Money & Dharma: Not Mutually Exclusive

monk money“Business is not Dharma”,  said the Venerable Thubten Chodron, Buddhist nun, author, and Abbess.  People shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.  A few people clapped, but mostly, the climate was one of bewilderment.  How could business not be Dharma, when it was business which had generated and then donated the funds necessary to convene this Buddhist Leadership conference at Naropa University in the first place? How could business not be Dharma if people didn’t do business to create the surplus that supported the nun herself, and her abbey, who relied entirely upon charity to live?  The venerable teacher later clarified her statement, saying that she felt that Dharma teachings should be conducted in a non-transactional manner.  This is also debatable.  However, the initial statement and reaction to it highlights a tender dilemma – the perception that money is inherently unholy, and the fact that we are all dependent on it.

Dharma means ‘Truth’.  Often, it is meant to express the ‘highest good’.  Buddha Dharma is simply the Truth expounded by a Buddha, or perhaps a pure teacher on a Buddha’s behalf.  A person’s Dharma is the highest and noblest use of her life, or the best choices she can make given a set of circumstances.  To say that business is not Dharma is to say that all working people spend the majority of their lives in service to a lie.  Though this may be true for some people, there are quite a number of us that are only able to find the inspiration to continue working in corporations and other places because we do so in service (with varying degrees of success) to a higher ideal.  This is Dharma.  It is also called Karma Yoga.

Money, sex and power are indulgences that monastics renounce, Chodron said, and indeed, these fascinations fuel great misery among human beings.  However, (and perhaps the Venerable Chodron would agree) it is a mistake to view money, sex or power as being inherently evil, wrong or impure.  Purity of intention, integrity of action,  and  detachment to the fruits of our efforts – these three attitudes can transform anything into a vehicle for Dharma.  As described by Lynne Twist, another enlightening speaker at the Leadership conference, and a businesswoman who worked alongside Mother Theresa and who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for global philanthropic initiatives, money is like water.  It belongs to none of us.  It flows all around us, below and above us, and through us.  “Money is like water – it can be a conduit for commitment, a currency of love. Reallocate your financial resources to support what you love. Take money away from that which is destructive, and reallocate it to that which is productive and sustainable.  You can do that with every spending decision you make.”

For More Info:
The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist
The Bhagavad Gita, transl. Swami Prabhavananda & Christopher Ishwerwood

Death: Not What It Seems


Finish Line: Overnight Suicide Prevention Walk San Diego 2017

After today’s meditation in our Blue Sky Zen Morning Service, I’m convinced that Death, once the “dust” and the emotional reaction to dying, settles, feels like meditation.

That to be dead is to be pure awareness, consciousness so vast that it perceives itself.

It hears the birds, and the neighbors walking by, and those sounds are oneself. It sees bugs crawling on the flowers on the altar, and it is the bug and the flower too, which now fills the awareness for love, in love with its own beingness.

There is no need for embodiment, for movement is in the awareness, and it is everywhere. Embodiment into form is actually a type of prison, and formalization, a containment into individuality, that which is not individual in its fullest form.

I’m afraid of the pain of dying, the loss of my attachments and loves, but truly, nothing is ever lost. All of our dead beloveds are right here, in the space between our atoms, our cells, the molecules that individuate us, and all the space in between.

Death is a grieving of a loss of companionship in individuated form. But that person is still here, still integrated into the vastness of consciousness.

I had a dream once that I was in a car that plunged off a cliff.   I was in the passenger seat, terrified as we crashed and died. But the dream didn’t end there. Then, I was dead, but it was hilarious. All I could do was laugh, because my fear had been so ridiculous, for everything was already the same. Just no particular body.

It might take some time for this insight to be integrated into daily consciousness, but it’s a relief, and it’s a biggie.

