Short Teachings 2022


As karma teaches us, fear is never good, fear can only lead to more fear.

Fear is an unpleasant feeling of perceived future danger that makes us expect specific problems. They are, by definition, baseless. Fear is a reaction to something we imagine may happen in the future. It is never real. It is always uncomfortable. The more we fear, the more increasingly unsettled and fearful we become.

Fear is something that our mind invents and cultivates in response to an imagined aversion, be it a person, place, thing, event, or mindstate, and even though we know it is against our own self-interest to be fearful, we are constantly cultivating fearfulness instead of mindfulness.

As fear is based on something that we think may happen in the future, it is a mental process which tries to predict the future – in that sense, fear is a projection of our mind, a silly/baseless/afflicted future thinking that leads us to suffer. And, too, it takes us away from the present.

Fear is a defilement; it is an affliction. It ranges from gentle to debilitating. Fear undermines our happiness and spiritual progress.

The cause of all fear is self-grasping ignorance, as well as all the unskillful actions motivated by the delusion of a permanent and independent self. Consider what that means in your life.

Our Most Important Practice

Candrakirti, the 7th century Tibetan master, says that all our afflictions–all of our distress and hardships, all of our uneasiness and suffering, all of our pain and trouble–arise from ignorance. Ignorance being a misunderstanding of the nature of the self: an inability to see our self as it really is, and instead to reify it. Dealing with this misunderstanding, head-on, therefore, is our most important spiritual practice.


Arrogance is a puffed-up mind based on a deluded outlook toward our place in this world. It functions to make us not appreciate others or respect the good qualities of others and to prevent us from expanding our horizons.

There are seven types of arrogance in the traditional Buddhist model which are sometimes categorized under the three bolded headings below, and sometimes left as seven different forms of arrogance:

  • Arrogance is a puffed-up mind that feels I am better than someone inferior to myself in some quality.
  • Exaggerated arrogance is a puffed-up mind that feels I am better than someone equal to myself in some quality.
  • Outrageous arrogance is a puffed-up mind that feels I am better than someone superior to myself in some quality.
  • Egotistic arrogance is a puffed-up mind that thinks “I-me-my-mine” without realizing it is exactly “I-me-my-mine” that is perpetuating our suffering.
  • False or anticipatory arrogance is a puffed-up mind that feels I have attained some quality that I have not actually attained or not yet attained.
  • Modest arrogance is a puffed-up mind that feels that I am just a little bit inferior compared to someone vastly superior to myself in some quality, but still superior to almost everyone else.
  • Distorted arrogance is a puffed-up mind that feels that some deviant aspect that I have fallen to is a good quality that I have attained – for instance, being a good hunter.

Vasubandhu, the great 5th century philosopher, mentioned that some Buddhist texts list nine types of arrogance, but they can be subsumed under the three above bolded categories – arrogance, exaggerated arrogance, and modest arrogance. The nine are puffed-up minds that feel:

  • I am superior to others
  • I am equal to others
  • I am inferior to others
  • Others are superior to me
  • Others are equal to me
  • Others are inferior to me
  • There is no one superior to me
  • There is no one equal to me
  • There is no one inferior to me.

Questions is, how “puffed-up” are you.

The Superhighway to Peacefulness

Realizing that the way we perceive things is fundamentally flawed, because we see everything as arising in a cause-and-effect way, we realize we need to shift to seeing things as arising from conditions, with each condition being empty. Studying up on conditions is critical to a Buddhist practice.

The most famous Buddhist philosopher, Nagarjuna, says this: Nothing can be permanent–can have self-sufficient, intrinsic qualities that define it– because, among other reasons, there is no way to produce (create) something that is permanent.

Since cause and effect, by definition, is permanent, then there is no natural cause-and-effect relationship possible between people, objects, or phenomena. So how do things arise? They happen when four very specifics conditions, which depend on each other to happen, appear to arise together. “Empty” is the term for anything that is characterized by this lack of permanence.

Buddhism is suggesting that we cultivate a new way of understanding and perceiving our lives: learning to abide in conditions—learning not to believe that our senses are giving us accurate information and that the affinities and aversions we erroneously assign to things are the problem, not the solution.

