Friday, September 26, 2014



Lately we’ve been reflecting on the promise that mindfulness will make you all calm and peaceful. I’ve been reminding us that this is just nonsense. Mindfulness does not make you anything.  We do not act mindfully so we can get or be something. Its not like lifting big heavy weights which produce muscular enlargement or like studying French so you can speak a new language.

We are already fully capable of being attentive. We do it, more or less, in every single moment of our lives. The quality will vary depending on the susceptibility we have to distraction, to narrowing and to self-deception. Mindfulness is not acquiring anything new. In Indian language, it is a bhavana, that is how we cultivate what we are. This is an apt description because like cultivating an appreciation for Greek food or Country music, it is an expansion of our self-imposed limits to benefit from a wider and richer version of our already present experience and ability. When we cultivate a garden we begin with what we have and we work it, feed it and care for it so we can harvest what grows in these conditions. When we cultivate our attention, we similarly work it - we practice earnestly, we try new forms, we feed ourselves, and the harvest is a richer, deeper awareness of these moments of our lives.

The other point we return to with the promise of calmness is that when we set ourselves up to expect calmness and reject ourselves when we do not experience calm, we are just continuing the same discriminatory, non-accepting mind states which bring us so much distress. Both calm and agitation will arise in our practice, for the simple reason that they will arise in our lives. Neither is the real us, and the other some aberration. As our practice deepens, we will generally experience less agitation and more peace through the stability and flexibility and non-discrimination we have cultivated. This does not mean we have made ourselves calm. It means we are experiencing ourselves as calm without any fabrication, imposition or rejection.

When you come to your space of mindfulness, don’t  kid yourself that this is some magic space that will make you all calm, peaceful, spiritual or anything. We engage in practice to connect at our deepest level with who and how we are in that moment of our experience. The promise of calmness as a product is a reflection of our consumer culture where we see ourselves as missing something, what has been called a “sense of lack” or “scarcity”. This mindstate is the trap which ties is to a cycle of consuming to fill some imagined vacuum. Through our practice we are invited t experience that there is nothing missing. We are whole, complete and ever-changing. Calm may come but it may go as well. We sit to experience this from a place of attention and non-judgement.

Yours mindfully,                           

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Greetings All,

Here is part of a talk I gave at the Unitarian Congregation on Sunday, September 21. The entire text is on the Dharma Talk Link above


Lets begin by exploring the meaning of purposefulness in Buddhist psychology. Not so differently from our own Western psychology, Buddhist psychology strongly interweaves purpose and intention or cetana. Buddhists see intention as part of the process whereby we construct and maintain our identity. Purpose isn’t something given to us or acquired, the way we acquire opinions from the news. It is how we understand ourselves, how we establish meaning. It emerges from the inner processes of our minds.
Purpose is more than an understanding too. We could see it as a bull’s-eye on a target and intention as the archer’s arrow. Like an arrow on a drawn bow, intention is a potential. Until it is released, it is just a stick of wood hanging in the air. For it to give us satisfaction, it must be converted from potential to activity. Intention must be converted into intentional action.
This is how it relates to our identity.
We all contain many ideas, dreams and fantasies. Purpose will remain in the realm of dreams, and will only provide us with that desire of dreams until we witness ourselves taking action. For it to truly define us, purpose must be where we observe ourselves engaged in intentional and purposeful action.
Some of you may know the Indian term karma. Commonly, this is understood as reward and punishment. As people say, “what goes around comes around”. Unfortunately, this is a completely wrong-headed understanding of the Buddhist term. Karma has nothing to do with cosmic justice or moral principle. Karma means that tendency people have to act the way they have been acting. If you are addicted to watching reality TV, then the more you do that, the more you will continue to do that, and the more you will experiences the consequences that go along with that particular form of time-wasting. Karma isn’t something attached to us that we have to use up. It isn’t something that punishes us by making us reborn as some lower life-form. Karma is more of a momentum of purpose, so when we engage in certain intentional action, we will continue to do so. The Buddhist message is that we will do this and be burdened by the dissatisfaction and sorrow that comes with it, unless we use our mental abilities and physical actions to act differently. This is the reason for the Buddha’s Eight-fold Path teaching.

May you all know peace

Innen doshu
Om Namu Amida Butsu

Sunday, September 14, 2014



I chanced upon a superb movie recently. Avolokitisvara (China, 2013) is a somewhat historical story that takes us back into the 9th century in China during the Tang Dynasty. We follow several parallel stories which intersect several times over the 100 or so minutes of the film. The political story is built on the usual court plotting and scheming of the Emperor and his inner circle. The main character is the Princeling, the Emperor’s illegitimate son who, by chance, is also the first in line for the throne. He is hiding out, pretending to be retarded, but has his own circle of supporters. 

http://chinesemov.com/images/2013/Avalokitesvara-2013-4.jpgAs the film opens, he is fleeing to a Buddhist temple, Mount Wutai. Near that same temple a few decades earlier, a poor but gifted rural potter created the unique green porcelain figure of Kwan Shih Yin (aka Avolokitisvara, Kannon, etc.). The day it is pulled from the kiln a baby appears floating in a basket on a lotus pond. She is named Little Lotus and adopted by the potter. As she ages, she and her older brother become living models of compassion. Little Lotus and her brother are at the temple when the Princeling seeks refuge there. If that isn’t enough, a Japanese monk named Hui-e has arrived from japan on a mission to retrieve the statue for the Japanese Buddhist sangha. Apparently his Queen believes it will bring the Japanese people together.
Much of the detail is based on historical events, the story itself is touching. It concludes with connecting the story with the actual Mount Putuo, a national treasure of Buddhism in China.

You can watch this movie, with English subtitles at this location:

Yours in the Dharma,                           
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu   

Sunday, September 07, 2014


I was watching a 1980 film version of the Huxley classic, Brave New World, in pieces (it’s a 3 hour film) over the past week. This 1930's novel was required reading when I was in high school, along with its book-end , Orwell’s 1984. Both stories consider a distant future, the first in a world where blandness, ego-centricity and pleasure dominate; the other, where a different kind of blandness pervades, egos are obliterated in a grey sameness and pleasure is replaced by a devotion for the state brought to perfection in present-day North Korea.
I have frequently pondered on what the world would look like if Buddhist monastic values and structure were to predominate. I’m not convinced that the world-as-monastery would be a whole lot better than either of these literary fantasies. What the Buddha teaches us is the tendency of human beings to act out of the three kleshas, namely lust / greed, anger /aggression and stupidity /dullness. If governments and societies are composed of individuals with these values and behaviours, its hard to imagine a system which would achieve the perfection we imagine waiting for us at the end of the democratic, growth economics government experiment.

We need to recall that Shakyamuni was more of a radical than a reformer. He was not in any way proposing incremental change, guided development or anything that suggested that all we need to do is be better at what we are doing. The Dharma Way is not about being a “good person” , as so many would like it to be. The Dharma is fundamentally calling us to recognize the temporariness of all we know and believe about ourselves and our world. It calls us to open ourselves to infinite possibilities, including letting go of the mistaken clinging to this transient self and world.

Yours in the Dharma,                          
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu