How to Train a Wild Elephant, by Jan Chozen Bays

How to Train a Wild Elephant, by Jan Chozen Bays

I remember that “wow” moment when I first read Thich Nhat Hanh’s now-classic The Miracle of Mindfulness, in which he outlines, very simply and with a sense of authenticity, powerful and effective methods of bringing mindfulness practice into daily life, such as washing the dishes as if they were sacred objects, and eating mindfully.

That “wow,” was uttered repeatedly, in with an even greater degree or reverence and appreciation, while I was reading How to Train a Wild Elephant, which is a worthy successor to Thich Nhat Hanh’s earlier work, taking the teaching of mindfulness practice to a new level.

I had heard of Jan Chozen Bays, mainly in the context of quotations floating around on Facebook and Twitter, but I wasn’t very aware of her as an author. That turns out not to be surprising since she hasn’t published many books: one on mindful eating and two works on the topic — obscure to many westerners — of Jizo, the Japanese Bodhisattva of children. Having read the book currently under review, I’m strongly tempted to seek out all of her previous work, for Chozen is an skilled writer and a consummate teacher.

Title: How to Train a Wild Elephant
Author: Jan Chozen Bays
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1590308172
Available from: Shambhala,, and

Chozen is a Zen master in the White Plum lineage of the late Maezumi Roshi. She is also a pediatrician who specializes in the evaluation of children for abuse and neglect. She is a wife, mother and grandmother. Along with her husband, Hogen Bays, she serves as an abbot and teacher at Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon. How to Train a Wild Elephant is rooted in twenty years of collective practice at the monastery, and this intense, prolonged, and repeated exploration of mindfulness is what gives the book its depth.

The book contains 53 exercises (one for each week of the year and one for luck?) in mindfulness, each of which has been practiced at Great Vow repeatedly, for a week at a time, year after year. The depth of this exploration shows both in the nature of the exercises themselves, and in the reflections that Chozen brings to them. Each exercise — which Chozen says we can regard as “seeds” that can be planted in the many nooks and corners of our life in order to “grow mindfulness” — has several sections. First there is a simple description of the task, in just a few sentences or paragraphs. The tasks might involve using your non-dominant hand (exercise 1) or seeing the color blue (exercise 21), or looking deeply into food (exercise 47).

The description is followed by a section called “Reminding Yourself,” which shows how we can use notes, images, or other supportive practices in order to help remind us of the mindfulness exercise we’ve committed to doing. After all, one of the most challenging tasks in developing mindfulness is remembering to be mindful! As Chozen says, “This is the essential question of mindfulness. Why can’t I live like this all the time?” Indeed.

The next section, “Discoveries,” includes observations, insights, and common challenges of following that task — drawn both from Chozen’s own experience and from the reports of her students. It’s particularly useful to hear of people’s resistances in order to learn that you’re not alone, and to learn that these resistances can be overcome. The “Discoveries” section also frequently alludes to scientific research on the topic at hand. It’s fascinating to learn, in the section “Smile” (exercise 52), for example, that “people who smile in a wholehearted way live, on average, seven years longer than people who do not have a habit of smiling.” (A minor nit-pick: I would have loved references for these kinds of statements).

Each exercise has a “Deeper Lessons” section that explores the “themes and larger life lessons” connected to it. These are often breathtakingly profound. Here, for example, is part of the reflection from “Loving Eyes” (exercise 14):

Seeing with loving eyes is not a one-way experience, nor is it just a visual experience. When we touch something with loving eyes, we bring a certain warmth from our side, but we may also be surprised to feel warmth radiating back to us. We begin to wonder, is everything in the world made of love? And have I been blocking that out? [Emphasis added]

Or from “Notice Trees” (exercise 18):

Whenever I am working on a tangled mind-problem, I go into the woods and sit down, leaning up against a tree. I merge my awareness with the awareness of the tree, stretching my imagination from the ends of the roots deep in the damp earth to the tips of the topmost leaves blowing about in the breeze.Then I ask for the tree’s perspective on my dilemma. It always helps.

Or from “Entering New Spaces” (exercise 17):

As we walk toward a door, our mind moves ahead to the future, toward what we will be encountering and doing on the other side. This mind movement is not obvious. It takes careful watching. It makes us go unconscious, just briefly, of what we are doing in the present. The unconscious or semiconscious mind, however, is able to steer us through the movements of opening the door and making our way safely through.

Finally, each exercise concludes with a few “Final Words,” which are pithy reminders that drive home the import of the exercise. Sometimes these are hilarious, as in this Suzuki Roshi quote that sums up an exercise on mindful speech: “I think you’re all enlightened until you open your mouths.” Often they are simple slogans that could be borne in mind as teachings: “Don’t be annoyed when you have time to wait; rejoice in extra time to practice being present.”

“How to Train a Wild Elephant” is a rich resource for anyone interested in practicing mindfulness in daily life. The exercises, although they are rooted in monastic practices, are skillfully related to the activities of ordinary life; remember that Chozen, as well as being an abbess, is a pediatrician and a mother (and anyway, let me tell you from experience that running a monastery — or in my case a retreat center — is no easy task). You’ll learn how to be more mindful in the supermarket, in the car, and while working in an office.

I have minor reservations that focus on some of the language used in the introduction. Chozen, in her prefatory essay on mindfulness, uses phrases such as “the eternal presence we call the Divine,” or “we are looking for the Divine in all appearances.” In the exercises themselves (which constitute the vast bulk of the book) this language is rare and cast in terms of being the language of other traditions (“This is called our Buddha Nature; in other religions [emphasis added] it is called our divine nature,” for example). It’s puzzling why Chozen opted to use this terminology so frequently in the introduction, especially since she never says there what she actually means by it. There are similar expressions as well that I didn’t understand: “Great Presence” for example. While I see no problem with making a nod to the language of other traditions, and thus helping non-Buddhists orient themselves in a world of perhaps unfamiliar terminology, it’s a shame to end up disorienting Buddhist readers.

This minor quibble aside (and it’s possible these questions of terminology may be changed before the book hits the shelves in July), “How to Train a Wild Elephant” is an indispensable guide for those who have been attempting to practice mindfulness in daily life and who appreciate the guidance of a master in taking them deeper.

