Another Look at the WHeel of Samsara

This Incredible Buddhist Mandala Depicts the Insanity of American Life

Buddhist Mandala Americosmos Darrin Drda

“Americosmos,” by Darrin Drda, uses American and Tibetan Buddhist mandala iconography to poke fun at the meaninglessness of existence

Huge thanks to artist Darrin Drda, who graciously allowed us to spotlight his incredible Buddhist mandala “Americosmos.”

It’s an American version of the Bhavachakra or Tibetan Wheel of Life, a diagram that shows the inherent suffering in all modes of existence, from the lowest hell realms to the highest heavens—suffering caused by the impermanence of all phenomena and the mind’s constant attempts to cling to and entrap the illusion of reality instead of embracing the truth of impermanence and emptiness.

Buddhist Mandala Americosmos Darrin Drda

Here’s what legendary Tibetan teacher Chögyam Trungpa had to say about this incredibly important Buddhist mandala:

“The whole Dharma is the language of samsara. That is why this painting is called the wheel of life, of bhavachakra—the wheel of existance, or becoming (samsara). This wheel is the portrait of samsara and therefore also of nirvana, which is the undoing of the samsaric coil. This image provides a good background for understanding illusion’s game, based as it is on the four noble truths as the accurate teaching of being in the world. The outer ring of the nidanas describes the truth of suffering; the inner ring of the six realms describes the impetus of suffering; and the center of the wheel describes the origin of suffering, which is the path.

“The wheel of life is always shown as being held by Yama (a personification meaning death, or that which provides the space for birth, death, and survival). Yama is the environment, the time for birth and death. In this case, it is the compulsive nowness in which the universe recurs. It provides the basic medium in which the different stages of the nidanas can be born and die.

“The outer ring of the evolutionary stages of suffering is the twelve nidanas. Nidana means ‘chain,’ or chain reaction. The nidanas are that which presents the chance to evolve to a crescendo of ignorance or death. The ring of nidanas may be seen in terms of causality or accident from one situation to the next; inescapable coincidence brings a sense of imprisonment and pain, for you have been processed through this gigantic factory as raw material. You do not usually look forward to the outcome, but on the other hand, there is no alternative.”

(From The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Vol. 2.)


Some Thoughts from the Buddha

Buddha Reveals 9 Golden Rules to Achieving Your Goals and Living the Life You Want

If you’ve ever read any texts from Buddha, you know how powerful they can be in calming in your mind and showing you what’s important in life.

However, many of the ideas of Buddhism are highly relevant to making you more productive and focused in achieving your goals.

The below Buddhist lessons are all about cultivating a mindset for taking action in the present moment. Too often we think of Buddhism as being able letting go and living freely in the here and now. This is an important aspect of it, but the purpose is to live your life as a fully functioning and flourishing human being.

For those seeking to achieve success in life, here are 9 Buddhist maxims to meditate on.

1) Develop the mind of equilibrium. You will always be getting praise and blame, but do not let either affect the poise of the mind: follow the calmness, the absence of pride.

This saying, from Sutta Nipata, instructs the mind to be balanced, objective and aware of the dangers of pride. Remember to be calm in the face of compliments as well as negative feedback.

Over time, you’re bound to have many successes as well as great moments of failure. These are all opportunities for learning and growth. Connect with the calmness within you at all moments.

2) “Too cold, too hot, too late” can always be the excuses to those who do not want to work. They let their chance pass by.

This is about seizing the moment. It’s easy to think of excuses for not getting work done, and if you’re the type that is always finding an excuse, many opportunities will always be passing you by. It takes consistent effort and initiative to create momentum in achieving your goals, which is critical for anyone in business and other areas of life.

3) The most valuable service is one rendered to our fellow humans.

This phrase is found in Wat Phra Singh, a large Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It tells you that your work is valuable inasmuch as it helps others.

Many economic historians suggest that the history of economic progress can be told through the emergence of marketplaces. This is where people come together to exchange goods that will help others.

By helping others, we’re creating innovation in our economies and ensuring that we’re adding value to the collective human experience.

4) None can live without toil, and a craft that provides your needs is a blessing indeed. But if you toil without rest, fatigue and weariness will overtake you, and you will denied the joy that comes from labor’s end.

This maxim, from the Dhammavadaka, is a perfect reminder to live a life of balance. Some people seem to be able to work continually for weeks on end, but usually the time comes when you’ll burn out. By consistently balancing hard work with rest, you’ll make sure you’ll always have a good level of energy to seize your opportunities and get work completed.

5) Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.

Take a moment to realize that your work, which is such a big part of your life, really matters to the world. Understand that every action you take in business and in life is part of a larger journey of self-discovery.

The work we do in business is part of a grander scheme to realize our life’s purpose. Business is about creating products and services that add value to people’s lives and is just a vehicle to do something for the world.

