Dear Sangha,
“Inconvenience” seems a strange word to use for the practice, but it makes sense as Pema explains it. The discipline of the path is inconvenient. We sometimes end up doing what doesn’t come naturally. “Natural” is to stay asleep, to stumble along, living inside cliche, Being nice. Being obedient to what we think will reinforce our sense of self, will make us seem better.

downloadThe Buddhist practice causes us to leave shore, to become homeless, as Pema puts it. The truth is, there is nothing to fasten to. This is Pema: “Once you know that the purpose of life is to walk forward and continually to use your life to wake you up rather than put you to sleep, then there’s that sense of wholeheartedness about inconvenience, wholeheartedness about convenience.”

We have one more chapter to read in this book. Then we’ll be reading from a handout and deciding after that which book to take up. Have a happy Thanksgving! We’ll be in D.C. with daughters and son, grandchildren, sister and brother-in-law, nieces and nephews and their families. I’m so grateful we can all be together this year.images
With love,

P.S. Run, turkey!


Sticking to One Boat

Dear sangha,
This is the title of the chapter we read last night, which led to a very interesting and honest discussion about our sangha, the needs of the members of our sangha, including what “member” means. Pema Chodron is emphasizing in this chapter the need to stick with a practice, not to flit from one practice to the other, if we want to make real transformation happen in our lives.

download“Shopping,” as she puts it, “is always about trying to find security, always trying to feel good about yourself.” The “warrior’s journey,” she says, begins when one sticks to one boat. Of course we have to try things to see if they are going to resonate with us. But then it’s time to settle and go through the difficulties of a practice.

This is not easy nor is it culturally popular. Which is why we need a sangha, a group of people who also want to stick with it for the long haul. We talked about our particular Sunday night UU sangha and the need to share some of the responsibility. Please email me,, to volunteer to be on the list of those who can lead when I’m not there. I figure we need three people, at least. Janet has already volunteered. So two more should do it.

What is leading? It means arriving a little early, opening up and turning on heat and lights, getting the donation basket, ringing the bell according to our printed order, and then leading the discussion, which is always a group effort. 

Thank you for being there on Sunday night. Your presence supports all of us more than you can know.

41GqLsnI9rL._AC_US218_Oh! Our next book! I’ll bring copies for us of a chapter from “stepping out of self-deception: the Buddha’s liberation teaching of no-self,”  by Rodney Smith. Yasmin gave me this one, and what I’ve read so far is very good. Let’s just look at this first chapter to see if we want to go on with the book.



Sitting Alone in a Large Sanctuary

Dear sangha,
images-2Yesterday was the four-hour sitting. We had maybe 9 people all together. For a little while there was no one but me. I was not feeling like sitting there. I was feeling like getting up, going to the church library and fooling around there to see what I could find. But, I thought, this is the discipline of sitting. To watch the urge and not to do it. So, I found, as I often have lately, the support of the ages.

images-2What I mean is that I bring to mind an endless line of monks and others, including my teachers, sitting. I see their faces. I let them support me. I feel their own difficulties, their restlessness, and yet they sit there, They’re still with me. Or rather, it’s that I’m with them. I know them intimately, in a strange way. We are not separate. If they were/are ordinary people who were drawn to this practice and did it faithfully, so can I. I don’t always intellectually understand, but I am, it seems, irrevocably drawn to do it. I have complete trust in what I know of the practice.

That’s one of my techniques. I think of the unbroken line for 2500 years of those who’ve been sitting. And those who will, in the future.

Choosing a New Book

Dear Sangha,
We passed around one copy each of the two books we’re considering for our next one to discuss. It seemed impossible to decide on such short examination, so we decided to look at the pages available on Amazon to help us. Here are links to both books. Check them out. We’ll decide week after next at our next discussion.


Continuing our discussion of The Wisdom of No Escape, we considered the word Dharma, which has multiple meanings, but basically refers to the teachings. What is a teaching? Everything is dharma to the practitioner. Everything teaches us. Then there’s the accumulated teachings, the Dharma. Pema says, “What personal identification with the dharma means is, live that way, test it, try to find out what it really means in terms of losing your job, being jilted by your lover, dying of cancer.”

