Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden

by Karen Maezen Miller

In the early summer of 1997, my husband and I found ourselves in the backyard of an empty house on a quiet street in Sierra Madre, a suburb of Los Angeles. The backyard was Southern California’s oldest private Japanese garden, an oasis of ponds and pines that had stood mostly intact since 1916. It seemed like paradise with our name written all over it. We knew in our bones that the place could only be ours, and with it, the little house alongside it. The next day we put money down and a month later, moved in.

Once we arrived, we hit the bookstores and local nurseries. We studied up on Japanese gardens: their esoteric architecture, history and symbolism; and the very special way to rake, weed, prune, plant and water. We sought opinions, called in experts, and asked for conservative estimates — ha! — to redo this or that. The more we learned, the more we doubted. It was too much work. We were fools, without the right tools, training, or time. No wonder no one wanted to buy this place but us. It wasn’t paradise, but a colossal pain in the neck.

One day I ran across a single line in a thick book that made it all simple. It told the original meaning of the word “paradise” before it became a mythical ideal, imaginary and unattainable. Before it pointed somewhere else.

The word “paradise” originally meant simply an enclosed area.

Inside the word are its old Persian roots: pairi-, meaning “around,” and -diz “to create (a wall).” The word was first given to carefully tended pleasure parks and menageries, the sporting ground of kings. Later, storytellers used the word in creation myths, and it came to mean the Eden of peace and plenty.

But looking at it straight on, I could plainly see. Paradise is a backyard. Not just my backyard, but everyone’s backyard: the entire world we live in, bounded only by how far we can see.

There was only one thing to do. I began to garden. I got scratched, tired, and dirty. I pouted and wept, cursing the enormity of the task. I was resentful and unappreciative. But when I ventured afield, sidelined by things that seemed much more entertaining or important, I always came back to this patch of patient earth. Time after time I realized that the living truth of life is taught to me right here, no farther than the ground beneath my feet.

Sixteen years later, I do not know the chemistry of soils or the biology of compost. I have not mastered the nomenclature; I do not know the right time or way to prune. What I have learned instead is this: paradise is a patch of weeds.

What loyal friends, these undesirables that infiltrate the lawn, insinuate between cracks, and luxuriate in the deep shade of my neglect. Weeds are everywhere, showing up every day, my most reliable underlings. Weeds keep me going.

The most common weeds in the yard are crabgrass, dandelion, and chickweed. The most common weeds in the world are greed, anger, and ignorance.

Here are ten things to do to spare your garden from stubborn entanglements:

1. Blame no one. Blame is a powerful barrier: like prickly thistle, it spreads pain and disaffection. Blame turns the garden into a menace.

2. Take no offense. Consider the energy we expend to prolong fictional injuries. How hard is it to get over what’s already over? I know: it’s hard. But there’s a way.

3. Forgive. Forgiveness reconciles the rift between self and other. Forgive someone today—forgive yourself today— and feel the rift recede. Suddenly, it’s much easier to move on.

4. Do not compare. Satisfy yourself with what you have in hand. It may not look like much, but this right here is everything.

5. Take off your gloves. A nurseryman once told me, “A real gardener doesn’t wear gloves.” Native intelligence flows through your fingertips, wisdom received in direct connection with the world, telling you know how deep to dig and how hard to pull, when to gather and when to release. Self-defenses make you timid and clumsy.

6. Forget yourself. The world needs a few less people to own their own greatness and few more to own their own humility. When you can face reality without camouflage, yours is the face of compassion.

7. Grow old. It isn’t easy, it’s effortless.

8. Have no answers. In Zen, we don’t find the answers; we lose the questions. It’s impossible to comprehend the marvel of what we are, or to understand the mystery of life’s impeccable genius. Weed out the confusion that comes from trying to understand.

9. Seek nothing. Just for one moment take my word that you lack nothing. Have faith in yourself and the ground where you stand.

10. Go back to 1. The gardener’s job is always just beginning.

See more of Karen Maezen Miller’s beautiful garden and learn more about “Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden” in this four and a half minute video.

About Karen Maezen Miller:
Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen Buddhist priest and teacher at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. She’s the author of Hand Wash Cold, Momma Zen, and most recently Paradise in Plain Sight. Visit her online at www.karenmaezenmiller.com.

