Why meditation isn’t the main thing in my life

Given that I’m a meditation teacher and the author of a good number of books and audiobooks on meditation, you might think that meditation should be the central thing in my life. But — and this is something I only just realized — it’s not.

I’ve carried around, not very consciously, the idea that meditation should be the most important, the most central, thing in my life. And I suspect that this mostly unconscious idea has led to inner conflict and resistance. Certainly, when I realized just the other day that meditation wasn’t and shouldn’t be the central thing in my life, I felt unburdened. I felt lighter, freer, and clearer. The notion that meditation should be the central thing in my life was something that had been weighing me down.

It’s not that I don’t take meditation seriously. I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s part of who I am. To use a common, but useful, analogy, brushing my teeth isn’t the most important part of my life, but I make sure I do it at least twice each day.

What is the most important thing in my life? What brings me the most happiness and gives me the sense that my life is being spent in a meaningful way is seeing people grow and become happier. Having a hand in that process is deeply fulfilling. So basically helping people is the central thing in my life.

But even that’s a bit of a simplification. I have a drive to become awakened, or enlightened. Or at least I have a drive to seek a meaningful way of living that maximizes my sense of happiness and peace and that minimizes the amount of unnecessary suffering I experience. That’s my quest. And it just so happens that the Buddhist goal of spiritual awakening and the Buddhist path to awakening match up with my own goal. That’s not surprising, since the whole Buddhist path is about ending suffering and finding peace.

I sometimes talk about my quest (and always think about it) as wanting to know the mind of the Buddha. Now that might sound a little selfish, or self-centered, but there’s another factor. It turns out that if I want to maximize my happiness, minimize the amount of unnecessary suffering I experience, experience more peace, and feel that I’m living life meaningfully, then I need to help others.

I can’t exactly explain why. You can call it “interconnectedness” if you want. You can talk about it in terms of non-duality. But fundamentally, helping others to move toward awakening (whether or not they’re aware that’s where they’re headed) seems to be inseparable from my own movement toward enlightenment. This is what the Mahāyāna called mahākaruṇā, or great compassion, in which we aim to guide all beings to the happiness of awakening. I believe this is what the earlier Buddhist tradition also called upekkhā, the fourth brahmavihāra. Everyone else is going to tell you that upekkhā is “equanimity,” but the root of the word upekkhā suggests that it originally meant “to watch over closely” and its place as the pinnacle of the brahmavihāras convinces me that upekkhā and mahākaruṇā are the same thing.

There’s another way you can express all this, which is to say that the Buddha (enlightenment, awakening, living an awakened life) is at the center of my life. And if I think of my life as a maṇṇḍ ala — a symbolic arrangement of values — then the Buddha is at the center of my maṇṇḍ ala.

Ideally, I’d like everything else in my life to relate to and be supportive of the center. That’s far from being the case: I have anger and craving and any number of bad habits that represent movements away from the center. But that’s what practice is about. It helps us to “want one thing.”

Meditation is just a support — albeit a crucial one — to the goal of getting myself and all beings to awakening: my “one thing.” It can never be, never has been, and never should be the most important thing in my life, even though it’s a crucial practice.

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Tibetan Buddhist monks focus on sand – and sea

Southwest Florida residents have the chance to see something few westerners ever get the opportunity to see — the creation and blessing of a sand mandala by a group of Buddhist monks.

Throughout the week, the group of five Tibetan monks will be at Unity of Naples building the Chenrezig mandala one grain of colored sand at a time.

Once complete, the sand painting will be blessed and ritually dissolved to symbolize the impermanence of life.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this being done live,” said Susanna Tocco, 36, of Naples. “It’s amazing — the precision, the patience. It’s …

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Tibetan Buddhist monks will construct colorful, sacred mandala

The University of Redlands will welcome a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery to campus from April 4-8, when they will be constructing a mandala sand painting.

To form an image of a mandala—a Sanskrit word meaning sacred cosmogram—millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of days or weeks. Of all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and exquisite.

The mandala sand painting begins with an opening ceremony, during which the Lamas consecrate the site and call forth the forces of goodness. This is done by chanting, music and mantra recitation and will take place on April 5 at 12 p.m. in the Memorial Chapel.

