An Awakened Being is said to have deep wisdom. Wisdom is important in Buddhism. Wisdom is important but it’s viewed as highly as it was in ancient times. We think about getting wiser as we get older, but we often don’t think about wisdom beyond that.
Knowledge is appreciated a lot more than wisdom.

Knowledge is important. It has led to many great things in the world.
Wisdom is what can direct our knowledge and lead us to more balanced and fulfilled lives.

Buddhist teachings and techniques for increasing wisdom can help us a great deal.
When we are acting with wisdom, we aren’t being held back by our preconceived ideas. We are able to see what’s going on more clearly. We are better able to analyze the facts and determine the best course of action.
Wisdom is like a mirror that reflects reality clearly. What is reflected in this clear mirror is our interconnectedness. It helps us see through the delusion of separation.
An Awakened Being, or Buddha, is a person who intuitively understands this wisdom.

The concept Awakening is central to Buddhism.

Roadmap to Awakening: The 10 Perfections

The teaching of the Six Paramitas was created early in the history of Mahayana Buddhism.

Paramita is usually translated as “perfection” and that’s how I’m going to translate it. It doesn’t mean we do any of this perfectly (obviously) it just means that cultivating these virtues is very important. Later, four more were added to the list, making the total 10. These are virtues for us to practice in our spiritual journey.

The teaching of the Six Perfections can be found in a lot of places; the teaching of all 10 is a little more esoteric.

The Six Perfections are considered a complete road map to Awakening, but the additional items help us a little more in bringing us to the Bodhisattva path to Awakening, rather than the standard path. I’m going through them one by one. I think all of these virtues are important and deserve a lot of attention. I may at some point go into these in more detail. To me this list is the most fundamental spiritual teaching.

1. Dana Paramita: The Perfection of Generosity

The Perfection of Generosity is about more than simply giving things. It’s an expression of non-attachment to possessions, but it also represents other forms of giving, such as giving our time to others, helping them with difficult tasks, or just listening when someone needs to be heard.

2. Sila Paramita: The Perfection of Virtue

The Perfection of Virtue is not necessarily about living according to rules. We have plenty of rules in Buddhism. Living by rules is important, but more important, in this context, is the idea of living in harmony with others. We should strive to bring harmony to all of our relationships, whether personal or professional. If we set an example of virtue we can make the world a better place.

3. Ksanti Paramita: The Perfection of Patience

The Perfection of Patience represents not only patience with ourselves and others, but also tolerance and endurance. It represents our ability to “weather the storm”, to bear hardship without letting it get us down and, especially, to avoid lashing out at others because of our personal difficulties.

4. Virya Paramita: The Perfection of Diligence

The Perfection of Diligence is about tirelessly overcoming obstacles, walking the path even when it’s difficult and it would be simple to give up. Without diligence we might not have the determination necessary to continue to walk the path when things get difficult.

5. Dhyana Paramita: The Perfection of Concentration

The Perfection of Concentration represents those practices that are dedicated to helping us improve our ability to focus and concentrate. These include several meditation and mindfulness practices. We are cultivating our mental stability and our ability to contemplate things clearly without getting held back by distractions or preconceptions. We are training our minds so we can have focus, composure, and tranquility.

6. Prajna Paramita: The Perfection of Wisdom

The Perfection of Wisdom represents transcendental wisdom and insight. This is an understanding beyond words and concepts. This is the intuitive understanding of emptiness and the interconnectedness of all things, that transcends the ego, or small self, and is able to engage with the true self, the higher self. This is our intuition, our innate awareness that we are one with everything, that nothing is separate from us and nothing can be left out. When we act with this in mind, then we are dwelling in Enlightenment.

I’ll repeat, the first six are considered a complete map to Enlightenment. These additional four can be thought of a supplemental material.

7. Upaya Paramita: The Perfection of Skillful Means

The Perfection of Skillful Means represents teachings, activities, and tools that are used to help bring others to Awakening; one who is well versed in this is good at bringing wisdom to others and spreading the Dharma. This can be teaching others how to meditate, or leading chants, or just talking about the philosophy behind the journey to Enlightenment. This also can represent simply setting a good example for the way someone on the path should live.