Adapted from the book Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.

Living the Season

At this point in my life I’ve read quite a few books about Zen Buddhism, and since it’s me I’ve forgotten a healthy chunk of what I’ve read. (Seriously, I’ve got an awful memory, even for things I really want to learn and retain.) However, despite my crappy memory I feel quite certain I’ve never encounter a Zen book quite like “Living the Season: Zen Practice for Transformative Times” by Ji Hyang Padma.

Often Ji Hyang Padma shares stories from her own life and own experiences making “Living the Season” part memoir. The Zen Buddhism discussed in the book is based on what is practiced in Korea, which you rarely read about in the West. I’d never seen it before so I found that very interesting. I learned that my favorite goddess, or Bodhisattva if you hang with the Buddhists, Kwan Yin, is referred to as Kwan Seum Bosal if you’re a Korean Buddhist. “Living the Season” has loads of exercises. Once Ji Hyang Padma gets you meditating the sky is the limit. Literally. One of the exercises is sky gazing!

Ji Hyang Padma’s writing is sincere in acknowledging what most of us already know, we’re in a time of upheaval and change. Her message is to understand how we’re all connected and work to be of service to each other and also be of service to our planet. All of this is conveyed in her beautiful voice, filled with authenticity. “Living the Season” is a story, a Zen practice, and a mission statement, not to be missed.

The Meaning of Life

By Brad Warner

In Zen we often say there is no meaning of life. When people first hear that, they think it sounds depressing. It sounds as if we’re saying that life is meaningless. But we’re not. We’re saying that any meaning you assign to life is, by necessity, incomplete. It cannot be otherwise. Trying to assign a meaning to life is like trying to stuff the whole ocean into a bucket.

But you can also say there is a meaning of life. It’s another one of those contradictions.

There isn’t a meaning of life in terms you could express as “Life means X, Y, and Z.” Yet meaning and life are intimately intertwined. Nishijima Roshi often said that there are two aspects of life, matter and meaning. These two aspects, he said, are manifestations of the same thing. It’s a different way of saying, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.”

Matter is matter. It’s books and tables and birds and 1962 Fender Jazz Bass guitars and so on. Meaning is that other, more nebulous side of life that can’t really be quantified. We experience meaning, so we know it’s real, even if we can’t weigh or measure it.

But what about when bad things happen to good people? If there really were a meaning of life and if there really was a God, surely my mother would have been spared the suffering she endured. If there really were a God there would be no war, disease, poverty, lousy boy bands, or crappy movies with all-star casts. How can there be any meaning to life if shit like that exists?

I get that. But the God I believe in doesn’t perform miracles. (More on that in a later chapter.) And the God I believe in isn’t just good, if good is just that which stands in contrast to evil. Joshu Sasaki Roshi, the Japanese Rinzai Zen teacher whom I quoted in the title of this book, said, “You are educated all your life to venerate God and reject evil. Zen education is totally different: it teaches you how to swallow God and the devil at once.”

When we talk about bad things happening to good people, using the word God can be problematic, as it can be in general. We tend to think of God as an independent agent who can work magic and fix bad situations. We have a long history of thanking God for things we like and cursing the devil for things we hate.

Many modern, rational people generally don’t believe in that kind of God. I certainly don’t. But we don’t need to leap to the conclusion that just because there isn’t a giant Santa Claus figure sitting on a throne up in heaven, therefore there is no meaning to life and there is no God.

The life we are leading right now is a manifestation of God. That we are alive is all the evidence we need to prove that God exists. I don’t mean that we need to postulate the existence of God to explain the fact that we’re here. I’m not talking about God as the first cause of everything. I’m saying that our direct experience of life is God. Life is God experiencing God, just as Dogen said when he said we are the eyes and ears “it” uses to experience itself.

As for annihilation, it is one of the crucial aspects of life that makes it what it is. It’s a cliché to say that we love our lives more because we know we’re going to lose them. But it’s not just that we will lose our lives at some undefined time in the future. We lose our lives every second of every day. The nature of the present moment is change, is annihilation.

It’s trendy these days to talk about “the now” and to celebrate the present moment. And that’s fine. It’s a good trend. But people often forget that the nature of the present moment is the total annihilation of what has gone before. The present moment is highly destructive as well as creative. This is why many of us fear it so much. The present moment is killing us!

