Saturday, August 02, 2008

As in most spiritual traditions, is it customary to make offerings at a Buddhist shrine, or during prayers, etc.

In the Buddhist tradition, these offerings can be literal, and/or visualized.

The traditional 8 offerings are:


) ARGHAM (Water to drink)

) PADHYAM (Water to bathe)

) PUSHPE (Flowers)

) DUPHE (Incense)

) ALOKHE (Light)

) GENDHE (Perfume)

) NEVIDHYA (Celestial food)

) SHABTA (Music)

Often these offerings are taught to be accompanied by a mudra. That is a hand gesture indicating and expressing the offering type.

This is a video of a Tibetan Monk teaching the 8 offering mudras in order. As you see, they are simple and easy to learn. If you use the 8 offering system each day, or even offer any of the eight on occasion, I urge you to learn the mudras to bring your body into the offering itself. This is then coupled with a visualization (few seconds) of that particular offering multiplied infinitely to that which you are offering (Deity, Guru, Buddha, Bodhisattva, etc.


So for instance, I would offer a small bowl of water on my altar. Say "ARGHAM." Make the ARGHAM mudra (see video). And then visualize a infinite sea of water for drinking for the "guests". Same for the other offerings. I.e., clouds of incense, rains of flowers, etc.

Years ago I would always see monks go through these mudras quickly, but to quickly for me to catch them. Lucky for us, you can stop and pause YouTube.



Is Yoga Enough to Keep You Fit?

We sent three yogis to the lab to test the theory that yoga is all you need for optimal fitness.

By Alisa Bauman


When it came to the fitness benefits yoga can or can't provide, yoga teacher John Schumacher had heard it all. A student of B. K. S. Iyengar for 20 years and founder of the Unity Woods studios in the Washington, D.C. area, Schumacher was convinced yoga provides a complete fitness regime. But many people, even some of his own students, disagreed. Yoga might be good for flexibility or relaxation, they'd say, but to be truly fit, you had to combine it with an activity like running or weight lifting.

Schumacher just didn't buy it.

He knew three decades of yoga practice—and only yoga practice—had kept him fit. He didn't need to power walk. He didn't need to lift weights. His fitness formula consisted of daily asanas (poses) and pranayama (breathwork). That's all he needed.

Four years ago at age 52, Schumacher decided to prove his point. He signed up for physiological testing at a lab in Gaithersburg, Maryland. As he expected, Schumacher tested near the top of his age group for a variety of fitness tests, including maximum heart and exercise recovery rates. His doctor told him that he was in excellent physical condition and estimated that Schumacher had less than a one percent chance of suffering a cardiac event. "I've always maintained that yoga provides more than adequate cardiovascular benefits," says Schumacher. "Now I have the evidence that regular yoga practice at a certain level of intensity will provide you with what you need."

Evidence of yoga's ability to bolster fitness, however, goes well beyond Schumacher's personal experience. Yoga Journal's testing of three yogis also yielded impressive results. Even physiologists who don't do yoga now agree that the practice provides benefits well beyond flexibility and relaxation. Recent research—though preliminary—shows that yoga may also improve strength, aerobic capacity, and lung function. If you practice yoga, you already knew that. But if, like Schumacher, you've been told by friends, family, doctors, or even other yoga students that you need to add some power walking for your heart or strength training for your muscles, here's evidence that yoga is all you need for a fit mind and body.

What Is Fitness?
Before you can prove yoga keeps you fit, you must first define what "fitness" actually means. This isn't a simple task. Ask eight different physiologists, and you'll hear eight different definitions, says Dave Costill, Ph.D., one of the first U. S. researchers to rigorously test the health and fitness benefits of exercise.

Now professor emeritus of exercise science at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, Costill defines fitness simply as the ability to live your life without feeling fatigued. "For normal daily living you don't need the strength of a football player or the endurance of a marathon runner, but you've got to be able to perform your normal activities and still have a reserve," says Costill. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the largest exercise science association in the world, defines fitness as both related to your ability to maintain physical activity and related to your health (for example, people who become more fit reduce their risk for heart disease). According to ACSM, four types of fitness help to bolster health:

Cardiorespiratory fitness. This refers to the fitness of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. The better your cardiorespiratory fitness, the better your stamina, the lower your risk for a host of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Your ability to move without feeling winded or fatigued is measured by your VO2max (maximal oxygen uptake), a technical term that indicates how efficiently oxygen enters your lungs, moves into your bloodstream, and is used by your muscles. The more fit you become, the more efficiently your body transports and uses oxygen, improving your overall VO2max.

To test VO2max, physiologists ask you to cycle or walk or run on a treadmill with a tube-like mask over your mouth. The mask gathers the carbon dioxide and oxygen you exhale, and the ratio between the two gasses helps to indicate how efficiently your muscles use oxygen.

There are other tests that measure additional aspects of cardiorespiratory fitness, including a lung function test, in which you take a deep breath and then blow into a tube to measure your lung capacity, and heart rate tests, taken both at rest and during exercise. Since equally fit people can vary as much as 20 percent in heart rate,this measure best indicates your own progress: If you become more fit, your heart rate generally drops.

Muscular fitness. This refers both to muscle strength (how heavy an object you can lift) and muscle endurance (how long you can lift it). Without exercise, all of us lose muscle mass as we age, which can eventually result in weakness and loss of balance and coordination. Because muscle is such active tissue, it also plays an important role in regulating your metabolism, with every pound of muscle burning about 35 to 50 calories a day.

In a lab, researchers test your muscle strength and endurance on specialized equipment that looks like an exercise machine at a gym but contains sensors that read how much force your muscles generate as they contract.

Flexibility. As most people age, their muscles shorten and their tendons, the tissue that connects muscles to bones, become stiffer. This reduces the range of motion, preventing optimum movement of your knees, shoulders, elbows, spine, and other joints. Loss of flexibility may also be associated with an increased risk of pain and injury. Tight hamstrings, for example, pull down on your pelvis, putting pressure on your lower back. In general, tight muscles increase the likelihood you'll suddenly move past your safe range of motion and damage ligaments, tendons, and the muscles themselves.

Body composition. Your body composition refers to the percentage of your body made up of fat instead of muscles, bones, organs, and other nonfat tissues. Though the use of body composition as a fitness and health indicator has come under fire in recent years by those who argue that it's possible to be both fat and fit, the ACSM and many physiologists continue to assert that too much fat and too little muscle raises your risk for disease and makes movement less efficient.

Physiologists can measure body composition in several ways. The simplest method uses a pair of calipers to pinch the skin and underlying fat at various spots on the body. This method works best for athletes and others with little visible body fat. For those with more body fat, a more accurate method is hydrostatic weighing—being weighed while submerged in water and comparing the result to your out-of-water weight. Because fat floats, the greater the difference between your submerged and dry weights, the higher your body fat percentage.

