Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

Daily Doses of Wisdom - Selections

A Year of Buddhist Inspiration

There is nothing magical about meditation.
    Meditation is bound to fail if it is being done to fix a problem.
    Don’t meditate to fix yourself, to heal yourself, to improve yourself, to redeem yourself; rather, do it as an act of love, of deep warm friendship toward yourself. In this view there is no longer any need for the subtle aggression of self-improvement, for self-criticism, for the endless guilt of not doing enough. It offers the possibility of an end to the ceaseless round of trying so hard that wraps so many people’s lives in a knot. Instead there is now meditation as an act of love. How endlessly delightful and encouraging!
    —Bob Sharples, Meditation and Relaxation in Plain English

According to a Hindu myth, the world is upheld by the great elephant Maha Pudma, who is in turn supported by the great tortoise Chukwa.
    An Englishman asked a Hindu sage what the great tortoise rests upon.
    “Another turtle,” was the reply. And what supports that turtle?
    “Ah, Sahib, after that it’s turtles all the way down.”
    —from The World Is Made of Stories

Use your own problems to remember that others have problems too.
    —Kathleen McDonald, Awakening the Kind Heart

Successful spiritual development entails finding a balance between intellectual understanding of each stage of meditation and actual meditative experience. Placing too much emphasis on either alone significantly decreases the likelihood of genuine progress.
    —Daniel P. Brown, Pointing Out the Great Way

Be at ease. Be still. Be vigilant. These three qualities of the body are to be maintained throughout all meditation sessions.
    —B. Alan Wallace, The Attention Revolution

Although it is difficult to bring about the inner change that gives rise to compassion, it is absolutely worthwhile to try.
    —The Dalai Lama in Business and the Buddha

At first glance the Buddhist insight into impermanence may not seem too remarkable. Surely every tradition recognizes and appreciates change. What is unique to the Buddhist view is the radical extension of change to all phenomena whatsoever. We are used to hearing that some things change, or even that most things change, but it is profoundly challenging to hear that all things change. There is no unchanging essence underlying the effervescent bubbling of our minds and bodies; no unmoved mover standing outside the matrix of cause and effect; no fixed point upon which one can find firm footing; no refuge from the relentless onslaught of aging, illness, and death. We can of course conjure up a concept or an idea of such a stable essence but we cannot, says the Buddha, ever discover it in carefully examined lived experience. We cannot even hold the idea of something stable for long in the shifting currents of the mind. Indeed the mind itself is the most dramatic example of thoroughgoing change. The very tool we use to construct a world of meaning is itself wobbling, so it is no surprise that we build with it a wobbling world.
    By identifying impermanence as a fundamental characteristic of existence itself, rather than a problem to be solved, the Buddhists are encouraging us to let go our hold on illusory solidity and learn to swim freely in the sea of change. Instead of mourning what is lost when alteration occurs, we can open to the opportunities each new moment brings.
    —Andrew Olendzki, Unlimiting Mind

Your mind is birthless and continuous,
without a beginning, middle, or end.
The rising and sinking of agitated waves
ceases by itself without interference.
This mind that is obscured by thoughts,
when left as it is, unmodified, will clarify as the dharmakaya.
Do not modify it, but rest in relaxation.
Do not control the mind, but let it go free.
Do not have intentions, but be spacious.
Do not focus on anything, but be expansive.
    —Lama Shang in Mahamudra and Related Instructions

Many of us began spiritual practice as a means of resolving trauma. Unfortunately, the image of the unattached, enlightened, fierce Zen master who has transcended self-clinging and happily lives the hermit’s life, appealing as it is, may not be so useful. We need to integrate meditation’s energetic awareness into our personal traumas, our wounds, and our defense mechanisms. Zen practice means finding the mind of meditation in times of fear, anger, and desire, rather than trying to banish fear, anger, and desire from our consciousness. We need to practice what we preach in intimate relationships that affect us on a daily basis. This dimension of practice is not well articulated in the stories that present male ancestors as masters who have completely transcended human needs, but it is addressed repeatedly in the lives and teachings of female ancestors.
    —Grace Schireson, Zen Women