But even this is a beautiful thing. The destructive power of the now, of God, is its way of creating us anew at every moment so that we can be here to enjoy its amazingness.

About Brad Warner:
Brad Warner is a Zen priest, filmmaker, blogger, and Japanese monster-movie marketer. He’s the author of Hardcore Zen; Sit Down & Shut Up; Sex, Sin & Zen; and most recently, There Is No God and He Is Always with You. Visit him online at http://hardcorezen.info/.

Excerpted from the new book There is No God and He is Always with You ©2013 by Brad Warner. Published with permission of New World Library http://www.newworldlibrary.com

The Buddha’s Apprentice at Bedtime

There is a lot to be said for a children’s books that entertains and educates both children and adults. So buckle in because I have a lot to say about “The Buddha’s Apprentice at Bedtime: Tales of Compassion and Kindness for You to Read with Your Child – Delight and Inspire” by Dharmachari Nagaraja.

The collection was inspired by the Jataka Tales, traditional stories offering guidance and wisdom which are believed to have been told by Buddha himself. The stories are focused on explaining the eight great principles that underpin Buddhism, known as the Eightfold Noble Path. “The Buddha’s Apprentice at Bedtime” also gives a brief overview of Buddhism, ideas of how to work with the stories and storytelling, and introducing meditation to children, if you’re so inclined.

However before you think Nagaraja brought us a book that is all work and no play, let me set your mind at ease. “The Buddha’s Apprentice at Bedtime” is filled with adorable and charming tales. You and your child won’t feel as if you’re being beat over the head with some sort of overbearing Buddhist message when reading these stories. Like the best children’s tales, there are lessons to be learned, but I wanted you to know it wasn’t some sort of indoctrination text. What it IS, is filled with stories of monkeys wearing high heels, beautiful horses mastering fear, little boys battling water serpents, tree spirits savings goats, and a Queen of monkeys teaching humans what it truly means to be a leader.

Monkeys with desserts and heels. Love it!

Last we’ve got to talk about the illustrations. “The Buddha’s Apprentice at Bedtime” is full color and fully illustrated. The art so adorable! I did a couple of scans that don’t do it justice, but you’ll at least get the idea, and the idea is that the art is fantastic! The book credits Sharon Tancredi with commissioned artwork. I’m not sure if that means we should be crediting Tancredi for all the magic the art imbues into the book or not, but the illustrations are a big part of what makes “The Buddha’s Apprentice’s at Bedtime” a great book.

Did I choose it for the spirit? Nope. I loved the goats and the camel.

And that’s what Nagaraja has given us; a really great book.

Follow Your Heart

An Excerpt from Chapter 5 of “Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi” by Brian Leaf

I have since found that feeling good about my work is absolutely crucial to my happiness. When I work a job that is out of line with my values, I become depressed, and when I am in dharma, following my heart, doing what I believe in and what feels right, I am filled with energy.

The Buddha called this “right livelihood.” He taught that one who seeks liberation cannot hope to find freedom on the backs of others. Right livelihood is critical to the spiritual path; often when people are out of line with their values they have to numb out or shut down, not only because they are bored and uninterested but also because the pain of being outside their morals or their heart’s call is too much to bear. Interestingly, yoga brings these issues to the surface. Many times I have seen students of yoga realize that their job is hurting them. Sometimes making a change is too much to face. In these cases, people usually stop practicing yoga, and the revelation fades.

One time I was in a new relationship and had moved far away from New Jersey to be with my girlfriend. I had been practicing yoga consistently for years, but without even noticing, I gave it up. A month later, browsing in a bookstore, I stumbled onto a quote from yoga teacher Dr. Jeff Migdow: “When people do yoga consistently they’re much more open to change. That’s the key: If I’m not open to making changes, then I won’t let myself be aware.”

The quote was a slap in the face. As if waking from a daze, I realized that I had not done postures in a month. And I saw that I had avoided yoga because it sharpened my awareness and showed me that I was unhappy. But because I had been unwilling to make a change — to move and leave the relationship — I had stopped doing the thing that increased my awareness. In this way, yoga is a catalyst that demands truth.