Experts have long recommended that we do at least three different types of activity to achieve optimum cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, flexibility, and body composition. For example, the ACSM recommends building cardiorespiratory fitness by exercising at an intensity that raises your heart rate to at least 55 percent of your maximum heart rate (the highest rate you can maintain during all-out effort, generally estimated as 220 minus your age); muscular fitness by targeting each major muscle group with eight to 12 repetitions of weight-bearing exercise; and flexibility by stretching.

No one argues against yoga's ability to satisfy the flexibility requirement. But until recently, few scientists had considered whether yoga could improve other aspects of fitness. Now that's starting to change.

Putting Yoga to the Test
In one of the first studies done in the United States that examines the relationship between yoga and fitness, researchers at the University of California at Davis recently tested the muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and lung function of 10 college students before and after eight weeks of yoga training. Each week, the students attended four sessions that included 10 minutes of pranayama, 15 minutes of warm-up exercises, 50 minutes of asanas, and 10 minutes of meditation.

After eight weeks, the students' muscular strength had increased by as much as 31 percent, muscular endurance by 57 percent, flexibility by as much as 188 percent, and VO2max by 7 percent—a very respectable increase, given the brevity of the experiment. Study coauthor Ezra A. Amsterdam, M.D., suspects that VO2max might have increased more had the study lasted longer than eight weeks. In fact, the ACSM recommends that exercise research last a minimum of 15 to 20 weeks, because it usually takes that long to see VO2max improvements.

"It was very surprising that we saw these changes in VO2max in such a short time," says Amsterdam, professor of internal medicine (cardiology) and director of the coronary care unit at the U. C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. He is now considering a longer, larger study to authenticate these results.

A related study done at Ball State University offers further evidence for yoga's fitness benefits. This research looked at how 15 weeks of twice-weekly yoga classes affected the lung capacity of 287 college students. All of the students involved, including athletes, asthmatics, and smokers, significantly improved lung capacity by the end of the semester.

"The athletes were the ones who were the most surprised, because they thought their athletic training in swimming or football or basketball had already boosted their lung capacity to the maximum," says study author Dee Ann Birkel, an emeritus professor at Ball State's School of Physical Education.

From the perspective of a Western scientist, the few additional studies that have looked at yoga and fitness all contain flaws in their research design—either too few subjects or inadequate control groups. One study, conducted in Secunderabad, India, compared a group of athletes taught pranayama to another group who were not. After two years, those who practiced pranayama showed a larger reduction of blood lactate (an indicator of fatigue) in response to exercise; in addition, they were more able than the control group to increase their exercise intensity as well as the efficiency of their oxygen consumption during exercise. Other smaller studies also done in India have found that yoga can increase exercise performance and raise anaerobic threshold. (Anaerobic threshold is the point at which your muscles cannot extract enough oxygen from your blood and therefore must switch from burning oxygen to burning sugar and creatine. Unlike oxygen, sugar and creatine are dirty fuel sources, creating lactic acid and other by-products that build up in the blood and make you hyperventilate, "feel the burn," and lose muscle coordination.)

Although the research on yoga is only starting to build, a convincingly large amount of research has been done on tai chi, an Eastern martial art that involves a series of slow, graceful movements. Many studies have found that tai chi helps to improve balance, cardiorespiratory and cardiovascular fitness, ability to concentrate, immunity, flexibility, strength, and endurance of the knee extensor muscles.

Dina Amsterdam, a yoga instructor in San Francisco and graduate student at Stanford University, is one of many researchers conducting a three-year study that compares the psychological and physiological benefits of tai chi as to those of traditional forms of Western exercise such as aerobics. (The daughter of Ezra Amsterdam, Dina Amsterdam was the inspiration behind her father's U. C. Davis study on yoga and fitness.)

"Though there haven't been a lot of studies done on yoga that are considered valid, there are numerous studies done on tai chi, with the current Stanford study the largest to date," she says. Because yoga shares many elements with tai chi but can also provide a more vigorous physical workout, Amsterdam expects future yoga studies to produce at least similarly encouraging results. But Amsterdam says she doesn't need additional research to prove to her that yoga builds fitness. "I haven't done anything but yoga and some hiking for 10 years," she says. "When I came to yoga, I was 25 pounds overweight and suffering from a compulsive eating disorder. Yoga completely brought me back to physical and emotional health."

Many yoga practitioners echo such thoughts. Jack England, an 81-year-old yoga and stretching instructor at the Club Med in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, says more than 30 years of yoga have kept him flexible, healthy, and strong. He's the same weight and height as he was in high school, and his stellar health continues to amaze his doctor. He delights audiences at Club Med by practicing Shoulderstand and other poses while balancing on a float board in a water ski show. "I'm an inspiration to people of all ages," he says. "I do things that 14-year-old girls can't do."

Stephanie Griffin, a 33-year-old director of business development for a pharmaceutical research company in San Francisco, discovered yoga after years of running marathons, spinning, and weight lifting. Before discovering yoga, she thought her intense exercise habits had turned her into a poster child for health and fitness. During the last four years, however, Griffin began doing more and more yoga and less and less running, weight lifting, and aerobicizing. As she dropped back on her hardcore fitness pursuits, she worried she might gain weight or lose her muscle tone or exercise capacity.

She didn't. "I have maintained my fitness and even enhanced it through yoga," says Griffin, who no longer has a gym membership. "And I like the way my body looks and feels now better than the way it did before."

Why Yoga Works
Exactly how does yoga build fitness? The answer you get depends on whom you ask. Robert Holly, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in the Department of Exercise Biology at U. C. Davis and one of the researchers on the U. C. Davis study, says that muscles respond to stretching by becoming larger and capable of extracting and using more oxygen more quickly. In other words, side benefits of flexibility include increased muscle strength and endurance.

"My own belief is that the small but significant increase in maximal oxygen capacity was due to an increase in muscle endurance, which allowed the subjects to exercise longer, extract more oxygen, and reach an increased maximal oxygen uptake," says Holly.

Then there's the pranayama theory. Birkel suspects that yoga poses help increase lung capacity by improving the flexibility of the rib area, shoulders, and back, allowing the lungs to expand more fully. Breathwork further boosts lung capacity—and possibly also VO2max—by conditioning the diaphragm and helping to more fully oxygenate the blood.

Birkel, Dina Amsterdam, and others are also quick to point out that Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutations) and other continuously linked poses increase the heart rate, making yoga aerobically challenging. And many yoga poses—particularly standing poses, balancing poses, and inversions—build quite a bit of strength because they require sustained isometric contractions of many large and small muscles. Of course, holding the poses longer increases this training effect.

