Monday, January 31, 2011


I've been on a million retreats, and at this moment, I think I need a solitary retreat. But I made the most of the precious opportunity and it's given me the meditation feeling of deeper meditation, clarified and boosted my motivation for my spiritual life.

The retreat was on the 6 perfections, we did the last three: virya, dyana, prajna. I could riff on these three virtues, energy, meditation and wisdom. Maybe I'll do that in further posts. I'm not with a internet connection these days, so I have to cadge one here and there.

I will note a cracking talk by Padmavajra on Virya.

So if you've never been on a retreat, I recommend going on one. The vegetarian food is good, the company is wonderful, being in nature is nurturing, having the peace and time to explore yourself in a warm and friendly environment is spectacular. We chant devotional stuff (optional) and meditate.

I feel more healthy, centered, connecting to what is important. I feel it brings out the best in me, and I feel very seen and appreciate by the people there. I'm seen for the person I want to be, less what I can do for others. My spiritual life is most at stake, and there's a felt sense that what ever individual I end up being is fine, conformity isn't valued.

There's a lot of discussion on this particular retreat, as we work through the experiences and concepts, and you get to know other people pretty well. In a way, that's what's so exhausting for me as a psychotherapist. I need to connect to myself, not so much others, but that's where I was so I made the best of it. And I realized I need to take more responsibility for my meditaiton practice and I need to take more time out to nourish myself. And I'm glad I could at least do that for a weekend up at Aryaloka.

I don't know you, but I recommend you take some time out and connect with yourself in a supportive way free from distractions. And if you've already done that, well, good job then, I hope it was good for you. Feel free to post a comment about your retreat experience! Or any thought!

BTW here's the most recent talk on FBA, and it's on a solitary retreat.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Guest Blog

Thank you, Steve, for inviting my experience. I parsed your suggestions into reflections on the Three Jewels--

On the Buddha:
I have been ‘officially’ practicing now for almost 3 and a half years, though my awareness of Buddhism started eleven years ago. I was living in Spain at the time, and a friend had invited me to sit in on a practice night. I also had a chance to see the Dalai Lama speak that year. But like all good things that take incubation before illumination, I left the experience generally unmoved, but astounded by the simple statement, “When the pupil is ready, the guru appears.”

And so, many years later I have had many teachers and continue to grow from my own experiences, learning to understand myself deeper and deeper over time. My relationship to the Buddha has changed as I have played with different understandings of the world and my place here. I remember when I was in San Francisco (at the beginning of my regular visits to the then FWBO), I struggled with the idea of bowing to the Buddha. I’ve never related much to the idea of Buddha as a man who lived, whose achievement could be inspirational. But, I grew to like the idea of Buddha-nature; of the idea that I was already enlightened; and that slowly over time I am merely working to lift the self-imposed veils from my experience.

At first that, too, was problematic—thinking, “If I am enlightened, why would I not just experience enlightenment with effort of will alone?”, “How did I get started on the wheel of suffering, if I started as an enlightened being?” But, over time, my understanding of this, too, has changed. I read a translation of the Dao De Jing by Ames and Hall that blew my mind wide open. Later, combining ideas from this book with those in Conversations with God by Walsch, I came to appreciate my participation in samsara as ‘expressed curiosity in knowing myself as Creator.’

Today, I am content with the understanding that my experience is exercise, and that my nature is rest. Perhaps if I become fully mindful, I may participate in a way unmotivated by greed, hatred or delusion. This is what I understand as Buddha-nature.

On the Dharma:
Not exactly my strong point! I can’t get myself to read too many books—especially the classics. Ugh! But I enjoy Sangharakshita’s writings a lot. And I have read some by Chöki Nyima Rinpoche that blew my mind. Actually—maybe I have done more reading than I thought… wow, now I’m kind of touched. Here I had been flogging myself [mindfully ;)] earlier this month, and now I realize my situation’s actually not that
bad. I suppose it’s important to me that I read what speaks to me, and moves me further along the path. Even if they’re not the books I think I “should” be reading, that doesn’t necessarily make them books I “shouldn’t” be reading. So, my top picks:

(1) The Essential Sangharakshita, by Sangharakshita

I really enjoy this book for its ability to capture nuggets of insight, and deliver them as tasty morsels. Good for food-for-thought—not too overwhelming, just right. Sangharakshita is playful in his delivery of important points for clarity in practice.