This truth includes, but is also subtler than, simply doing what is right or wrong, ethical or moral. It means listening to your heart’s call.

I love to share this with my tutoring students. I remember a student, Aidan, was considering college majors and said, “I’d love to be an architect, but the world needs environmental activists, so that’s what I’ll do.”

Aidan is correct. We do need environmental activists. But I believe that even more, we need people who are passionate about what they do, living from their heart. I don’t think one can actually serve the world best by assessing what the world needs. I think, instead, we serve the world best by responding to our heart’s call. Not our ego’s call, mind you, but our heart’s.

As an environmental activist, Aidan might make a difference. That’s true. But as an architect, Aidan will be following his bliss. He’ll be fulfilled and happy. He’ll be lit up and creative. He’ll be a beacon of light and energy. And, I trust, his environmental concerns will still find a very effective, perhaps more effective, medium — maybe he’ll design green buildings or discover environmentally sustainable building materials.

Joseph Campbell told his students, “If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living…Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”

And so, in our spiritual Easter egg hunt for the Keys to Happiness, we come to key number two:

Follow your heart.

Notice what gives you a feeling of rightness, ignites your creativity and passion, and makes you feel most alive, and pursue that.

Before every major decision, ask yourself, “Which choice feels right, is in line with my values, ignites my creativity and passion, and is an expression of my true self?”

And by the way, following your bliss does not automatically mean giving up your nine-to-five job at the insurance company to dust off your old Fender Stratocaster and get the college funk band back together. Sometimes the boring job at the insurance company is just right. Your bliss might be the paycheck that feeds your family and allows you to spend happy evenings and weekends together. Or not. Following your bliss only means tuning in to and following not your ego, not your mind, but your heart. Put another way, it means setting aside what you want and doing what God* wants for you. And God, I believe, communicates through our hearts and through a feeling of passion, vitality, and rightness.

About Brian Leaf:
Brian Leaf, M.A. is the author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. He draws upon twenty-one years of intensive study, practice, and teaching of yoga, meditation, and holistic health. Visit him online at http://www.Misadventures-of-a-Yogi.com.

Excerpted from the book “Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi” ©2012 by Brian Leaf. Published with permission of New World Library http://www.newworldlibrary.com

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi Video Contest

To celebrate the launch of his new book, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, author Brian Leaf is hosting a video contest with the theme “Insightful Yoga Comedy.” Video entries must be related to yoga, funny, insightful, and one to three minutes long. Each contest entry will be judged according to how well it meets these requirements. The Grand Prize winner will receive $250 and a signed copy of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. Two runner-ups will each receive $50 and a signed copy of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. Entries are due by 1/15/13 and must be submitted to misadventures.of.a.yogi@gmail.com. Give it a try!

Videos must be:
1. One to three minutes in length
2. Generally respectful of others. No videos intended to slander or harm any other person or their public image.

To enter, send a link to your video to misadventures.of.a.yogi@gmail.com along with your name, age, and city of residence. Write “Video Contest” in the email’s subject.
All entries must be received by midnight January 15, 2013.

Videos will be judged by Brian Leaf, author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, according to how well they achieve the contest’s themes (related to yoga, funny, insightful).

Winners will be announced on the Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi facebook page, www.facebook.com/Misadventures.of.a.Yogi, on Wednesday, February 20th at 3pm ET.

One Grand Prize winner will receive $250 and a signed copy of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi.

Two Runner-Ups will each receive $50 and a signed copy of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi.

Must be eighteen years or older to enter. No purchase necessary. Decisions are final.

Good luck!!

The Tibetans and The Grateful Dead

By Huston Smith

Mickey Hart, a drummer for the erstwhile Grateful Dead, is also a serious ethnomusicologist who now works with the Smithsonian Institution. Fascinated by the Tibetan monks’ multiphonic chanting, he put the infrastructure of the Dead to work and helped organize six sellout coast-to-coast tours with twelve of the Gyuto monks.

One evening the monks were returning to Mickey’s ranch, in Northern California, after a performance in the University of California’s Zellerbach Auditorium, in Berkeley. When the van reached the Marin side of the Richmond Bridge, out of the blue the monks asked the driver to pull over to the side of the road. They told Mickey that they sensed evil in the vicinity, and they wanted to alleviate it. Little did they know that at that moment they were passing San Quentin, a maximum-security penitentiary. Visibly moved, they asked if they could go into the prison and bless the inmates.