Visitors are welcome to view the creation of the mandala in the Memorial Chapel on Tuesday from 1- 6 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Friday from 10 a.m.-12 p.m.

Traditionally, most sand mandalas are destroyed shortly after their completion to symbolize the impermanence of existence. The closing ceremony will be held on Friday, April 8 at noon in the Memorial Chapel.

The monks have created mandala sand paintings in more than 100 museums, art centers, and colleges and universities in the United States and Europe.

At Redlands, the monks of Drepung Loseling will also present two special events:

“Meditation: A Tool for Conscious Living,” a meditation session that will guide participants through practices of meditation used by Buddhists for healing and mental well-being. The session will begin at 5:20 p.m. on April 6 in the Memorial Chapel.

“Opening the Heart: Arousing the Mind of Universal Kindness,” a lecture on Buddhist theories on love and kindness held at 6 p.m. on April 7 in the Memorial Chapel.

All events are free and open to the public.

The monks’ visit is co-sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of Redlands Convocations & Lectures, the Banta Center for Business, Ethics and Society, the offices of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Chaplain, Campus Diversity and Inclusion and the Vice President for Academic Affairs, the Department of Religious Studies and the University’s Meditation Room.

In other University studies of Asian Religions, this May, Religious Studies professor Karen Derris will lead a group of students to India to visit and study with His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. The students will engage in three weeks of conversation with the Karmapa on their concerns for the world and their place in the world. These conversations on the applications of Buddhism are part of the Karmapa’s ongoing project to offer Buddhist teachings relevant for Western college-age students.

The events can be followed on Twitter at Look for the hashtag #monksredlands to search for related posts.

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Transcript of interview with Losang Samten

Here is a transcript of the interview the [Chico, California] Enterprise-Record did with Losang Samten, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, on Feb. 15.

E-R: How old are you?

S: 57.

E-R: What is a mandala?

S: It is a representation. It is the architecture of a palace which represents many things. A divine palace. From the Buddhist point of view (it shows) the different stages to the path of enlightenment. It is the universe, humanity, all of one individual’s positive qualities and all the things we need to purify from ourselves. There are so many thusands of mandala with different themes.

E-R: How long have you been making mandalas.

S: Over 30 years.

(The reporter conducting the interview and Samten are sitting at a small round table. At this point, a photographer taking pictures of Samten grabs the two back legs of the reporter’s chair and pulls them quickly to the right, moving him so that he has a better view for his camera. Samten laughs heartily and says, “That is a mandala.” He explains that a mandala (perhaps a certain kind of mandala) means that “anything can be OK.”

E-R: How do you say “mandala”? Is the accent on the first “a” or on the second?

S: It doesn’t matter how you say it.

E-R: How did you learn to make sand mandalas?

S: I went to a monastery. Before 1959, in Tibet, there were so many monasteries and nunneries. I had to leave in 1959, the year the Chinese took…

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over the country. We went to India and there I went to a monastery and studied the mandala.

