how we live

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    Abroad: Bodhgaya After the Bombing Paid Member

    Suspended over the new security entrance outside the Mahabodhi Temple were large blue banners, each with a motto in both English and Tibetan. Presumably the marketing campaign of one of many visiting Tibetan lamas, the slogans never failed to make me smile, even when the security line made me grumble. The first struck me as sound and straightforward (which is not to say easy) advice: “Do not emotionally disturb others.” The second, however, I found more elusive. Though I suspected that an element of clarity must have been lost in translation, I felt the phrasing might offer something meaningful, if only, like a riddle, I could figure it out. Puzzlingly, it cautioned passersby, “Do not forsake your standpoint.” More »
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    In the Garden: Forward with Flowers Paid Member

    April 18 is our thirty-ninth wedding anniversary. Peter and I journey north at dusk to Tomales Bay, a drowned rift valley bisected by the San Andreas Fault. What more romantic spot to celebrate long marriage than on the unstable strike and slip fault zone where two active continental plates grind up against each other far below the surface of dark water? To the east the landward flank of the North American Plate stretches out under thick riparian cover. Below briny waves to the west, the unhitched mass of the Pacific Plate inches north, a submerged sea mount bucking and snorting in slow motion toward the Gulf of Alaska. More »
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    Afterlife: Into the Valley Paid Member

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    Afterlife: Sweating in the Desert Paid Member

    In memory of Ruth Denison, one of the first female dharma teachers in the West, who passed away in February 2015 at the age of 92. Most old students could take you to a place at Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center and describe a day—or days, or weeks—of labor. “I painted that roof, all afternoon one day in the hot sun.” “I dug out the cactus garden behind Ruth Denison’s kuti.” Ruth’s listing for the women’s retreat used to read “All women welcome for work and meditation” (my emphasis). More »
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    Off the Cushion: The Eternal Care Unit Paid Member

    To what shall I compare this life of ours? Even before I can say it is like a lightning flash or a dewdrop it is no more. —Sengai (1750–1837) When I was in retreat, death and impermanence—death’s harmonic base—provided the background tone of every practice, from preliminary contemplations to yogas focusing on the dissolution of the elements and aggregates that occurs when we die. For months, maybe years, my beloved retreat master, Gendun Rinpoche, answered virtually all my questions (even the most abstruse) with a laugh and the suggestion that I delve deeper into impermanence. More »
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    Living By the Canon: The Music of the Mind Paid Member

    In the Pali canon, the story is told of a king who hears a sound he has never heard before, and finds that sound to be “tantalizing, lovely, intoxicating, entrancing, and enthralling.” He asks about it and is told it is the sound of a lute. He then asks that this lute be brought to him so he can see what sort of thing it is. The lute is delivered to the king, who examines it with great interest. He takes the lute apart, piece by piece, until it is little more than a pile of splinters. He then declares disdainfully, “What a poor thing is this so-called lute.” Casting it aside, he asks, “Never mind this lute, bring me just the sound.” More »