Mickey was skeptical, but he asked the sentry on duty, who referred the matter to his superior. The monks were admitted to the entrance, which was separated from the prison proper by about twelve yards. On the opposite side was an electric fence featuring elevated cages, which housed sharpshooters with cocked rifles.

The prison chaplain told us about a Christian group of prisoners who met regularly to pray and sing hymns. They were summoned, and for about half an hour they alternated with the monks, one group singing and praying, and the other group chanting. The monks were so moved by their encounter with the prisoners that they returned several times to repeat the ritual.

Later, I accompanied Mickey to the San Francisco Airport to say farewell to the monks, who where returning to India, for their final tour had ended. As the stairs for boarding the plane descended to the runway, the monks regrouped themselves and chanted a farewell blessing on the land that they were leaving. The passengers in the corridor who were proceeding to their departure gates were so captivated they stopped and clustered around the monks, listening intently. As the last monk disappeared into the plane and the door was closing, a woman asked us in wide-eyed wonder, “What was that all about?”

As if to answer her emphatically, Mickey shouted out to the departing monks the famous line from Star Wars, “May the Force be with you!”

Then, turning to me, Mickey said, “What am I saying? May the Force be with me! They already have it!”

About Huston Smith:
Huston Smith is recognized and revered as the preeminent teacher of world religions. Smith has taught at Washington University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Syracuse University, and the University of California, Berkeley. He has written fifteen books, including the classic “The World’s Religions”, which has sold over two million copies in many translations, and the New York Times bestseller “Why Religion Matters”. He has been bestowed with twelve honorary degrees and was the focus of the five-part television series “The Wisdom of Faith” hosted by Bill Moyers.

From the book “And Live Rejoicing”. Copyright © 2012 Huston Smith. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com

Hardcore Zen Strikes Again!

I’m a big fan of Brad Warner. Getting to interview him back in 2011 was a real nerve wracking experience for me! The thing I’m learning with Zen Buddhism is that every person that explores it has to find someone that can explain things in a way that they can understand, and for me, Brad Warner is one of those people. Perhaps it’s because Warner drifts around the edges of my interests. Obviously I have an interest in Zen Buddhism and he is a Zen priest and author of books on the subject of Zen Buddhism. I am a huge music fan and Warner is involved in, or was involved in, the underground punk music scene. I’m a big geek about assorted things; he’s a big geek about Japanese giant monster movies. Warner actually lived in Japan and worked for Tsuburaya Productions. Eiji Tsuburaya, who founded the company, directed the special effects on all the classic Godzilla movies. Also, he swears a lot, which of course I do too.

Warner’s latest book, “Hardcore Zen Strikes Again!” revisits the early years of his website, the contents of which formed the basis of “Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies, and the Truth About Reality”. “Strikes Again” even features a complete chapter that didn’t make it into “Hardcore Zen” called “The Whole Vegetarian Thing”, which was pretty fascinating. So I, like Warner, am confused as to why Wisdom Publications didn’t include it. Oh well, we get it now! Each essay gets an introduction and an afterword so that you’re given some perspective and additional context as to what Warner was thinking, or what was occurring, when the original website post was written. Considering there is sometimes as big as an eight year gap it’s refreshing to see how much or how little Warner’s views have changed with time.

Obviously “Hardcore Zen Strikes Again!” is wonderful for fans like myself, amused by fun facts (Did you know that originally Warner wanted to call “Hardcore Zen” “Sit Down and Shut Up”?) as much as new writing. That said, there is still something there for those looking for an enjoyable Zen read or an introduction to Brad Warner’s work.

Exploring the Misleading Mind

By Karuna Cayton

According to the ancient and time-tested theories of Buddhist psychology, we have an inalienable right to be happy. Yet we have very little understanding of what actually makes us happy. We look for happiness in all the wrong places — outside of our own consciousness.