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A hunger for depth

Shirley Lancaster: Today’s search for a meaning is not so much ‘spirituality lite’ as a quest for authenticity in a culture obsessed with the trivial

Spirituality today, less bound to religion, is part of everyday life. A person’s spirituality might be expressed in listening to Bach, walking in the countryside, doing voluntary work or comforting a friend. We talk of a spiritual dimension to athletic excellence or great art.

And a common yardstick for evaluating spirituality is not a bad one: do our spiritual values or practice make us better people? Are we more forgiving, kind…

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“The Mindful Leader” by Michael Carroll

The Mindful Leader by Michael Carroll

In The Mindful Leader, author Michael Carroll’s premise is that the best leaders aren’t those who take charge and make things happen. They’re the ones who are willing to be fully human and inspire the best in others. Sunada reviews this book that shows us how to pursue excellence at work and do so with decency, dignity, and authenticity.

Pick up a typical book on business leadership and what do you get? Advice on how to motivate others to do more, do it faster, and win in a zero-sum game. But on the first page of The Mindful Leader, it’s suggested that we sit quietly and do nothing for a while.

Outrageous? Not at all!

Michael Carroll takes a decidedly unconventional, but thoroughly refreshing perspective on the subject. He explains as follows:

“When we lead a career that is sharply focused on being more successful, more admired, or just more comfortable, we can deceive ourselves into neglecting the world around us. We end up managing our lives like projects rather than actually living them. Consequently, for mindful leaders, cultivating this ability to be at work and throughout our lives is not just a nice idea or an interesting thing to do. Rather, by learning to be at work we discover how to stop kidding ourselves and … to open respectfully and realistically to our workplace as it unfolds in the present moment.”

If this strikes you as too soft and “touchy-feely” for the take-no-prisoners business world, I urge you to read on. He isn’t advocating becoming a nice, well-liked person who gets left behind in the cut-throat race to the finish. Carroll would argue that being a genuine human being and an effective leader are not contradictory. In fact, there’s a synergy between these two realms that’s greater than the sum of their parts.

In the introduction, Carroll talks about the concept of the bodhisattva-warrior. A bodhisattva is a highly advanced spiritual being whose sole purpose in life is to help others. A bodhisattva-warrior is a courageous figure who uses his power and ingenuity to overcome the forces of arrogance, aggression, and greed in the world. This book is in effect a training manual for modern-day bodhisattva-warriors. It’s not a job for sissies.

Michael Carroll has the background to know what he’s talking about. In his 25-year career, he held executive positions in major corporations like Shearson Lehman/American Express, Simon & Schuster, and Walt Disney. During that time, he also studied Tibetan Buddhism in the Shambala lineage, graduated from Buddhist seminary, and is now a senior teacher. Drawing on his training in these two worlds, he now consults to businesses on how to be respectfully in the moment while confidently pursuing one’s work objectives. (Note that I also wrote a review of his related previous book, Awake at Work.)

The heart of the book lays out the Ten Talents of the Mindful Leader: Simplicity, Poise, Respect, Courage, Confidence, Enthusiasm, Patience, Awareness, Skillfulness, and Humility. He discusses each talent by introducing a common business challenge, and then shows how mindfulness naturally expresses a quality perfectly suited to countering the situation. He discusses how to cultivate this quality through meditation or conscious reflection, and how to bring it out into our work world.

Title: The Mindful Leader
Author: Michael Carroll
Publisher: Shambhala Publications
ISBN: 978-1-59030-620-8
Available from: and Shambhala.

One chapter at a time, he shows how we can heal “toxic” workplaces, cultivate courage in the face of risky situations, pursue long-term goals without sacrificing what’s here and now, and lead with wisdom and grace instead of ambition and power. Every chapter is filled with real world anecdotes and parables from the Buddhist tradition that bring his points colorfully to life.

It’s the section that follows, Bringing Our Full Being to Work, that I appreciated the most. Here, Carroll draws out a higher level of integrative skills that I think are the mark of a true leader. It’s where all the previous ten talents meld into a holistic vision of masterful leadership. These skills are Synchronizing, Engaging the Whole, Inspiring Health and Well-being, and Authenticity.

I particularly enjoyed his story of a capsized ferry disaster in ancient China, which is an illustration of Engaging the Whole. I’ll let the story speak for itself.

… all the villagers dropped what they were doing and raced down to the ferry … except for the blacksmith. … He ran in the opposite direction. People stopped and grumbled, ‘Now we know who to depend on when things go wrong. Look at that cowardly blacksmith scurrying away when he is most needed.’

As people rushed to the capsized ferry, they struggled valiantly to save those in the water, but they were too late. Those who had fallen into the river had been pulled downstream by the strong current, and the villagers could see people struggling in the rapids as they were swept out of sight and around the bend. No one could see the blacksmith, however, just past the curve of the river extending a bamboo pole to those in need, pulling them to shore one by one.

Unlike the well-intentioned villagers, the blacksmith ‘engaged the whole’: his behaviors were as much an expression of the circumstances as they were a reaction to them. He knew that ‘results’ – saving the drowning passengers – were inherently defined by the river, terrain, and timing, not by his personal need to help. Going downstream rather than rushing in panic to the scene of the disaster was a choice that followed the contours of his world: because he was synchronized, he was skillfully in tune with the facts, and his presence was, in many respects, an expression of the situation’s intelligence.

Let me mention a couple things you WON’T find in this book. First, it doesn’t teach you how to meditate. There is a section on meditation and reflection, but it’s clear the intent is to provide just enough guidance to engage with the reflection exercises. It won’t help you start a full-fledged meditation practice, which is really beyond the scope of this book. You’re better off using the chapter as a reference and seeking instruction elsewhere.

Second, you’ve probably figured out by now that this book isn’t about management methods and competencies. You won’t find anything that you can bring to your office on Monday and get cracking on. What it does is invite you to pause and reflect. It gives you lots of food for thought about what it means to be more fully and authentically human. And it encourages us to cultivate the basic attitudes and mental skills that form the ground upon which great leaders naturally emerge.