(2) A Few Words of Heart-to-Heart Advice, by Chöki Nyima Rinpoche
What a way with words! I feel like Chöki Nyima Rinpoche is able to pierce straight to the point with delicate words that both softly and directly communicate powerful truths. I feel like there is a precision with his words that is invaluable.

(3) Anger, by Thich Nhat Hanh
This book might have been my first introduction to true metta. He describes at one point treating one’s anger like an infant--holding it, caring for it. I remember the first time I read that I just cried and cried. I couldn’t imagine holding my pain with that much loving-kindness. Just introducing the very awareness of the possibility of deep, connective loving-kindness in a time of intense pain was transformative. It took me years to read that book—every 20 pages I’d start bawling my eyes out. Lol!! You can imagine—I wasn’t very motivated to finish!!! Nonetheless, it was a very good start to something integral to practice.

On the Sangha:
This is where I really feel my heart warm and my chest soften. Triratna has been an incredible resource when it comes to establishing and nurturing the spiritual community. I was first introduced to the then FWBO in San Francisco when a friend invited me to sangha night. I had been practicing qi gong and reiki for a few years by that point, and thought it was a natural progression to try proper meditation. There was a lot on my mind at the time, as I had just taken my national boards after graduation from Chinese medicine school. So, while waiting for my results, I started going to sangha night.

The joke is, I think ‘what initially brought me there was blah blah blah, but what kept me there was sangha [said with a very stern and sure face, like ‘another car sold!’]. But the truth is, isn’t what brought me there… sangha? It was a spiritual friend, inviting me to explore and accept the spiritual friendship of others, and to give the same of myself to others. The trouble was even after living on the West coast for four years, the New York attitude was still in my veins—I had no idea what community was!! Lol!! I used to pride myself in the ability to do everything by myself—to buy single serve anything in a city that served millions of single people doing whatever served their individual purpose in a given minute. It’s true! So, discovering community, like it were a new continent—I was unsure, but felt I was onto something….

Three Triratna centers later, I can say for sure, I was onto something!—something really, really good!! Each had their particular personalities, but the same feeling: warmth, interest and kindness. San Francisco in a lot of ways was like a beacon of information. I loved the dharma talks and all the handing off of the baton from one member to the next. With each discussion and introduction, was a new perspective on
the same truths. Spending time with the sangha was like discovering the many facets of a gem. Each beautiful, and a completely different approach from the other. I will always think fondly on the San Francisco community.

Next, I lived in NY and had the pleasure of practicing under Vajramati’s tireless effort. The NY sangha taught me much of moving the ‘idea’ of sangha into practice. While in SF I saw myself as having a place in the sangha (i.e. feeling I ‘belonged’), in NY I started forging a relationship to the individuals within the community. It was no longer a relationship of me to the whole, but me to that which makes up the whole—seeing the value and relationship of the members of the spiritual community as integral to the practice. I recognized I needed them as much as they needed me. That’s the spiritual community: Equanimity. A tremendous learning that resulted in my asking to become a mitra.

Today, I practice with the Seattle sangha. I miss the people in NY, but their dedication inspires me. The Seattle sangha is two to three times as large; and I appreciate being back with such a fullness in the room. Though we have only one ordained member as well [compared to NY], we get quite a few visitors from San Francisco and Vancouver. It also makes a huge difference that we have a place to our own here. It feels so good to have a space dedicated to learning and to practice. We have a small library and ‘book store,’ as well as a place for tea and treats. Somehow I feel Aryaloka seemed closer to NY than our closest retreat center here; but that may also be due to Danakamala’s welcoming invitation to forge stronger ties between the East coast communities. Nonetheless, I miss that sense of active connection to other communities—the reminder that though we are apart, we work towards the same goals, taking the same steps one at a time.

