Dharma Talk: Delusion and Enlightenment are Not Separate

This dharma talk explores the intersection of delusion and Buddha Nature, how the awakened heart/mind is always available, even in the most difficult moments.

One Minute Audio Contemplation: Emptiness of the Breath

This is a one minute contemplation on the breath and how our ideas of inside and outside are illusory:

by Lisa Ernst

You Don’t Have to Believe Your Thoughts

by Lisa Ernst

You’ve probably heard that before, right? It sounds pretty simple and maybe sometimes it is, but at other times, nearly impossible. Why? Because for many of us, certain thoughts appear as unassailable “truths,” specific stories about our lives, about ourselves and others. As long as these thoughts operate below our awareness as stealth narratives, they can’t be seen for what they are, impermanent conditions that arise and pass away. We remain bound by these thoughts and they may lead to significant suffering and even depression.

When we identify with a thought or emotion as “I” or “mine,” our boundaries of inside and outside remain intact. There’s me, and then there is the outside world. This is only a perception, but its so strong as to feel solid and real. Buddha taught that this idea of a separate, inherent self is the root of suffering.

As a practice, try asking yourself, “is this thought me; is this thought mine?” You can do the same with emotions. This exercise is not intended to suppress or push away thoughts or emotions, but to allow you to begin seeing them without personal identification. This opens space to perceive the thoughts and experience the emotions as they are. This practice, reflective inquiry, isn’t a form of analysis. You’re letting the question remain open ended, to allow experience itself provide the answer. As you do this, you are opening yourself to the realm of dharma, where customary ideas and everyday perceptions don’t apply. The good news is, you don’t need them as you experience your thoughts and emotions appearing and falling away. Here you can access the heart’s true wisdom.

“When Ajahn Chah said it was possible to learn as much from stupid thoughts as wise ones, that was such a radically different approach. A wise thought arises and ceases. A stupid thought arises and ceases. A painful thought arises and ceases. A painful feeling arises and ceases. A pleasant feeling arises and ceases. I realized I didn’t have to feel ashamed when there was confusion in the mind. Just let it be and know it for what it is. They are all just states of mind, coming and going. Rather than anxiously holding on or to try to make sense of everything all the time, I got a feeling for letting go and letting be.”- Kittissaro, Listening to The Heart.


Brothers and Sisters in Suffering

This morning I read an article from Ajahn Sumedho that inspired me to post this excerpt about our shared humanity. Thanks to Geoff Lovettf for the link.

In Thailand they say: “Brothers and sisters in suffering, old age, sickness and death.” When we think of ourselves as brothers and sisters in old age, sickness and death, we stop the foolishness. But if we want to build up an army to fight, we can’t say we’re brothers and sisters in old age, sickness and death. We have to say, `Those people over there are demons. The more you kill, the better. They don’t have any feelings. They like to bayonet babies and butcher old women. They have no respect for anything.’ And then you think, `Oh, I’m going to kill them.’ Propaganda is like that. It’s a way of making you think the best thing you can do is kill them. But in reflective knowledge we see the common bond — from the most despicable human being to the most saintly. That is a reflective teaching. We think, `Yes, yes, that is the truth. When you think about that — brothers and sisters in old age, sickness and death — we’re all getting old and . . . ‘

Excerpted from Brothers and Sisters in Suffering, Old Age, Sickness and Death by Ajahn Sumedho.

Meditation Series at Nashville Library Branches

I’m doing a series of mindful meditation classes for the Nashville Public Library. These classes include instruction, guided and silent meditation and time for questions. There’s no registration or fee, you can just drop in. Here’s the current schedule:

Downtown: De-stress during lunch, 12:15 – 12:50 p.m. every second Monday of the month. Next meeting coming up on January 12.

Mindful Meditation Class at the Green Hills Library, Thursday, January 22, 6:30 – 7:30  p.m.

Mindful Meditation Class at the Bellevue Library, every first Wednesday of the month, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Next meeting coming up on February 4.

If you’re in Nashville I hope you’ll join me for any of these sessions that work for you. Here’s a link to the local public library system events list.

Cleaning Up the Junkyard

Over time, if we don’t cultivate awareness through a consistent mindfulness and meditation practice, our minds may become cluttered like a junkyard. Maybe long ago the junkyard was just a pretty field in the country surrounded by trees, grass, and flowers in the spring. Then gradually we began to collect old thoughts, like tarnished, broken down cars. If we grow too accustomed to them, we may even cling to them like ancient treasures.

Slowly they begin to rust and old fluids leak into the ground, polluting the soil so that nothing can grow. But we may not even notice until the day we decide to plant a garden. Taking a fresh view of the yard, all we can see is junk from one end to the other: not one spot for planting

 With this perspective we have to take a closer look at our collection of old thoughts and beliefs, to find a way to make space for a garden. But how? It’s not as simple as doing a quick clean up and replacing all the old rotting cars we’ve accumulated for years or decades with a nourishing vegetable garden. We have to start with what we’ve already got—to take time and really see the junk in the yard, to spend time with it, to live there for while. Not to drink the contaminated water in the ground, but to make our way through the clutter, to see each and every thing we’ve clung to and refused to let go.

