books for your Buddhist path

In a comment to this post Kristen asked for book suggestions to start exploring a Buddhist path.

I first read books on Buddhism and the other Eastern wisdom traditions when I was in high school and college over 30 years ago. I put them down and picked them up again when I started back on the yoga path. I was in a different place so they resonated with me in a different way. I can not separate my spirituality from yoga although the yoga teacher trainings that I know of rarely mention Buddhism. I think that’s unfortunate, but that’s me. Here are my suggestions:

Of course, a good translation of The Dhammapada. I recommend Eknath Easwaran.

Whenever a beginner asks me what book they should start with I always recommend Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. Clear, concise, simple but not simplistic. I’ve read the book about five times.

What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. A great book for the traditional teachings.

Buddhism, Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen. Classic.

Any book by Jack Kornfield, especially Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation and A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life (my favorite.)

I’ve studied both Theravadan and Tibetan Buddhism, so in the Shambhala tradition, books by Chogyam Trungpa: Journey Without a Goal: The Tantric Wisdom of the Buddha and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. My two favorite phrases that Trungpa uses are “spiritual materialism” and “idiot compassion.” You can google those.

Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha’s Teachings by Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield’s teacher.

Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg.

Buddha Takes No Prisoners: A Meditator’s Survival Guide by Patrick Ophuls. One of my favorites.

Dancing with Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering by Phillip Moffitt (which I have to finish before returning to Spirit Rock at the end of April!)

Good Life, Good Death by my teacher, Gelek Rimpoche. Contemplating my own death made me feel so much more alive and in a way liberated me because I know that what is never born can never die. That realization is freedom.

This a very short list but I believe these books contain the essence, at least for me. Some of these books will not resonate with you because we are all different. Search amazon.com or any book store and you will find hundreds more books and a hundred more authors. Just as there are different styles of Christianity, there are different styles of Buddhism: Zen, Theravadan, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Pure Land, etc. Walking my own path I’ve found that it all boils down to the same thing, the essence of Buddha’s teachings: The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, nothing more, nothing less.

The picture above is Prajna Paramita, the Mother of All Buddhas. Here is the most well-known quote from the Heart Sutra, an essential discourse on Prajna Paramita:

“Form is emptiness,
Emptiness is form,
Form is not other than emptiness,
Emptiness is not other than form.”

Simple.

OM MANI PADME HUM

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this is me on yoga


not really, but it looks like me….I have cats, I have the dark, curly hair, I have the incense and the mala and the orange walls in my yoga room.

I bought this giclee from the Shambhala Sun, a Buddhist magazine that I’ve subscribed to for a long time. had to have it, and yes, very un-Buddhist of me to be attached to it. the artist is Tatjana Krizmanic, an artist and illustrator from Croatia and a Buddhist practitioner.

The painting was the cover of one of the Shambhala Sun’s yoga issues. their current yoga and Buddhism issue is on sale right now so check it out.

If you want to buy some giclees of their covers and other art that appeared in past issues, check out this link (my giclee was on sale when I bought it.) you’ll find calligraphy by Thich Naht Hanh and the work of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. and who wouldn’t want a giclee of George Washington meditating?

Shambhala Sun is an independent nonprofit corporation, so the art you buy funds their organization — help keep them publishing and spreading the dharma.

dharma in your world, dharma on your walls!

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where the rubber hits the road

“Buddhism is a practice,” says Levine. “It’s not a bumper sticker. It’s not about attending the Dalai Lama’s teachings with 10,000 other people. It’s about practicing generosity in your daily life. It’s getting on your ass and training your own mind on your meditation cushion.”

from Dive-bar Dharma

Considering that I just spent two days in the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the last paragraph from this salon.com article was pretty potent.

I love that quote — get off your ass to get your ass on the cushion or on your yoga mat.

I am certainly guilty of laziness just like the next person, but when I feel the need to get my yoga butt on the cushion or the mat, I do it. it may not be daily, but I stopped beating myself up about that a long time ago. it is a tangible feeling I get in my body that says “get thee to your yoga room” or to someone’s class.