8. Pranidhana Paramita: The Perfection of Vows

The Perfection of Vows represents dedicating ourselves to the Bodhisattva Path by taking vows and adhering to them. The Bodhisattva Vows are taken formally by those on the Bodhisattva path. They represent an expression of Bodhicitta, the desire to attain Enlightenment with the intent of helping others. There’s a short version of the Vows that is sometimes chanted at Zen temples. It goes like this:

Beings are numberless, I vow to save them
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them
Buddha’s way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.

9. Bala Paramita: The Perfection of Powers

The Perfection of Powers represents those natural abilities we gain as a result of our spiritual journey, such as increased concentration, awareness, patience, and compassion.

10. Jnana Paramita: The Perfection of Knowledge

The Perfection of Knowledge is the implementation of the wisdom we have gained on the path; the culmination of the path, where we integrate the teachings into our lives and use them in all of our actions and relationships. The Perfection of Wisdom represents our intuitive understanding of the nature of ourselves and reality. The Perfection of Knowledge represents bringing that understanding into our lives.



Dwell in Mindfulness and Awaken

The techniques of quieting the mind allow our awareness of reality to shine in the moment.

When we are dwelling in this awareness, the paradigms and preconceptions that go on in our minds cease. When we are really in the moment, we are no longer plagued by thoughts, ideas, and views. When we are truly dwelling in mindfulness, we experience ourselves and the world as they are. Our false notions of separation, of self and other, fall away.

This allows us to awaken to our true nature.

Learning how to practice mindfulness isn’t hard, but it does require determination and repeated practice. Mindfulness only requires us to stop the incessant flow of thoughts so our true awareness, which is luminous and free, can be unleashed.

We have to put aside our entangling dualistic thoughts. We have to step away from all the ways we divide reality, our ideas of self and other, good and bad, gain and loss. When thoughts come, we just let them be what they are. We are not our thoughts. We can do the same thing with ideas, preconceptions, and points of view.

If we are diligent in our practice we can stop dwelling in delusion and instead awaken our true identity.

Stopping delusion means our minds don’t have to be entangled in dualistic ideas, even while we are engaged in regular activities. When we are free from delusion we discover that our nature is one with the nature of all things. When we awaken to our true nature we realize that we have always been luminous and free. This is called Enlightenment. There is not some special or mysterious teaching that is apart from the awakening of our minds.

Before we glimpse our true nature, we are dwelling in delusion. When we identify ourselves with the labels that we, and the world, have created that is delusion. We are not whatever labels we put on ourselves. We are not even our thoughts and views.

Our true self is the shining void.

Empty of labels, but luminous and free. We are loving awareness, the same loving awareness that is the whole universe. We can realize this only by putting down the things that hold us back, our views of ourselves.

If you want to awaken, there is no need to seek outside your own mind right now.

If we can set aside delusion, then our true self, which is pure, clear, and luminous, will emerge.



Unleashing the Bodhisattva Within


A Bodhisattva is one who has decided to walk the path of Awakening in an effort to help all beings.

The path is a long and selfless mystical journey that involves cultivating generosity, patience, virtue, diligence, meditation, and wisdom. Full of compassion for others, bodhisattvas make the vow to embody the path and guide anyone that seeks it.

The word “bodhisattva” literally means “a being who is seeking awakening.” A bodhisattva is one who is seeking Enlightenment, helps others seek Enlightenment, and cultivates virtue and wisdom. Bodhisattvas strive to benefit both themselves and others in the mystical journey.

Bodhisattvas make the vow to strive to free all beings from suffering.

When we make these vows, helping and liberating others becomes a responsibility. The mind of the Bodhisattva is said to have three elements. They are: the aspiration for awakening, great compassion, and skillful means.

The aspiration for Awakening is the mind seeking Enlightenment. Without this aspiration, we have no motivation on the path. If we have no motivation, then it will be difficult to persevere.

This aspiration leads to making what is called the bodhisattva’s four universal vows:

1 Sentient beings are limitless, I vow to liberate them.

2 Afflictions are endless, I vow to eradicate them.

3 Teachings are infinite, I vow to learn them.

4 Buddhahood is supreme, I vow to attain it.

If we lose our aspiration for Awakening, then it will be difficult to bring benefit to anyone. Aspiration for Awakening is the root of the path.

Great compassion is the part of our mind that wishes to help all beings.

When a bodhisattva wants to help others, they must do so with a mind of great kindness and compassion. A bodhisattva can use kindness to bring others joy and compassion to remove suffering. When a bodhisattva helps others find the path the do not seek anything in return. Instead, they see helping others on the path as a responsibility. This is true compassion.

