are addicted to trying to maintain. 


I was struck recently in reading part of Khen Rimpoche's book on Key to the Treasury of Shunyata, where he said that ESPECIALLY in family, it is difficult to tell when we are being truly compassionate, or just trying to provide advantage for "me and mine".  That's a real test of equanimity there. Do we want the best for OUR family, or do we want the best for ALL families, of which ours is the most convenient to serve? You can spend a lot of time perfecting those kinds of intentions.


Where my practice is now, I am imperfectly trying to do as Lama Marut instructed me, (as his Lama had also instructed him), which is to take my family as my teachers. 


Cliché to say.  Remarkably HARD to do consistently and sincerely.


So how does that play out in real life?  Well, I'm not falling at my kid's feet and bringing them gifts all the time. That would not be a good service to those beings as I currently see them. Mostly I'm just striving to do the same things I've been doing but with a new more "Galactically compassionate intention".  And in situations where I find I'm not yet capable of acting with such a high intent, I am trying to be open to the possibility that I might have stumbled upon a habit that simply needs pruning.


Let's saunter through some examples to see what kinds of wonderful or wayward mindsets we might find in this forest.


For instance, if I'm verbally correcting one of my children, as parents must occasionally do, I'm trying to do so with the sincere intent to make them a better person for themselves and others, and better prepared for their own spiritual journey.  I'm trying NOT to do so just because their perceived infraction somehow aggravated me, or fell outside of some "acceptable" list of behaviors. That means that sometimes I need to intervene or even verbally correct them out of love, and yet sometimes I need to sit and hold my tongue because the most loving thing I can do is not foist my own old egoic battles into their brave new adventures in life, as if I were some Japanese soldier stranded on a pacific island, still fighting a world war which has been over for years.


The Zen tradition has this great saying about when you see a tree, try to see THAT tree. This is a deceptively simple way to express a very deep concept.   In part this means that we must try to avoid the tendency to project our previous experiences of "Tree" too quickly. Sometimes, or let's make that all the time, a little bit of reflection can go a LONG way towards a more Dharma driven view of things and a wiser and more effective parenting style.


Through his Diamond Cutter Institute, Geshe Michael Roach was recently engaged to train the employees of Brittish Airways in the methods of bringing good Dharma practice to the business world.  He commented that in training these employees in these high techniques for happiness, you are not just affecting them, you are potentiall affecting everyone they come in contact with.  The ripple effect is phenomenal.  Think about that in the context of your kids. How many people will they meet and interact with in their lives?  Your gentle wise words of guidance and understanding could potentially be affecting millions of people over decades of time.  It's a huge responsibility, and a great privillege.  Use it well.

Speaking of business, If you have a family, then you already know that your professional life IS part of your family life, and thus should be part of your Dharma practice, if possible. I know this is the case for me because if I weren't trying to provide for and raise my small portion of the human lineage, I would likely not be doing the same things professionally that I do now. In that context, one's profession can be seen as service to the family, which can be done with the good intention to serve all families.


But of course, it doesn't always play out like this in real life. Usually our identities are heavily invested in career, or heavily invested in being the person who "sacrifices" the life they think they really want in order to provide for the family.   In both cases, craving and self cherishing are the actual root motivators.   At best, you're creating mixed karma.


So for instance, here's a back and forth tennis volley examining some of the intentions one might find in bringing Dharma to a professional life.


If I'm helping to sell some silly widget, I'm trying NOT to do it with the intention to crush the competition and make lots of money, or to become famous, or respected, or to feel good about myself, or to hear someone praising my efforts.   I'm trying to help sell the widget with the intention that all parties involved are receiving just what they need from the transaction. Compensation. Vindication. Professional challenge. You name it. Also, my family is included in that equation as the tiny but precious portion of the human race I am demonstrably responsible for. Taking care of business isn't just good for the cared for ones, it's good for the care giversl.  Just that simple. This may be significantly mitigated if your business is weapons production or something like that, but good intention is still possible, and powerful.


