Monthly Archives: November 2007

Thankful for not having Cows

Thankful for not having Cows

There is a story told about buddha and the
burden of material passions:-


     Buddha was sitting in a field meditating with several students.A farmer come rushing up to the group waving his hands and crying out :

       " oh, Sirs, forgive me for interrupting you but I am in dire need of your help.
You see, I have spent my entire life raising cows. And yesterday one of the cows broke through my fence.The rest followed!. And they are now scattered all across this valley,lost or hiding.I must find them or my life will turn tragic and I might die poor. I might even starve to death someday!.

Have any one of you seen any cows come this way?"

Buddha calmly looked at the man and said ."I am so sorry, sir, but we have seen no cows pass this way,I assure you."

The farmer was stunned at his bad luck.He said,"well, if you do see any cows, please be sure to contact me right away.I live right there across the valley between those two hills, at least for now. If I do not find my cows, I may not have that house for long."

At this thought his face went rigid with fear. Then he suddenly ran off in another direction looking for his cows, his arms flailing.

Buddha told everyone to close their eyes, and after a long meditation he said to his students :

" We must all be so very thankful…….that none of us have any cows. "

Tail Wagging the dog

Tail Wagging the dog

    I attended a one-day seminar on joint pain some years back. At the seminar the good doctor said that knee pain is quite common amongst the long-term meditators. How did such a state came about ?

    If one were to look at some of the books on meditation or meditation classes one is often given a heroic view of the pain that we experience.  We are told that these pains whether it is the leg or the back pain are actually good for us to train the mind.  We can look at the pain and in time it will disappear by itself and then we can sit for long in a particular posture that is sure to ensure enlightenment or at least progress along the spiritual path.   Is such a "heroic view" correct ?   More importantly does it do more harm than good ?

    There’s certain wisdom in the pain that we receive, either physical, mental or emotional. It is a way for our mind and body to tell us that we are not doing things right or that we have over extended our capacity.  If our knee or back is painful from sitting in a rigid and uncomfortable pose it can only mean that some part of us is about to give way and long-term damage can result from it.  So do we heed the signal coming to us or will we be like an ignorant spiritual hero that seeks to conquer the pain by the force of will ? After having made the heroic effort and we no longer feel the pain have we actually made progress on our spiritual path ? These are some of the issues that we will examine in this article.

    It is without a question that the recommended postures in yoga, tantra or buddhism are invaluable in helping a person to calm down and with a calm mind a person is then able to work on his delusions. Each of the 8-fold posture recommendation could be explained why it is done in the tantric tradition. For example the tilting forward of the head slightly is to block the wind/Qi from rising from the lower chakras/energy centers. When this is done our thoughts start to be reduced. There’s a energy lock at the throat chakra.  Too much forward will make a person drowsy.  The towing upwards of the tongue towards the ceiling (actually the soft tissue behind) will help channel the energy to the ajna chakra. In so doing the ajna can be stimulated directly and one can actually "feel" a certain tightness in the third eye area.  Ajna chakra is the master controller of the whole body and it is of great value to any spiritual aspirant. It is here where real inner peace can arise and at the same time it is this center where insight comes from – either the mundane or super-mundane insights.  When you have a lot of energy rising and if it is channeled upwards the bindu will start to be activated and in time to come you will start to have tiny little "pimples" around the bindu area.  It is the beginning of the flowering of your expanded consciousness.  Some times when your meditation is deep you may even be able to taste an interesting taste in your mouth. It can even continue after you have stopped meditating.  So the tongue towing upwards to the ceiling (to the soft tissue at the back) is actually quite useful. Many meditation teachers and books just recommended the towing upwards towards the ceiling. The real value and benefit is to the soft tissue at the back.  If you are a fortunate person you will induce the divine bliss within a very short time.

        Initially such a posture can be tiring and painful but with practice we can slowly build up our capacity and ability.  Does that mean we don’t listen to our body ?  No.  Part of the spiritual training is to be patient. This means patiently building up the capacity of the body without harming it.   Moving your body or your leg when it is painful so that permanent injury will not happen is sometimes wise. Similarly the tongue can be tiring if it is towed upwards and backwards for too long. If so just release it and if you find it distracting drop it and later pick it up again. Always remember that nothing is cast in stone. 