Skillful means represent the different tools we use in the path to Awakening. These include things like meditation and chanting. A teaching that I like is called the four means of embracing. These are: giving, kind words, altruism, and empathy.

These are some of the tools we can use on the path to Awakening.

The Practice of the Bodhisattva’s Path

Buddhism places great emphasis on the cultivation of wisdom, but it also places great emphasis on ethics in life. After he Awakened the Buddha said, “Do nothing that is harmful. Do only good, and purify the mind.” It could be said that all Buddhist teachings can really be summarized in that small sentence.

Following the path of the Bodhisattva is a way of cultivating our selves. It is a path of self improvement that benefits everyone around us, as well as ourselves. The most important teaching for walking the bodhisattva path is the six perfections. The six perfections free us from delusion and lead us to Awakening.

They are forms of practice for us to cultivate in order to live more awakened lives.

I’ve written about the six perfections before, but I will summarize them briefly here.

The Perfection of Generosity: to give without any attachment to form. To give with no attachment to what is being given, who is giving, or who is receiving.

The Perfection of Virtue: To respect and not harm others. Observing Buddhist precepts and acting in accordance with human values.

The Perfection of Patience: Facing life with a sense of equanimity that allows us to endure what is difficult to endure. Practice patience by being tolerant, accepting, and by spending time contemplating truths.

The Perfection of Diligence: This is our vigorous desire to practice ceaselessly, to bring joy and benefit to others even when it is difficult to do so.

The Perfection of Meditation: This is our cultivation of mindfulness. This helps settle and focus ourselves.

The Perfection of Wisdom: This is our cultivation of insight. This represents our work in understanding the non-duality of existence. When we cultivate this wisdom then we truly can inspire others on the path.

The six perfections are powerful. When we cultivate them we are spreading the teachings of the Buddha and bringing great benefit to ourselves and others. These are good things to do: cultivating the six perfections, generating compassion, aspiring to Awaken.

When we do these things, we are unleashing the Bodhisattva within.



Ordinary Mind is the Way.

chan patriarchs

I want to talk about Zen meditation.

Master Xu Yun said that it means “unperturbed abstraction.” If we can see through our delusions, then we will be Awakened, we will be Buddhas. That is the message of the Zen school.

The teaching of our sect consists of directly realizing our true nature, which is beyond words.

Once a student asked the old master Nan Chuan, “What is the way?” and Nan Chuan replied, “The ordinary mind is the Way.”

Because we bind ourselves with our delusion, we fail to realize that we are all Enlightened within.

When Zen Master Fa Ch’ang asked Master Ma Tsu, “What is Buddha?” Ma Tsu replied:

“Mind is Buddha.”

Enlightenment is our true nature and that is the message of our lineage.

Master Yuan Miao said: “Zen training is like throwing into a deep pond a tile which sinks to the bottom.”

When we engage in a meditation practice like this we must persist until we reach the “bottom”, until we see our true nature.

The only reason we do not realize our Enlightenment is because our practice hasn’t flowered to the point of penetrating our delusion and seeing our true nature.

Self-cultivation is like building a fire by rubbing sticks together. We have to know how to do it and if we don’t know how, having someone around to teach us really helps. This is why having a teacher or a community (or both) really helps us on our journey.

Although we know that Mind is Buddha, that our true nature is Enlightened already, we have trouble accepting this. Our methods, whether they are shamatha, hua tou, chanting, or devotion, are the tools that we are using to try to start the fire of Enlightenment.

When we know our method well and we use it unceasingly, we will build that fire. We will come to Awakening.

If we believe in the path and pursue it, then Awakening.

Now let us pursue it.



Teachings from the Gaea Retreat. Part Three

The following talk was given at the Gaea Retreat Center on May 24th 2015.

Welcome to Meditation Group.

My name is Daniel.

The Buddha sat under a tree in the woods, kind of like this. He sat with the intention of attaining Enlightenment and eventually he did.

Let’s talk about what meditation is. Meditation is a general term for several religious practices, some different from others. These methods have the same mystical goal. To bring the awareness of the practitioner to a state in which they can come to an experience of ‘awakening’ or ‘enlightenment’.

In Buddhism we are meditating to understand our nature as one with everything. It represents a paradox. I am everything but I am also nothing. That is the fundamental and ultimate teaching of Buddhist practice.