E-R: Does the mandala you’re making now have a name and a its own meaning?
S: It’s the mandala of compassion. It means be kind and compassionate. The message is so simple, so profound.
E-R: What do you mean by compassion?
S: Compassion means be nice to yourself, be nice to others. We all are searching, wishing to be happy. We shouldn’t be focused on ourselves. We should try to share with others.
E-R: What will happen to the sand mandala when it’s finished?
S: There will be a dispersal ceremony on March 5, with a prayer and making wishes. Then we’ll go to the creek and give it back to the water. (He says the sand will have come full circle — it came out of water and will return to the water). It will be blessing the earth, the environment.
E-R: Why did the Chinese invade Tibet?
S: Greed. They wanted the natural resources. Today there are 6 million Tibetans and 10 or 15 million Chinese in Tibet. (He says the Chinese government is trying to move more Chinese into Tibet, giving them money to go). Tibetan culture and language, they tried to eliminate it. There are more than 130,000 Tibetan refugees all over the world. Most are in India.
E-R: Is Tibet a large country?
S: Tibet is huge. It’s five or six times the size of France.
E-R: The Tibetans seem to have strongly embraced Buddhism. Why do you think this is the case?
S: Buddhism came to Tibet in the 7th century. And with it came Buddhist monasticism and the population was greatly reduced. (The reporter asks Samten why the population grew smaller. Samten laughed and laughed and explained, “because there were lots of monks and nuns.”
Then he goes on to say that the Chinese have made it the law that couples can have only one child, but they could reduce their population without force if they would promote Buddhism and monasticism.)
Tibet was a very wild country before Buddhism. Killing was nothing unusual. It was a powerful nation (with a strong military that invaded China). Buddhism came to Tibet, and Buddhist teachings of non-violence, compassion and kindness changed the whole society.
I was born in 1953. When the Chinese first came, the Tibetans welcomed them. (They had problems with the altitude and lacked proper clothing). Chairman Mao said (to the Chinese immigrants), “Welcome to the motherland. This is no longer Tibet.
(Samten says when he comes to universities and meets Chinese students, he likes to tell them that Tibet used to be an independent country. Many are surprised to hear that, he says.)
E-R: Can you say something about your center in Philadelphia?
S: The center was founded in 1989, for welcoming Buddhists and non-Buddhists. We have Sunday morning gatherings for meditation and discussion. Many people come. It’s called the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia.
E-R: Do you live at the center in Philadelphia? Do you have a house there?
S: I have a small studio apartment.
E-R: You say non-Buddhists as well as Buddhists come to the center. Why do the non-Buddhists come?
S: We all are searching for happiness. Christian brothers and sisters come to help to grow their own faith. To the Christians, there is much they can learn from the Buddhists, and we, too, can learn a great deal from other religions. To me, Jesus, Mother Mary, and the Buddha are all the same thing. They teach the same thing. Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism all coincide. We should read many different authors on the spiritual journey.
E-R: Do you practice meditation where you pay attention to your breath and watch your thoughts arise, then return your attention to your breath?
S: That’s one type of meditation. Meditation means two things. The positive qualities we all have we try to cultivate. Things we have that have a negative side we try to reduce. That’s the point of meditation. We can meditate everywhere, in every place. When we’re cooking, eating, walking.
E-R: How can you meditate when you are cooking?
S: When you cook, just cook, instead of thinking about what movie you’re going to watch that evening. And add good positive thoughts, like I’m cooking this for my family so everybody has happiness. Avoid getting off the track. When you’re cooking, and you pay attention to the cooking, you cook better and you act better. You don’t burn the food.
E-R: How much do you meditate?
S: (He says when he’s making a mandala as he’s doing now in Chico, he doesn’t have much time for meditation but that when he is at home, he meditates for about two hours a day.)
My own schedule at home (involves) just sitting, watching my thoughts, watching my monkey mind. We all have a monkey mind, jumping here and there, unexpectedly. So many thoughts! The mind is the most fascinating thing in the universe. It is so powerful. It creates tremendous negative results and positive results.
Meditation means dealing with the mind — shaping this wild monkey mind, shaping it into a positive (thing). It’s very achievable. Some people think it’s human nature (to be negative). In our belief, it is achievable. Anything can be achievable. We all have choices. If I’m off the track (I remind myself). It’s achievable, but it can take a long time.
E-R: I’ve read that Buddhism aims to end suffering. What causes this suffering and how can it be ended?
S: There are three causes: greed, anger and ignorance. Meditation practice will eliminate these. In a way, these three are so strong in us, but gradually we can change, through the practice, through carrying the good cheer in your mind, the good goal.
E-R: What do you mean by “ignorance”?
S: Ignorance is not knowing the truth, adding our own assumptions. But reality is (something different). Through the meditation, you discover it. Investigate it yourself. The more we investigate it, the more we know the true nature of reality. Today there is lots of fear in the world and unhappiness. A lot of it is because of ignorance.
E-R: What is the meaning of the Mandala of Compassion that you are making?
S: Overall, we all are beauty. This one (the sand mandala he is making) is a representation. The real mandala — we all have a mandala within ourselves. We all have kindness and compassion in our hearts. The image of Jesus in the church is beautiful. It reminds me God is within me. Jesus is within me. The image on the altar is a reminder. The mandala is a reminder of the compassion we all have.
E-R: What impact do you hope your visit to Chico will have?
S: I hope and pray each one understands the mandala of compassion is within them. That’s my hope for this mandala.
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Tibetan monks create sand mandala

Once again, Lafayette [Indiana] is opening its heart to Buddhist monks touring America.

