Awakening the Buddha Within
by Lama Surya Das

find book cover

Page 101 -

Once when Allen Ginsberg was in Colorado to do a one month solitary meditation retreat, he told his lama, Trungpa Rinpoche, that he was going to bring little notepads that he would keep by his meditation cushion so that he could write down the beautiful haiku that would flash into his mind after many hours of meditation. The lama said, 'Can I see your pads and pens?" When Ginsberg displayed the tools of his literary trade, the lama snatched them away, saying that the reason to go on retreat and meditate is to stop collecting and holding onto all those transient little thought bubbles. He exhorted Ginsberg simply to be aware of the ongoing process of transparent awareness itslef, rather than getting caught up in collecting the flotsam and jetsam of the mind and continuously rearranging its contents in the display cases of artistic ambition.

Ginsberg loved to tell this story because he was still - like all of us - so attached to those beautiful thought bubbles. ... Of course we love poetry and we love everything that is sparkling, original and fresh. Still, all that is stale when compared to simply experiencing the absolutely startling, poetic freshness of the present moment without having to write down, collect, preserve or fabricate anything. Then every moment bespeaks truth.

Page 209 -

The next time you feel so angry you could scream, ask yourself: Who is making me angry? Perhaps the anger is subtly directed at yourself. When our expectations are not met, we tend to blame others and get angry. But is our discontent really their fault? Shantideva said that anger is the greatest evil because it is so destructive and can cause so much harm. The trained mind of the Bohdisattva, like a peaceful lake, is able to transcend anger. Even if people throw sparks into it, it doesn't explode because it's like water and not volatile. The untrained mind, on the other hand, can be likened to a big pool of gasoline. Every spark makes it explode. In life, there will always be sparks. But does there have to be an explosion? That's your responsibility. Nobody can make us angry if we have no seeds of anger left inside.

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Page 134 -

Milarepa was once a vengeful sorcrer responsible for several deaths. Milarepa determined to change his karma. And he succeeded. In The One Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, he sang:

The fear of death and infernal rebirths due to my evil actions has led me to practise in solitude in the snow-capped mountains.

On the uncertainties of life's duration and the moment of death I have deeply meditated.

Thus I have reached the deathless, unshakeable citadel of realization of the absolute essence.

My fear and doubts have vanished like mist into the distance, never to disturb me again.

I will die content and free from regrets.

This is the fruit of Dharma practice.

Milarepa was spiritually reborn on those Himalayan peaks, and in so doing he changed his karma. He changed so much that he reached perfect enlightenment - in a single lifetime.

Each of us can do the same thing. The wilderness of Tibet is no more or less desolate than the wilderness of corporate America with its materialistic, consumer culture. Who doesn't sometime feel alienated, and lost in the jungle of doubt, meaninglessness and despair as life goes by, seemingly slipping through our fingers?

Page 63 -

Each of us is fully endowed with luminous Buddha-nature, the potential for awakened enlightenment. Tibetans firmly believe that there have been and still are many enlightened beings who walk among us. In fact, there are yogis living anonymously everywhere without calling attention to themselves. Spiritual giants are universally accepted as heroes in Tibet where the names that are remebered aren't those of sports figures, politicians or movie-stars. Ask any Tibetan about Milarepa, the eleventh century, cave-dwelling yogi-sage. As Tibet's most beloved poet, Milarepa gained enlightenement in a single lifetime. Every child has heard his spontaneous songs of joyous wisdom.

Page 57 -

Daily Necessities

(Tips & pointers for building a spiritual life from scratch)

Be aware/Stay awake
Practise yoga
Chant and sing
Breathe and smile
Let Go/Forgive Accept
Cultivate oneself/Enhance competencies
Cultivate contentment
Cultivate flexibility
Cultivate friendship and collaboration
Lighten up
Celebrate and appreciate
Give thanks
Walk softly/Live gently
Be born anew

Page 28 -

In all my future lives,
May I never fall under the influence of evil companions;
May I never harm even a single hair of any living being
May I never be deprived of the sublime light of Dharma

Traditional Tibetan Prayer

Page 8 -

When I first met Lama Yeshe, I had a thousand and one questions about the meaning of life in general and my life in particular. I was twenty and my questions were often more subtkle than I was. What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose? Where did we all come from? Is there a God? Where is He, She, It? Is God with me? Is God nature? Is God the entire mountain and everything that lives and grows on it? Could i learn to live in a sacred manner? Lama Yeshe's eyes would twinkle with amusement at the cosmic absurdity of some of my questioning. Sometimes he would laugh and say, 'You too much, boy.' The first time we met, I remember that he asked me what I was looking for, and I had to honestly admit that i didn't exactly know. He said, 'Let's see if we can't find out together.' Together was a magical word.

The next day I went back to Kathmandu to my funky hotel; collected my backpack, sleeping bag, and passport, reclimbed Kopan Hill and moved in. As I settled in at Lama Yeshe's, I discovered that several other Westerners were already there. There was no fuss, no requirements, no membership dues. Lama Yehse was still young, in his mid-thirties. Two Tibetan lamas were living at Kopan there on the side of the towering Shiva Puri mountain, along with a few Westerners in what used to be an old British villa.

It was a wonderful place. The air was thin and the sun was hot; there was no electricity, road, phone or distractions. We had two latrines, side by side - one called Sam, the other one called Sarah. I was starting to learn Tibetan; we were all building houses and huts for the new students who kept coming. Once a day, Lama Yeshe would personally teach me for an hour or two.