Finally, yoga tunes you into your body and helps you to better coordinate your actions. "When you bring your breath, your awareness, and your physical body into harmony, you allow your body to work at its maximum fitness capacity," says Dina Amsterdam. "Yoga class is merely a laboratory for how to be in harmony with the body in every activity outside of yoga. This improved physical wellness and fluidity enhance not just the physical well-being but also permeate all levels of our being."

Are You Fit?
Given all this evidence, can you now confidently tell your nonyogi friends they're wrong when they insist that you should add other forms of exercise to your practice?

Maybe, maybe not. The answer depends largely on how much you dedicate yourself to yoga. Studies done on yoga have included more than an hour of practice two to four days a week. The yoga sessions included breathwork and meditation in addition to typical yoga poses. Finally, the asanas used in these studies included not just aerobically challenging sequences, like Sun Salutations, but also many strengthening poses, like Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose), Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), Navasana (Boat Pose), Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), and Plank.

So if you want to become and stay physically and mentally fit, make sure your yoga practice includes a balance of poses that build strength, stamina, and flexibility, along with breathwork and meditation to help develop body awareness. In particular, include a series of standing poses in your practice. As your practice expands, Schumacher suggests adding more challenging asanas such as balancing poses and inversions. "If you are just doing 15 minutes of gentle yoga stretches three to four times a week, you will also need to do some other form of exercise to stay fit," Schumacher readily admits. "I often tell my beginning students that they will need to do something in addition to yoga for a while until they can practice more vigorously."

Holly agrees. If you practice yoga for less than an hour twice a week, he suggests you either pair your practice with moderate intensity exercise like walking, or increase your yoga time or frequency. "But the best form of exercise is whatever you enjoy most and will continue to do on a regular, almost daily, basis," he says. "Should you do more than yoga if you don't enjoy other activities? No. Yoga has a lot of benefits, so do yoga regularly and enjoy it." Beyond fitness, yoga also offers many other gifts. It improves your health, reduces stress, improves sleep, and often acts like a powerful therapy to help heal relationships, improve your career, and boost your overall outlook on life.

All these positives are enough to keep former exercise junkie Stephanie Griffin hooked on yoga for life. Griffin had worried that, unlike her other fitness pursuits, yoga wouldn't give her the emotional satisfaction of aiming for and meeting goals. Soon, however, she realized that yoga offered her a path to constant improvement. "One day it hit me: I realized that my goal was to be practicing yoga well into my 90s," says Griffin. "For me, that is the new finish line. Practicing with that goal satisfies me more than any marathon."

Alisa Bauman stays fit through yoga, running, and fitness ball workouts. She lives and writes in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, where she is studying for yoga teacher certification under Mary Rosenberger at Accent on Yoga and Health.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The documentary is about an hour and focuses on Swami Satchidinanda's life, mainly the ways in which he brought certain elements of yoga—like asana, meditation, health, and stress management—to the West back in the '60s, and how he established the Integral Yoga centers around the country.

The movie is full of interviews by interfaith preachers who knew the the swami (who was a huge supporter of the interfaith movement); people from the Satchidinanda ashram, Yogaville, in Virgina; Drs. Dean Ornish and Mehmet Oz; as well as a tiger trainer named Bhagavan Antle. (The footage of the tigers is amazing.) Living Yoga is less about Satchidinanda's life (it gives very little personal biography on him) than it is about the ways in which he influenced the spread of yoga to the Western world, which were many. One of the best pieces of footage shows him delivering a speech at Woodstock to an audience of thousands.

Lather It On

If you care enough to buy organic broccoli and steer clear of trans fats, it's time to start looking at the chemicals you put on your body, because your skin absorbs them with spongelike efficiency. Just as the pesticides on produce can be hazardous to your health, the chemicals lurking in your favorite shampoos, soaps, or lotions might be raising your risk of cancer, infertility, endocrine disorders, and more.

As a general rule, when you look at the ingredient label on your beauty product, ask yourself if you'd serve a meal made from those ingredients to your family and friends. If the answer is no, pass.

Part 1

Today we bring you a 19 minute video with excerpts of an interview with S.N. Goenka while he was visiting the Vipassana Meditation Center in Belgium on August 10, 2002.

Copyright, 2002 Vipassana Research Institute

There is more information about vipassana meditation at, and books and audio resources available for purchase at

May all beings be happy!
Dhamma Podcasts:

Part 2

Today we bring you a 19 minute video with excerpts of an interview with S.N. Goenka while he was visiting the Vipassana Meditation Center in Belgium on August 10, 2002.

Copyright, 2002 Vipassana Research Institute

There is more information about vipassana meditation at, and books and audio resources available for purchase at

May all beings be happy!
Dhamma Podcasts:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Indian interest rates rise to 9%

Indian bank notes
Inflation is eroding the value of the rupee

India's central bank has increased its key interest rate to 9% from 8.5% in a bid to dampen surging inflation.

It is the third time in two months that Indian interest rates have risen and more rate rises are expected.

Inflation is running at a 13-year high, driven by the soaring cost of food and fuel which is biting into the spending power of India's poor.

Many Asian countries are facing the same problem, threatening to curb rapid economic growth.

In an attempt to discourage lending, the Indian Reserve Bank also raised the level of minimum cash reserves banks must hold in relation to customer deposits.

India's main stock index, the Sensex, tumbled after the rate rise on worries that car and home loans will become more expensive, slowing consumer spending.

It closed down 557.6 points, or 3.9%, at 13,791.54 - a one-week low.

"The hikes were above consensus. We expect lending and deposit rates to rise further and growth to slow significantly," said Macquarie Securities analyst Seshadri Sen.

But Reserve Bank Governor Y. Venugopal Reddy said that compared with the rest of the world, the drop in growth rates would be marginal.

Main priority

The Indian economy has been growing by more than 8% a year so far in 2008.

Capital investment, rising incomes and availability of credit have helped to fuel this expansion, but this has also fed into higher domestic prices.

The high prices of crude oil - India imports two-thirds of its oil requirements - and steel products have also been blamed for stoking inflation.

To help combat this, the government has cut duties on these products.

In addition, the government has also cut exports of rice to try to keep domestic prices down.

Wider problem

The governing party is keen to ease inflation pressures as it prepares to fight an election scheduled for the first half of next year.

But interest rates are still expected to go higher, even if growth suffers as a result.

"Bringing down inflation from the current high levels and stabilising inflation expectations assumes the highest priority in the stance of monetary policy," the Indian Reserve Bank said in a statement.

Pakistan is also dealing with similar problems.

Its benchmark share index also fell after the country's central bank raised its main interest rate to 13% from 12% in an attempt to bring inflation back to target levels.

Buddhists, Biologists and Business Cards: Coming to terms with the stickiness of life

By Jeremy Sherman

David Belasco, the American theatrical producer, once said to an aspiring playwright, "If you can't write your idea on the back of my business card, you don't have a clear idea."

