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Readings from 2015-2016

Table of Contents
Dignity Of Restraint Thanissaro Bhikkhu

He Who Accumulates Cannot Learn J. Krishnamurti

!W hat Do I Really Need Right Now? Sharon Salzberg

Real Security Is A Process Eve Ensler


It All Goes Wrong Anyway Ajahn Brahm


Be A Light Unto Yourself J. Krishnamurti


Lessening The Power Of Negative Emotions The Dalai Lama


Balancing Vision And Routine Bhikkhu Bodhi


A Deep, Uncritical Love Bhante Gunaratna


How Generosity Blossoms Into Meditation Sharon Salzberg


Why Are We Running Out Of Time? Jacob Needleman


Understanding And Cultivating Silence Ajahn Sumedho


Why Not Be Ready? Tenzin Palmo


Believers In Small Graces Kent Nerbern


When You Run Into Problems Bhante Gunaratna


Kindness: The First Gift John O'donohue


The Trick Is To Keep Seeing Pema Chodron


Rediscovering The Art Of Reverence John O'donohue


Renewability Makes Something Valuable Martin Prechtel


That Friend Walking Behind Me Parker Palmer


Perspective Chanie Gorkin


Learning Not To Be Afraid Of Things That Are Real Thanissaro Bhikkhu


Dignity of Restraint
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
A word that tends to disappear from common vocabulary is restraint: foregoing certain
pleasures, not because we have to, but because they go against our principles. The
opportunity to indulge in those pleasures may be there, but we learn how to say no. This
of course is related to another word we tend not to use, and thats temptation. Even
though we dont have to believe that theres someone out there actively tempting us,
there are things all around us that do, that tempt us to give in to our desires. And an
important part of our practice is that we exercise restraint.

Whats good about it? Well, for one thing, if we dont have any restraint, we dont have
any control over where our lives are going. Anything that comes our way immediately
pulls us into its wake. We dont have any strong sense of priorities, of whats really
worthwhile, of whats not worthwhile, of the pleasures wed gain by saying no to other
pleasures. How do we rank the pleasures in our lives, the happiness, the sense of wellbeing that we get in various ways? Actually, theres a sense of well-being that comes from
being totally independent, from not needing other things. If that state of well-being
doesnt have a chance to develop, if were constantly giving in to our impulse to do this
or take that, well never know what that well-being is.

At the same time, well never know our impulses. When you simply ride with your
impulses, you dont understand their force. Theyre like the currents below the surface of
a river: only if you try to build a dam across the river will you detect those currents and
appreciate how strong they are. So we have to look at whats important in life, develop a
strong sense of priorities, and be willing to say no to the currents that would lead to less

worthwhile pleasures.

As the Buddha said, if you see a greater pleasure that comes from forsaking a lesser
pleasure, be willing to forsake that lesser pleasure for the greater one. Sounds like a nobrainer, but if you look at the way most people live, they dont think in those terms.
They want everything that comes their way. They want to have their cake and
enlightenment, too; to win at chess without sacrificing a single pawn. Even when they
meditate, their purpose in developing mindfulness is to gain an even more intense
appreciation of the experience of every moment in life. Thats something you never see in
the teachings. The theme is always that you have to let go of this in order to gain that,
give this up in order to arrive at that. Theres always a trade-off.

This is why so much of the training lies in learning to put this aside, put that aside, give
this up, give that up. Developing this habit on the external level makes us reflect on the
internal level: Which attachments in the mind would be good to give up? Could our
mind survive perfectly well without the things we tend to crave?

When youre meditating, the same process holds. People sometimes wonder why they
cant get their minds to concentrate. Its because theyre not willing to give up other
interests, even for the time being. A thought comes and you just go right after it without
checking to see where its going. This idea comes that sounds interesting, that looks
intriguing, youve got a whole hour to think about whatever you want. If thats your
attitude toward the meditation period, nothings going to get accomplished. You have to
realize that this is your opportunity to get the mind stable and still. In order to do that,
you have to give up all kinds of other thoughts. Thoughts about the past, thoughts about
the future, figuring this out, planning for that, whatever: you have to put them all aside.
No matter how wonderful or sophisticated those thoughts are, you just say no to them.
~ Excerpted from Dignity in Restraint, Tricycle magazine, Spring 2004.

He Who Accumulates Cannot Learn

J. Krishnamurti
It seems that communion is a very difficult art. To commune with one another over the
many problems that we have requires listening and learning, which are both very difficult
to do. Most of us hardly listen, and we hardly learn. To commune with each other,
which is what these meetings are intended for, requires a certain capacity, a certain way
of listening - not merely to gather information, which any schoolboy can do, but rather
listening in order to understand. []

It seems to me of the utmost importance that we do listen in order to learn. Learning is

not merely the accumulation of knowledge. Knowledge never brings perception;
experience never flowers into the beauty of understanding. Most of us listen with the
background of what we know, of what we have experienced. Perhaps you have never
noticed the difference between the mind that really learns and the mind that merely
accumulates, gathers knowledge. The mind that is accumulating knowledge never learns.
It is always translating what it hears in terms of its own experience, in terms of the
knowledge which it has gathered; it is caught up in the process of accumulating, of
adding to what it already knows, and such a mind is incapable of learning. I do not know
if you have noticed this. [...] So it seems to me very important that we commune with
each other quietly, in a dignified manner, and for that there must be a listening and a

When you commune with your own heart, when you commune with your friend, when
you commune with the skies, with the stars, with the sunset, with a flower, then surely
you are listening so as to find out, to learn - which does not mean that you accept or
deny. You are learning, and either acceptance or denial of what is being said puts an end
to learning. When you commune with the sunset, with a friend, with your wife, with
your child, you do not criticize, you do not deny or assert, translate or identify. You are

communing, you are learning, you are searching out. From this inquiry comes the
movement of learning, which is never accumulative.