I'm often reminded of my Teacher, Lama Marut, teaching us from the Bhagavad Gita, about the hidden god Krishna chastising the reluctant warrior Arjuna that he MUST do the action which is in front of him. He MUST act.  But he must do it with the purest possible intention and an understanding of his place in a much larger story.  In this context and with the right intention, even a cubicle job can become a grand battle.


Then again, Lamaji also likes to refer to the beginning of the Christian Bible to remind us that, "work is a curse".   This life is not meant to be spent in mindless pursuit of temporarry gain. Indeed, most commerce in this realm probably involves some kind of gaining advantage over another, or likely even some kind of harm to others.  I'm trying (perhaps not quickly enough) to move my professional life to one where I feel there is a more pure Dharma practice possible through it. 


Pitfall alert. The grass is always greener elsewhere only because the ignorance we view it with FORCES us to see our own grass as substandard. That means Wisdom is the miracle grow for the grass you find your feet in.  Your grass is already the best... potentially.


Also, it might not be a compassionate act to simply abandon a job and put your family in financial jeopardy, simply because you believe THAT was the only barrier to your perfect Dharma practice.  Or because you had to "Follow your bliss".  Lamaji also recently updated this classic concept made popular by the great Joseph Campbell.  He said that in a professional context you should be guided by TWO factors.  One is hopefully finding something you enjoy, but the other is to find something you are actually good at.  Which is determined by whether OTHER people indicate you are good at it by, for instance, paying you to do it.  He made it clear that sometimes, those two are not the same thing.  You may love something, but not be very good at it.  And you may be quite good at something you don't particularly care for.  A great Dharma profession would be something which combined these two and simultaneously served others.  But a decent Dharma profession is going to at least watk the middle way between these aspects.

And let's just face it, some jobs stink and simply take up too much of your precious time. But chances are, the true barrier to your perfect Dharma practice is not your gainful employment which puts food on your table and a roof over your head. Yes, we should be willing to leave something which PREVENTS us from practicing Dharma.  But first, we might want to look to see if our true barriers are actually internal.


I'm reminded of a story I heard about Atisha, the great teacher who largely brought Buddhism to Tibet. Upon leaving India he decided to bring with him the aggravating tea boy who's rude demeanor he valued like a precious jewel for keeping him humble and patient. Upon arriving in Tibet he supposedly said that he realized "He need not have brought that tea boy." There were plenty of aggravating people waiting for him when he got there.


As with most every obstacle we encounter, the outer method only reflects the inner struggle.


So what does one DO? Perhaps that's a more useful repurposing of the word "balance". Maybe we could think of finding balance not in terms of time allocation or prioritization, but rather how do we KNOW what to do and where and how to spend your precious moments of life? How do we "BALANCE" our current ignorance with the wisdom we are striving to assimilate and embody? Our balance point is the place where our decision happens.


Here's where I think Family might fit into that equation.  At it's best, having a Family FORCES you to think about more than just yourself. This is actually  EXACTLY why I think having a Family is a boon to a serious Dharma practice.  It tilts the scale more towards others than yourself. You can't just selfishly do whatever you want. Service is REQUIRED of you.  You MUST consider others in your decisions. That's a PRECIOUS burden.


So this kind of wise compassion for our family can give us a solid bearing.  The Family may be seen as an instantiation of both the beings we are fortunate enough to serve and the beings we are blessed to be able to learn from.  To quote Tony the Tiger "That's Grrrreat!"

But remember, the middle way can be tricky.  As the Buddha said, if the lute string is too loose, it will not play. Too tight, and it will break.  Here's a perfect illustration of that lesson which my family Gurus recently taught me. 


My kids love to look at nature, my son particularly loves to find mushrooms.  But as you may know that can be a rather dangerous exercise. So like good civilized westerners we used our magical Amazon powers and shortly materialized a book to identify mushrooms with.  Guess what we found? 


For nearly every perfectly safe mushroom, there is a deadly poisonous mushroom which looks almost exactly identical to it. I mean it's truly uncanny how similar they sometimes appear and how different the results of eating them would be for us.   From a tasty and nutritious even miraculously healing treat, to a bad trip followed by wrenching abdominal distress followed potentially by a quick or an excruciating death.   Isn't it peculiar that our experience of nature would offer this lesson to us in this way?  