Put everything you have into your purpose and give yourself completely to it.

6) Every individual has a responsibility to help guide our global family in the right direction. Good wishes are not sufficient; we must become actively engaged.

These are the words of the Dalai Lama and is a reminder that every person shoulders the responsibility to do good. It is our actions that do the most good in the world, and the actions we undertake in business that hold the greatest potential for impacting the world.

7) Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

Living in the present is of utmost importance, and it can help align you with carrying out more effective work.

We often have days where our mind is consumed with events of yesterday, or the tasks that need to be completed tomorrow. Concentrate the mind in the here and now in order to increase your levels of productivity.

8) You can only lose what you cling to.

This short quote is a gentle reminder to detach and embrace change. The present moment is fluid and continually transforming the conditions you’re faced with. If you get stuck to old dogmas, rules and patterns of thinking, then you won’t be able to shift your goals in the direction of helping other people’s changing whims and desires.

Roll with the times, go with the flow and embrace the changes happening around you. Let go.

9) A jug fills drop by drop.

We often have grand plans for achieving our dreams. This is important, and we don’t want to lose sight of the importance of big ideas. However, at the same time we need to remember that methodological piecemeal work is often superior to big splashes. When you concentrate on the small things, the big things fall into place.

Take heart knowing that your small efforts result in great success


Rethinking the Hope of Psychedelics

The Psychedelic Experience, 50 Years On

The name for The Doors occurred to Jim Morrison after a weekend experimenting with psychedelics. (Wikimedia Commons)

Editor’s note: John Densmore is the legendary drummer of  The Doors. To learn more about Densmore, listen to Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer’s interview with the musician here

All this to say—if you are up against that wall—in a place where it feels like there are no options—and your intuition says it’s right … go ask Alice.

I’m 73 years old and still feeling quite good about myself. Well, I know I’m on the descent, but it’s a nice ride … right now. I know it’s going to get more difficult, but if I can just hang on to what I experienced 50 years ago, I’ll make it to where I’m supposed to go.

So play the game “Existence” to the end … of the beginning, of the beginning

Fifty years ago, my friends and I were street scientists, experimenting with then-legal psychedelics. At Monday rehearsals, we would all share what happened on our weekend “trips.” On one of those Mondays, Jim suggested we call our new group The Doors, after the Aldous Huxley book, “The Doors of Perception.” It seemed the esteemed British scholar had written a little book about his mescaline experienceThe new name quickly became unanimous. All of us went through the gauntlet—tough moments that lasted for a few minutes, or quite a while. A few friends never came back fully to their former mental selves, and actually, all of us were in some way changed forever—mostly in quite positive ways.

Lifting the veil is dangerous, but if the environment is supportive, the outcome can be life-changing. I only took the trip a few times, but the opening is still with me. I realized these experiments were extremely rigorous on the nervous system, so I found myself heading toward a less shattering route: meditation. But the initial couple of liftoffs have definitely impacted my life permanently.

Now, 50 years later, I still can touch the feeling of wonder that I got from these initial excursions. It’s hard to describe any more than that; kind of like trying to describe God. My 90-year-old cousin, who is a diligent thinker, laments the loss of the framework of organized religion. I told him that the impact of a tab of acid made a much bigger impression on my spiritual life than the communion wafer at mass. And I can’t go back. Even though Pope Francis is challenging my renegade Catholicism because he is so wonderful, I still can’t go back. The great mythologist Joseph Campbell says that the new mythology might take 100 years or so to fully form. So I comfort myself with a patchwork cosmology: a little Hinduism here, a dash of Buddhism there, and a whole lot of indigenous wisdom.

Let me be clear—I am not advocating indiscriminate drug use. But recent studies have shown that used carefully, some psychedelics can actually help treat addiction to other drugs. Plus, carefully conducted scientific studies from nonprofit organizations and major universities are showing many physical and psychological benefits, including a powerful treatment for PTSD and anxiety in people with serious illness. Even the much-maligned weed is showing stunning evidence as an important medicine that fights diseases like epilepsy and cancer.

These are very exciting studies, but psychedelics still have a stigma: the old patriarchal, mistaken outlook that all drugs are the same. We now know that “Just Say No” is an extremely simplistic and misleading response to a very complex issue. As Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance said years ago, the appropriate phrase is “Just Say Know.” This is apparently lost on the new U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who is trying to go back in time with tough policies that have failed. Sessions’ predecessor, Eric Holder, has called this “dumb on crime.”

Of course, there are those who will quickly judge this rant as a “hippie flashback.” If that’s what this is, then bring it on. I have raised a family, have grandkids, written three books, a significant amount of music, and many articles. No slacker’s or stoner’s rant is this. In fact, I’m very careful now about what I put into my system, and those early days of exploring my mind were key in forming my values and my spiritual path.

