I have met a lot of Buddhist monks from many different branches of Buddhism and there’s something they have in common.

I have met Zen monks who have renounced worldly life but still live in the world with the rest of us. Most Zen monks don’t take vows of poverty, but some do.

I have met Tibetan monks who spend almost all of their time living a life of quiet contemplation in monasteries. (aside; a couple years ago when my son was one year old, a group of Tibetan monks were surprised when they saw him. They had never seen a redhead before.)

I’ve also met a former Theravada monk, but I’ve never met a current one.

 

The monks I’ve encountered seem to have one thing in common. They all own iPads and iPhones. 

Obviously they are useful. A monk can carry hundreds of sutras with him in an iPad. It’s not like they are using them to play Angry Birds. 

But it does seem strange to have a vow of poverty and an iPad, doesn’t it?

We suffer because we want things to last forever or, even worse, we EXPECT things to last forever. But, impermanence isn’t a bad thing in itself. That is just a value that we apply to it. Without impermanence, life is not possible. How can we transform our suffering if things are not impermanent? How can the situation in the world improve? We need impermanence for hope.

The Eight Verses on Training the Mind

The Eight Verses on Training the Mind is a description of mindfulness training written by a Vajrayana teacher named Geshe Langri Tangpa. It is an important text in Vajrayana Buddhism. Here it is, with my commentary.
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By thinking of all sentient beings
As more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel
For accomplishing the highest aim,
I will always hold them dear.
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Sentient beings is sometimes taken to mean every living animal and it’s sometimes taken to mean only humans. This verse means simply that we should simply love and feel compassionate toward everyone. Even our enemies deserve our love and compassion. All beings do.
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Whenever I’m in the company of others,
I will regard myself as the lowest among all,
And from the depths of my heart
Cherish others as supreme.
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This verse is an argument against pride. We shouldn’t feed our ego by trying to elevate ourselves above others. That only puts us deeper into delusion.
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In my every action, I will watch my mind,
And the moment destructive emotions arise,
I will confront them strongly and avert them,
Since they will hurt both me and others.
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This is about self control. When I see that I am growing anger or anxiety, I should become a witness to that feeling and try to manage it instead of letting it lead me into trouble. Destructive emotions can easily cause us to make bad decisions.
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Whenever I see ill-natured people,
Or those overwhelmed by heavy misdeeds or suffering,
I will cherish them as something rare,
As though I’d found a priceless treasure.
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Again, we should love and show compassion for everyone that we meet.
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Whenever someone out of envy
Does me wrong by attacking or belittling me,
I will take defeat upon myself,
And give the victory to others.
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We should recognize, when someone is envious or jealous, that they are struggling with their own suffering. Jealousy is a poison that hurts people a great deal. It can be hard to remember to feel compassion for someone who is acting out of jealousy for us, but we need to try.
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Even when someone I have helped,
Or in whom I have placed great hopes
Mistreats me very unjustly,
I will view that person as a true spiritual teacher.
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It has been said that we learn a lot from those that test our patience and resolve. It is hard to view those that mistreat us as helpful along the path, but they can be. Our patience has to be tested and exercised so that it can grow.
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In brief, directly or indirectly,
I will offer help and happiness to all my mothers,
And secretly take upon myself
All their hurt and suffering.
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All my mothers refers to everyone in the world. This verse means we should be selfless and relieve the suffering of others any time that we can, regardless of the trouble it might cause us.
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I will learn to keep all these practices
Untainted by thoughts of the eight worldly concerns.
May I recognize all things as like illusions,
And, without attachment, gain freedom from bondage.

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Transcend delusion and unleash your Buddha Nature.

I have ceased my formal monastic training with

I have ceased my formal monastic training with the Five Mountain Zen Order. I have decided against becoming ordained.

I hold Lay Ordination Vows in a Rinzai Zen lineage and Bodhisattva Vows in the Vajrayana path. That will be enough for now.