“The dharma never tells you what is true or what is false. It just encourages you to find out for yourself. However, because we have to use words, we make statements. For example, we say, ‘The everyday practice is to develop complete acceptance of all situations, emotions, and people.’ That sounds like what’s true and not to do that would be false. But that’s not what it says. What it does say is to encourage you to find out for yourself what is true and what is false.”

This coming Sunday is the four-hour block sitting. Here is the second of the Four Reminders:

The world and its inhabitants are impermanent, in particular the life of beings is like a bubble. Death comes without warning. This body will be a corpse. At that time the dharma will be my only help. I must practice it with exertion. 

imgresPlease join us from 2:30-6:30 next Sunday to practice with exertion. Exert yourself as much as you can. No requirement to stay the whole time. It’s an opportunity to stretch our practice.


The Dharma That is Taught and the Dharma That is Experienced

Dear Sangha,
51bXGTFVa4L._AC_US218_Yesterday we discussed our next book selection, The Myth of Freedom. When I mentioned the other Chogyam Trungpa book I had considered, Work, Sex, Money: Real Life on the Path of Mindfulness, there was considerable interest. So next week, I’m going to bring both possibilities–the one I had chosen, The Myth of Freedom, and this one. The group that shows up on Sunday will choose which one to study next.

Our reading this week was from the chapter that titles this post. Pema calls the Dharma that is taught a precious jewel. “Like bodhiccita (loving kindness) it can be covered over with dirt and yet is unchanged by dirt. When someone brings the jewel out into the light and shows it to everyone it resonates in the hearts and minds of those who see it.”

imagesThe Dharma that is experienced is not a different Dharma, she says, although it sometimes feels different. It’s when the teachings contact the obstacles and problems of our lives that the Dharma lives. “What you will discover as you continue to study the dharma and to practice meditation is that nothing you have ever heard is separate from your life. Dharma is the study of what is, and the only way you can find out what is true is through studying yourself.”

“The Zen master Dogen said, ‘To know yourself or study yourself is to forget yourself, and if you forget yourself then you become enlightened by all things.’

See you next week,


Dear Sangha,
Thank you Joy, Kozan, Nora, Jim, and Janet for leading our sangha during the long time I’ve been away. We have built a solid continuity over years, a place to count on for community and sitting practice.

downloadWe’re almost to the end of The Wisdom of No Escape. After a lot of thought and consultation with others, I have chosen our next book, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation, by Chogyam Trungpa. This book is not easy. It will take EVEN LONGER to read.Newcomers may be baffled, but that will provide us an opportunity to re-cap, explain, and work with the material in different ways. For those who’ve been sitting for a while, it should be very helpful. Please order the book, since we’ll be finished with our current book in the next month.

Our discussion yesterday, based on Pema Chodron’s chapter called “Not Preferring Samsara or Nirvana,” was concerned with ritual. “Genuine, heartfelt ritual helps us reconnect with power and vision as well as with the sadness and pain of the human condition,” says Pema. There was conversation about some childhood religious rituals that felt oppressive to us, and how that might impact us still, as well as rituals that have become deeply meaningful to us.

download-1Rituals, as Pema says, slow us down. Ideally, we temporarily stop our grasping for the next thing and notice more deeply the action of the ritual. Pema says ritual “opens up space,” and we thought about how this might be true. Doesn’t it also demarcate boundaries, and in that way, shut down space? We talked about that.

Ritual is timeless in the sense that we do it over and over, the same ritual, maybe, all our lives. If we respect it as ritual, it can provide continuity, a sense of lineage.

Pema says our whole life can be a ritual. “We could reconnect with the weather that is ourselves.” I liked that line. She goes on, “and we could realize that it’s sad. The sadder it is, the vaster it is, and the vaster it is, the more our heart opens. We can stop thinking that good practice is when it’s smooth and calm, and bad practice is when it’s rough and dark.” We hold it all in our hearts, she says.

See you next week.

A Poem

Dear Sangha,
A poem for this week, better late than never. I will be back in town after this week. I’ve missed you. See you soon.


Awakening Now

Why wait for your awakening?

The moment your eyes are open, seize the day.

Would you hold back when the Beloved beckons?

