Nalandabodhi.org has posted a Q & A I did with Nalandabodhi Canada as part of the latter’s series of exchanges with the Mitras of Nalandabodhi on the six paramitas. Il ya une traduction en français aussi! Thanks to Nalandabodhi Canada for this initiative, and to its members who provided the French translation as well. Here’s an excerpt of the article:

Why is generosity the first paramita? 

Our habitual minds are very much oriented to focusing outwardly, and particularly on our possessions, whereas the path to awakening has a lot to do with relaxing our tight minds and opening up our awareness. That’s one way we could look at the Mahayana’s approach to the “accumulation of merit”: we want to open our minds up by getting its tendrils connected to the experience of other beings.

Click through here for the full Q & A. Enjoy!

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Remembering impermanence also helps our bodhicitta practice: to help others, we need to help specific sentient beings, starting with the ones most proximate to us. However, we don’t have all the time in the world to do that. So we remember impermanence and kick things into gear. The side-effect of this is benefit to ourselves, because we end up carrying around less of what we don’t need.

My biweekly post this Thursday at the Interdependence Project’s website is called “What is Merit?” It originally appeared right here at Parijata Press on February 25, 2013. Here’s an excerpt to jog the memory:

One of the stickier concepts from Indo-Tibetan Buddhism that is difficult to translate, both into the English language and in Western culture, is “merit” (Tib. བསོད་ནམས་ bsod nams, Skt. punya). There is also another tricky layer to this notion: the idea that there is an “accumulation” of merit that needs to be “perfected” in order to be able to awaken completely. What does all of this mean?

For starters, and has been acknowledged by many teachers, the words “merit” and “accumulation” themselves can often present challenges to making a beneficial connection with the principles that they point to. “Merit” can conjure an unhelpful sense of “trying to be a good Buddhist,” while “accumulation” feels like it has a bit too much overlap with a materialistic approach, with not enough acknowledgment of contentment.

Let’s start with the “merit” part. Normative English usage may point us to “being good or worthy,” but in Buddhism what we are talking about is a fundamental quality of positivity, benefit, goodness, and wholeness. If all conditioned things are interdependent, then merit is what happens when a process of interdependence is initiated by a positive intention and is supported by that intention throughout its course of development. Merit is positive interdependence.

Click through here to read it over at the IDP blog; you’ll find a host other great posts there too.

My latest post at the Interdependence Project’s website is up. This one looks at the three types of compassion:

The starting-point “definition” of compassion is that it is a “wish for sentient beings to be free from suffering.” As many others have noted, the etymology of the English word compassion points to the meaning “to suffer together with.” Learning to “suffer with” another is a very important preparation for developing the “wish to free” a sentient being from suffering: if we can become willing to let the pain of others really touch our hearts, we will be setting the stage for allowing our compassion’s creativity to come forward. That willingness could be nurtured at first by the basic practice of sitting meditation. When we sit, one of the capacities we are developing is not to let our heart of empathy become buried or unnoticed due to our mental chatter.

The next stage that follows the bravery of “suffering with,” or deeply opening ourselves to the suffering of another being, is strengthening the wish to help them become free from that suffering. Here, we can make both an aspiration that this being will be freed from their pain, and an intention or pledge to take an active role in that process. The instructions that I’ve heard for this stage say that we shouldn’t analyze whether or not it is possible for us to help the being we are thinking of. We should simply take the leap fully with our heart and mind and say: I will do it. I will act so that this being will become free from suffering.

For the full article, please click here!

My new post, Forgiveness and Buddha Nature: Re-approaching the Practice of Purification, is up at the Interdependence Project’s website. Here is a glimpse:

Among the people who consciously moved toward Buddhism as an alternative to theistic traditions, it seems that, for many, one of the most attractive features that Buddhism had to offer was its lack of emphasis on heaviness and guilt in its presentations of the basic makeup of a human being and what happens when humans become confused. From the Buddhist perspective, the most essential dimension of our minds is buddha nature, which is completely free of any fault or defect. It is understandable that many people would be attracted to a spiritual tradition that teaches that human beings are fundamentally whole.