I think it is important to understand that a man who accumulates can never learn. Selflearning implies a fresh, eager mind - a mind that is not committed, a mind that does not
belong to anything, that is not limited to any particular field. It is only such a mind that

~ Excerpted from Krishnamurtis first talk in Madras, India in 1959.

!What Do I Really Need Right Now?

Sharon Salzberg

An essential question we might ask ourselves is, 'What do I really need right now, in this
moment, to be happy?' The world offers us many answers to that question: You need a
new car and a new house and a new relationship and . . . But do we really? 'What do I
lack right now? Does anything need to change in order for me to be happy? What do I
really need?' These are powerful questions.

When I have gone on retreat in Southeast Asian countries there is generally no charge for
staying at the monasteries or the retreat centers, where all of the food is donated. Often
it is donated by groups or families who come to the center to make the offerings. I'm
sure that all of these groups of people offer absolutely the best that they can afford, but
each day what is provided can differ quite a lot depending on the circumstances of those
who are donating. Sometimes it is a lavish, bountiful feast. Sometimes it is quite meager,
because that is all that the family can provide.

Time after time, I went into the dining room for a meal and looked at the faces of the
people who had made the offering, since they commonly come to watch you receive it.
They would look radiant, so happy that they'd had an opportunity to feed us, to offer
something that would help sustain us. They seemed so happy that we were going to be
meditating, exploring the truth, and purifying our minds and hearts on the strength of
their offering. In that moment, when they were so genuinely grateful for the chance to
give, I would ask myself, 'What do I really need right now in order to be happy?" I
realized that I was getting fed a lot more by their joy and delight than I was by the actual

The Dalai Lama has said, 'If you are going to be selfish, be wisely selfish.' In other words,
if we carefully look at our lives we can see that we spend an awful lot of time looking for
happiness in the wrong places and in the wrong ways. We yearn to be happy, and this is

right. It is appropriate; all beings want to be happy. The problem is not in the urge, or
yearning, but in our ignorance. So very often we don't know where happiness is to be
found that is, true and genuine happiness, abiding happiness and so we flounder,
and we suffer and cause suffering to others.

As I go through all kinds of feelings and experiences in my journey through life

delight, surprise, chagrin, dismay I hold this question as a guiding light: 'What do I
really need right now to be happy?' What I come to over and over again is that only
qualities as vast and deep as love, connection, and kindness will really make me happy in
any sort of enduring way.

~Excerpted from "The Kindness Handbook: A Practical Companion"


Real Security is a Process

Eve Ensler
Why are we suddenly a nation and a people who strive for security above all else? In fact,
security is essentially elusive, impossible. We all die. We all get sick. We all get old.
People leave us. People surprise us. People change us. Nothing is secure. And this is the
good news. But only if you are not seeking security as the point of your life.

Here's what happens when security becomes the center of your life. You can't travel very
far or venture too far outside a certain circle. You can't allow too many conflicting ideas
into your mind at one time as they might confuse you or challenge you. You can't open
yourself to new experiences, new people, and new ways of doing things. They might take
you off course. You cling desperately to your identity.

Of course now you can no longer feel what another person feels because that might
shatter your heart, confuse your basic thinking, destroy the whole structure. Ideas get
shorter -- they become sound bites. There are evildoers and saviours. Criminals and
victims. Those who are not with us are against us. It gets easier to hurt people because
you do not feel what's inside them.

But all of this offers only a false sense of security. Real security means contemplating
death, not pretending it doesn't exist. It means not running from loss, but feeling it,
surrendering to sorrow, entering grief.

Real security is not knowing something when you don't know it. Real security cannot be
bought or arranged or accomplished with bombs. It is deeper. It is a process. It is the
acute awareness that we are all utterly interdependent and that one action by one being
in one town has consequences everywhere.


Real security is the ability to tolerate mystery, complexity, ambiguity -- indeed hungering
for these things.

~Excerpted from an article that originally appeared in Ode Magazine


It All Goes Wrong Anyway

Ajahn Brahm
Wherever you live -- in a monastery, in a city, or on a quiet tree-lined street -- you will
always experience problems and difficulties from time to time. This is just the nature of
life. So when you have problems with your health you shouldnt say, Doctor, there is
something wrong with me -- Im sick; rather you should say, There is something right
with me -- Im sick today. Its the nature of the human body to be sick now and again.
Its also the nature of the septic system to need pumping out when you dont expect it,
and its the nature of the water heater to sometimes break down. Its the nature of life to
be this way. Even though we struggle as human beings to try to make life go smoothly for
ourselves and others, nevertheless its impossible to ensure that happens.

Whenever you experience any pain or difficulty, always remember one of the deep
meanings of the word suffering: asking the world for something it can never give you. We
expect and ask impossible things from the world. We ask for the perfect home and job
and that all the things we work hard to build and arrange run perfectly at the right time
and place. Of course, that is asking for something that can never be given. We ask for
profound meditation and enlightenment, right here and now. But thats not the way this
universe works. If you ask for something that the world cant supply, you should
understand that youre asking for suffering.