SEPTEMBER 1998- Many a prolific philosopher would disagree, but as anyone in marketing knows, succinct sells. Simple and direct is the way people want it, especially now that we're all so pressed for time.

Among the Buddha's many revelations was awareness of the mis-fit between subtle understanding and people's appetite for hearing it. He is quoted as having said, "I have penetrated this truth, deep, hard to perceive, hard to understand . . . But this is a race devoting itself to the things to which it clings . . . And if I were to teach the truth and other men [sic.] did not acknowledge it to me, that would be wearisome to me; that would be hurtful to me . . . This that through many toils I've won – enough! Why should I make it known?"

To our benefit, Buddha persevered, accommodating the race with simplifying parables and bullet points like the four Noble Truths. Buddha was certainly up to Belasco's challenge. Had he met the producer at a cocktail party, he'd have accepted his card and written something like this:

Interdependent Co-Arising is one of the two core teachings of all Buddhist schools. According to the Encyclopedia of Eastern Thought, "The doctrine of Interdependent Arising says that all psychological and physical phenomena constituting individual existence are interdependent, and mutually condition each other." We might think of causality starting with A, but the Encyclopedia continues: "Interdependent Co-Arising does not refer to a temporal succession, but rather to the essential interdependence of all things."

Some people – eager to encourage generosity in their fellow humans – will tell you that the point of Pattica Samuppada is that we are all one; that the web of life includes all of us, and that you really ought to behave as if you knew this. But Pattica Samuppada means something much more useful than this, even if you can distill it onto the back of a business card. Yes, we are one with everything, but as individuals we are one with some things more than others.

Now, were biologist and complexity theory pioneer Stuart Kauffman at the same cocktail party as Buddha, facing the same challenge, he would boil his voluminous thought down to the same A-through-C diagram. Kauffman is not a Buddhist and would have called Paticca Samuppada by a different name: autocatalytic sets.

Kauffman thinks about the origins of life. With Darwin we begin to know how life evolves, but how it began remains a mystery. Science's best hypothesis before Kauffman was a Darwinian one: the constituent parts of the first organic molecules found each other randomly and started replicating. Before life, these constituent parts were very sparse. Bumping into each other would have taken a long time, but then the universe's roughly six billion years before life was a long time. Time enough, say some, for the chance encounter.

Kauffman and many other theorists don't buy it. Some theologians agree – arguing that the hand of God must have been in it up to the elbow. Without resorting to inconceivable luck or an active God, Kauffman has come up with a new explanation. Or, I should say, old.

Kauffman's alternative can be simplified to this: suppose one of the constituent parts of organic molecules – call it A – works like a catalyst bringing together two common inorganic molecules that happen to make another molecule out of the constituent parts – call this one B. Suppose B then makes C out of more inorganics. Now suppose that C catalyzes more of A. What you get is a mutually supporting, mutually building, interdependently co-arising network of catalysts – an autocatalytic set – that grows until the constituent parts are populous enough that their chance encounter becomes more likely. Using computer models, Kauffman demonstrates that sets like these were not only possible, but likely to occur.

It's like the economy: in Economics 101, the story goes, the butcher buys hot dog buns from the baker who then buys candlesticks from the candlestick maker who, in turn, goes out for a hot dog with the money he's made. The money goes round and round. Everyone's dependent on everyone else in a self-supporting network. There's no saying which action comes first and it matters less once you recognize the co-arising.

To scientists like Kauffman, this resemblance between biology and economics is more than uncanny coincidence. Scientists have collected enough details about enough different kinds of living systems to draw a composite sketch of the general patterns of change and stability that emerge everywhere – from ecologies to economies, to cultures, to families, and even to our individual and personal psyches. They call these generic patterns "the behavior of complex adaptive systems." Hence the name for their area of research: complexity.

Here's an example from the movies. Hundreds of people arrive at a theater before show time. Some have big hair, some have hats. Some are tall; some are short. With lots of shifting and squirming – but no top-down or step-by-step maneuvering – each member of the audience finds a full view by the time the first preview rolls. Complex adaptive systems get even more complex than that. Most are more like a theater whose aisles of seats roll up and down like ocean waves throughout the movie.That is, the environment changes.

Changing environments, and human reactions to them, were how Buddha recognized interdependent co-arising in our psyches. We tend to resist change, and he wondered why. Our minds can be seen as autocatalytic sets of interdependently co-arising, self-perpetuating constellations of ideas, feelings, and impulses. The perpetuation provides us with both the continuity and reliability we need to survive – and the stubbornness that sometimes gets in the way of adapting to changes in our environment.

That stubbornness is the subject of Buddha's second noble bullet point: durga, translated as "suffering," arises from the sticky commitments to ideas and behaviors that we find ourselves in. As Buddha said, his truth was "hard to perceive, hard to understand." We talk about belief "systems," as if we recognize that our minds are interdependently co-arising complexes, but in other ways we forget.

We often say, "The reason I did B was A," as if we could discover the one causal strand leading sequentially from A to B, ignoring the way B and A are in a mutually-supporting relationship (to say nothing of C through Z++). We say: "I'll believe it when I see it," but the obverse is at least as true. We see it when we believe it.

We more easily absorb and retain information that reinforces expectations. We dismiss, ignore, and overlook what doesn't fit our expectations. We often act as though our beliefs cause our actions, like A causing B. But B also causes A. We act, and then construct wrap-around beliefs to encompass our actions.

I don't sit down to write as much as I would like because I have too many distractions. But conversely, I have too many distractions because I have an aversion to writing. We don't protest environmental degradation because we don't believe it’s a big issue, but conversely we don't think it’s a big issue because taking action is daunting. A smoker with his very first pack discovers that smoking induces relaxation. Once addicted, the need to relax makes us smoke.

Happiness in general is like cigarettes. Experiments suggest that happiness is relative. What's newly acquired makes us happy at first, but later, only its absence is felt. Necessity is the mother of invention, but invention is also the mother of necessity. No one knew they needed personal computers until they were available.

Our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors emerge together in mutually perpetuating networks – package deals. Someone with low self-esteem is compelled to invest enormous energy in bolstering themselves with fantasies and boasts. The more secure and confident a person is, the more willing they are to be questioned and doubted. The less secure, the more rigid. Harsh critics gain confidence by scorning the choices others make, but constrain their options in the process.

Increasingly, I see my beliefs and behaviors arising in a galactic sense. I'm like a planet pulled and repelled in relation to many other planets – consciously and unconsciously pulled into relationships by ideas, people, and things. I'm at one with all things, but my connection to most is negligible. The strong connections tug me in many different directions. Shifting in relation to one means shifting in relation to others. Responding costs. Thus, I'll never evaluate a new idea or behavior on an even playing field with my status quo. My mind is quite naturally closed. The older I get, the greater the degree of closure, since with time I accumulate commitments in my autocatalytic set. The longer you live in one place, the harder it is to pick up and leave, because you accumulate commitments over time.