         The real meditation is beyond mind. The Diamond-cutter sutra speaks of how liberation is gained when the mind gives rise to  thoughts that rest nowhere.  It is like an image in a perfect mirror which does not stain the mirror when the image or the cause of it has changed.  Hui Neng upon hearing that became enlightened.  The real objective of Vipassana meditation is not to gain insights but to train our consciousness not to hold on to the 6 sense objects, feelings, perceptions and volition that arose within our being(mind/body complex).  The detachment of our consciousness from these 4 skandhas is freedom and liberation from samsara. All choices, all desires, all hatreds etc. all arose from the 4 skandhas referred to above. The detachment of our consciousness from these skandhas is liberation.

         The way that Vipassana is taught now is like a tail wagging the dog or the head wagging the dog. In either case the dog is wagged and the consciousness continued to be sullied or stained by the objects that arose within the 4 skandhas.

          Let’s take one simple example of the walking meditation as is traditionally taught in Vipassana meditation. This link provides a typical set of instruction –


           We are told to "note" the left or right foot moving and also to note mentally rising and falling or rising, forward and falling of the foot as we walk slowly.  The amount of concentration needed to sustain such "noting" can be quite substantial, as it is stated in the instruction above. Is it any wonder that quite a number of people will experience dizzyness, headache and in some cases derangement. Such a meditation is not insight meditation but a form of concentration meditation where the object of meditation is the movement of the foot.  Two situations can arise from this.

         The first is when our mind follows the movement of the foot. The mind kept noting to itself the movement.  such noting actually engages the perception skandha. It is the perception of the movement of the foot.  As long as our consciousness is being pulled along by sense objects, feelings, perception or volition this is known as the tail wagging the dog. The consciousness has no chance of DISENGAGING itself from the 4 skandhas. In following after the "sensation" our mind projects such notion as "rising, rising, forward,forward , decline,decline "  etc.  These notions are not insights of the impermanence of existence. It is the projection of our own deluded mind. Not seeing these as delusions make us deluded as to what we have attained. In short we "see" what we project and thought we have conquered.

          The second situation is when our mind exercises a deliberate control over the movement of the legs. In this case it is the mind leading the legs and this is known as the head wagging the dog. As long as the dog is wagged by the head or the tail insights will not arise.  It is like picking up a stick. When you pick up one end, you pick up the other.

          One good way, at least for me and NO ONE so far had agreed with me on this,  to illustrate the basic and very fundamental principle of insight meditation according to satipathana sutta is the awareness of breath. This is part of the first foundation of mindfulness in this particular sutta.

          The current understanding of this is the sensation one gets at the nostril and we use that to "note" the in-breadth, the out-breadth and the length of the breadth. But for anyone who had ever used the breath as an object of meditation this sensation is very difficult to feel as one become very calm. As the mind calms down, so will the breathing.  No where in the satipathana sutta was it mentioned that this sensation at the nostril must be used.  In fact we can actually "know" we are breathing in or out without really noting the sensation at the nostril.  The lung and the surrounding muscles and diaphragm are very large objects. These "movements" can be picked up by our consciousness.  Amongst the 4 skandhas the sense objects are the weakest. Next is the feeling. Then the perception and finally the volition.  Our perception and volition dominates much of our consciousness.  When Buddha taught in the satipathana sutta he had chosen the ENTIRE BODY to set as the first foundation of mindfulness.  It needs a large enough sensation in order for us to discern its presence.  In tantra when we succeeded in such a detachment that stage is known as BODY ISOLATION. And the two states in theravada or vajrayana are essentially the same.

         Coming back to our breath awareness. Instead of just using the sensation at the nostril use the entire breathing apparatus. Mahasi Sayadaw uses the rising and falling of the stomach but why use the stomach when our purpose is to use the breath as an object of our exercise to detach our consciousness from the body ?   Not that it is not acceptable but why use a second rate substitute ?  Unless we deliberately force air into the stomach the stomach’s movement is not very "noticeable".  What to look out for when we are doing breath awareness ?

