New Dharma Talk: Empty Appearance


Listen to a dharma talk I gave on August 8, 2017 at IMSB in Mountain View, Ca, on the topic of Skillfully Recognizing Empty Appearance. Though the Buddhist notion of emptiness can be quite challenging for Western Buddhist practitioners, the rich teachings on emptiness offer a clear path to apply wise view, wise action and skillful means in daily life. Enjoy!
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New Dharma talk on right view available for free download

I have uploaded the mp3 recording of the dharma talk I gave at IMSB on Right View:
Download in iTunes podcasts:

The first path factor of the Buddha’s Eightfold Noble Path is right view, also known as wise understanding. Though right view is the first of the Eightfold path factors, it represents the fruition of the succeeding seven path factors. Right view and right intention (the second path factor) together encompass supreme training in wisdom; a training designed to awaken the faculty of penetrative understanding—that which knows things as they truly are. The Buddha defined right view as understanding dukkha—the inherent unsatisfactoriness of all experience—its origin, cessation and the path leading to its cessation. He also defined right view as wisely comprehending Dependent Origination—the Buddha’s topology of mind and the cognitive-affective perceptual mechanisms that cause us to misapprehend self and world as separate, autonomous and permanent. The Buddha taught that wrong view is the greatest source of unwholesome mind states and by extension, unwholesome decisions and behaviors. The fruition of right view is a heart-mind liberated from avidyā, the delusion of suffering.

A new dharma talk on the Buddhist psychology of addiction

Listen now to a recording of a dharma talk I just gave on the Buddhist Psychology of Addiction. This talk was delivered at Marin Sangha on May 31, 2015.  I was asked to talk about this important topic by the Sangha members. The talk covers quite a bit of ground including childhood trauma and its physiological and psychological role in teen/adult addiction. The talk also has instructions for landing in the aliveness of physicality as it is. Here is the link to listen to this talk:  The Buddhist psychology of addiction

Two New Dharma Talks on Non-attachment

I just delivered two talks on non-attachment—certainly the most misunderstood and maligned Buddhist ideal. Both are uploaded now and available for free download.

The first talk deconstructs the term into its various meanings and explores the philosophical implications of non-attachment and identity clinging through the Buddha’s teachings from the Pāli Canon and those of several modern-day Buddhist teachers.

The second talk focuses on the practical application of non-attachment in daily life. Together the Sangha and I explored various ways to cultivate non-clinging by transforming greed with equanimity, hatred with compassion, and delusion with clarity.

And you can hear both by following these links.
Talk #1:
Talk #2:

Delusion and Non-Delusion

The latest edition of Rick Hanson’s Wise Brain Bulletin features an article I wrote on the revisioned definition of delusion included in the DSM-5 and how it parallels classical Buddhist psychological definitions of deluded states of mind. The article features a case study. Enjoy!

Here is the link to access the pdf version of Wise Brain Bulletin 8, 5 10/14
Scroll down to 2014 Bulletins and choose the first link.


Mindfulness-based interventions are secular Buddhism?

This weekend I had an interesting email exchange with a person who identifies as a “secular Buddhist”, which seems like a redundant term, because in my life practicing Buddhism has never included religiosity of any kind. None of my teachers have ever asked me to believe anything. Instead I have always been encouraged to investigate and see for myself through contemplative research and textual study. This person is also an MBSR teacher and implied that MBSR is a form of secular Buddhism. Below are a sampling of my comments on that topic.

MBSR is a clinical intervention targeted at shifting symptoms and/or perception of symptoms of stress and physical pain. That is what I call relief from symptomatic suffering. The Buddhist teachings and Buddhist psychology are specific methodologies for awakening out of ignorance through direct recognition of emptiness, not-self. It would not matter how long an MBSR class lasted. There would never be any instruction in ethical conduct, teachings on emptiness or the nature of mind, or any mention of “the deathless”, the unconditioned. The idea that any MBI delivers this profound knowledge without mentioning it directly is preposterous and yet this is what Jon Kabat-Zinn and others have been claiming in scholarly articles since 2003. Jon goes so far to say that MBSR teaches the Buddhadharma… Only the Buddhadharma teaches Buddhadharma.

Buddhist philosophy of mind is very complex and profound and mindfulness is not the core of the Buddhist teachings. Mindfulness is merely a tool for recognizing emptiness (Mahāyāna), the deathless (Theravada), the clear light nature of mind (Vajrayāna)… but emptiness must be pointed to in order to recognize it.

The concept of liberation in Western Buddhism has been skewed by our culture’s attachment to self-entitlement, self-cherishing, and demands for individual comfort, security and continual pleasure. This is why liberation from suffering in the West is equated with less negative thoughts. Honestly, that is not the liberation of mind the Buddha was offering.

This is precisely why I authored a textbook on Buddhist psychology for mental health clinicians. One that teaches the actual dharma, with no compromises and detailed instructions on how to deliver interventions in the therapy room for awakening out of the suffering of ignorance, rather than just symptom reduction or achieving greater levels of conditioned happiness.

And I am not so keen on the idea of a “mindfulness movement”. Heroin addicts are very mindful when they prepare their kit and shoot up. Thieves are very mindful when they engage in robbery. The bulk of the Buddha’s teachings are on ethical conduct and philosophy of mind. Not on mindfulness meditation. And the meditation practices were not designed to make the practitioner feel good. The extreme result of this wrong view of liberation is McMindfulness—the mass marketing of mindfulness as a cure-all for everything or a path to greater happiness, wealth and security.

The Buddha complains of back pain and other physical maladies after his enlightenment. He was human being with a human body. Enlightenment does not mean the end of physical pain. It means recognizing the empty nature of all phenomena including the body, which dissolves any self-fixated afflictive mentation about phenomena. There is nothing to cling to… including the idea that the body must be free of disease and decay and death.

Human ignorance is primordial and deeply etched in our genetic code. Awakening to primordial wisdom takes commitment, study and practice.

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.