I stake out a position, too. I seek stability and a sense of self, which I attain through having strong opinions. Like the critic, I opine, therefore I am, not remembering that every time I form an opinion, I also limit my options. Indeed, I opine so as to limit my options to a manageable number, but at the same time I constrain myself. My appetite for stability and for flexibility are in perpetual tension.

Buddhist/Taoist scholar Alan Watts once said, "The lifestyle of one who follows the Tao must be understood primarily as a form of intelligence – that is, of knowing the principles, structures, and trends of human and natural affairs so well that one uses the least amount of energy in dealing with them." This accords with what Buddha would say on the back of the business card. Notice autocatalytic stickiness is fundamental in nature. Just notice?

Zen Master Seng-ts'an said: "The great Way is not difficult if you don't cling to good and bad. Just let go of your preferences, and everything will be perfectly clear." Enlightenment is easy if you have no preferences. I see the old master winking at us. We, who prefer preferences.

Buddha – at least as quoted above – had preferences. Life science makes clear that for all living things, there's no escaping preference. We come by it honestly. Buddha's first great gift was insight into the systems of interdependent co-arising that give rise to our preferences. His second was ways of recognizing the structure of sticky systems. By recognizing, we gain an increment of flexibility within them. Paradoxically, by succumbing to our stickiness, we loosen its clawed grip on us. Using less energy adapting to the ever-roiling seats at the movie theater of life. That’s what lay scientists and spiritual thinkers want most of all.

It’s not enough that science and spirituality make peace with each other. It’s not enough that the hybrid species is viable. The hybrid, at its best, should be more adaptive than either science or spirit alone. Only then will this "race devoting itself to the things to which it clings" find the nexus useful, and attend to its subtleties.


Jeremy Sherman is president of Convergent Adaptive Solutions, a consulting firm in Berkeley, CA, USA, applying convergent ideas from eastern and evolutionary philosophy to personal and organizational decision-making processes. He is working on a doctoral degree at Union Institute and can be reached at .


Macy, Joanna, Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The Dharma of Natural Systems. New York: SUNY Press, 1991

Kauffman, Stuart, At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bombs shut down India diamond hub

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Bomb disposal squad try to defuse a bomb in Surat
The discovery of bombs has created a sense of fear in Surat

India's diamond and textile hub of Surat in the western state of Gujarat has shut down after police defused 19 small bombs over the past two days.

Markets, malls, cinemas and schools are closed in the city and police have appealed to people to stay indoors.

A series of 17 blasts in Gujarat's commercial capital, Ahmedabad, on Saturday killed 49 people.

Gujarat state Chief Minister Narendra Modi has appealed for calm after visiting Surat.

'A message'

"We are fighting a proxy war and people, government, media, opinion makers, etc should come together to create awareness and work together to fight this war," Chief Minister Narendra Modi said after visiting the areas where bombs were found in Surat.

"There are certain rules of a war and if we do not fight, then terrorists will continue to attack us," he said.

Pravinbhai Nanavati, vice-president of the Southern Gujarat Chambers of Commerce and Industry, says there is a reason why Surat was chosen as a target.

Pravinbhai Nanavati
Mr Nanavati says people will have to be vigilant in the coming days

"Surat is a huge city, but considering all the bombs were planted in areas where the diamond industry is based, I think there is a message in that," Mr Nanavati told the BBC.

"The bombs were planted by those who wanted to hurt India economically. Stopping production for one day in the diamond industry means a loss of $28m. It's a very serious issue."

Three quarters of the world's diamonds are cut and polished in Surat and the industry - with exports worth $18bn a year - is the biggest foreign exchange earner in the country.

Mr Nanavati says any successful attack on Surat will cause panic throughout India.

"Surat is a mini-India. Of the city's population of 4m, 3.5m are migrants from the rest of India. So if there is panic in Surat, there will be panic in the rest of India too."

'A little fear'

As yet there is no panic in the city, but television images of bomb disposal squads trying to defuse innocuous looking blue packages which contained bombs have shocked the city residents.

Sanjay Jain, Surat-based businessman, says there is definitely a "little fear" in the people.

"Security in the city is tight, cars are being checked and people are staying away from place wherever there is expectation of a crowd," he says.

"But being fearful is not going to help," he says. "You can stay home for a day, but the next day you have to go out. Terrorists are targeting the whole of India, not just Surat, they don't need a reason to plant bombs."

Says Mr Nanavati, "I think Surat is safe at the moment. When there are lots of policemen around, no militants will be able to come in or create any problem.

"But once things quieten down, and the spotlight is off Surat, there is a fear they will try to attack us again. In the coming days, people will have to be very vigilant."

Is world's wettest place getting drier?

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News, Meghalaya

Deforestation in Meghalaya
It's argued that deforestation has made climate change worse

The town of Cherrapunjee, in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya, is reputed to be the wettest place in the world.

But there are signs that its weather patterns may be being hit by global climate change.

"Not without reason has Cherrapunjee achieved fame as being the place with the heaviest rainfall on earth," wrote German missionary Christopher Becker more than 100 years ago.

"One must experience it to have an idea of the immense quantity of rain which comes down from the skies, at times day and night without a stop. It is enough to go a few steps from the house to be drenched from head to foot. An umbrella serves no purpose."

Late monsoon

But according to Cherrapunjee's most renowned weather-watcher, Denis Rayen, the climate of the town is changing fast.

Map and graphic

"In the days of the Raj, the British used to come here to the the Khasi hills to escape the heat - we are 4,823ft (1,484m) above sea level," he says.

"But today I am not sure they would be able to do that, because it is getting a lot hotter here and the monsoon is arriving later."

Official figures compiled by the Indian Meteorological Office in the nearby city of Guwahati back up Mr Rayen's arguments that north-east India as a whole is getting hotter.

"The average temperature for Guwahati at this time of the year should be around 32C - but this year the temperature has been as high as 38C," said weather expert Harendas Das.

Denis Rayan explains climate change in Cherrapunjee

"It's too early yet to say precisely what is happening, but the evidence suggests that higher temperatures mean the whole area is experiencing less rainfall."

Figures compiled by Mr Rayen show that Cherrapunjee may struggle to maintain its position as the world's wettest place. Rainfall figures for 2005 and 2006 were below average.

"The average rainfall at Cherrapunjee during the last 35 years has been 11,952mm (470ins) and there were several years when it was substantially more than this," he says.

In 1974 it rained 24,555mm (967ins) - which Mr Rayen says is "the highest recorded rainfall in any one place in any one year".

On 16 June, 1995, it rained a record-breaking 1,563mm (61.53ins) over a 24 hour period.