Abiding in conditions is the superhighway to peacefulness and enlightenment.

Why Meditate

The questions isn’t “Why should you meditate? Rather, the question is “Why doesn’t everyone meditate every single day?” Answer, people don’t meditate because they think (1) they don’t have the time, or (2) it’s hard to do, or (3) it is odd or culty. None of those is true. We all have the time, especially when we realize that we can do it anywhere: in the car waiting to pickup the kids from school, on the train heading to and from the office, etc.

We should meditate just like we brush our teeth. Meditation, after all, scrubs the mind of stress and anxiety, leaving it glistening and present to be here in the joy of the moment with ourselves, our families, our friends and colleagues, and with the planet. But whereas brushing your teeth only provides you with oral health, meditating makes everything about your mind and body better, healthier, and happier.

Right Speech Ditty

“To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.” Thomas Paine

Candy or Gold, Your Choice

What we call happiness in everyday parlance is only “happiness” because we’re not seeing it clearly. What we call “happiness” is, in fact, nothing more or less than being excited about getting what we want. In dharma terms, that’s greed, not happiness.

True happiness doesn’t come from getting what we want and it isn’t dependent on externals. Externals, as we know from meditation, are impermanent and always changing. To hang our happiness on something that is about to disappear isn’t real happiness. Real happiness comes from within, from letting go of our delusions, from being our original untarnished self.

If we want to reach true happiness, we must be dedicated, disciplined, and above all, honest with ourselves. And we must be willing to give up the illusion of happiness that comes from getting our way in order to be happiness.

We act more like kids than adults in making this choice. We tell ourselves we want it both ways. We’re not willing to give up our candy for gold. We tell ourselves we can keep the candy and get the gold too, building one delusion on top of another. It doesn’t work that way. And even though we realize that it doesn’t work that way–after all, if it did, we would be happy by now–we continue to tell ourselves we’re right and that we should be attached to the (candy) stuff we like and want, even at the expense longterm happiness.

Until we are willing to rearrange our priorities and commit to living a disciplined, meditation- and wisdom-informed life, all we will do is increase our unhappiness, our stress and anxiety. We know this, of course, if we look at what’s happening around things we say make us happy.

Take a closer look: What do most people say at the end of a cruise: WOW, this was great, we should do it again next year. Instead of enjoying the end of the cruise, we’re trying to get more of it and our idea of it. This is greed. This is protecting and defending our feeling about how great the trip was by buying another. This is fertilizing the seeds that say, “If a little is good, a lot is better” thinking that “a lot” will finally make us r-e-a-l-l-y happy.

Again, this excitement at getting what we want; it is not real happiness

We spend so much time working on our desires and attachments, strengthening them and increasing them, explaining and justifying them, that we aren’t present with the things as they are. We’d rather talk about how good it will be next year than to actually be on the cruise.

This is the candy in our life, and we hold onto it tenaciously. Ironically, it is exactly that tenacity that prevents us from moving along the path to real happiness, the gold.

Question is, do you want occasional moments when you delude yourself into thinking you’re happy or do you want to be happy all the time. Are you willing to trade the “happiness” that comes from getting externals for the happiness that comes from within, from a settled mind that is clear and at ease, even under the most difficult circumstances? The happiness that comes from spiritual well-being and a disciplined mind can survive even sickness, aging and death, so why is it that we are so willing to forego it for momentary “pleasures.”

When we let go of the candy, when we are willing to sacrifice external pleasures, we become free of the mental burdens, the stress and anxiety, that they entail and that binds us to our suffering.

External pleasures are our addictions to eye-candy, ear-candy, nose-candy, tongue-candy, body-candy, and mind-candy. They foster the three poisons: greed, anger, and delusion, and they actively block the qualities we need to achieve inner peace.

So do we relish our passions or renounce them? Do we follow the path or only give it lip service?


What’s In Your Cup?