So whether you work or meditate, please accept that things will go wrong from time to
time. Your job is not to ask for things the world cant give you. Your job is to observe.
Your job is not to try to prod and push this world to make it just the way you would like
it to be. Your job is to understand, accept, and let it go. The more you fight your body,
your mind, your family, and the world, the more collateral damage youll cause and the
more pain youll experience.


Sometimes, when we understand and stand back from our daily lives, we see the big
picture. We see theres nothing wrong with the monastery, nothing wrong with us,
nothing wrong with life. We understand that its just the nature of the world to go
"wrong" -- thats what the Buddha meant by the first noble truth of suffering. You work,
struggle, and strive so hard to make your life just right -- to make your home, your body,
and your mind just right -- and it all goes wrong anyway.

~Excerpted from his book, Art of Disappearing


Be A Light Unto Yourself

J. Krishnamurti
To be aware is to watch your bodily activity, the way you walk, the way you sit, the
movements of your hands; it is to hear the words you use, to observe all your thoughts,
all your emotions, all your reactions. It includes awareness of the unconscious, with its
traditions, its instinctual knowledge, and the immense sorrow it has accumulated-- not
only personal sorrow, but the sorrow of man. You have to be aware of all that; and you
cannot be aware of it if you are merely judging, evaluating, saying, "This is good and that
is bad, this I will keep and that I will reject," all of which only makes the mind dull,

From awareness comes attention. Attention flows from awareness when in that awareness
there is no choice, no personal choosing, no experiencing... but merely observing. And, to
observe, you must have in the mind a great deal of space. A mind that is caught in
ambition, greed, envy, in the pursuit of pleasure and self-fulfillment, with its inevitable
sorrow, pain, despair, anguish-- such a mind has no space in which to observe, to attend.
It is crowded with its own desires, going round and round in its own backwaters of
reaction. You cannot attend if your mind is not highly sensitive, sharp, reasonable,
logical, sane, healthy, without the slightest shadow of neuroticism. The mind has to
explore every corner of itself, leaving no spot uncovered, because if there is a single dark
corner of one's mind which one is afraid to explore, from that springs illusion...

It is only in the state of attention that you can be a light unto yourself, and then every
action of your daily life springs from that light-- every action-- whether you are doing
your job, cooking, going for a walk, mending clothes, or what you will. This whole
process is meditation....
~Excerpt from his talk in Saanen, Switzerland, 1963.


Lessening the Power of Negative Emotions

The Dalai Lama
I profoundly believe that real spiritual change comes about not by merely praying or
wishing that all negative aspects of our minds disappear and all positive aspects blossom.
It is only by our concerted effort, an effort based on an understanding of how the mind
and its various emotional and psychological states interact, that we bring about true
spiritual progress. If we wish to lessen the power of negative emotions, we must search
for the causes that give rise to them. We must work at removing or uprooting those
causes. At the same time, we must enhance the mental forces that counter them: what
we might call their antidotes. This is how a meditator must gradually bring about the
mental transformation he or she seeks.
How do we undertake this? First we identify our particular virtue's opposing factors. The
opposing factor of humility would be pride or vanity. The opposing factor of generosity
would be stinginess. After identifying these factors, we must endeavor to weaken and
undermine them. While we are focused on these opposing factors, we must also be
fanning the flames of the virtuous quality we hope to internalize. When we feel most
stingy, we must make an extra effort to be generous. When we feel impatient or
judgmental, we must do our utmost to be patient.
When we recognize how our thoughts have particular effects upon our psychological
states, we can prepare ourselves for them. We will then know that when one state of
mind arises, we must counter it in a particular way; and if another occurs, we must act
appropriately. When we see our mind drifting toward angry thoughts of someone we
dislike, we must catch ourselves; we must change our mind by changing the subject. It is
difficult to hold back from anger when provoked unless we have trained our mind to first
recollect the unpleasant effects such thoughts will cause us. It is therefore essential that
we begin our training in patience calmly, not while experiencing anger. We must recall in
detail how, when angry, we lose our peace of mind, how we are unable to concentrate on
our work, and how unpleasant we become to those around us. It is by thinking long and
hard in this manner that we eventually become able to refrain from anger.


One renowned Tibetan hermit limited his practice to watching his mind. He drew a
black mark on the wall of his room whenever he had an unvirtuous thought. Initially his
walls were all black; however, as he became more mindful, his thoughts became more
virtuous and white marks began to replace the black ones. We must apply similar
mindfulness in our daily lives.

~Excerpted from "An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life", edited by
Nicholas Vreeland.


Balancing Vision and Routine

Bhikkhu Bodhi
All human activity can be viewed as an interplay between two contrary but equally
essential factors -- vision and repetitive routine. Vision is the creative element in activity,
whose presence ensures that over and above the settled conditions pressing down upon
us from the past we still enjoy a margin of openness to the future, a freedom to discern
more meaningful ends and to discover more efficient ways to achieve them. Repetitive
routine, in contrast, provides the conservative element in activity. It is the principle that
accounts for the persistence of the past in the present, and it enables the successful
achievements of the present to be preserved intact and faithfully transmitted to the
future. [...]

When one factor prevails at the expense of the other, the consequences are often
undesirable. If we are bound to a repetitive cycle of work that deprives us of our freedom
to inquire and understand things for ourselves, we soon stagnate, crippled by the chains
of routine. If we are spurred to action by elevating ideals but lack the discipline to
implement them, we may eventually find ourselves wallowing in idle dreams or
exhausting our energies on frivolous pursuits. It is only when accustomed routines are
infused by vision that they become springboards to discovery rather than deadening ruts.
And it is only when inspired vision gives birth to a course of repeatable actions that we
can bring our ideals down from the ethereal sphere of imagination to the somber realm of
fact. It took a flash of genius for Michelangelo to behold the figure of David invisible in a
shapeless block of stone; but it required years of prior training, and countless blows with
hammer and chisel, to work the miracle that would leave us a masterpiece of art. [...]