I teach seven classes a week so I need to feel another’s yoga. I did my first teacher training in 2002 and I still go to my trainer’s studio in Chicago every other week, besides doing my own personal yoga therapy practice. frankly, I don’t understand how any yoga teacher can NOT do their own practice or take someone else’s yoga class because you always have to feed and nourish your own practice or else you become stale, at least in my opinion.

How can a teacher feed his or her students unless they are feeding themselves? in my mind, it’s impossible. when I returned from India this third time I really felt like I needed to stop teaching for a while and totally immerse myself in being a student again. I just might do that — I’m feeling in my bones that I need to spend 6 months in India but that involves giving up my classes, a scary thought giving up my yoga security — you know, all that attachment and clinging.

My siddha yoga sista in California told me that it’s her experience to see people return from long India retreats to find their “material world” suddenly do a change up for the better. she asked me, “what would happen if you went, like you’d come back and nobody would sign up for classes? I don’t think so…because when you’re off on your retreat, you’ll be posting on your blog and otherwise stay connected to your past students and other interested types, even once a month, just to keep it fresh and alive. …I tell ya, sista, when you’re plugged into the divine Ma Shakti of India, good stuff happens…”

In her book Bringing Yoga to Life, Donna Farhi writes:

“…determine whether this teacher has his or her own strongly developed personal practice. Such a teacher will naturally stress the importance of self-practice. Teachers who believe that teaching class is their personal practice are likely using the students as their motivation for practice and have probably yet to develop a strong allegiance with their own inner atman. …Any teacher who claims that personal practice is no longer necessary has probably stopped learning and is ill prepared to foster an appetite for fresh inquiry in students.”

I am always a student first, and a teacher second.


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in his presence again

I leave tomorrow for Ann Arbor, Michigan where His Holiness the Dalai Lama will give a teaching. I will see him again in July when he visits Madison, Wisconsin.

Last year I wrote about the first time I saw him in Madison, which was an incredible experience. to be in his presence is simply amazing. as soon as he appeared on stage I felt my heart chakra open and I broke down in tears — not tears of sadness, but tears of joy, happiness. I expect that I will do that again.

Christian fundamentalists demonstrated against His Holiness last year in Madison. This year the Chinese will be demonstrating — from the Jewel Heart website:

“A Statement by Gelek Rimpoche, April 15th

I am aware that a group of Chinese Students have applied for permission from the University to stage a demonstration during this weekend’s teaching at Crisler Arena. We support all non-violent expression of free speech and expect anyone attending the teaching to respect that right of expression without confrontation. We do not anticipate these demonstrations to interfere with any of our programs.”

To listen to excerpts from Gelek Rimpoche’s teachings on the events in Tibet, compassion, and more, click below:

http://downloads.thespringbox.com/web/wrapper.php?file=RSSReader.sbw

The Dalai Lama has said how the events in Tibet have upset him:

“As pro-China demonstrators waved signs in downtown Rochester on Wednesday, the Dalai Lama admitted to having feelings of helplessness in recent weeks. “Since March, last month, my mind is much disturbed,”….

When asked about how he keeps his composure amid recent troubles, the Dalai Lama said he never loses compassion for people, choosing instead to focus on the negative emotions that cause their actions.

“I take their afflictions to task,” he said.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate added that he has coped with recent difficulties by practicing tonglen, a meditation technique in which a meditator mentally takes on the suffering of other people and sends out warm feelings in an effort to alleviate that suffering.

When facing disturbances in life, the Dalai Lama said, it’s important to keep a basic mental attitude of calm and inner strength.”

The Dalai Lama has always said that he is a simple monk. so for him to say that his mind is disturbed comforts me. it comforts me to know that even the Dalai Lama feels helpless sometimes, as I do. each of us can take a lesson from His Holiness about compassion, and next time when I have my own doubts about myself, whether I am “good enough” for this Path, I won’t beat myself up (so much….)