The amazing thing about this practice is that we don’t need to make an aggressive project of clearing out the junkyard, even if we’re totally surrounded. Once we begin the practice of genuinely seeing our mess, but not adding to it, the debris begins clearing out on its own. Soon there’s a little spot for a garden, and new plants grow that nourish us. Pretty soon the field has more open patches as the junk inhabits a smaller space. Some debris is still there, and that’s ok. We don’t have to have to clear the entire yard to begin growing our garden. Even if we’re still left with some old hardware, we may appreciate the patterns and colors of the rust, and we may find uses for the old tires.  Perhaps a tree swing would be nice, just over the garden.


A bird in a secluded grove sings like a flute.

Willows sway gracefully with their golden threads.

The mountain valley grows the quieter as the clouds return.

A breeze brings along the fragrance of the apricot flowers.

For a whole day I have sat here encompassed by peace,

Till my mind is cleansed in and out of all cares and idle thoughts.

I wish to tell you how I feel, but words fail me.

If you come to this grove, we can compare notes.

Ch’an master Fa-yen

Awareness is Your Refuge

Especially In honor of the people who will take refuge and the five precepts this Thursday, December 20, at One Dharma Nashville, here is a lovely reflection on refuge by Ajahn Sumedho:

Awareness is Your Refuge

Awareness of the changingness of feelings,

of attitudes,  of moods,  of material change

and emotional change:

Stay with that, because it’s a refuge that is


It’s not something that changes.

It’s a refuge you can trust in.

This refuge is not something that you create.

It’s not a creation. It’s not an ideal.

It’s very practical and very simple, but

easily overlooked or not noticed.

When you’re mindful,

you’re beginning to notice,

it’s like this.


Any time a conditioned habit or emotional response gets the best of us, we’ve forgotten something important. We’ve forgotten this moment, right where we are. We’ve lost the true connection to our hearts, our breath, our bodies, the doorway into the dharma. To remember, we don’t need to get rid of the patterns or push away emotions, we just need to wake up to what’s happening in this moment. This is the starting point.

All conditioned habits feed on lack of awareness; they can only thrive when we’re not attentive and present. But how do we remember this moment when we’re swept away in the rapids of the mind? It’s a matter or practice. The more we bring our attention to this moment, how things truly are right now, the more readily we notice when we’re lost in our patterns. Even a moment of remembering can begin to undo what seemed an impossible tangle.  An open, aware heart and mind is the path and also the end of the path, the doorway into the great freedom of this moment.

Mind Programs and The Dharma Operating System

When you turn on your computer, do you have specific programs that automatically start along with the operating system?  Both the Windows and Mac Operating Systems let you select programs that will turn on immediately each time you boot up. In daily life, most of us have specific mental programs that automatically start as we get up and move into our day. Its unlikely we made a conscious decision to activate these programs and we may not even be aware of them, but they regularly influence our thoughts, emotions and our perceptions of who we are.

Even during meditation, these programs are often running stealthily in the background, affecting the quality of meditation. At times the programs may induce anxiety and restlessness, making it difficult to concentrate or cultivate presence on the cushion. One of the basic benefits of meditation is the enhanced awareness that allows us to see our hidden programs. Even for experienced meditators, however, the hardest mind programs to see clearly are related to self identity and the need to affirm that identity.

To work with these programs in meditation you first have to recognize they are running. If you regularly feel anxiety or restlessness on the cushion, for example, you may discover familiar themes playing out in your mind as you look more closely. Perhaps you are anxious about how you will perform on an upcoming project, maybe you’re criticizing yourself for not living up to your or someone else’s expectations or worrying about how effectively you’re navigating an important relationship in your life. These programs are related to our perceptions of who we are, yet they are not our  “dharma operating system.“ They are only a limited element of our consciousness, just as our favorite computer programs have no functionality without the operating system. Our mental programs are a byproduct of something larger, our great nature that sustains life and allows life to pass away.

Your identity needn’t be caught in repetitive, often invisible programs. With consistent practice, you can gradually cultivate your awareness to recognize when the programs are running. When you truly realize they aren’t who you are, the programs might still run but not run your life nearly as much.

Your true nature includes the totality of what you experience in this moment, nothing excluded. All of the sounds, sensations, thoughts and feelings; the barking dog and the wind in the trees, the pain in your knees, tightness in your chest, and the joy of realizing all of this  is continually arising and passing away. So let the programs run if they must, but expand the scope of your consciousness so you can see them for what they are:  only a small part of the greater whole of awareness. Soon the programs will lose some of their power over your mind and you’ll discover you can operate quite effectively without them.