New Dharma Talk on Practicing Bodhicitta


Listen to a dharma talk I gave at Marin Sangha on November 5, 2017 on Bodhicitta: the dedicated, heart-felt desire to fully awaken for the benefit of all other beings. Bodhicitta reminds us that every moment is an invitation to awaken all beings by motivating ourselves to engage in other-regarding behaviors. This is how we take on the responsibility of decreasing the mass of human suffering by seeding the world with at least one more quiescent, wise and compassionate person who moves through their life awakened and present to suffering and non-suffering. Enjoy!

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Clair Brown’s Vision of Buddhist Economics

Clair Brown, an economist at UC Berkeley and a practicing Buddhist, has developed a holistic economic approach, where the economy delivers a high quality of life in a sustainable world. Buddhist economics integrates sustainability, equity, and compassion. While teaching her sophomore seminar at UC Berkeley, Professor Brown learned, “You don’t have to be a Buddhist to embrace a Buddhist approach to economics. You need only share the Dalai Lama’s belief that human nature is gentle and compassionate and embrace the idea that economics can be a force for good, one that goes beyond self-centered materialism.” Clair is one of the most humble, loving people I have ever met. Her new book, Buddhist Economics is a treasure.

Deluded and Undeluded Mind: Two new dharma talks

dharmatalkslogo2Listen to two dharma talks I recently delivered on Delusion and Non-delusion. 

Delusion and Deluded Mind
This first talk covers the Buddhist psychological description of how delusion manifests in human perception and its effects on collective and personal human suffering.

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Non-delusion and Undeluded Mind
This second talk covers the Buddhist psychological description of how non-delusion manifests in human perception and practical steps for cultivating non-delusion in daily life.

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Understanding fear and hatred

Listen to a recent dialogue I had with psychiatrist Jose Calderon-Abbo about recent terrorist acts, our response to them, the mental and emotional suffering of the perpetrators and the role of cultivating compassionate recognition and wisdom in healing human harming.

Here is the link to the mp3 recording:

Meditation/mindfulness is not an all-curing antidote

Yesterday I saw a post for an article on meditation and anger with a title so unfortunate, it moved me to click on the link. Turned out the article was composed in 1997 by psychiatrist Mark Epstein, a renowned author on Buddhist psychology. It began, “If you are angry and you meditate to get rid of your anger, you will only frustrate yourself. Meditate because you are angry, not to eliminate it.” I was immediately struck by Mark’s accurate understanding of the purpose of meditation. And then I felt a wave of sadness—for we live in a time where meditation/mindfulness is now widely misconstrued as an all-curing antidote.

Some of you may think that because Buddhist philosophy/psychology considers liberative insight the ultimate cure for all forms of suffering, the vehicle for achieving liberative insight (meditation) must be, by association, a cure-all. This is a common, yet incorrect inference. Four weeks after the Buddha’s awakening, he delivered his first discourse, which included an explication of suffering, its causes, cessation and an Eightfold method to achieve non-suffering. Only one quarter of that methodology involved meditative practice. So the Buddha deliberately chose in his first and most celebrated discourse to establish wise understanding of the causes of suffering and non-suffering—not teach meditation.

The truth is meditation alone will not liberate the mind from conditioned suffering. The ultimate liberator is the acquisition of the unconventional knowledge of impermanence, suffering and not-self—what is known in Buddhist philosophy as the Three Marks of Existence. This knowledge leads to wise understanding of the insights that arise from liberative meditative and non-meditative experiences. Yet, the vast majority of clinical and non-clinical applications of mindfulness teach meditation devoid of the unconventional teachings on suffering, impermanence, and not-self.

Let me be absolutely clear on this point. Noticing how thoughts come and go and/or how much time we mentally spend in the past and future, cultivating self-love/forgiveness/compassion, recognizing that basic physical pain is worsened by mental anguish about painful stimuli—all these insights are healing and will decrease symptomatic suffering.

However, Buddhist psychology is ultimately disinterested in relief of symptomatic suffering because non-suffering is an outcome of the fearless pursuit of non-delusion. That pursuit includes the recognition of and liberation from the root causes of human suffering—our deluded belief in a substantive, separate self and our deluded belief that happiness is conditioned upon comfort, certainty and security (all of which are ultimately unachievable because all phenomena are impermanent, entropic and uncertain.)

If you think meditation alone will ‘cure’ the deleterious characteristics of humanness, like anger, violence, greed, hatred, fear and bias—think again. These qualities arise from our collective belief in subject/object dualism. The reality that all phenomena (including the illusory separate self) interdependently co-arise must be taught; for wise understanding is not a predetermined outcome of meditative practice. This is why ‘Buddhist-derived’ mindfulness meditation practices when taught for greater happiness and/or symptomatic healing produce meditators who remain unaware of the root causes of harming and non-harming, executives/CEO’s/politicians who continue to exploit and cheat, and military professionals who remain capable of following or giving orders to harm other human beings.