I will endeavor to keep His Holiness’ words about compassion in mind when I see the Chinese flag waved in protest of the Dalai Lama. I admit that it will be very difficult (pictures of Tibetans shot dead by Chinese armed police), but I will recite the prayer that I use to end my classes:

may all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness

may all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

may all beings never be parted from freedom’s true joy

may all beings dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion

I will write about his teaching when I return.

OM MANI PEDME HUM

PEACE

SHANTI

SALAAM ALEIKUM

SO SHALL IT BE



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buddhist dog


(photo credit: The Buddhist Channel)

Conan, the Buddhist dog, is just too sweet not to write about.

“Buddhists clasp their palms together to pray for enlightenment, but Conan, a chihuahua, appears to have more worldly motivations.

The dog has become a popular attraction at a Japanese temple after learning to imitate the worshippers around him.

“Conan started to pose in prayer like us whenever he wanted treats,” said Joei Yoshikuni, a priest at Jigenin temple on the southern island of Okinawa.

“Clasping hands is a basic action of Buddhist prayer to show appreciation. He may be showing his thanks for treats and walks,” he said.”

Conan is such the little cutie!

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"ecology of mind"

Here is Chogyam Trungpa’s “ecology of mind”, a talk given at Naropa University in 1974. for those of you who don’t know him, Trungpa was the “crazy wisdom” meditation teacher credited with bringing the Shambhala tradition of Buddhism to the west in terms accessible to westerners. The Shambhala tradition believes in the inherent wisdom, compassion, and courage of all beings. It holds that these qualities are ultimately more stable than aggression and greed, and shows us how to use this worldly life as a means to ripen our spiritual potential. Besides his idea of “crazy wisdom”, I love his other ideas of “idiot compassion” and “spiritual materialism.”

since my post body consciousness: a discussion attracted so many comments about “what is meditation?”, I thought I would post some excerpts from Trungpa’s article. talk amongst yourselves!

“Meditation helps to simplify your life. It is the act of surrendering while sitting on your meditation cushion. Then, by relating directly with your breath, body and mind, you have no problems communicating with yourself.”

“When we begin to practice and to learn more, we may think we should be adding tricks or embellishments of all kinds to our practice. This is the approach of spiritual materialism.”

“Spiritual discipline is not about advancement, but it is a question of undoing what we have created already. We are not talking about extending ourselves to become greater or more professional meditators, we are talking about meditation as unlearning.”

“The basic practice of meditation is a question of simplicity. The technique for the practice of meditation that was prescribed by the Buddha is working with the awareness of breath. That tends to cut through the unnecessary chatter of thought….Just be with your breath; just be with your body….Just sit and be with your breath. Let the breath be your thought.”

So let your breaths be your thoughts as Trungpa’s son, Mipham asks you, “What about me?”…..


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be here now


DeKalb Chronicle photo Eric Sumberg

Campus Horror

“What is known about the gunman late Thursday is that he was an NIU sociology graduate student in spring 2007, said Peters, who added that the gunman apparently has no police record and there was no known motive for the shootings as of Thursday evening.”

I was not at NIU but I had yoga students who were upset because they have friends at NIU. Even though I did not directly experience this tragedy it has still affected me. I keep thinking about the looks on the faces of the students who came in late to class and said, “there’s been a shooting at Northern. my friends….” I have never seen so much fear in someone’s eyes before.

DeKalb is down the road from the community college where I teach. the yoga studio where I teach is in a small town that is literally across the street from DeKalb.

The area is corn and soybean country, farm country, it’s about as Midwestern fresh-faced as you can find. many of these kids are still innocent about the world, they aren’t tough Chicago kids like I was growing up. many of them are farmers’ kids.

A friend in India told me that the story even made the International Herald Tribune, he had already read about it last night before I wrote about it here. I always laugh when people ask me, “aren’t you afraid to go to India by yourself?” Let me tell you: I feel safer being alone in an Indian village than I do in America. I feel safer being on the streets of Chennai at 2 AM than I would being in Chicago at 2 AM. Every time I go to India, when someone asks me what country I’m from and I tell them, more times than not I am asked whether I own a gun. This is the image that America has even in a remote Indian village.

