Tag Archives: Noble Eightfold Path


Sindhu of Flower Girl’s Rural India commented on my sense of my new found spaciousness. She said that she felt the same:

“I practice Silence “Mouna”

My dad used to practice this for a Mandala period, when he would be on complete silence….I am refraining from responding unless otherwise required. I have reduced responding nearly 70% to 75%. (I’m very talkative)

It has given me real inner peace.”

In 9 days I leave for Spirit Rock Meditation Center to do the last retreat of my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training. While we can talk a bit during the yoga training, the rest of the time we are in silence. I can’t tell you how much I love that. But when I tell people that I’ve been on more than few silent retreats, even yoga teachers say, “no way could I do that.”

Those sentiments lead me to thinking about speech in general, but particularly the first principle of ethical conduct in Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path which is RIGHT OR WISE SPEECH.

Silence makes people uncomfortable. I’m not a big talker to begin with, especially around people I don’t know, and that makes people uncomfortable.

We had to read Phillip Moffitt’s book Dancing With Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering for this retreat (and I highly recommend this book.) When I read the chapter on Right Speech I kept nodding my head:

“The practice of right speech is built around meeting three conditions simultaneously:

Say only what is true and useful and timely. If any one of these criteria isn’t met, then silence is the wise form of speech. This is such a simple formula and easy to recall even in moments of strong emotion, but it is very hard to execute even under the best conditions, because the grasping mind corrupts speech faster than it does action….

You may not realize the aggressive nature of your speech until you try to make it a mindfulness practice….

Applying the filter of saying only what is useful is even harder. We live in a culture where ‘speaking your truth’ is promoted as a form of empowerment and good communication. Yet this is not the case if your words don’t provide useful information or better understanding….

Practicing right speech includes actively refraining from giving unsolicited opinions or stating your view when it serves no purpose….You also don’t use the truth as a weapon for making yourself look better in comparison to another, or to put others in their place…don’t use speech to satisfy your ego.

Right speech involves listening from the heart…you give full attention to the words of others and listen without judging, preparing a response, or comparing….

You may utilize right speech with others, but have violent, unsettling or crippling interior speech.”
(DWL, pp.233-236)

I am the first to admit that my mouth has gotten me into trouble over these many years. Not that I say malicious or hateful things to people, but I am outspoken and am guilty of giving unsolicited advice (especially about yoga.) But the longer I am on this Path, I am much more mindful of things I say. Believe me, I try, and intention and motivation are everything. I think before I open my mouth and if it serves no useful purpose then I usually keep my mouth shut (my friends might disagree with that but they can also keep their mouths shut…;)).

I also pay close attention to when I listen with an open heart. I notice whether I am fully present when someone is speaking to me. I notice whether my Ego is telling me “I wish they’d shut up….hey, I have to get some rice milk on the way home…I have to call….” I think you get the idea. I have heard the Dalai Lama admit that in meetings even he thinks “this is boring. I’m hungry. I want some tea.” True story.

Now with the internet and things like blogs and Facebook, it’s this Buddhist’s opinion that Right or Wise Speech is even more important. Right Speech also refers to the written word.

As bloggers many of us have dealt with trolls on our blogs, people who write nasty comments or argue with everything you write or insult your other readers. Useless.

As for emails I’m sure there is not one person reading this who has not regretted firing off a nasty response to someone and it’s come back to bite them in their yoga butt. I am very familiar with that one. I wrote an unflattering email about someone and sent it to the person I was writing about instead of to the person I had intended to send it — definitely the epitome of mindLESSness, not mindfulness. But I had the guts to own up to it and called the woman to apologize. I knew that this yoga teacher had said some untrue and nasty things about me before I wrote my email but two wrongs don’t make a right.

As for blogs, online newspapers, and Facebook and MySpace, we all know the things that are said publicly on those websites. Accusations, misrepresentations, insults, oneupsmanship, always having to get in the last word, you name it. We can agree to disagree but it’s good to remember to “say only what is true and useful and timely.” As I told my husband four years ago when he was not supportive of my going to India the first time, “if you have nothing positive to say then don’t say anything at all.”

One of my students told me about her 9 year old niece who she said was out of control ADD. She said that ever since the girl was born there has never been a moment of silence in her brother’s house, that a radio or TV is always playing, ever since this girl was one day old. I thought that supported Jon Kabat-Zinn’s belief in his book Coming To Our Senses that it is not the ADD child who is dysfunctional, the entire family is dysfunctional — we are an ADD nation. Think of all the people you see and know who are always texting, talking on a cell phone, or listening to their IPods non-stop. The thought of never being still or silent boggles my mind. We all know people who talk just for the sake of talking and end up saying nothing.

I am far from perfect and it will probably take me another lifetime or two to get over my penchant for sarcasm. I can certainly be the queen of yoga snark. I will always speak my truth but I’m definitely more mindful of what I say and how I say things. Intention and motivation are everything and each moment of mindfulness and awareness is a step closer to awakening. As Sarah Powers said in the last workshop I did with her, her favorite teachers are the ones who are also human as they teach and try to live the dharma. I am certainly human.