Though the emphasis may alternate from phase to phase, ultimate success in the
development of the path always hinges upon balancing vision with routine in such a way
that each can make its maximal contribution. However, because our minds are keyed to
fix upon the new and distinctive, in our practice we are prone to place a one-sided


emphasis on vision at the expense of repetitive routine. Thus we are elated by

expectations concerning the stages of the path far beyond our reach, while at the same
time we tend to neglect the lower stages -- dull and drab, but far more urgent and
immediate -- lying just beneath our feet.

~Excerpted from Balancing Vision and Routine, at Access to Insight, 1998


A Deep, Uncritical Love

Bhante Gunaratna
You can't make radical changes in the pattern of your life until you begin to see yourself
exactly as you are now. As soon as you do that, changes will flow naturally. You don't
have to force anything, struggle, or obey rules dictated to you by some authority. It is
automatic; you just change.

But arriving at that initial insight is quite a task. You have to see who you are and how
you are without illusion, judgment or resistance of any kind. You have to see your place
in society and your function as a social being. You have to see your duties and obligations
to your fellow human beings, and above all, your responsibility to yourself as an
individual living with other individuals. And finally, you have to see all of that clearly as a
single unit, an irreducible whole of interrelationship. It sounds complex, but it can occur
in a single instant. Mental cultivation through meditation is without rival in helping you
achieve this sort of understanding and serene happiness. [...]

Meditation is intended to purify the mind. It cleanses the thought process of what can be
called psychic irritants, things like greed, hatred and jealousy, which keep you snarled up
in emotional bondage. Meditation brings the mind to a state of tranquility and
awareness, a state of concentration and insight.

Meditation is called the Great Teacher. It is the cleansing crucible fire that works slowly
but surely, through understanding. The greater your understanding, the more flexible and
tolerant, the more compassionate you can be. You become like a perfect parent or an
ideal teacher. You are ready to forgive and forget. You feel love toward others because
you understand them, and you understand others because you have understood yourself.
You have looked deeply inside and seen self-illusion and your own human failings, seen
your own humanity and learned to forgive and to love. When you have learned
compassion for yourself, compassion for others is automatic. An accomplished meditator


has achieved a profound understanding of life, and he or she inevitably relates to the
world with a deep and uncritical love.

~Excerpted from "Mindfulness in Plain English"


How Generosity Blossoms Into Meditation

Sharon Salzberg
The cultivation of generosity is the beginning of the path. [...] The path begins there
because of the joy that arises from a generous heart. Pure, unhindered delight flows freely
when we practice generosity. We experience joy in forming the intention to give, in the
act of giving, and in recollecting the fact that we've given.

If we practice joyful giving, we grow in self-esteem, self-respect and well-being, because

we continually test our limits. Our attachments say, "I will give this much and no more,"
or "I will give this article or object if I am appreciated enough for doing so." In the
practice of generosity, we learn to see through our attachments. We see they are
transparent, that they have no solidity. They dont need to hold us back, so we can go
beyond them.

Therefore, the practice of generosity is about creating space. We see our limits and we
extend them continuously, which creates a deep expansiveness and spaciousness of mind.
This happiness, self-respect, and spaciousness is the appropriate ground for meditation
practice to flourish. It is the ideal place from which to undertake deep investigation,
because with this kind of inner happiness and spaciousness, we have the strength and
flexibility to look at everything that arises in our experience.

The aim of giving is twofold. The first is to free our minds from the conditioned forces
that bind and limit us. Craving, clinging, and attachment bring confinement and lack of
self-esteem. If were always looking for some person or thing to complete us, we miss the
degree to which we are complete in every moment. Its a bit like leaning on a mirage only
to find that it cant hold us; theres nothing there. The second purpose is to free others,
to extend welfare and happiness to all beings, to lessen the suffering in this world. When
our practice of generosity is genuine, we realize inner spaciousness and peace, and we
also extend boundless caring to all living beings.


The movement of the heart in practicing generosity mirrors the movement of the heart
that inwardly lets go. So the external training of giving deeply influences the internal
feeling-tone of the meditation practice, and vice versa. If we cultivate a generous heart,
then we can more easily allow things to be the way they are.

~Excerpted from In Generosity's Perfection


Why Are We Running Out of Time?

Jacob Needleman
Technology itself is not the cause of our problem of time. Its influence on our lives is a
result, not a cause -- the result of an unseen accelerating process taking place in
ourselves, in our inner being. Whether we point to the effect of communication
technology (such as e-mail) with its tyranny of instant communication; or to the
computerization, and therefore the mentalization of so many human activities that
previously required at least some participation of our physical presence; or to any of the
innumerable transformations of human life that are being brought about by new
technology, the essential element to recognize is how much of what we call "progress" is
accompanied by and measured by the fact that human beings need less and less conscious
attention to perform their activities and lead their lives.
The real power of faculty of attention, unknown to modern science, is one of the
indispensable and most central measures of humanness -- of the being of a man or a
woman -- and has been so understood, in many forms and symbols, at the heart of all the
great spiritual teachings of the world.
The effects of advancing technology, for all the material promise they offer the world
(along with the dangers, of course) is but the most recent wave in a civilization that,
without recognizing what it was doing, has placed the satisfaction of desire above the
cultivation of being. The deep meaning of many rules of conduct and moral principles of
the past -- so many of which have been abandoned without our understanding their real
roots in human nature -- involved the cultivation and development of the uniquely
human power of attention, its action in the body, heart and mind of man. To be present,
truly present, is to have conscious attention. This capacity is the key to what it means to
be human.
It is not, therefore, the rapidity of change as such that is the source of our problem of
time. It is the metaphysical fact that the being of man is diminishing. In the world as in


oneself, time is vanishing because we have lost the practice of consciously inhabiting our
life, the practice of conscious attention to ourselves as we go about our lives.

