Study Center update – February 18th, 2022

Poetry is among the great arts of China.  The Golden Age of Chinese poetry happened during the T’ang (618-906) and Song (960-1278) dynasties. Anyone at that time who learned to read, learned to write poetry in the structured classical form.  All political, social and personal events and rituals were commemorated in verse. Many poems of the Golden Age were written by Zen (and Taoist) practitioners, monks, hermits and scholars.  Many were written in solitude, in nature.


Our latest update of the Lost Coin Study Center includes a selection of 20 of these poems which are a treasure house of Zen related classical Chinese poetry.  One list of 10 is curated by Wanda Updike and the second list of ten poems is curated by Christelle Estrada.
In addition, this update includes a selection of four dharma talks: two by Roshi and one each by Ryuen Sensei and Joen Sensei. Instead of video talks we are offering these in audio form in the hopes that this medium is a more convenient way for you to appreciate them.

Deer Park

No one seen. Among empty mountains,

hints of drifting voice, faint, no more.

Entering these deep woods, late sunlight

flares on green moss again, and rises.

Wang Wei (701-761)

translated by David Hinton


Who takes the Cold Mountain Road

takes a road that never ends

the rivers are long and piled with rocks

the streams are wild and choked with grass

it’s not the rain that makes the moss slick

and it’s not the wind that makes the pines moan

who can get past the tangles of the world

and sit with me in the clouds


For an image of life and death

consider ice and water

water freezes into ice

ice melts back into water

what dies must live again

what lives is bound to die

ice and water don’t harm each other

both life and death are fine

Cold Mountain (? 730-850)

translated by Red Pine

Idle Song

 In moonlight I envied vistas of clarity,

and in deep pine sleep adored green shadow.

Wrote grief-torn poems when young,

plumbed the depths of feeling when old.

Now I sit up all night practicing ch’an,

and autumn can still bring a sudden sigh,

but that’s it. Two last ties. Beyond them,

nothing anywhere holds this mind back.

Mourning A-Ts’ui

A three-year-old son, lone pearl treasured so in the hand.

A sixty-year-old father, hair a thousand streaks of snow,

I can’t think through it – you become some strange thing,

and sorrow endless now you’ll never grow into a person.

There’s no sword stroke clarity when grief tears the heart,

and tears darkening my eyes aren’t rinsing red dust away,

but I’m still nurturing emptiness – emptiness of heaven’s

black black, this childless life stretching away before me.

Po Chu-i (772-846)

translated by David Hinton

Watching the Late Day Clear After Snowfall

Leaning on my staff,

I watch the sky clearing after snow;

clouds are layered high

over the mountain stream.

As the woodcutter

returns to his hut,

a cold sun sets on perilous peaks.

A farmer’s fire

burns the grass along a ridge;

wisps of cook smoke rise

in rock-girt pines.

Returning to the temple

along the mountain road,

I hear the striking

of the evening bell.

Chia Tao (8th/9th century CE)

translated by Mike O’Connor


I entered the mountains and learned to be dumb

I’m usually too tired to open my mouth

I don’t point out the mistakes of others

my own faults are what I try to alter

the tea must be ready my clay stove is red

the moon must be up the paper windows are white

who in the past saw through this transient world

Yen Tzu-ling fished alone from his rock


The flux of attachments is easy to stop

but it’s hard all at once to end love and hate

I laugh at the mountain for towering so high

and the mountain mocks me for being so skinny

Stonehouse (1272-1352)

translated by Red Pine

The Cold Mountain Road is strange

no tracks of cart or horse

hard to recall which merging stream

or tell which piled-up ridge

a myriad plants weep with dew

the pines all sigh the same

here where the trail disappears

form asks shadow where to

Han-shan (Tang Dynasty 600-900)

From The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain

A bank of fine grass and cool breeze,

A tall-masted solitary boat.

Stars descend over the vast wild plain;

The moon bobs in the Great River’s flow.

Fame: Is it ever to be won in literature?

Office: I should give up, old and sick.

Floating, floating, what am I like?

Between earth and sky, a gull alone.

Ts’en Shen (715-770)

From: Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry

The moon, grown full now over the sea,

Brightening the whole heavens,

Brings to separated hearts

The long thoughtfulness of night…

It is no darker though I blow out my candle.

It is no warmer though I put on my coat.

So I leave my message with the moon

And turns to my bed, hoping for dreams.

Chang Chiu-ling (673-740)

From The Jade Mountain: Chinese Anthology

I heard the wind and the waterfall

In a dream: I have nothing

else to send you.

The wheel outside the door is just the moon.

Those objects hanging from the eaves,

Just Autumn clouds.

Liang Yi (c.850)

From A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry

I cling to the bridle going up and then down

twenty days now nothing but rain

all I see are the gathering clouds

no sign of spring in the cliffs

it’s not easy staying dry fording streams

and mountain trails are too hard to follow

gibbons fill the woods with their eerie howls

the tiger tracks in the mud look fresh

as we mount up the sun finally breaks through

I survey the landscape of dawn

flowers are as dense as fog

a hundred different plants surround us

our horses whinny and keep turning their heads

they’re glad to be going home

Wei Ying-wu (731-791)

From In Such Hard Times

In a thousand hills

            Birds have ceased to fly;

On countless tracks

            Footprints have disappeared

A solitary boatman

            In a bamboo cape and hat

Is fishing the icy river

            In the snow

Liu Zongyuan (c. 800)

From 300 Tang Poems

Jade Woman,

“washing her hair in a basin,”

is solitary, high,


Waterfalls spill

from Lotus Peak’s summit;

the Yellow River

sweeps past the base of Mount Hua.

Here small birds break off;

the woods conceal tigers;

gibbons live

where no people do.

After rain:

the autumn moon:

on rock:

old pines and a gate.

Chia Tao (779-843)

From When I Find You Again It Will Be In Mountains

Sun emerges and sinks away without cease,

living its lifetime of seasons, nothing like humankind:

its spring isn’t our spring

its summer isn’t our summer

its autumn isn’t our autumn

its winter isn’t our winter

Drifting back to rest in its lake of four seas

gazing everywhere – what shall we call such a blessing?

All our joy is

joy in its six dragons:

their motion moves

hearts the same way.

Why not lead that yellow splendor right down here among us?

Folk Song Collection (2nd Century B.C.E.)

From Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology

Its flimsy stalk is no more than a foot

I can see it far off in the land of immortals

besides deserted steps beneath a winter moon

or below rose-colored clouds in a distant dream

a rare tree uprooted from fertile soil

a pretty thing replanted in the moss

its color dormant in its noble roots

for whom did it bloom in the past

Liu Tsung-Yuan (773-819)

From Written in Exile

The pair

Of cranes suddenly

Flew off, their pure notes

Heard no more.


They’re far away,

Obliged to seek immortal

Company, or close by, idly anxious

To avoid the chicken-flock. The lakebank

Quiet, water-watching’s over, the courtyard

Empty, they’ve finished

The Cloud Dance.


All that’s left

Are some old tracks

Like ancient writing, pressed

In the patterns

Of moss.

Chih Yuan (c. 1022)

From The Clouds Should Know Me By Now

January 2020 Study Center post

HAPPY NEW YEAR! This month study center is motivated by the beginning of the new year. We have collected a selection of quotes to invigorate our practice and motivate some fresh perspectives. Enjoy!

“The past is already past—don’t try to regain it. The present does not stay, don’t try to touch it from moment to moment. The future is not come, don’t think about it beforehand.”  – Layman Pang

“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”  – Don Juan, via Carlos Castaneda

“Just relax. Float. Fly! Relax… there’s no one in there anyway.”  – Daniel Doen Silberberg Roshi

“What is it we are questing for? It is the fulfillment of that which is potential in each of us. Questing for it is not an ego trip; it is an adventure to bring into fulfillment your gift to the world, which is yourself. There’s nothing you can do that’s more important than being fulfilled. You become a sign, you become a signal, transparent to transcendence; in this way, you will find, live, and become a realization of your own personal myth.” – Joseph Campbell, ‘Pathways to Bliss’

“Please understand that there are three steps: recognizing, training and attaining stability. The first of these steps, recognizing, is like acquiring the seed of a flower. Once it is in your hands and you acknowledge it to be a flower, it can be planted and cultivated. When fully grown, flowers will bloom, but the seeds need the right conditions. In the same way, the naked awareness that has been pointed out by your master should be recognized as your nature. This recognition must be nurtured by the right conditions. To cultivate a seed, it must have warmth and moisture and so on; then it will certainly grow. In the same way, after recognizing we must train in the natural state: the short moment of recognition needs to be repeated many times.”  – Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, ‘Ultimate Dzogchen’

Credo quia absurdum: “Somebody asked, ‘why do you believe in God?’ and he said, ‘because God is absurd.  Because God cannot be believed in, thats why I believe in God.’ -Tertullian (Christian mystic), ‘The Book of Wisdom: The Heart of Tibetan Buddhism’

“What Jung says is that you should play your role, knowing that it’s not you. It’s a quite different point of view. This requires individuation, separating your ego, your image of yourself, from the social role. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t play the role; it simply means that no matter what you choose to do in life, whether it’s to cop out or to cop in, you are playing a role, and don’t take it too damned seriously. The persona is merely the mask you’re wearing for this game.” -Joseph Campbell, ‘Pathways to Bliss’

“The trump card of the warrior is that he believes without believing. But obviously a warrior can’t just say he believes and let it go at that. That would be too easy. To just believe without any exertion would exonerate him from examining his situation. A warrior, whenever he has to involve himself with believing, does it as a choice. A warrior doesn’t believe, a warrior has to believe.” – Don Juan, from ‘Tales of Power’ by Carlos Castaneda

“Once I made a decision, I never thought about it again.” – Michael Jordan

“Whatever you do, it should be an expression of the same deep activity.  We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else.” – Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice’

“Once you are determined that you want to know this realm, you do not need adornment, cultivation or realization to attain it. You must clear away the stains of afflictions from alien sensations that have been on your mind since beginning-less time, (so that your mind) is as broad and open as empty space, detached from all the clinging of the discriminating intellect, and your false, unreal, vain thoughts too are like empty space. Then this wondrous effortless mind will be unimpeded wherever it goes.” -Ta Hui, ‘Swampland Flowers: The Letters and Lectures of Zen Master Ta Hui’

“How can we people of today refrain from practice! Therefore, cease studying words and following letters. Learn to withdraw, turning the light inwards, illuminating the Self. Doing so, your body and mind will drop off naturally, and original-Self will manifest. If you wish to attain suchness, practice suchness immediately.” – Dogen Zengi from Fukan Zazengi

“A tiger catches a mouse with all its strength.”  -Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, from ‘Crooked Cucumber’

“…do not view mountains from the scale of human thought.” -Dogen Zengi, from ‘Mountains and Water Sutra’

“If you are a warrior, decency means that you are not cheating anybody at all. You are not even about to cheat anybody. There is a sense of straightforwardness and simplicity. With setting-sun vision, or vision based on cowardice, straightforwardness is always a problem. If people have some story or news to tell somebody else, first of all they are either excited or disappointed. Then they begin to figure out how to tell their news. They develop a plan, which leads them completely away from simply telling it. By the time a person hears the news, it is not news at all, but opinion. It becomes a message of some kind, rather than fresh, straightforward news. Decency is the absence of strategy. It is of utmost importance to realize that the warrior’s approach should be simple-minded sometimes, very simple and straightforward. That makes it very beautiful: you having nothing up your sleeve; therefore a sense of genuineness comes through. That is decency.” – Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, ‘The Sacred Path of the Warrior”


Die Slowly – by Pablo Neruda

He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones “it’s” rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly.

He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,
dies slowly.

He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know, he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
die slowly.

Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.


June 2019 Study Center post

This month’s Study Center post is part 2 of our study of a section of Dogen Zenji’s Genjokoan from his Shobogenzo. We are working with one of the most well known sections of the Genjokoan, breaking it down into parts, and then exploring commentaries that elucidate these parts.

Here is the entire section: “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things. To be enlightened by the ten thousand things is to drop off body and mind of self and other. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment continues endlessly.” – Dogen Zengi (Translation from The True Dharma Eye by John Daido Loori and Kaz Tanahashi)

Genjokoan literally means genjo/phenomena and koan/official document. Yasutani Roshi puts these together, “Genjkoan means that the subjective realm and the objective realm, the self and all things in the universe, are nothing but the true Buddha-dharma itself.” And goes onto warn us, “However, this is only an explanation of the word. Pay careful attention to the fact that it is to the living genjokan itself.” (Yasutani Roshi from Flowers Fall)

Doen Roshi adds, “When Dogen Zengi refers to the koan of daily life (Genjokoan) he is referring to the life of this very moment and the practice of penetrating deeply which is with the whole body and mind.  Before that, our understanding is just a wonderful rumor.”

Continuing with the third sentence: “To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.”

“When the crack of Rujing’s voice shattered the silence of the darkened meditation hall, the universe collapsed and the edge disintegrated for Dogen.”

“Body and mind fallen away” is a realm in which there are no doctrines or marvels, no certainties or mysteries. It’s just “when you see, there is not a single thing.” Having reached this place, Dogen expressed it to his teacher. Rujing then approved and Dogen bowed. Having passed through the forest of brambles, he then passed beyond the other side too. Rujing said, “The dropping off is dropped.” We should understand that this body and mind is not the bag of skin. So I ask you, what is it that is dropped off? Who is it that drops off? This is the place of inquiry that must be clarified. Haven’t you heard the words of the teachers of old? When the ten thousand things have been extinguished, there is still something that is not extinguished. What is it?” (From The True Dharma Eye Translated by John Daido Loori and Kaz Tanahashi, with commentary by John Daido Loori)

“When you first seek dharma, you imagine you are far away from its environs. But dharma is already correctly transmitted; you are immediately your original self. When you ride in a boat and watch the shore, you might assume that the shore is moving. But when you keep your eyes closely on the boat, you can see that the boat moves. Similarly, if you examine myriad things with a confused body and mind you might suppose that your mind and nature are permanent. When you practice intimately and return to where you are, it will be clear that nothing at all has unchanging self.”-Dogen Zenji (From The True Dharma Eye Translated by John Daido Loori and Kaz Tanahashi, with commentary by John Daido Loori)

In one account of his practice with Rujing, Dogen wrote, “After hearing the truth of the sole importance of zazen from the instruction of my teacher, I practiced zazen day and night. When the other monastics gave up zazen temporarily for fear that they might fall ill at times of extreme heat or cold, I thought to myself then, I should still devote myself to zazen, even to the point of death from the attack of disease. If I do not practice zazen, even without illness, what is the use of taking care of my body? I shall be quite satisfied to die from a disease. What good fortune it is to practice zazen under such a great teacher of the great country of Song, so to end my life and be disposed of by good monastics. Thinking thus continuously, I resolutely sat zazen day and night, and no illness came at all.”