I feel fortunate and grateful for this opportunity to explore my relationship to the spiritual community. I’m not sure anything less than all the big-picture, close-up, absent, and knee-high experiences could have woken me out of my stupor. The reminder that we are participating, that we are seen and heard is integral to choosing how we want to participate. And watching how others participate is integral to learning how we want to participate. The sangha is this—the mirror and the reflection, an invaluable resource for the cultivation of loving kindness and our much-needed support towards enlightenment.

Thank you, to my teachers and to my friends.

--Melissa Dana
May all beings be well; may all being be happy.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

talk I keep listening to

free buddhist audio : : free mp3s and texts on buddhism and meditation

Click on the above link to listen to a talk by Atula, who's been a Buddhist for 30 years and a psychotherapist for 20. He discusses what to do when a practice goes flat.

Friday, January 21, 2011


My heart overflows
Squandering energy
I could use at a later time
I can't staunch the eruption
It's not disciplined, unruly
But is this display truly wasteful?
Won't the geyser erupt again?

Some day it will go dormant
Only evidence of a past will tarry.
Then even that will go
Into the great unknown
Of my lack of consciousness.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sangharakshita on what book you should read

Of course he doesn't know you, but regarding Buddhism he favors the Pali cannon, Mahayana sutras and prefection of wisdom sutras.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Final comments on Endless Path

So I've finished up Rafe Martin's Endless Path: Awakening Within the Buddhist Imagination: Jataka Tales, Zen Practice, and Daily Life

As I've written before, I'm into the Jungian imaginary part of the spiritual life, and I found this a great addition to the stories of Buddhism. I think my favorite Jalaka tale that Martin told was "Gentle Heart", but I also liked "Five Weapons". I liked them all really, though some seem more experience far, the ones where you sacrafice your body (The Tigress and The Monkey King).

Rafe Martin quotes from the Talking Heads and other pop culture, and seems to be extremely well grounded in the Zen literature (as might be expected because that's his tradition). I got a good list of Zen books to read while reading this book, seems I have some more reading to do.

The illustrations are interesting and evocative, and it seems Richard Wehrman is a good friend of Martin's.

I'd say you could maybe read some of these stories to children (maybe not my favorite Gentle Heart, but others). Supposedly Rafe Martin is a storyteller and you can hire him to come tell a story.

The commentaries are interesting and organized around the 10 Paramitas. You can join me on retreat up at Aryaloka (or down if you're in Maine) in Newmarket New Hampshire.

He introduces the Jatakas and in the concluding chapter gives his own personal pithy understanding of the Bodhisattva vows, 4 noble truths, 8 fold path and the 10 paramitas.

So with regret I finished this lovely book, and highly recommend it to you if you're interested in some good story telling, some Dharma discussion from a Zen perspective and some good writing.

Akshobya at Vajrasana

Akshobya at Vajrasana
Originally uploaded by edburton

Akshobya for Achalapriya

Akshobya for Achalapriya
Originally uploaded by edburton


I invite you to do a guest blog on my blog. I am interested in spiritual experience, not necessarily Buddhist, not necessarily deep.

I've decided to ask my friends to guest blog as well, when I see them in person.

May all being be happy, may all beings be well.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Vidyajyoti's funeral took place on Thursday 6 January 2011 at the London Buddhist Centre.

Some good photos are on the website, including some of her artwork.

The Essential Sangharakshita

I've decided I'm not going to put images of books up any more, just hot links. But I wanted to put this last one up, because I frequently begin my day by reading this excellent book, that in my opinion, maybe 500 years from now will be a great Mahayana sutra. Right now it's an awesome book that just keeps slamming away at me. I've read it before and I've read most of it before it was all collected into one place, and I'm still constantly impressed by it, feel the intensity of his challenge to deepen my spiritual practice.