Contrary to what we might think, our happiness is not determined by whether we have a large house or a tent, a BMW or a moped, abundant wealth or very little money, or even whether we’re married or single. Howard Hughes was extremely wealthy but was also, seemingly, a pathetically unhappy man. On the other hand, Mother Teresa seemed pretty happy living on very little, helping the destitute and dying in Calcutta. Of course, certain conditions, such as living in freedom or poverty, can have a bearing on our well-being. But they do not determine our ability to attain ongoing, stable, enduring happiness. This can only be achieved with a balanced mind.

Problems arise from a misperception of reality. We misapprehend our self — our identity and personality — and we misapprehend the rest of reality, whether it’s other people, cars, houses, or trees. As Anais Nin says, “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” We are constantly coating what we perceive with our own interpretations, projections, judgments, and past experiences. However, if I do not experience things as they truly are, then my reactions to those things will be in error. This is a simple way of explaining how problems arise. The problem is not in the problem; it’s in the misperception.

For example, when my wife says to me, “Why do you always leave your dirty dishes on the counter?” I immediately project onto her words. An “I,” a self, an experiencer reacts with “I am offended. I don’t always leave my dirty dishes out. I am tired. I work hard. I am entitled to sit and watch TV.” And so on. The moment I’m accused of being a slacker, all kinds of self-identities arise. But are these “selves” really who I am? They are who I think I am, which is the problem. At the moment of being accused, I think I am only the person who is feeling accused. This is a false perception, a trick of the mind. But if I believe I am, truly and solidly, an accused person, then I will respond as an accused person. Accused persons respond defensively. Or aggressively. Or they get depressed. Or…

So, what are we to do? The only long-term solution, is to get ahold of this wild mind that flirts around from emotion to emotion like a hummingbird flying from flower to flower. To get ahold of the mind is to train the mind. If we are overweight, we don’t become thin just by recognizing that we’re overweight. We have to retrain ourselves in the way we deal with eating. And, so, it is the same with our untamed, untrained mind and its disturbing emotions. Success demands a slow, consistent application of mind training techniques such as contemplation, mindfulness, discriminating wisdom, and self-care. No one can do it for us, but even a little effort will pay off.

There are four steps we can initiate that, when applied consistently, can create real change in our lives:

Step One is to realize we have a choice to take control of our mind and, thus, control of our happiness. In other words, we can be conscious, mindful, and aware. While this awareness is a choice, it is an unexercised mental muscle that needs constant retraining.

Step Two is to settle the mind, now. In brief, just connect with your breath. Gently close your eyes and with alertness watch the inhalation and exhalation through the nostrils or the rising and falling of your stomach. Watch it like a swan floating across a pond. Count each inhalation and exhalation as one breath. Count through five and then backward to one. Relax with focus.

Step Three. With the mind gently focused on the breath, become aware of what emotion is arising. To keep it simple, just acknowledge one of the three primary emotions: (1) agitation or anxiety, (2) longing, wanting, or desiring, (3) confusion, dullness, or ignorance. Just acknowledge the emotion without getting involved.

In Step Four, allow the emotion to dissolve into space. Emotions aren’t static. They are moving phenomena, so don’t get in the way of allowing an emotion to evaporate. Typically, we freeze this movement like a moving waterfall freezes in the winter. Just let it naturally dissolve with a sense of gentle control. Your control here is merely watching what really is happening and letting go. Control by not controlling, not holding. The emotion just arises, abides, and falls away.

It is odd that we can describe our hands or our face but if we’re asked to describe our mind we can only offer vague, nebulous descriptions. That’s because, not examining the mind, we don’t know the mind. Knowing how our mind really functions is the first step to mental balance and health and, yes, greater happiness. We need to become explorers – curious about our idea of self, our mind, our emotions, how they function and how we can master them. As such, we’ll seek the knowledge, contemplation, and wisdom to become our own best therapist. Our discoveries become the pathway to solving our problems and revealing a happier and healthier way of being.

About Karuna Cayton:
Karuna Cayton, psychotherapist and author of “The Misleading Mind”, spent twelve years working with Tibetan refugees in Nepal and studying with Buddhist masters. His Karuna Group practice applies Buddhist psychology to individual and organizational clients. He lives in Northern California. Visit him online at www.thekarunagroup.com.

Based on the book “The Misleading Mind: How We Create Our Own Problems and How Buddhist Psychology Can Help Us Solve Them” 2012 by Karuna Cayton. Printed with permission from New World Library.