So how does a tradition like this work with confusion, disturbing emotions, and harmful actions? It basically says that these are a legitimate part of our experience too, and they certainly need our attention and care just as much as our buddha nature does. Vajrayana Buddhism says that the difference between our buddha nature and our confusion is that our buddha nature is fundamental to the nature of our mind, while our confusion, and anything that arises from our confusion, is incidental, i.e. nonindigenous to our mind’s basic fabric. Understanding this basic relationship between confusion and buddha nature is crucial to approaching the practice known as purification.

I hope you find it useful! For the full post, please click here.

 

My newest biweekly post is up at the Interdependence Project’s website. This week I take a look at “selflessness” and discuss how, in Buddhism, selflessness points to a fundamental attribute of reality, rather than a character or personality trait that can be developed. Here’s an excerpt:

The famed “three hallmarks” of the Buddhist teachings consist of the Buddha’s, and Buddhist traditions’, descriptions of the realities of suffering, impermanence, and selflessness. It can be helpful to remember that all three of these terms are translations, and that all translations come with inevitable shifts from the original languages’ words in terms of perspective, tone, and emphasis. For each of these translations, there are effective alternative translations, and there has been much beneficial discussion (discussion that should continue) around which English words are the best fit for each term (if indeed there is a single “best fit” for each one).

Each of these three topics can be a launching point for profound investigations. Today I would like to share a few brief paragraphs (as a very general overview) on “selflessness,” its main meanings in Buddhist thought, and, in particular, some misunderstandings that can arise through using this multifaceted word. The other two of the three hallmarks are equally important topics, though, so I hope to have an opportunity to focus on them separately in the future.

The basic gist of the Buddha’s teachings on selflessness is that, if we calm our mind and deeply examine our experience, we will find that there is really no single, solid, pinpointable “thing” that corresponds to the concepts of “I,” “me,” and “mine.” The proposition is that we can search through the entirety of our bodies and minds, and we won’t find anything that isn’t subject to change or dependence on a thought or concept in order to exist. The sense of “I” or “me” feels very real and solid, but it doesn’t seem to reveal itself in an earnest investigation.

Check out the full article by clicking here.

My post for this Thursday morning is up at the Interdependence Project’s blog (I’ll be guest posting there every second Thursday). The title of the post is “Renunciation Doesn’t (Mainly) Mean Renouncing.”

Here’s an excerpt:

In English-language dharma teachings, we often encounter the key term, “renunciation.” Renunciation, we sometimes hear, is the indispensable foundation of our path of awakening, the quality without which no genuine progress can be made. It’s often described as the starting point, where the rubber really hits the road.

But if the principle or attitude that this word points to is so crucially important, have we been using the right word to talk about it? For some time now, many teachers and translators have expressed concerns that the way we speak about “renunciation” in English might not always be leaving students with the impression that was originally intended by the Buddhist teachings.

Read the full article by clicking here.

Photo by ionushi.

“Hiromi Masuda: Let’s play the Glass 2.”
Photo by ionushi.

One of the stickier concepts from Indo-Tibetan Buddhism that is difficult to translate, both into the English language and in Western culture, is “merit” (Tib. བསོད་ནམས་ bsod nams, Skt. punya). There is also another tricky layer to this notion: the idea that there is an “accumulation” of merit that needs to be “perfected” in order to be able to awaken completely. What does all of this mean?

For starters, and has been acknowledged by many teachers, the words “merit” and “accumulation” themselves can often present challenges to making a beneficial connection with the principles that they point to. “Merit” can conjure an unhelpful sense of “trying to be a good Buddhist,” while “accumulation” feels like it has a bit too much overlap with a materialistic approach, with not enough acknowledgment of contentment.

Let’s start with the “merit” part. Normative English usage may point us to “being good or worthy,” but in Buddhism what we are talking about is a fundamental quality of positivity, benefit, goodness, and wholeness. If all conditioned things are interdependent, then merit is what happens when a process of interdependence is initiated by a positive intention and is supported by that intention throughout its course of development. Merit is positive interdependence.