I've been sick with a nasty virus for 3 weeks, and before that I was going through some major changes in my life, which are ongoing and I don't want to go into them, but I've drifted a little.

Sangharakshita says you shouldn't make a vow unless you're already doing it, but I want to just say publically (though surely fairly ingnored), that I'm aspiring to reconnect with the bedrock of my spiritual practice--meditation. As Sangharakshita says in the System of Meditatation lecture, the Buddha's enlightenment experiences comes from meditation, he was meditating when he became enlightened. Meditation is key in a more serious practice.

It's OK to be an ethnic or a nominal Buddhist, but I want more, to follow the Buddha Dharma laid out by the Buddha and his inspired deciples. Of course ethical and Dharma spreading actions are very useful (vegetarianism is one among many practices that promote less harm in the world). Sangha and relationships with spiritual friends is very important. Studying the Dharma and understanding the tradition are important. Chanting inspired thoughts in a puja is very important. Reflecting and thinking in general and about the Dharma is very important.

And I am not saying anything about someone's practice, who doesn't meditate, but for me, meditation is the bedrock, the foundation of my practice. And I want to get more back to that. That is really important to me.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


As I pointed out in my last blog post, there was a new paper by Subhuti about imagination, that has a lot of things in it. It clarifies a lot of stuff, which is good. It's a bit hard in the beginning to get into, like many of Subhuti's papers, but once I got past the cultural history of why were are a bit dead in the imagination at this point, which was true but somehow made it hard to get going on the essay for me, the essay hit on a lot of interesting point.

I've become more interested in the Jungian, imaginative world lately, reading Endless Path, which is wonderful in many ways, and because I've been reading The World Is A Waiting Lover, which is an interesting memoir and and journey into the self. Trebbe Johnson fell absolutely in love with someone even though she was in her 50's, happily married, and she rationally knew it wasn't the thing to pursue. Her husband was quite the trooper and didn't stand in her way, and she went on an interesting journey, where she comes to the idea that in many ways we're not open to our world because we get scared. She's very much into vision quests and connecting with the environment. Anyway, I'm simplifying and not really doing justice to a book my friend told me about on retreat. My friend told the story really well, and then wove in his own stories and it was really cool. He's met Trebbe Johnson and you can too if you want to go on a trip with her. I think I might want to do a School of Lost Borders adult vision fast if I can ever gather the money and time together.

Supposedly the Jungian institute in NYC is the most expensive. I didn't go to the most expensive, nor have I had a Jungian analysis, but I am interested in this line of thinking.

So this paper coming out seemed well timed in my life, encouraging me to pursue a line of interest: Imagining the Buddha. I was once at a day retreat where we were told to go outside and imagine the Buddha was walking with you. I remember feeling a huge awesomeness, something really large, profound, overwhelming and yet gentle and kind.

Also in working with the TBC Puja, and the 7 moods, in the first one is worship and I've thought about pampering the Buddhas, an assemblage of archetypal and historical Buddhas and great Buddhists. I imagined washing and feeding them, caring for them.

You've probably heard the story of Tibetans going to a museum and prostrating before a rupa. I've always wanted to do some big devotional thing in front of a Buddha at a museum to freak people out because it might not be expected at a museum.

Another point I enjoyed reading from Subhuti and Sangharakshita, was the idea that enlightenment must be a goal for someone wishing to join the order. I've heard many friends say something like, "well, I don't know about enlightenment, but I want to be more mindful and kind." I suppose that's alright, and not bad. But to me that's like wanting to go to an amusement park and not wanting to go on the biggest and baddest roller coaster. Of course you have to do the biggest and baddest roller coaster when you go to the amusement park. Not that the spiritual life is like going to an amusement park.