"But in 2005 and 2006 our yearly rainfall was well below the average. We could well be witnessing a severe change in our climatic conditions because of global warming."

Waterfall at Cherrapunjee
In the monsoon, Cherrapunjee's waterfalls become raging torrents

While the annual rainfall for 2007 was back to normal, Mr Rayen argues that the "pattern of delivery" of Cherrapunjee's rainfall is changing. In previous years, 98% of the area's rainfall was between March to October.

This year the rains did not arrive until June, and the reason for that he says could be man-made.

"During the last few years, I have seen the forests vanish in front of my eyes," said Mr Rayen.

"A combination of global warming and intensive deforestation is taking a heavy toll in this, one of the most beautiful areas of India.

"Because it now rains heavily over a shorter time period, crops are destroyed and there is intensive soil erosion. The lack of woodland means that the water flows faster from Meghalaya into the Bangladesh delta, only 400km (249 miles) away."

Mr Das says that parts of Meghalaya are "at risk from desertification" because of a combination of increasing urbanisation and industrialisation on the one hand and deforestation and shortages of ground water on the other.

"Because the capacity of the soil to hold water is lost, there is a real possibility that the wettest place in the earth may soon be facing water shortages," he says.

nterdependent Co-arising

from The heart of the Buddha's teaching - The Two Truths
by Thich Nhat Hanh

All teachings of Buddhism are based on Interdependent Co-arising. If a teaching is not in accord with Interdependent Co-Arising, it is not a teaching of the Buddha. when you have grasped Interdependent Co-Arising, you bring that insight to shine on the three baskets (tripitaka) of the teaching. Interdependent Co-Arising allows you to see the Buddha, and the Two Truths allow you to hear the Buddha. When you are able to see and hear the Buddha, you will not lose your way as you traverse the ocean of his teachings.

The Buddha said that there are twelve links (nidanas) in the "chain" of Interdependent Co-Arising. The first is ignorance (avidya). Vidya means seeing, understanding, or light. Avidya means the lack of light, the lack of understanding, or blindness. Although ignorance is usually listed as the first link, it does not mean that ignorance is a first cause. It is also possible to begin the list with old age and death.

The second link is volitional action (samskara), also translated as formations, impulses, motivating energy, karma formations, or the will to cling to being. When we have a lack of understanding, anger, irritation, or hatred can arise.

The third link is consciousness (vjiñana). Consciousness here means the whole of consciousness -- individual and collective, mind consciousness and store consciousness, subject and object. And consciousness here is filled with unwholesome and erroneous tendencies connected with ignorance that are of the nature to bring about suffering.

The fourth link is mind/body, or name and form (nama rupa). "Name" (nama) means the mental element and "form" (rupa) means the physical element of our being. Both mind and body are objects of our consciousness. When we look at our hand, it is an object of our consciousness. When we touch our anger, sadness, or happiness, these are also objects of our consciousness.

The sixth link is the contact (sparsha) between sense organ, sense object, and sense consciousness. When eyes and form, ears and sound, nose and smell, tongue and taste, body and touch, and mind and object of mind come into contact, sense consciousness is born. Contact is a basis for feelings. It is a universal mental formation, present in every mental formation.

The seventh link is feelings (vedana), which can be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. When a feeling is pleasant, we become attached (the ninth link).

The eighth link is craving (trishna), or desire. Craving is followed by grasping.

The ninth link is grasping or attachment (upadana). It means we are caught in the thralls of the object.

The tenth link is "coming to be" (bhava), being, or becoming. Because we desire something, it comes to be. We have to look deeply to know what we really want.

The eleventh link is birth (jati).

The twelfth link is old age (or decay) and death (jaramarana).

Ignorance conditions volitional actions. Volitional actions condition consciousness. Consciousness conditions mind/body. And so on. As soon as ignorance is present, all the other links -- volitional actions, consciousness, mind/body, and so on -- are already there. Each link contains all the other links. Because there is ignorance, there are volitional actions. Because there are volitional actions, there is consciousness. Because there is consciousness there is mind/body, and so on.

In the Five Aggregates, there is nothing that we can call a self. Ignorance is the inability to see this truth. Consciousness, mind/body, the six senses and their objects, contact, and feeling are the effect of ignorance and volitional actions. Because of craving, grasping, and coming to be, there will be birth and death, which means the continuation of this wheel, or chain, again and again.

When artists illustrate the twelve links of Interdependent Co-Arising, they often draw a blind woman to represent ignorance; a man gathering fruit in the jungle or a potter at work to illustrate volitional actions; a restless monkey grasping this and that for consciousness; a boat to represent mind/body; a house with many windows for the six senses and their objects; a man and a woman close to each other to represent contact; a man pierced by an arrow for feeling; and man drinking wine for craving or thirst; a man and a woman in sexual union or a man picking fruit from a tree to represent attachment or grasping; a pregnant woman for coming to be; a woman giving birth for birth; an old woman leaning on a stick or a man carrying a corpse on his back or his shoulder for old age and death.

Another way that artists sometimes depict the twelve links is to draw an embryo in the womb for consciousness; the child just before birth for mind/body; the child from one to two years old, when his or her life is dominated by touching, for the six senses and their objects; the same child from three to five years old for contact; and an adult for desire or attachment.

There do not have to be exactly twelve links. In the Abhidharma texts of the Sarvastivada School, it says that you can teach one, two, three, four, or five, op to twelve links. The one link belongs to the unconditioned realm (asamskrita). The two links are cause and effect. The three links are past, present, and future. The four links are ignorance, volitional actions, birth, and old age and death. The five links are craving, grasping, coming to be, birth, and old age and death. The six links are past cause, present cause, future causes, past result, present result, and future result. Because ignorance and volitional actions exist in consciousness, and the six ayatanas exist in name and form, in the Mahanidana Sutta the Buddha lists only nine links. At other times Buddha taught ten links, omitting ignorance and volitional actions.

Sometimes when the Buddha taught Interdependent Co-Arising, he began with old age and death and the suffering that accompanies them. In the sutras that do not include ignorance and volitional actions as links, the Buddha ends by saying that mind/body is conditioned by consciousness, and consciousness is conditioned by mind/body. The Buddha never wanted us to understand the twelve links in a linear way -- that there is a line going from ignorance to old age and death or that there are exactly and only twelve links. Not only does ignorance give rise to volitional actions, but volitional actions also give rise to ignorance. Each link in the chain or Interdependent Co-Arising is both a cause and an effect of all the other links in the chain. The twelve links inter-are.