           When we felt that our breath is unnatural and is felt like it is being controlled then it is the head wagging the dog.  If we try to follow the breathing and noting it with our mind then it is the tail wagging the dog.  If the breathing is natural and smooth flowing and it has a rhythm of it’s own then we start to detach from our breath. The various characteristics of the rhythm will spontaneously arise and this is the beginning of insights.  This is the "knowing" the "direct perception" in tibetan buddhism speak that is our prime goal of our practice. We MUST NOT say "LONG BREATH IN", "LONG BREATH OUT" etc.  The basic characteristics of these breathing rhythm AUTOMAGICALLY ARISES. When these insights start to come you will "know" what Buddha meant when he said  "breath in the breath", "body in the body ", "perception in perception". Once you know what that means from your practice, your insight has become very profound. This simple phrase is the key to develop our capacity for insights to arise.

           Tantra has a very good perspective on this and this perspective is verifiable by each and everyone of us and i.e. the mind is linked to our body through our breath. When the mind quietens down so will our breath and our body is at ease. When the body tenses up our breath become laboured or erratic or shallow and the mind follow suit.  If our consciousness can be trained to slowly detached from the breath we will find that detaching from our body and our mind becomes very easy or second nature.  This was why when Ananda asked Buddha if there’s one thing that a person can do and do it well and will be able to traverse the entire path to nirvana what would that one thing be ?  And Buddha replied "Breath awareness" or Anapana Sati.  

               The buddhistic path is the path of relaxation – a progressive letting go of body, feelings, perception and volition.  The breath is a great way to start.

               Let’s all of us do it , even while waiting for the traffic light to change , or while watching TV etc. And in time we will all breath a little easier.


           May you be blessed by the peace of dharma.









Mind created reality

Mind created reality

You’ve heard of optical illusion but this is an interesting audio illusion.

The higher octave is all mind created.

   The explanation is simple – the first octave conditioned the mind or rather trained the mind with a particular relationship and then when it is replayed it use the "trained filter" in the mind and thus we hear a higher octave when the sound track is replayed eventhough the frequencies are still the same as before.   This is something buddha said few thousand years ago – of course not in those words.  This is why it is often dangerous to use our conditioned mind to interpret the world.

     We should try to engage the world anew as often as possible and only then could we engage correctly. Not easy but not entirely impossible also. The challenge is to recognise our delusions.

To see the world in a grain of sand

To see the world in a grain of sand : Vipassana – a mindless view.

    Recently I came to know of the controversy between Mahasi Sayadaw’s vipasanna meditation technique and other school of thoughts. The controversy is with regard to the arising of insight and when momentary concentration arise.   The controversy created a lot of heated and very emotional exchanges between both camps. One author wrote a 800 page objections and the other side I supposed replied with just as much fervour and volume.  The key contention was "Momentary concentration".  The objection was that "momentary concentration" came from absorption concentration , which came from access concentration whereas Mahasi sayadaw’s technique argued that "momentary concentration" can arise even before access and absorption concentration and that access and absorption concentration came from "momentary concentration". 

 Vipassana-yanika : a person who uses insights as the vehicle. Path taken :

        Insight (Momentary concentration) -> Access concentration -> Absorption concentration

 Samatha-yanika : a person who uses jhana as the vehicle. Path taken :

         Access concentration -> Absorption concentration -> Insight (Momentary concentration)

       The argument is that "purification" can only come from "momentary concentration" and so the "momentary concentration" of the vipassana-yanika is the same as the "momentary concentration" of the samatha-yanika.  The two states are actually very different.  Perhaps both sides are argueing over terminology and semantics and the substance is lost.