Mastering Meditation: Three Steps to Peace, Health, and Inner Joy

By Tobin Blake

One day, a great prince living in ancient India experienced a life-changing revelation. He looked out across the land—his land, his people, his world—and realized that he was an alien there. This was not his land; these were not his people; this was not his world. Despite the prince’s wealth and worldly power, a deep emptiness stirred within him, and he wondered who he really was beyond his earthly role as a royal. Where had he come from? Who was he in truth? Was happiness really possible in this world?

The prince’s name was Siddhartha Gautama, who later became known as the Buddha, or the awakened one. Historically, Buddha is the most well-known advocate of meditation, but you do not have to be Buddhist in order to meditate. In fact, Buddha himself lived twenty-five hundred years ago, but meditative practice was not new even during his time. It had already been a part of human existence for at least a thousand years, and probably far longer. The practice is fundamentally nondenominational. At its core, it is a universal spiritual exercise that has been cherished by many millions of people from every major spiritual tradition.

There is a reason meditation has been treasured through the ages by so many people. During meditative practice, you switch your focus from the world outside you, to the world within you, from a state of activity and thought, to a state of stillness and inner silence—toward your core self, which is your highest spiritual self and essence of your soul. Your core self is the part of you that existed before your physical body was born, and which will continue to exist after your body dies. It is the essential life force at the center of your being that is independent of your body, personality, and even the passage of time itself. Your core self does not age. It requires no food or sustenance, and it is impervious to sickness and attack of any kind.

Meditation is a tool that gently liberates you from all the thought stuff in your psyche that conceals your core self. This is what makes the practice such a powerful and healing experience. As you open up to your spiritual self, remarkable things begin to happen because you are aligning with the natural creative Energy of the entire universe, which is sometimes referred to as Source Energy. It is the same Energy that creates and sustains all life across the physical cosmos, and the benefits of connecting with it are easy to see. People who meditate regularly experience huge drops in the incidence of heart disease, cancer, depression, and many other physical and psychological illnesses. There is also an indescribable natural joy that comes from regular meditation, as well as boosts in creativity and self-confidence. Yet these are mere surface effects of something much more profound: when you become still, silent, and so at peace that you are able to go beyond the constant clamor of your thoughts, just like Buddha you will gradually begin to awaken to the timeless, immortal self that is locked within you. This experience is the true gift of meditation, and it is just as assessable today as it was twenty-five hundred years ago when Buddha walked the earth.

To master meditation, the most important thing is to relax. Do not try too hard. Instead, simply focus on letting go and relaxing into peace. The more at peace you become, the deeper your meditations will be. This is what makes the practice so easy. It does not require effort; it requires the opposite of effort—stillness, silence, and rest. You don’t have to shut off your thoughts and focus perfectly. You don’t need to struggle to make something special happen. Just relax deeply, and allow the sensation of inner peace to fill your mind. In this sense, all you really need to learn is the gentle art of letting go. As you quiet down, your mind will naturally turn inward.

To begin, try the following exercise once or twice a day for five to ten minutes. As you become more comfortable, gradually increase the amount of time to twenty minutes or longer.

Step One: Relax. Find a quiet space and adopt a comfortable, seated position. Sit up straight and try to relax. Take a few deep breaths and feel all sense of tension and stress begin slipping away. This should be considered a quiet, sacred time for reconnecting to your core self and its natural abundance of Source Energy. The more peaceful you are able to become, the more healing Source Energy you will absorb.

Step Two: Peace out. After you sense the beginning stages of relaxation, start thinking the word “peace” every time you exhale. For example, breathe in, breathe out, think peace. Breathe in, breathe out, peace, and so on. Concurrently, relax your body just a little more with each out-breath, and feel as if you are sinking deeply into yourself, beyond your body and thoughts, and toward your core.

Step Three: Concentrate. Many random thoughts will pass through your mind as you attempt to meditate. Try not to get caught up in them. When you do, however, don’t kick yourself. Gently but firmly return to relaxing deeply and repeating the word peace.


About Tobin Blake:Tobin Blake is the author of Everyday Meditation: 100 Daily Meditations for Health, Stress Relief, and Everyday Joy. He has taught meditation and spiritual awakening at Unity centers, private schools, and colleges. Visit him online at www.TobinBlake.com.