Lama Thubten Yeshe, a true bridge builder, was keen to learn more English. I gave him English lessons and another Westerner taught him about psychology and Freud. Lama Yeshe was like a mother hen to everyone, deeply concerned with our spiritual life, but also aware of our physical well-being. One of the things that most drew me to Lama Yeshe was that he seemed genuinely happy and he laughed a lot. I like to think that he still does, even though he has since died. Not only was he an erudite teacher, he was also a wonderful living example of the compassionate wisdom he taught.

Here, among a community of seekers on Kopan Hill, my questions and search for purpose no longer seemed strange, weird or out of place. Suddenly i discovered that it wasn't just me who wanted to find a deeper sense of meaning. My questions were the universal questions asked by generations of seekers - scientists seeking truth, mystics looking for a direct experience of the divine, the pious seeking God. Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Muslim - it didn't matter - there was a whole world and an entire lineage of seekers of whom I was a part. I belonged.

At Kopan I discovered that a trail through the spiritual universe had already been blazed. I learned that there was already a map, explicit directions, and guidepost, and there were ways to measure progress. As I began to learn about the compassionate wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism, I saw that others had been to the mountaintop and they were able to help us get there too. Here, I no longer felt alienated or separate. There was a sense of kinship. I was on the way home.

'How,' Lama Yeshe asked, 'can you help others if you cannot help yourself? Liberate yourself and you liberate the world.' Lama Yeshe told us there was nothing he had and knew that we could not have and know. He said, 'Open your heart and awaken your mind and you'll be there.'

Almost thirty years ago in Nepal, Lama Yeshe addressed my big questions - questions about life, death, self, illusion, reality, love and transformation. Now I find myself addressing the same issues and hearing the same questions almost daily from a new generation of seekers and in many forms.

The spiritual life has always been a search for meaning and a search for answers to the two existential questions, 'Who am I?' and 'Why am I?' Men and women who are ready to deepen or formally embark on a spiritual journey are typically standing at some kind of emotional crossroads. Often they are grieving over some loss or disappointment - separation from or death of a loved one, a personal crisis, health problems, or an overiding sense that something is wrong or missing. Sometimes they are simply looking for a way to better love the world.

In a very real sense, all of our day-to-day problems can be linked to spiritual issues and understanding ...

At the beginning of The Divine Comedy, Dante who was just turning thirty-five wrote, 'Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wood where the right way was lost. Ah! How hard a thing it is to tell what this wild and rough and difficult wood was ... ' It was the year 1300 when Dante acknowledged being confused and lost in a dark wood. Yet here on the cusp of the twenty-first century, I can easily relate to these feelings, and in all probability you can too.

More to follow .... but if you've read THIS much, why not buy the book. :) It is over 450 pages and I do not intend typing ALL that up! Besides, it might infringe copyright. :)

There are many meditations and exercises and prayers and stories ... I probably won't be transcribing them all ...

Page 184 -

We give thanks to the many beings who helped bring us this food
Zen Mealtime Prayer

Those of you who went to summer camp may remember the lyrics of a camp song 'Be kind to your web-footed friends, for a duck may be somebody's mother'. Tibetans say that not only is that duck somebody's mother, it may have been your mother. It might have been your father, brother, cousin, or best friend, or anyone with whom you have unfinished karma to work out. According to traditional belief, we have all been cycled and recycled through innumerable forms in an inconceivable number of lifetimes - not unlike old wine in new, recyclable containers. Everyone has been kind and helpful to you in some past life, because everyone you meet has a loving relative; they should be treated accordingly.

If you are uncomfortable with this traditional rebirth teaching, think of it this way: Everyon you meet, both the wise and the foolish, has something to teach you. Everyone and everything can be celebrated and appreciated, each in its own way. Everyone can learn from your kindness. This is a very important teaching in Tibetan Buddhism. It is also a commonsense approach to life: Learn from all, judge no-one, be kind to all, and say thank-you.

'All activities should be done with One Intention'

Let precious bodhicitta be your organising principle. Help, and do not harm others. Cultivate these remembrances in everything you do: be gentle, be kind, be thoughtful, be caring, be compassionate, be loving, be fair, be reasonable, be generous to everyone - including yourself.

It really is possible to love everyone - even if you don't always like everyone. I had to personally learn this lesson when for several years I was privileged to wear a monk's robe and have a shaved head in cloistered retreats. At first it felt to me as though I was in a no-exit, arranged marriage with an internationa group of strangers. But eventually one couldn't escape the fact that we all pretty much wanted and needed the same things - that we're all on the same team, the same side on the spiritual battlefield.

I've also learned that you don't alway get to pick the people with whom you travel the journey. You might sometimes think you do, but don't be deceived. And the corollary of that - and this was my lesson - is that you start to realise that you can love even the people you don't like and must love and help everybody

'All Teachings are in Agreement'

The original root text translates this as 'All Dharmas agree at one point'. This slogan addresses the issues of ego. Whatever form of Buddhist spirituality you are studying, they are all in accord: Ego, self-cherishing, and clinging stand between you and liberation. Step out of the hut of narrow egotism for a moment and enjoy the mansion of boundless freedom and ease. Truths are many, but truth is one. There are many teachings, but only one core: the vital throbbing heart od bodhicitta. Everyone wants and needs the same things. With all the beings you encounter, try momentarily to step away from your self-centred concerns and reflect on what they too are experiencing. This practice can be very rewarding.

'Always reflect on what provokes
difficulties in your life'

What attracts you? What repels you? What pushes your buttons? Does the slightest bit of criticism wipe you out? Are you easily manipulated by flattery? Do you sexualise every situation? Are you struggling against anger? Reflecting on what pushes your buttons helps you go deeper toward developing equanimity and spiritual detachment.

Take out a notebook, and starting with the Five Hindrances as outlined by the Buddha (page 106), try to see how these hindrances try to create obstacles to your spiritual development.