There’s one other important point from the book I’d like to emphasize. Although the subject is leadership in a business context, I think the principles can apply to anyone. Leadership isn’t something that only CEOs do. Each and every one of us can be a leader in whatever we do – whether we’re teaching children, designing software, or driving taxis.

As Carroll says:

… all human beings instinctively want to offer their best to others and in turn inspire others to do the same, and this can be done by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

In that regard, I hope this book is read by a much wider audience than just business people. If everyone followed these principles and engaged with the world in this way, our planet would be a very different place indeed.

Here’s a YouTube video of Michael Carroll speaking at a “Meet the Author” event at Northeastern University in Boston MA.

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In Buddhism, it pays to leave assumptions at the door

Barbara O’Brien (Guardian): Anxiety about what Buddhism ‘really’ is has followed it around for centuries. It’s a mental habit Buddhist teaching warns us of.

Henry Steel Olcott, TW Rhys Davids, and other 19th century western “Buddhologists” arrived in Asia brimming with Orientalist idealism about the pure wisdom of the ancient east. Then they looked around and concluded that the people of Asia were largely an ignorant lot who didn’t appreciate “authentic” Buddhism as well as them. Olcott in particular made it his mission to explain Buddhism to the Sinhalese, publishing a Buddhist catechism and organising Buddhist Sunday schools.

Both Rhys Davids and Olcott made important contributions to the understanding of Buddhism in the west, and I understand the people of Sri Lanka still honour Olcott’s memory. We might well dismiss 19th-century western attitudes toward “inauthentic” Asian Buddhism as typical Victorian-era white arrogance. However, westerners continue to want to save Buddhism from backward, superstition-ridden Buddhists, who (they believe) have contaminated the Buddha’s authentic philosophy with rituals, altars, bowing, incense and other clutter of religion.

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The imperialist spirit lives on today in best-selling author and atheist Sam Harris, for example. Harris wrote in an essay titled Killing the Buddha that “The wisdom of the Buddha is currently trapped within the religion of Buddhism.” Like the Victorian Buddhologists, Harris seems besotted with his own ideal of an authentic Buddhism that no saffron-robed Asian monk could possibly appreciate.

As a Buddhist who writes about Buddhism, I encounter almost daily enthusiasts who declare with great confidence that Buddhism is a wonderful philosophy, or maybe even a science, but it’s not a religion. And they know this because they’ve read lots of books about it. That most of those books were written by people who spent years immersed in rituals, altars, bowing, and incense tends to be overlooked.

Meanwhile, people debate whether western Buddhism is “authentic”, or even if authentic Buddhism can exist in a western cultural context. I say the issue of “authentic” Buddhism in the west is not about robes versus blue jeans, or about culture at all. The issue is whether we can accept Buddhism on its terms and not ours.

Westerners no sooner realised that there was something of value in Buddhism than they co-opted it for their own agendas, from promoting human understanding to personal self-improvement. But the power of Buddhist practice comes from its ability to confound assumptions and break us out of limited, habitual thinking. If from the beginning we demand that Buddhism conform to our assumptions and habitual thinking, it hardly matters whether we wear jeans or robes. It won’t be authentic.

Our very determination to shoehorn an ancient Asian discipline into 21st-century western definitions of “philosophy” or “religion” is a rejection of “authentic” Buddhism. This sort of conceptual packaging is one of the mental habits Buddhism warns us about. Without realising it we use prefabricated concepts about ourselves and the world around us to organise and interpret what we learn and experience. One of the functions of Buddhist practice is to sweep away all the artificial filing cabinets in our heads so that we see the world as-it-is.

About 2,000 years ago Buddhism hit another cultural speed bump as it made its way into China. The officially sanctioned monk’s robe was wrapped around the body leaving the right shoulder and arm bare. But Chinese cultural sensibilities demanded that arms be covered in public. Eventually, with much grumbling about authenticity, Chinese monks took to wearing long-sleeved robes similar in style to the robes of Taoist scholars. They wrapped the one-shoulder kashaya over the sleeved robe for formal occasions, a practice found in China, Japan and Korea to this day.

Likewise, Buddhism will find ways to express itself authentically in western culture. But to encounter authentic Buddhism in any culture, first empty your cup of assumptions and expectations. And if you meet the Buddha on the road, really kill him – meaning, “kill” all ideas about him. Don’t just replace one idea of Buddha with another idea you like better.

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Saffron robes or jeans and T-shirt?

Guardian: Western Buddhism stands accused of not being ‘authentic’. But will a search for the genuine article lead us anywhere? (Naseem Khan)

In the days when I was an Indian classical dancer, we were beset by doubts and anxieties about authenticity. How could we possibly practise an ancient art form in the rootless west? Were modifications to the form or the teaching method possible? Or were they anathema? If we learned one form of the dance, was it alright to go to a teacher of another form?

I was reminded of those anguished late-night debates at Joseph Goldstein’s session at King’s Place for London Insight Meditation on Sunday. Similar anxieties were raised in the questions from the packed and respectful audience. Broadly, they provided a stream of queries that fell into two camps – firstly how to live the dharma in daily life here – “How do I deal “skilfully” with a neighbour who persistently hems my car in?” – and secondly, how precise about its boundaries should western Buddhism be.

There is hardly a better person than Goldstein to deal with both kinds of question. He encountered the Buddhist dharma when he went to Thailand for Peace Corps work in 1965 and signed up for a class. “In those first five minutes, something amazing happened. I saw I could look into my mind as well as looking out through it.” Since then he has become one of the major figures in establishing vipassana/insight meditation in the west, co-founder of the influential Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts in 1975 and the author of numerous books.

Sitting in an armchair in the centre of a large bare stage, Goldstein is spectacularly at ease. He might be sitting comfortably on his own porch dispensing dharma. He has an attractive way of pondering questions as he answers them, letting himself stop and reflect. Well, he answers the man with the car, “wrathful compassion” is a good start. Of course that doesn’t always work. There was a monastery in the US, he recounted, that was getting constantly plagued by yobs and vandals. The monks tried talking, explaining, expostulating, directing understanding and loving kindness, but all to no avail. Then the abbot said to his monks, “Let the air out of their tyres.” That did it. But remember that it is attitude, Goldstein warned, not action that is the key.

