Help for Nepal & surrounding countries

Picture from The Wall Street Journal-India.

Dear Friends,

We awoke this morning to the news of the earthquake in Nepal and the devastation it has caused. Nepal, India, Bangladesh and border regions of China are affected. Please take a moment to offer your support to the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund here set up by the America Nepal Medical Foundation – ANMF. Other agencies are listed in the ways to help page on this site.

CANADIAN Sources for help – includes MSF, Red Cross, UNICEF.

CITTA – They will be on the ground in Kathmandu and going to the Gorkha district an area that has been completely devastated. The money will go directly to the people of Nepal.

Karuna-Sechen – Founded by Matthieu Ricard

Olmo Ling – Center supporting the Bon tradition

Kyabgön Phakchok Rinpoche for disaster relief here. Please indicate “Disaster Relief” in the “Purpose” field.

OXFAM is marshalling a response.

American Buddhist Perspectives has additional donations and help resources.

More sites here on how to help Nepal. – Building medical camps and accommodations.

Rolling updates are available here.

May all being be safe and find care in this difficult time.

a thousand hands of compassion – book review


Some time ago, one of my dharma friends sent me this lovely book. A Thousand Hands of Compassion: The Chant of Korean Spirituality and Enlightenment by Seon Master Daehaeng¹. I was strangely moved. Strangely because I have never really believed that people who haven’t met face to face actually have the capacity to activate a resonance that one might call a bond, a quiet joy, a sense of being considered kindly. More strangely because I thought I’d done enough work on my own walls and thickets, been the recipient of enough gifts from people I’ve not yet met and those I may never meet to have these walls become porous enough for kindness to flow in.

But there you have it. I am one gnarly, snarly nut to riddle with holes.

Kindness is an interesting thing. It’s one of those behaviourally-based activities that is only known when seen. I do find it easy to be kind. Ultimately it doesn’t cost anything and there is a feel-good factor when all is said and given.


Compassion, however, is something else all together. It costs everything. And it requires that we are willing to be in the presence of everything. There are no options or substitutions allowed.

My one mind is the root of all things.
All things arise from it,
so all things I completely entrust to it.
This letting go
fills my heart with light. (p. 36)

This book is an amazing opportunity to practice just that fortitude. Taken from different sutras, it is compiled as a single text and chanted daily in Korean temples. The verses call on us to devote ourselves to that one mind that is the mind of all Buddhas. Some read as short recitations that almost evoke a full prostration. Others are slightly longer tracts that evoke an inner call-and-response. Each page carries a verse, Korean on one side, English on the other, and is enriched by the stunning art of Hyo Rim.

The minds of all Buddhas are my mind.
Nothing I see, hear, or do
exists apart from
the truth they realized.
My one mind itself is the Buddha-dharma,
present throughout all aspects
of my life. (p.24)

Tomorrow Frank and I leave for our respective retreats. He’s off to something somewhere that hopefully won’t have him terrorizing other meditators with his death stare. I’m off to learn a bit about self-compassion. It seems an oxymoron this term “self-compassion” but I do recall spending about two years on the first two lines of the Metta Sutta.

May I be free from suffering
May I be at peace

So I’m taking this book and my mala beads and an appreciation for T.S. Eliot.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
― T.S. EliotFour Quartets


¹You can read more about Seon Master Daehaeng here.

digging out dukkha

DSC_0101It’s been a rough few days. My heart goes out to the families in Newtown CT and globally in places we never hear about who are going through what, to me, is unimaginable loss. I have no wise words, no salve, no offers of hope for ease and peace. Often, when such tragedies strike, I find myself watching it all unfold, mesmerized by the way online characters respond to words written on this posting or that. Often, when I read cruel and mean-spirited comments or just plain ignorant ones, I find myself turning to Frank and asking him to explain (yet again) the mentality I think is reflected in the words I’m reading. Together, we sit and he tries his very best to explain this aspect of his birth culture and I fail (yet again) to grasp the senselessness of the physical, verbal, and emotional violence so many witness and endure.

For so long I have deeply wished we could eradicate all the weaponry of emotional and physical hurt. I have this delusion that the suffering left will be manageable, witness-able, containable.  But I know that is not likely to be the end result.  So I’ve vowed to stop trying to make sense out of something that cannot make sense – not even in how we reference it because “senseless” violence is the oxymoron of oxymorons.  In fact, to call it that subtly opens a door to discussion for what constitutes “sensible” violence.  And caught in our deluded states of mind (often armed with statistics), there is no end to what we each believe is sensible in these circumstances.   However, nothing can ever justify violence or our reluctance to do what is necessary to prevent it.  But, couched in these discussions, there is a subtle “bait-and-switch” that leads us away from the real issue.  Because violence and death are often dramatically coupled, violent deaths become the salient aspect of an event and the focus of all our energies.  Caught in our passion, we miss that it is the finger pointing to the moon.

Embedded in these events is a deeper truth and it opens to the possibility of digging further into our practice.  In sangha, after we honoured the pain and suffering of all grieving families in the ten directions, we shared our thoughts about the events at Newtown and other occasions of profound suffering.  One sangha friend pointed out wisely that even if we managed to prevent these and other deaths, we are still left with the reality of suffering that is inherent in living.  This is the intimate truth of all living beings; being born is the most predictable cause of dying and it is  not preventable.  Furthermore, there is much suffering that arises in the process of getting from birth to death.  These many variants of suffering themselves become the roots of all forms of suffering – including but not exclusive to pre-mature death, sometimes from violence.  These are, in large part, preventable.