{May type more of this section later on ...}

The Five Hindrances


Ill Will

Sloth and torpor (spiritual laziness)



The Buddha personally confronted each of these challenges; he had firsthand experience of how each of these challenges confuse the spiritual seeker. Like the Buddha, at one time or another, you can expect to confront all of these on the spiritual path. As we learn more about the Eight-Fold Path, we will also be examining some of the ways these challenges will present themselves.

Buddha himself recognised that each of us will be facing different situations; we each have our own karma to work with. The all-knowing Buddha, who understood that each of us has to walk our own spiritual path to enlightenment said, "Each one has to practice

Those of us who embark on spiritual paths are motivated in different ways. Some of us want to know the unknowable; others want to know themselves; still others want to know everything. Some people want transformation; others want miracles. Many want to alleviate suffering, help others and leave the world a better place. Most of us are seeking love or fulfilment in one way or another. Everyone wants inner peace, acceptance, satisfaction and happiness. We all want genuine remedies to feelings of despair, alienation and hopelessness. Don't we all want to find spiritual nourishment and healing, renewal and a greater sense of meaning?

Perhaps you sometimes feel a homesickness, a sadness and a sense that something is terribly wrong. You might experience this as a yearning for something that is lost, something that seems so familiar and yet so distant. You might feel hungry and needy and aware that nothing has been able to fully satisfy you - at least not for very long. It's like drinking salt water while floating adrift on the great ocean; it's a drink that can't possibly alleviate your thirst.

Rejoice! You are living the core issues grappled with by every consciously alive human being. This is no small thing - this is 'The Big Time', the Great Way walked by all those who have awakened to freedom, peace and enlightenment. You're in the heavyweight division, wrestling with the multi-dimensional angels of life. You want to see them, you want to understand them, and - like Jacob - you want to be blessed by them.

People are often drawn to Tibetan Buddhism for more esoteric reasons. They may have heard or read wonderful stories about amazing saints and yogis, men and women who have mastered mind, body, breath and energy, as well as retained memory of past lives. Seekers, curious about the unknown, might want to know more about levitation, conscious dying, lucid dreaming, astral travel, rainbow bodies, and clairvoyance. However, that's not finally what it's all about. The Buddha did perform certain miracles, but he always instructed his disciples not to demonstrate miraculous powers except to inspire faith in the skeptical. Lamas say the same thing. The magical, mysterious and occult are special effects that can be produced, but it's not the whole story. The miracle of Buddhism is a miracle of love, not levitation. The goal of Buddhism is enlightenment, not astral travel. The goal is the path, the way of enlightened living.

Click here for Buddhist Quote of the Moment

January 2001 Update -

For The Tonglen meditation on page 191 - click here. Also some interesting links.

More snippets at 'random' -

Buddhists believe that the sacred energy, blessings, and wisdom released through this chant, combined with focused attention, is of benefit in subtle ways to all beings seen and unseen. The efficacy of prayers depends as much or more on the concentration and intention of the practitioner as upon the prayer itself. Sometimes in Tibetan monasteries if someone is ill, monks will chant this sutra all day long; witnessing this, I perceived an almost palpable energy field around these chanting monks.

If you chant outside in nature, or in your backyard, remember that your Vajra (enlightened) speech is informing and spreading the Dharma to everything out there - people and pets as well as crickets, fireflies, beetles, mosquitoes, wild animals, and even ticks and fleas. Dharma energy that blesses and edifies the land and everything on it is being generously shared ...

{Include link to Heart Sutra - Here at}

I was in college and I started chanting with some traveling Hindu yogis. Then I immediately felt the powerful healing and renewing effect of chanting, and suspected that there might very well be something more than mere senseless rites and rituals in such mysterious and foreign-seeming spiritual practices.

A renowned Dzogchen lama of old, the fearless Master Jigme Lingpa, spontaneously sang innumerable enlightened songs and lengthy poetical texts and treatises. Although he was not learned, by opening his throat chakra via chanting and meditative practices, lineag teachers tell us that he accessed the splendid dimensions of sacred sound. We too can give voice to all that is within us even if we don't have a lot of formal training or qualifications, simply by breathing deeply, overcoming inhibitions and hesitation, letting go, and singing our hearts out. It's a great way to lose our finite sense of self, at least momentarily, and encounter our greater Buddha-nature.

... From Gregorian chants to Native American rain chants to Hebrew davening, some form of chanting is common to just about every culture. When you give voice to the truth within you, the angels also sing ...

Jigme Lingpa

Sacred Sound

More Sacred Music

Don't we all sometimes have these breakthrough moments, times when we are in touch with who we are and what we know? These are precious moments, minutes or hours when each of us is able to speak his or her own truth, honestly and fearlessly. But these breakthroughs are difficult to sustain.

... Instead of saying what we know is true, we say things that others want to hear. Or we say things that we want to hear - and believe.

... However, as much as we may want to express ourselves authentically with words that reflect love, warmth, and openness, we don't always manage to do it. Our expectations get in the way and distort the picture, so do our desires, fears, illusions and projections. That's why we all need to stop regularly and ask ourselves if we are moving in the direction of more honesty, or not.

...Try listening to the way you sound to others. Do you sound tentative, confused, angry, rattled, tense? Are you using speech to manipulate feelings or emotions, yours or someone else's? Do you use speech, or even silence, as a way of hiding who you are? Are youi communicating what you think you're communicating? Are you able to recognise and acknowledge reality? Are you able to speak your truth in your own authentic voice, unflinching and without hesitation?

A Bodhisattva is a being who is ready for nirvana but whose compassion is so great that he or she remains on this earth solely in order to reduce suffering and help free others. A Bodhisattva is someone with pure, impeccable intentions - a gentle, yet fearless spiritual warrior who strives unceasingly to help everyone reach nirvanic peace and enlightenment.