The question of authenticity is rather more complex, and central to the unfolding path of western Buddhism. But it’s not limited to it, as I indicated at the start. I tangled with the question as a student dancer, and also when I was involved in formulating diversity policy. The past 30 years in which we have come slowly (and painfully) to terms with other cultures have similarities to the issues that are raised over Buddhism’s path. Who do different art forms “belong” to? Clearly the arts must change when they come to the west if they are to express current realities. But it has often been a contentious issue, and not only with native speakers who wish to hang on to heritage. It has also been native Brits who often wanted to corral the arts into ethnic corners and could not see their wider relevance.

Change – vital as it is – of course carries dangers that have been well voiced in this blog: the danger of mash-mash, a pick’n’mix approach resulting in a dilution that ends up being so weak that it is of no use to man or mouse. Goldstein’s approach to questioners is both sensible and profound. A grounding in one tradition is vital, he argued, before opening out and at that stage the challenge of a new tradition can be extraordinarily productive. Goldstein himself had followed the austere Burmese tradition of insight meditation for around 25 years when a friend introduced him to Tibetan Buddhism, the antithesis of his own practice. He was immediately overwhelmed and confounded. How could the two interpretations both be true? After gnawing on this insoluble koan for some time he had finally seen two things: firstly that “all teachings are not ultimate, but a skilful means of liberating the heart from clinging” and secondly – he smiled benignly and opened his arms to shrug – “Who knows?”

This quality of trust and openness has a lot to say to the alarm about authenticity. It offers a healthy gloss on inclusiveness – something that British culture is, despite its fabled tolerance, not too good at. We tend to ethnicise both faiths and culture. We see “multiculturalism” as fragmentation and nothing to do with the continuing story of a mainstream culture. Similarly with religions and faiths, they get nailed down into specific geographical areas that provide their identity and definition. Not surprising then, the popular suspicion that Buddhism is all to do with monks in saffron robes and chanting and vegetarianism – doubtless fine for people “over there”, but somehow not belonging, or “authentic”, over here.

Western Buddhism is trying to find a way through these territorial imperatives and to establish its philosophy as a general good. Universality rather than authenticity is a better aim.

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Eleven steps to inner clarity

diamondHow well can our views and convictions withstand the spotlight of awareness? Dhammavijaya show us how we can scrutinize our beliefs, and outlines the benefits of increased clarity.

What is a belief? Where do our beliefs come from? Are beliefs important and if so, why? Are all beliefs of equal value? If not, why not? How can we tell if our beliefs reflect the way things really are?

When I have put these questions to people in Buddhist centers recently the discussion they have provoked has been remarkably lively. Perhaps it is refreshing to be asked about our beliefs because so often we are simply told what to believe. This started early in life when, in order to survive, we needed to be accepted by those who were telling us how the world was. But we may have had to win that acceptance at the expense of a deeper sense of the truth. A further threat to the survival of our individuality comes as we begin to drive a wedge between the head and the heart.

Often we profess to believe one thing while placing our real trust in something else. Telling ourselves we hold a certain belief while deep down believing another creates a split within us. We open up a distance between the act of trusting – which is what believing is all about and our thoughts about what we trust.

What we believe determines the way our life turns out. If our beliefs are contradictory, unthought-out and untrue then our lives will be full of contradictions, directionless and hollow. Becoming clearer about what we really believe can pave the way to turning our lives around. I have found the following exercises useful in uncovering what we truly believe and fostering a greater authenticity.


List as many topics that you can think of about which you hold beliefs. It is good to include here all the big life and death questions. A typical such list could include: the Meaning of Life, Death, Sex, Money, Friendship, Myself, Other People, Morality, the Emotions, Intuition, Love, Thinking, the Family, Spiritual Community …


Select from this list a smaller selection of beliefs you would like to understand better. Your list now, for example, might be reduced to: Money, Death, Friendship, Morality, Sex, Intuition, Emotions.


Take some time to think of and to write out all the beliefs you have under each of these headings. Be governed by honesty and a reluctance to censor yourself. It doesn’t matter here if your beliefs seem daft or contradictory. We are only trying to uncover what we really do believe. Here are some examples of beliefs uncovered in this way:

Actions have consequences. Everyone wants to be happy and to avoid suffering. In this they are just like us. Basic principles are more important than the gray areas. You can’t legislate for the gray areas — it’s a matter of conscience. You have to take responsibility for your actions. Morality often amounts to a choice of evils.

You should be careful of expressing emotions as they might hurt people. It is scary to express emotions. You should always have your emotions out in the open. If you ‘wear your heart on your sleeve for the daws to peck at’, they will. You should express the positive emotions. You should not give vent to the negative emotions. These should be confessed and left behind.


Under each heading assess whether your beliefs represent a clear and consistent set or whether they are confused and contradictory. Write down your thoughts and conclusions.


Ask yourself where each belief comes from. Try to remember from whom you first heard it. If you thought of it yourself, note this also. Next to each belief write down the names of the people you got your beliefs from. Note any patterns you see emerging as to where your beliefs come from. What do you make of this? Consider afresh your response to each belief. Is it really true? Note comprehensively any reflections to emerge from this process.


In meditation, arriving at an experience of as much calm and absorption as you can, bring one of your beliefs to mind. Drop it in lightly, in the manner of a leaf falling upon a still pool of water. Consider your intuitive response to this belief. Does it give rise to a sense of freedom and expansiveness? Or do you feel stifled, constricted and held back by this belief? Make a note of your responses.

Repeat the exercise with other beliefs.


How do you know if your responses to Exercise Six provide reliable information as to the validity of your beliefs? Write down your thoughts about this question.


Think about each belief. Does it make logical sense? Is it borne out in your actual experience? What are the consequences of your holding it? What happens in the lives of other people who believe it?


Assess your discoveries from the above exercises. Derive from your assessment beliefs that you feel are more appropriate to your new understanding.


Endeavor to live your life on the basis of these beliefs. Consider the consequences.


Repeat the process indefinitely.