Now here’s the cosmic part (you saw it coming): when I stepped outside while under the influence of LSD, I saw God in every leaf. OK, now you expect me to say I started eating those botanicals since I was so loaded, but what I really came away with is a sense (which is still with me) that this moment in time is not the only moment happening at this moment! This might sound like double-speak, but there are other realities going on right now outside of our awareness.

But before I stepped outside, I had a few minutes of absolute terror. My friend, who was also “tripping,” pulled me out of it by laughing hysterically. You see, in those days, we didn’t have doctors like today at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore carefully monitoring our voyage. Due to our early experiments, and of course centuries-old shamanic cultures, researchers are now clear about the safe boundaries needed to make the excursions the most fruitful. Knowledge is often surrounded by danger. You have to get out on the edge to see the whole clearly.

Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream … It is not dying, it is not dying

Every night when we choose to go to bed, we are accepting a “little death,” giving up our conscious daily life. We know we need rest to reset our body for another day of sentient life. In effect, it’s a small rehearsal for the big “D” coming at the end of our time here on planet Earth. When that time arrives, going peacefully is what we all want. For thousands of years, Tibetan Buddhists have believed it is crucial to be calm in the moments before crossing, or you won’t get to where you’re supposed to go. Now we are seeing terminal cancer patients receiving effective help via psychedelics with the “little death” rehearsal.

Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void … It is shining, it is shining

So once again, the U.S. government is very slow to get the message and continues to interfere with the availability of traditional indigenous medicine. Bipartisan support for criminal justice reform has been halted. Medicine that has helped people for centuries is once again under attack. It’s sad, because Vietnam vets that have been metaphorically stuck in the jungle have been finding their way out of years of mental and emotional torture thanks to medicinal plants.

Retired Sgt. Jonathan Lubecky, who served in Iraq, says about MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, “This treatment has made it possible for me to watch my son grow up. He will not be presented with a folded flag on behalf of a ‘grateful nation’ in recognition of a parent who took his own life.” So unfortunately, there are more roadblocks to the “good” drugs, but thank God for human enterprise. No wall can keep out the human spirit, which seeks healing.

All this to say—if you are up against that wall—in a place where it feels like there are no options—and your intuition says it’s right … go ask Alice. Make sure you have planned your excursion, have a guide, and this is really what you need to do. Then you will build a bridge or dig a tunnel into your soul and find yourself.


A Little Buddhist Humor

13 Buddhist Jokes That Will Enlighten Your Day


Buddhists are one of the least understood religions out there, not because of a disinterest in understanding it, but because of so much disinformation. Buddhist jokes actually help us understand Buddhism the way it should be.

These are a few of my favorites.

1. Says the Master to his pupil: “Do you understand that you don’t really exist?”
Upon which the pupil replies: “To whom are you telling that?”

2. A zen student asked his master: “Is it okay to use email?” “Yes”, replied the master, “but with no attachments.”

3. Someone sent the Buddha a gift box tied with a ribbon. Buddha opened it to find it empty. “Aha!”, he said, “Just what I wanted. Nothing!”

4. What does a Buddhist comedian say when the audience stops laughing?
“I know you’re out there. I can concentrate on your breathing.”

5. A Western Buddhist woman was in India, studying with her teacher. She was riding with another woman friend in a rickshaw, when they were attacked by a man on the street. In the end, the attacker only succeeded in frightening the women, but the Buddhist woman was quite upset by the event and told her teacher. She asked him what she should have done: “what would have been the appropriate, Buddhist response?” The teacher said very simply, “You should have very mindfully and with great compassion whacked the attacker over the head with your umbrella.”

6. What did one Zen practitioner give to another for their birthday?

7. What did the Buddhist say to the pizza chef?
Make me one with everything. The pizza chef prepares it and gives it to the monk. The monk pays him and asks for the change. The pizza vendor says: “Change comes from within.”

8. How many Zen Buddhists does it take to screw in a light bulb? There is no light bulb.

9. Q: What happens when a Buddhist becomes totally absorbed with the computer he is working with?
A: He enters Nerdvana.

10. Why did the Buddhist coroner get fired?
He kept marking the cause of death as “birth.”

11. A Buddhist phones the monastery and asks the monk, “Can you come to do a blessing for my new house?”
The monk replies “Sorry, I’m busy.”
“What are you doing? Can I help?”
“I’m doing nothing.” replied the monk. “Doing nothing is a monk’s core business and you can’t help me with that.”
So the next day the Buddhist phones again, “Can you please come to my house for a blessing?”
“Sorry,” said the monk, “I’m busy.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m doing nothing,” replied the monk.
“But that was what you were doing yesterday!” said the Buddhist.
“Correct”, replied the monk, “I’m not finished yet!”
~ Ajahn Brahm

12. Prince Gautama, who had become Buddha, saw one of his followers meditating under a tree at the edge of the Ganges River. Upon inquiring why he was meditating, his follower stated he was attempting to become so enlightened he could cross the river unaided. Buddha gave him a few pennies and said: “Why don’t you seek passage with that boatman. It is much easier.”