A transcendent Bodhisattva has seen beyond delusion and selfishness; he or she has felt and experienced the intolerable despair, alienation, misery and suffering in the world. Because such a person is able to understand that we are all caught in the same existential plight, he or she seeks to alleviate the suffering of all.

The Dharma teaches us that all beings have Buddha-nature, including that dog. Can you look at that dog and perceive its Buddha-nature? Can you look in the eyes of someone you love and see Buddha-nature? Can you look at someone you fear or someone who has been unkind to you and see Buddha-nature?

The question is how far can any of us extend ourselves toward including one and all in our unconditional loving hearts? Can we love and respect even those whose actions or personalities we don't happen to like? How far can we genuinely extend ourselves to include all in our wishes, thoughts, prayers, and hearts? Can we forgive others and forgive ourselves too? Seeing the Buddha in all is a challenge, but it's also a mirror for clearly seeing into your own heart and soul. This sacred outlook and penetrating spiritual gaze could prove extraordinarily revealing.

'Prove conclusively that reincarnation actually exists, and I and all my students will convert to Buddha's way.' The Buddhist thought about this. Then he said, "I will die and intentionally be reborn in a manner that demonstrates that rebirth is possible, taking the king as my witness. Then you shall have your proof.'

Shortly after that, the Buddhist died. But before doing so, he placed a vermillion mark on his forehead and he put a pearl in his mouth. As he had requested, the king and his counsellors placed his corpse in a sealed copper coffin.

Because he had completely matered the illusion of birth and death, the Buddhist master was immediately reborn, as he intended, as the son of a lerned person in that region. Many auspicious signs and omens attended the infant's birth; among them were a vermillion mark on the baby's brow and a pearl in his mouth. These marvels were, of course, brought to the attention of the royal advisors who, in turn, informed the king.

Then the king summoned the non-Buddhist teacher and other witnesses and ordered the casket opened. The pearl was gone, as was the vermillion mark. Finally convinced, the non-Buddhist led his followers into the Buddhist path.

The Buddha himself said that he recollected countless rebirths. Mahayana teachings emphasise that he recalled five hundred previous lives as an awakeneing being on the way to full enlightenment. The sutras tell us how we can all develop mental powers such as clairvoyance and recall of past lives when we are able to achieve very deep meditative levels. Today, many believe that we can learn to recall past lives through a variety of means: deep meditation, lucid dreaming, dream yoga practices, and hypnotic regression are just a few.

All traditional Buddhist teachers believe in rebirth ... They say it is meaningless to seek liberation if you don't accept karma and its implication of continuity.

Page 169 -

The first time I heard the Bodhisattva Vow was in 1971 and I was in Lama Thubten Yeshe's monastery in Nepal. I felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all. And I'm still somewhat intimidated by it. Lama Yeshe explained the vow very simply. He said 'Think of what you want and realise that all beings want and need the same things. They are just seeking it through different ways.'

If you were to take the Bodhisattva Vow, you would commit yourself in this way:

Sentient beings are numberless: I vow to liberate them.
Delusions are inexhaustible: I vow to transcend them.
Dharma teachings are boundless: I vow to master them.
The Buddha's enlightened way is unsurpassable: I vow to embody it.

This is a four line affirmation which Sangha members chant and avow every day.

Here's a brief list of the meditations the book contains -

Awareness of Breathing

Beach Chair

Buddha Fields

Candle Flame

Clear Light

Death, Mortality & Impermanence


Dream Yoga

Dzogchen Five Elements

Five Remembrances

The Four Divine Abodes

The Four Mind Changers


Living up to Death

Precious Human Existence

Right Action

Right Livelihood

Six-Syllable Mantra

Sky Gazing

Standing/Walking Backward

Tonglen - the practice of exchanging self for others

Walking-Breathing Synchronisation

Metta Prayer

May all beings be happy
May all beings be healed and whole
May all have whatever they want and need
May all be protected from harm, and free from fear
May all beings enjoy inner peace and ease
May all be awakened, liberated and free
May there be peace in this world,
and throughout the entire universe.

The Buddha himself said that if you repeatedly practice this meditation and recitation - with a forgiving, loving heart, while relinquishing judgement, anger and prejudice - great benefits will definitely ensue: You will sleep easily, wake easily, and have pleasant dreams; people will love you; celestial beings will love you and protect you; weapons, poisons, fire and other external dangers will not harm you; your face will be radiant and your mind concentrated and serene; and you will die unconfused and be reborn in happy realms.

Include this link - when I get around to trancsribing page 180 on Geshe Chekawa & his cynical brother ... very apt at the moment ... :)

Page 180 -

'Whether you believe this or not, whether you like this or not, you have to practice this teaching if you want to attain enlightenment.' This statement astonished Geshe Chekawa and yet its truth resonated in his heart. He stayed with Atisha's disciple, Layman Drom, for twelve years, apprenticing himself to the master and studying and practising all the mind-training teachings

At first Geshe Chekawa kept these teachings close to his chest. Then some mendicant lepers came to him, and Geshe Chekawa, who felt he owed a karmic debt of gratitude to the leper who had helped him, began to teach them. Soon rumors begane to circulate that these lepers were being healed in body and spirit.

And another amazing thing happened. Geshe Chekawa's cynical older brother, who had been extremely skeptical and never practiced Dharma, had a change of heart. Chekawa's brother couldn't hepl but notice the transformation among the lepers, a transformation he sought for himself. He was too proud to request teachings, so he hid outside an open window where he too could learn about Lo-jong mind-training. Secretly, he began to practice what his monk brother taught. As he did so, his recalcitrant character began to noticeably change and soften. Seeing the change in his brother astonished Geshe Chekawa. If it could work for his brother, it could work for anyone!