~Excerpted from Time and the Soul


Understanding and Cultivating Silence

Ajahn Sumedho
Awareness is your refuge:
Awareness of the changingness of feelings,
of attitudes, of moods, of material change and emotional change:
Stay with that, because its a refuge that is indestructible.

Its not something that changes.

Its a refuge you can trust in.
This refuge is not something that you create.
Its not a creation. Its not an ideal.
Its very practical and very simple, but easily overlooked or not noticed.
When youre mindful,
youre beginning to notice,
its like this.
So in terms of meditation, we are establishing awareness in the present, collecting,
recollecting, contemplating one-pointedness in the present the body, the breath, the
sound of silence. Then we can bring to this an attitude of mett (loving-kindness), which
is a way of relating to and recognizing conditioned phenomena without judging them.

Without this attitude we tend to make value- judgements about what we experience on
a personal level. One person is feeling peace, another person is feeling restless, another
person is feeling inspired, another person is feeling bored, another person high, another
low; or youre having good or bad thoughts, stupid or useful thoughts, which are


judgments about the quality of the experience that each one of us is having. In terms of
knowing, we are knowing that thought is a conditioned arising and ceasing. Even bad
thoughts or horrible thoughts arise and cease, just like good thoughts. Its not a matter
of passing judgement about how bad you are because you are having bad thoughts, its
about the ability to recognize thought, and to see that the nature of thought is
impermanent, changing, not-self. So now just use this cosmic hum, this gentle stream of
flowing scintillating sound. Just get familiar with it.

I used to have what I call an 'inner tyrant', a bad habit that I picked up of always
criticizing myself. It's a real tyrant -- there is nobody in this world that has been more
tyrannical, critical or nasty to me than I have. Even the most critical person, however
much they have harmed and made me miserable, has never made me relentlessly
miserable as much as I have myself, as a result of this inner tyrant. It's a real wet blanket
of a tyrant, no matter what I do it's never good enough. Even if everybody says, "Ajahn
Sumedho, you gave such a wonderful dhamma talk", the inner tyrant says "You shouldn't
have said this, you didn't say that right." It goes on, in an endless perpetual tirade of
criticism and fault-finding. Yet it's just habit, I freed my mind from this habit, it does not
have any footing anymore. I know exactly what it is, I no longer believe in it, or even try
to get rid of it, I just know not to pursue it and just to let it dissolve into the silence.

That's a way of breaking a lot of these emotional habits we have that plague us and
obsess our minds. You can actually train your mind, not through rejection or denial but
through understanding and cultivating this silence. So don't use this silence as a way of
annihilating or getting rid of what is arising in experience, but as a way of resolving and
liberating your mind from the obsessive thoughts and negative attitudes that can
endlessly plague conscious experience.

~Excerpted from Intuitive Awareness


Why Not Be Ready?

Tenzin Palmo
Our everyday life is our spiritual life. If we have awareness to be able to use our everyday
life as practice, then our lives have meaning. Otherwise, the days go byimpermanence,
as we knowmoment to moment to moment, day after day, year after year, and
suddenly, there we are, faced with death, and what have we done? We dont know when
we are going to die. Every breath we take could be our last breath: we dont know.
When we wake up in the morning, we should say, How amazing that I lasted this whole
day and I havent died yet. Who knows when well die? We honestly dont know. All
these people killed in accidents on the roaddid they think they were going to die?
Death comes without respect for age or success or beauty or health. When we go, we go.
So we have to live each day as if it were our last. If we really thought, Tomorrow, Im
going to die, what would we do with today? Surely we would really start to re-evaluate
our whole situation.

Once when I was in my cave, there was a raging blizzard and I was snowed in. The
blizzard blew seven days and seven nights non-stop and the cave was completely covered.
When I opened the window, there was just a sheet of ice; when I opened the door, there
was a sheet of ice. I thought, This is it, because the cave was very small and I would
surely run out of oxygen and die. So I got myself all ready [...] and I went through my
life. I regretted the things I had done wrong, and I rejoiced in the things I had done right.
It was very salutary because I really believed that I only had a day or two left at most. It
really put things into perspectivewhat was important and what was not important;
what was important for me to think and what was totally irrelevant for me to think.
Normally our minds are filled with non-stop chatter, the running commentary of totally
useless soap-opera dialogue that we present to ourselves. But when we believe weve only
got a limited amount of time to keep thinking, we become very discriminating in our
thoughts, and much more conscious of how were using our time and of what were
doing with our mind.


If we live thinking that each day is our last, it helps us appreciate each moment. This is
not being fatalistic or gloomy. If this was our last day on earth, we would be careful of
our time. We wouldnt create more problems; we would try to solve the problems we
already have. Wed be nice to people. If were not going to see them again, why not be
nice to them? Wouldnt we be kind to our family, our children, our partners, and the
people that were leaving, if we thought we were never going to see them again? Because,
who knows? We might not. One day, we wont.