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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.

notes from the Dalai Lama

This might be first place you’ll read that the Dalai Lama is cute — a stooped, shuffling little old man whom you want to hug, or at least help into his chair. There is something so endearing about a stooped, shuffling little old man with a beautiful smile, twinkling eyes, and a hearty laugh. A simple monk, as he says.

I spent three days in the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Madison, Wisconsin, and also received a Green Tara empowerment and blessing. I sat less than 30 feet from him for all three days, and when he walked in, everyone in the huge events center rose from their seats and you could hear a pin drop. I was seeing him for the first time, and I started to cry. In my training with Sarah Powers she spoke about meeting the Dalai Lama and how he radiates “presence” — how as yogis we should cultivate “presence”, not merely cultivate awareness of being in the “present moment”. Think about that, yoga peeps. Now I know what Sarah meant by “presence”.

His Holiness’ teachings were on Lama Tsongkhapa’s Experiential Teachings: “Songs of Spiritual Experience: Condensed Points of the Stages of the Path” and “The Good-Goal Expression of Realization: The Spiritual Autobiography of Lama Tsongkhapa.” These texts were divided into short paragraphs and His Holiness spoke at length in Tibetan about each paragraph which his translator then explained to us. His explanations were fascinating, but two lines from Tsongkhapa’s Songs of Spiritual Experience resonated with me: “If we do not contemplate the causal process of the origin of suffering, we will fail to understand how to cut the root of cyclic existence.”

Here are a few notes from my three days with His Holiness:

He advises people to stay with their own religion, because sometimes changing religions can cause confusion. He feels very strongly about this. But he also believes that we can learn from other traditions, so the “whole planet can be one entity.” Having knowledge of others’ practices, leads to having more respect for the other person. However, if the other tradition (such as Buddhism) seems more effective to you, then study it deeply. It is our individual choice, but it does not mean that our original tradition is no longer good or effective, we should still respect our former religion.

He said that the key approach to Buddhism is the cultivation of “discriminating awareness”, i.e., developing a deeper insight into the nature of reality which is the impermanence of all things. This discriminating awareness will bring about the transformation of our emotions from a mind that denies what is real or exaggerates what is real to an awakened mind that arises from a deeper understanding of the buddha-dharma.

To be truly on the Buddhist spiritual path, one must be grounded in the nature of reality, which Buddha taught in his First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma upon his enlightenment, i.e., the Four Noble Truths: that there is suffering, what is the origin of suffering, what is the cessation of suffering, and what is the path that leads to cessation of suffering. It is only when we have this basis of understanding, that we have the potential to change via the Noble Eightfold Path. Buddha said that root of all our suffering is our own ignorance of this reality; our own ignorance is what perpetuates our own suffering and keeps us in the “cyclic existence” of our own negative samsaras.

As for following a spiritual path, I thought that what His Holiness had to say can also apply to the relationship between a yoga teacher and the yoga student. He said that someone whose own mind is not disciplined, should not be training others’ minds. The Dalai Lama believes that this idea should be taken seriously.

According to Vajrayana Buddhism, the student should examine the person they want as a teacher. The teacher’s qualities should not be confined to knowledge, because knowledge can be inferred. The key is to check the level of realization — again, a disciplined state of mind. I took this to mean not just talking the talk, but walking the walk, with sincere effort. As my own teacher says, even if you fall off the path 500 times, get back up and keep walking, with determination. His Holiness believes that if the spiritual mentor displays the qualities that the student is seeking, then the student can infer from external behavior the suitability of a teacher.

But the spiritual seeker also needs certain qualities — objectivity, no bias one way or the other; a certain degree of intelligence to evaluate right and wrong; and sincere interest. As I tell my students, come to class with a beginner’s mind and an open heart, but take that attitude off the mat and into your life.

After the teachings, I went to the Dalai Lama’s public address where a few Christian fundamentalists were demonstrating against him, handing out their literature that said that Buddhists have no concept of right or wrong and that the Dalai Lama is going to hell unless he accepts Jesus Christ. I thought about how ironic this was considering His Holiness’ strong belief in not leaving your own religion. The topic of the Dalai Lama’s public address was “Compassion: The Source of Happiness.” I guess those Christians should have sat in on his speech.

As a practicing Buddhist, being in the Dalai Lama’s presence and experiencing his teachings was profound and powerful for me. I must still be in the Dalai Lama Zone when my students tell me how grounded and centered I look. What I especially loved about His Holiness was how he made fun of himself and how he admitted to being judgmental — like how some of his meetings are a “waste of time”, how he thinks some speeches are “boring”, and how he probably would not have a lot of patience with raising children! He’s human! And a simple monk, with exquisite intelligence and a beautiful smile.

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
om mani pedme hum