Then came the decisive moment. Dogen was doing zazen in a dark and quiet zendo (meditation hall). It was early in the morning, about three o’clock according to most records. In the stillness of the zendo, Rujing bellowed at one of the monastics, “When you study under a master, you must drop body and mind. What’s the use of single-minded intense sleeping?” Rujing’s exclamation was not a profound statement, but Dogen was poised; his whole body and mind were ripe. Sitting right next to the sleeping monastic, his doubts fell away and he attained great enlightenment.

There are many stories about Zen practitioners who, at the sound of a pebble hitting bamboo or seeing a falling blossom or hearing a single word from a teacher, are transformed by the event and realize themselves. When we try to understand how that happened, we study the moment and its immediate ingredients looking for clues. But that moment will not provide us with the full appreciation of the experience. Most stories of enlightenment don’t tell us about the struggles that preceded realization. They don’t tell us about the endless quest to resolve the question of life and death.

Dogen had carried his doubts for more than twenty years, desperate to find the answers, studying completely at every juncture. He was intellectually brilliant and a very diligent practitioner. As he made the journey to China, he drew closer and closer to the edge of his practice, the spiritual tension of his quest primed. On that edge, a spring breeze or a floating feather could have knocked him off. In his case, what did it was Rujing’s “You must drop body and mind.”

Dogen went to the abbot’s room and offered incense. Rujing probed, and Dogen said, “Body and mind have been dropped off.” Rujing replied, “Body and mind dropped off. The dropped-off body and mind.” Dogen wasn’t sure about this, so he said, “This may only be a temporary ability. Please don’t approve me arbitrarily.” Without hesitation, Rujing exclaimed, “I am not.” What did he see? How did he know? Anybody can walk into a room, light incense, and say, “Body and mind have dropped off.” How does a teacher know that something has actually transpired?

The fact of the matter is that realization transforms the entire body and mind. It’s not something that is felt only internally; it manifests externally. It affects how you stand, walk, eat, dress, and relate to people. There are a hundred thousand ways of seeing it without a word’s being uttered. If Dogen had not gone up to the abbot’s quarters and lit incense, Rujing would still have seen it. He probably wouldn’t have approved Dogen right off. He would have probed, poked at him, to get it to fully blossom in Dogen’s own consciousness.

As the exchange began, Dogen was not aware of the full implications of what had transpired. He just knew something had happened. “Please don’t approve me arbitrarily.” Rujing said, “I am not.” Dogen said, “What is that which isn’t given arbitrary approval?” Another way to say that is, “What do you see that makes you say it’s not arbitrary?” Rujing answered, “Body and mind dropped off.” He saw in Dogen body and mind dropped off. What does that mean?

The commentary says, “‘Body and mind fallen away’ is a realm in which there are no doctrines or marvels, no certainties or mysteries. It’s just ‘when you see, there is not a single thing.’” D?gen takes this up throughout his writings in the Shobogenzo? (Treasury of the True Dharma Eye). In Genjokoan he states, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things. To be enlightened by the ten thousand things is to drop off body and mind of self and other. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment continues endlessly.”

The commentary continues: “We should understand that this body and mind is not the bag of skin. So I ask you, what is it that is dropped off? Who is it that drops off? This is the place of inquiry that must be clarified. Haven’t you heard the words of the teachers of old? When the ten thousand things have been extinguished, there is still something that is not extinguished. What is it?” (From The True Dharma Eye Translated by John Daido Loori and Kaz Tanahashi, with commentary by John Daido Loori)

And now the last sentences: “To be enlightened by the ten thousand things is to drop off body and mind of self and other. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment continues endlessly.”

That last line is the key. “No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment continues endlessly.” Rujing said, “Body and mind dropped off.” Dogen bowed. Rujing responded, “The dropping off is dropped.” That’s “No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment continues endlessly.” “Having passed through the forest of brambles, he then passed beyond the other side too.” (From The True Dharma Eye Translated by John Daido Loori and Kaz Tanahashi, with commentary by John Daido Loori)

“Emptiness is without characteristics. Illumination has no emotional afflictions. With piercing, quietly profound radiance, it mysteriously eliminates all disgrace. Thus one can know oneself; thus the self is completed. We all have the clear, wondrously bright field from the beginning. Many lifetimes of misunderstanding come from only distrust, hindrance, and screen of confusion that we create in a scenario of isolation.” (From: Cultivating the Empty Field, pg. 36 The Misunderstanding of Many Lifetimes by Zen Master Hongzhi, translated by Taigen Dan Leighton)

“Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water.”-Dogen Zenji (From The True Dharma Eye Translated by John Daido Loori and Kaz Tanahashi, with commentary by John Daido Loori)

Doen Roshi adds this:  “All of this can sound like a great deal of complication. In fact, the difficulty of seeing the truth of this is hidden it its utter simplicity.  It is simple, very simple.  Mind is a thought, body is a thought, dropping away is a thought.  Whatever you think Zazen is is also a thought.  Master Dogen arrived at the place where there are no thoughts, no ideas and no words.  It is simple.  It is right in front of you.  In that realm, there is no separation, no one to be separate, and as Dogen says, there is just one thing left.  This one thing has no name, and is your true self.”


*Recommended further reading for this months Study Center post: 

Flowers Fall, A Commentary On Zen Master Dogen’s Genjokoan by Hakuun Yasutani, with foreword by Taizan Maezumi

The True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans by John Daido Loori

May 10, 2019 Study Center post

This month’s Study Center post focuses on our practice of forgetting the self and continuing practice. We are using a section of Dogen Zenji’s Genjokoan from his Shobogenzo as the mainframe this time, and exploring some other masters views on Dogen Zenji’s Genjokoan as well. We will start with one of the most direct and known parts of Genjokoan and break it down into parts, and then explore other commentaries/quotes that speak to each statement/part of this section of Genjokoan.

Genjokoan literally means genjo?/phenomena and koan/official document. Yasutani Roshi puts these together, “Genjokoan mens that the subjective realm and the objective realm, the self and all things in the universe, are nothing but the true Buddha-dharma itself.” And goes onto warn us, “However, this is only an explanation of the word. Pay careful attention to the fact that it is to the living Genjokoan itself.” (Yasutani Roshi from Flowers Fall)

Doen Roshi adds “When Dogen Zengi refers to the koan of daily life (Genjokoan) he is referring to the life of this very moment and the practice of penetrating deeply which is with the whole body and mind.  Before that our understanding is just a wonderful rumor.”

Here is the main focus of this months study: 

“To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things. To be enlightened by the ten thousand things is to drop off body and mind of self and other. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment continues endlessly.” – Dogen Zengi (Translation from The True Dharma Eye by John Daido Loori and Kaz Tanahashi)

These 5 sentences are just a small part of the Genjokoan, and Genjokoan is one of 75 fascicles found in the Shobogenzo. Dogen Zengi placed Genjokoan as the first fascicle in 1252 in his Shobogenzo just one year before he died. Maezumi Roshi says, “From this we can see just how deeply he valued Genjokoan.”

Yasutani Roshi’s commentary of Genjokoan was published in 1967 and he asked his student Maezumi Roshi to translate it into English. Yasutani Roshi noted that Genjokoan means, “Each segment of your life, all phenomena in the world, are nothing but Genjokoan.” 

Maezumi Roshi putting it into his words said, “He interprets for us how to appreciate one’s life as the manifestation of koan.” (Excepts from the foreword by Maezumi Roshi, in Flowers Fall by Yasutani Roshi)

Kyogo, a formal successor of Senne, who some schools think is one of Dogen Zenji’s formal successors, completed a line by line commentary in 1308, and he says of Genjokoan, “Even though each fascicle discusses different aspects, there is one underlying principle of non-duality of wholeness— i.e. no subject/object and no this/that. Only the principle of undividedness or wholeness is emphasized.” 

(Excepts from the foreword/Maezumi Roshi, in Flowers Fall by Yasutani Roshi)

Starting with the first line, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self.” 

How do we study the self? Does this mean getting to know ourselves? What are we up to? What do we know? What do we not know? What do we feed ourselves? (food and content). What do we fear? What do we shy away from? What are our go-to’s/safe zones? What are our no-go’s? Where do we think we start and stop/begin and end? What’s the box we are putting ourselves in? Who am I? There are millions of things we could look at… it’s truly an endless journey to take this direction of knowing ourselves. Is that the right way to go on this path we practice? Or could it be a trap?

Here are Maezumi Roshi’s thoughts and interpretation on Dogen Zenji’s line, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self.”  “The word narau, or study, is more like to repeat something over and over and over. We could also say to learn, but not necessarily to learn something new. Perhaps an even better word would be practice. To practice the Buddha Way is to practice oneself, or just live life. This seemingly repetitive process is nothing but one’s own life. The words learn or study are not quite sufficient. They do not convey this sense of over and over and over.”

Maezumi Roshi is emphasizing practice and repetition. He’s saying that the translation he sees is not so much the word, “study” but more “practice or repetition.” Maezumi Roshi is suggesting that when we practice the way we are better off not learning about something. More to practice the Buddha way. Which brings up the question, “What is the buddha way?”

We know Buddha attained enlightenment by sitting/meditation/zazen, along with many other masters. That seems to be the root of our core practice. Here are Dogen Zenji’s  thoughts on the importance of Zazen and how to study the self with our sitting practice; “Need I mention the Buddha, who was possessed of inborn knowledge?—the influence of his six years of upright sitting is noticeable still. Or Bodhidharma‘s transmission of the mind-seal?—the fame of his nine years of wall-sitting is celebrated to this day. Since this was the case with the saints of old, how can men of today dispense with negotiation of the Way?”

Dogen Zengi goes on to say, “You should therefore cease from practice based on intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest. If you want to attain suchness, you should practice suchness without delay.”

I have always been intrigued by the term “backward step” used here and learning “the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate yourself.” The introduction to Flowers Fall speaks to this practice while practicing koan’s, “…the significance of koan cannot be truly grasped without taking the ‘backward step’ out of dualistic thinking.”

Dogen Zengi also said of sitting practice, “Do not think good or bad. Do not administer pros and cons. Cease all the movements of the conscious mind, the gauging of all thoughts and views. Have no designs on becoming a buddha. Zazen has nothing whatever to do with sitting or lying down.”

“Think of not-thinking. How do you think of not-thinking? Non-thinking. This in itself is the essential art of zazen. The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the dharma-gate of repose and bliss, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate reality. Traps and snares can never reach it. Once its heart is grasped, you are like the dragon when he gains the water, like the tiger when he enters the mountain. For you must know that just there [in zazen] the right dharma is manifesting itself and that from the first dullness and distraction are struck aside.”

Yasutani Roshi notes however, “While there is no doubt that ‘just sitting’ denotes something central to the Buddha way, for Dogen Zengi it did not necessarily imply that he did not use koans for training as well.” 

Dogen Zenji, like Doen Roshi heavily emphasizes sitting, koan study and making this practice real for, and practiced in everyday life. Dogen Zengi said, “In addition, the bringing about of enlightenment by the opportunity provided by a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and the effecting of realization with the aid of a hossu, a fist, a staff, or a shout, cannot be fully understood by man’s discriminative thinking. Indeed, it cannot be fully known by the practicing or realizing of supernatural powers either. It must be deportment beyond man’s hearing and seeing—is it not a principle that is prior to his knowledge and perceptions?

This being the case, intelligence or lack of it does not matter; between the dull and the sharp-witted there is no distinction. If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is negotiating the Way. Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Going forward is a matter of everydayness.”

Can we just go on just knowing about all this and just use a general understanding of “the way?” Or perhaps we have an enlightenment experience and think, “Ok, I’m done.” Why would we need to practice further? Dogen Zengi speaks to this as well, “The Way is basically perfect and all-pervading. How could it be contingent upon practice and realization? The Dharma-vehicle is free and untrammeled. What need is there for man’s concentrated effort? Indeed, the Whole Body is far beyond the world’s dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart from one right where one is. What is the use of going off here and there to practice? And yet, if there is the slightest discrepancy, the Way is as distant as heaven from earth. If the least like or dislike arises, the Mind is lost in confusion. Suppose one gains pride of understanding and inflates one’s own enlightenment, glimpsing the wisdom that runs through all things, attaining the Way and clarifying the Mind, raising an aspiration to escalade the very sky. One is making the initial, partial excursions about the frontiers but is still somewhat deficient in the vital Way of total emancipation.”

Let’s explore the next line:

“To study the self is to forget the self.” 

“Mind and body dropped off; dropped off mind and body! This state should be experienced by everyone; it is like piling fruit into a basket without a bottom, like pouring water into a bowl with a pierced hole; however much you may pile or pour you cannot fill it up. When this is realized the pail bottom is broken through. But while there is still a trace of conceptualism which makes you say ‘I have this understanding’ or ‘I have that realization’, you are still playing with unrealities.” – Dogen Zenji

Its interesting hearing Dogen Zengi describing ‘forgetting the self’ here… it is motivating and also there is a clear warning. To forget the self is great, but there is often. “… a trace of conceptualism” left. Sounds very intricate me, and endless in a way. How do we have some realization, or a very deep experience and not have some trace left? How do we work with that subtle or perhaps grandiose pride of understanding? Doen Roshi talks often about one of Maezumi Roshi’s favorite sayings, “I prefer to be deluded.”

What did he mean by that? Was Maezumi Roshi really picking and choosing delusion or was he employing some skillful means? Was he sending a warning in some way to keep us awake, keeping us aware to not have a preference for enlightenment? Pointing our to us to be aware that we are choosing to seek enlightenment/or delusion?

Let’s conclude this post with this last zinger from Dogen Zengi about practice and developing understanding/not-knowing. “Though there are many features in the dusty world and the world beyond conditions, you see and understand only what your eye of practice can reach. In order to learn the nature of the myriad things, you must know that although they may look round or square, the other features of oceans and mountains are infinite in variety; whole worlds are there. It is so not only around you, but also directly beneath your feet, or in a drop of water.”

*Recommended further reading for this months Study Center post: Flowers Fall, A Commentary On Zen Master D?gen’s Genjokoan by Hakuun Yasutani, with foreword by Taizan Maezumi

 Study Center Update: November 23, 2018 


This study center post is dedicated and motivated by the passing of our beloved fellow clan member and assistant teacher in the Lost Coin lineage (Deshi) Carole Kyodo Walsh. We’ll start with a note sent to the clan by Daniel Doen Silberberg Roshi moments after Carole’s passing, his suggestions to her when dying, and to all of us on moving forward.

Following that is the opening passage of, “The Great Liberation upon Hearing” from the Tibetan book of the Dead.  Roshi often sings songs to us in his teisho’s on this passage. It speaks of the clear light as Roshi recommended to Carole moments before moving onward.