        The believe that the only fruit (magga) of the vipassana-yanika is the insight into the 3 characteristics is not entirely correct.  Before this liberating "magga" is attained there are other mundane insights that arose. But the technique as it is being taught doesn’t allow these mundane insights to arise because all the adherents were taught to "look out for" or "to experience" certain characteristics. Thus the "seeing" is nothing but an externally imposed "magga".  What the mind projects as the "magga" to be attain, we will attain.  Such an attainment is the attainment of our own delusions. However the technique does develop certain degree of concentration.  Even before liberating insight arise in the vipassana-yanika access concentration can some time arise. This is often accompanied by bodily bliss. Absorption concentratioin will not attained until the liberating insight of seeing the 3 characteristics is attained.

        The path of a Vipassana-yanika doesn’t progress in a step wise manner to access and absorption concentration from insight. When the supramundane insight arise access and absorption concentration arise naturally. It is when our consciousness have the ability to detach itself from the other 4 skandhas. This access and absorption concentration do not arise because we have seen reality for what it is and automatically it switches from "momentary" concentration into access and absorption concentration. This ability accompanies the arising of supra-mundane or liberating insights. Supramundane insights is not the cause of access and absorption concentration.

          The path of the vipassana-yanika follow the following path :

         Mundane insight (MI) -> unlearn a bit -> MI -> unlearn a bit more -> MI -> unlearn a bit more 
 and so on. Vipassana is the process of unlearning and detaching our consciousness bit by bit from our body, our feelings, our perceptiions and our volition.

          The path of the vipassana-yanika is the path of clarity and as we see life clearer, we have the ability to let go a bit and is able to put down a bit of our mental and emotional burden.   We start to understand life. As we progress we will start to "see" the subtle hindrances and things that continue to create mental and emotional burden.  A good example I can think of to illustrate subtle hindrances is our ability to put down our meat diet but at the same time many of these vegetarians pick up arrogance and use their "new found" self-righteousness to judge others.  This obscuration is very subtle and we don’t know it when we judge others by our thoughts, words and actions.

            For those who has chosen the vipassana path it is important for them to "know" what is concentration and what is awareness or mindfulness.  Buddha gave the simple example of a person walking with a full glass of water. When he looked directly at the water level he is using concentration but at the same time he is aware of the objects around him but he has no recognition of what those objects were. In short there weren’t any interpretation of all these other objects. That’s awareness. This is awareness of visual objects. The same thing can be repeated for sound. Such as listening to one tone while a conversation is going on in the background. If we don’t know what is said through out, that’s bare awareness.  Or we can concentrate on a visual image while being aware of the sound not not knowing what is being said. Sound is one of the hardest sensation to detach from.  One area of our life where we can practice is when we are watching the news or movie. If we notice the sound and yet not know what is being said we have become aware of the sound but not interpreted the sound. The outflow have been successfully stopped.

       Here’s a little practice that one can use to develop awareness. With practice one can detach from the perception skandha. This ability can then be extended to the other skandhas.  The perception skandha is very "strong" and is therefore an easy object to practice our detachment.

Look out into a wide open expanse.  Our mind is habituated to look at the world through our thoughts. When we see something thoughts on that thing will arise. We make judgement ; good or bad, we compare, we condemn, we recollect related experiences etc. In short the mind is not allowed to rest. 

     Take a few deep breaths, relax your entire body and try to look at the wide open expanse without any thoughts. When thoughts arise bring it back to the scenery. Make no judgement, no comparison etc the things that the mind normally do. If the scenery is very bright than this will be easier. It helps to calm the mind.  When you can do this for even just a few minutes you will experience firstly a deep peace….even ecstatic.  More importantly a deep sense of connectedness will dawn on you and your innate wisdom will start to arise. And you will "understand intuitively" what william blake meant when he said "to see the world in a grain of sand".            

         A calm disposition either through some form of concentration meditation or yoga will certainly help one to progress on the path of insight. One can use it as a supportive practice rather than the main practice.        

         Knowing the difference between concentration and awareness is critical in this practice. No amount of reading or listening will help one know it. This nice little parable will help illustrate this. 

  ———- Parable of the wheelwright —————-

     Duke Huan, seated above in his hall, was once reading a book, and the wheelwright  P’ien was making a wheel below it. Laying aside his hammer and chisel, P’ien went up the steps and said, "I venture to ask Your Grace what words you are reading?"