You’re holding a coffee cup when someone comes along and bumps into you. Coffee spills everywhere. Why did you spill the coffee? You spilled the coffee because there was coffee in your cup. Had there been tea in the cup, you would have spilled tea. The point is, whatever is in the cup is what spills out.
When life comes along and shakes you, whatever is inside you comes out. So we have to ask ourselves, “What’s in my cup? What did I put in my cup today?”

A Deep Look at Emptiness

The first and most important question, when discussing emptiness, is “What are things empty of?” Things are empty of permanence. Although things appear directly to our senses to be inherently existent, in reality all phenomena lack, or are empty of, an inherent, substantive, autonomous existence. This means all phenomena lack a permanent definition, meaning, value, or function.

That’s what things are empty of.

Emptiness is the unseen, ultimate nature of all things. Emptiness means that things do not have an inherent definition, meaning, function, or value. Emptiness is the false notion of an independently, existing Self. Emptiness is the absence of reification. It is the source of all our problems.

It is especially important to understand that “emptiness” is an attribute, a descriptor, like an adjective, not a noun; it is a designation, not a thing, not a place. It is not something permanent that underlies the universe, but rather, and simply, “ultimately” how things really are, which means dependently arisen and ever-changing


Amelie Rorty, a late 20th century Belgian-born American philosopher wrote: “The question is: how can we sustain the illusions essential to ordinary life, without becoming self-damaging idiots?”

Answer – Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy: Realize Emptiness


Buddhist theories of mind-only postulate that human beings and all phenomena lack entityhood and “exist” only as the psychological constituents and processes which comprise them. In other words, how we imagine them is how they exist—regardless of whether there is an external entity to corroborate them.

Two Poems to Consider

Frog Haiku
By Matsumoto Basho
translated by Allen Ginsberg

The old pond
A frog jumped in,

By Philip Whalen (1965)

Soap cleans itself the way ice does,
Both disappear in the process.
The questions of “Whence” & “Wither” have no validity here.
Mud is a mixture of earth and water.
Imagine WATER as a “Heavenly” element.
Samsara and nirvana are one:
Flies in amber, sand in the soap
Dirt and red algae in the ice
Fare thee well, how very delightful to see you here again!


Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace.


This is from Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva, Verse 34 from Chapter Six on patience. The full chapter with our commentary can be found at DeepDharma:

If things were accomplished by free-will,
No living being at all
Would ever have any suffering,
For no one wants to suffer.

One could take exception with this verse, there are people who get mileage out of suffering and causing conditions to arise that make others suffer, but in general, we need to use what free-will we have to minimize or eliminate our suffering rather than to create more suffering. When karmic conditions arise, when we become aware of the narratives that we use to navigate our everyday lives, meditation and a patience practice allow us to see that we can, in “the present moment,” inject changes from our free-will.
No one has 100% free-will, but, at least with respect to our experiences of conventional reality, we do have considerable free-will once awareness arises and we see where we are headed. Ignorance plays in heavily here – it is impossible to predict all the outcomes of our actions due to the limits of our understanding, but if we act from patience rather than anger, we stand a better chance of avoiding adding negative reactive karma to our storehouses than if we react from anger. This, in turn, helps to steer us toward ever-greater equanimity than perpetually reinforced negative reactivity. This is a significant pathway to peacefulness.

Wash Your Bowl

A monk said to Jōshū, “I have just entered this monastery. Please teach me.” “Have you eaten your rice porridge?” asked Jōshū. “Yes I have,” replied the monk. “Then you had better wash your bowl,” said Jōshū.

The metaphor behind this simple appearing story is really quite deep. Most people think that it simply tells us we must wash our dishes. But no. It’s true meaning goes like this.

The monk eating the porridge is analogous to the present moment. However, after he’s done eating his porridge, the uncleaned bowl represents another present moment which is still affected by the past.

When Jōshū — a senior monk — asks the newbie to wash his bowl, he means that one must wash the past off of one’s present. That one must always keep a clean bowl — a present unaffected by the past.

Our past can be quite a prominent source of suffering. We regret what we did do. We regret what we didn’t do. We hold on to people’s past mistakes and hold grudges against them. We hold on to our own past mistakes and beat ourselves up. But learning to let go of our past — to wash our bowls — will enable us to live healthier, happier lives.