Following that is an introduction to the Bardo’s by the Tibetan master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche from his book Transcending Madness.And another chapter speaking about the bardo of clear lightthat Roshi is suggesting Carole remembers upon dying in his message below.

Roshi’s note to the clan.

“Dear Beloved Clan,

A few minutes ago Carole Kyodo Walsh died. She was a great practitioner of the way, a warrior and I loved her very much.  I have known her for 50 years.  She was a Deshi in our lineage and practiced right through her illness.  We worked on her final koan two weeks ago and she was eager to continue her training.

Keeva, her much loved partner of 24 years, kindly agreed to read The Tibetan Book of the Dead (The Great Liberation on Hearing) and he said that one of the very last words she heard was a phone message from me asking her to remember all she learned, all she loved, and the clear light we call the Absolute. I also asked her to die remembering her highest aspirations and vows and I knew that would make her very happy.

I don’t know how we mourn the loss of someone we loved so much, or how we celebrate the life of this great warrior.  I really don’t.


Daniel Doen Silberberg Roshi”


Excerpt to follow from, “The Great Liberation upon Hearing” from the Tibetan book of the Dead.

The Bardo of the Moments of Death: [Instructions on the Symptoms of Death, or the First Stage of the Chikhai Bardo: The Primary Clear Light Seen at the Moment of Death]

The first, the setting-face-to-face with the Clear Light, during the Intermediate State of the Moments of Death, is:

Here [some there may be] who have listened much [to religious instructions] yet not recognized; and [some] who, though recognizing, are, nevertheless, weak in familiarity. But all classes of individuals who have received the practical teachings [called] Guides will, if this be applied to them, be set face to face with the fundamental Clear Light; and, without any Intermediate State, they will obtain the Unborn Dharma-K?ya, by the Great Perpendicular Path.

The manner of application is:

It is best if the guru from whom the deceased received guiding instructions can be had; but if the guru cannot be obtained, then a brother of the Faith; or if the latter is also unobtainable, then a learned man of the same Faith; or, should all these be unobtainable, then a person who can read correctly and distinctly ought to read this many times over. Thereby [the deceased] will be put in mind of what he had [previously] heard of the setting-face-to-face and will at once come to recognize that Fundamental Light and undoubtedly obtain Liberation.

As regards the time for the application [of these instructions]:

When the expiration bath ceased, the vital-force will have sunk into the nerve-centre of Wisdom and the Knower will be experiencing the Clear Light of the natural condition. Then, the vital-force, being thrown backwards and flying downwards through the right and left nerves, the Intermediate State momentarily dawns.

The above [directions] should be applied before [the vital-force hath] rushed into the left nerve [after first having traversed the navel nerve-centre].

The time [ordinarily necessary for this motion of the vital-force] is as long as the inspiration is still present, or about the time required for eating a meal.

Then the manner of the application [of the instructions] is:

When the breathing is about to cease, it is best if the Transference hath been applied efficiently; if [the application] hath been inefficient, then



O nobly-born (so and so by name), the time hath now come for thee to seek the Path [in reality]. Thy breathing is about to cease. Thy guru hath set thee face to face before with the Clear Light; and now thou art about to experience it in its Reality in the Bardo state, wherein all things are like the void and cloudless sky, and the naked, spotless intellect is like unto a transparent vacuum without circumference or centre. At this moment, know thou thyself; and abide in that state. I, too, at this time, am setting thee face to face.

Having read this, repeat it many times in the ear of the person dying, even before the expiration hath ceased, so as to impress it on the mind [of the dying one].

If the expiration is about to cease, turn the dying one over on the right side, which posture is called the ‘Lying Posture of a Lion’. The throbbing of the arteries [on the right and left side of the throat] is to be pressed.

If the person dying be disposed to sleep, or if the sleeping state advances, that should be arrested, and the arteries pressed gently but firmly. Thereby the vital-force will not be able to return from the median-nerve and will be sure to pass out through the Brahmanic aperture. Now the real setting-face-to-face is to be applied.

At this moment, the first [glimpsing] of the Bardo of the Clear Light of Reality, which is the Infallible Mind of the Dharma-K?ya, is experienced by all sentient beings.

The interval between the cessation of the expiration and the cessation of the inspiration is the time during which the vital-force remaineth in the median-nerve.

The common people call this the state wherein the consciousness-principle hath fainted away. The duration of this state is uncertain. [It dependeth] upon the constitution, good or bad, and [the state of] the nerves and vital-force. In those who have had even a little practical experience of the firm, tranquil state of dhy?na, and in those who have sound nerves, this state continueth for a long time.

In the setting-face-to-face, the repetition [of the above address to the deceased] is to be persisted in until a yellowish liquid beginneth to appear from the various apertures of the bodily organs [of the deceased].

In those who have led an evil life, and in those of unsound nerves, the above state endureth only so long as would take to snap a finger. Again, in some, it endureth as long as the time taken for the eating of a meal.

In various Tantras it is said that this state of swoon endureth for about three and one-half days. Most other [religious treatises] say for four days; and that this setting-face-to-face with the Clear Light ought to be persevered in [during the whole time].

The manner of applying [these directions] is:

If [when dying] one be by one’s own self capable [of diagnosing the symptoms of death], use [of the knowledge] should have been made ere this. If [the dying person be] unable to do so, then either the guru, or a shishya, or a brother in the Faith with whom the one [dying] was very intimate, should be kept at hand, who will vividly impress upon the one [dying] the symptoms [of death] as they appear in due order [repeatedly saying, at first] thus: Now the symptoms of earth sinking into water are come.

When all the symptoms [of death] are about to be completed, then enjoin upon [the one dying] this resolution, speaking in a low tone of voice in the ear:

O nobly-born (or, if it be a priest, O Venerable Sir), let not thy mind be distracted.

If it be a brother [in the Faith], or some other person, then call him by name, and [say] thus:

O nobly-born, that which is called death being come to thee now, resolve thus: ‘O this now is the hour of death. By taking advantage of this death, I will so act, for the good of all sentient beings, peopling the illimitable expanse of the heavens, as to obtain the Perfect Buddhahood, by resolving on love and compassion towards [them, and by directing my entire effort to] the Sole Perfection.’

Shaping the thoughts thus, especially at this time when the Dharma-K?ya of Clear Light [in the state] after death can be realized for the benefit of all sentient beings, know that thou art in that state; [and resolve] that thou wilt obtain the best boon of the State of the Great Symbol, in which thou art, [as follows]:

‘Even if I cannot realize it, yet will I know this Bardo, and, mastering the Great Body of Union in Bardo, will appear in whatever [shape] will benefit [all beings] whomsoever: I will serve all sentient beings, infinite in number as are the limits of the sky.’

Keeping thyself unseparated from this resolution, thou shouldst try to remember whatever devotional practices thou went accustomed to perform during thy lifetime.

In saying this, the reader shall put his lips close to the ear, and shall repeat it distinctly, clearly impressing it upon the dying person so as to prevent his mind from wandering even for a moment.

After the expiration hath completely ceased, press the nerve of sleep firmly; and, a l?ma, or a person higher or more learned than thyself, impress in these words, thus:

Reverend Sir, now that thou art experiencing the Fundamental Clear Light, try to abide in that state which now thou art experiencing.

And also in the case of any other person the reader shall set him face-to-face thus:

O nobly-born (so-and-so), listen. Now thou art experiencing the Radiance of the Clear Light of Pure Reality. Recognize it. O nobly-born, thy present intellect, in real nature void, not formed into anything as regards characteristics or colour, naturally void, is the very Reality, the All-Good.

Thine own intellect, which is now voidness, yet not to be regarded as of the voidness of nothingness, but as being the intellect itself, unobstructed, shining, thrilling, and blissful, is the very consciousness, the All-good Buddha.

Thine own consciousness, not formed into anything, in reality void, and the intellect, shining and blissful, — these two, — are inseparable. The union of them is the Dharma-K?ya state of Perfect Enlightenment.

Thine own consciousness, shining, void, and inseparable from the Great Body of Radiance, hath no birth, nor death, and is the Immutable Light — Buddha Amit?bha.

Knowing this is sufficient. Recognizing the voidness of thine own intellect to be Buddhahood, and looking upon it as being thine own consciousness, is to keep thyself in the

divine mind of the Buddha.


Repeat this distinctly and clearly three or [even] seven times. That will recall to the mind [of the dying one] the former [i.e. when living] setting-face-to-face by the guru. Secondly, it will cause the naked consciousness to be recognized as the Clear Light; and, thirdly, recognizing one’s own self [thus], one becometh permanently united with the Dharma-K?ya and Liberation will be certain.

[Instructions Concerning the Second Stage of the Chikhai Bardo: The Secondary Clear Light Seen Immediately After Death]

Thus the primary Clear Light is recognized and Liberation attained. But if it be feared that the primary Clear Light hath not been recognized, then [it can certainly be assumed] there is dawning [upon the deceased] that called the secondary Clear Light, which dawneth in somewhat more than a meal-time period after that the expiration hath ceased.

According to one’s good or bad karma, the vital-force floweth down into either the right or left nerve and goeth out through any of the apertures [of the body]. Then cometh a lucid condition of the mind.

To say that the state [of the primary Clear Light] endureth for a meal-time period [would depend upon] the good or bad condition of the nerves and also whether there hath been previous practice or not [in the setting-face-to-face].

When the consciousness-principle getteth outside [the body, it sayeth to itself], ‘Am I dead, or am I not dead ?’ It cannot determine. It seeth its relatives and connexions as it had been used to seeing them before. It even heareth the wailings. The terrifying karmic illusions have not yet dawned. Nor have the frightful apparitions or experiences caused by the Lords of Death yet come.

During this interval, the directions are to be applied [by the l?ma or reader]:

There are those [devotees] of the perfected stage and of the visualizing stage. If it be one who was in the perfected stage, then call him thrice by name and repeat over and over again the above instructions of setting-face-to-face with the Clear Light. If it be one who was in the visualizing stage, then read out to him the introductory descriptions and the text of the Meditation on his tutelary deity, and then say,

O thou of noble-birth, meditate upon thine own tutelary deity. — [Here the deity’s name is to be mentioned by the reader.] Do not be distracted. Earnestly concentrate thy mind upon thy tutelary deity. Meditate upon him as if he were the reflection of the moon in water, apparent yet in-existent [in itself]. Meditate upon him as if he were a being with a physical body.

So saying, [the reader will] impress it.

If [the deceased be] of the common folk, say, Meditate upon the Great Compassionate Lord.

By thus being set-face-to-face even those who would not be expected to recognize the Bardo [unaided] are undoubtedly certain to recognize it.

Persons who while living had been set face to face [with the Reality] by a guru, yet who have not made themselves familiar with it, will not be able to recognize the Bardo clearly by themselves. Either a guru or a brother in the Faith will have to impress vividly such persons.

There may be even those who have made themselves familiar with the teachings, yet who, because of the violence of the disease causing death, may be mentally unable to withstand illusions. For such, also, this instruction is absolutely necessary.

Again [there are those] who, although previously familiar with the teachings, have become liable to pass into the miserable states of existence, owing to breach of vows or failure to perform essential obligations honestly. To them, this [instruction] is indispensable.

If the first stage of the Bardo path been taken by the forelock, that is best. But if not, by application of this distinct recalling [to the deceased], while in the second stage of the Bardo, his intellect is awakened and attaineth liberation.

While on the second stage of the Bardo, one’s body is of the nature of that called the shining illusory-body.

Not knowing whether [he be] dead or not, [a state of] lucidity cometh [to the deceased. If the instructions be successfully applied to the deceased while he is in that state, then, by the meeting of the Mother-Reality and the Offspring-Reality, karma controlleth not. Like the sun’s rays, for example, dispelling the darkness, the Clear Light on the Path dispelleth the power of karma.

That which is called the second stage of the Bardo dawneth upon the thought-body. The Knower’ hovereth within those places to which its activities had been limited. If at this time this special teaching be applied efficiently, then the purpose will be fulfilled; for the karmic illusions will not have come yet, and, therefore, he [the deceased] cannot be turned hither and thither [from his aim of achieving Enlightenment.


Bardo IntroductionChogyam Trungpa Rinpoche from his book Transcending Madness.

There seems to be quite a misconception as to the idea of bardo, which is that it is purely connected with the death and after-death experience. But the experience of the six bardos is not concerned with the future alone; it also concerns the present moment. Every step of experience, every step of life, is bardo experience.

Bardo is a Tibetan word: bar means “in between” or, you could say, “no-man’s land,” and do is like a tower or an island in that no-man’s land. It’s like a flowing river which belongs neither to the other shore nor to this shore, but there is a little island in the middle, in between. In other words, it is present experience, the immediate experience of nowness—where you are, where you’re at. That is the basic idea of bardo.

The experience of such a thing also brings the idea of space, of course. Without seeing the spacious quality, which does not belong to you or others, you would not be able to see the little island in the middle at all. The living experience of bardo could only come from seeing the background of space. And from that, within space or an understanding of space, a brilliant spark or flash happens. So generally, all bardo experiences are situations in which we have emerged from the past and we have not yet formulated the future, but strangely enough, we happen to be somewhere. We are standing on some ground, which is very mysterious. Nobody knows how we happen to be there.

That mysterious ground, which belong to neither that nor this, is the actual experience of bardo. It is very closely associated with the practice of meditation. In fact, it is the meditation experience. That is why I decided to introduce this subject. It is also connected with the subject of basic ego and one’s experience of ego, including all sorts of journeys through the six realms of the world.

Beyond that is the issue of how we happen to be in the six realms of the world; how we find that experience is not seen as an evolutionary process, as it should be, but as extremely patchy and rugged, purely a glimpse. Somehow, things don’t seem to be associated or connected with each other—they are very choppy and potent like gigantic boulders put together. Each experience is real, potent, impressionable, but generally we don’t find that there is any link between those potent experiences. It is like going through air pockets—emotionally, spiritually, domestically, politically. The human situation passes through these highlights or dramas, and on the other hand, the absence of drama, and boredom—which is another aspect of drama. We go through all these processes. And somehow these isolated situations, which from our confused way of thinking seem to have nothing to do with the basic quality of continuity, are the continuity itself. So the only way to approach this is to see the evolutionary process.

I can’t lay heavy trips on people to understand that or accept that purely on blind faith. In order not to lay heavy trips on people, we have to have some concrete thing to work on. That is where the six experiences of bardo come in—in each moment, each situation. Each of the six types of bardo is individual and unique in its own way. They are isolated situations on the one hand, but on the other hand they have developed and begun to make an impression on us, penetrating through us within that basic space or basic psychological background. So the bardo experience is very important to know. And in fact it is much more fundamental that simply talking about death and reincarnation and what you are supposed to experience after you die. It is more fundamental than that.

