Short Teachings 2023

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, etc.) for explanation or for use in explanations depends more on our explanatory interests 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 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.

This indicates that there is no “present moment” as the “present moment” is an illusion that reflects our interests, needs, and language—not what is “happening.”

Quick Introduction to Karma

  • Karma is the motivational dispositions stored in our brain which, when conditions warrant it, assemble into narratives that suggest how we should act.
  • Karma is the destiny that you earn through your actions and thoughts.
  • Karma is an echo of the past that arbitrates our future.
  • Karma means and explains that our past actions actually condition us to our present actions.
  • Karma are the intentional acts that result in states of being and the arising of new Selfs from moment to moment.

 Karma is the moral principle that governs human conduct. It declares that our present experience is conditioned by our past conduct and that our present conduct will condition our future experience. But if past action were the sole determining factor, then present action should have no effect on our present experience of satisfaction or suffering.

 In this way, the Buddha points to one of the most distinctive features of his own teaching on karma: that the present experience of satisfaction and pain is a combined result of both past and present actions. This seemingly small addition to the ancient Indian notion of karma plays an enormous role in allowing for the exercise of free will and the possibility of putting an end to suffering before the effects of all past actions have ripened. In other words, this addition is what makes Buddhist practice possible.


Right Speech Is About Right Intention

 By Thanissaro Bhikkhu


As my teacher once said, “If you can’t control your mouth, there’s no way you can hope to control your mind.’ This is why right speech is so important in day-to-day practice.

Right speech, explained in negative terms, means avoiding four types of harmful speech: lies (words spoken with the intent of misrepresenting the truth); divisive speech (spoken with the intent of creating rifts between people); harsh speech (spoken with the intent of hurting another person’s feelings); and idle chatter (spoken with no purposeful intent at all).

Notice the focus on intent: this is where the practice of right speech intersects with the training of the mind. Before you speak, you focus on why you want to speak. This helps get you in touch with all the machinations taking place in the committee of voices running your mind. If you see any unskillful motives lurking behind the committee’s decisions, you veto them. As a result, you become more aware of yourself, more honest with yourself, more firm with yourself. You also save yourself from saying things that you’ll later regret. In this way you strengthen qualities of mind that will be helpful in meditation, at the same time avoiding any potentially painful memories that would get in the way of being attentive to the present moment when the time comes to meditate.

In positive terms, right speech means speaking in ways that are trustworthy, harmonious, comforting, and worth taking to heart. When you make a practice of these positive forms of right speech, your words become a gift to others. In response, other people will start listening more to what you say, and will be more likely to respond in kind. This gives you a sense of the power of your actions: the way you act in the present moment does shape the world of your experience. You don’t need to be a victim of past events.



Self-compassion arises when one stops being self-critical. Remind oneself that, regardless of the event or its intensity, you did your best in that moment, with the information and tools your had, and so there is no need for self-blame, no need for negative self-judgments, no need for guilt or negative narratives.


Mindfulness Defined

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present, and nonjudgmentally. It has two aspects—paying attention and remembering to return one’s attention to the object of the meditation when we observe we are distracted.

Changing Ourselves

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.

–Viktor E. Frankl

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.

Focus on Process, Not Outcome.

The ego is result-oriented; the mind always hankers after results. The mind is never interested in the act itself, its interest is in the result. “What am I going to gain out of it?” The mind, the ego, are all result-oriented. Meditation happens only to those who are not result-oriented. And then there is no need to go anywhere. Deep down, say, “I give up.” These are clear-cut instructions given only to those who are ready to travel, to go on the pilgrimage into the unknown.


Abandon any hope of fruition.

Abandon all hope of fruition. You could also say, “Give up all hope” or “Give up” or just “Give.” The shorter the better.

One of the most powerful teachings of the Buddhist tradition is that as long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will. As long as you’re wanting yourself to get better, you won’t. As long as you have an orientation toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or already are.

One of the deepest habitual patterns that we have is to feel that now is not good enough.

One of the things that keeps us unhappy is this continual searching for more. For more pleasure more security, for a little more comfort. And what we fail to observe is that more is never enough.