Would you deliver your litany of sins like a child’s collection of sea shells, prized and labeled?

“No, I can’t step across the threshold,” you say, eyes downcast.

“I’m not worthy” I’m afraid, and my motives aren’t pure.

I’m not perfect, and surely I haven’t practiced nearly enough.

My meditation isn’t deep, and my prayers are sometimes insincere.

I still chew my fingernails, and the refrigerator isn’t clean.

Do you value your reasons for staying small more than the light shining through the open door?

Forgive yourself.

Now is the only time you have to be whole.

Now is the sole moment that exists to live in the light of your true Self.

Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.

Please, oh please, don’t continue to believe in your disbelief.

This is the day of your awakening.

— Danna Faulds


The Other Two Jewels

Dear Sangha,
downloadOn Sunday we read the rest of Pema’s chapter on the three jewels of Buddhism, focusing on taking refuge in the Dharma and the Sangha. I’ll quote not from Pema but from the Dalai Lama:

. . .We must make a distinction between the use of “Dharma” as a generic term and its use in the specific framework of the Refuge. Generically, it refers to the scriptural Dharma–the Buddha’s teaching ad the spiritual realizations based on the practice of that teaching.

In relation to the Refuge, it has two aspects: one is the path that leads to cessation of suffering and afflictive emotions, and the other is cessation itself. It is only by understanding true cessation and the path leading to cessation that we can have some idea of what the state of liberation is.

imagesOn the Sangha, the Dalai Lama says, “If the Dharma exists, then the Sangha will certainly exist–the Sangha are those who have engaged in the path of the Dharma, and who have realized and actualized its truth. If there are Sangha members who have reached spiritual states where they have at least overcome the gross levels of negativity and afflictive emotions, then we can envision the possibility of attaining a freedom from negativity and afflictive emotions which is total. That state is what we call buddhahood.

In other words, we support each other. We are helped by those around us who’ve gained some spiritual maturity. Next week is the four-hour block sitting. Please join us for as much of that time as you can.

Taking Refuge in the Buddha

Dear Sangha,
images-4We started a chapter last night on the refuges: “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha.”

First we had to work though what is meant in this context by refuge. We often think of it as escape, as in “refuge from the storm.” In a sense, someone said, this is right. Samsara, the endless round of cause-effect, is like a whirlwind. We can take refuge from it through our practice. Someone else said it’s like a centering, finding the still core.

images-5To take refuge in the Buddha is to depend upon what the Buddha found to be true. Maybe it is to take refuge in our own original nature, called Buddha-nature. Of the three refuges, this one is the “modeling” one. “I look to this model of awakening. When I don’t believe I can do this, I look to someone who did, and taught how.” We felt that seems to be the spirit of this particular refuge.

Next week we’ll read and talk about taking refuge in the Dharma. We would be very happy to see you there, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation Building on Center Road, from 5-7.

Thank you Nora, for leading, and Joy and Kozan, while I’ve been gone.


Pema on Nowness

Dear Sangha,
imagesIt’s raining here at the lake. Kids went home yesterday. Now there’s the refrigerator to clean out, beds to change, wash, etc. So I’m thinking about change. Below is from Pema:

We are given changes all the time. We can either cling to security, or we can let ourselves feel exposed, as if we had just been born, as if we had just popped out into the brightness of life and were completely naked. Maybe that sounds too uncomfortable or frightening, but on the other hand, it’s our chance to realize that this mundane world is all there is, and we could see it with new eyes and at last wake up from our ancient sleep of preconceptions.

downloadThe truth, said an ancient Chinese master, is neither like this or like that. It is like a dog yearning over a bowl of burning oil. He can’t leave it because it is too desirable, and he can’t lick it because it is too hot. So how do we relate to that squeeze? Somehow, someone finally needs to encourage us to be inquisitive about this unknown territory and shout the unanswerable question of what’s going to happen next.

The moment of nowness is available in that moment of squeeze. In that awkward, ambiguous moment in our own wisdom mind. Right there in the uncertainty of everyday chaos is our own wisdom mind. 

Nora will be leading the sittings and discussion for the next three weeks. Nora is studying in the Shambala tradition and is a wonderful resource for us.