This wasn’t too difficult of a decision for me given that my favorite historical Zen teachers are rebellious figures like Pang-yun and Ikkyu Sojun, who refused to be ordained as monks. There is a proud and great history of lay teachers and writers in Zen.

Buddhism is not and should not be limited to monks. Enlightenment is available to everyone because we are all enlightened already anyway.

I’m not a fan of structure and hierarchy anyway.

I need to have a stronger commitment to

I need to have a stronger commitment to my meditation practice. I think we all do.

Meditation is hard. That seems counter-intuitive. Just sitting and doing nothing, counting our breaths? That should be easy. It should be just about the laziest thing in the world. And people love to be lazy, don’t they?

But it isn’t easy. Why? Well, I think it’s because it seems like the world is conspiring to stop us. We have so many ways to entertain and occupy ourselves. 

It can be hard to just sit when we’re too busy thinking about watching tv or playing a video game or messing with our cell phones or goofing around on facebook. Our culture teaches us that we have some sort of right to be entertained ALL THE TIME. Not only do we have the right to this, we sometimes feel like we have to. I don’t think that’s a natural part of the human condition. I think that’s something we’ve learned. We have learned to not be mindful and we have to figure out how to get past it.

 

Although today when I was meditating, I got distracted because I started thinking about writing this blog. 

The Buddha talked about the five hindrances, a list of five things that tend to get in the way of meditation practice. They are: Desire, Ill will, sloth, restlessness, and doubt.

Desire means being distracted from my practice because I’m thinking about things I want.

Ill Will means being distracted from my meditation practice because I’m thinking negative thoughts about myself or others.

Sloth means being distracted because I’m tired and meditation makes me think about going to sleep.

Restlessness is the one that really gets me and I think it’s the one most people struggle with. It means being distracted because I’m worrying or thinking too much. Thinking about the future, or the past, instead of stilling the mind is a serious problem in meditation.

Doubt means either a lack of belief that meditation is helpful, or a lack of belief that we can do it.

I have anxiety issues. I have always had anxiety issues. I’m constantly dealing with the hindrance of restlessness in my meditation practice. I’ve experience all five and I think most people who practice meditation have, but restlessness is the only one that I ever experience these days. 

So, now that we’ve identified the problem, meditation is hard. How do we deal with it?

I’ve found that routine is the only thing that works. Commit to sit. Practice meditation every day. If you think you can’t do it, you’re wrong. Everyone can. 

It’s good to do 20-30 minutes per day. But start easy. Start meditating five minutes per day and slowly expand it to more and more. If you say you think you don’t have five minutes to spare when you’re getting ready in the morning or before bed at night, you’re kidding yourself. 

You have the time, so use it.
Commit to sit. You’ll be happier. 

Samadhi represents a state of mind that is

Samadhi represents a state of mind that is completely clear and free of delusion. There’s not really a good, simple translation for the word Samadhi, so I just prefer to use it. The Buddha experienced this kind of state when before he gave the teachings on impermanence and interconnectedness. It’s when the distracted and delusional thoughts in our mind are temporarily stilled and we have moments of clarity. It’s like part of the ocean where all the waves have stopped and the water is still. When the water is still, you can see very clearly what is beneath it. There are several ways the achieve this stilling of the mind, including meditation and yoga.

Reality is waiting just beneath our delusions. It’s there if you know how to look for it. Not the reality that we think is there. The real one.

Blessed are the renegades. Those who challenge our

Blessed are the renegades. Those who challenge our preconceptions. Those who see things that are wrong in society and say, “This is unacceptable.” Those who live outside the rules and boundaries when no one else does. The trailblazers and the dreamers, the idealists and iconoclasts. Blessed are those who think they can change things, because in the end they’re the only ones that really do. Rather than saying, “Oh well, that’s the way it is, the way it’s always been,” the renegade says, “Let’s change it.”