I know people would love to hear about undiscovered areas: “Do Martians exist?” In a lot of cases, when we talk about karma and reincarnation and life after death, we tend to make assumptions or logical ideas about them. And people often get quite emotional about it, because they would like to prove that there are such things as life after death or reincarnation. But the subject we are going to work on is not based on trying to prove logical conclusions. I mean, it is not really that desperate, is it? What difference does it really make whether we are going to come back or not? The question of whether we are what we are or whether we are on some ground seems to be more realistic and more important.

In discussing the experience of the bardos we are working on that realistic aspect of the process of changing from birth to death, the intermediate process between birth and death. We are not trying to prove logically or by theology that life after death is important and that you must accept that on faith. In many cases, particularly in the West, people try to prove the existence of life after death, saying: “Such and such a saint or sage was a great person when he lived, and his example of being is beyond question—and he also says that there is such a thing as life after death.” That is trying to prove the notion of life after death by innuendo: “It is true because he was an enlightened person as a living being and he said so!” When we try to prove the point of view of life after death in that way, we have no real proof. The only thing we could prove is that he was an awake person and that he said so.

There is almost a feeling of rediscovery: Eastern traditions have managed to present to the Western world that nothing is fatalistic but everything is continuously growing, as an evolutionary, developing process. In many cases, Westerners find this view extremely helpful and hopeful. They no longer just wait to die, but there’s something hopeful—the message of continuity, that you have another chance. But I think all of these views and attitudes on the idea of rebirth and reincarnation and karma are very simple-minded ones. As well as that, we begin to feel we can afford to make mistakes, because surely we will have another chance. We are going to come back and we might do better. Often people who are afraid of dying have been saved by hearing the idea of reincarnation. They are no longer afraid of death, or even if they are afraid of death, they try to contemplate the idea of rebirth, which saves them from that. I don’t think that is a complete way of looking into the situation.

The fatalistic quality of life and death depends on the present situation. The present situation is important—that’s the whole point, the important point. Whether you continue or whether you don’t continue, you are what you are at the moment. And you have six types of psychological thresholds, or bardo experiences, in your lifetime. We will go into details if you don’t find this too heavy on intellectual supposition. You might ask, “Is it worth speculating about all these six types of bardo experiences? Why don’t we just sit and meditate and forget all this jargon?” Well, it is much easier said than done. To start with, when we begin to sit down and meditate, these collections do come up. They happen continuously in the thought process. Discursive thoughts, argumentative thoughts, self-denial thoughts—all sorts of thoughts begin to come up. So it seems to be important to know something about them. In other words, you could make use of these thoughts instead of pretending to be good and trying to suppress thoughts, as though you don’t require them anymore or they don’t require you anymore.

It is good to make use of speculative mind. That is exactly why the whole idea of studying scriptures and going through disciplines or practices is extremely important. It is a way of using these living materials that we have. Whether we try to quiet ourselves or not, these things come up constantly and do happen. Therefore, making use of such thought processes as a way of learning is extremely necessary and good and helpful and important—unless you develop “gold fever,” believing that you have found some argument, some logic which you’re excited about, and you spend the rest of your life arguing, trying to prove it logically all the time. If this begins to happen, then the intellect is not being properly cared for. It begins to take on a self-destructive quality, as in gold fever, where you’re constantly willing to sacrifice your life looking for gold, gold, gold, and you end up destroying yourself. It is the same thing when you’re trying to look for something, trying to prove something purely by intellectual speculation, beyond the ordinary level of thought process. The ordinary level of thought process has been transformed into a more ambitious one. Being able to click with your thought process and work something out is good, but beyond that goodness, you begin to get a faint idea of satisfaction—just a teeny-weeny bit to start with and then it begins to grow, grow, grow, and grow. It becomes addictive and self-destructive.

So that seems to be the limitation. If one’s experiences, discoveries, and intellectual understandings coincide simultaneously, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, that’s fine. That doesn’t mean that you have to have an absolute understanding or a complete command of the whole thing necessarily at all. But you could have a basic glimpse or understanding of the situation and you could go along with it, without indulging in the experience as a new discovery of an exciting thing. And I hope, in any case, to introduce in my lifetime, working with people in the West, all the teachings that are available and have been studied, practiced, and experienced in Tibet and elsewhere. And I have tremendous confidence that people in the West will be able to grasp them if we are not too rushed, if no one has caught gold fever halfway. That would be too bad.

I’m sure that such studying, such learning, means sacrificing intellect when it goes beyond, to the pleasurable point of intellectualization. It also means sacrificing the emotional, impulsive quality of wanting to exaggerate by tuning in to your basic neuroses and trying to interpret them as discoveries. That is another problem. You see, there are two extremes: one extreme is indulgence in the intellectual sense and in intellectual discovery; the other extreme is using the impulsive, instinctive level of the ego as camouflage to prove your state of mind in terms of the teachings. The two of them could work side by side with some people, or else there could be a greater portion of one or the other with others. It could work either way.

Our task is not purely trying to save ourselves alone—whether you are 99 years old or whether you are ten years old doesn’t make any difference. Our task is to see our situation along with that of our fellow human beings. As we work on ourselves, then we continuously work with others as well. That is the only way of developing ourselves, and that is the only way of relating with the six experiences of bardo. If we relate our experience with the dream bardo, the bardo between birth and death, the bardo of the before-death experience, or the bardo of emotions—all of these have a tremendous connection with our projection of the world outside. Other persons, animate and inanimate objects, the apparent phenomenal world, also play a great and important part. But unless we’re willing to give in, give way, and learn from these situations, then our prefabricated learning—either by scripture or by the constant close watch of our instructor—doesn’t help. It doesn’t mean anything very much.

I think I’ve said enough. This much introduction is quite a handful. At this seminar, a lot of us, all of us actually, are brought together by individual convictions. That individual conviction means a great deal. We were not brought up in Buddhist families; our parents did not pay our fee and push us here. Everything here is based on individual conviction. We are free people; we have the right to use our freedom, our insight, for our own benefit as well as for sharing and communicating with others as compassionately and openly as possible. Perhaps we should have a short question period.

Question and answers between Chogyam Trungpa and his students:

STUDENT: You said one should not try to save oneself alone, and then you used the expression “projections.” But in another talk you said that in order to be able to communicate you have to respect the existence of the other person. This is more than projection, isn’t it? It’s a recognition.

TR: Well, you see, that is a very interesting point. And actually, to tell you the truth, nobody is quite certain whether it is one hundred percent projection or whether it is only partially a projection. Things do exist independent of you, outside you, and you exist independent of them in some ways. But occasionally you need their help to reaffirm yourself. If you are a fat person, somebody will say you are fat because they are thinner than you. Without their comparison you wouldn’t know what you were, because you would have no way of working with yourself. And from that point of view it could be called a projection. But projection in this case does not necessarily mean purely your hallucination; things outside do exist as they are. But that’s a very dangerous thing to say.

Things do exist as they are, but we tend to see our version of them as they are, rather than things as they really are. That makes everything that we see projections. But one doesn’t have to make a definite and absolute reassurance of that necessarily at all. You just go along with situations, go along with dealing with them. If you are going too far, they’ll shake you. They’ll beat you to death if you’re going too far. If you’re going well, if you are balanced, they will present hospitality and openness luxuriously to you. I mean, that much of a situation is there anyway; some kind of rapport between this and that goes on all the time. As long as a person is sensitive enough to experience it, that rapport goes on. That’s the important point. One doesn’t have to make it definite and clear-cut as to which is not projection and which is projection. It is sort of a gradual understanding. Until the attainment of buddhahood, this experience goes on—and nobody is able to answer it because they themselves don’t know.

STUDENT: When was The Tibetan Book of the Dead written?

TR: According to tradition, it was about the 14th century, or about 200 years after the introduction of Buddhism into Tibet from India. At that time, a particular teacher called Karma Lingpa discovered this teaching—he did not actually compose it, but it is as though he discovered, or rediscovered, this teaching. The actual teaching existed in the 7th century. He rediscovered the idea of bardo and the death experience out of his own experience as well, in the death of his very beloved child. He had watched the death of his child, and after he had conducted the funeral service and the child had been buried, he came back home to find that his wife was also just about to die. So he watched and he worked through this experience of the death process. From that experience he discovered that the process of birth and death is continual, taking place all the time. And therefore the six types of bardo were developed.

I think it had something to do with the local situation in Tibet at the time as well, because generally people regarded death as extremely important as well as death. People often gathered around their dying friends, dying relatives, and tried to work with them and help them. That was the common tradition. It seems that in the West, people make birth more important. You congratulate someone for having a child, and you have parties for birthdays. But there are no parties for dying.

STUDENT: In Ireland there is the wake, or party for the deceased, which happens down South as well.

TR: I hope so. I’m pleased. That is probably connected with ancient ideas, which is very right, very good. It think it is extremely important to a dying person that he or she receive proper acknowledgement that he is dying, and that death plays an important part in life as well as birth—as much as one’s birthday parties. It’s an important thing.

STUDENT: I didn’t understand the distinction between intellectual and instinctual.

TR: In Instinct, you don’t use any logic. To put it very bluntly, extremely bluntly, if you’re studying and practicing the teachings of some religion, and you have some pseudo-experience of the spiritual path—sort of a shadow experience of what has been described in the scriptures—you’ll go along with it, but you are not quite certain exactly. You would like to believe that these experiences are true experiences. And at a certain point, you have to make up your mind whether all this experience and development have been pure hypocrisy on your part or not—you have to make a decision. Either you have to renounce your discoveries as being false up to that point or you have to make another leap of building yourself up.

That very peak point becomes extremely important to a person—whether he will confess everything completely, or whether he will latch onto some continual buildup. If a person has decided to continually build up and to latch onto that, then he begins to realize that he can’t keep up with the speed of what’s going on, with his experience. In the scriptures, the analogy for this is a street beggar who’s been enthroned as a universal monarch. There is a sudden shock, you don’t know what to do. You never had a penny; now you have the rest of the world, from your point of view. And you automatically freak out because of such a change. You act as though you are a universal monarch, although in mentality you are still a beggar. A beggar doesn’t make a good millionaire. If there’s no gradual experience of the transition, things will become chaotic and emotionally disturbed as well in such a relationship. That is, of course, the emotional or the instinctive.

The scholarly approach is less violent than that, less dangerous than that, but at the same time it is extremely contagious in the sense of bringing you down. Continual bondage is put on yourself all the time. You become heavier and heavier and heavier. You don’t accept anything unless it is logically proven, up to the point that the logic brings you pleasure, the discovery brings you pleasure. In certain neurotic intellectual states of mind, everything is based on pain and pleasure. If your discovery brings pleasure, then you accept it as a masterpiece. If that discovery or logical conclusion doesn’t bring you pleasure, or victory, then you feel you’ve been defeated. You find this with certain college professors: if you discuss their sore point in their particular subject, if there’s the slightest usage of certain words, since their whole world is based on words, the structure of words, they become extremely upset or offended. The whole thing is based on pleasure and pain, from the point of view of getting logical conclusions. But the scholar doesn’t claim that he or she has spiritual experiences, as the other person would claim. In fact, the scholar would be afraid of any actual experience of what he’s teaching; he wouldn’t actually commit himself at all. He may be a professor of meditation, but he wouldn’t dare to take part in sitting meditation because that doesn’t bring pleasure or any logical conclusions for his work or research.

STUDENT: If you really start to study very hard, do you have any conscious control over the experiences you receive? Doesn’t it just happen to you? Can you really push it too fast?

TR: Well, you can push too fast, of course, but that doesn’t mean the whole thing should be ruled out. I mean, there is a balanced pattern happening all the time. It’s a question of how open you are. The minute you set foot on the path, if there’s room for suggestion and if you are flexible and not too serious or sincere, there is, of course, room for study. But once a person begins to make up his mind that whatever he is doing is a matter of death or life, kill or cure—as they say, “publish or perish”—then it could become self-destructive. It is very individual; you can’t make generalizations.

S: Is it possible to check yourself when you start on the path so that you’re not deceiving yourself all the time about your seriousness, your sincerity, and so that it doesn’t just become a trap?

TR: Generally, if you allow some space between the action and the thinking, it is a natural process, always predictable. In this case, there will be a definite experience of genuine understanding of yourself as you areand as what you’re trying to do—in other words, your hypocritical aspect and you as an innocent child. That will be quite obvious, provided you allow room or space between action and thinking. It will be quite a natural process.

A person might be convinced that he has gained something which he actually hasn’t gained. And if you talk to such a person, he might behave as if he has no doubt about himself at all. He overrides your doubts about him; there’s no question about his attainment; it’s absolutely valid; he is a bank of knowledge and he knows what he’s doing. But the very fact of the way he overrides any doubts means the subtlety of something is not quite right. It could happen that if we were really honest with ourselves, if we allowed space for ourselves, we automatically would know that the subtlety of self-hypocrisy is always there, without fail. Even if you had great power, great will power to override these obstacles, still you would know. There still will be a very faint but very sharp, very delicate and penetrating understanding that something is not quite right. That is basic sanity, which continues all the time, without fail. That basic sanity really allows you to engage your speed and your pressure, so to speak. It happens all the time, continuously.

S: I want to know how it works, the space between action and the thinking process. Is it that you think of an action, then do it?

TR: When I talk about space, I don’t mean you have to delay yourself between thinking and doing things. It is a fundamental understanding that, to start with, what you’re doing is not warfare. No one is losing and no one is gaining. There’s time to be open. It doesn’t mean you have to slow down your footsteps and be half an hour late for your interview necessarily; it is not that literal. But there will be some feeling of spaciousness or roomy quality, that you can afford to be what you are. Really, you can afford to be what you are. You may think you’re alone and nobody’s with you, but that in itself is good enough. The aloneness is good, because you are definitely what you are, clear-cut what you are. Your area has not been intruded on or taken advantage of by others. You have your space; you have your place. It is a definite thing: you are alone and you can afford to be what you are, and you don’t have to rush into it. It is fundamental space, basic space—extreme, fundamental space.

S: Usually in real life one cannot afford to do or be what one wants to be for oneself because it involves many other people, so it can be very selfish.

TR: The point is not that you have to centralize yourself. If you can afford to be what you are, then that automatically means you could receive others as your guests. Because the ground your guests are treading on is safe ground, nobody is going through the floorboard. It is a sound, well-built house, your own house, and people could be welcome in it. That makes other people more comfortable and welcome, so they don’t have to put up their portion of resistance anymore. It is mutual understanding. You see, generally people pick up some kind of psychic vibrations that you put out, and before you exchange words there is a kind of meeting of the two psyches. That takes place continuously.

S: Could you elaborate on the importance of studying the six states of bardo in connection with meditation experience?

TR: You don’t have to try to put them together; they are the same experience. However, the six types of bardo are post-meditation experience, the meditation-in-action aspect. Sitting meditation is being, a way of being in open space, providing a clear white canvas in order to paint pictures on it. So they are complementary to one another.