It’s not by gathering causes
that an unconditioned result will be reached;
it’s not by looking for freedom that freedom
will be found.
    —Charles Genoud, Gesture of Awareness

Disillusionment is always painful—but it can be deeply valuable as well. Disillusionment is, after all, our growing out of illusion and into reality—i.e., how things are versus how we wish or imagine them to be. To a large degree, becoming disillusioned equals growing up.
    —Scott Edelstein, Sex and the Spiritual Teacher

Open your heart to your suffering. If you’re feeling that family and friends could be helping more but aren’t, take compassionate action toward yourself by immediately making contact with them. Often people are just waiting to be asked to help but won’t make that first contact.
    —Toni Bernhard, How to Be Sick

What is the use of a well if water is all around?
If the root of thirst is cut,
what can one go and search for?
    —from Divine Stories

I’m thankful for being given the opportunity to love and be loved by others, and to express that love through service. The little good I do in this world is, truly, the least I can do in return, but it is what I can do.
    —Jeff Wilson, Buddhism of the Heart

One of the first signs of progress in practice is simply noticing how chaotic our minds are. We try to remain attentive, but we swiftly “lose our minds” and slip into absent-mindedness. People who never sit quietly and try to focus their minds may remain under the illusion that their minds are calm and collected. Only when we try to direct the attention to a single object for minutes on end does it really become apparent how turbulent and fragmented our attention is. Thoughts are bound to arise involuntarily, and your attention may also be pulled away by noises and other stimuli from your environment. When you note that you have become distracted, instead of tightening up and forcing your attention back to the breath, simply let go of these thoughts and distractions. Especially with each out-breath, relax your body, release extraneous thoughts, and happily let your attention settle back into the body. When you see that your mind has wandered, don’t get upset. Just be happy that you’ve noticed the distraction and gently return to the breath.
    —B. Alan Wallace, The Attention Revolution

It doesn’t take any great wisdom to know that until you stop doing something, you’re still doing it. As long as you keep on lying, you’re a liar. Until you stop killing, you’re a killer. And there’s no guarantee that just because you’ve stopped others will stop too. Inclusion makes one vulnerable. This is the cost that mercy exacts of the merciful.

Surely if the Buddha could open his heart to the very one who’d come seeking his death, I should be able to find some degree of understanding and compassion for those who might threaten me with harm. It’s an unfortunate habit of the human mind to take sides, dividing up society on the basis of arbitrary standards. It’s a persistent habit that insinuates itself into language and spreads its influence by that means to others. To the degree that it’s a habit of my own behavior, I’m determined to stop. Perhaps, if I succeed, others will be encouraged to stop too.
    —Lin Jensen, Together Under One Roof

When I ask someone what his or her practice is, I’ll usually be told something like “counting my breaths.” But what is that person really doing? Whatever method of meditation we adopt, we are inevitably going to try to enlist that practice in the service of one or more of our curative fantasies. A curative fantasy is a personal myth that we use to explain what we think is wrong with us and our lives and what we imagine is going to make it all better. Sometimes these fantasies are quite explicit: we’re sure we know what’s wrong and we’re sure we know what we’re after. Curative fantasies take many forms, and when you know where to look, they can be seen in all sorts of places.
    The fundamental dualism we face on the cushion is not some metaphysical abstraction, it is the all too down-to-earth experience of a person divided against herself in the pursuit of a curative fantasy.