This inspired Geshe Chekawato write down all the Lo-jong teachings. As he continued to practice and teach, he codified, structured and wrote down what Layman Drom had remembered and passed on of the wisdom Atisha had taught in the form of fifty-nine wise slogans or aphorisms. This became renowned in Tibet as Atisha's 'Seven Points of Mind Training'. This training has always been transmitted in the form of short, pithy slogans. They are amazingly contemporary and to the point. These essential teachings form the core of Tibetan Buddhist mind-training practice to cultivate bodhicitta, altruism and compassion.

Geshe Chekawa was so sincerely committed to the practice of bodhicitta that as his death approached, he prayed to be reborn in the hell realms so he could take on the suffering of beings tormented by heavy negative karma. As the story goes, Geshe had several blessed clear light dreams as he was dying, indicating that he would be reborn in Buddha Fields, but that his prayers would emanate like bright light rays as blessings even into the depths of hell. I remember Dilgo Khyentse saying, 'It is rare to find spiritual masters today who have such incredible compassion.' Geshe Chekawa will always be remembered in Tibet as the monk who made certain that Atisha's methods fro cultivating loving-kindness would be available for us all. The Dalai Lama has often said, 'My religion is loving-kindness.'


More to come ...


Update January 2001 -

Free and Easy: A Spontaneous Song

by Venerable Lama Gendun Rinpoche

Happiness cannot be found
through great effort or willpower
but is already present,
in open relaxation and letting go.

Don't strain yourself,
there is nothing to do or undo.
Whatever momentarily arises in the body-mind
has no real importance at all,
has little reality whatsoever.
Why identify with,
and become attached to it,
passing judgement on it and ourselves?

Far better to simply
let the entire game happen on its own,
springing up and falling back like waves -
without ever changing or manipulating anything -
and notice how everything vanishes and
reappears, magically, again and again,
time without end.

Only our searching for happiness
prevents us from seeing it,
It's like a vivid rainbow which you pursue without ever catching,
or a dog chasing its own tail.
Although peace and happiness do not exist
as an actual thing or place,
it is always available
and accompanies you every instant.

Don't believe in the reality
of good and bad experiences;
they are like today's ephemeral weather,
like rainbows in the sky.

Wanting to grasp the ungraspable,
you exhaust yourself in vain.
As soon as you open and relax this tight fist of grasping,
infinite space is there - open, inviting, and comfortable.

Make use of this spaciousness,
this freedom and natural ease,
Don't search any further.
Don't go into the tangled jungle
looking for the great awakened elephant,
who is already resting quietly at home
in front of your own hearth.
Nothing to do or undo.
nothing to force,
nothing to want,
and nothing missing -

Emaho! Marvelous!
Everything happens by itself.

- Translated at Dakpo Kagyu Ling in Dordogne, France

Right Concentration

In Buddhism, it is generally accepted that there are many different degrees of enlightenment. Someone who has exprerienced the first level is traditionally known as a stream enterer. Stream enterers are those men and women who have directly experienced ultimate reality, however temporarily. Regarding the transcendent experience, my teachers always said, "One glimpse is not enough." Bu this, they meant that someone who had seen reality would not be satisfied until he or she had realised far more. These glimpses of enlightenment can be likened to the moment when the clouds that have been obscuring the sun part for the briefest of moments and the sun shines through. When the clouds return, we no longer see the sun, but now we know for ourselves that there is a sun. We understand why there is daylight.

Because seeing is knowing, enlightenment experiences can be very important while traveling the spiritual path. These experiences uproot doubt and skepticism. They convince us that reality is there behind the mist and clouds of illuion - even if it is temporarily obscured. We know what we are looking for. As the great mystic poet of India, Kabir, sang: 'I glimpsed it for fifteen seconds and I became a servant for lie.'

However, sometimes to our surprise, we discover that we are almost as frightened by the idea of enlightenment as we are drawn to it. Sometimes we want enlightenment, but not until after we've achieved all our worldly ambitions. Sometimes we worry that enlightenment means that we will no longer be able to have relationships with the people we love. Sometimes we fear that once enlightened we will become flat-liners, as if lobotomised with no passion or verve. We might not like it. We might be disappointed.

We might fear that we will lose our reference points and not know who we are or why we are doing things. We experience tremendous fear of the unknown. We worry that by going beyond ourselves, we will go over the edge and lose ourselves. This fear is a response we can anticipate as the ego begins to lose its grip, and we start moving away from our habitual ruts and patterns of thinking. A spiritual path does not mean walking over the edge. If anything, it is propelling us back to the centre, the Golden Mean - back to health, sanity and authenticity. All we are doing is opening up to truth and reality - the bigger picture.

I think it helps if we look to the example of the Buddha and other enlighteened masters. By these examples, we see that enlightened men and women who have walked among us continued to lead rich, sane, healthy lives filled with loving relationships and passionaye ideals and original ideas.

Another issue that deeply concerns many people is that they will never be able to achieve enlightenment. They feel they can't devote as many hours as they might like to meditation. They can't follow all the traditional customs and rules. They may feel they are too busy and they already have far too many demands on their time and energy. I think it's really important for people who are walking the spiritual path to understand the genius of Buddha Dharma is that it really can provide anybody with a suitably appropriate path to work through. Anybody can do it. Even if you can't memorise or believe in anything.

One of my favourite stories is about the arhant Chunda. When it came to brainpower, Chunda wasn't very swift. When Chunda's elder brother became a monk, Chunda wanted to do exactly what his brother did. He went to Ananda, Buddha's attendant, and Ananda said, 'Sorry, you could never make it as a monk.' Ananda thought this young guy was just too stupid to become a monk because he couldn't even remember the rules. So Chunda and his monk brother appealed to Buddha, who was known to be kind and compassionate.