S: As Evans-Wentz mentions in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, there are various books of the dead in various cultures. Are the experiences they describe inspired parables, or have they actually been experienced and can be experienced by us, too?

TR: You see, all ancient traditions—such as the Egyptian, the Pon tradition of Tibet, the Shintoism of Japan, the Taoism of China, and others—all paid a great deal of attention to the process of growth. The process of growth means birth as well as coloring, blooming, decaying, turning into a seed, dropping on the ground, regenerating as another plant, and going through the cycle of the four seasons continuously. Because of that, because it is of the same nature, human life has been dealt with in exactly the same way. So much sacredness has been imposed on the idea of the birth and death process. I don’t think it is so much an intellectual, philosophical, or religious phenomenon, but it is much more earthy—being one with the facts of life, with this growth process.

For instance, in Pon, the Tibetan pre-Buddhist tradition, they say the time of death and the time of birth should coincide. That brings a conclusion to that process of birth and death—which includes the climate, the time, the location, the direction the dying person is facing, the particular collection of parents and relatives, and how many people are gathered there, how many men, women, or children. That whole collection brings a total picture of complete conclusion. So they are very earthy people. It is quite different from how modern occultists work with the same thing. It is very earthy; nobody allows room for hallucinations or imagination. Everything is dealt with completely within the tradition and the actual experience of the moment.

From that point of view, in all the traditional civilizations of many different cultures, the death experience is regarded as an important point. And on top of that, the Buddhist discovery was to see all those colors, directions, temperatures, and climates of the dying person as a psychological picture. So it is seen completely differently but in exactly the same way.

S: Are the deities which appear during the 49 days following death just visions, or are they actually experienced?

TR: Nobody knows. But as an experience of a given situation develops, it has a feeling around it as well. That could be said of anything, like the meeting of two friends—the situation of the meeting, the nature of the conversation, the particular kind of prelude to the meeting the individuals had before they met the other person, what kind of state of mind you are in, what kind of incidents you have gone through, whether you just got up and felt high-spirited when you met this person or whether you were just involved in a car accident and you happened to drag yourself into a friend’s house and met this person—I mean, such situations make real life, the living quality. From that point of view it is a definite thing, an experiential thing. But as far as the death process is concerned, nobody knows. It is left to individuals to work through it from their living experiences.

S: If you have decided to return to earth, the soul sees visions of copulating males and females. Well, this is a marvelous simile, but does that vision really exist?

TR: It could exist, sure. If you are without a home for seven weeks and you see somebody decorating a beautiful apartment …

S: Through meditation I get myself together. But can I use it to help other people, all those who are oppressed?

TR: I think so, definitely, yes. It wouldn’t become true meditation if you couldn’t help other people. That is a criterion of meditation—meditation experience is not only an introverted experience, but it is also associated with the experience of life in general. You see, the idea of meditation is complete sanity, a completely balanced state of mind. If you are a completely sane person, even your example will be inspiring to others, that you are a balanced person, beautiful to be with.

S: Is it helpful to study The Tibetan Book of the Dead?

TR: Sure, of course. But you have to understand the symbolism, all the subtleties, because the people who wrote such writings were very earthy people. They saw things as they really are. When they say water, they really mean it. When we say water, we might see it as something coming out of taps, in terms of cold and hot. It could be misleading.


S: We were talking this morning about ego, and we seemed to have trouble defining it. Could you say what it is?

TR: Well, there seem to be different ways of using the word ego. To some people, the ego is that which sustains them. That which gives some kind of guideline or practicality in dealing with things is referred to as ego, being conscious of being oneself. And you exert effort through it, so any kind of self-respect is referred to as ego, which is a general sense of the term.

But ego as we are discussing it is slightly different from that. In this case ego is that which is constantly involved with some kind of paranoia, some kind of panic—in other words, hope and fear. That is to say, as you operate there is a constant reference back to yourself. As you refer back to yourself, then a criterion of reference develops in terms of hope and fear: gaining something or losing one’s identity. It is a constant battle. That seems to be the notion of ego in this case, its neurotic aspect.

You could have a basic sound understanding of the logic of things as they are without ego. In fact you can have greater sanity beyond ego; you can deal with situations without hope and fear, and you can retain your self-respect or your logical sanity in dealing with things. Continuously you can do so, and you can do so with much greater skill, in a greater way, if you don’t have to make the journey to and fro and if you don’t have to have a running commentary going on side by side with your operation. It is more powerful and more definite. You see, getting beyond ego doesn’t mean that you have to lose contact with reality at all. I think that in a lot of cases there is a misunderstanding that you need ego and that without it you can’t operate. That’s a very convenient basic twist: hope and fear as well as the notion of sanity are amalgamated together and used as a kind of excuse, that you need some basic ground to operate—which is, I would say, a misunderstanding. It’s the same as when people say that if you are a completely enlightened being, then you have no dualistic notion of things. That is the idea of ultimate zombie, which doesn’t seem to be particularly inspiring or creative at all.

S: What do you mean by basic sanity?

TR: It is relating with things which come up within your experience and knowing experiences as they are. It’skind of the rhythm between experience and your basic being, like driving on the road in accordance with the situation of the road, a kind of interchange. That is the basic sanity of clear perception. Otherwise, if you wanted to reshape the road in accordance with your excitement or your wishes, then possibly, instead of you reshaping the road, the road might reshape you and you might end up in an accident. This is insane, suicidal.


S: How about vajrayana, crazy wisdom?

TR: Well, crazy wisdom—that’s a very good question—is when you have a complete exchange with the road, so that the shape of the road becomes your pattern as well. There’s no hesitation at all. It’s complete control—not only control, but a complete dance with it, which is very sharp and penetrating, quick precision. That precision comes from the situation outside as well: not being afraid of the outside situation, we can tune into it. That’s the fearless quality of crazy wisdom.

S: What do you mean when you speak of “the simple-minded attitude toward karma?”

TR: Well, there seem to be all sorts of different attitudes toward the idea of karma. One is that if you constantly try to be good, then there will be constant good results. That attitude to karma doesn’t help you to transcend karmic creation. The ultimate idea is to transcend sowing the seed of any karma, either good or bad. By sowing karmic seeds you perpetually create more karma, so you are continuously wound up in the wheel of samsara.

Another attitude to karma is that it is connected with rebirth, life after death—which is pure blind faith. That approach brings a certain amount of psychological comfort: this is not the only life, but there are a lot more to come; other situations will come up so you don’t have to feel fatalistic any more. That kind of attitude to karma is not dealing with the root of the karmic situation but is purely trying to play games with it or else trying to use karma as a comforter. It is based on distrust in oneself. Knowing that you are making mistakes, you think that even if you do make mistakes, you can afford to correct them, because you have a long, long time, endless time to do so.

S: I understand that an enlightened person doesn’t carry a trace of what happens, but the rest of us do.

TR: In terms of an enlightened being, his attitude to karma is that either of the two polarities of good and bad is the same pattern—fundamentally a dead end. So there’s no fear involved. In fact, there’s more effort, more spontaneous effort of transcending sowing karmic seeds. In the ordinary case, you are not quite sure what you are doing, and there’s fear of the end result anyway. So there’s the constant panic of losing oneself, the ego.

S: Could you discuss what it is that reincarnates, especially in relation to the Theravadin doctrine of anatman, egolessness?

TR: Well, from the point of view of anatman, nothing reincarnates. It is more of a rebirth process rather than reincarnation. The idea of reincarnation is that a solid, living quality is being passed on to the next being. It is the idea of some solid substance being passed on. But in this case, it’s more of a rebirth. You see, something continues, but at the same time, nothing continues. In a sense we’re like a running stream. You could say,such and such a river, such and such a stream. It has a name, but if you examine it carefully, that river you named three hundred years ago isn’t there at all; it is completely different, changing, passing all the time. It is transforming from one aspect to another. That complete transformation makes it possible to take rebirth. If one thing continued all the time there would be no possibilities for taking rebirth and evolving into another situation. It is the change which is important in terms of rebirth, rather than one thing continuing.

S: Doesn’t that happen moment to moment within a lifetime?

TR: Yes, exactly. You see, the ultimate idea of rebirth is not purely the idea of physical birth and death. Physical birth and death are very crude examples of it. Actually, rebirth takes place every moment, every instant. Every instant is death; every instant is birth. It’s a changing process: there’s nothing you can grasp onto; everything is changing. But there is some continuity, of course—the change is the continuity. The impermanence of the rebirth is the continuity of it. And because of that, there are possibilities of developing and possibilities of regressing. Certain new elements and inspirations could insert themselves into that process of continual change. You can enter yourself into the middle of the queue, if you are queuing, because this queue is made out of small particles, or people, rather than one thing.

S: Doesn’t alaya consciousness provide the ground of continuity?

TR: In order to have alaya consciousness, you have to have change taking place all the time. This common ground idea, or alaya, is not ground in terms of solid ground, but perpetually changing ground. That’s why it remains consciousness—or the unconscious state—it is a changing process.

S: This morning there was some confusion in our discussion group about the place of technique in dealing with the problems of everyday life and in meditating, and whether there should be any techniques at all.

TR: Whether there shouldn’t be any techniques or there should be techniques, both remain techniques in any case. I mean, you can’t step out of one thing because you have gotten a better one, you see? It’s a question of what is needed. Any kind of application becomes a technique, therefore there is continual room for discipline.

S: Is the technique of “no technique” a fiction? In fact, do you always have to apply some technique?

TR: When you talk about “no technique” and “technique,” when you begin to speak in terms of “yes” and “no,” then that is automatically a polarity. And however much you are able to reduce your negativity into nothingness, it still remains negative as opposed to positive. But at the same time, being without the sophisticated techniques of everyday life, the practice of meditation is in a sense more ruthless. In other words, it is not comforting and not easy. It is a very narrow and direct path because you can’t introduce any other means of occupying yourself. Everything is left to a complete bare minimum of simplicity—which helps you to discover everything.

If you present the simplicity of nothingness, the absence of technique, the so-called absence of technique, then that absence produces a tremendously creative process. Nothing means everything in this case. That helps you to learn not to be afraid to dance and not to be afraid of too many things crowding in on you. It helps keep that guideline of simplicity. Whereas if you already have complex techniques and patterns, if you already have handfuls of things, then you don’t want to pick up any more. Any new situation that comes in becomes overcrowding. But all of these tactics, so to speak, are fundamentally still acts of duality, of course.

S: Is that all right? Is that the best we can do at this point, to act within that duality?

TR: Well, there’s no other thing to work on; the best we can do is just work on what we have.

S: Some people reach a sort of meditative state without knowing it. I met somebody who was emphatically against even hearing about meditation, and yet he was often in a meditative state. But if I told him, he would be furious.

TR: Well, that’s always the thing: even if you start with the bare minimum, complete nothingness, it tends to bring you something anyway. You end up practicing some kind of teaching; that automatically happens. Before you realize where you are, you have technique; before you realize where you are, you have religion, so to speak, you have a spiritual path. You see, you can’t completely ignore the whole thing, because if you reject everything completely, that means there is still a rejecter. As long as there’s a rejecter, then you have a path. Even if you completely ignore the road, there still will be a pair of feet, and they have to tread on something. That automatically happens. Things always work with this kind of logic. If you commit yourself to collecting a lot of things, you end up being poor. But if you reject—not exactly reject, but purely accept everything as bare simplicity—then you become rich. These two polarities, two aspects, continue all the time. It is a natural thing. It doesn’t matter whether you are studying Christianity or Buddhism. Whatever technique or tradition it may be, it’s the same thing as far as ego is concerned; it’s still stuff that you are collecting. It doesn’t matter what this stuff consists of, still you are collecting something.

The Bardo of Meditation

In order to understand bardo experiences, you also have to understand basic psychology. Yesterday we discussed the six realms of the world — the world of hatred, the world of possessiveness, the world of ignorance, the world of passion, the world of speed or jealousy, and the world of pride. These different patterns or worlds are the sources of particular emotional experiences — hatred, meanness, passion, or whatever. They are the basic background; they are the space. And within that, there will be the different experiences of bardo, which work with the thought process and with different types of emotions than the emotions that you were born with, so to speak, that you are made out of. The experience of the six realms is like having a body: you have involved yourself in the world of hell or the world of the hungry ghosts. But if you have a wound on your body, that is the experience of the different types of bardo, a flash of bardo experience.

To understand bardo, we have to understand the pattern of ego as well. Our basic involvement with situations, or the six realms, and the specific situation that we are facing, or bardo, have to have some relationship. The specific development of bardo experience—in the form of a dream, in the form of birth or death, whatever it may be—also has to come from the pattern of ego. I have discussed ego previously, but perhaps it is worth going over again, in order to bring out the bardo concept properly.

The Development of Ego

When we talk of ego, it is as if we are talking about a man with a body and limbs. It has a basic makeup and it has its tentacles, so to speak, as well. Its basic makeup consists of paranoia and confusion. But at the same time, its basic makeup started from some kind of wisdom as well, because there is the possibility that we don’t exist as individual entities or as solid persons who can continue all the time. There is the possibility that as individuals we consist of particles or of lots of things — but those particles don’t exist as individuals either.

When that possibility first flashes onto itself, there’s sudden panic. If this is the case, we’ll have to put up some kind of defense mechanism to shield out any possible discovery of the nonexistence of ourselves. We begin to play the game of deaf and dumb. We would like to be individuals who are continuously existing, continuously surviving, continuously being one person, not even making the journey through time and space. Time and space may be extra attributes, but the actual basic phenomenon of our consciousness of being has to be a solid thing — that’s how ego tends to see it. So the whole thing is based on a kind of dream, wishful thinking. It is based on what we would like to be rather than what we are.

That leads to paranoia as to the possible discovery of wisdom. And that paranoia begins to develop: from that paranoia you begin to experiment with extending yourself. You can’t just remain constantly deaf and dumb, you also have to learn to establish your ground as deaf and dumb. That is, you extend yourself into different areas, different realms, trying to feel the situation around you—trying to project yourself and then trying to experience that. It’s kind of an experimental level of feeling. So first you have the basic ignorance of refusing to see what you are, and then you have the possibility of relating yourself through feeling.

The next stage is impulse: feeling begins to develop beyond simply trying to feel good or bad or neutral; feeling has to become more sophisticated and efficient. Therefore, impulse begins to develop along with feeling, as that efficiency, or automatic mechanism.

Next, impulse also begins to develop—into perception. You try to perceive the result of your impulsive actions. A kind of self-conscious watcher develops, as the overseer of the whole game of ego.

The last development of ego is consciousness, which is the intellectual aspect of the ego: trying to put things into categories and make intellectual sense of them. We try to interpret things and their basic meanings, and we begin to see in terms of consciousness, in the sense of being conscious in relating with situations. That is the last stage of the development of ego.