13. A Zen master told me, “Do the opposite of what I tell you.” So I didn’t.

This post was republished from You can find the original post here.


Consciousness in the Universe

The Universe May Be Conscious, Prominent Scientists State

Article Image
Net of Being. Alex Grey.

What consciousness is and where it emanates from has stymied great minds in societies across the globe since the dawn of speculation. In today’s world, it’s a realm tackled more and more by physicists, cognitive scientists, and neuroscientists. There are a few prevailing theories. The first is materialism. This is the notion that consciousness emanates from matter, in our case, by the firing of neurons inside the brain.

Take the brain out of the equation and consciousness doesn’t exist at all. Traditionally, scientists have been stalwart materialists. But doing so has caused them to slam up against the limitations of materialism. Consider the chasm between relativity and quantum mechanics, or Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and you quickly start to recognize these incongruities.

The second theory is mind-body dualism. This is perhaps more often recognized in religion or spirituality. Here, consciousness is separate from matter. It is a part of another aspect of the individual, which in religious terms we might call the soul. Then there’s a third option which is gaining ground in some scientific circles, panpsychism. In this view, the entire universe is inhabited by consciousness.

A handful of scientists are starting to warm to this theory, but it’s still a matter of great debate. Truth be told, panpsychism sounds very much like what the Hindus and Buddhists call the Brahman, the tremendous universal Godhead of which we are all a part. In Buddhism for instance, consciousness is the only thing that exists.

Such is the focus of the famous Zen koan, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” One must come to the realization that everything we experience is filtered through and interpreted by our mind. Without it, the universe doesn’t exist at all or at least, not without some sort of consciousness observing it. In some physics circles, the prevailing theory is some kind of proto-consciousness field.

Is consciousness derived from an invisible field that inhabits our universe? Getty Images.

In quantum mechanics, particles don’t have a definite shape or specific location, until they are observed or measured. Is this a form of proto-consciousness at play? According to the late scientist and philosopher, John Archibald Wheeler, it might. He’s famous for coining the term, “black hole.” In his view, every piece of matter contains a bit of consciousness, which it absorbs from this proto-consciousness field.

He called his theory the “participatory anthropic principle,” which posits that a human observer is key to the process. Of this Wheeler said, “We are participators in bringing into being not only the near and here but the far away and long ago.” In his view, much like the Buddhist one, nothing exists unless there is a consciousness to apprehend it.

Neuroscientist Christof Koch of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, is another supporter of panpsychism. Koch says that the only theory we have to date about consciousness is, it’s a level of awareness about one’s self and the world. Biological organisms are conscious because when they approach a new situation, they can change their behavior in order to navigate it, in this view. Dr. Koch is attempting to see if he can measure the level of consciousness an organism contains.

He’ll be running some animal experiments. In one, he plans to wire the brains of two mice together. Will information eventually flow between the two? Will their consciousness at some point become one fused, integrated system? If these experiments are successful, he may wire up the brains of two humans.

UK physicist Sir Roger Penrose is yet another supporter of panpsychism. Penrose in the 80’s proposed that consciousness is present at the quantum level and resides in the synapses of the brain. He is famous for linking consciousness with some of the goings on in quantum mechanics.

Dr. Penrose doesn’t go so far as to call himself a panpsychist. In his view, “The laws of physics produce complex systems, and these complex systems lead to consciousness, which then produces mathematics, which can then encode in a succinct and inspiring way the very underlying laws of physics that gave rise to it.”

In Buddhism consciousness emanates from the brain. Neuroscientists agree. Getty Images.

Veteran physicist Gregory Matloff of the New York City College of Technology, says he has some preliminary evidence showing that, at the very least, panpsychism isn’t impossible. Hey, it’s a start. Dr. Matloff told NBC News, “It’s all very speculative, but it’s something we can check and either validate or falsify.”

Theoretical physicist Bernard Haisch, in 2006, suggested that consciousness is produced and transmitted through the quantum vacuum, or empty space. Any system that has sufficient complexity and creates a certain level of energy, could generate or broadcast consciousness. Dr. Matloff got in touch with the unorthodox, German physicist and proposed an observational study, to test it.

What they examined was Parenago’s Discontinuity. This is the observation that cooler stars, like our own sun, revolve around the center of the Milky Way faster than hotter ones. Some scientists attribute this to interactions with gas clouds. Matloff took a different view. He elaborated in a recently published piece, in the Journal of Consciousness Exploration and Research.

Unlike their hotter sisters, cooler stars may move faster due to “the emission of a uni-directional jet.” Such stars emit a jet early on in their creation. Matloff suggests that this could be an instance of the star consciously manipulating itself, in order to gain speed.