Eight monks started making a sacred sand mandala Thursday and will continue through next week at the Tippecanoe Arts Federation.

During the opening ceremony Thursday, the monks chanted a blessing for the colored sand. A horn, cymbal, drum and handbell were used to emphasize parts of the 15-minute ceremony.

Through a translator, Lobsang Dhondup explained the sand mandala, which is a Buddhist tradition using geometric designs inside a circle. The mandala is used for meditation and contains several Buddhist doctrines.

“The mandala is indispensable for the practice of Buddhism,” Dhondup said. “This is one of our spiritual exercises.”

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Sand mandala dismantled in ceremony

wildmind meditation news

Frederick News-Post: It took monks from the Tibetan Meditation Center in Frederick, Maryland, about a week to build a sacred sand mandala.

It took a single ceremony Thursday afternoon to destroy it.

Dozens gathered at the Claggett Center to watch the dismantling of the mandala, created by monks to coincide with a visit by Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche.

Devotees chanted “om mani padme hum” as they stood in line to receive small bags of sand — sand that monks had strategically placed on a wooden board to honor the deity Nairatmya, the “mother of selflessness.”

Following the destruction of the mandala, a caravan of cars and trucks paraded about 10 miles down the road to gather along the banks of the Potomac River near Point of Rocks. Kyabgon sat on a small log near the water and chanted and blessed the sand as lamas in saffron and magenta robes poured it into the water. Sand mandalas are dismantled and the leftover materials returned to nature to symbolize transitory nature of material life.

The ceremony was part of a week-long retreat, the crux of which was the transmission of the Nairatmya Great Empowerment.

On a U.S. tour, Kyabgon, one of two heads of the Drikung Kagyu Order of Tibetan Buddhism, chose Frederick as the only place in the United States to transmit the Nairatmya Great Empowerment, in part because he helped establish TMC more than 25 years ago.

Some people returned to see His Holiness after seeing him in Frederick eight years ago, when he last visited from his home in Northern India.

Hun Lye, president of TMC and organizer of Kyabgon’s tour, said he has received transmissions from Kyabgon on several occasions, as have others at TMC.

Lye said Kyabgon is committed to promoting the Nairatmya program, which belongs to a larger collection of teachings known as the Hevajra.

“His Holiness has said that he sees it as his main spiritual contribution to revive the Hevajra practice within our lineage. This cycle of practices used to be very important in our lineage but in the last few hundred years have suffered some decline.”

Other guests simply awaited an appointment with Kyabgon, so they could ask him a question — quite often the product of several meditations.

But you can ask him anything, insisted Pamela Konchog Gyurme Drolma, in Frederick from North Carolina. She and others agreed that all high lamas are psychic, so to speak, and that people’s questions will be answered, regardless of whether or not they’re asked aloud.

They also agreed that people are changed by the experience, that personalities undergo transformations.

“There may be problems they had, but when they leave … there’s a kindness, a softness,” said Michael Pittmin, who participated in the retreat with his son. “It’s visible. … They come in sort of a cloud of confusion, and things seem so far over your head maybe sometimes, and then the sun comes out … and you get an inexplicable sense of clearness. When you’re in the presence of someone who embodies the (qualities) you’re practicing, it sort of carries you forward,” he said. “It’s like getting a jump start.”

Those at the ceremony were told to keep their pouches of colored sand on their altars or shrines at home, as a reminder.

“We can celebrate impermanence,” Pittmin said as he walked away from the river, “and not fixate on what we just did.”



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War and Peace at the Metropolitan

A fundamental precept of Buddhism is the ability to reach Enlightenment – an awakened state of spiritual alertness – in a single lifetime. Avenues to this higher state of being include the chanting of mantras and the performance of mudras – ritual hand gestures.

