Monthly Archives: February 2016

Buddha Mind

Notes on Buddha Mind                                                                         

Reflections on Mentoring and Mindfulness Trainings.

2,600 years ago – 5 Wonderful Precepts                   1966 14 Mindfulness Trainings

The trainings were created under radically different circumstances – but have the same underlying thread of implementing the Bodhisattva Way.

  • Where did the Five Precepts come from? They had to come from somewhere.  There are three major causes and conditions that permitted their emergence.  The first is the awakened mind of the Buddha; the second is the great skill of the Buddha as a teacher; the third is Thich Nhat Hanh’s insightful rewording of the Five Wonderful Precepts of the Buddha.  In a language that would appeal to the consciousness of the 21st century, the Buddha’s Precepts were renewed as the Five Mindfulness Trainings, in tune with modern historical, socio-economic and cultural developments.  So when we study and penetrate deeply into these mindfulness trainings we touch all three conditions, in particular the awakened mind of the Buddha.  At the same time we also touch our potential to be similarly awakened.
  • The 5 MT and the 14 MT are for the lay community – created at different times by different sages (Buddha and Thich Nhat Hanh), also under drastically different conditions.

2,600 yrs ago Gautama Shakyamuni awakened under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya in India.

Before that he practiced many deflections and trained in limited spiritual paths.

  • Ascetic practice almost killed him when he tried to subdue his mind and his body.
  • Buffalo herder Sujata saved his life – fed him – he focused on the Middle Way so his mind could settle. He sought out the bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya and sat in an imperturbable manner at the foot of the tree.

Two considerations:

  • The man Gautama Shakyamuni
  • The Buddha Mind – a universal, mystical level of consciousness. Christian mystics talk about this as “Christos.”

At Bodh Gaya we have #1 stepping into #2 and never being the same again. Gautama became the Buddha on his awakening.

Buddha’s Creation of the 5 Precepts for the Lay Community – Avatamsaka Sutra

– Avatamsaka Sutra: Establishes how to enter the Buddha’s world and mind, the reality witnessed by enlightened beings whose vision and mind is no longer clouded by egocentric addictions. What can be communicated from the Buddha Mind to our mind is the vision the Buddha first obtained under the Bodhi tree. The Avatamaska Sutra – known as the Flower Ornament Scripture – was translated from Chinese texts by Thomas Cleary in 1993. It has a surreal, mystical aspect. The Chinese scribes describe how it was delivered in full by the Buddha soon after his awakening – to all the heavens and galaxies.

The Avatamsaka Sutra requires more than an intellectual understanding. It needs a visceral response to grasp it. It is a universal phenomenon – a Buddha-verse of enlightened beings no less, bringing awakening and empowerment in their wake. It comprises thirty nine books, each one a sutra in itself – everything in Buddhism is derived from this. Tucked away in it are the 5 Precepts for Lay People.

The template of Avatamsaka lays out the Bodhisattva path in all its intricacies. A visionary, mystical text – millions of enlightened beings from all the galaxies listen to the Buddha’s revelations, or so the Chinese scribes tell us! We join them with our mentoring program for the 14 Mindfulness Trainings at Pine Gate. The 1966 Mindfulness Trainings lay out a framework for the Bodhisattva thread to be re-woven. We will encounter a multi-dimensional reality that transcends time/space/past/future.

A prior stage of emphasis on this Bodhisattva paradigm was supplied by Shantideva in 8th century India at Nalanda University. This is an example of Buddha Mind at work – Shantideva  provides an example of multi-dimensional reality, as did Milarepa in Tibet during the 11th century.

  • “Eats, Sleeps and Shits” was the observation of Shantideva’s attributes, described by his teachers and fellow students. He was set up by the students to give the Graduating Speech so that he would likely be disgraced. Shantideva, however, delivered his classic poem, “The Way of the Bodhisattva” and took the entire audience into a trance – then disappeared from the throne built for him. He was never seen again. He had devoured all the sutras and books in the great library at Nalanda and stepped into Buddha Mind. Distinct parallels with the Avatamsaka Sutra in terms of mystical reach.
  • Pema Chodron – “No Time To Lose” – titles her foreword “People Like Us Can Make a Difference” in her book about Shantideva. She brings awakening down to the everyday level Shantideva prescribed – changing our minds and living in a particular kind of way by following the Way of the Bodhisattva.
  • Shantideva’s greatest gift: “Verse 14 – Great Sins are utterly consumed by Bodhichitta” – damaging patterns/habits burned up by refraining from causing harm. We also refrain from firing the 2nd arrow of fear and anger into our consciousness.
  • Bodhichitta – Awakening of the Heart and Mind
  1. Boddhisattva – an Awakened Being, who chooses to stay in the mess and turmoil and takes steps to transform it.