As to the “accumulation” aspect, Buddhism isn’t talking about a form of cloud storage where all the beneficial actions we perform are recorded. Rather, whatever action we engage in, that action leaves some kind of a “mark” on our mind, some trace of habit that makes it a bit easier to re-engage that type of action the next time we revisit it. So if the actions we perform are supported by a clear intention to accomplish benefit for ourselves or others, then, regardless of whether that action “succeeds” in producing the benefit we had envisioned, it will leave some type of a “groove,” so to speak, in our stream of experience, and that groove will open us up gradually to the vast network of the possibilities that arise when we put some energy into going beyond our confused habits.

As we get more and more “used to” clarifying our intention and doing our best to act from beneficial intentions, beneficial avenues of thought and action become more available to us, spontaneously. So the “accumulation” aspect of working with the notion of merit simply refers to the natural strength that comes to us through familiarizing with our own mind, and releasing our hold on confused perspectives.

Although I am not versed whatsoever in fields such as neuroscience, I have my own layperson’s version of an analogy to illustrate the accumulation of merit. I sometimes think of accumulating merit as being similar to rerouting the synaptic pathways of the brain: for so long, we have been accustomed to seeing ourselves and the world in ways that turn out to be very limited. But in ways we may find surprising, our actions themselves can become a “lead” that in turn opens up an opportunity for our minds to take a fresher look at things. Every time we step out of our habitual box through acting with courage, we can then enjoy the new perspective that that action gives us. And eventually, the Buddhist teachings say, this style of relating to the world becomes a part of our (metaphoric) synaptic structure. We might not have had a chance to look into the eye of a person who asked us for money on the street if we hadn’t turned around and given them our attention and support. But if we take that small leap, there’s a moment of magic that happens there. At that point it is not clear who the beneficiary and benefactor are: there can be a moment of openness and an appreciation of another, as well as ourselves, that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. That too is merit.

It’s said that, at a certain point, once we are worked well enough into the groove of approaching ourselves and others from a standpoint of openness and trust, we can then, for the first time, get a breathtaking glimpse of the whole environment in which our actions take place. In traditional language, that glimpse is called “wisdom.” Both merit and wisdom lead back to the habits we cultivate, and the Buddha taught that, when we bring our path of merit, or the strengthening of our habit of connecting with our innate ability to benefit ourselves and others, to full maturity, then a full and deep insight into exactly who and what we are arises, even if we don’t want it to.

Welcome to Pārijāta Press, my personal blog of reflections on the dharma and the path of awakening. I intend to post here, with mellow to medium frequency, about dharma topics and contemplations that have been sources of curiosity, inspiration, and benefit for me. The relationship between music and the path to awakening is a particular area of interest that may surface from time to time as well.

Without a doubt, whatever topics I write about will be heavily influenced by the talks and writings of my own teacher, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, who I would especially like to thank for patiently encouraging me to write more. Bows of gratitude as well to my dharma siblings at Nalandabodhi for all their efforts contributing to the evolution of 21st century dharma.

Feel free to find out more about me here and here. I’ll also be guest-posting on alternating Thursdays at the Interdependence Project’s website, so, on the off chance that you haven’t yet, be sure to check our their great site too. There are sign-ups for email notifications and RSS feeds below, and you can stay up-to-date about all my writing, and select teaching activities at Nalandabodhi and elsewhere, at my Twitter and Facebook pages.

You might be curious about why my blog was named Pārijāta Press; some clarification can be found here.

Your feedback is welcome; feel free to leave comments on posts as you are inclined. To contact me directly, you can use this form. Due to the limited amount of time I can devote to this website, I may not always be able to actively participate in comment threads or respond to all comments.

May the reflections shared here be useful and enjoyable in some beneficial ways to you! I’m excited to get to work. Thanks so much for visiting.

“Parijata Flowers,” photo by Ferdousi Begum.

Thank you for visiting. More content coming soon.