I find this to also be true in many of the forms my Dharma practice takes.  Sometimes what looks like a high path, can be a dangerously treacherous turn.  It all depends on my intention.


Lama Marut also says we are pretty good at admitting our second worst fault. But the one that's really going to kill us often looks to us like a virtue. The real trick is to identify this shapeshifter early, and then through careful cultivation and with the right selfless intentions, we make sure we are not planting our own future poisons.


The identities of "Self Sacrificing Care Giver", or "Unappreciated Provider", or "Uncompromising Peace Enforcer", or even in some cases "Happiness Deliverer", are very very likely to be those kinds of mushrooms that LOOK tasty and good for you. However it is much more likely that these were grown on a steady diet of self cherishing and willingness to hurt others to ensure the supremacy of "Me and Mine". 


A Family Dharma life will give you TONS of field experience in which you will will inhabit roles like this, and more. Don't get intoxicated by them.   NOTHING good can come from such a harvest. Don't pick these. Leave them alone. Learn to recognize them and then starve them out. This is the part of your Dharma practice where you can hone your discrimination and make better decisions.  Mindfully cultivate your future!


In this, as in most everything, I refer to my Lama's words, when he says that your compassion IS your protection.  The better your compassion for others, the better you will be able to determine whether your chosen role is actually serving them or serving some part of you and yours. This kind of discrimination will show you how to "balance" what to do. 


At the same time your ability to see the most compassionate act depends on an increasing understanding of Buddhist wisdom. Wisdom is simply the fact that ALL of these phenomena, the family, the job, the roles and identities, the emotions, ALL of them are coming FROM us as a result of how we've thought, spoke, and acted towards others in the past.


The tree you are seeing is NOT the tree that is out there.  Think about it.  Look outside today and see a tree.  Are you actually seeing it's every single leaf? The pattern of it's bark?  The scars and birds nests and each knotty branch?  Of course not.  You see it, you say "Tree" to yourself, and you think you have seen a tree.  But in reality, the tree is in your head (ouch).  It is coming FROM you.  It's not really out there.  Not in the way you think it is. Not the tree YOU are seeing.

And everything is exactly like this.


Getting a better handle on this deep gem of truth will help us to better determine what will be the most compassionate act possible in a given moment. 


They are actually kind of the same thing.  The wise thing IS the compassionate thing.


I'm trying to learn NOT to just be what I WANT to be, but to be more and more of what my Family NEEDS me to be. And I'm trying to get wiser about determining what that truly is. The better I get at it, the better I know myself, and the better I am able to help all others.  As a nice side benefit, the better I get at this, the better "trees" I'm able to see.


In this way, I find Family and professional life a fantastic crucible in which to perfect my practice.  So many opportunities to fail.  So many chances to learn.  So many ways to practice Dharma.


So that's my answer. All I have to do now is go try to live what I just said.


A work in progress.



"Adventures of a Buddhist Mom": Episode 2

Posted by DGS on December 9, 2011 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Again I was able to cajole my lovely wife to share some of her insightful experiences.  It's getting easier so hopefully we'll get more.  Thought this was a good one for this time of year.

"Adventures of a Buddhist Mom": Episode 2

The kids and I stopped for an after school bagel snack recently.  As we were leaving the bagel place, we passed a man who appeared to need a little help.  


I paused and he began talking to me.  I reached in my bag for a few bucks as the kids watched.  I handed him the money and he was so appreciative but more than that, I felt he needed someone to hear his story...not just drop a buck and keep walking.  


I engaged with him and he quickly told me how he had gone to a church service earlier that day and met a man that said he would hire him if he could get a current form of id.  He thanked me profusely for helping him get closer to the $8 dollars he needed to make that happen.   He was beaming at the thought of a job.


Mind you....the kids are speechless and listening to every word.  At that point, I pulled out the remainder of the money he needed to get him to the $8.  He was so happy!   We wished him well as we headed to our car.


When we were a few steps away, Sophia looked up at me and said with excitement in her voice  "I don't think many people know about that".  We kept walking as I pondered what she meant.  When we finally got in the car, I asked her to tell me more.  