Observational data shows a reliable pattern anywhere Parenago’s Discontinuity is witnessed. If it were a matter of interacting with gas clouds, as is the current theory, each cloud should have a different chemical makeup, and so cause the star to operate differently. So why do all of them act in exactly the same way?

Jets out of cooler stars may be a conscious act. Wikipedia Commons.

Though it isn’t much to go on, the unveiling of the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope, whose mission it is to map stars, may provide more data to further support or weaken this view. On another front, Dr. Matloff posits that the presence of a proto-consciousness field could serve as a replacement for dark matter.

Dark matter supposedly makes up around 95% of the universe, although, scientists can’t seem to find any. So, for the sake of argument, if consciousness is a property that arises on the subatomic level with a confluence of particles, how do these tiny little bits of consciousness coalesce?

Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Giulio Tononi, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, proposes a slightly different take on panpsychism, called integrated information theory. Here, consciousness is a manifestation with a real, physical location, somewhere in the universe. We just haven’t found it yet. Perhaps this heavenly body radiates out consciousness as our sun radiates light and heat.

Dr. Tononi has actually puts forth a metric for measuring how much consciousness a thing has. The unit is called phi. This translates into how much control a being can enact over itself or objects around it. The theory separates intelligence from consciousness, which some people assume are one in the same.

Take AI for example. It can already beat humans in all kinds of tasks. But it has no will of its own. A supercomputer which can enact change in the world outside of a programmer’s commands, would therefore be conscious. Many futurists from Ray Kurzweil to Elon Musk believe that day is coming, perhaps in the next decade or so, and that we should prepare.


On Zen, Dogen, & No-Self

Note to Self: There is No Self

The following is excerpted from Don’t Be a Jerk by Brad Warner, published by New World Library. 


There probably is not one teaching in the entire Buddhist canon that causes more confusion than the teaching of no-self. The existence of a self is taken as a given by pretty much every religion and philosophy, apart from Buddhism. In fact, the idea of no-self is so difficult that there are even sects of Buddhism that find workarounds to redefine self and try to sneak it in through the back door somehow.

When I first encountered this idea of no-self, I conceived of it the way most people do when they first come across it. First off, it seemed completely absurd. It was the denial of something that I could clearly see for myself was true.

You can deny the existence of the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot. You can tell me there’s no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. But the existence of self? Come on! That’s obvious. René Descartes proved the existence of self with a simple five-word formula: “I think, therefore I am.” End of argument. Self must exist because here I myself am, thinking of things and writing them down, and here you yourself are reading them. Who else could be doing these things if it wasn’t my self and your self? How could anyone with any common sense at all deny that?

But okay. I was game to try. I respected my first Zen teacher, and I didn’t think he would tell me lies. He believed there was no self, and it seemed like this belief made his life better. My life was not going that great and I wanted some of whatever it was that seemed to make his work. Besides that, the rest of what he said about Buddhist philosophy and practice made sense. Or, when it didn’t make sense, at least it usually didn’t feel like it was denying something I could clearly see was true. So I started working with the idea of no-self.

My initial forays went something like this. I figured I had a self but that it was my job to eradicate it in order to feel happier and more peaceful. My understanding of self was that it included my personal jumble of likes and dislikes, attitudes, ideals, personal history, beliefs, habits, hobbies, and so on. I figured I had to somehow get rid of all that and become a clean, blank slate. If I could whitewash everything I considered to be “me,” I would be rid of self and then maybe I’d stop being such a wreck all the time. So I went about trying to do that.

But as I was doing that, I started to realize that my first teacher, Tim, didn’t appear to have erased his personality. He liked certain things and disliked others. Just like me, he adored Star Trek but thought Lost in Space was pretty dull. He had very specific opinions on politics. He had some rather peculiar habits that he didn’t seem keen to eradicate. He was, in fact, a very strong personality, a very strong self, if that’s how self was defined. This was one of the things I liked about him. So what was I doing trying to erase my personality?

Tim really liked a book called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by  Shunryu Suzuki, which I’ve already mentioned, so I read that through a few times. In the chapter titled “Emptiness” Suzuki says, “When you study Buddhism, you should have a general house cleaning of your mind. You must take everything out of your room and clean it thoroughly. If it is necessary, you may bring everything back in again. You may want many things, so one by one you can bring them back. But if they are not necessary, there is no need to keep them.”

That actually kind of scared me. For one thing, I’m a fairly messy person. I didn’t like cleaning my room at all in those days. There are a few photos of rooms I lived in when I was younger that make me cringe when I see them now. And even today I’m probably not most people’s image of the ideal housekeeper. But that isn’t what really put me off. What made me truly scared was the idea that I’d have to do a house cleaning of my mind.