Is Buddhism A Religion?

christandbuddhahuggingIt depends on who you ask. That is, it depends upon the form and the way Buddhism is practiced. For some, yes, it is religion. For others, no. Those of us that practice  Buddhism as a non-religion tend to look upon those that practice religious forms as good Buddhists who are nonetheless either incapable of actualizing, or otherwise missing the ultimate, non-dual point of the Buddha’s teachings. This may seem to be a put-down, but it is not intended as one. Just as there are Catholics and Greek Orthodox who are extremely traditional and rule-oriented versus, say, a Gnostic Christian who follows the spirit, rather than the letter of the scriptural law, there are Buddhists who are rule-oriented and scripturally bound.

Telepathy & The True Nature Of Reality


The reason that science hasn’t been able to test telepathy is because they’re looking for the wrong thing. Telepathy isn’t about transmitting messages. In telepathy, there isn’t technically a sender and a receiver. This is because telepathy exists outside of time, in that non-local soup where all our consciousnesses connect.

The Japanese concept of Ishin- is closer to what telepathy actually is than a transmission of messages. It means ‘unspoken mutual understanding’, and is often translated as ‘heart to heart communication.’ In Zen, it means ‘direct mind transmission’, and it is indeed through Zen that this concept found its way into Japanese culture, via China, from India, where Ishin-denshin referred to the first Dharma transmission between Gautama Buddha and Mahākāśyapa in the Flower Sermon.

What is Zen?

BodhidharmabyYoshitoshi1887Some forms of Buddhism center on monastic practice, or other aspects of the Buddha’s teachings, but Zen centers on meditation and mindfulness. It is a word that comes to us from the word Dhyana, which is Sanskrit for meditation. When Bodhidharma* brought Buddhist meditation from India to China around 527 AD, the word dhyana  was translated by the local Chinese to ch’an. From China, Buddhist meditation spread to Korea and Japan, where ch’an was pronounced by the locals as son and zen, respectively. Blame the habits of the human tongue and palate, then, for the exotics, because the word zen simply means meditation.

However, there are implications to the word. Consider the Buddha himself, with his exquisite Flower Sermon, understood only by his disciple Mahākāśyapa.  Ananda was the Buddha’s cousin and principle attendant, and stood out for his retentive memory. Ananda wrote down all the teachings he heard,  passing on the Sūtra Piṭaka (The sayings and discourses of the Buddha, plus poetry) part of the Pali Canon, the earliest written form of the Buddha’s Teachings. But Ananda, who was known for being well-liked, was not the most realized of the Buddha’s disciples.

It is  Mahākāśyapa, the one who understood the wordless teaching of the Flower Sermon,  that inherited the dhyana meditation lineage. When we read the lineage chant at evening service, we are, ideally, reading a list of unbroken telepathically transmitted enlightenment.

When a person consciously holding the Buddha’s transmission is leading a retreat, offering a Mondo session,  conducting an interview, or walking down the street and greeting people, (s)he transmits more than just words or instruction. There is both exoteric transmission, and esoteric transmission underway. It is a face-to-face transmission, best understood by the idea of one candle lighting another.

In this way, meditation, and various understandings and other transmissions of dharma (which basically refers to fundamental mechanics of nature and the universe, often briefly defined as ‘truth’) are passed on from teacher to student, down the line of time. From Bodhidharma’s Chinese lineage, it was Nampo Shomyo Zenji (Chanshi, Zenji, see the pattern?) who brought the Buddha’s transmission to Japan. And from Japan, it is Junpo Kelly Roshi, my Zen Master, that has transformed this living tradition into a more palatable vehicle, leaving out the racism, misogyny, rigidity and any non-inclusive and unnecessary traits, and refocusing the order on meditation: the Buddha’s dhyana, or zen.

So that’s zen – basically a huge, psychic game of telephone from around 500 B.C. Pretty cool, huh?

*Bodhidharma is known to my order as Pu Ti Ta Mo Chanshi, the 29th Zen Master in our Hollow Bones Rinzai Zen Lineage.

Agnosticm – admitting what we might not know

Idon'tknowTo some, being agnostic, or admitting you don’t know, seems a position of weakness. But let’s think about it. Being uncertain is uncomfortable. Not knowing – whether we’re talking about the existence of ‘God’, the love someone else feels for us, or the nature of reality, is uncomfortable. It’s not for the weak of heart.