Same energy experienced when we do walking meditation at Pine Gate and connect to the Earth Mother through our feet while walking – bodhichitta rises up when we make an authentic connection with the Earth Mother.

Relative Level – Yearning to transform ourselves with bodhichitta and then transform others

Absolute Level – Buddha Mind

  • Shantideva shows us how to work with emotional reactivity, develop bodhichitta so it becomes a way of life. His “Way of the Bodhisattva” is a guidebook for compassionate action. Think Bigger. Unwavering encouragement to deal with suffering, fear, habits, collapse, depression, anxiety and so on.

2016 MENTORING PROGRAM AT PINE GATE – 14 Mindfulness Trainings

  • It is vital that you make each of the 14 Trainings your own.
  • I should emphasize that there is no right way of doing the reflecting and rethinking of the MT’s. It is all in the sharing with dharma friends – you can rewrite, or paint or make up a poem, dance or song from your insights, prepare a skit, create a photo essay etc. Identify and document the personal process you took in the investigation of each one of the Trainings. This is very important as the transformation vehicle is YOU!  How you express your own experience of each MT is not at all restricted to the written form.  Feel free to express yourselves as you wish to. It is the sharing process that provides the real “fire” of understanding, which brings me to Thich Nhat Hanh in 1966.

Thich Nhat Hanh – LOTUS IN A SEA OF FIRE 1966 – Continues “The Way of the Bodhisattva.”

In the middle of the Vietnam War Thich Nhat Hanh creates the Tiep Hien (Order of Interbeing), based on the 14 Mindfulness Trainings – 6 members were ordained. He took an incredible revolutionary step – taking Buddhism out of the monastery and into society. The emphasis was on Engaged Buddhism, though Buddhism was always engaged from the get-go! Buddhist monastics conveniently forgot the significance of the “Engaged” part of the Buddha’s dharma talk to the five ascetics about The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path (plus Engaged Buddhism!) They by and large busied themselves in creating a monastic semi-feudal structure that fed off the hinterland of monasteries.

  • In 1966 Thich Nhat Hanh touched the Buddha Mind to lay down a radically different template – 50 years ago. Since that time there are two major crises not anticipated:
  1. Internet explosion – distraction technologies leading to blatant addiction with cellphones.
  2. Climate Change – denial, lack of understanding, ignoring science – in particular The Cascade Effect that compromises a safe niche for humanity on Planet Earth.

The present task of the mentoring process is to update, refine and relocate the 14 MT within current circumstances. It is not easy to bring about change in a spiritual bureaucratic organization. It took ten years to get “mitigate” considered rather than “reversal” of Climate Change into the trainings. Evidence from climate change scientists, seismologists, particularly the Cascade Theory from James Lovelock, brought a few concessions. The best we can actually do is to mitigate the impact of Climate Change and learn how to adapt. The 2015 Paris Accords on Climate Change also overlooked the notion of “mitigate.” I unilaterally changed the wording in the trainings at Pine Gate and it quickly caught on with many communities. In dealing with the bureaucracy I relied heavily upon the Hopi Prophecy of 2000: “Do not take anything personally!”


  1. Intelligence
  2. Personal Experience and Suffering
  3. Focus and Investigation
  4. Silence
  5. Deepening of Practice
  6. Allow Buddha Mind to enter – flash of insight, the pen writes something you did not intend, be open
  7. End result (hopefully) – being totally authentic. Just you at your best!!

Engaged Practice

My understanding of the Order of Interbeing charter and the transmission ceremonies is that they presented me with the heart of the Buddha and the heart of Thay. In my experience of the transmission ceremonies with Thay – the 14 Mindfulness Trainings and the Dharma Lamp – I certainly felt Thay’s love and encouragement but also felt his steel. For me, this was never an invitation. My direct experience was that I was authorized by Thay to teach the dharma, build sangha and skilfully engage with the wider society and environment. In engaging with creativity, experimentation and skilfulness, I felt that

I was actualizing the spirit and the letter of the OI charter. Thay gave me a driver’s license and the keys to the car and I drove it as far and as fast as I could.  There was plenty of creativity and experimentation though I was initially lacking in skilfulness. In my sense of urgency I kept the gas pedal to the floor and went flat out at high speed – this was not wise.  I quickly learned that action followed consciousness, not the other way round and so I eased up on the gas pedal!