    —Barry Magid, Ending the Pursuit of Happiness

Even if its impact isn’t immediate, a solid inner change is sure to have long-term results.
    —Thanissaro Bhikkhu in Mindful Politics

The truly religious life liberates a finite, relative being to become a “rare and excellent person” naturally and spontaneously. As imperfect humans, we are bound by our karmic limitations, but that poses no hindrance for reflecting the boundless life and light of the Buddha. It is not the case that everything that karmic evil connotes, including human foolishness, frailties, and failures, completely vanish—but that the overwhelming working of compassion nullifies their negative karmic impact, enabling limited beings to make unlimited contributions to the well-being of all life.
    —Taitetsu Unno in Buddhism and Psychotherapy Across Cultures

Becoming aware of death, our natural reaction is to recoil from it, deny it, hide from it. Instead of embracing our full reality, we tend to attribute permanence, substance, and unchangingness to constructs that cannot live up to these qualities. We cling to loved ones and to our own lives, desperately wanting them to be everlasting. But if we are instead lucky enough to find within ourselves a seed of what motivated Prince Siddhartha two and a half millennia ago, we might begin to investigate what the alternative to clinging is.
    The way to wisdom is to hold all things, including ourselves, in open hands. In this difficult but necessary way, we discover how we can return to our authentic heritage, our true home. We can learn to use the fire of our minds to good purpose.
    —James Ishmael Ford, Zen Master WHO?

Difficult people can teach us patience.
    If we are sincere about working on ourselves—decreasing our ego, anger, and other delusions, and increasing patience, love, and other positive qualities—then someone who arouses our anger is like a teacher, giving us a chance to learn that we still have a lot of work to do. Think of a time when difficulties with another person taught you important lessons. Resolve that when you again encounter problems with people, you will use these as opportunities for growth. It’s possible that you may end up feeling grateful for the difficult people in your life!
    —Kathleen McDonald, Awakening the Kind Heart

The word meditation in the modern world often has the connotation of doing something special to calm the mind or try to achieve some altered state of consciousness. But the Sanskrit word for meditation is bhavana, which simply means “cultivation.” In fact, we are all cultivating our minds in one way or another all the time, through the way we use our attention. The quality of our lives reflects the ways we have cultivated our minds until now.
    —B. Alan Wallace, The Attention Revolution

One of the great losses in our modern secular world is the absence of ritual. Ritual helps to make an activity feel special, and it provides a bridge between the mundane world of ordinary reality and the possibility of a spiritual or transcendent reality. To practice meditation is to be a little more open to the spiritual and the numinous. Many people find it helpful to use a ritual as an entry point into their meditation. The ritual serves to remind them that this is a special time, a time they are setting aside for their inner life, for spiritual practice, for healing, or simply for rest and renewal.
    —Bob Sharples, Meditation and Relaxation in Plain English

You cannot make your body flexible just by thinking about making it flexible. You can only do that by training it; the body has to make the body flexible. Just as physical flexibility has to be created by our body, mental flexibility—which is another name for ultimate peace and happiness—has to be created by our mind, through mental training. Meditation is mental training.
    —Lama Zopa Rinpoche, How to Be Happy

This path leads us to a life where we can truly meet each event, each person, each thing intimately and directly. This intimate directness has no hesitation in it. We perceive clearly, and we move or stay still according to circumstances.
    —Melissa Myozen Blacker, The Book of Mu

By just sitting without expectation, the natural stability and clarity of my mind gradually strengthens, little by little. Then I am able to turn that mind upon itself and inquire, “Who? What? Where is that mind?” Not finding anything brings further giving up and a little bit of relaxation in genuineness. With this comes a small further step in understanding the truths of basic goodness, the cocoon by which I cover them, and the way out of the cocoon to realize that basic goodness, our inherent nature of wisdom.
    —Jeremy Hayward, Warrior-King of Shambhala

Whatever your path at this moment, every single step is equal in substance. Every step actualizes the true self. Every moment of practice is always the koan of having to agree to your condition, to bring unlimited friendliness to what you are, just as you are, right now. Even your obnoxiousness, your failures, your rank inadequacy is it. Your best revenge is to include it as you.
    —Susan Murphy, Upside-Down Zen