Another path to Enlightenment, one often used in conjunction with mantra-singing and mudras, is meditation upon particular religious diagrams known as mandalas. These extremely complex rituals are usually taught and performed within the presence of a highly trained master. A select few of these original mandalas are now on display at a The Metropolitan Museum of Art in an exhibit entitled “Japanese Mandalas: Emanations and Avatars.”

At the very center of these often tremendously colorful mandalas rests the personification of all Truth: Buddha Dainichi Nyorai. All around the Buddha rests derivations of his being, most of whom are seated in the meditative position. These highly detailed painted scrolls come in gold, red, green and blue and can take the form of several feet in height and length, some even dating back to the twelfth century C.E.

Also on display at this exiting exhibit is the fascinating Scroll of Mudras, an eleventh century guide to meditative hand gestures formations (mudras) and several figurines and statues of Buddha and other deities that are over one thousand years old. This exhibit abounds with colorful scrolls and detailed paintings, and offers a prime example of how one of the world’s oldest religions contemplated the divine.

Also, Peaceful Conquerors: Jain Manuscript Painting, a similar exhibit is currently being featured. Jainism, a famously pacifistic manifestation of Buddhism, considered manuscript painting a religious endeavor, but not because its meditative enhancements. Thanks to these medieval traditionalists, details of myths and folklore such as celestial scenes of birth and love are portrayed on these delicate manuscripts – some of which were complicatedly painted on textile.

Although, like the one before it, the primary focus of this exhibit is the kaleidoscope-like manuscripts, it also features small decorative figurines of Buddha. The most captivating one is a seventh century copper alloy meditating atop a throne supported by lions. Bearing the markings of an Enlightened Being, he sits in yogic position aloft his throne with an enviously tranquil countenance. This exhibit is another wonderful example of the artistic and contemplative energy to be found in Far-Eastern religions.

Yet, lest one think that all Far-Eastern culture resembles a serenely peaceful monolith, the Metropolitan has provided the viewer with a remarkably contrasting exhibition entitled Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor. Calling it “the first comprehensive exhibition devoted to the arts of the samurai,” the exhibit combines the finest variety of Japanese weaponry, including swords, archery equipment and firearms. The items on display date from ca. 1156 until 1868 – the year of the abolition of samurai culture.

This exhibit includes the original full armor of the infamous sixteenth-century fighter Honda Tadakatsu, as well as an amazingly precise facsimile made for a young member of his family. The most interesting element of this exhibit is the elaborately decorated warrior helmets. Reaching over a foot and a half in height, this ornate headgear appears to be more suited for a fashion show than a battle.

This trio of exhibits is an exceptional opportunity to experience a kernel of the vast treasures that Oriental culture has to offer. Although very different in nature, the exhibits allow for a more refined perception of Oriental traditions and non-Western ways of life that date back thousands of years.

The Commentator

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From Snow White to sadhana: Growing up under the influence of Ratnasambhava


Ratnasambhava is, amongst other things, the Buddha of generosity. Danamaya explores the open-handed Buddha of the south.

In some ways, I may have known Ratnasambhava all my life, although I didn’t learn about Buddhism until high school, and then only from an introductory article in a comparative religion class. But looking back I can see all sorts of important themes in my life that got their start in little experiences long before. As a kid, I loved fairy tales, especially the Grimm Brothers. There were always buried treasures uncovered, or led to for someone who’d been set an impossible task who was a small, weak or humble person but who was actually a worthy, noble person in the making.

At around that same time, when I was about 7 years old, a couple of movies came out that fascinated me. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs impressed me with the gem-mine that the Dwarfs labored in — sparkling, perfectly faceted and finished jewels of all colors, right from the black rocks. And then there was Journey to the Center of the Earth — especially the part where the explorers’ lamps are failing, and they turn them off only to find that walls glow on their own, and they wander through galleries of huge jewel-like crystal formations.

Back then, I walked to school, and got to thinking about how we never really know what’s under the ground we walk on. Why, for all we know, there could be, right in this spot, if we dug down, a chest full of rubies and pearls and gold! Who knows how long it’d been there? And all these people walking over it with no idea, whatsoever! Years later, I’d understand more about the power of the mythic and the archetypal.