A common mark of different forms of meditation is that the practice concentrates the mind of the practitioner, calming and clarifying it.

Diligent practice of meditation leads to non-dualistic states of mind in which the distinction between subject and object disappears and the practitioner becomes one with ‘the absolute’. Time and space are transcended and the practitioner abides in the here and now. If this experience can be followed and integrated into daily life, then Enlightenment can be attained.

Did the Buddha Exist?

Did the Buddha Exist?

It Doesn’t Matter.

There is a point of departure that sets Buddhism apart from most other spiritual paths.

It is this: if the Buddha didn’t exist, it makes absolutely no difference.

Modern scholarship suggests that some (if not all) of the stories about the Buddha are fabrications from later followers. The story of the four sights, for example, probably didn’t happen.

Now, there are other religions that would fall apart immediately if the stories about their founders were found to be untrue. But, in the case of Buddhism, it really makes no difference. Because Buddhism isn’t really about the historical Buddha. It’s about the Buddha within you.

The man isn’t the message. The path is.

Buddhism has a very large canon of texts that teach us about the nature of ourselves and the impermanence of all things.

More importantly, Buddhism provides a path for us to follow.

When we practice the six perfections we will come to Awakening. This is a roadmap to Enlightnment.

The Buddha gives us truths, but the real truths are within us.

The Story of the Buddha

A lot of you may know this story already.

I think it’s important for those of us that follow the path of the Buddha to reflect on his life story because he is the example we’re trying to live up to. He was a normal human being, just like you and I. For this reason, we can always remember that we are capable of accomplishing what he did.

We all have the seed of Enlightenment.

The founder of Buddhism was a Prince named Siddhartha Gautama. He lived in what is India today. At the time that area was a series of small kingdoms—not a large country like it is today. The religious practices that he grew up around would evolve into Hinduism, but the religions of India have changed a great deal since then. The truth is that Buddhism and Hinduism have influenced each other quite a lot in the time since the Buddha’s life. The religion at that time was rigid and strict about certain things.

There were, in this time, people who walked away from society to become wandering holy men. Many people did this after they got old, when all of their children had grown up. But, some took the life of the mystic instead of having a family. These holy men believed in finding Enlightenment, outside of the confines of rigid and strict religion. Most of them were devotees of a God called Shiva.

Yoga was a creation of these holy men. So was the religion Jainism. And, it was after meeting these holy men that Siddhartha created Buddhism.

If we saw these men in the world today, we would think of them as homeless. They wandered from temple to temple performing rituals. They spent hours and hours meditating. Many of them did dangerous practices like fasting. Many of them did not wear clothes. They were motivated to try to attain Enlightenment and they thought that enjoying life would impede that goal.

I provided this context so we could talk about the Buddha.

Siddhartha grew up in a privileged life. He was born into a noble family. When he was born a fortune teller told his father the King that his son would grow up to either be a great king or a great sage who would change the world. The King wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. So, he made an effort to provide every possible comfort for Siddhartha, so he would never wish for a spiritual life. He thought that in a life of total luxuries his son would not have any yearning for spiritual truths. He would have no reason to be a spiritual seeker, so he would become a great king.

Siddhartha grew up with everything he could possibly want. He was surrounded by all the best food, all the best toys, and many women who were willing to indulge his every desire.

Would any of us have become spiritual seekers if we had lives like that? I don’t know.

There was one moment of his childhood that Siddhartha would remember as very important. He would always remember one day when he sat under a tree as a little boy. He just sat there doing nothing and had a feeling of peace and happiness. This was the moment when he first came into contact with his Buddha nature. This was the moment when the seed of Awakening was planted in his mind. He felt a feeling of oneness, connection to all things. It is the memory of this feeling that would later inspire him.

Siddhartha was a young adult when he was able to sneak out of his father’s house to see the real world. He had been sheltered from everything. He took a servant with him and wandered the streets near the palace.

In the streets Siddhartha saw what is known as the four sights. He was unaware of these four things in his sheltered life in the palace, so seeing them would change him. The first three sights were an old man, a sick man and a corpse. The servant explained each of these things in turn. Siddhartha was surprised to learn that each of us has to face old age, sickness and death. Up until this point, he had no idea.