This First Truth of suffering is the touchstone to which we must return each and every time we are confronted with the inexplicable.  Only then can we begin to see the bigger picture of what is necessary and possible.  Only then can we embody our practice of compassionate action through our civic, spiritual, and personal paths as we take determined steps to dig out the roots of many forms of suffering.  If not, if we focus only on weapons or violence or drugs or whatever is salient in this moment, we are only cleaning out the compost bin and not the septic bed it sits atop that itself needs to be dug out.

fierce companion

Anne Lamotte’s wonderful comment about the nature of mind is something I hold onto when the lights go out on various parts of my life:  “The mind is like a dangerous neighbourhood.  I don’t go there alone.”  When the furies of insecurity and self-denigration mount their surgical strikes on my sense of worthiness, it’s a challenge to keep up a steady defence.  I’m fortunate to have wonderful friends who are willing to sit with me through the mental games I play with myself and the darkening nights of facing the reality that our dreams don’t get fulfilled with fidelity to the blueprints we drew up when we were 4, 16, 28, or 50 years old.

Having a bevy of shrink-type friends can be nice because there are re-framings galore; these act to reassure more than just me, I suspect.  There are also inexhaustible words of comfort, concern, and “fix it” suggestions.  The best, of course, are the baked goods – and especially from the ones whose thwarted dreams involved chef and pastry schools.  I love them all and know that they are variants of compassionate action.

And yet, what I sometimes crave is something akin to the angel alter ego of a child character in one of the daily cartoon strips I read.  Pudgy and surrounded with flowers and stars in one moment, he transforms into a fierce warrior/protector when needed in another moment.  It lead me to question the typical rationale we used to explain compassion.

Typically we state, “Compassion is ‘being with suffering’ because Com means with and passion is a derivative of suffering.  Passion does derive from the Latin (pati) meaning suffer but not only that.  It can mean to bear, to experience intense feelings such as wrath, ire, or fury.  It can relate to being zealous, fervent and desirous or lustful.  It also means to submit.  These variations of passion are heated red and to be with such power seems to run counter to the typical construction of compassion as being quiet in its support.

Compassion is an expression of fiery love.  It is a fervent submission to what is unfolding in this very life, in this very moment, in this breath.  It is welcoming of all the furies and stands steadfast in the presence of the wild tearing winds of suffering.  It is at the heart a fierce companion determinedly walking with you in the darkness of your path and eternal in its loyalty regardless of any outcome.

To be a fierce companion requires steadiness in being.  The third stage of our three stage meditation this week then is appropriate in grounding us.  We began by opening to the entirety of our experience and then returned to the breath.  Now we bring our awareness to the solidity of our body.  Sitting or standing, we feel ourselves fully rooted in the earth able to be steadfast and solid.

window on self-promotion

An interesting concept: self-promotion.  Some of the events that stirred the dukkha pot over the last weeks have been encounters with the manifestation of self-promotion.  Actually it hasn’t been obvious, coming couched as self-compassion.  However, the language should have tipped me off.

“It’s really important to me to do this on my own.”

“I don’t want to be part of a group.”

OK, I take that back.  The language didn’t tip me off because it sounded very assertive in setting boundaries.  The only thing at hinted at something being fishy was a felt sense of the ground shifting, the subtext sliding from goodness to grasping.  And, I tend to give a lot of credit to the inherent goodness in the Other.  That is, I give credit forgetting that inherent goodness is not necessarily goodness manifest.

Am I being harsh?  I probably am.  My downfall always comes from looking at ways connection and community can be cultivated.  If we dug deep, it’s likely tied to losing culture and community at a young age.  Or maybe it’s having had a powerful family and community which trained a mind that knows there is safeness in numbers, that the work is easier when the aspirations are embodied by many.  Who knows.

Whatever the reason, I know community is critical and it’s always a shock to realize the Other may not share that vision.  I think getting through the koan window on this one is to stop assuming that building sangha is a common aspiration for all Buddhists.  The other part is to develop a discernment of self-compassion from self-promotion.  Paul Gilbert, author of Compassionate Mind, notes that self-compassion and compassion for others go hand-in-hand.  He also is very clear in pointing out the difference between self-compassion and self-promotion.  In fact, as I read it, the latter is a shadow side of the former, cultivating competitiveness, entitlement, and personal indulgence.

It’s hard to differentiate just by listening to the words.  Is it setting a boundary?  Or is it holding a possessive view?  Is it clarifying the nature of self?  Or is it clinging to Self?  It’s a tricky line we all cross over and over.  And I see myself caught in its sticky web when I blunder along assuming the other has not only the same aspiration for a mutual outcome but the same North Star to guide us there.

Thank you for practising,


coming home to compassion

This is a day to remember what compassion can bring us.  Beginning with compassion for ourselves, we can radiate out in never-ending circles compassion for all beings.

Only if we begin with compassion for ourselves.

The video is from Upaya Zen Center: Coming Home to Compassion – Upaya Zen Institute

I like to listen to the chanting first with my eyes closed then the second time letting the images penetrate. I don’t know if it helps me act with more compassion. It does help me stop for 7 minutes and 20 seconds before I re-engage.

Thank you for practising,