Patience, Briefly Explained

Being patient means welcoming wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are. It means being present, without our stories blinding us to what is really happening. It is a mindstate that is open, curious, and accepting. It is being present without characterizations that leave us in delusion.

Right Speech

Only speak when it will improve the silence

Only speak when you have something to say that will be of benefit
Always speak in ways that can be understood
Only say it once
Never go on the battlefield; being of benefit isn’t about winning

Avoid wrong speech:
Avoid harsh, mean-spirited or angry words
Avoid falsehoods
Avoid gossip and small talk
Avoid belittling others to raise your own status

Our Chief Concern

We are concerned more with having than with being. That’s our problem!

We Fail Because We’re in Unending Pursuit

Pursuing what we define as desirable and avoiding what we define as undesirable leaves us in a perpetual state of needing more, forcing us into a life of unending pursuit. We are always dissatisfied, always wanting. For, with every attainment, there arises a new affinity and a new aversion. There is always a bigger or better car on the horizon for us to desire, always a better way for our kids to behave–always something our kids need to change, always more we need to do and accomplish at work. What we really need is to stop being needy!

Don’t Get Stuck

Don’t get stuck, not stuck to inside, outside, or in between.

Early Chinese teachings tell us not to get stuck “inside.” By inside we can surmise they mean meditation, and perhaps also not get attached to our karma, or this can be seen as an exhortation to use meditation to focus on no-self, not to improperly use our time meditating to indulge in worldly contemplation that amounts to obsession, producing karma.
By “outside” is meant not to get stuck in our conventional stories about the external world. Also, not to allow reification of conventional stories to develop into rumination and obsessive thinking, or to become battlegrounds.
By “in between” is meant not to attach to emptiness, or said another way, not to attach to The Middle Way. The Middle Way is just a raft; a teaching to move us along the path to liberation, it is not a belief or view to which we should attach.

There Is No Present Moment, Only Explanatory Interest and Language

What we are typically confronted with in nature is a vast network of interdependent and continuous processes, and carving out particular phenomena (person, place, thing, process, event, etc.) for explanation or for use in explanations depends more on our explanatory interests, normal limits on human cognition, and language than on the nature of the conditions themselves. Simply put, what we choose to see and talk about has more to do with who we are, what we have experienced in the past (karma), what we are interested in at the time, and the language we choose to express ourselves, than with the nature of what is “happening.” If we enter a well-lighted room, we don’t mention it; on the other hand, if the room is dimly lit, we might flick the switch or ask that the lamps be turned on so we can see better. So it is not about the light, per se, but about our need and interest in having more light. And, the language we use to ask for more light reflects our mood (are we asking gently and politely, indicating we are being open and patient, or are we making a snide remark about this room always being too dark, indicating we are upset) rather than anything about the light or lack of light itself.

The present moment, then, is not about an event that is occurring, but about our explanatory need and the language with which we describe it. Together they create the narratives we believe is “the present moment.”

Defining Compassion in a Sentence

The feeling of compassion is benevolence.
–Mencius, c. 300BCE

In Buddhism, compassion is the empathetic call to action. Empathy refers to one’s ability to see the suffering of another, but not to identify with it. It is a character trait rather than an emotion, like sympathy, which is identifying with another’s suffering (I feel your pain.) rather than seeing the suffering and acting to relieve it. Compassion arises from patience, along with wisdom and generosity.

“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”
— James Joyce from The Dubliners

Mindfulness and mindful meditation are the course to being here now, in and with our body, with an open and peaceful mind and heart—patient, compassionate, and generous.

Question is: Are you here now?

Two Views of Anger

From Genesis, where we see the first signs of the Abrahamic God becoming angry with Adam and Eve to Exodus, where God is raging, first at the Egyptians and then at his chosen people, through to Jesus tirade at the money-changers in the Temple to the command in Ephesians (4:26): “Be angry,” we see anger as godly and righteous, though both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures warn us against “worldly” or “manly” anger. The Quran shares many of these early references as well as references to Mohammed becoming angry and condoning righteous anger.