The Buddha scanned the past lives of this dull young boy Chunda. He saw that, like most people, Chunda had at least one seed or root of merit in his karmic accumulation that could help him get enlightened. It didn't matter that he had limited intellectual powers; nor did it matter whether or not Chunda could memorise even one rule. Buddha told Ananda, 'Ananda, you're not a Buddha. You couldn't see that this youth could get enlightened. But I am the Buddha, and I'm going to ordain him as a monk. Why shouldn't he too become liberated?'

So, the Buddha ordained Chunda. But Chunda couldn't remember anything, not even how to wear his robes. Sometimes it can be complicated to be a monk, at least at first. There are a lot of teachings, and since in those days there were no books, there was a great deal to memorise. Chunda couldn't keep up, so they gave him the job of cleaning the sandals let outside the door while the monks were receiving teachings.

But Chunda wanted to practice like the other monks, and get this enlightenment thing he heard about every day. He went straight to the Buddha to ask him what he could do to achieve enlightenment. The Buddha said, 'When you're scraping and sweeping, just think, "Now I am cleaning the obscurations of the mind." Then the Buddha gave Chunda a two-line vers to recite: 'With each cleaning of the sandals, I am cleaning off the obscurations of the shining, perfect natural mind.' The Buddha asked him to repeat it. He repeated it. The Buddha said, 'Can you remember that?' Chunda said, 'Yes.'

Chunda went off to repeat the verse 'With each cleaning of the sandals, I am cleaning ...' And he couldn't remember the rest. But he had good karma and he had gentle Ananda around to remind him of the verse. Still, he kept forgetting. So Chunda went to his monk brother at regular intervals to be reminded.

One day, the compassionate Buddha came back and said to Chunda, 'Are you cleaning the sandals?' Chunda said, 'Yes.' Buddha asked, 'Are you cleaning the dust off the floor?' Chunda said, 'Yes.' And Buddha asked 'Have you cleaned the obscurations of the shining, perfect natural mind?' And Chunda was suddenly enlightened! His heart leapt for joy. He realised that the sandals with the dirt were still the sandals. The floor, even with the dust, was still the floor. He became an arhant.

All the local people who knew Chunda could not believe he was an enlightened, saintly arhant. But wherever the radiant Buddha went, he saved a seat for Chunda, because he said he was the purest-minded, least proud arhant among all. He was the most pure-minded because he didn't know anything. And least proud because he acknowledged his limitations. Sincere intentions and purity of heart are what counts.

Choosing a Spiritual group or teacher

Students often ask me what they should look for or avoid. In general, I think everyone should be wary of joining groups that control behaviour, thinking, emotions, or the right of individuals to question the leadership, the teachings, or the organisational policies. If information is tightly controlled, new students may be in for some unhappy surprises. Let's not forget that destructive cults sometimes masquerade as religious groups - like wolves in sheep's clothing.

If you're becoming a part of a spirtiual group, don't give your power away too quickly to authority figures, thus disempowering and possibly even infantilising yourself. Don't become overly dependent on leaders; be aware and wary of projection, over-idealisation, transference and placing charismatic teachers and masters on too high a pedestal. We should not naively imagine that leaders are all-knowing, infallible and omnipotenet parent figures. Once again, the Buddha himself said:

Rely not on the teacher, but on the teaching
Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words
Rely not on theory, but on experience

Be wary of exotic gurus and leaders who make fantastic promise, claim fabulous powers, or expect blind obedience.

Take a long hard look at any teacher or group leader where there is even the slightest scent of self-serving conflicts of interest or misuses of power, sex, money, or intoxicants. Instead, seek out teachers who practice what they preach.

When you are considering joining a sangha or being part of a spiritual group, be alert to prejudice or bigotry, self-righteousness, 'group think', double standards, and an atmosphere that encourages inner circles, secrets and white lies.

Walk away from any group that tries to separate you from your family or frinds or exhibits cultlike behaviour. Danger signs of spiritual blight include demands of unquestioning adherence to the party line; any indication that you will be asked to harm yourself or others; use of threats, curses, excommunication, and hellfire to people who consider leaving the group; attempts to control your behaviour and your finances

In order to discover your own path, you may find it very helpful to read spiritual books, to cruise the bookstores, libraries, and friend's bookshelves. You can look at reading lists compiled by teachers, and access Buddhist websites for recommended reading lists and discussion groups. Find what resonates with your personal needs. Go to lectures, sample introductory meditation classes and events at different spiritual centres. Let's appreciate the banquet of Dharma now available to us all. Often it helps to attend some weekend meditation workshops or residential retreats. Use your own discriminating mind, and trust your heart and your intuition. In short, follow your nose.

When chhosing a teacher, don't be overly attracted to grandiose titles, church titles, past-life resumes, or any form of hyperbolic advertising. Even if these highly advertised masters or teaching are the greatest, perhaps someone more like yourself would be most helpful to you during the initial stages. You don't need a Nobel Prize-winning physicist to teach you arithmetic, such aperson may even teach over your head instead of providing the basics you need. Keep in mind that the teacher's main purpose is not to be brilliant, entertaining or fascinating. A teacher should be judged by different standards than a performer who plays to an audience.

Buddhism's main purpose is to provide us with tools and techniques that we need, which is perhaps not always what we think we want. Whatever group or teacher you may become involved with, check them out for a good while before irrevocably committing yourself to anything. The Dalai Lama has said, 'Why not learn from everyone as much as you can, wherever tou can? Go and listen to ordinary instructors, taking what you find useful and leaving the rest. But if you're considering taking on a certain teacher or guru, check them out meticulously for many years before signing your life away. Spy on them.' I have found this to be very good advice.