Nowadays, having lived in Japan for eleven years, I know precisely the type of house cleaning Suzuki was thinking of when he said this. In Japan there’s a tradition of doing something called osoji at least once a year. Osoji literally translates as something like “big cleaning.” It’s like what we call spring cleaning, but more extensive than what most Americans do when they spring clean. In Japan, during osoji time, you take everything out of the house. And I do mean everything! The books, the knickknacks, the dishes, the bookshelves, the furniture — everything that’s not nailed down gets taken outside. Sometimes even the stuff that is nailed down gets taken apart and moved outside. Then you clean up the house thoroughly, after which you clean up all the stuff you took out, and then you start putting it back inside. It’s a pretty massive task. When you’re putting stuff back in, you get to see how much useless junk you’ve accumulated since the last osoji and you always end up throwing a lot of it away.

Osoji usually takes place around New Year’s Day, a time during which most businesses are closed for five days, although the tradition of remaining closed for five days is slowly starting to erode. So not only is this tough work, but it’s usually cold as hell outside when you’re doing all that scrubbing. When I first encountered this tradition it seemed like madness. But once you’re done, your house feels great!

I didn’t know anything about osoji when I first read Suzuki’s book, but now that I do I get an even clearer picture of what he was saying. If I’d known then what I know now, I’m sure I would have found the prospect even scarier.

What he’s talking about is metaphorically taking everything that you think of as your self out of your head and looking at it carefully and critically to see if it’s really necessary. He does say you can bring some of it back inside. But read between the lines, and you can see that he’s implying that there’s a lot of stuff in there you won’t want to bring back.

This idea scared me because it wasn’t just paperback novels I’d finished reading or broken guitar effects boxes I finally had to admit I’d never get around to fixing that he was telling me to throw away. He was telling me to throw away pieces of me! That is a much scarier prospect. It wasn’t just scary. It sounded utterly impossible.
For me this was especially tough because I prided myself on being a true individualist. I got through high school knowing that even if I was just a nerd boy that the pretty girls ignored, at least I was truer to myself than the jocks and preppies who liked what everybody else liked and dressed the way everybody else dressed. I dared to be different and I was, I thought, justifiably conceited about it! I had to be! It was all I had going for me!

Now here I was just a couple years out of that mess, being told to clear all that stuff out. What would I have left if I did? Would I become a mindless vegetable? Would I turn into one of those culties who just stares blankly off into space all the time? Or worse, would I become just like the jocks and preppies I hated, accepting everything the mainstream media told me because I had no self and therefore no opinions of my own? Or would I be opening myself up to being brainwashed by my teachers? Would I be just like the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers? The prospects were not attractive!

But the idea of no-self isn’t like that at all. It’s not that we have a self and we are being asked to get rid of it. There is something real that we call “self” and that we ascribe certain characteristics to. It’s just that once we call that thing “self” we are already on the wrong track, and anything else we say about it will be mistaken.

It would be ridiculous to insist that the aspects of our experience indicating that we are autonomous individuals with our unique history, personality, and point of view simply do not exist. I have my own credit cards and driver’s license, which you cannot use. I know the password to my Wi-Fi at home, and you do not. I remember things that happened in my life that I could not possibly convey to you, even if I tried my hardest. I have opinions that you do not and probably a few you couldn’t even comprehend, the same way I cannot fathom why some people hold the opinions they hold. All this and more applies to you as well and to every human being or animal who has ever lived.

When Buddhists talk about no-self they are not saying all the foregoing is false, nor are they saying it’s all true but that we have to utterly destroy these aspects of who we are. Rather, they are saying that applying the idea of self to this real stuff is a mistake.

The word used in early Buddhist writings for the concept of self is atman. Atman was an idea propagated by many Indian philosophers and is similar to the Christian idea of the soul. It starts from the sense of “I am” that all of us experience. This “I am” feeling is taken as evidence that there is a permanent abiding something in us that remains stable and constant throughout the changes we experience. Thus the soul you had as a four-year-old child is the same soul you have today. This soul is different from the body because even though the body clearly changes, the soul does not. Many philosophers further extrapolate that the soul survives the death of the body. This makes sense if we accept the basic idea of the soul. If you believe that the soul remains unchanged while the body ages, it follows that the soul is not the body and it therefore follows that the soul could go on even after the body decays and dies.

The Buddha completely rejected this idea. First of all, he noticed that what we refer to as the soul or the atman does change. Our personalities do not remain static throughout our lives. We mature internally as well as externally. The Buddha did not accept the idea that body and mind were two different kinds of substance.

Yet something experiences the world uniquely in the case of each one of us. You are reading this book. Somehow my thoughts about self are being conveyed to you across time and space. My thoughts are not exactly the same as yours, or you wouldn’t have bought this book. You are not me, and I am not you. What are we to do with that except say that you have a self, and so do I? Even if we don’t accept the idea of the immortality of the soul or the idea that mind is made of some kind of ethereal substance that is different from matter, we have to accept that your mind and my mind are not the same mind. Otherwise we wouldn’t need to have conversations or read books or watch movies or listen to music in order to access each other’s thoughts and feelings.