My grounding was in Pine Gate Mindfulness Community, founded by Carolyn and I in 1997 after my return from teaching meditation in India.  Sangha life was a subtle ebb and flow through a series of concentric circles.  At the core was the practice of sangha leaders (Carolyn and I), the next circle was senior OI members and aspirants, then a circle of sangha members committed to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, then a circle of sangha members young and old, and then extending to a vast circle beyond the boundaries of Pine Gate to the wider community.  The ebb and flow between concentric circles breathed us in and out and the energy generated became the basis of action.  A good alternative to keeping the pedal to the floor!

An unusual set of circumstances led to a particular form of engaged action. This is not a blueprint or a formula – just what arose from the depth of sangha practice in the midst of global crisis – the international war against terrorism and Global Warming.  The beginnings of Friends for Peace began with the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003.  Friends from across the city of Ottawa worked together together and organized candlelit vigils all across the city prior to the outbreak of war.  Over 3,000 people responded to this hastily put together initiative.  We also organized a Peace Song Circle on Parliament Hill, the seat of Canadian government, to send the strong message that mindful living was preferable to the warlike alternative.  Pine Gate members provided the nucleus for this nascent movement.

The organization of this event was left in their care as I left for two months in India just before the event took place.  It was in highly competent hands. On a cold, wet March day in 2003 a sea of multi–colored umbrellas adorned the grounds of Parliament Hill.   Choirs from all over the National Capital Region were there to give their hearts for peace. Earlier that morning I had received news of the shock and awe bombing campaign of Baghdad – and was filled with anger and grief.  This was not the appropriate mind state to lead this event, so I took refuge in the sangha. Carolyn took care of all the final arrangements, while I did walking meditation in Pine Gate Meditation Hall to calm and look deeply into the causes of my anger and to let it go.  Then I could be peace.

The incessant rain symbolized the tears of Iraqi children, your tears, my tears. Young, old, multi faith and diverse – the faces in the rain moved me deeply as people sang, danced and stood up for peace.  The NOWAR group was due on Parliament Hill after us and they had a more violent agenda.  I had talked to their leaders and requested that they join us on the Hill but without noisemakers and slogans.  They came with anger after burning effigies of George Bush and Tony Blair outside the US embassy. We felt the anger of their demonstration as they joined us, then it suddenly calmed and dissipated as they sang and danced with us in the downpour. The Sufi Universal Dances of Peace group organized 5,000 people to do a dance, chanting “May Peace be With You and With You be Peace” in English, French, Hebrew and Arabic.  When the rain came down like a monsoon – nobody ran for cover.  We danced and sang for peace together. The NOWAR group meditated with us in silence at the end.

From the response to these events Friends for Peace was created and registered as a non profit organization with a mandate for peace, planetary care and social justice. It has a charter and a mandate.  All parts of the mandate are active with respect to outreach, support and action. The first thing put into motion was an annual Friends for Peace Day every Fall, which was a celebration of all that we stood for.  It had the feeling of a country fair with lunch kitchen, activist tables, Silent Auction, great entertainment and Peace Awards to prominent citizens who delivered their often very edgy Visions for planetary care, social justice and peace.  Peace Grants were also awarded to organizations making a real difference. This day has now grown into the final bookend of a two week Peace Festival in our city of Ottawa. The growth and enthusiasm is there because there are tangible results from each area of the mandate.  There is a new six storey apartment building for low income families downtown that we supported, there is a pristine watershed – the Dumoine River – that we helped to get protection for, there are direct results from our support of aboriginal rights in the apology from the Government of Canada to First Nations, there is the annual Peace Camp Canada bringing Palestinian and Israeli teens to Ottawa for a peace camp.  And much more that is unfolding – the promotion of Orkidstra and the Dandelions Dance Theatre,  Tibetan and Syrian resettlement in Ottawa and many other causes.

The consequences of engaged practice for Pine Gate are confidence, clarity and skilfulness. Friends for Peace now comprises a loose coalition of over 45 groups throughout the city – activist, environmental, peace, business, faith, cultural, schools, government – and they are a force to be reckoned with in a good way.  The former Mayor of Ottawa has described Friends for Peace as the face of the city he wants to see in the future.  That future is now! The present Mayor, Jim Watson, had this to say: “Friends for Peace is an outstanding organization that does very important work, promoting, strengthening and maintaining peace, planetary care and social justice within our communities and the environment.”