From that point of view of consciousness, the idea of bardo comes through. Bardo experience presents a case of surviving, occupation—in terms of subconscious thought patterns, conscious thought patterns, dreams, birth, death, being with oneself, or the meditative state. These are the types of thought that we begin to put out.

The next situation in the development of ego is that as we develop our personal state of being, up to the point of consciousness, that consciousness not only acts in terms of our own subconscious thoughts, dreams, and such things, but also puts out particular shapes or patterns or creeds, so to speak. It puts out a sense of belonging to a particular race or a particular family. Consciousness would like to associate itself with particular types of world. That is where the six realms we discussed yesterday begin to develop. Consciousness could either begin the six types of world from the world of hell, or it could start from the world of heavenly beings. It could begin either way. That process is like buying land; we associate ourselves with a particular land, with one of the six lokas, six worlds.

Having bought that land—it doesn’t matter whether the land is a hot land, the burning hotness of hell; the tropical land of human passion; the heavenly land with the clear and crystal air of pleasurable meditative states; or whatever land we associate ourselves with as natives—we still have to survive. You see, the point is, how are we going to survive? How are we going to survive as hell beings? How are we going to survive as heavenly beings? We need some mechanism of survival, some method. And that survival mechanism, or survival policy, so to speak, is that of the six types of bardo.

The Bardo of Clear Light

We could begin with the world of heaven, for instance, the realm of the gods. The world of the gods is a state of complete bliss, a spiritual state of complete balance from a temporary point of view, a meditative state. In order to survive in that meditative state of the world of heaven, there is the experience of the clear light. In Tibetan it is called samten bardo. Samten means meditative state, in other words, complete absorption in the clear light, or the perception of luminosity. So in the world of the gods, in order to survive as they are, they have to have the highlight of meditation, like the island which remains in the middle of the river. You need this particular type of highlight of what you are, which is the clear light experience.

In terms of the ordinary experience of bardo, it has been said that the clear light experience can only happen in the moment of death, when you begin to separate from physical being. At the moment of separation between consciousness and the physical body, you begin to develop the idea of clear light as spontaneous experience. In that perception of clear light, if you are a meditator who meditated before, you begin to see the clear light and you begin to recognize it, as in the analogy of son meeting mother. But in the case of the world of heavenly beings, the clear light is a constant process.

This also brings another kind of bardo: the bardo of birth and death. When we begin to leave one kind of experience, whatever it may be, we look for the next experience to get into. And between birth and death, there is a sudden recognition that birth and death never need to happen at all; they are unnecessary. We begin to realize that the experience of birth and the experience of death are unnecessary concepts. They just happen; they are purely perceptions, purely the result of clinging to something. We experience birth in terms of creative things and death in terms of destructive things, but those two things never need to have happened.

A sudden experience of eternity develops, which is the bardo of clear light. And this experience of eternity, beyond birth and beyond death, is the source of survival of heavenly beings in the meditative state. That’s why they attain a pleasurable state in meditation, because each time their meditation experience begins to wane, the only possible kick they could get, the only possible way they have of latching onto their previous meditation experience, is to reflect back on that eternity. And that eternity brings a sudden glimpse of joy, the pleasurable state of jhana experience.

That’s the bardo of clear light. In other words, the experience of the eternity of clear light is the ultimate meditative state of ego — and the ultimate state of nothingness. You see, the point is that when we see eternity from the point of view of the world of the gods, it is an exciting thing to discover. There is tremendous hope that it is going to be the promised state of being, that you’re going to be like that all the time — there is tremendous hope. On the other hand, from the awakened point of view you see that eternity means constant nothingness as well, constant space. Eternity needn’t really have existed, nor do birth and death need to exist. In the absolute clear light, in the case of the awake state, when you begin to feel solidness, you automatically begin to feel the loose quality of the space as well.

The experience of clear light is extremely subtle. It is like experiencing hot and cold at the same time, extreme hot temperature and extreme cold temperature simultaneously. You could appreciate either side. If you’d like, you could believe in hot, although you experience both hot and cold simultaneously; or if you want to believe in the cold, you could believe in that as well, because it is also intense. The whole thing is based on this: believing is, in fact, solidifying the experience of the bardo of clear light. So clear light could present itself as egohood, or clear light could present itself as the awakened state of mind.

This is described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead as the afterdeath experience of seeing peaceful and wrathful divinities. The pattern is as follows: you always get peaceful divinities as your first experience, and then wrathful divinities as the next experience. This, again, is the same analogy as the idea of experiencing hot and cold simultaneously. If you have experienced the more pleasant aspect, the pleasurable aspect of the eternity of clear light as peaceful divinities, then automatically, if you are too relaxed in that pleasurable situation, the next situation brings dissatisfaction and wakes you up. Eternity begins to develop an impermanent quality, or the voidness quality of open space. That is the first experience of bardo, which is connected with the world of heavenly beings.

The clear light bardo could also relate with our own experience of meditation as well. The perception of meditation becomes promising: that promise could become the equivalent of eternity as experienced in the world of the gods, or else that promise could mean that there’s no goal anymore, that you are experiencing that the promise is already the goal as well as the path. That is a kind of shunyata experience of the nonexistence of the journey—but at the same time you are still treading on the path. It is an experience of freedom.

Student:Does one have any choice at all? If you have some kind of eternity experience and then you feel satisfaction, is there anything you can do about that except recognize that you felt that satisfaction?

Trungpa Rinpoche:Well, you see, the funny thing is that once you begin to recognize it, once you begin to be satisfied with it, that automatically invites dissatisfaction. Because you are trying to solidify it, that means that you feel some kind of threat, automatically. So you can’t really secure that experience, but you can just experience it and let things develop in a natural process. As soon as you experience eternity as safe and solid, you are going to experience the other aspect as well.

Student:That’s when ego is involved?

TR:When ego is involved, yes. Ego’s ultimate dream is eternity, particularly when eternity presents itself as meditation experience.

Student:So where there’s hope, there’s fear?

TR:That, I would say, is the heart of the heavenly world, the world of the gods.

Student:You said when you experience eternity it seems to remain a subjective experience. How are you sure that this is eternity, not some game you are playing with yourself? Is there a verification, perhaps by you?

Trungpa Rinpoche:There doesn’t seem to be any way at all to prove it and to definitely make sure. The mirage is more vivid than the desert.

Student:There seems to be no feedback – in the Tibetan Book of the Dead or in the way you explain it – that you really have anything other than what you imagine you have.

TR:In every situation of life, particularly the world of the mind, hallucinations and colors and temperatures are the world – that’s all. If you’re trying to look back and find real eternity, you find just mind, that’s all. Just pure mind, that’s all. That is why bardo is referred to as an in-between period. It’s something you go through between two intervals rather than a permanent thing. That is why the whole idea of what I’m trying to say is no-man’s land rather than somebody’s land, because you can’t build a permanent residence on no-man’s-land.

Student:Rinpoche, what is a hallucination?

Trungpa Rinpoche:Well, we could almost ask, what isn’t a hallucination? I mean, the things we see and perceive are there because we see and perceive. So the real reassurance of absolute proof is because we saw it.

Student:If one is completely absorbed in the eternity, then how could one remember that it’s a passing experience?

Trungpa Rinpoche:Eternity experience in this case is not eternal. It’s a glimpse of eternity-then there will be a moment to appreciate the eternity, then there will be the eternity experience, and then there will be a gap to appreciate the eternity. It is like an artist painting, and then stepping back and appreciating it or criticizing it.

Student:If everything is in the mind, yet we can have experiences of the truth occasionally of which we are absolutely convinced. That truth is an expression of one’s own being.

Trungpa Rinpoche:There is something to that. And that something has to do with the distance of the projections. You judge whether you’re experiencing something or not by the distance of the projections. From this point of view, there’s no such thing as absolute truth; on the other hand, everything is true.

Student:Bardo seems to be the,ultimate extension of ego – what’s the relation of that to the awakened state? In your analogy of the water and the islands, what is the bridge to the awakened state – the mountain?

Trungpa Rinpoche:That’s a very important point, seeing bardo as the path to the enlightened state. On each particular island, bardo is the highest point. In other words, it is the embodiment of the whole experience of each different realm. For instance, in terms of the world of the gods, eternity is the highest point of ego’s achievement. And because it is the highest point of ego’s achievement, therefore it is close to the other side as well, to the awakened state.

Student:When we’re talking about the path to the awakened state, it is almost as if it is all something that has to occur within us, as if what is happening with other people is somehow less relevant and not really worth paying attention to. But you yourself seem to maintain yourself on the path by perpetual response to other people, almost as if you’re forgetting about yourself. Can you describe the path in terms of your own experience, which is more like constantly responding to other people? It seems as if you don’t pay much attention to developing yourself as you suggest that we do.

Trungpa Rinpoche:That’s a good one. I think it’s happening in exactly the same way in the case of others as well, because it is necessary for you to relate with others or to relate with me. I mean, you can’t develop through the path without relationships – that’s the fundamental point. But meditation becomes the starting point of relating; you learn how to create the right environment in order to relate to yourself. In terms of my own experience, that learning process takes place constantly, all the time, in terms of working with other people. You see, that’s the point when you regard yourself as officially teaching other people. When you regard yourself as a student on the path, that student would gain certain experiences and ideas by himself, through practicing meditation, going on retreat, being with himself, as well as by being with his version of the world. But he wouldn’t share his experience with others as much as a teacher would. That’s a very dangerous point, when you begin to work with other people as a teacher. Unless you are willing to learn from students – unless you regard yourself as a student and the students as your teacher – you cease to become a true teacher. You only impart your experience of what you’ve been taught, a package deal. And having done that, there’s no more to say – unless you just repeat yourself again and again.

Student:Your life seems to be so concentrated, in terms of practicing in regard to other people’s needs. But we seem to bypass that worldly side – we forget about practicing the perfections (paramitas) and just get into the meditation; whereas in your life you are always practicing the perfections.

TR:The whole point is that it would be dangerous purely to try to imitate me, and it would be dangerous for me to try to make other people into replicas of me. That would be a very unhealthy thing.

Student:But aren’t there fundamental teachings in Buddhism about how people can best relate to each other on a daily basis? Those teachings seem to be forgotten on account of the fact that they are so rule oriented.

TR:You see, what we are trying to do here is to start purely with the practice of meditation. From that base, you begin to feel the need or the relevance of the other aspect, as you encounter all sorts of temptations.

And then discipline based on individual conviction comes through.

Student:I’m reading Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation, which you spoke of so highly in your foreword, and repeatedly he quotes the sutras as being step-by-step: You can’t practice the perfections until you’ve found a teacher; you can’t practice the second perfection until you’ve mastered the first, and at the end of those perfections he gets into meditation. But you don’t tell us much about the practice of patience in everyday life, or charity, or strenuousness.

TR:In actual fact, in following the path you have to have a commitment at the beginning, like taking refuge and surrendering yourself, and the basic practice of meditation always happens right at the beginning. The kind of meditation that Gampopa talks about is the fifth paramita, dhyana, or meditation. Dhyana is the highest meditative state the bodhisattvas achieve-which is different from the basic meditation of beginning practitioners. You see, in terms of patience and generosity and the other paramitas, the conflicts of life bring them out in any case. One doesn’t have to make big speeches about them. People find that meditation is all the time painful or difficult, and–then they look for something. They begin to realize that something is wrong with them or they begin to find that something is developing in them. And these kinds of meditation in action we’ve been talking about, the six paramitas or disciplines, happen as a natural process. The pain of meditation takes on the pattern of discipline – you find that you are running too fast and you need patience to slow down, and if you don’t do that, automatically you are pushed back, something happens. A lot of people begin to find that they are facing a lot of problems if they’ve done something not in accordance with the pattern. And if you were a scholar, for instance, or a sociologist of Buddhism, you could try to match their experiences with the technical aspects of the teaching. But there’s no point trying to prove such an interpretation, anyway.

Student:Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation provides an outline of the bodhisattva’s career. Is it helpful to us to study that, or is it a hindrance?

TR:What do you mean by study? Practicing?

Student:Reading the book.

TR:It is definitely an inspiration. I have recommended that most people read Gampopa, and we have also discussed bodhisattva actions. And each time I have interviews with people, almost without fail some aspect of aggression which they find a conflict with always comes up. And the bodhisattva activity of generosity and compassion comes up automatically, as a natural process.

Student:Is sex the human equivalent of eternity?

Trungpa Rinpoche:Sex? I don’t think so. Sex is somehow too practical. It is governed purely by physical experience, whereas eternity is connected with imagination. Eternity has a very dreamlike quality; it has no reality, no physical action, and no involvement with earth. It’s purely living on imagination and dream world. I would say it is more like wish or hope.

Student:How about when you’re creating something, making a form or something? Is eternity something like that kind of creative ecstasy?

TR:I think so, yes. The pleasure of producing something. Meditation is something like that.

Student:In the clear light experience, how does one recognize whether it is egohood or the awakened state?

Trungpa Rinpoche:There’s a very faint, very subtle distinction between the two. When you begin to see the sudden glimpse but it’s not eternity – it’s all-encompassing rather than eternity – then that’s the awakened state of clear light. Whereas if you begin to see all this not as all-pervading but as something definite, solid, and eternal, then that’s the ego inclination.

Student:In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it seems that they talk about the clear light as reality, but you talk of it as the ultimate ego experience. Is seeing it as eternity like seeing something which is more familiar? That seemed to be in there too, in the description of clear light experience as being like a son recognizing his mother.

Trungpa Rinpoche:That’s beyond ego’s range, the notion of son meeting mother.

Student:Does the complete human ego continue after the experience of death and then go through the bardo states in the process of its disintegration?

TR:I don’t think so. Somehow it continues through all those experiences. I mean, you might have an experience of egolessness, but at the same time, beyond that experience, ego continues.

Student:Even past the bardo state?

TR:Past the bardo state.

Student:And it’s the same ego as right now?

TR:Well, that’s difficult to say. It wouldn’t be the same anyway, would it?

Student:The distinction you made between the egotistical experience of the clear light and the awakened experience seems to me to be partially a difference in emphasis between time and space. The experience of ego involves the notion of endless time, and the awakened experience seems to involve all the spacious aspects.

Trungpa Rinpoche:In terms of ego, it seems that space and time are very solid. In terms of awake experience, the time concept is very loose. In other words, in terms of ego there’s only one center and the radiation from it; in terms of beyond ego, center is everywhere and radiation is everywhere. It’s not one center, but it is all-pervading.

Student:Is it a particular trick of ego to see things in terms of time?

TR:In the ordinary sense of ego, there’s very little understanding of time. Ego’s understanding of time is purely based on desire, what you would like to see, what you would like to develop. It’s sort of wishful.

Student:Is the clear light something you see? The way I see you now? Is it something you see with your, eye, or is that a metaphor?