Let;s not forget as Dharma students that Truth itself - Reality-Dharma - is our teacher. If and when we find it well embodied in anyone, let's not overlook the opportunity to learn. In fact, we can learn from just about anyone. Chuang Tsu said that we can learn as much from fools as from the wise. From the fools we learn what not ot do; from the wise we learn what to do and how to be.

Traditionally there are various kinds of teachers: the guru, the elder, the instructor, the spiritual friend. In the West, other kinds are merging as well, like the coach, the mentor, the workshop leader, and the facilitator, who often acts as a role model for us instead of an all-powerful, all-knowing guru.

Devotional practice has its value, and I myself have benefitted from a devotional relationship to my Tibetan gurus, but what Western students often need today is simply someone to midwife their spiritual transformation, rather than to make them into disciples and followers. We don't have to subscibe to a teacher forever. With the practice itself as our teacher, we spiritual seekers can retain our autonomy and responsibility and discover for ourselves a path of infinite possibility.

Examining your own motivations

I also think it's reasonable to spend a certain amount of time in self-examination, checking out our own motivation and impulses. Some questions to keep in mind:

Are we genuinley trying to follow the Buddha's example of the Middle Way - balancing wisdom with compassion as we walk the spiritual path?

Are we in any way overindulging a fascination with extraordinary experiences and special, spiritual states of mind? In this way, are we running the risk of becoming an experience junkie or bliss addict?

Do we sometimes fall prey to bouts of superficiality, dilletantism, diluted Dharma Lite, instant coffee mind - seeking instant enlightenment without sacrifice, training, sincere efforts, or relinquishing anything?

When we chhose a teahcer or group, are we subconsciously trying to fit in by reproducing the situation in our family of origin? Are we acting like the child, trying to be the favourite daughter or son? Are we trying to manipulate others into some kind of special relationship?

Is there any unhealthy way in which we are using spiritual practice to withdraw from the world? Are we engaged in excessive quietism, avoidance, hiding out, self-denial and self-suppression?

Are we stunting personal growth and a genuinely significant life in an attempt to attain exalted spiritual states? Again, let's never forget that the Dharma is about clear vision - and a love of life in all its infinite forms.

Are we sometimes overly motivated by ambition to rise in the religious hierarchy - instead of truly trying to loosen the grip of ego and its selfish dominion?

Are we guilty of the Shangri-La Syndrome: naively idealising foreign cultures as magically perfect and far superior to ours in every way? (No, the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence, and enlightenment is not shinier on the other side of the world.)

Are we using too much head at the expense of heart? Are we merely thinking about and studying Buddhism rather than fully feeling, experiencing, integrating and assimilating the soulful healing message of Dharma?

10 Are we ourselves sometimes given to spiritual pride, hypocrisy and arrogance? Are we truly softening up our hardened, recalcitrant nature, or just paying lip service while reinforcing our own ego needs?

Expect to have Questions

As students of truth, we shouldn't be afraid to question anything - from the teahcers to the teachings. The Dharma isn't fragile, it can withstand scrutinty. I am very grateful to my teachers. They were very kind to me, like second parents. And I have a lot of faith in both my teachers and the teachings. However, I asked them a lot of questions. Kalu Rinpoche used to call me "The Ocean of Questions". When I lived in his Sonada Monastery in Darjeeling in the mid-seventies, when he said after a Dharma talk, 'Are there any questions?' he knew where to look first in the crowd. One day I asked, 'Rinpoche, is it okay to ask so many questions?' He replied, 'Ask all your questions. Then one day you will know.'

Anticipate Road Bumps

Be aware of the tendency to give up too early because you have problems getting comfortable with meditation. Eventually you can get used to it or find a better sitting position. Perhaps you'll find that meditating in a chair instead fo a cross-legged position is better for you in the long run.

I think it's important that new students don't give into the 'comparing mind' syndrome of looking around and thinking everyone else is 'getting it' while you are not. In group meditation, it sometimes seems to the beginner as if everyone else looks like a Buddha while you're sitting there feeling distracted out of your mind. In fact, they may very well be distracted too; even the leader in front of you may be struggling with distraction or sleepiness. Why compare? Each of us is like a flower in God's garden, blossoming in our own time and in our own way, each in different seasons of our physical and spiritual life. Each of us has been given a special gift - just for entering. So remember, you are already a winner.

When we start to practice Buddhism, it may not be exactly what we expected. Try not to be easily swayed if it doesn't always go exactly as planned. The spiritual path is not just a straight ascending road to happiness; there are many bumps and rises and dips in the road. Things may get more difficult before they become more coherent and tranquil. A great deal depends on what you've been ignoring in yourself. Some things inevitably must come up in order for you to know yourself and free yourself.

The spiritual path isn't always a joyride; it can be like a roller coaster. Don't stop with the cheap thrills - go for lasting fulfillment. Stick it throught the rainy days and the barren deserts and the feeling of being stuck on a plateau of development. It's often said that the brighter the light glows. the darker and deeper the shadow becomes. The shadows are always inseparable from the light. They come from the light; they are light. Constancy and perseverance pay off. Furthermore, life is much like photography: You need the negative to develop.

On the spiritual path, we are unraveling the tight strait-jacket that is the cocoon of the ego. We are threatening ego's dominion over us. It's like when we squeeze a wet bar of soap and it suddenly squirts out of our hands. Ego is a slippery fellow, intent on survival at all costs. If we don't squeeze it, it's glad to just sit there as ruler of our domain. When practice heats up, ego can become like the squeezed soap bar, and things can become a little confusing. That's when we really need to maintain the bigger perspective that is such an important part of the process. It is during these times that sangha practice, spiritual friends, and experienced teachers can be most helpful.