Why not be ready?

~Excerpted from Into the Heart of Life


Believers in Small Graces

Kent Nerbern
There are those who search God in the quiet places -- no churches, no public displays of
piety, no dramatic or flamboyant rituals.
They may be found standing in humble awe before a sunset, or weeping quietly at the
beauty of a Bach concerto, or filled with an overflowing of pure love at the sight of an
infant in the arms of its mother.

You may meet them visiting the elderly, comforting the lonely, feeding the hungry, and
caring for the sick.

The greatest among them may give away what they own in the name of compassion and
goodness, while never once uttering the word God out loud. Or they may do no more
than offer a smile or a hand to someone in need, or quietly bow their heads at a moment
of beauty that passes through their lives, and say a simple prayer of gratitude to the spirit
that has created us all.

They are the lovers of the quiet God, the believers in the small graces of ordinary life.

Theirs is not the grand way, the way of the mystic or the preacher or the zealot or the
saint. Some would say that theirs is not a way at all. All they know for certain is that life
has beauty and a joy that transcends all the darkness that surrounds us, that something
ineffable lives beyond the ordinary affairs of the day, and that without this mystery our
lives would not be worth living.

I honor those who search for the quiet God, who seek the spirit in the small moments of


our everyday life. It is a celebration of the ordinary, a reminder that when all else is
stripped away, a life lived with love is enough.

~Excerpted from Small Graces: The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life


When You Run Into Problems

Bhante Gunaratna
You are going to run into problems in your meditation. Everybody does. Problems come
in all shapes and sizes and the only thing you can be absolutely certain about is that you
will have some. The main trick in dealing with obstacles is to adopt the right attitude.
Difficulties are an integral part of your practice. They aren't something to be avoided;
they are to be used. They provide invaluable opportunities for learning.

The reason we are all stuck in life's mud is that we ceaselessly run from our problems and
after our desires. Meditation provides us with a laboratory situation in which we can
examine this syndrome and devise strategies for dealing with it. The various snags and
hassles that arise during meditation are grist for the mill. [...]

So don't be surprised when you hit some experience that feels like a brick wall. don't
think you are special. All seasoned meditators have had their own brick walls. They come
up again and again. Just expect them and be ready to cope. Your ability to cope with
trouble depends on your attitude. If you can learn to regard these hassles as
opportunities, as chances to develop in your practice, you'll make progress. Your ability
to deal with some issue that arises in meditation will carry over into the rest
of your life and allow you to smooth out big issues that really bother you. If you try to
avoid each piece of nastiness that arises in meditation, you are reinforcing the habit that
has already made life seem so unbearable at times.

It is essential to learn to confront the less pleasant aspects of existence. Our job as
meditators is to learn to be patient with ourselves, to see ourselves in an unbiased way,
complete with all our sorrows and inadequacies. We have to learn to be kind to


ourselves. In the long run avoiding unpleasantness is a very unkind thing to do to

yourself. Paradoxically, kindness entails confronting unpleasantness when it arises. [...]

When you are having a bad time, examine that experience, observe it mindfully, study
the phenomenon and learn its mechanics. The way out of a trap is to study the trap
itself, and learn how it is built. You do this by taking the thing apart, piece by piece. The
trap can't trap you if it has been taken to pieces. The result is freedom.

~Excerpted from Mindfulness in Plain English


Kindness: The First Gift

John O'Donohue
There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things; it presides everywhere, often in the
places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous
and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself. Something deep in the human soul seems
to depend on the presence of kindness; something instinctive in us expects it, and once
we sense it we are able to trust and open ourselves.

Here in Conamara, the mountains are terse and dark; left to themselves they would
make for a brooding atmosphere. However, everywhere around and in between there are
lakes. The surface of these lakes takes on the variations of the surrounding light to create
subtle diffusions of color. Thus their presence qualifies the whole landscape with a sense
of warmth and imagination. If we did not feel that some ultimate kindness holds sway,
we would feel like outsiders confronted on every side by a world toward which we could
make no real bridges.

"The word kindness has a gentle sound that seems to echo the presence of compassionate
goodness. When someone is kind to you, you feel understood and seen. There is no
judgment or harsh perception directed toward you. Kindness has gracious eyes; it is not
small-minded or competitive; it wants nothing back for itself. Kindness strikes a
resonance with the depths of your own heart; it also suggests that your vulnerability,
though somehow exposed, is not taken advantage of; rather, it has become an occasion
for dignity and empathy. Kindness casts a different light, an evening light that has the
depth of color and patience to illuminate what is complex and rich in difference.

"Despite all the darkness, human hope is based on the instinct that at the deepest level
of reality some intimate kindness holds sway. This is the heart of blessing. To believe in
blessing is to believe that our being here, our very presence in the world, is itself the first


gift, the primal blessing. As Rilke says: Hier zu sein ist so viel to be here is immense.
Nowhere does the silence of the infinite lean so intensely as around the form of a newly
born infant. Once we arrive, we enter into the inheritance of everything that has
preceded us; we become heirs to the world. To be born is to be chosen. To be created
and come to birth is to be blessed. Some primal kindness chose us and brought us
through the forest of dreaming until we could emerge into the clearance of individuality,
with a path of life opening before us through the world.