Sometimes, it’s not you who chooses your yidam, the Buddha whose visualization you will take up. They sometimes choose you!

When I first encountered the Dharma through the Triratna Buddhist Community, I came across the Mandala of the Five Buddhas. Such a rich collection of symbols and associations, organized to reflect so many layers of meaning! About a year before I was ordained, I mysteriously began to be attracted to the color yellow — the kind of deep, rich golden yellow like turmeric or saffron. I’d go into a bead shop and get drawn immediately to the golden yellow beads — citrine, amber, topaz. And also, mysteriously there were piles of glowing jewels that appeared spontaneously in my mind’s eye with no logical reason for them to be there. Often, these events would be accompanied by a sense of being loved or feeling sudden confidence in the goodness and the bounty of the world. So, who is golden yellow, associated with jewels and bounty and joy and beauty? Oh, right! Ratnasambhava. I didn’t know it then, but sometimes, it’s not you who chooses your yidam, the Buddha whose visualization you will take up. They can choose you! Very mysterious, indeed!

Ratnasambhava is one of the Five Transcendent Buddhas, sometimes known as the Five Jinas (Victorious Ones), who are depicted as a Mandala. The Five Buddha Mandala is thought to have originated early in the Mahayana renaissance, perhaps in the 4th century CE. Amitabha and Akshobhya were the first to be portrayed as visualizations of Wisdom and Compassion. In the Sutra of Golden Light, two more figures, Dundubishvara and Ratnaketu became Amoghasiddhi and Ratnasambhava, respectively. Vairocana emerged as the central, unifying concept, although all five were regarded as aspects of the Dharmakaya — as manifestations of reality. As archetypal figures, they are evocative of the deepest, purest qualities we all have, at least in seed-form, in the depths of the heart of our psyches. Contemplating the Jinas, dwelling in their mandala, it’s possible to reorient ourselves towards true refuge.

Ratnasambhava’s hand is tipped so far forward that nothing could ever stay in that hand

Located in the South of the Mandala, in his Pure Land Srimat, the Glorious, the Harmonious, Ratnasambhava is the great jewel-becoming, jewel-producing Buddha of Generosity and Beauty.

Incandescent golden yellow as the noon sun on Midsummer’s Day, he sits on a yellow lotus which is supported by four splendid horses in the vast blue sky of Boundlessness. And yet he is Earth Element purified. He purifies the skandha of vedana (feeling/emotion). He transforms the addictive poisons of arrogant pride, avaricious greed and the three conceits (I’m better than everyone, I’m worse than everyone, I’m the same as everyone). These become Ratnasambhava’s wisdom of the equality, the boundless sunya nature, of all things.

Clothed in russet silk robes, embroidered with gems, his left hand holds the Wish-Fulfilling Gem, the Bodhicitta. His right hand stretches out over his knee, palm outwards. This is the varada mudra, the infinite giving of the greatest gift, which is always just the very thing that’s needed, and no holding anything back. A friend once said that she finds it compelling that Ratnasambhava’s hand is tipped so far forward that nothing could ever stay in that hand — something I have found immensely beneficial to reflect on. If I want to become that — become the perfection of generosity — how could I give so completely that nothing could ever stay in my hand?

I’ve never seen his face in meditation — and I think that’s him teaching me not to get conceptual

There are said to be four types of generosity. You can give material objects or aid such as food, money or items. You can give your time and energy. You can give the Dharma. And you can give the gift of fearlessness. The perfection of such giving is when there is no difference experienced between the giver, the receiver or the gift! It’s the act itself, spontaneous, selfless.

Dana paramita (perfect, egoless giving) is also a wonderful antidote to craving. Looking at the world, all the catastrophes, all the suffering, it is so easy to slip in to thinking that there is never enough, there are too many wants and needs. This is a hazard in the spiritual life — craving caused by poverty-mentality. It’s delusion, of course, and our challenge is to see through these confusions — not only are there so many resources of so many types, and even though they’re strewn around, right under our noses, we can easily get stuck on the material aspects or how little time or energy we think we have, forgetting that there are those two other types! Think of it — truth and fearlessness–how far those could take us!