The confidence from doing all this has led to the sanghabody jumping into the river of the Buddhadharma and kindly carrying me along with them. This is all due to deep internal practice and intelligent engaged practice. The home of Pine Gate had a major eco-retrofit – solar panel to heat the hot water, low flush toilets, energy efficient furnace and wood burning fireplace, energy windows and doors, solar blinds on south facing windows, insulation, rain barrels and so on.  The neighbours and sangha are watching very closely and enquire about cost, rebates and results – and several have followed suit.  Our money is where our mouth is, as this is a planetary care project right at the heart of Pine Gate, which is also the heart of Friends for Peace. And on it goes all the way back to the hearts of Thay and the Buddha.

I have also planted an apple tree on the front lawn, so that as the fruit ripens passersby and neighbours with their children may just pick them and eat them. There are many ripe fruits on the sangha tree, especially young people. They are storming the barricades, transcending boundaries and breaking down barriers. I ask only one thing, that they hold out their hand and wait for me – because I am going with them.


New Planet, New World

The final bookend of a trilogy is now ready for publishers’ eyes. Sci Fi novel that takes place in the near future. It is the final bookend of a trilogy – “Chronicles of Awakening.” Redemption is the first book in this trilogy that has Trailing Sky Six Feathers as the second book. The final tome of this trilogy takes characters from the prior two books, placing them in the future on a new planet. I place in the mouth of Dr. Tom Hagen a blistering rant to the UN in 2080 that I would certainly like to give from the future. It is about the willful ignorance displayed by corporate and government cabals invested in the carbon/oil complex, while eco-militias murder in the streets and social disorder is a norm. Here is an extract from the opening chapter, where Catriona and Rising Moon do their best to kill one another.

She looked around for combustible material to build a fire, while her mind deeply grieved the loss of her parents. There was an abundance of dry weathered wood on the sandy beach. Catriona quickly gathered a clumsy pile and ignited it with her small hand laser. Then she consumed the emergency landing rations – protein, liquid and sedative. She followed all the necessary protocols as the wood caught fire. Then the shock hit her. She was shaking uncontrollably, frightened and at a total loss. Catriona sat weeping next to the bonfire. Tears splashed on her delicate hands, leaving wet blotches on her grey space tunic. Her sobs were accompanied by the gentle lapping of the lake, as it washed ashore driven by wind.

She felt a presence close by and turned around. A young woman wearing an embroidered buckskin dress and calf length laced moccasins was standing there with her bow pulled back, an arrow pointed right at the middle of her chest. She gasped at the stern yet beautiful face, noticing a cut on the woman’s forehead and a long black braid of hair hanging loosely at the front. She took everything in about this fierce apparition, who clearly meant her harm. She watched the woman carefully approach closer, one silent foot after the other, the arrow unwavering from its destination. The woman had a long knife in a sheath at her embroidered belt. Her deep dark eyes pierced right into Catriona. She had not been on the spaceship.

Catriona summoned all her courage, abandoning her shock and grief. Her voice quivered, “Who are you? Where did you come from? How are you here?” Her cry echoed through the deadly silence.

In halting English the strange woman replied tersely, “Why you need to know?”

There was a fierce edge to her words. The stranger’s eyes glared steadily at the young red haired, blue eyed woman dressed in a body tunic from neck to feet. She noticed the tear lined face and the strange craft pulled up on the shore. Catriona bravely stood her ground though her hands were shaking. She stepped forward and in an instant the intruder lowered her bow and swiftly threw a lariat so the noose settled around Catriona’s neck. With a sharp jerk Catriona went face first into the sand. Her assailant quickly bound her hands behind her back with a leather strap from her belt. She then jerked Catriona upright and they were face to face.

Catriona’s deep blue eyes blazed with anger. She was suddenly alert and yelled into the woman’s face, “I am not your enemy. We may be the only two people on this planet and you choose stupidity.”

Then Catriona head-butted the dark eyed woman on the bridge of her nose, just as she had learned in martial arts training aboard the spaceship. As the woman stumbled back, Catriona with her hands still tied behind her back, pivoted on her left foot and landed a perfect round house kick to the side of her assailant’s head with her right foot, followed by a swift side kick into her ribs.

Catriona’s onslaught briefly caught the woman by surprise yet once again she faced an arrow aimed right at her heart. Catriona saw the woman pull the bowstring back and stared into dark angry eyes. Time stood still, then the woman’s eyes suddenly changed and her mouth fell open. She had heard her mother’s voice speaking inside her mind to put the bow down. She felt the weight of her mother’s hand lower the bow. The two young women were both breathing heavily. The fire leaped in flames as it caught the adjacent logs. There was only a ripple of air across the lake. Both women were indifferent to the morning’s layered colors across the lake and into the sky.