"The beginning often holds the clue to everything that follows. Given the nature of our
beginning, it is no wonder that our hearts are imbued with longing for beauty, meaning,
order, creativity, compassion, and love. We approach the world with this roster of
longings and expect that in some way the world will respond and confirm our desire. Our
longing knows it cannot force the fulfillment of its desire; yet it does instinctively expect
that primal benevolence to respond to it. This is the threshold where blessing comes

~ Excerpted from


The Trick is to Keep Seeing

Pema Chodron
Shenpa (the Tibetan word), is usually translated attachment, but a more descriptive
translation might be hooked. When shenpa hooks us, were likely to get stuck. We
could call shenpa that sticky feeling. Its an everyday experience. Even a spot on your
new sweater can take you there. At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a
sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we
are. Thats the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into selfdenigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions
that end up poisoning us.
In practicing with shenpa, first we try to recognize it. The best place to do this is on the
meditation cushion. Sitting practice teaches us how to open and relax to whatever arises,
without picking and choosing. It teaches us to experience the uneasiness and the urge
fully, and to interrupt the momentum that usually follows. We do this by not following
after the thoughts and learning to come back to the present moment. We learn to stay
with the uneasiness, the tightening, the itch of shenpa. We train in sitting still with our
desire to scratch. This is how we learn to stop the chain reaction of habitual patterns
that otherwise will rule our lives. This is how we weaken the patterns that keep us
hooked into discomfort that we mistake as comfort. We label the spinoff thinking and
return to the present moment.
We could think of this whole process in terms of four Rs: recognizing the shenpa,
refraining from scratching, relaxing into the underlying urge to scratch and then resolving
to continue to interrupt our habitual patterns like this for the rest of our lives. What do


you do when you dont do the habitual thing? Youre left with your urge. Thats how you
become more in touch with the craving and the wanting to move away. You learn to
relax with it. Then you resolve to keep practicing this way.
Working with shenpa softens us up. Once we see how we get hooked and how we get
swept along by the momentum, theres no way to be arrogant. The trick is to keep
seeing. Dont let the softening and humility turn into self-denigration. Thats just
another hook. Because weve been strengthening the whole habituated situation for a
long, long time, we cant expect to undo it overnight. Its not a one-shot deal. It takes
loving-kindness to recognize; it takes practice to refrain; it takes willingness to relax; it
takes determination to keep training this way. It helps to remember that we may
experience two billion kinds of itches and seven quadrillion types of scratching, but there
is really only one root shenpa -- ego-clinging.

~Excerpted from: How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked, Lions Roar,
Buddhist Wisdom for our Time, March 2003.


Rediscovering the Art of Reverence

John O'Donohue
What you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of
your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach. An
encounter of depth and spirit was preceded by careful preparation.

When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life
comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things. When we walk
on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and
arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace. [...]

In order to become attentive to beauty, we need to rediscover the art of reverence. Our
world seems to have lost all sense of reverence. We seldom even use the word any more.
The notion of reverence is full of riches that we now need desperately. Put simply, it is
appropriate that a human being should dwell on this earth with reverence. As children
we become aware of the word 'reverence' as used to describe the way a person is present
in prayer or liturgy. When a priest celebrated the mass with a sense of reverence, you
sensed the depth of his presence to the mystery. Though the church was full of people,
he was absorbed in something that could not be seen. Ultimately, reverence is respect
before mystery.

But it is more than an attitude of mind; reverence is also physical a dignified attention
of body showing that sacred is already here. Reverence is not to be reduced to a social
posture. Reverence bestows dignity and it is only in light of dignity that the beauty and
mystery of a person will become visible. Reverence is not the stiff pious posture which
remains frozen and lacks humour and play. To live with a sense of reverence is not to
become a prisoner of dull piety.


Playfulness, humour, and even a sense of the anarchic are companions of reverence
because they insist on the proper proportion of the human presence in the light of the
eternal. Reverence is also the companion of humility. When human hubris intrudes on or
manipulates the sacred, the consequence is inevitably humiliation. In contrast, a sense of
reverence includes the recognition that one is always in the presence of the sacred.

To live with reverence is to live without judgment, prejudice and the saturation of
consumerism. The consumerist heart becomes empty and lonesome because it has
squandered reverence. As parent, child, lover, prayer or artist a sense of reverence
opens pathways to beauty to surprise us. The earth is full of thresholds where beauty
awaits the wonder of our gaze.

~Excerpted from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace


Renewability Makes Something Valuable

Martin Prechtel
In the village, people used to build their houses out of traditional materials, using no iron
or lumber or nails, but the houses were magnificent. Many were sewn together out of
bark and fiber. Like the house of the body, the house that a person sleeps in must be very
beautiful and sturdy, but not so sturdy that it wont fall apart after a while. If your house
doesnt fall apart, then there will be no reason to renew it. And it is this renewability that
makes something valuable. The maintenance gives it meaning.

The secret of village togetherness and happiness has always been the generosity of the
people, but the key to that generosity is inefficiency and decay. Because our village huts
were not built to last very long, they had to be regularly renewed. To do this, villagers
came together, at least once a year, to work on somebodys hut. When your house was
falling down, you invited all the folks over. The little kids ran around messing up what
everybody was doing. The young women brought the water. The young men carried the
stones. The older men told everybody what to do, and the older women told the older
men that they werent doing it right. Once the house was back together again, everyone
ate together, praised the house, laughed, and cried. In a few days, they moved on to the
next house. In this way, each familys place in the village was reestablished and
remembered. This is how it always was.

Then the missionaries and the businessmen and the politicians brought in tin and lumber
and sturdy houses. Now the houses last, but the relationships dont.