In the Abrahamic religions, there is good anger and bad anger. Good anger is the anger of God or his representatives (Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, et al), or anger at what one supposes would anger God or his representatives, or anger at perceived injustices. All other anger, worldly anger, is defined as bad anger. This understanding of anger, however, condones and encourages most forms of anger and ultimately justifies everything from the periodic slaughters and genocides of the early Hebrew Scriptures to the medieval Inquisition and Crusades to today’s violent Jihads.

Anger and Buddhism

Buddhist on the other hand views all anger as a defilement. In fact, anger is such a strong defilement that it is categorized, along with greed and delusion, as one of the three poisons. And one of the fundamental principles of Buddhism is that defiled behavior can only lead to more defiled behavior: being angry cannot make us peaceful, acting angrily does cannot make this a better world.

For Buddhists, anger is anger, anger is always a defilement, an afflicted emotion, and there is no such thing as righteous anger or righteous indignation.

Anger is one of the most common and destructive defilements, it afflicts our minds almost all the time, whether it is in its least weighty forms, as uneasiness or irritability, or in its full-blown forms, as rage/fury and combat.



At about the age of two, the hippocampus develops sufficiently for us to have explicit memory. Explicit memory yields a kind of retrieval that involves the sense of recollection–and, if autobiographical, of the “self” at some time in the past. This autobiographical memory is the ability to perform “mental time travel,” creating mental representations of the self in the past, present and future. This narrative process allows us to shape the flow of information about self and others into a coherence. –Daniel Seigel

From a neuroscience perspective, coherence is an important developmental module. But from a Buddhist perspective, coherence is a big problem. No Self, not coherence, is the answer to relieving our suffering.

Buddhism & Love

There’s next to nothing in the Buddhist scriptures about romantic love, but let’s at least clear up a common misunderstanding. You may have heard that Buddhists are supposed to be free of attachments. To a native English speaker, this suggests remaining a loner, not having close relationships.

But “attachment” has a specific meaning in Buddhism that is closer to what most of us would call “clinging” than to on to something out of a sense of neediness and greed.

Close friendships and intimate relationships that do not arise from greed but rather from an other-centered sensibility are encouraged not discouraged in Buddhism.

Our Aim

The aim of Buddhist philosophy is not to replace “unwarranted” beliefs with “justified true” beliefs. Instead, Buddhist philosophy, insights, and mindfulness practices ask us to break the habit of forming these beliefs in the first place, erroneously declaring them to be true and then becoming attached to them.

Unfortunately, our lives are often spent in an unceasing endeavor to affirm the validity of our views, opinions, beliefs, attitudes and ideas. Maybe it is time to break the habit? The aim of this site is to provide you with understandings of Buddhist psychology and philosophy so that you will have the everyday practical tools to do exactly that: to break the habit and to see clearly and to live an engaged life.

Three Dharma Seals

The Buddha speaks of three kinds of illusion or perversions that grip man’s mind. When a man is caught up in these illusions he perceives, thinks, and views incorrectly. He perceives permanence in the impermanent; satisfactoriness in the unsatisfactory; self in what is not self.

–Buddhist scholar monk Nyanaponika Thera

Karma Is

Karma is the motivational dispositions stored in our mind which, when conditions warrant it, assemble into narratives that suggest how we should act—they are memory fragments that arise and create stories which will motivate us to act with body, speech, and mind. Without karma, we would be unable to function in the world; we wouldn’t know how to act; in fact there wouldn’t even be a world.

Karma is our storehouse of motivational dispositions, of imprints left behind after previous actions (karma literally means action), that determine our destiny in the sense that they make the world seem consistent with our previous understandings of things—so we can know the difference between a stick and a snake, a difference that is meaningful. These narratives, which are actually our conventional fictions about things, not truths about them, are constructed from memory fragments that we earn and accumulate through past actions, speech, and thoughts.

In this way, karma means and explains that our past actions actually bind us to our present actions and it is this continuity that allows us to survive and navigate the world. Poetically put, karma is an echo of the past that determines (at least in part) the future.