Humility and Modesty

Personal growth, meaning living a more peaceful, happy and healthy life, requires the development of a non-judgmental awareness of the people, places, things, and processes in our daily lives. This “detached awareness,” as it is called in some therapeutic circles, is all about knowing the present moment for what it really is while contemplating through self-regulation the longer-term implications of being a little closer each day to the unembellished present. These are focused on process rather than outcome.

A beginning in this process of personal growth is to consider a life geared toward modesty and humility. That kind of life self-regulates and balances with compassion to produce spiritual growth, flexibility, open-mindedness and open-heartedness, life satisfaction, resilience, curiosity, openness, and the feeling that life is meaningful.

Why not practice being the smallest person in the room? Being as humble and modest as possible. Not asserting your beliefs and opinions over anyone else’s; dressing unassumingly. Regulating your thoughts so that your ideas are not more “right” or “better” than anyone else’s? Dressing so you don’t stand out.

You may just find it amazingly satisfying and fulfilling.


Meditating with a Goal is a No-No

Practicing meditation with a goal is like trying to catch a feather with a fan. The more you go after it, the more it eludes you. But if you sneak up on it slowly, you can grab it. The aim of practice is to develop patience, to train your mind to become calm and stable. Any attachment or seeking will prevent your mind from settling down.


Learning About Death

Learning about death ( ), with deep analytic study, teaches us the best way to live a meaningful life: with care to do no harm and, as much as possible, always to be beneficial and other- rather than self-centered, always to be patient, compassionate, and generous.


It’s Impossible

Reincarnation requires there to be a permanent Self making permanent changes, in form, time, and place. That’s simply not possible–a “permanent” Self can’t make changes!


Reconciliation Matters

Reconciliation matters
because the consequence of not reconciling
is unending suffering.

Reconciliation is an internal event, something that comes from within us. As such it is always available to us. And so is the peace and well-being that arise from it.



Blame Yourself

Only Blame Yourself. Good or bad, right or wrong, problem or not, difficulty or not – you’re to blame. Seems counterintuitive, but it’s not.



Open, Curious, and Accepting

The Japanese Zen Buddhist concept of Shoshin, or developing a “beginner’s mind,” may be the best place to start an “open, curious, and accepting” practice. This concept is all about dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas and seeing things with an open mind and fresh eyes and simple acceptance, just like a beginner.

We know from meditation and everyday experience that people, places, events and things are empty of any permanent definition, value, function, and meaning until we assign those false attributes, those fictional characteristics, to them. Therefore, if something seems uncomfortable or difficult or anger provoking, there is only one person to blame for the discomfort, difficulty, or anger–oneself.


Patience, Simply Put

Being patient means welcoming wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are. Patience is a mind that is able to accept fully whatever occurs. It is simply being present with what is happening.

Patience involves learning to be present and upright with all our experiences, without turning toward or away from them. It is our capacity to accept how things really are.

That’s it, simply put.



Mindfulness allows us to see clearly. It allows us to simply be present. It is not so much about doing but about not doing. We just sit in meditation and watch the moment, without floating away into past memories or fretting about the future. The nature of this watching is without desire, without wanting, without clinging or defining or attaching. And that is what allows us to be mindful, to be peaceful.


Nagarjuna on God

To Believe or Not to Believe


To believe or not to believe is not the question for a Buddhist today. The question isn’t whether or not one should believe in God—here we mean a traditional, eternal, omnipotent creator/savior God; an Abrahamic-style God; or some form of ultimate higher power—rather, the question is: Is it possible for such a God to exist? And the answer to that question, clearly, is “No!”

Why? Because there is no way for such a God to have come into existence, into being. There are only 4 ways something new, in this case, a God, could arise, could be made or produced or created: (1) from itself, (2) from another, (3) from some combination of (1) and (2), or (4) from nothing. There are, logically, no other options, and none of these four are possible.


Was Ben Franklin a Buddhist?

Sure Sounds That Way.

Why Fear Death?

– Benjamin Franklin

All men face what is inevitable. Why should death be feared? We begin to die as soon as we are born. At what moment, then, should we be most fearful of leaving the known for the unknown? Understandably, there may be a desire to postpone the transition–for ourselves and for our loved ones–but of what is there to be afraid?