In doing these exercises myself I made a number of discoveries. Firstly it was evident that the topics about which my beliefs were most confused and contradictory tied in with those areas of my life that can be messy. I found that my beliefs about more philosophical topics, say morality and intuition, tended to be quite clear and consistent. By contrast, more ‘homely’ topics concerning emotional and physical matters tended to evince beliefs that were more contradictory. This pointed to the desirability of clarifying my beliefs about those more intimate matters that are for me closer to the bone.

Deriving the sources of my beliefs was valuable in that it brought to mind the people whose beliefs have influenced my own. I could see that I had inherited a cluster of beliefs which, while le consistent, presented a somewhat dismal outlook on life that was neither accurate nor helpful. One such cluster, for example, under the heading of ‘self-esteem’ seemed to hold that this was a quality almost impossible to develop. Seeing these beliefs before me on the page made it seem easier to tear them up.

Assessing my intuitive response to beliefs yielded the most interesting results. While I might assent intellectually to a belief, sometimes I discovered that my heart wanted nothing to do with it. Did this mean that my heart was wiser than my head or vice-versa? The gulf between the different levels of belief was most apparent here. I found I couldn’t bridge the gulf by negating either the rational or the intuitive response; however, wrestling with the discrepancy could, I realized, give rise to a subtler and stronger belief that could gain the confidence of both head and heart.

The belief that ‘practicing within a single tradition promotes spiritual depth’ may, for example. meet with intellectual assent, yet the intuition may feel confined and hindered by it. The ensuing struggle could produce the more refined and stronger belief that, say: ‘Allegiance to one tradition promotes depth, but a fear of learning anything new from others may hinder it.’

It may appear threatening to examine what we truly believe, but I have found it has made me stronger, clearer and more confident. Only when we have made our beliefs conscious can we consider whether they are true. When we have seen for ourselves their truth or falsity we can base our lives on those that convince us in our depths.

Dhammavijaya Dhammavijaya discovered the Dharma in 1987 and has been inspired by it ever since.

Dhammavijaya was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order in 1989. He formerly worked in a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant in Croydon, and as a teacher of meditation and Buddhism at both the Croydon Buddhist Centre and in Mexico City.

He now teaches at the Croydon Buddhist Centre, to the south of London.

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“Warrior King of Shambhala: Remembering Chogyam Trungpa,” by Jeremy Hayward

warrior king of shambhalaChogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a charismatic, brilliant teacher whose drinking and sexual dalliances left a problematic legacy. Suriyavamsa reviews a new book that appreciates Trungpa’s monumental contribution to western Buddhism but doesn’t shy away from describing his shortcomings.

The Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche stands out among the pioneers of Western Buddhism as a colorful and dangerous force making a huge impact on the Buddhism we find here today.

His short life was characterized by a tension between his thorough engagement with traditional Buddhist practice and his breaking with this traditional form in an often outrageous way. Both facets were part of his traditional Tibetan upbringing — a meticulous monastic training in Buddhist practice and theory and an inheritance of the spirit of the crazy yogi.

The encounter between his Tibetan “crazy wisdom” approach and the wild world of early seventies post-hippy America resembles the serious car crash he survived in the late sixties when he ran his powerful vehicle into, of all things, a joke shop.

 We get an insight into the tenderness and depth of Hayward’s personal relationship with his teacher  

Despite his notoriety — his drinking which eventually killed him, his promiscuity, the outrageous way he sometimes treated people and the acrimonious chaos, after his death, of the movement he founded — he left a formidable legacy. He trained many of today’s eminent Buddhists such as Pema Chodron, Reginald Ray, Judith Simmer Brown, Francesca Freemantle and Sherab Chodzin Kohn. Due to Trungpa there exist Shambhala Books, the Shambhala Meditation and Retreat Centers and an accredited university in Boulder, Colorado.

How many of us reading this had our interest in the Dharma kick-started with the thrills of one of his many books? Meditation in Action and Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism in particular have been an introduction to Buddhism for thousands of people.

There are now a number of books appearing that allow us a fresh re-appraisal of Trungpa. We have his wife Diana Mukpo’s Dragon Thunder and Fabrice Midal’s two works, Chogyam Trungpa, His Life and Vision and Recalling Chogyam Trungpa. All go much deeper than either sordid exposure or the fawning lama worship so often found with Western presentations of Tibetan Buddhism. Added to these is the book I am reviewing here — Jeremy Hayward’s Warrior King of Shambala, Remembering Chogyam Trungpa.

 Trungpa was trying to establish the Kingdom of Shambhala, a society with traditional values of etiquette and respect  

Jeremy Hayward is an Oxford trained physicist who first met Trungpa shortly after the Rinpoche arrived in the United States in 1970. Hayward writes from personal experience, giving an account of the years he spent practicing and working with Trungpa. It is good reading; you feel for him as he describes his own awkwardness and English reserve amongst the antics of Trungpa and his followers.

We get an insight into the tenderness and depth of his personal relationship with his teacher — a strong emotional bond akin to a love affair, with all the joy and pain this brings. Trungpa spoke of devotion to one’s guru as being one of longing, an unrequited love. There is valuable personal testimony here to be added to the debate around the matter of teachers, hierarchy and boundaries that has been raging in Western Buddhism over the past two decades.

Hayward writes about the struggles of managing a rapidly growing sangha as it moved from being a commune living in one house to a complex network of institutions holding seminars for up to 1,500 people and conducting courses across the US in everything from meditation and Buddhism to the social experiment of the Shambala program to flower arranging. There are tales of rivalry and resolution and of egos restrained and unrestrained. As someone involved on a humbler scale in another Buddhist institution I found valuable lessons in this shop-talk. I particularly cherish the advice given by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (a teacher of both Trungpa and my own teacher, Sangharakshita) to the staff of the early Naropa Institute as it struggled with low enrollments, canceled classes and missed payrolls. His response was, “If you let the roots go deep enough, the tree will blossom abundantly.”

 Trungpa’s drinking and multiple partners are described in an unsensational, matter of fact way.  

Then there’s the “crazy” stuff. The book contains pictures of men in suits marching with flags, Trungpa in military uniform looking like a banana republic dictator on horseback and with uniformed bodyguards, and holding court on a throne in tails and sash and with his wife in a ball-gown, both bedecked with insignia. Senior members of the sangha were made sirs, lords and ladies and formal dinners were laid on with detailed rules of how to hold a fork. Trungpa was trying to establish the Kingdom of Shambhala, a society with traditional values of etiquette and respect for oneself, others and the natural world and a way of life leading to egoless behavior; the result appears a little bizarre.