Of course it's scary to imagine, the countless lives it took even Gotama to become enlightened, if the Jataka tales are to be believed literally. It might even seem over confident to imagine you could become enlightened, or even weird considering I don't really put in the time meditating right now being sick, working and having children. You have to bust ass, if you'll excuse the profanity. There's talk of a rubber band snapping back, you have to break through somehow. That is scary. But becoming a stream entrant is seen to be possible in a lifetime, a realistic goal. Break the first three fetters, and you've created a certain kind of momentum that won't be shaken.

Now if you're not so sure about rebirth, like I am, then you've kind of got to do it Milarepa-like in one lifetime, which makes things even harder. I can't say I know it's not true, and I have to keep an open mind because my spiritual betters often talk about it, but I have no experience of it myself.

There is a part of me that feels that just closing the distance is important, whether or not I actually achieve the goal might not matter, and being very goal oriented makes you not achieve the goal apparently. So on one level, I do just feel good moving in that direction, but you can't get rid of enlightenment, you can't just say moving in a positive direction because then it's just a glorified self help movement without the transcendental.

In the ordination verses, you accept ordination for the sake of enlightenment, so that's a key part of the acceptance verses.

So for many reasons, and ones I don't even know about, imagining enlightenment is important.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

new paper

There's a new paper by Sangharakshita and Subhuti that I've been reading.

The paper is about a lot of things centering around the use of imagination in the spiritual life.

The way I think about enlightenment, the best way I can make sense of it from my unenlightened perspective, is that enlightenment is creative and not reactive. It takes imagination to be creative and not reactive. The imagination is very active in creativity, because you have to be able to imagine without confining habits.

So as far as I know they don't say that in the essay, but that puts this essay in context for me. I'm reading the essay slowly because my life is fractured, and because it's a difficult essay at times.

I found the part below quoted interesting. He writes here something that was very similar to what I wrote the other day:

"Of course it is very difficult to feel the life in nature when living in the midst of a great city, in which the natural world has been held at bay – albeit overflowing with other humans. The whole trend of life today towards technologically mediated experience in the artificial environment of a city alienates us further and further from the natural world and therefore from our innate empathy with it." (p. 16-17)

Friday, January 07, 2011

trip to Chinatown NYC

I went to Chinatown to help a friend look for a Kuan Yin. We found quite a few from $300 to $25, but she didn't find any she liked. I found a few stores I might like to look in when I'm looking for my next rupa. Rupa means form, and that is what they call a statue. So we went rupa hunting.

We saw a lot of Buddhist organizations, at least 4. None seem to be inviting when I looked in, they felt ethnic, they had signs that I could not read. I love my order, but after that the most welcoming place I've been to is the Ch'an Center in Elmhurst Queens.

further musings

On retreat finding a feather is like finding a gift from the sky, from the ancient past. Birds are what's left of dinosaurs. They are ancient survivors. Forget how puny we are in the universe of space, think how puny we are in time.

I forgot to mention the TBC Eco Dharma center. I just know what's on the website, but I hear this is a leading new cutting edge organization in the the TBC.


I watched Grizzly Man yesterday, a documentary on a Timothy Treadwell who spent time with Grizzlies in Alaska. While a fascinating character, the story is a tragedy because he and his girlfriend get eaten by a bear, and the bear is killed as well. One fellow interviewed said that bears and humans are not supposed to mix, and Treadwell himself says he should camp out in the open to the bears can see him and steer clear of him. I thought the fact that he had terrible substance abuse problems until he went camping in the wilderness, that his mission of helping the bears was part of his recovery from substance abuse. In a way, that puts his efforts into context. The horrible thing of it was that his girlfriend also gets eaten and you can hear him saying, "run, get away," and she obviously chose to try and save him at the cost of her life. She didn't really believe in his mission, but payed the ultimate price, her life. It's a fascinating documentary and Werner Herzog does a good job of making a film of it.

(I think of all the lovely nature films, like Winged Migration, and then I think of the films and books where human hubris is explored like Into Thin Air and Into The Wilderness. The Edge talks about dying of freight in the wilderness.)