In the tendency to see the teachings of the Buddha as an explanation of how things are rather than as a support and guide to the practice, the twelve links have been misunderstood in many ways. One way has been to see them as a way to explain why there is birth and death. The Buddha usually began the twelve links with old age and death to help us get in touch with suffering and find its roots. This is closely linked to the teachings and practice of the Four Noble Truths. It was after the lifetime of the Buddha that teachers more often that not began with ignorance, to help prove why there is birth and death. Ignorance became a kind of first cause, even though the Buddha always taught that no first cause can be found. If ignorance exists, it is because there are causes that give rise to and deepen ignorance. The Buddha was not a philosopher trying to explain the universe. He was a spiritual guide who wanted to help us put an end to our suffering.

Two other theories based on the Twelve Links evolved after the lifetime of the Buddha. One was called the Three Times and the other the Two Levels of Cause and Effect. According to these theories, ignorance and volitional actions belong to the past; birth and old age and death belong to the future; and all the other links from consciousness to coming to be belong to the present. It is true that ignorance and volitional actions existed before we were born, but they also exist in the present. They are contained within all the other links, which include the so-called links of the present and future.

Regarding the Two Levels of Cause and Effect, at the first level, ignorance and volitional actions are said to be causes, and consciousness, mind/body, the six ayatanas, and contact are effects. At the second level, feelings, craving, grasping, and coming to be in this life lead to birth and old age and death in a future life. Theories like these are not entirely inaccurate, but we have to be able to go beyond them. All commentaries and theories contain some misunderstanding, but we can still feel gratitude to these commentators and theorists for taking the teachings in a new direction to help people transform, while basically conforming to teachings of the Buddha.

When we hear from commentators that some links are causes (namely ignorance and volitional actions) and others are effects (
namely birth and old age and death), we know that this is not consistent with the Buddha's teaching that everything is both a cause and an effect. To think that ignorance gives rise to consciousness, which then gives rise to mind/body would be a dangerous oversimplification. When the Buddha said, "Ignorance conditions volitional actions," he meant that there is a relationship of cause and effect between ignorance and volitional actions. Ignorance nourishes volitional actions, but volitional actions also nourish ignorance. Ignorance activates consciousness by producing feelings of discomfort, craving, boredom, intention, and aspiration, so these feelings are called volitional actions. Once these feelings are active in consciousness, they make ignorance stronger. The tree gives rise to and nourishes its leaves, but the leaves also nourish the tree. Leaves are not just the children of the tree. They are also the mother of the tree. Because of the leaves the tree is able to grow. Every leaf is a factory synthesizing sunshine to nourish the tree.

The interbeing of leaf and tree is parallel to the interbeing of the Twelve Links of Interdependent Co-Arising. We say that ignorance conditions volitional actions, but ignorance also conditions consciousness, both through volitional actions and directly. Ignorance conditions mind/body as well. If there were no ignorance in mind/body, mind/body would be different. Our six organs and the six objects of these organs also contain ignorance. My perception of the flower is based on my eyes and on the form of the flower. As soon as my perception becomes caught in the sign "flower," ignorance is there. Therefore, ignorance is present in contact, and it is also present in feelings, craving, grasping, coming to be, birth, and old age and death. Ignorance is not just in the past. It is present now, in each of our cells, and each of our mental formations. If there were no ignorance, we would not become attached to things. If there were not ignorance, we would not grasp the objects of our attachment. If there were no ignorance, the suffering that is manifesting right now would not be there. Our practice is to identify ignorance when it is present. Grasping is in volitional actions, feelings, coming to be, birth, old age and death. Our infatuations, our running away from this or toward that, and our intentions can be seen in all the other links. Every link conditions every other link and is conditioned by them.

With this understanding, we can abandon the idea of a sequential chain of causation and enter deeply the practice of the Twelve Links of Interdependent Co-Arising. Although it says in the sutra that consciousness brings about mind/body, that mind/body brings about the six ayatanas, and so on, we must understand this as a way of speaking and nothing more. We have to see the Twelve Links in a broad, open way.

Consider, for example, craving as the fruit of feeling. Sometimes a feeling does not lead to craving, but to aversion. Sometimes the feeling is not accompanied by ignorance, but by understanding, lucidity, or loving kindness, and the outcome will not be craving or aversion. To say that feeling brings about craving is not precise enough. Feeling with attachment and ignorance brings about craving. We must link each of the Twelve Links with all the other links. This is what the Heart Sutra means when it tells us, "No Interdependent Co-Arising." The Twelve Links are "empty," because each of them would not exist without all the others. Feeling cannot be without craving, grasping, coming to be, birth, old age and death, ignorance, volitional actions, and so on. In each of the twelve links, we see the presence of the other eleven. Feeling can lead to craving, non-craving, or equanimity.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Heart Sutra commentary by Thich Nhat Hanh


An extract from The Heart of Understanding by Thich Nhat Hanh

Through mindfulness we experience Interbeing
which means everything is in everything else.
Therefore, one should know that Perfect Understanding
is a great mantra, is the highest mantra,
is the unequalled mantra, the destroyer of all suffering,
the incorruptible truth. This is the mantra:

"Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha."

A MANTRA IS something that you utter when your body, your mind and your breath are at one in deep concentration. When you dwell in that deep concentration, you look into things and see them as clearly as you see an orange that you hold in the palm of your hand. Looking deeply into the five skandhas, Avalokitesvara (the Buddha) saw the nature of inter- being and overcame all pain. He became completely liberated. It was in that state of deep concentration, of joy, of liberation, that he uttered something important. That is why his utterance is a mantra.

When two young people love each other, but the young man has not said so yet, the young lady may be waiting for three very important words. If the young man is a very responsible person, he probably wants to be sure of his feeling, and he may wait a long time before saying it. Then one day, sitting together in a park, when no one else is nearby and everything is quiet, after the two of them have been silent for a long time, he utters these three words. When the young lady hears this, she trembles, because it is such an important statement. When you say something like that with your whole being, not just with your mouth or your intellect, but with your whole being, it can transform the world. A statement that has such power of transformation is called a mantra. Alokitesvara's mantra is

"Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha."

Gate means gone. Gone from suffering to the liberation of suffering. Gone from forgetfulness to mindfulness. Gone from duality into non-duality. Gate gate means gone, gone. Paragate means gone all the way to the other shore. So this mantra is said in a very strong way. Gone, gone, gone all the way over. In Parasamgate sammeans everyone, the sangha, the entire community of beings. Everyone gone over to the other shore. Bodhi is the light inside, enlightenment, or awakening. You see it and the vision of reality liberates you. And svaha is a cry of joy or excitement, like "Welcome!" or "Hallelujah!" "Gone, gone, gone all the way over, everyone gone to the other shore, enlightenment, svaha !"

THAT IS WHAT the bodhisattva uttered. When we listen to this mantra, we should bring ourselves into that state of attention, of concentration, so that we can receive the strength emanated by Avalokitesvara. We do not recite the Heart Sutra like singing a song, or with our intellect alone. If you practise the meditation on emptiness, if you penetrate the nature of interbeing with all your heart, your body, and your mind, you will realize a state that is quite concentrated. If you say the mantra then, with all your being, the mantra will have power and you will be able to have real communication, real communion with Avalokitesvara, and you will be able to transform yourself in the direction of enlightenment.