Trungpa Rinpoche:It should be quite obvious that when we talk of clear light as all-pervading, you can’t see all-pervading. I know that there is a book on psychedelic experience and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which talks about some kind of glimpse of light that you experience.

But in actual fact, when we talk in terms of the awakened state of mind, that doesn’t mean that Buddha never sleeps. That he is awake doesn’t mean he’s devoid of sleepiness – he sleeps and he eats and he behaves like any other person.

Student:It’s easy to correlate the awakened state and clear light as verbal approaches to something that can’t be discussed, but the subsequent lights which are described in terms of blues and reds and such sound so visual. I never had that kind of visual experience.

TR:They are metaphors. For instance, we talk in terms of a person’s face turning red when he’s angry, that doesn’t just mean the color of his complexion turns crimson; it’s a metaphor. It’s the same thing in the text, which speaks in terms of colors: the color of emotions, the clear light, and many other experiences. It is very complicated. Particularly when you get further into the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it begins to describe all sorts of different divinities and iconographical details-and all these colors and shapes and symbolism are connected purely with one’s state of mind. If a person is open enough to his own state of being, completely absorbed in it, you could almost say the experience becomes tangible or visual it’s so real, in that sense. It’s that point of view.

Student:For example, to experience these colors and forms, is it relevant whether or not your eyes are open?

TR:I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all. In any case, if you experience them in the bardo after” death, you leave your body behind.

Student:When you were talking about ego as having the experience of eternity as something solid and then nothingness afterward, you used the analogy of hot and cold. I started to think about the Chinese yinyang symbol and the knot of eternity; trying to flash back and forth between the space, the light, and the so-called form.

Trungpa Rinpoche:Well, I tried to explain the aspect of experiencing hot and cold simultaneously, the possibility of two experiences coming at the same time, both confused and awake. In fact, that seems to be the whole idea of bardo altogether, being in–:no-man’s-land, experiencing both at the same time. It’s the vividness of both aspects at the same time. When you are in such a peak of experience, there is the possibility of absolute sanity and there is also the possibility of complete madness. That is being experienced simultaneously-in one situation, one second, one moment. That seems to be the highlight of bardo experience, because bardo is in between the two experiences.

Student:Does it have something to do with letting go in that instant when you decide which one you’ll plop back into? In other words, when the thing is over, you either end up awakened or back in samsara.


Student:So it seems like you’re given a chance, and if you miss, somehow you’re back in samsara.

TR:Your actual practice in everyday situations, when those peak experiences are not present, brings them into a balanced state. If your general pattern of life has developed into a balanced state of being, then that acts as a kind of chain reaction enforcing the bardo experience. In other words, you have more balanced possibilities of sanity because of your previous chain reactions.

Student:It’s like the base of a mountain-the broader and more solid your base, the stronger and taller you stand.

TR:Quite. Yes.

Student:So that’s what sitting meditation is all about.

TR:Yes. I mean, that’s the whole idea of bardo being an important moment. I think that working on basic sanity provides tremendous possibilities. It is basic-there will be tremendous influence and power, needless to say.

Student:Do you have to go through the bardo to get to the. awakened state?

Trungpa Rinpoche:There will be some moment of experience, peak of experience, before the awakened state of mind. That is called bardo. It is not particularly that bardo is special, but it’s just that the gap is called bardo.

Student:It may not be anything special, but when we see it coming, we say, “Wow, that’s it.”

TR:Well, I wouldn’t make a particularly big deal of it although we are holding a seminar on it.

Student:There is something that continues after death, and I guess that something is the you that reincarnates.

Trungpa Rinpoche:Nobody knows. But if you see it in terms of the present situation, experiences happen; they pass through continuously. Our physical situation can’t prevent the psychological experience of pain or pleasure-it’s beyond control. So if we work back from that level, there seems to be the possibility that even beyond physical death there will be continuity of consciousness throughout but that’s an assumption. are holding a seminar on it. “

Student:If you finally reach the awakened state, you’re released from having to come back-I’ve heard this in Hindu thought.

Trungpa Rinpoche:There is the same idea in Buddhism as well-if you use up your karmic chain reactions and if you use up your karmic seeds, then you are no longer subject to the power of karma, returning to the world. But then, of course, if you are that advanced a person, naturally the force of compassion forces you out, to come back and help other people. So in any case you come back, it seems.

Student:In talking about time, you said that time was an invention, a wishful thought, that it was related to hope. But time is also related to fear, because time moves us up to death. Is it true, then, that if one manages to give up both fear and hope, one is also released from time?

Trungpa Rinpoche:Well, time is a concept, obviously, and you transcend concepts. I would say so, definitely.

Student:But one doesn’t have to be awake to understand the concept of time, because in ordinary everyday life one sees that time is very unreal. Sometimes there are five days that seem like five years; other times there are five years that seem like five days.

TR:If you look at it from a rational point of view, it is determined by your preoccupation. They determine the length of time. But that isn’t exactly transcending time in terms of freedom; that is simply the degree of your determination, your preoccupation. If something is pleasurable, it passes very quickly; if soiriething is painful, it lasts an extremely, long period. And certain people have a kind of noncaring quality, feeling that time doesn’t matter; they are completely easy about it. But that again is purely habitual rather than a fundamental idea of time. You see, time means struggle, or wish. It’s a demand for something you have a particular concept or desire to achieve,: something within a certain limit of time. When you don’t have this desire to achieve something or desire not to do something, then somehow the limitation of time doesn’t become important. But you can’t say that you completely transcend time, in terms of transcending karmic seeds or karmic patterns. Even the awakened state of mind of compassion and wisdom, in communicating and dealing with other people, still has to use the concept of time. But at the same time, your version of time doesn’t last any longer; that fundamental, centralized notion of time doesn’t exist anymore.

Student:You spoke of compassion as being a force that brings us back, insists that we reincarnate again. Is that the same as when we are feeling bliss in meditation and we do not want to stop and go back to everyday activities, but out of our sense of duty to our friends, we do?

Trungpa Rinpoche Any kind of awake experience you have should have sharpness or intelligence as well. I don’t think there will be possibilities of being completely dazed in the experience at all-if that’s so, then something must be wrong. You see, when you are completely involved in the awake state of mind, you develop discriminating wisdom as well as the wisdom of equanimity.

Student:You are here out of compassion. Are we here out of that same compassion?

TR:I hope so.

Student:I never experienced any sharp, clear choice to stay in the world for the sake of others.

TR:Perhaps you feel that you are not ready to help others yet.

Student:I feel I have no choice but to be in the world.

TR:That’s generally how things operate: you have no choice. You are bound by karma; you have no choice.

Student:Is there an alternative state where the awakened person constantly has the option of being in the world or out of it?

TR:Well, if an awakened person is not bound by karmic duties, so to speak, then of course there is that option, definitely. Even the arhats, who have achieved the equivalent of the sixth stage of the bodhisattva path, supposedly have the option of not stepping back into the world, because they have transcended certain, karmic seeds. They remain for kalpas and kalpas (eons) in the meditative state until a certain Buddha comes to the world. He has to send his vibrations to wake them up and bring them back to the world and encourage them to commit themselves to the bodhisattva path of compassion, not to stay out.

Student:You mean you can leave if you don’t feel a strong enough duty to others?

TR:That would mean that it was a partial kind of enlightened state. A fully enlightened state automatically would have compassion, whereas a partially enlightened state would have wisdom without compassion; and in this case, you quite likely would stay away.

Student:Is remaining in nirvana for kalpas something worth shooting for?

TR:That’s purely up to you.

Student:I have a question about the difference between buddhahood and egohood in the six bardos. At certain times I’ve experienced leaving this situation, a kind of transcending, but there’s still a center, a source of radiation. But at a certain point, if I’m willing to let go further, it seems to break loose into a more spacious quality without this center.

Trungpa Rinpoche:Well, you get a potential glimpse of that constantly. All aspects are in individuals all the time, and you do experience that, yes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that one has reached higher degrees; more likely, a person is able to see the potential in himself.

Student:How would you relate the deja-vu experience to the six bardos, the feeling that you have been someplace before?

Trungpa Rinpoche:Before?


TR:I suppose that experience is within the six realms of the world.

Student:Would you translate bardo again?

Trungpa Rinpoche:Bar means “in-between” or “gap” or “the middle,” and do means “island,” so altogether bardo means “that which exists between two situations.” It is like the experience of living, which is between birth and death.

Student:What is not bardo?

TR:The beginning and the end. [Laughter]

Student:Can there be wisdom without compassion or compassion without wisdom? Can either exist independently?

Trungpa Rinpoche:According to the teachings as well as one’s own personal experience, it is quite possible ;you could have wisdom without compassion, but you couldn’t have compassion without wisdom.

Student:I know somebody who almost doesn t sleep at all, he sleeps sometimes one hour a day, and he leads a frightfully energetic life. He’s not. ‘a Buddhist, but he’s a rather enlightened person is that at all relevant?

Trungpa Rinpoche:Well, I don’t know about that. You see, ultimately there are certain requirements for the physical being, as long as you have a physical body-like sleeping and food. It’s a natural process. And of course there’s the balance of whether you need a great deal of sleep or a great deal of food, which depends on whether a person is using sleep or food as an escape, or, in some other way. I mean, from a rational point of view, one would presume that enlightened beings would eat balancedly, sleep normally. They wouldn’t have to fight with the pattern of their life anymore, whether it was sleep or food. It just happens, I suppose. But that’s pure guesswork on my part.

Student:I think I’ve read somewhere that if one is really relaxed one sleeps more efficiently, so one doesn’t need much sleep.

TR:Generally you need very little sleep. It depends on your state of mind. But you need some sleep anyway, and you need some food. On the other hand, there’s the story of the great yogi Lavapa in India: he slept for twenty years, and when he woke up he attained enlightenment.

Student:What do you mean when you say that no one knows about the after-death period? I thought all bodhisattvas would know, all those who have returned.

Trungpa Rinpoche:I think they would have confidence, definitely, and they would have some definite intuitions about it, or quite possibly memories of their previous lives. But in the ordinary case, nobody knows; nobody has actually gone through it, like a journey.

Student:In other words, for a bodhisattva, all his lives aren’t just like one life, just one change after another?

TR:It wouldn’t be as clear as that for a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva still works with situations; therefore he works with his own life and death, and his physical being as well.


Study Center Update: October 6, 2018 

This study center update is focusing on the book, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings by Paul Reps.

The meat of the book is a collection of 101 Zen stories (koans) from the Shasekishu.  Also a Gateless Gate section, which is a collection of 48 Chan (Zen) koans compiled by the 13th century Zen master Wumen. And also a section containing the The Ten Ox Herding Pictures, which, “illustrates the stages of a practitioner’s progression towards the purification of the mind, enlightenment, as well the practitioners subsequent return into the world while acting out of wisdom.” But we will be studying the section, “Centerings112 ways to open the invisible door of consciousness.” The Centerings section is a translation of the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra; a discourse between the god Shiva and his consort Devi (or Shakti.)

I first stumbled across this book when I was 15 while on one of my missions digging through my older brothers stuff. He had brought this book home from a religion class at college. The koans inside were intriguing, yet puzzling. The Zen stories were a bit more applicable, but somehow also easy for me to make a bit more philosophical, as they are anecdotal and speaking to someone else’s experience. But the Centerings section of the book was immediately applicable to my life. I found myself practicing some of them right away. The short suggestions speak to how to practice in direct ways, and in many of life’s daily activities. I hadn’t had any exposure to Zen practice, or any form of practice. All of my previous openings had been completely organic with no push into them, so when I came across this text it was something that naturally grabbed me and showed me how to practice opening in my daily activities, and by choice. I sincerely hope you enjoy them as much as I do.   -ML

Centering Practices:

112 ways to open the invisible door of consciousness.

Transcribed by Paul Reps.
From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones*


Zen is nothing new, neither is it anything old. Long before Buddha was born the search was on in India, as the present work shows.

Long after man has forgotten such words as Zen and Buddha, satori and koan, China and Japan and America – still the search will go on, still Zen will be seen even in flower, and grass-blade, before the sun.

The following is adapted from the preface to the first version in English of this ancient work.

Wandering in the ineffable beauty of Kashmir, above Srinagar I come upon the hermitage of Lakshmanjoo.

It overlooks green rice fields, the garden, of Shalimar and Nishat Bagh, lakes fringed with lotus. Water streams down from a mountaintop.

Here Lakshmanjoo – tall, full bodied, shining – welcomes me. He shares with me this ancient teaching from the Vigyan Bhairava and Sochanda Tantra, both written about four thousand years ago, and from Malini Vijaya Tantra, probably another thousand years older yet. It is an ancient teaching, copied and recopied countless times, and from it Lakshmanjoo has made the beginning of an English version. I transcribe it eleven more times to get it into the form given here.

Shiva first chanted it to his consort Devi in a language of love we have yet to learn. It is about the Immanent experience. It presents 112 ways to open the invisible door of consciousness. I see Lakshmanjoo gives his life to its practicing.

Some of the ways may appear redundant, yet each differs from any other. Some may seem simple, yet any one requires constant dedication even to test it.

Machines, ledgers, dancers, athletes balance. Just as centering or balance augments various skills, so it may awareness. As an experiment, try standing equally on both feet; then imagine you are shifting your balance slightly from foot to foot: just as balance centers, do you.

If we are conscious in part, this implies more inclusive consciousness. Have you a hand? Yes. That you know without doubt. But until asked the question were you cognizant of the hand apart?

Surely men as inspiritors, known and unknown to the world, have shared a common uncommon discovery. The Tao of Lao-tse, Nirvana of Buddha, Jehovah of Moses, the Father of Jesus, the Allah of Mohammed — all point to the experience.

No-thing-ness, spirit – once touched, the whole life clears.



O Shiva, what is your reality?
What is this wonder-filled universe?
What constitutes seed?
Who centers the universal wheel?
What is tbis life beyond form pervading forms?
How may we enter it fully, above space and
time, names and descriptions?
Let my doubts be cleared!


[Devi, though already enlightened, has asked the foregoing questions so others through the universe might receive Shiva’s instructions. Now follow Shiva’s reply, giving the 112 ways.]

1. Radiant one, this experience may dawn between two breaths. After breath comes in (down) and just before turning up (out) — the beneficence.

2. As breath turns from down to up, and again as breath curves from up to down—through both these turns, realize.

3. Or, whenever inbreath and outbreath fuse, at this instant touch the energyless energy-filled center.

4. Or, when breath is all out (up) and stopped of itself, or all in (down) and stopped—in such universal pause, one’s small self vanishes. This is difficult only for the impure.

5. Consider your essence as light rays rising from center to center up the vertebrae, and so rises livingnessin you.

6. Or in the spaces between, feel this as lightning.

7. Devi, imagine the Sanskrit letters in these honey-filled foci of awareness, first as letters, then more subtly as sounds, then as most subtle feeling. Then, leaving them aside, be free.