Our physical body is lent to us as a house in which we live. When that dwelling becomes unfit for the purpose for which it was intended, a kind and benevolent nature has provided a way to get rid of that shell. That way is death.

Why then, should we be sad or rebellious? Death does bring changes and adjustments for those who are left behind. The warmth and association of former days are gone. The silence, the finality, the incommunicability disturb, but for our loved one who has triumphed, there should be rejoicing. Sorrow is centered on self, (resulting in unnecessary suffering).


Impermanence = No Self = No Dukkha

The first teaching of the Buddha, that all conditioned phenomena are (suffering) dukkha, is because we erroneously think phenomena are real and independent and existent in a way that makes them, makes everything we perceive, desirable or aversive, and so worthy of our grasping for and clinging to, or pushing away from and getting caught in an aversion. Such unnecessary self-inflicted discomfort and unsatisfactoriness!


Giving Lessens Our Suffering

By Allan Shampine

Buddhism, and the practice of mindfulness, place a great deal of importance on the practice of dana—generosity, giving, charity. The practice of giving claims a place of special eminence in virtually all faiths. It is, in a sense, the foundation and seed of all spiritual development.

The practice of giving is universally recognized as one of the most basic human virtues, a quality that testifies to the depth of one’s humanity and one’s capacity for self-transcendence, especially in the face of great difficulties. Giving is, simply put, one of the most important gateways to freedom from suffering in face of perceived serious issues and difficulties.


Generosity from the Diamond Sutra

How are we supposed to attain freedom from suffering? According to the Diamond Sutra, just be generous. Generosity is often used in the context of making a monetary offering. But in daily life, in Diamond Sutra terms, being generous is meant in a much larger everyday context than just materially. Generosity, according to the Diamond, is what arises when self disappears.


Understanding Anger

Simply put, anger is the emotion that arises whenever we don’t get what we want, which is all the time. Why all the time? Because if we have an affinity for something, we always want more (it’s just how our brain works); if we have an aversion, we always want to rid ourselves of it or want not to get it anymore.

What we learn from meditating, from sitting still and observing our minds, is that all anger is a defilement–an emotion that hinders us from seeing clearly and making appropriate decisions, whether it is affinity or aversion based, no difference. We also learn from simple observation 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.

Anger is anger, anger is always a defilement, an afflicted emotion There is no such thing as righteous anger, contrary to what is taught in the Abrahamic faiths, for example. And “anger management” is an oxymoron. It is not about “managing” our anger, meaning making better use of our anger, it is about eliminating anger.

Anger is one of the most common and destructive defilements, it afflicts our minds almost all the time. It can only lead to more anger!



How Generosity Works


The practice of giving purifies our minds and relieves our suffering in three ways.

First, when we decide to give something of our own to someone else, we reduce our attachment to the object; making this a habit weakens our craving and clinging, the main causes of our suffering.

Second, establishing the habit of being generous resets our karma so that in the future we produce less and less suffering because of our increased generosity.

And third, and most important, when giving is practiced with pure intention, our generosity produces virtue and wisdom, and a sense of contentment and joy.


The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths are the two-part practice formula for ending our suffering. The first two noble truths describe suffering and how it arises; the final two indicate that it is possible to end our suffering and how to do that. They point the way to a peaceful life. This was the first teaching of the Buddha and is generally known as the most fundamental belief in Buddhism—a Buddhist creed, if you will.

  1. There is dukkha (suffering), meaning we have a propensity to make everything stressful and unsatisfactory, make everything a source of suffering.
  2. Dukkha arises from craving, then clinging, meaning from our attachments.
  3. Ending our dukkha is possible, meaning we can end our dukkha and live in utter ease with the universe.
  4. The way to end suffering has eight aspects (The Noble Eightfold Path), meaning if we follow these eight major practices we will be at peace:

1) Right view
2) Right intention
3) Right Speech
4) Right Action
5) Right Livelihood
6) Right Effort
7) Right Mindfulness, and
8) Right Concentration.