The reality is that the same thing can very easily happen at the school where I teach. maybe somebody did not like the grade I gave them and they’ll walk into my class, look at me and say “I GOT YOUR YOGA RIGHT HERE, BITCH” and start blasting. Buddha taught that death is certain, the time of it is not. our lives can change in a split second as many people found out yesterday in DeKalb. yet we live our lives as if we will never die.

Tragedies like this always bring home to me how important it is to live in the present moment, to be mindful and to live mindfully. thinking back on yesterday I recall how before I taught my class I went to my department’s office to make copies of some handouts. two department secretaries were in the room complaining about one thing after another — how the hot water in the sink was not hot enough, how the faucet in the sink was loose, how someone on campus did not respond fast enough to a secretary’s email. it was a constant barrage of negativity and I could not wait to leave that room. I remember thinking, man, if they complain about that stuff, how do they handle the really big events in their lives? most of the stuff that we think is important really isn’t in the grand scheme of things.

The other night I read excerpts from this article by Phillip Moffitt to my private students. I loved what he said at the end of the article:

“Looking back over your life, how many weeks, months, even years have you wasted anguishing over something you didn’t get from a parent, a spouse, or in life? Did all that anguish serve you, or would it have been more skillful to have received fully the experience of the loss, accepted it as what is, and then allowed your emotions to go on to experience what is possible in the present moment? More importantly, are you still caught in an endless cycle of wanting mind, imagining that it is the next accomplishment, change in relationship, or piece of recognition that will make you happy? Pay the boatman at the river of loss and sorrow his three rupees and cross over to the other shore. Your life is here, now.”

Be present. Be here now. Be love. Be peace.

peace
shanti
salaam aleikum
so shall it be

when loving-kindness is needed


(Photo for the Tribune by Patrick Yeagle)

About 5 hours ago I had to deal with students whose friends witnessed a massacre.

7 dead in NIU shooting; 4 identified; Ex-graduate student slays 6 before killing himself

I teach at a community college that is less than 40 minutes from Northern Illinois University. I was starting my 4:45 yoga class when students walked in late and told me there was a shooting at NIU, that they were waiting for news about their friends. Two girls were crying because they did not know if their friends were dead or alive.

I had to make some announcements before I started to teach, but I knew that metta — loving-kindness — meditation was in order. So I asked them to come to a comfortable seat and just breath, to watch the breath, and not to run from whatever physical or emotional sensations come up. and then I started to teach them about loving-kindness meditation.

I told them to step outside themselves and see themselves and repeat “may I be well, happy, peaceful, may I be safe.” I said that if they preferred they need only say “may I be safe.” after awhile I told them to visualize the NIU campus, to visualize anyone that they knew was in that killing hall, or to visualize the friends, parents, and loved ones of those who died, and to send them loving kindness and peace.

then I told them that what they are about to do will be the hardest of all: to send loving-kindness to the killer. I told them that when I was in the Dalai Lama’s teachings, His Holiness said that the highest compassion of all was to have compassion for your enemies, or someone like a terrorist or a murderer. I told them if they did not want to do that, that’s fine, but keep sending loving-kindness first to themselves, then out to others.

I told them that thoughts are energy, so they should send out love and peace, even to people who they think don’t deserve it, like the killer. I told them about my Buddhist prayer that I end all my classes with (however, not at the school — it’s a public school, tax-payer supported, you know how that goes), the prayer about the Four Immeasureables:

may all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
may all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering
may all beings never be parted from freedom’s true Joy
may all beings dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion

I told them that “all beings” meant just that: everyone, not just “good” people, but even killers.

Tomorrow will bring more news about what happened. next week I will deal with the aftermath of this on my students. I hope for the coming week they will remember what I taught them today, for themselves, to ease their suffering.

I thank all my teachers, and my teachers’ teachers, for all that I have learned about yoga, meditation, and Buddhism.

and I bow to Buddha, for the Dharma and for showing me the way out of suffering.

peace
shanti
salaam aleikum
so shall it be

let’s not forget Burma

The troubles in Burma still continue. It was not just a blip on the radar screen.