Hayward points to something completely “other” in Trungpa’s behavior. He meets with Nova Scotia’s agricultural department officials, holds an informed and detailed discussion on farming methods and impresses the experts; yet all the time he is wearing an admiral’s uniform, having been introduced as a Prince of Tibet, a country with no coastline. Hayward also tells of Trungpa’s ability to see and describe ghosts and other denizens of a world beyond the sight of most of us, and also his ability to really see the people he met, time and time again penetrating to the deeper situation of the person and responding with just what was required.

 Hayward invokes the challenge, the danger and complexity of living with Trungpa and his vision  

Trungpa’s drinking and multiple partners are described in an unsensational, matter of fact way. All the same I couldn’t square the ideals these people were establishing with this man at the center of it all, killing himself with alcohol. People are complex.

The strangest part of the book is Hayward’s time as an “attaché” caring for Trungpa on a retreat he termed “Fortress Free From Concept.” This was solitary apart from an entourage of attendants and consorts, and as it progressed Trungpa’s behavior became increasingly bizarre, free of convention if not concepts. He would be awake for days on end, not want to begin a meal until Shantarakshita (an 8th century teacher) turned up, battle an unseen green woman sent by some anti-dharmic lama and go on “journeys” back to India and England where his attendants had to act as if they were in Bengal or London. All this time Hayward was being constantly stretched mentally and physically and yet when Trungpa slept… “Then my mind could rest in a brilliant space that was extremely peaceful… The whole atmosphere of the house seemed to be filled with luminous warmth and peaceful radiation.”

Most importantly, this book gives us a window into what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was trying to do and how he went about doing it. He attempted a more radical reappraisal of the Dharma for the West than almost all other teachers before or since, whether Asian or Western born. He was trying to create a Buddhist practice for Western culture unencumbered by the historical and cultural adornments of Tibetan Buddhism without betraying the profundity and authenticity of the Dharma he was taught. He was also attempting to build the sane society he had read of in Erich Fromm’s book of that title in the form of his Kingdom of Shambhala. By doing so he was stressing the importance of thinking in a cultural and social perspective bigger than one’s own isolated experience. It is too early yet to know if he succeeded — that will take a century or two!

This book and those by Diane Mukpo and Fabrice Midal help counter Trungpa’s message being simplified and reduced to a comfortable therapy or palliative consumable. Trungpa strongly argued against this acquisitive approach to the Dharma in his Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Hayward invokes the challenge, the danger and complexity of living with Trungpa and his vision in a detailed and personal way and in that he is to be congratulated.

Warrior King of Shambala: Remembering Chogyam Trungpa
by Jeremy Hayward
Wisdom Publications
ISBN 0-86171-546-2

Suriyavamsa Suriyavamsa lives in Glasgow, Scotland, and works as a Dharma teacher and class coordinator at the Glasgow Buddhist Centre. He was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order in 1993, on the same four month retreat as Bodhipaksa. He has developed a love of traveling in India, and likes books, curries, heavy metal and matters esoteric.

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Six tips for mindful parenting

mindful parenting: young back man helping a young child to draw

Five mindful parenting tips from Dr. Fran Walfish, the Early Childhood Parenting Center.

1. Balance love and limits. Be equally comfortable with loving / nurturing and setting boundaries / limits with your child.

2. Give lots of “undivided” listening attention to your child.

3. Follow your child’s lead (vs. directing your child).

4. Get on the same page as your spouse / companion. Kids learn very young to play one parent against the other.

5. Nurture yourself (so that you’re fortified to give to your child).

6. Examine your own behavior as closely and honestly as you do your child’s.

What would be your top suggestion for mindful parenting? Why not leave a comment below?

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Guest article: Prasada Caroline Brazier – Burning issues

image of droughtThis summer the trees in our retreat center in France were turning brown by early August. When the wind blew, sucked up by soaring thermals in the searing heat, leaves scattered across the field in a whirling mass. Temperatures rose steadily until they peaked at 42 degrees [108F] in the shade and stayed there for two weeks. Everywhere the landscape was shriveled and bleached. Trees stood, branches bare. The drought had lasted all spring and the countryside was feeling its effects.

Watching the slow decay of woodlands and hedgerows in the surrounding countryside, the reality of climate change hit me in a way it hadn’t before. If this weather pattern were to continue, great swathes of forest would simply die. Agriculture would struggle and, in many cases, fail. The countryside as we know it would change beyond recognition.

As I looked up into the blue sky, criss-crossed by plane tracks, and knew the interconnectedness of increasing fossil fuel consumption and environmental change, I felt … What did I feel? Was it anger? Was it despair? Was it grief? A sensation in my chest, tears pressing into my eyes, thoughts circling, my reaction was visceral and poignant. Thoughts tore at me. This had to stop. Someone had to listen now. Images of heaping the embassy steps of those countries most guilty of over-consumption with dying vegetation flashed into my mind.

Anger has a bad press – at least in Buddhist circles. Yet, if I examine my responses to the drought, I am left with two questions. Firstly, I see the need to look more closely at what we mean when we say we are angry. It would be easy for me to say I looked at those trees and felt anger, yet the emotion I felt was much more complex. Secondly, if this response was fired by anger, was it potentially useful anger? Certainly, in my reaction there was energy to do something. Indeed not to act felt a betrayal. I was fired up. Such energy could blame and punish, but energy could be used to seek change.

These days, “anger” has almost become an icon. Whether people are for its free expression or against it, the subject itself evokes powerful responses. The preoccupation with expressing anger probably has its roots in the rise of interest in psychology that became particularly strong in the human potential movement of the late 20th century. Through my work, I am only too aware of the view in some personal development circles that all emotions, especially if they are negative, need to be expressed, and of the paramount position anger holds. Repression is out: bad for your health and definitely rooted in past attitudes.

Thankfully there has been some questioning recently of the catch-all assumption that “getting your anger out” and bashing cushions is a good thing. Nevertheless I still encounter people who seem to feel it not only their right, but also their duty, to express their anger – often regardless of the effect on the recipient. Such a need to express often seems to go beyond simply the attempt to gain relief and healing, and to become an end in itself.