The Three Poisons, Briefly Put

What we notice from meditation is that greed is the source of all our suffering, that everything we do stems from a desire for more, whether implicit or explicit. We only do things, after all, to get more of what we want, what we like, what we think we should have or should be, or inversely, to get less of the things we don’t want, don’t like, and don’t think we should have. Our delusion, our deluded view of what reality really is–that we are separate and needy and that getting our way is the route to happiness– produces this unending greed. Which is also the source of the anger that underlies our lives, an anger that arises from never getting enough, always having to protect and defend, always being unsatisfied. Simply put, we must overcome these poisons (greed, anger, and delusion) if we are to become peaceful.


Emptiness, Briefly Put

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.

How do we know this? Logic and intellectual scrutiny (and Nagarjuna) tell us that all phenomena are characterized as having

No beginning (birth) and no ending (death)

No permanence and no impermanence

No identity and no difference

No coming and no going

This suggests that we infer all phenomena to be empty, for all eight of these qualities require permanence!


Anger Is

Anger is the opposite of patience, and so, in order to develop patience, we need to first see the disadvantages of anger and the advantages of patience. When we understand this, there is a path to decreasing and eliminating the former and developing the latter, not that this is an easy matter.


Radio Analogy

By Guy Newland from Introduction to Emptiness

I concocted this analogy of two radio stations to help my students understand emptiness. Channel A is “all things considered radio.” This is our regular, conventional channel, and on it we get all kinds of information about the diversity and complexity of the world. Perhaps today they are airing a fierce debate: the proponents of red cars are angry, in a raging controversy with the proponents of blue cars. Normally we listen only to this station, so we take it all at face value and without deeper scrutiny. We are unaware that there is or could be any other channel. But in fact there is a second station, broadcast on channel B, the ultimate perspective. Channel B’s programming is “all emptiness, all the time radio.” Every phenomenon is presented only from the point of view of its ultimate nature. But when we tune into this channel, all of the detailed information from the other channel is unavailable. From the perspective of ultimate reality, red cars and blue cars are equally and exclusively empty [they are not even “cars”].

Channel B, emptiness radio, adds new information and a deeper perspective on what is being discussed on the conventional channel. It shows that the things discussed on channel A definitely do not exist in the way that they are ordinarily presented, as solid, separate, and having an essential nature.

When we come back to channel A after tuning in to B, we now understand just how it is that channel A is merely conventional; it is not the only or final perspective. But this new information does not, of course, prove that red cars are in all ways identical to blue cars. [Nor does channel B tell us of the nonexistence of an essentially existent car, that there are no cars]. We still have to make distinctions and make choices about what, if anything, to drive. Channel B alone does not allow us to make practical distinctions, so we still need the information from channel A. Each gives correct information about its domain.

Conventional realities are not wiped out by…emptiness. The problem of knowing which car to drive is the general problem of how to choose between possible courses of action. It is the question of how empty persons can make distinctions between right and wrong. The great 14th century Tibetan lam, Tsong-kha-pa, shows that answering this question requires distinguishing between the two types of knowledge (channels A and B), with regard to people and all phenomena.


Abandon Hope

Shouldn’t we be hopeful? Don’t we want to hope that tomorrow will be better than today, that our endeavors today will pay off?

No, we shouldn’t be hopeful. Not from a Buddhist perspective.

If we scrutinize hope and the karmic residual it leaves in our mind (alaya storehouse), we see how counterproductive hope is. To hope means you are attaching to imaginary outcomes and objects (not beneficial); to hope means to want things to be other than what they are (not beneficial), to hope is to reject the experience of this moment (again, not beneficial). In addition, hope creates wishful thinking and its attendant: inactivity.

Best to abandon hope, and wishful thinking too.



Is That So?


A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who the father was. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone revered for living a pure life. The outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation; he simply replied “Is that so?”

When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. “Is that so?” Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.

For many months he took care of the child until the daughter could no longer live with the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect by blaming Hakuin. The parents immediately went to Hakuin, and with profuse apologies they explained what had happened. “Is that so?” Hakuin said as he handed them the baby.

*A fiery and intensely dynamic Zen teacher and artist, Hakuin (1685–1768) is credited with almost single-handedly revitalizing Japanese Zen after three hundred years of decline. As a teacher, he placed special emphasis on koan practice, inventing many new koans himself, including the famous “What is the sound of one hand [clapping]?” As an artist, Hakuin used calligraphy and painting to create “visual Dharma”—teachings that powerfully express the nature of enlightenment.