In some ways, crises bring communities together. Even nowadays, if theres a flood, or if
somebody is going to put a highway through a neighborhood, people come together to
solve the problem. Mayans dont wait for a crisis to occur; they make a crisis. Their
spirituality is based on choreographed disasters -- otherwise known as rituals -- in which


everyone has to work together to remake their clothing, or each others houses, or the
community, or the world. Everything has to be maintained because it was originally
made so delicately that it eventually falls apart. It is the putting back together again, the
renewing, that ultimately makes something strong. That is true of our houses, our
language, our relationships.

Its a fine balance, making something that is not so flimsy that it falls apart too soon, yet
not so solid that it is permanent. It requires a sort of grace. We all want to make
something thats going to live beyond us, but that thing shouldnt be a house, or some
other physical object. It should be a village that can continue to maintain itself. That
sort of constant renewal is the only permanence we should wish to attain.

~Excerpted from an interview in Sun Magazine.


That Friend Walking Behind Me

Parker Palmer
Imagine that for many years a friend had been walking a block behind me, calling my
name, trying to get my attention because he wanted to tell me some hard but healing
truths about myself. But I -- afraid of what I might hear, or arrogantly certain I had
nothing to learn -- ignored his calls and kept on walking.
So my friend came closer and called my name louder, but I walked on, refusing to turn
around. Closer still he came, now shouting my name. Frustrated by my lack of response,
he began to throw stones and hit me with sticks, still wanting nothing more than to get
my attention. But despite the pain I felt, I kept walking away.
Since calls and shouts, sticks and stones, had failed to get my attention, there was only
one thing left for my friend to do: drop the bomb called depression on me. He did so not
with intent to kill, but in a last-ditch effort to get me to turn toward him and ask a
simple question: What do you want? When I finally made that turn -- and began
taking in and acting on the self-knowledge hed been waiting to offer me -- I took first
steps on the path to wellbeing.
Thomas Merton's name for that friend is true self. This is not the ego self that wants
to inflate us. Its not the intellectual self that wants to hover above lifes mess with
logical but ungrounded ideas. Its not the ethical self that wants to live by someone elses
oughts. Its not the spiritual self that wants to slip the surly bonds of Earth and fly
nonstop to heaven.
True self is the self with which we arrived on earth, the self that simply wants us to be
who we were born to be. True self tells us who we are, where we are planted in the
ecosystem of life, what right action looks like for us, and how we can grow more fully
into our own potentials. As an old Hasidic tale reminds us, our mission is to live into the


shape of true self, not the shape of someone elses life: "Before he died, Rabbi Zusya said:
'In the world to come they will not ask me, Why were you not Moses? They will ask
me, Why were you not Zusya?
Memo to myself: Stay on the ground, turn around, ask and listen! True self is true friend
-- its a friendship we ignore at our peril. And pass the word: friends dont let friends live
at altitude!

~Excerpted from the article, Down is the Way to Well Being


Chanie Gorkin
Today was the absolutely the worst day ever
And dont try to convince me that
Theres something good in every day
Because, when you take a closer look
This world is a pretty evil place.

Even if
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Satisfaction and happiness dont last.

And its not true that

Its all in the mind and heart
True happiness can be obtained
Only if ones surroundings are good

Its not true that good exists

Im sure that you can agree that
The reality
My attitude
Its all beyond my control


And you will never in a million years hear me say that

Today was a good day.

Now please read from the bottom, left to right.

~This poem was given to Mariette Fourmeaux du Sartel of Service Space by a prisoner at a
high-security prison where she volunteers.


Learning Not to Be Afraid of Things That Are Real

Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Recently I've been looking through a field guide on nature observation. The author,
when he was a child, was trained by an old Native American. One day the child asked
the old man, "Why is it that you're not afraid of heat and cold?"
The old man looked at him for a while and finally said, "Because they're real."

And this is our job as meditators: to try to learn not to be afraid of things that are real.
Ultimately, we discover that things that are real pose no danger to the mind. The real
dangers in the mind are our delusions, the things we make up, the things we use to cover
up reality, the stories, the preconceived notions we impose on things. When we're trying
to live in those stories and notions, reality is threatening. It's always exposing the cracks
in our ideas, the cracks in our ignorance, the cracks in our desires. As long as we identify
with those make-believe desires, we find that threatening. But if we learn to become real
people ourselves, then reality poses no dangers.
This is what the meditation is for, teaching yourself how to be real, to get in touch with
what's really going on, to look at your sense of who you are and take it apart in terms of
what it really is, to look at the things that you find threatening in your life and see what
they really are. When you really look, you see the truth. If you're true in your looking,
the truth appears.
This is an important principle in the practice. [...] Only people who are true can see the
truth. Truth is a quality of the mind that doesn't depend on figuring things out or being
clever. It depends on having integrity in your actions and in your powers of observation,
accepting the truth as it is. It means accepting the fact that you play a role in shaping


that truth, so you have to be responsible. You have to be sensitive both to what you're
doing and to the results you get, so that you can learn to be more and more skillful.

~Excerpted from Thanissaro Bhikkhu's Dhamma Talk: Get Real


A bow of gratitude to:

The Mehta family for sitting in silence all those many years ago, thereby setting
in motion a pattern that is carried out in cities all over the world
Service Space and Nipun for extraordinary support to this little neck of the
Mamatha Talluri, for her warmth, generosity, and immediate willingness to give
our Circle a home
All the Circle members for being so caring and committed

May all beings be well, happy and peaceful.

For more information about our Circle, please write to:
Suchitra Shenoy