This is a video of an interview with Thich Nhat Hanh speaking about Burma and engaged Buddhism.

In the meantime, we can all send our dirty underwear to Burmese embassies.

“Activists exasperated at the failure of diplomacy to apply pressure on Burma’s military regime are resorting to a new means of protest against the regime’s recent crackdown: sending female underwear to Burmese embassies.

Embassies in the UK, Thailand, Australia and Singapore have all been targeted by the “Panties for Peace” campaign, co-ordinated by an activist group based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

“Not only are they brutal, but they are also very superstitious. They believe that touching a woman’s pants or sarong will make them lose their strength,” Ms Pollack told Guardian Unlimited.

…The junta is famous for its abuse of women: it is well documented that they use rape as a weapon of war against ethnic minorities. This is a way for women around the world to express their outrage.”

Sounds like a good way to get rid of those chakra panties that I’ve seen in yoga magazine ads.

right livelihood


Dzambhala — Buddhist — He embodies the power of wealth to benefit beings. He symbolizes “richness” in all its forms and holds the mongoose which vomits jewels for the benefit of beings.


Ganesha — Hindu — God of Prosperity

Right Livelihood is one part of the Ethical Conducts in the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddha together with Right Speech and Right Action.

Right livelihood means that one should earn one’s living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.

As long as I’ve been teaching yoga I’ve had more than a few discussions with yoga teachers about whether it’s really OK to be paid for teaching yoga. One yoga teacher tells me that “yoga is really supposed to be taught for free.” Uh…really? Where does it say that in the Yoga Teacher By-Laws? Did I miss the fine print somewhere? Actually I do teach for free and that’s my karma yoga that I do once a month at a domestic violence shelter and I’ve been doing that for going on three years now. Truth be told, it’s my favorite class to teach.

One of my private students is a business entrepeneur and we discussed Right Livelihood when he gave me advice on starting a yoga clothes business. He rolled his eyes when I told him how some yoga teachers believe that yoga should be free and he said, “I see lots of ads in Yoga Journal so somebody is making money.”

Money itself is not good or bad, that’s merely a judgment. Money just IS. It’s all about how it’s used and what it’s used for.

Ethan Nichtern, creator of the ID Project and son of David Nichtern, gives a great interview on Buddhism & Money: Does Priceless Mean It’s Free?. While he speaks specifically about the spiritual economics of teaching the dharma and what Right Livelihood ought to look like in a market economy, everything he says can also be applied to the spiritual economics of teaching yoga.

In this culture, the reality is that yoga is big business. A yoga teacher is performing a service just like a massage therapist, an acupuncturist, or a “Life Coach.” Ethan makes the excellent point that Life Coaches charge upwards of $100 an hour, while a dharma teacher, especially one who has gone through many hours of training in, for example, the Shambhala tradition, is sometimes much better equipped than a Life Coach to help someone. But are you going to pay your dharma teacher $100 an hour? I didn’t think so.

It’s about the perception of value, what value do you place on yoga, meditation, or the dharma? Ethan said that when he managed a Shambhala center they would ask people to “donate” $25 toward something, but they would say that $25 wasn’t in their budget. But two days later he’d go out to dinner with the same people and they would spend more than $25 on dinner and drinks.

I see that all the time at the studio where I teach. Early this year I did a fundraiser for the domestic violence shelter and had a donation box on the desk. The studio also has a small retail section so I would watch women write checks for $100 for yoga clothes, but when the donation box would be pointed out to them they did not have a buck to donate. But 15 minutes later I would see them down the street at Starbucks paying $4.00 for a double shot carmel macadoodle frappawhozit whatever.

One of the best pieces of business advice I ever got was from my first accountant when I started my garden design business. He said, “never give away your services, because if it’s free, people won’t value it.” Ethan says the same thing when he says that teaching the dharma is priceless, but the western capitalist mindset equates “price-less” with “it doesn’t have a price.”

To paraphrase Ethan, our motivation as yoga or dharma teachers should not be toward the bling, but we also need to get out of the naive “poverty mentality” about teaching.