She said " Mom, I think if more people knew how good it felt to give, they would give all the time.  We just helped that man get a job! "  She was absolutely beaming with joy just thinking about it. 


I have thought about that experience a lot since then.  What if Sophia was right.  What everyone knew about "that" joyful rush in giving.  What if every time you saw a needy person on the street, there was a mad rush to be the one that was lucky enough to get to help him.

What if.....

Since then, we have changed the way we distribute the "giving money" that the kids get in addition to their allowance each week.  Instead of saving up their "giving money" to allocate to their favorite charity once a year, my insightful husband thought it would be a powerful and fun practice for them to have the opportunity to give all the time...and boy do they love it!

They love to buy a paper from a Contributor vendor on the street corner (Tristan keeps up with when the new issue is out).  And Sophia had been known to buy dog treats that we drop off at the shelter (and I cross my fingers that we can get out of there without a new dog in tow).  

I am so grateful that a good seed ripened when we met a Buddha on the street one day. 


Unlocking your Vroooom

Posted by DGS on September 14, 2011 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (2)

Here's the setup...

The kids are in bed and I'm washing the dishes nice and mindfully like my wife taught me to do. It's the least I can do because she does it most of the time and It's her yoga night.  I'm expecting her home any minute and I want to impress her.  (can you say brownie points?)

Then I get a call.  It's my wife, she's fine, but just a little bit frustrated because she can't get the key to turn in the ignition of her car. 

Now I'm pretty sure I know exactly what the issue is.  Probably you do too.  On most cars the steering wheel locks when the ignition is off, presumably this makes it harder for someone to abscond with your vehicle.  But sometimes the locking mechanism works in reverse, and makes it pretty darned hard for you to abscond with your own vehicle. 

"Turn the wheel" I say calmly

"I thought I remembered you saying something about that when this happened before.  I've tried that already." She says.

"Try it again" I offer, and I can hear her kind of straining, then keys jangling, but no 'Vroom".

"It's not working", she says.  Now I know that both of us are going through all the calculations.  Our young kids are in bed and my wife is stranded across town.  I'm sure our 10 year old could baby sit young son, but she's asleep and was very tired today.  And though I know kids survived on the prarie all by themselves, my all too careful modern sensabilities tell me I can't just leave them to go across town to get my wife. And we don't want to trouble anyone else to have to go come over and watch the kids, or to schlep over and pick up my wife.  She needs her car in the morning anyway.  And so on...

Bottom line.  I think I know the answer to the key lock situation, but I'm not there.  I can't DO it for her.  She's got to do it herself.

"Try turning it again, really hard this time" I say

"Ok" she says tensely.  And I hear my virtual self being set down on the seat beside her so she can use both of her strong yoga arms to really CRANK the steering wheel around.  Keys jingle again.  No "Vroom".

"It didn't work.  What do I do?" she says, realizing that we're in kind of a suburban pickle.

All the possibilities are going through my mind now.  I'm trying to think of all the alternative logistics, but mostly I'm questioning myself. My own knowledge.

I used to have this great old clunker of a truck.  My first vehicle.  A wise choice on my father's part as not a big financial risk and a great teaching in humility for a teenager.  It used to lock up like this all the time. It was also a great teacher of patience.   Actually I've been in EXACTLY this situation more than once, even in non-clunkers, and the solution was ALWAYS to turn the wheel hard and the key would turn freely.  I couldn't think of anything else that would be the problem and all the other workaround solutions were simply untennable. 

I was confident that I knew the solution.  So why wouldn't it work for my wife?

Then something came to me.  in my mind's eye I saw myself resolving this same problem over and over.  But I realized that even though I was imagining my wife doing the same thing, I could not actually SEE what she was doing.  I was making assumptions that she was doing what I saw in my head.   That is a self-centered way of teaching something.  It finally occurred to me to break the action down into its essential parts, and to calmly check to see if she was doing them.

"Are you turning the key at the SAME TIME as you are turning the wheel?"

"....Same time?  No."

"Try that.  And turn the wheel REALLY hard, in both directions if you have to."