Then, they call upon an ascetic—a man who had given up worldly pleasures to seek spiritual Enlightenment. This was a holy man and Siddhartha was immediately moved by seeing him. He felt something pulling at his spiritual side. This was the second time that a seed was planted that would lead to his Awakening.

The servant explained to Siddhartha that this holy man was dedicated to seeking the cause of human suffering. Siddhartha didn’t really understand but he knew that this experience was important. The servant told him that there were many holy men like this one and they rejected the dominant paradigm of society, seeking to find their own spiritual truths.

Siddhartha started to realize that the true nature of life was full of suffering. He resolved to conquer suffering, to unleash his true potential, not just for himself but to help all of the suffering people in the world. Soon after this event he left the palace, leaving all of his possessions and wealth behind. He gave up everything to go out and live the life of a spiritual seeker. He resolved to become a great sage.

This was a big sacrifice. Siddhartha’s story sets an example. Buddhism teaches us to give up things that are harmful to us; to give up attachment.

Spiritual seeking was so important to him. He had incredible motivation.

Siddhartha spent time studying with many of the famous holy men of his day. He studied with teachers who were the forerunners of modern Hinduism and Jainism, but he didn’t find what he was looking for. These holy men told him that he should give up everything that his body enjoyed, so that he would be fully focused on the spiritual life. He tried this, living on very little food and spending days at a time meditating. Ultimately he found that the life of giving up everything didn’t accomplish his goals. It was no better than always indulging in pleasure.

He learned from several different spiritual teachers. In each case he stayed with them until they told him they had taught him everything and he realized he had to find his own way.

He sat under a tree meditating, focusing on finding the truth. He realized that the truth was within, so that’s where he decided to look. So, he sat and resolved to not get up from beneath this tree until he became Enlightened.

He came to a realization that Enlightenment is a middle way—a way between the extremes of self indulgence and self denial.

To indulge in every possible pleasure couldn’t lead to spiritual truths. It only leads to a life of constant distraction. To live a life of extreme denial doesn’t lead to spiritual truths either, only to more suffering.

We say he discovered the path, but really it was more of a discovery. Buddhist teachings are fundamental truths about the human experience.

We can all see them if we look within.



When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears

There have always been spokespersons for spirituality.

These are the mystics who dwell in both worlds, traveling deeply on the spiritual path, but also bringing something back to share. These are shamans, yogis, and gurus who go beyond the culture to the Truth and bring some of the Truth back with them.

This was the case for thousands of years of human history, when spirituality was flexible, mystical and transcendent. This paradigm is probably not what it used to be in the modern world. But, I’m not writing this to criticize the state of religion today.

In any case, these mystics, these representatives of oneness served the purpose of helping others discover transcendence in this world, guide others in the spiritual life or, at least, demonstrate what the spiritual life could be. They set an example and actualize spiritual goals.

For an individual to walk this path, of course they would need to have seen something of ultimate reality themselves. They have to live the path—as I said dwelling in two worlds, the world of void and the world of form. The mystic has to have used the spiritual eye to see beyond the world of delusion, the world of separation, and penetrated the oneness that is fundamental to reality.

A vision of unity is important.

The mystic can’t make others change the way they look at things. The mystic can point the way to seeing beyond duality and unlocking our minds. The mystic can even give advice (if it’s asked for) and can certainly set an example. But no one can break out of the delusions of duality and see their true nature without putting forth their own sincere effort.

In tribal cultures it was easy to find a spiritual teacher. Mystics had a role in the community. They were isolated at times, but had an important role to play in a lot of the functions of society. Is this still true? No.

A seeker can have a hard time. A good spiritual teacher will hopefully present themselves as a guide instead of a master.

So, what are those of us who teach mystical truths to others?

I am not a teacher or a priest. I am an awakener.

Our purpose is to walk between the worlds of void and form and to help others do the same. I am dwelling in oneness and pulling others onto the path with me.



Diamond Sutra, chapter 23

“I don’t have the idea that I will lead all beings to Awakening. Do not think that way, Subhuti. Why? In truth there is no one for me to lead to Awakening. If I thought that there was, I would be caught in the ideas of self and other. Subhuti, what I call a self essentially has no self in the way that ordinary people think there is a self.”

For the Buddha, the boundaries that separate self from other are dissolved. The Buddha doesn’t lead others to Awakening because the truth is there are no others. The Buddha teaches us that the essential truth is that we are one.