So what am I suggesting is missing in the delivery of clinical mindfulness? Well, let’s return to anger. Anger is a phenomenon that can be experienced directly. No matter how powerful and uncontrollable it may seem, anger is just a fleeting emotion with the capacity to awaken us to difficult truths about self and world. One can shrink from this kind of engagement with anger and be overtaken by harmful expression of anger. Or one can embrace wise, compassionate inquiry into angry feelings and learn to navigate them skillfully. Clinical mindfulness and compassion interventions are designed to elicit this kind of inquiry, especially when delivered in psychotherapeutic contexts. However, most clinicians who use mindfulness interventions don’t deepen the dialogue to include examination of the fundamental causes of angry states of mind, primarily because they do not possess the requisite knowledge to enable such inquiries.

To those who say it is unwieldy or impractical to impart the unconventional truths of suffering and non-suffering in clinical contexts, I say, I do it every day with my patients and they appreciate it tremendously. When they have moments of relief from internal distress, I jump at the chance to help them inquire beyond momentary relief into impermanence, not-self and the fundamental causes of human suffering. And I don’t do this by asking them to close their eyes and meditate. We dialogue and use specific exercises to experience negative and positive self-fixation, to know the palpable difference between mentation about experience (delusion) and embodied presence in experience (non-delusion).

Meditation is undoubtedly a vehicle for insights about mind and its contents. But without a context of unconventional truth, how can a meditator know the profound ramifications of such insights? I invite you to contemplate this question for yourself, especially if you are involved in delivering mindfulness interventions in psychotherapeutic contexts. It may lead you to expand your current knowledge of Buddhist psychology beyond mindfulness.

Here is the link to Mark Epstein’s article.

Non-harming is the only viable path to peace

The way things actually are is quite different than the way things appear to an unawakened mind. Indeed, the fundamental confusion (avidyā) about the interdependent nature of self and world resides at the heart of all violence.

Our world is riddled with senseless political and religious conflicts, fueled by erroneous moral justifications for harming others. Violence is continually legitimized as a rational response to fear, greed, and hatred—the three main afflictive mind states that arise from ignorance/delusion (avidyā). One suffering mind, a group of suffering minds, even a nation of suffering minds, will grasp at deluded narratives of separateness, superiority and dissimilarity to readily negate the inherent equality and preciousness of every human life. This is what makes it possible for a human mind to fully empathize with ‘its own kind’ and absolutely loathe and fear ‘the other’.

The Buddha taught that avidyā results from not understanding suffering, its causes and cessation. In Buddhist psychology, avidyā refers to primordial confusion about the actuality of experience; a fundamental cognitive-affective misapprehending of internal and external phenomena—most importantly an apparent internally experienced self, existing separately from all other phenomena. This basic misperception of separateness undermines our ability to recognize the fallacy of egoic dualism and its destructive influence on human behavior. Furthermore, our capacity to harm is directly related to the misapprehension of a separate self.

For this reason, Buddhism proscribes non-harming (ahimsā) as the main practice for attaining wise understanding (vidyā).  Non-harming requires recognition of the inherent equality of all beings and application of virtuous non-preferential compassion. Ahimsā is a profound practice for realizing emptiness, the interdependently co-arisen nature of all phenomena.

Embracing the truth of interdependence and the practice of non-harming could be a game-changer in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Both sides have long blamed each other for choosing violence over negotiation and peace.  This has intensified the hatred and fearfulness of both populaces. There can be no peace as long as both sides refuse to admit that their own security and happiness is mutually dependent. As long as the Palestinians suffer, Israelis will suffer. Seeking the welfare of the other is the only way to assure mutual happiness. While it may seem like a pipe-dream, total commitment to non-harming and non-preferential compassionate action is the only viable path to ending this unending conflict.

Four days ago Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer spoke the truth of the powerlessness of the Palestinian people, “I think we are going to die. It makes me sad that I cannot protect the child I made; I can’t protect him from these missiles. I just can’t. I don’t have the superpower to end this madness.” How can anyone read this father’s plea and not feel brokenhearted? As of yesterday 170 Palestinians have been killed by bombs and 1000 Palestinians have been wounded. 17,000 residents of Gaza have been forced into UN refugee camps located near areas which will be heavily bombed in an immanent Israeli military campaign. 800 Palestinians with foreign passports have left Gaza. Few Israelis have been harmed and none have been killed.

I have no faith that Hamas will ever awaken from their delusional suffering. They clearly do not care about the health and well-being of the people of Gaza. However, when the Israeli government claims that bombing is the only response to Hamas’ stupidity, I say think again. There have always been willing honest negotiators who represent legitimate interests on the Palestinian side. As a Jew I must believe the Israeli government is capable of working with these partners to make peace a reality through non-violence and serious negotiation. In order to do this Israel must loosen its attachment to a national narrative of victimization. Israel is not a weak nation, yet their choices do not reflect inner strength and wisdom. It is time to stop bombing and come to the table with a commitment to work tirelessly to negotiate a fair two-state solution. Fellowship, cooperation and reconciliation is the only path to Israeli-Palestinian co-existence.