"Wrench, Wrench, Jingle, VROOOOOOOMMM!!"

REJOICE REJOICE!  (Play this audio clip now)

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All was right with the world and my wife was on her way home.  I went back to finishing the dishes when suddenly I was struck that I had just received a VERY deep teaching.

I was thinking, what if my daughter is ever in that situation, perhaps in a seedy part of town? Should I go and wake up my ten year old daughter and say...

"Look if you are ever in a seedy part of town surrounded by nefarious baddies and you can't get your key to turn in the ignition, all you have to do is turn the wheel REALLY hard.  But you've got to turn the key at the SAME TIME see, oh, and you may have to turn the wheel BOTH ways. Got it.  GOT IT?!?"

I can just imagine the look on her face.  It wouldn't work would it?  It proably wouldn't help her now.  Will I ever think to tell her about how to do that later?  Would it matter?  Because my wife had already received that instruction before.  But it didn't help.  So what were the key components of what made a difference tonight?

In Buddhism we talk a lot about something called "Refuge".  But refuge is not specifically Buddhist.  My teachers point out that we all go for refuge ALL the time, in our jobs, our money, our style, our escapism, our fun times, our social groups, our identities, etc. And those are fine so far as they go.  But the trouble is they don't go quite far enough.  Those things can't give us the ultimate refuge we like to talk about in Buddhism.

My favorite image of Refuge is when you see a young kid by mom's side and you smile at them.  What do they do?  They clutch mom's leg and zip behind it, only perhaps peaking out at you after they know they are safe. 

This demonstrates two important components of any kind of refuge.  Fear and Faith.  Fear of what might happen if the situation you are in continues, and Faith that something outside of yourself can help you. 

Until we generate this kind of special feeling of the NEED for refuge, all the great advice and hot tips in the world just slip by us like the people we don't want to catch eyes with on a busy street or an office hallway.  We don't engage with them.  We can do each other no good.

The reason my wife could hear helpful advice was because she went for refuge in what I had to say.  Now it was up to me, and at first I wasn't doing so well.

It wasn't that I didn't know the answer.  I did. All of a sudden I had a real visceral understanding of what a "Lineage" means.  How did I know about the steering wheel trick?  My father showed me, that's how.  And how did he know?  His father showed him, and so on back to the first person who ever found themselves stuck in a vehicle which could take him to freedom, but unable to unlock it and make it move.  That person struggled and tested things and finally figured out the secret to unlocking the key.  And that had been passed down to me. 

Thanks to that steering wheel Buddha I held the knowledge that could free my wife.

And what's more, she was ready to hear it.

But could I convey it to her?  Standing there now for about five minutes holding the same drip-drying dish, I thought a lot about my teacher..  When I first started listening to his teachings I was trying to keep up with all the many things he was saying.  First this then that.  Sometimes one thing would seem to contradict the other, which is a common observation about teachers by the way. 

Now I realize that he is basically saying the same thing over and over and over again.  It's just that in his wisdom and compassion he is using skillful means to describe that same thing in as many different ways as possible. 

Tibetan Buddhism. is famous for this.  We have lists for everything.  Even lists of our lists.  Sometimes people get either hung up or turned off by all our listmaking.  It makes the sparseness of Zen look quite appealing sometimes.  But those lists all have a purpose.  They are all describing the same thing.  "The truth is ONE, but it goes by many names."

What I realized was that the special circumstances where liberation can occur generally require this two party system of a person who is prepared to hear wisdom, and a person who is prepared and capable of relaying it in just the right way.

My teacher sometimes says that if the Idea of Buddha's omniscience would mean that you know all the names of all the creatures in all the oceans of all the planets, that would not be very interesting to him.  He says to him perfect omniscience would be to know EXACTLY what to say to a person and just the right time to say it, so that they could free themselves.

Standing there with a nearly dry dish in my hand, my sweet children sleeping peacefully, and my darling wife safely on her way home, I felt myself the luckiest person in the world.

I have been entrusted with a lineage.  I should learn it well, and then be prepared.

You never know when you might be able to unlock a freedom vehicle, and make it go....