Most of us only ever experience that way of looking at things. No, that’s not exactly right. Most of us are taught that looking at things this way is the only correct way of understanding the world. I think everyone experiences the other side of the equation at some point in their lives. As children, our sense of self is much more fluid than it becomes later. We also have moments of transcendence when the barriers between ourselves and others fade away. Sometimes this happens during sex. Sometimes it happens in large public gatherings like concerts or sporting events. Sometimes it happens in religious services and ceremonies. We all know about this other side of human experience, but we are conditioned to disregard it. Or we imagine that it only happens at rare, special times and places. We miss the fact that this transcendence is actually continuously happening throughout every moment of every day.

Meditation practice helps make this clearer. Moments of transcendence and oneness no longer seem like anomalies. You start to notice that your individual identity and the identity of the universe itself are not two separate things.

Certain Indian philosophers who meditated took this as evidence that the individual atman was part of a supreme atman that was basically the soul of the entire universe. They called this super-atman “Brahman.” And just to confuse those of us outside India, they also called certain people who preached this idea Brahmin and named their chief god Brahma. Be that as it may, this Brahman is said to be sat-chit-ananda, or “being, consciousness, and bliss.”

Yet, like the atman, Brahman is supposed to be something apart from the material universe. The Buddha could see no reason to believe in the existence of something beyond the material universe. It’s not that he thought matter was the only thing there was. Rather, he saw that matter and the immaterial were different aspects of the same unified reality. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

The idea of no-self means that we do not interrupt this oneness with our individuality. In the January/February 1985 issue of Matter magazine, my all-time favorite singer-songwriter, Robyn Hitchcock, told an interviewer, “Inasmuch as a mind can discuss itself — it’s a bit like a mirror looking at itself, only I don’t know how much truth there is in that. You put two mirrors up against each other, and there’s infinity, but you can never see it, ’cause your head blocks it off.” This is a remarkably astute metaphor for the problems inherent in looking at the true nature of what we call self.



Buddhist Superpowers

Harvard Goes To The Himalayas – Monks With ‘Superhuman’ Abilities Show Scientists What We Can All Do


It’s fascinating to consider just how many ancient teachings tell us that humans have the capacity to gain extraordinary powers through various techniques. Some of these techniques, known as siddhis in the yoga tradition (from the Sanskrit, meaning “perfection”), include meditation, static dancing, drumming, praying, fasting, psychedelics, and more.

In Buddhism, for example, the existence of advanced powers is readily acknowledged; in fact, Buddha expected his disciples to be able to attain these abilities, but also to not become distracted by them.

A Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan, Donald Lopez Jr., describes the many abilities ascribed to Buddha:

With this enlightenment, he was believed to possess all manner of supernormal powers, including full knowledge of each of his own past lives and those of other beings, the ability to know others’ thoughts, the ability to create doubles of himself, the ability to rise into the air and simultaneously shoot fire and water from his body. . . . Although he passed into nirvana at the age of eighty-one, he could have lived “for an aeon or until the end of the aeon” if only he had been asked to do so. (source)

Again, there are numerous historical anecdotes of people with, as the Institute of Noetic Sciences calls them, ‘extended human capacities.” Since this article is focused on Buddhist monks, here is another example from the lore as written by Swami Rama in Living with the Himalayan Masters:

I had never before seen a man who could sit still without blinking his eyelids for eight to ten hours, but this adept was very unusual. He levitated two and a half feet during his meditations. We measured this with a string, which was later measured by a foot rule. I would like to make it clear, though, as I have already told you, that I don’t consider levitation to be a spiritual practice. It is an advanced practice of pranayama with application of bandeaus (locks). One who knows about the relationship between mass and weight understands that it is possible to levitate, but only after long practice. . .

He (also) had the power to transform matter into different forms, like changing a rock into a sugar cube. One after another the next morning he did many such things. He told me to touch the sand – and the grains of sand turned into almonds and cashews. I had heard of this science before and knew its basic principles, but I had hardly believed such stories. I did not explore this field, but I am fully acquainted with the governing laws of science. (source)

A lot of these stories exist within the literature and lore, but they are just stories, up to the readers to decide if they hold any actually credibility. Of course, one who subscribes to various ancient teachings would be more inclined to believe that these are more than just stories and tales. With science shedding light on the possible truths of ancient mysticism, it’s not implausible to think that, at one time, these abilities were more common knowledge.