Karma are the intentional acts that result in states of being and the arising of new Selfs from moment to moment. Without karma there would be no self. While attaining liberation that way might seem at first glance to be advantageous (no-self/no suffering); a closer look indicates that without karma, inaccurate as it usually is, we would be completely non-functional and we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a toothbrush and a snake, a difference that is meaningful.

Karma Works Like This

Karma works like this –going from leaving the weakest imprint to the strongest imprint: thinking about it, intending to do it, planning it, making the necessary preparations to do it, and the strongest–doing it. That’s the pattern for any event.

The Way Out of Our Suffering

Hard, solid, inflexible beliefs, beliefs and opinions and views that we reify so that they seem to be permanent, are the problem, not the solution to a better life—a life pursuing peace and attendant joy. Rigid erroneous views are the problem that stops us in our track to better lives. Being flexible and supple, relaxing into impermanence in our conventional understandings of events is the way out of our suffering.

Contemplate These

Our distorted view of reality is countered by thinking about impermanence, the nature of suffering, selflessness, and emptiness.

Briefly Put, the Signless Nature of Signs

(from Chapter Five of The Diamond Sutra)

Signs are conventional characteristics we attribute to phenomena, or conventional characterizations we give phenomena, like dark clouds being a “sign” of a coming rainstorm.
Signs are conventional definitions, meanings, values, and functions we assign to phenomena (people, places, things, events, definitions, mindstates, etc.) which reify them, making them (the conventional things—dark clouds, in the example above) appear permanent, independent, and predictive, like dark clouds being a sign of coming rain.
That reification being false (nothing is permanent), shows us that signs are empty, meaning signless. Having a profound understanding of this allows us not to attach to our characterizations (our stories), thus reducing the suffering which results from believing that our stories about phenomena are real.

Our Chief Concern

We are concerned more with having than with being. That’s our problem!

It’s Impossible

Reincarnation requires there to be a permanent Self, making permanent changes in form, time, and place. From a Buddhist, that’s simply not possible.

Don’t Expect Anything in Return

Generosity is the antidote to greed, the strongest of the Three Poisons (greed, anger, and delusion). Greed leads to self-centeredness and suffering; generosity is its antidote and leads to other-centeredness and liberation.

But it is a two-way highway to liberation. It is not only how we act and speak and think but is also how others act and speak and think toward one and in response to one’s generosity

Forget Self-Actualization; the Gateway to Peacefulness is No-Self

Self-actualization is what philosophy, psychiatry and psychology generally see, usually through Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy, as the pinnacle of a person’s being. Self-actualized people are those who, we are taught in schools, colleges, and universities, are those who are fulfilled and doing all they are maximally capable of. It assumes a strong ego and a “person” desire to be fulfilled, whatever that means: ego?, self?, personhood?; also, a strong ego-driven desire to be one’s genuine self, to be one’s authentic and true self, to be real and bona fide, whatever those terms may mean.

Buddhism sees this as ridiculous–because there is no true Self to actualize. No permanent Self that somehow inhabits our body but is separate from it, and which can be actualized. Instead, Buddhism sees who we are as stories, as fictions that create the structure for and continuous reinforcement of the phantom Self, the Self that only exists as a concept in our imagination. This is the cause of suffering, as our Self is a construct based on the illusion that causes suffering, the illusion that getting what our stories tell us to be desirable is what will make us authentic and whole, when in fact, it leaves us always wanting and always unsatisfied.

The Five Aggregates is the metaphor for how we create our illusory psychophysical Self and how it leads to suffering. It is, in a sense, exactly the opposite of what we are taught in self-actualization settings.


Diligence is taking joy in what is virtuous, positive, or wholesome, and then engaging with it. It is an attitude of gladly engaging, without hesitation or reservation, with what is virtuous.
As diligence is a mindstate that leads to engagement, it is the antidote to sloth and torpor, two big afflictions to practice, especially to meditation. Diligence is more than obligatorily “just doing it”; it is wanting to do it and doing it happily. Diligence permeates all of our practices, spiritual and otherwise, and invigorates them.