Judicious or Judgmental

Discernment is necessary because every moment

and every action is potentially transforming ….


 If mindfulness is telling us not to be judgmental, not to precede our awareness of what’s happening with a false narrative, then how do we make decisions? Answer: With discernment.

Although we don’t usually conceive of it this way, being judgmental is basically an effort to get rid of something, to override something we don’t understand or don’t want, to invalidate something we are somehow uncomfortable with. Being judgmental, in the pejorative everyday sense of that word, is fundamentally being impatient and wanting things our own way.

Being judicious, on the other hand, is discernment through patience together with clear-headedness: being open, curious, and accepting. A judicious choice is one made from a simple, uncomplicated, wise understanding of what’s happening, of the ultimate nature of phenomena—of emptiness. It is based on knowledge gained from an open heart and open mind, not from hedonic-based narratives.

The underlying problem with being judgmental is that it is anxiety and stress producing, and also that it’s not effective. It doesn’t solve the problem of our impatience and frustration, it only exacerbates them.

Being judicious, on the other hand, is effective at addressing the situation. It’s also easy, once we develop a practice that reduces our judgmental nature and allows us to see conditions as they really are. This is why we meditate: to step back a bit, to watch things patiently so that we can see them for what they are, just conditions, and so we can deal with them effectively.

The key to being judicious is learning to practice discernment; learning to take the time to watch, to observe, and to understand what’s really going on, what the ultimate nature of things is: fleeting and interrelated and empty. That means not projecting some previous story or narrative onto the current event and believing it is the truth of what is happening. It means calmly and quietly, patiently and compassionately, discerning conditions.

Like a backswing, or a fastball, or playing a guitar, this is a skill that requires analysis and practice until you really understand how to be judicious instead of judgmental in the face of perceived difficulties and circumstances.



Problems do not exist outside our mind, so when we stop seeing other people and things as problems, they stop being problems.


Intention Setting

Our intention determines where we direct and focus our attention, and our attention energizes us to act in ways that match up with our intention and with the expectations we have of ourselves as a result of that intention.

Our intentions determine not only our internal world, and whether we are peaceful or upset, but the external world as well because we create our external world to match our internal intention.

Setting our intention in a positive way is the first step in establishing a mindset to overcome suffering (dukkha). Setting our intention is what establishes parameters for our choices, and in so doing determines our internal and external worlds and their alignment.

Setting intentions isn’t like setting goals. Goal-making is trying to force the world to become what we want it to be. It is all about attaining an outcome. Intention setting is simply deciding to act in ways that make us peaceful, patiently allowing each moment to arise appropriately and to be what it is.

Throughout the day, our intention should always be to be mindful, to see clearly, to do no harm, and then, if possible, to act in ways that are beneficial. Doing no harm and being of benefit are key intentions.


Notice Your Expectations

We tend to imagine the outcome of a particular experience or opportunity before it happens. But in cultivating a mindful mind (open, curious, and accepting), it’s important to try to resist the temptation to assume we know outcomes. We need to remember that there is no cause and effect*, so we can never know the “effect” of an action we take.

For example, when you send a text, e-mail, application, or whatever, try not predicting the response. Instead, accept the response, when it comes, with curiosity and openness. It doesn’t matter whether the response is positive or negative, try managing and accepting it with openness and curiosity.

*Cause and effect says, when A happens, B will always result. That makes it a permanent relationship, and since we know nothing is permanent, there cannot be cause and effect.


No Self

Put something together and take it apart. A Lego truck for example. When all the pieces are dumped out of the box, is it a truck or just a few dozen Legos? When you start snapping the pieces together, at what point do you say that it’s a truck? Similarly, start taking it apart and systematically arranging the pieces on the floor. When all the pieces are neatly arranged, is there a truck on the floor in front of you? In fact, there’s no such thing as a truck; nothing permanent there. Not permanent and abiding.

Use this idea to look at yourself and your thoughts and feelings. They too are all just a collection of pieces, of conditions glommed together. Realizing there is no truck, and No Self, is a giant step forward along the path to reduce our suffering, to live peacefully.


Treat Every Moment This Way

“Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.”

― Shunryu Suzuki