Today, there have been a number of studies within the realms of parapsychology that have yielded statistically significant results, especially when examining the findings that’ve come from quantum physics. This is why Max Planck, the theoretical physicist who originated quantum theory, stated that he “regards consciousness as fundamental” and that he regarded “matter as derivative from consciousness.” He also wrote that “we cannot get behind consciousness” and that “everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing postulates consciousness.” And the Dalai Lama has supported this viewpoint:

R.C. Henry, Professor of Physics of Physics and Astronomy at John Hopkins University, explains things further:

A fundamental conclusion of the new physics also acknowledges that the observer creates the reality. As observers, we are personally involved with the creation of our own reality. Physicists are being forced to admit that the universe is a “mental” construction. Pioneering physicist Sir James Jeans wrote: “The stream of knowledge is heading toward a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter, we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter. Get over it, and accept the inarguable conclusion. The universe is immaterial-mental and spiritual. (source)

For a selected list of downloadable peer-reviewed journal articles reporting studies of psychic phenomena, mostly published in the 21st century, you can click HERE.

Harvard And The Himalayan Monks

During a visit to remote monasteries in the 1980s, Harvard Professor of Medicine Herbert Benson and his team of researchers studied monks living in the Himalayan Mountains who could, by g Tum-mo (a yoga technique), raise the temperatures of their fingers and toes by as much as 17 degrees. It is still unknown how the monks are able to generate such heat. (source)

And it doesn’t stop there — the researchers also studied advanced meditators in Sikkim, India, where they were astonished to find that these monks could lower their metabolism by 64 percent.(source)

In 1985, the Harvard research team made a video of monks drying cold, wet sheets with body heat alone. Monks spending winter nights 15,000 feet high in the Himalayas is also not uncommon.

These are truly remarkable feats, and not the first time science has examined humans who can do extraordinary things. We published an article a couple of months ago showing that factors associated with consciousness can influence our autonomic nervous system. You can read more about that in the article linked below, as it is heavily sourced and provides links to several papers that clearly indicate how factors associated with consciousness can influence our biology.

Study: Factors Associated With Consciousness Can Influence Our Autonomic Nervous System

If you’re further interested in this subject, I recommend reading Supernormal: Science, Yoga, and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities by Dr. Dean Radin, Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences.


Mindfulness Practice

Jonathan Goldman on Healing Sounds


RAm Dass on Change

Making Friends With Change By Ram Dass



A lot of people ask me, “How do you know about incarnations?” I haven’t experienced my past incarnations, but from being with my guru, Maharaji, who’s farther up the mountain, I have an understanding of how it all works. He would speak of reincarnation as a reality, and I and the other people around him had a very deep relationship with him and each other that clearly had not come from our family backgrounds or upbringing in this life.

Our human forms are composed of and surrounded by an infinite myriad of forms, all in constant motion, from the subatomic to the cosmic in scale. This is the lila, the enchanted dance of existence, the divine interplay of consciousness and energy. Amid this divine play we seek fulfillment, perfection, flow, freedom, enlightenment, Oneness.

The dominant quality of form is change, because all forms are in time. That’s another way of saying we don’t know what will happen from one instant to the next. Or, as one of my guru brothers is fond of saying, “Don’t be surprised to be surprised!” For instance, I didn’t anticipate I’d be living in a wheelchair today. The way to live with change is to be completely present in the moment (remember, Be Here Now).

We cannot cling to forms or our experience of them, because they decay and dissolve back again into their formless state. Attempting to hold on to anything in time is ultimately futile and a cause of much suffering. What is really there to hold on to? In reality there is nothing permanent, nothing solid, nothing constant except relativity and change themselves.

When we realize how finite are the limits of gratification or possible fulfillment within the play of forms, then despair arises. That despair is born of the world-weary understanding that nothing in form can provide ultimate meaning. It also forces and demands awakening and seeks transcendence of suffering.

If futile clinging to impermanence creates our suffering, letting go and making friends with change is joy, liberation. In youth our lifetime seems to stretch infinitely before us. As we age, the accumulation of our experiences seems to have occurred in the blink of an eye. Even now that I’m seventy-nine years old, I realize there’s plenty of change to come before dying – change in the body, change in friends and family, change in memory. These experiences lead to deepening wisdom and freedom and to diving deep within to the realm beyond form.

Long before recorded history, human beings were awakening out of the illusion of form or separateness that the Indians call maya. A tiny fraction of humanity, but still many beings, finish their work and complete the process of realization, the integration of form and the formless. These awakened beings pass beyond the illusion of birth and death and attachments to this physical plane and every other plane. Their hearts fill with the bliss of that realization and with the infinite love that permeates the universe the way that dark matter permeates the space between stars. That love is the subtle texture of our material world, the unseen energy, the fullness of emptiness (sunyata).

When they finally emerge from the illusion of separateness, these free beings can either merge back into that formless state or remain in form on one plane or another, or they can continue their evolution to the point where it makes no difference. They may or may not take birth again on the physical plane.

– Ram Dass (excerpt from Be Love Now, co-authored by Rameshwar Das)