       The Duke said, "The words of the sages."

       "Are those sages alive?"  P’ien continued.

        "They are dead," was the reply.

         "Then," said P’ien," what you, my ruler, are reading, are only the dregs and sediments of those men."

         The duke said, "How should you, a wheelwright, have anything to say about the book I am reading ? If you can explain yourself, very well; if you cannot, you will have to die for your insolence."

           The wheelwrigth said, "Your servant will look at the thing from the point of view of his own art. In making a wheel, if I proceed gently, that is pleasant enough but the workmanship is not strong; if I proceed violently, that is toilsome and the joinings do not fit. If the movements of my hand are neither too gentle nor too violent, the idea in my mind is realized. But I cannot tell how to do this by word of mouth."

         "I know it, still I cannot say it. I cannot teach the knack to my son – even to my son – nor can my son learn it from me. Teaching and learning are only of the outer things. This knack is an inner feel. Thus it is that I am in my seventieth year, and am still making wheels in my old age. But these ancients, and what it was not possible for them to convey, are dead and gone. So then what you, my ruler, are reading, is but their dregs and sediments!"

———- End of parable —————-

        In order to use the vipassana as the vehicle one has to learn this "knack" of distinguishing between concentration and awareness and the knack of knowing without words nor forms – that’s insight.     

     When we see the world through a multitude of thoughts all we are really seeing are our thoughts and all the attendant baggages.  To see the world without thoughts is to see the world anew, fresh and alive. One colleague of mine when I was discussing with him the thoughtless view of the world said that when there is no thoughts what it means is that we will behave like idiots. A vipassana practitioner I spoke to said that he can’t accept such "contradiction" i.e. wisdom arising from thoughtlessness.  We are so attune to the notion that all that we know are shaped and form by words – even something we thought as wisdom.  Wisdom arise whole in an instant and is never disjointed. Only when we try to express it that we have to arrange things in a straight line. A person with true insight will be able to look at different sides of his insights. A rational thought is essentially one dimensional.  If the basis of such thoughts is wrong, everything that follows from it is wrong.

      Look at the world today. When we have the capacity to bomb each other senseless daily or to create a lot of harm and burden on others. And all these came through thoughts.  We always say – "thoughtless actions" but the person who are doing it actually had given it a lot of thought and because they are trapped in their thoughts their innate wisdom and compassion will never arise.  So we can have adults behaving like small children or doing things that are silly thinking that it is of great value. And of course they can argue for their delusions.    

      When our thoughts are quiet our inner sensibility awake. Our senses come alive and we truly live. We no longer need to live through the opinions of others, through our prejudices, our misconception, our delusions or the activities that dull the senses or excites the emotion.  We just live and in time to come deep gratitude will arise – a benediction, a special presence.


Cancer Mortality – the raw deal


Cancer Mortality – the raw deal

 The war on cancer was started by the President of the United States , Richard Nixon in 1971.  The data below are the raw data – unadjusted for age or race or any other adjustment to make it look as if modern medicine is winning the war on cancer. It is not.

  After 1992 this figure – the raw data-  was not available anymore. Only data that have been sanitised and adjusted to the point where the ordinary folks could not read or understand the data.

Mortality from Cancer in the U.S.
year deaths/ 100,000
1967— 157.2
1970— 162.9
1982— 187.3
1987— 198.2
1988— 198.4
1989— 201.0
1990— 203.2
1991— 204.1
1992— 204.1

source: Vital Statistics of the United States  vol.II 1967-1992



Kindness and Self-Esteem


Kindness and Self-Esteem

There is overwhelming evidence that the higher the level of self-esteem, the more likely one will be to treat others with respect, kindness, and generosity.

–Nathaniel Branden

Happiness and Compassion


Happiness and Compassion

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.

If you want to be happy, practice


           –The Dalai Lama

Essence of Inhumanity

 Children know better

Essence of Inhumainity

      The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essense of inhumanity

                                                                George Bernard Shaw