8. Attention between eyebrows, let mind be before thought. Let form fill with breath-essence to the top of the head, and there shower as light.

9. Or, imagine the five-colored circles of the peacock tail to be your five senses in illimitable space. Now let their beauty melt within. Similarly, at any point in space or on a wall — until the point dissolves. Then your wish for another comes true.

10. Eyes closed, see your inner being in detail. Thus seeyour true nature.

11. Place your whole attention in the nerve, delicate as the lotus thread, in the center of your spinal column. In such be transformed.

12. Closing the seven openings of the head with your hands, a space between your eyes becomes all-inclusive.

13. Touching eyeballs as a feather, lightness between them opens into heartand there permeates the cosmos.

14. Bathe in the center of sound, as in the continuous sound of a waterfall. Or, by putting fingers in ears, hear the sound of sounds.

15. Intone a sound, as a-u-m, slowly. As sound enters soundfulness, so do you.

16. In the beginning and gradual refinement of the sound of any letter, awake.

17. While listening to stringed instruments, hear their composite central sound; thus omnipresence.

18. Intone a sound audibly, then less and less audibly as feeling deepens into this silent harmony.

19. Imagine spirit simultaneously within and around you until the entire universe spiritualizes.

20. Kind Devi, enter etheric presencepervading far above and below your form.

21. Put mindstuff in such inexpressible fineness above, below, and in your heart.

22. Consider any area of your present form as limitlessly spacious.

23. Feel your substance, bones, flesh, blood, saturated with cosmic essence.

24. Suppose your passive form to be an empty room with walls of skin – empty.

25. Blessed one, as senses are absorbed in heart, reach the centerof the lotus.

26. Unminding mind, keep in the middle – until.

27. When in worldly activity, keep attentive between the two breaths, and so practicing, in a few days be born anew. [Lakshmanjoo says this is his favorite.]

28. Focus on fire rising through your form from the toes up until the body burns to ashes but not you.

29. Meditate on the make-believe world as burning to ashes, and become being above human.

30. Feel the fine qualities of creativity permeating your breasts and assuming delicate configurations.

31. With intangible breath in center of forehead, as this reaches heart at the moment of sleep, have direction over dreams and over death itself.

32. As, subjectively, letters flow into words and words into sentences, and as, objectively, circles flow into worlds and worlds into principles, find at last these converging in our being.

33. Gracious one, play the universe is an empty shell wherein your mind frolics infinitely.

34. Look upon a bowl without seeing the sides or the material. In a few moments become aware.

35. Abide in some place endlessly spacious, clear of trees, hills, habitations. Thence comes the end of mind pressures.

36. Sweet-hearted one, meditate on knowing and not knowing, existing and not existing. Then leave both aside that you may be.

37. Look lovingly on some object Do not go on to another object. Here, in the middle of this object — the blessing.

38. Feel cosmos as translucent ever-living presence.

39. With utmost devotion, center on the two junctions of breath and know the knower.

40. Consider the plenum to be your own body of bliss.

41. While being caressed, sweet princess, enter the caressingas everlasting life.

42. Stop the doors of senses when feeling the creeping of an ant. Then.

43. At the start of sexual union, keep attention on the fire in the beginning, and, so continuing, avoid the embers in the end.

44. When in such embrace your senses are shaken as leaves, enter this shaking.

45. Even remembering union, without the embrace, the transformation.

46. On joyously seeing a long-absent friend, permeate this joy.

47. When eating or drinking, become the taste of the food or drink, and be filled.

48. 0 lotus-eyed one, sweet of touch, when singing, seeing, tasting, be aware you are and discover the ever-living.

49. Wherever satisfaction is found, in whatever act, actualize this.

50. At the point of sleep when sleep has not yet come and external wakefulness vanishes, at this point beingis revealed. [Lakshmanjoo says this is another of his favorites.]

51. In summer when you see the entire sky endlessly clear, enter such clarity.

52. Lie down as dead. Enraged in wrath, stay so. Or stare without moving an eyelash. Or suck something and become the sucking.

53. Without support for feet or hands, sit only on buttocks. Suddenly, the centering.

54. In an easy position, gradually pervade an area between the armpits into great peace.

55. See as if for the first timea beauteous person or an ordinary object.

56. With mouth slightly open, keep mind in the middle of tongue. Or, as breath comes silently in, feel the sound HH.

57. When on a bed or a seat, let yorself become weightless, beyond mind.

58. In a moving vehicle, by rhythmically swaying, experience. Or in a still vehicle, by letting yourself swing in slowing invisible circles.

59. Simply by looking into the blue sky beyond clouds, the serenity.

60. Shakti, see all space as if already absorbed in your own head in the brilliance.

61. Waking, sleeping, dreaming, know you as light.

62. In rain during a black night, enter that blacknessas the form of forms.

63. When a moonless raining night is not present, close eyes and find blackness before you. Opening eyes, see blackness. So faults disappear forever.

64. Just as you have the impulse to do something, stop.

65. Center on the sound a-u-mwithout any aor m

66. Silently intone a word ending in AH. Then in the HH effortlessly, the spontaneity.

67. Feel yourself as pervadingall directions, far, near.

68. Pierce some part of your nectar-filled form with a pin, and gently enter the piercing.

69. Feel: My thought, I-ness, internal organs—me.

70. Illusions deceive. Colors circumscribe. Even divisibles are indivisible.

71. When some desire comes, consider it. Then, suddenly, quit it.

72. Before desire and before knowing, how can I say I am? Consider. Dissolve in the beauty.

73. With your entire consciousness in the very start of desire, of knowing, know.

74. 0 Shakti, each particular perception is limited, disappearing in omnipotence.

75. In truth forms are inseparate. Inseparate are omnipresent being and your own form. Realize each as made of this consciousness.

76. In moods of extreme desire, be undisturbed.

77. This so-called universe appears as a juggling, a picture show. To be happy look upon it so.

78. 0 Beloved, put attention neither on pleasure or pain but between these.

79. Toss attachment for body aside, realizing I am everywhere. One who is everywhere is joyous.

80. Objects and desires exist in me as in others. So accepting, let them be translated.

81. The appreciation of objects and subjects is the same for an enlightened as for an unenlightened person. The former has one greatness: he remains in the subjective mood, not lost in things.

82. Feel the consciousness of each person as your own consciousness. So, leaving aside concern for self, become each being.

83. Thinking no thing, will limited-self unlimit.

84. Believe omniscient, omnipotent, pervading.

85. As waves come with water and flames with fire, so the universal waves with us.

86. Roam about until exhausted and then, dropping to the ground, in this dropping be whole.

87. Suppose you are gradually being deprived of strength or of knowledge. At the instant of deprivation, transcend.

88. Listen while the ultimate mystical teaching is imparted: Eyes still, without winking, at once become absolutely free.

89. Stopping ears by pressing and rectum by contracting, enter the sound of sound.

90. At the edge of a deep well look steadily into its depths until — the wondrousness.

91. Wherever your mind is wandering, internally or externally at this very place, this.

92. When vividly aware through some particular sense, keep in the awareness.

93. At the start of sneezing, during fright, in anxiety, above a chasm, flying in battle, in extreme curiosity, at the beginning of hunger, at the end of hunger, be uninterruptedly aware.

94. Let attention be at a place where you are seeing some past happening, and even your form, having lost its present characteristics, is transformed.

95. Look upon some object, then slowly withdraw your sight from it, then slowly withdraw your thought from it. Then.

96. Devotion frees.

97. Feel an object before you. Feel the absence of all other objects but this one. Then, leaving aside the object-feeling and the absence-feeling, realize.

98. The purity of other teachings is as impurity to us. In reality know nothingas pure or impure.

99. This consciousness exists as each being, and nothing else exists.

100. Be the unsame sameto friend as to stranger, in honor and dishonor.

101. When a mood against someone or for someone arises, do not place it on the person in question, but remain centered.

102. Suppose you contemplate something beyond perception, beyond grasping, beyond not being, you.

103. Enter space, supportless, eternal, still.

104. Wherever your attention alights, at this very point, experience.

105. Enter the sound of your name and, through this sound, all sounds.

106. I am existing. This is mine. This is this. 0 Beloved, even in such know illimitably.

107. This consciousness is the spirit of guidance of each one. Be this one.

108. Here is a sphere of change, change, change. Through change consume change.

109. As a hen mothers her chicks, mother particular knowings, particular doings, in reality.

110. Since, in truth, bondage and freedom are relative, these words are only for those terrified with the universe. This universe is a reflection of minds. As you see many suns in water from one sun, so see bondage and liberation.

111. Each thing is perceived through knowing. The self shines in space through knowing. Perceive one beingas knower and known.

112. Beloved, at this moment let mind, knowing, breath, form, be included.





  Josh Waitzkin: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence An essential aspect of Lost Coin’s focus is the practice of “excellence.” The historical Buddha used the phrase, “right effort.” There is much to learn from this video of an interview with Josh Waitzkin who has excelled in both chess and marital arts, and who now teaches excellence in learning to others.  
  Matthieu Ricard: The habits of happiness French Tibetan Buddhist Monk, photographer and author, PHD in molecular genetics who lives in Nepal  
  David Steindl-Rast: Want to be happy? Be grateful A Benedictine Monk known for his interfaith work and on interaction between science and spirituality  
  Wonderful teaching – not much explaining  
  John Cage’s 4’33”  
  Gurdjieff – Difference between Awareness and Consciousness  
  Gurdjieff – In Search of the Miraculous part 1  
  Gurdjieff Movements to bring one into the present  
  Richard Feynman The great physicist and devoted bongo player on Not Knowing.  
  The Fine Art of Not Knowing A compilation video of thoughts on Not Knowing.  
  COLD MOUNTAIN This clip is the beginning of Cold Mountain, a half-hour film portrait of the Tang Dynasty Chinese poet Han Shan, a.k.a. Cold Mountain.  
  George Carlin – Football or Baseball The great sage makes us laugh and takes us home.  
  In Search of Wabi Sabi British novelist Marcel Theroux is fascinated by Wabi Sabi, a theory of Japanese aesthetics in which imperfection and transience are the touchstone of beauty. This is part 1 & 2 of a 7 part series.  
  Click here to read Gary Snyder – Know Nature A conversation with Gary Snyder about ecology and wild places.  
  Zen Master Bernie Glassman A video on the social action activities of Zen Master Bernie Glassman.  
  Peter Matthiessen meets the Dalai Lama  
  Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts – Part 2 Watching the complete video is recommended to everyone. It is available for purchase online or from Netflix.  
  These 3 videos are on the subject of Gurdjieff and The Fourth Way which is part of our Lost Coin practice. I was delighted to find these videos. During the time I was a student of The Fourth Way, materials like this were completely unavailable. In fact, much of this was kept a secret, because it was considered esoteric teaching.  
  Gurdjieff: Rare, Remarkable  
  Gurdjieff: Teacher of Radical Transformation  
  Gurdjieff movement – Demonstration 2008 (Munich)  

  Excellence and the Warrior Spirit The path of the Warrior is lifelong, and mastery is often simply staying on the path. Richard Strozzi Heckler (In Search of the Warrior Spirit)  
  Take arrows in your forehead, but never in your back. Samurai maxim  
  If you walk, just walk. If you sit, just sit. But whatever you do, don’t wobble. Master Ummon  
  He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. Friedrich Nietzsche  
  Tomorrow’s battle is won during today’s practice. Samurai maxim  

Words on the foundations of knowledge and excellence from the fabled Yaqui Indian Teacher, Don Juan “A warrior (traveler of the way) must learn to make every act count, since he is going to be here in this world for only a short while, in fact too short for witnessing all the marvels of it.” “A warrior (traveler of the way) acts as if he knows what he is doing, when in effect he knows nothing.” “A warrior(traveler of the way) does not know remorse for anything he has done, because to isolate one’s acts as being mean, or ugly, or evil is to place an unwarranted importance on the self. The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Doen Sensei’s preface: We are going to being our exploration of this area of study with a selection from The Unfettered Mind by Takuan Soho. At the end, I will make some comments. Takuan Soho was a Zen monk, calligrapher, painter, poet, gardener, tea master and perhaps the inventor of the pickle that even today retains his name (Takuan are a kind of pickle eaten in Japan today). Takuan spent his life introducing Zen spirit and understanding into all the activities that were part of the life of his time. He was born in 1573 A.D. and during his life was an instructor to both a Shogun and an emperor as well as legend has it being the teacher of Japan’s greatest swordsman, Miyamoto Mushashi. Although he did so much, fame and popularity meant nothing to him. At the approach of his death, he instructed his disciples: “Bury my body in the mountain behind the temple, cover it with dirt and go home…..” I can think of no other person that I would rather begin this area of study (performance and excellence) in our new Center than Takuan. If he were around today, I would certainly pay close attention to what he had to say. Instead we can all hear him through his writing. The Affliction of Abiding Ignorance The term “ignorance’ means the absence of enlightenment. Which is to say, delusion. Abiding place means the place where the mind stops. In the practice of Buddhism, there are said to be 52 stages, and within these 52, the place where the mind stops at one thing is called the abiding place. Abiding signifies stopping, and stopping means the mind is being detained by some matter, which may be any matter at all. To speak in terms of your own martial art, when you first notice the sword that is moving to strike you, if you think of meeting that sword just as it is, your mind will stop at the sword in just that position, your own movements will be undone, and you will be cut down by your opponent. This is what stopping means. Although you see the sword that moves to strike you, if your mind is not detained by it, and you meet the rhythm of the advancing sword; if you do not think of striking your opponent and no thoughts or judgments remain; if the instant you see the swinging sword your mind is not the least bit detained and you move straight in and wrench the sword away from him; the sword that was going to cut you down will become your own, and, contrarily, will be the sword that cuts down your opponent. If you place yourself before your opponent, your mind will be taken by him. You should not place your mind within yourself. Bracing the mind and the body is something done only at the inception of training, when one is a beginner. The mind can be taken by the sword. If you put your mind in the rhythm of the contest, your mind can be taken by that as well. If you place your mind in your own sword, your mind can be taken by your own sword. Your mind stopping at any of these places, you become an empty shell. You surely recall such situations yourself. They can be said to apply to Buddhism. In Buddhism, we call this stopping of the mind delusion. Thus we say, “the affliction of abiding in ignorance.” Doen Sensei’s commentary: There is an old saying: if you give a person a fish, they will eat for a day. If you teach them how to fish they will eat for a lifetime. Just this wonderful selection is enough to teach a person how to fish. In our lives, the problem of being cut down by a sword is minimal. So please use Master Takuan’s word in a way that applies to your modern life and the challenges you face. In my talks, I refer to what Takuan calls the abiding place, the place where we are stuck. Takuan’s kindly instruction applies to excellence in any endeavor or situation. I hope that you appreciate the kindness of him spilling the guts of a life’s understanding and putting them in a cup for you to drink.