Selfless open-handedness is far from mindless…

I also think there is such a thing as ‘bad’ generosity. ‘Bad’ not in the sense of evil; more like something that’s gone bad in the fridge, maybe. It gets that way when the motive is corrupted, such as when a person gives in order to be liked. The second precept encourages us to abstain from taking the not given. But I’ve also been thinking about how unskillful it is to try to give what other people neither want nor need. For instance, if you don’t believe you can get your own needs met, or have developed the unskillful habit of ignoring your own needs, it could be easy to then project that onto others and focus your energy on ‘helping’ them. Perhaps it’s one of the types of co-dependence. Selfless open-handedness is never mindless and it is always kind. Awareness is our friend in so many ways.

After coming home from my ordination retreat in 2002, I set about finding out how to integrate this whole experience of ordination, of taking on Ratnasambhava’s sadhana (visualization) practice, of now being Danamaya and not this other person I had been, but not different, exactly. Choosing, or, in my case, being chosen by, a transcendental figure, is not your everyday experience. What remains with me now, from that magical time when I was formally ‘introduced’ to my yidam, is that there’s just an awful lot a human being can’t really know. It’s not straightforward. For one thing, I’ve never seen his face in meditation — and I think that’s him teaching me not to get conceptual about it. But then, he will ‘appear’ as the light between the cracks in the world, between one thing and another — expanding my heart from the center outwards. Relaxing into how things are, their essential nature, right now: boundless, endless, free.

How Ratnasambhava and I ‘chose’ each other is another story, for another time, but that I have been changed (and continue to be!) by my experience of this beautiful and immense Jina is a continually unfolding delight for me. We are all on our own mythic journeys. These great archetypes are wonderful guides and protectors. I am content to be ‘under the influence’ and also under the protection of Ratnasambhava.

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Monks work to construct mandala (The Penn Online, Pennsylvania)

The Penn: Meditation, as practiced by the 10 Tibetan Buddhist monks visiting IUP this week, provides “stability and calmness” and opens the potential of one’s mind, said Eleanor Mannikka, Monday’s Six O’Clock Series speaker.

“What powers your behavior is your mind,” said Mannikka, an IUP art professor and 25-year practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism. “All the minds that human beings have are the most powerful tools in the universe. Without meditation you’re using a small fraction of your mind.”

Buddhists practice the teachings of Siddhartha Gotama — the Buddha — who after six years of meditation about 2,500 years ago, found the “middle path,” or enlightenment, in his search for the ways to avoid suffering and be happy.

Much of that suffering, Mannikka said, comes from attachment to worldly things, whether it’s material or a connection with others.

“[Buddha] didn’t say it’s love and compassion for your friends that causes suffering, but if you have an attachment with that love where you want good feedback … If you want something in return, you’re going to suffer,” she said.

Buddhism — the fourth-largest religion and only one with enlightenment as the goal — seeks to break that attachment through meditation, which must be taught by an instructor first-hand and “altruistic thinking,” Mannikka said.

In stages and with years of practice, one achieves enlightenment, “a state of emptiness” that comes from wisdom, ethical conduct and mental discipline, she said.

“Underlying everything in the entire universe is the basis of what we call emptiness,” which “cannot be described because it lies beyond concept,” she said. “It is very different for us to imagine that our minds can actually operate beyond concept.”

Eventually, those who meditate might experience “nanoseconds of what that emptiness is, and it is so mind-blowing. You would not believe that your mind can exist in that particular state,” she said.

For the master Tibetan monks, that transcendence may have metaphysical implications, she said.

“The Tibetans are notorious for doing things like walking through walls,” levitating or flying, she said. “This world that we see is illusory. … When the mind transcends the illusion of solidity in all objects, then solid objects cease to maintain their obstacle nature.”

Meditation typically involves controlled breathing, a focus on relieving tension and introspection.

“You don’t have to be a Buddhist to do the basic meditation. … When you think of yourself in that way, that you’re much bigger than this moment, that your life has meaning. It is then your job to fulfill that meaning,” she said.

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