Anger is a powerful emotion; so, too, can be the attachment to expressing it. For those wedded to the expressive model, a level of passion often accompanies the belief that anger should be expressed. This suggests there may be more going on for the person than is immediately apparent. Attachment to beliefs often has more to do with individual and group self-definition than with the subject of the belief itself. This is just as much the case with beliefs about anger as with anything else.

Buddhist teaching suggests that we build structures of identity or selfhood as a way of defending against uncomfortable or threatening experiences. Initially we retreat from such experiences into a variety of distractions or attachments, which take the form of greed, hatred and delusion. When we have used the same distractions many times, a pattern of habitual behavior is created and our identification with this pattern of responses gives us a sense of self. Attachment to beliefs is one such pattern, and for a person who is attached to the view that the expression of anger is a good thing, these beliefs form a creed that sustains their ‘habit formations’ and identity. Thus anger and identity can be enmeshed and together represent the avoidance of reality.

Few in the Buddhist world share such views on the desirability of expressing anger, yet here, too, there is a danger that anger becomes a kind of icon. Identifying oneself as a not-angry person can lead to just as fixed a process of self-creation and self-definition as identifying with anger. Being Buddhist can also be an identity: we are calm, peaceful people, not like those others who get angry. But if our avoidance of anger is driven by identity formation and the need for certainty, we can be pretty sure that existential fear is operating not far from the surface.

In the uncertain world we inhabit today, the fear of war, environmental disaster and many other threats evoke strong reactions. We can react to these realities with anger; we can also react with denial and withdrawal. The person who has invested in non-anger may withdraw into quietism. If I am a not-angry person and need to maintain that identity, I may not only work on getting rid of my anger, I may also avoid situations that give rise to it in order to maintain my sense of spiritual progress. I can not read the newspapers, avoid meeting people who discuss disturbing events, and bury myself in a remote rural spot where my calm will not be challenged.

Not all Buddhists are so strongly identified with the quietistic position. Recently there has been increasing interest in engaged practice, in which Buddhists take part in humanitarian or campaigning activity as an active expression of the Bodhisattva spirit. This is a model practiced by the Amida Order, the tradition I follow. In engaged Buddhist approaches there is less likelihood of falling into quietism, but understanding and working with reactivity becomes even more important. The person who has invested in anger may be sucked into vociferous or even violent pressure groups. Finding an alternative that expresses a compassionate message actively but not aggressively is the challenge of engaged practice.

The engaged practitioner’s aim is not to eradicate emotion, but to hold the energy of their reaction, and to harness it for the needs of the situation. Letting go of a fixed position, we need to be willing to face our frailty and impulses. Such reactions are part of being human. We are not so special or separate that we are not touched, nor would it be good if we were.

The roots of anger and hostility lie in our individual and collective attachment to identity, and with it our attachment to certainty. Although real situations are never as simple as they are portrayed, there is always a temptation to create heroes and enemies, and to define ourselves in relation to “my country” or “my side,” because this gives us a sense of certainty. We may have a sneaking feeling that things are not so straightforward, but there is a relief in putting this aside and shouting slogans. It is uncomfortable to know that there are no easy answers. Delusion is more comfortable than authenticity. The temptation to seek quiet spaces away from the problems of the world becomes attractive.

Yet we cannot avoid being involved. As humans we are cast into the world with its many conflicts and troubles. Simply withdrawing can be a retreat from reality into delusion. It can be another way of holding onto our personal world at the expense of seeing the one that others are forced to inhabit. This is not to deny the importance of contemplation and quiet, but the practitioner who seeks these must be aware of the choice being made, and not pursue them from a need to flee from disturbance.

Engaged Buddhist practice is a matter of bringing awareness and non-attachment into the place where turmoil is unfolding. In such situations we often have no choice but to act. In doing so we take responsibility for the karmic consequences of our actions while still inhabiting this uncertainty. And that demands great personal courage.

Anger is a complex emotion. The elevation of anger to its current iconic position has tended to prevent us from looking at what we really mean when we say we are angry. Whether positively or negatively framed, anger limits and distorts our perception of both our own responses and the situation that evokes them. We feel the first flash of negativity and assume it to be anger. Then, having labelled it, we either indulge it or we dismiss it as something to be avoided. Yet, if we neither give way to the impulsiveness nor suppress it, but stop and look into our response, other layers of the process become clearer. Stepping back creates the possibility of separating the energy behind the anger from the potentially harmful results of expressing it.

So does Right Anger exist? Engaged Buddhist practice is a middle way. In recent demonstrations against the arms fair at the Excel centre in London, Buddhists were actively and visibly present, bearing witness to the gross immorality of such commerce. The presence of people of faith – recognizable by their robes and signs – is welcomed by many involved in these actions as a source of calm among groups who might otherwise become angry and even violent. Being able to hold back from reacting aggressively in highly charged situations is a vital aspect of training. Yet the energy that arises when a person is confronted by the harm and wrong in the world is also vital to the practitioner’s practice. It brings the kind of presence that speaks to others.

The impact that the engaged practitioner creates comes out of the passions: the person’s ability to be moved. The deeper we look at a subject, the more we are moved. Last year, with members of our sangha, I attended part of the inquiry into the setting up of a laboratory in Cambridge that would use primates to research various degenerative diseases. We were deeply affected by the films and descriptions of experiments shown at this event and, following it, we staged a procession through the city carrying replica coffins for the animals that would die if the project went ahead. The powerful image of a line of robed figures in procession was both moving for us and affecting for many who observed it.

Another form of engaged practice is involvement with those who are disadvantaged, perhaps through offering direct humanitarian help. Here, too, we have to work with our reactions. The feelings that arise when one is confronted with people living in extreme conditions or mental distress can be a hindrance, but they can also motivate us to offer compassionate support. In turn, this can broaden our perspective. When the Amida Trust became involved in supporting a health project in rural Zambia, we had the chance directly to support sick people, but we also became more aware of the global context in which such poverty is allowed to exist. That awareness led us to become more involved in campaigning work.