Based on the book Everyday Meditation ©2012 by Tobin Blake. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com

Fearlessness

by Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche (An Excerpt from “Living Fully: Finding Joy in Every Breath”)

We have to recognize the nature of fear before we can experience fearlessness. We cannot simply run away from fear. We have to get close to it. We have to be intimate with it. Fear does not arise without cause. If we understand the nature of fear, we can move beyond it. We have to be patient and give everything some space.

Everyone has personal views. However, when you become attached to your view, you become very rigid, like plywood that will not bend. This disturbs your sense of equilibrium, and you lose your sense of humor. You no longer have control of your view; rather, your view has control of you. It would be analogous to a man loving his girlfriend so obsessively that she feels compelled to run away from him. He becomes far too close due to his loneliness, insecurity, and fear.

The Buddha taught us that the highest view is to be free from all views. This supreme view will not remain with those who are insecure or fearful. This view will not stay with those who are territorial. This view is confident and complete in its own place. There is nothing that is outside the perimeter of this view. Those who understand this all-encompassing view are always fearless. Due to the fact that this view is complete in its own place, it does not need any manipulation. This is the profound view.

This view is very naked and direct. Because it is so naked, like a live electric wire without insulation, you have to be cautious. You know what will happen if you touch it carelessly. If you are skillful and know how to handle the wire, you can harness its power and enjoy an abundance of light. In our tradition, it is taught that raw thoughts and emotions must be handled with awareness and skill. Otherwise, there is a real danger that we will hurt ourselves and others through careless and coarse indulgence.

Many of us are afraid to get close to this wire. We try to escape, rather than learning how to work with its power. There is an abundant supply of electricity, but not so many electricians. There may be many who are intrigued by this view, but only a fortunate few who learn how to benefit from it. If you are not interested in learning how to harness this power, do not be too hard on yourself. It’s okay. One can take a more gradual approach. There is a time and place for everything.

Everything we perceive, think, and feel emanates from this wide-open view. This is the fearless view. This view is absolutely unbiased. It is completely free from discrimination. We tend to think that we are better than others. We fabricate a hierarchy in our minds and place ourselves on the highest tier. This sort of bias does not exist at the beginning; it comes afterward. In timeless purity, there is no corruption and no judgment.

Light and warmth radiate from the sun. As the sun shines on the earth, it does so without discrimination, equally illuminating all. But if we lack the proper view, we might blame the sun for not being bright enough or warm enough. Perhaps the sun is too low in the sky or there are too many dark clouds. But the sun is always radiating, whether we can see its light or not. This is the absolute view. This eternally brilliant light exists within every individual. The wisdom that exists within you is the best teacher. This self-arising awareness is your ultimate friend and your dearest companion.

This wisdom is always pure, and this purity brings freedom. There is fearlessness in this basic purity. It is like a lotus flower. Although it is planted in the mud, the flower is always free of stain. It draws nourishment from the mud but is never tainted by the mud. When it blossoms, it is spotless and radiant. It is completely free from the mire that surrounds it. You do not have to reject what you have or start over. Just remain in the mud and grow. Draw on its moisture and nutrients for energy.

Within this purity, everything is accomplished and complete. We can develop unwavering confidence in this view. Wherever there is mind, there is the potential for actualizing this unblemished view. We can share our warmth and kindness with everyone — there is more than enough space in this primordial purity. This view is not narrow or limited in any way; it is vast and expansive. So we can explore, and we can look far beyond our limited views. Then we have the ultimate view, and there will be fearlessness in every moment of our lives.

About Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche:
His Eminence Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche is the spiritual guide of Shyalpa Monastery in Kathmandu, the founder of the Tibetan Refugee Childrenʼs Fund, and the heard of Ranging Yeshe, Inc., a nonprofit that organizes teachings and retreats throughout the United States. Buddhafield, in Millerton, NY, is the future site of the Center for Enlightenment and Rinpoche’s seat in the US. He has lectured at Harvard, Yale, Wesleyan, and the Naropa Institute. He lives in Nepal and New York. www.shyalparinpoche.org

Excerpted from the book “Living Fully: Finding Joy in Every Breath” Ó2012 by Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche. Printed with permission from New World Library.