Then today I'm reading chapter 6 of Endless Path by Rafe Martin, an excellent book. The book is organized around the ten paramitas, and Jataka Tales. I read the crow jataka, where a crow poops on the "holy" man, who then says the solution to a problem is to kill crows. There's another element in the tale where a woman guarding the grain wants to keep a goat away for good and causes a fire that hurts the elephants. In a way, the tale is about human hubris and the animal world.

I felt the connection between Grizzly Man and the crow jataka, that of human hubris.

I love nature and live in a big city. The people who love nature and then carve out a house and road where there was none before may love nature, and will be in it more by doing that, but ultimately they hurt the wilderness by living in it. I think the single best thing you can do for the environment is live in the city.

Now there's a problem with living in a city. Living in the city you get alienated from nature. Getting in the car, and driving two hours for a hike doesn't exactly help the environment either, but it does restore a connection a little bit.

When I go to rural places, I experience some people as a bit wacky, they have a kind of grandiosity of not rubbing up against a lot of people, like you do in the city (not everyone of course, no more than the city, but wackiness takes on a different flaver where ever you are).

Take a look through a telescope and you get a sense of your place in the universe. We are puny, my friend says. It's hard to get our minds around that. And I've also heard it said you need a little bit of grandiosity to get out of bed every day.

So in a way, I see the Tredwell story as one of suffering. We don't really know why he turned to drugs, as an athletic B student who came second to Woody Harrelson for that part in cheers. In the candid shots, he seems to take the grizzly situation to extremes, and wonders why women don't like him. He takes multiple takes, like he's some kind of actor. I see his suffering and attempts to make a life. Certainly devoting himself to the grizzlies was better than having substance abuse problems, but he took it to an odd and tragic place, that led to the death of his girlfriend as well.

I think of Rich Bass book where he looks through scat to see if he can find evidence of grizzlies in Colorado. This is a more realistic idea. You can get out in nature and have a good time without drifting past the line. Treadwell keeps saying he's humble, but was he really humble invading the bears space, trying to have a relationship with a wild animal and the way he was always filming himself, the way he pit himself against others?!

In the Wise Crow Jataka, the king honors the crow leader, and puts an end to the crow slaughter and even offers to have the crow lead his kingdom with him. The crow wisely does not accept the offer.

As snow tumbles past my window, I feel humility in the face of nature. New York City was paralyzed by a blizzard a few weeks ago. I pay humble respect to the forces of nature. On my shrine is a view from Algonquin in the Adirondacks, it reminds me of a lovely backpacking trip that I took with a dear friend.

Try to connect with nature in the least invasive way, and think about the environment, the larger picture of connectivity. We are all interconnected. I sincerely hope our environment hurting behaviors are not some run away train that we cannot stop. I really hope my children don't live in a kind of Mad Max or Waterworld kind of world. Pick any future disaster dystopia scifi film. We are beginning to imagine other ways, of stopping this run away train. The earth will eventually be swallowed by the expanding sun, as it goes supernova, but until then I would like my children's children to live in a beautiful world in harmony.

Monday, January 03, 2011


Metropolitan Museum of Art New York City
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Saturday, January 01, 2011

Final comment

I've been reading Living As A River for a while, and I finish it on New Year's Day. I started it on a camping trip, I've read it on retreat, and through various times in my life. It's a deep and relentless book that pounds away at important Buddha-Dharma points.

I find it refreshing that elements of parenting were seen as a spiritual opportunity and not just a hindrance to the spiritual life. Perhaps we are truly building a "neither monastic nor lay" movement.

As he writes about developing a vision as one of the ways we develop spiritually, I suddenly had the feeling that I needed to do a puja. For me the TBC Sevenfold Puja is my mission statement (Which can be found on this page). It's derived from Santideva's Bodhicaryavatāra, a great Mahayana text.

So I vote for this book as the best book of 2010, as 2011 starts and I have a renewed sense of purpose, as I reflect on my life on New Year's Day. May you all be happy, may you all be well.