Faced with issues of social disadvantage, the treatment of laboratory animals, the run up to global conflict or environmental disaster, a strong emotional response is inevitable and appropriate. It is part of being fully alive, and the fruit of a practice that moves us out of our small, personal concerns.

The engaged path is not smooth. It does not have the tranquility of the remote mountain retreat. Sometimes the rising passion tips over into rough responses. At other times people act with tremendous courage in the face of our great global mess. The unease of uncertainty is always close, but our reactions can also provide a wake-up call. We see the impulse to blame, to distort, to duck out of situations. We see how, again and again, we fail to handle the reactions as well as we would like. Real life situations have a way of puncturing self-satisfaction.

Back in Britain, September rolls on. Still the sky is blue and the sun is hot. We start to see the effects of drought on vegetation here. Cars keep tearing along the motorway within earshot, belching greenhouse gases into the autumnal air. Change touches all. The rural retreat is far from immune. What will it take to call an end to this particular madness? Our practice may make us more skilled in avoiding destructive outbursts of anger, but let us not lose the passion that fires us to create a better world.

prasada caroline brazierPrasada Caroline Brazier has been a pioneer in the presentation of Buddhist Psychology and directs the training programs offered by the Amida Trust which include a full professional training for psychotherapists and counselors taught from a Buddhist Psychology perspective. In addition to Pureland Buddhism, she has also studied Theravada and been a member of the Tiep Hien Order of Vietnamese Buddhism.

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“Awake at Work” by Michael Carroll

Awake at Work: 35 Practical Buddhist Principles for Discovering Clarity and Balance in the Midst of Work’s Chaos, by Michael Carroll. (Shambhala Publications, 2004. Paperback, $14.00).

At one point or another, those of us who feel inspired to pursue a spiritual path end up having to come to terms with an annoying fact of life: we have to earn a living. Our demanding and bothersome jobs feel like such an intrusion and leave so little time for meditation or study — seemingly more worthy pursuits than managing project deadlines or dealing with coworkers with attitudes.

In his book Awake at Work, Michael Carroll turns that kind of thinking on its head. The central idea he puts forth is that our jobs can be the very core of our spiritual lives — that treading the spiritual path means engaging fully with everything our lives present to us, especially our jobs.

This book is a collection of 35 pithy slogans that invite us to seek our own natural wisdom and poise as we engage with the demands of our work. The slogans are inspired by a classic Tibetan Buddhist work called The Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind. Because Carroll’s writing style is so lively and engaging, one might be tempted to just sit and read the book from cover to cover. But to do so would be to miss its true value. Each slogan/chapter is intended to be used as a point of contemplation, and to help us to reflect on our attitudes and behaviors, moment to moment, as we encounter them throughout our day. Being awake at work is not a one-shot deal, the author reminds us, but rather is a continual process of learning how to engage skillfully with our work. This book is intended to provide the tools to help us with this learning process.

Part One introduces the four primary slogans or fundamental attitudes needed to engage with this practice. The first of these is “Balance the two efforts.” By its very nature, work requires us to focus on the future, to strive toward goals, to plan ahead. But to be awake at work requires that we also stop, “let go” and notice what is happening here and now. This letting go, Carroll says, allows space for something else to emerge:

In letting go we are not adding anything to our “to do” lists. We are simply balancing the effort to get somewhere with that of being where we are completely, opening ourselves up to a much larger work perspective. Eventually this shift becomes quite routine, allowing us to reconnect with our natural intelligence — an immediate and extraordinary spontaneity and confidence — at will. By letting go over and over again, we reenliven our sense of well-being and become aware of an openness at work that does not need to be managed or arranged. We gradually discover a composure that has been with us our whole lives but has somehow gone unnoticed.

Subsequent parts address other attitudes and habitual behaviors that often come into play at work. For example, “Step beyond the silence of fear” exhorts us to take note of fear, denial and other such negative attitudes that can lurk behind our actions and unspoken words. “Welcome the tyrant” deals with an issue that everyone will immediately identify with — dealing with that ornery, offensive, or otherwise highly unpleasant person with whom you have to work. (Perhaps that person is your boss!)

Collectively these chapters help us to realize that life holds no guarantees and that our tenuous ways of grasping for security, control, and approval are pointless. By working with these slogans, we are encouraged to remain open to the moment as each circumstance unfolds — free of preconceived notions and judgments — and to trust in our innate resourcefulness and authenticity in handling the infinite variety of challenges our work presents to us.

Each and every chapter struck me as highly insightful and indicative of the depth of the author’s personal thinking and reflections on the subject. Carroll spent over 20 years simultaneously working in executive positions in corporate America while also being a devoted Buddhist practitioner — and he is now an authorized teacher in the lineage of the Tibetan master Chögyam Trungpa. This unique perspective gives him a kind of wisdom and clarity that comes only from years of direct personal experience spanning both worlds.

If you are new to meditation or Buddhism, don’t feel deterred from this book. There are appendices with complete instructions on getting started with mindfulness meditation as well as a thorough set of instructions on how to engage with contemplating the slogans. If you are a long-term practitioner, then you will be able to jump right in. There is plenty of depth and breadth to the material to suit readers of all experience levels.

Taking a broader perspective, what I most appreciated about this book is its larger message. Many of us who feel a strong yearning to devote more time and energy to our spiritual lives fall into the trap of dividing our lives in two: our spiritual side (meditating, studying, going on retreats) and our non-spiritual (work, household chores, endless to-do lists). Some of us may even dream of leaving behind our jobs and constant busyness to go off and live in a monastery or retreat center, as Carroll relates he himself did. But when the inevitable pressures of our “non-spiritual” side take over, we throw up our hands and decide that “being spiritual” will have to come at another time and place, not now.

With this book, Carroll shows us the fallacy this thinking. Our spiritual side is not something we can separate out from the rest of our lives. As he puts it, he learned that, “the daily grind, the successes and failures, hard work and stress, all gradually unfolded as a profound teaching … Scrubbing the floor, writing an e-mail, leading the country, feeding the hungry child, are all noble steps we take on our path to becoming completely who we are where we are.” This book shows us in very practical terms how to start taking those steps right now.

You can also read an extract from this book, “Work is a Mess.”

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