Ushering in the Future

Each of us is like a jeweled star in the universal constellation called the greater Sangha, the complete circle of all beings. We are modern mystics - living in monasteries without walls. The entire planet is

{May type more of this end bit later on - page 454}

Right Mindfulness

The more we can train ourselves and learn how to maintain mindfulness and 'hang in there' even for the briefest of moments, the more we mature and grow in breadth and depth. We don't need to hang out in ghostly cemeteries at night to find things that frighten us. We face such situations every day. Sometimes it is a particularly disturbing person whom we are afraid to touch or reach out to. At other times, it's facing the challenge of a genuine life-and-death problem.

We train in maintaining the view in times of crisis so we learn not to shut our eyes and avoid reality and responsibility. It's too easy to rely on fears, denial, and other defense mechanisms to shield us from life's painful moments. Maintaining the view helps us open our constricted minds and tender hearts, allowing the world in rather than walling it out.

We can train ourselves by intentionally facing some of the things we fear. We can duplicate some of the benefits of tantric graveyard meditations by visiting or volunteering in places that make us nervous - such as hospitals, emergency wards, nursing homes, homeless shelters - and maintaining meditative mindfulness and self-awarenessas we face what we fear. This is another application of the tonglen practice of breathing in unwanted circumstances and difficulties, rather than always pushing them away. Facing our fears and anxieties is a way of using painful emotions to work in any and all situations. In this meditative training, we use passions, illness, crisis, and conflict to cultivate wisdom, compassion, understanding and fearless courage. In this way, we can actually purify our habitual, unsatisfying cravings and aversions (I like, I don't like; I want, I don't want). Thus we loosen the grip of our negative patterns and karmic propensities, opening the way for a more open, accepting, and joyful way of life.

There are three principles, or methods, for maintaining the view in difficult circumstances:

Simply be present, fully there, without judgement or prejudice, with whatever occurs. Again and again, use mindfulness to see whatever it is, just as it is. Just see what's there.

Try to see difficult circumstances and happenings as bad-tasting medicine or learning experiences. Look at the reality of the situation, without resistance, struggle, aversion, or avoidance. Try the tonglen practice of breathing in and willingly assuming the burden. Remember that everything is grist for the mill of awareness. The particular difficulty can transform your awareness, right now.

Recognise whatever arises as pure energy, like a magical display or projection of awareness and wisdom itself. It is part of the entire mandala of wholeness and integral being. Enjoy the spectacle; watch the show; observe the parade with its dramatic and colourful floats. Observe the play of light and shadow. Here before you is the natural great perfection of things just as they are.

Conscious Living,
Conscious Dying

Now when the bardo of dying dawns on me,
I will abandon all grasping, yearning and attachment,
Enter undistracted into clear awareness of the teaching,
And eject my consciousness into the space of unborn
As I leave this compound body of flesh and blood
I will know it to be a transitory illusion.

- Padma Sambhava, in The Tibetan Book of the Dead

In Tibetan teachings, death is but another moment during which to practice mindfulness. Remembering the inevitability of our own death - addressing the unavoidable fact of our own mortality and the impermanence of all things - can be the most liberating of meditations. It introduces the reality of how things actually are, helps loosen gross egotism, attachment and short-sightedness - and places our lives in proper perspective.

Death is a mirror, which reflects and illumines both the vanity and meaning in our lives. Death is the moment of truth, when we come face to face with reality. For all of us, it is also a moment of opportunity when we can realise our true original self-nature. Death is more certain than love and more surely in store for each of us than either ill health or old age. Perennial wisdom tells us we would do well to prepare for our demise, and thus be b=etter prepared to live, as well as die, in an enlightened manner.

It is said that at death two things count: whatever we have done in our lives, and the state of mind we are in at the moment of death. These two factors determine what ensues. Buddha taught that the actual experience at the time of death is crucial regarding the next rebirth, and that at the actual moment of death, extraordinarily profound spiritual experinces occur, providing a gateway to great liberation. Therefore the physical atmosphere and states of mind of those surrounding someone who is dying are extremely important; peace, comfort, gentleness, love acceptance, and harmony help usher the deceased onward in the best possible manner.

Traditionally in Tibet, the Bardo Thodol, which we know as The Tibetan Book of the Dead, is read at the bedside while someone is dying, and for several days thereafter. It is a guided meditation read aloud, usually by a lama, to help direct the dead and dying through the various transitional bardo states. This marvelous ancient work is a wisdom scripture that helps lead us to freedom and enlightenment through recognition of the clear light of reality at the time of death and afterward. It also reveals how to recognise and realise the clear light (the luminous innate quality of natural mind) within each of us, in this very life. Although ostensibly written to provide comfort, guidance and liberation-through-hearing to the dead and dying, the Bardo Thodol shows us how to live, for each and every moment is both a birth and a death.

Bardo is a Tibetan word that means 'in between' or 'in transition'. It is taught that there are six bardo states in all, each one of which provides unique opportunities. Three of these bardos occur while we are still alive: the bardo of this life covers the entire period from our birth up to our death; the bardo of meditation refers to the meditative state when we are able to recognise our Buddha-nature; and the bardo of dreaming, which occurs while we are sleeping and which can also be used to train the mind.

The other bardo states, covering the time between death and rebirth, are the primary focus of The Tibetan Book of the Dead

{May indeed type MORE of this section later ... I mean it is rather interesting ... I clearly remember reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead in the library years ago when I was still very much a cynic and a nonbeliever and thinking 'Boy, if this is all made-up then somebody has a fabulous imagination   ... may include a link to some excerpts from the Book - here}

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