This text is not just for chanting, or to be put on an altar for worship. It is given to us as a tool to work for our liberation, for the liberation of all beings. It is like a tool for farming, given to us so that we may farm. This is the gift of Avalokita.

There are three kinds of gift. The first is the gift of material resources. The second is the gift of know-how, the gift of the Dharma. The third, the highest kind of gift, is the gift of non-fear. Avalokitesvara is someone who can help us liberate ourselves from fear.

TheHeart Sutra gives us solid ground for making peace with ourselves, for transcending the fear of birth and death, the duality of this and that. In the light of emptiness, everything is everything else, we inter-are, everyone is responsible for everything that happens in life. When you produce peace and happiness in yourself, you begin to realize peace for the whole world. With the smile that you produce in yourself, with the conscious breathing you establish within yourself, you begin to work for peace in the world.

To smile is not to smile only for yourself, the world will change because of your smile. When you practise sitting meditation, if you enjoy even one moment of your sitting, if you establish serenity and happiness inside yourself, you provide the world with a solid base of peace. If you do not give yourself peace, how can you share it with others? If you do not begin your peace work with yourself, where will you go to begin it? To sit, to smile, to look at things and really see them, these are the basis of peace work.

Yesterday, we had a tangerine party. Everyone was offered one tangerine. We put the tangerine on the palm of our hand and looked at it, breathing in a way that the tangerine became real. Most of the time when we eat a tangerine, we do not look at it. We think about many other things. To look at a tangerine is to see the blossom forming into the fruit, to see the sunshine and the rain. The tangerine in our palm is the wonderful presence of life. We are able to really see that tangerine and smell its blossom and the warm, moist earth. As the tangerine becomes real, we become real. Life in that moment becomes real.

Mindfully we began to peel our tangerine and smell its fragrance. We carefully took each section of the tangerine and put in on our tongue, and we could feel that it was a real tangerine. We ate each section of the tangerine in perfect mindfulness until we finished the entire fruit. Eating a tangerine in this way is very important, because both the tangerine and the eater of the tangerine become real. This, too, is the basic work for peace.

In Buddhist meditation we do not struggle for the kind of enlightenment that will happen five or ten years from now. We practise so that each moment of our life becomes real life. And, therefore, when we meditate, we sit for sitting; we don't sit for something else. If we sit for twenty minutes, these twenty minutes should bring us joy, life. If we practise walking meditation, we walk just for walking, not to arrive. We have to be alive with each step, and if we are, each step brings real life back to us.

The same kind of mindfulness can be practised when we eat breakfast, or when we hold a child in our arms. Hugging is a Western custom, but we from the East would like to contribute the practice of conscious breathing to it. When you hold a child in your arms, or hug your mother, or your husband, or your friend, breathe in and out three times and your happiness will be multiplied by at least tenfold. And when you look at someone, really look at them with mindfulness, and practise conscious breathing.

At the beginning of each meal, I recommend that you look at your plate and silently recite, "My plate is empty now, but I know that it is going to be filled with delicious food in just a moment."While waiting to be served or to serve yourself, I suggest you breathe three times and look at it even more deeply, "At this very moment many, many people around the world are also holding a plate but their plate is going to be empty for a long time." Forty thousand children die each day because of the lack of food. Children alone. We can be very happy to have such wonderful food, but we also suffer because we are capable of seeing. But when we see in this way, it makes us sane, because the way in front ofus is clear - the way to live so that we can make peace with ourselves and with the world.

When we see the good and the bad, the wondrous and the deep suffering, we have to live in a way that we can make peace between ourselves and the world. Understanding is the fruit of meditation. Understanding is the basis of everything.

Each breath we take, each step we make, each smile we realize, is a positive contribution to peace, a necessary step in the direction of peace for the world. In the light of interbeing, peace and happiness in your daily life mean peace and happiness in the world.

Thank you for being so attentive. Thank you for listening to Avalokitesvara. Because you are there, the Heart Sutra has become very easy.

This extract is reprinted from The Heart of Understanding, published by Parallax Press, Berkeley.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Being in touch with Healing Elements

"The blue sky, the flower, the river, the cloud, these things have a healing nature. If you allow yourself to be in touch with these healing elements, the wounds within your body and your mind will be healed. We should allow ourselves to be healed, and therefore, we should allow ourselves to be in the heart of life, which contains so many wonderful things, like the children, the flower, and so on..."

"The seeds in our consciousness can function like anti-bodies. What is important is that you continue to plant new seeds, the kind of seeds that are both refreshing and healing. And if you just do that, by practicing mindful living so that you can be in touch with the flower, with the cypress tree, with the fresh air, with the beautiful eyes of the children, then these seeds will be planted in yourself, and they will naturally take care of the seeds of your suffering. You don't even have to touch them. And that is something I think the practice of Buddhism can contribute to psychotherapy in the west."

- Thich Nhat Hahn

Ahmedabad in shock after blasts

By Zubair Ahmed
BBC News, Ahmedabad

Relatives and friends carry two bodies of blast victims for cremation in Ahmedabad
Ahmedabad is a city in shock

At the swanky airport building there is no indication that Ahmedabad is under siege, despite the fact that, on Saturday, 17 bombs exploded within minutes of each other, killing dozens of people.

Four of those bombs struck hospitals in the city.

Only after driving into the city itself does one appreciate the enormity of what happened here.

Lorries full of paramilitary forces, police patrols and checkpoints are everywhere. It feels like the city is going to war.

Ahmedabad is in complete shock. Police vehicles are the main moving objects on its wide streets - residents are staying indoors.

But the city's hospitals bear the marks of the bomb attacks.

'A deafening sound'

The foundations of the Civil Hospital, one of the biggest government medical establishments in the country, were shaken on Saturday evening when two bombs went off in quick succession, killing 15 people on the spot.

Map of Ahmedabad

The deputy superintendent of the hospital, KN Meheria, is still shaken. He was inside the trauma ward attending to the wounded in the previous blasts when the two bombs exploded.

"I have never seen bombs going off in hospital," he says, shaking his head.

"There was a deafening sound from just outside the hospital, when I came out I saw flames leaping out of the vehicles parked just outside the trauma ward."

Laxman Dev Chudasma is one of dozens being treated for injuries following the blasts.

"I was carrying a man who was badly injured in the first round of blasts," he says.

"Just when I was entering the hospital gate there were explosions and then I saw people running away in shock.

"I lay on the ground, but I knew I had been hit by shrapnel."

Mr Chudasama does not know what happened to the man he was taking to hospital.

Bharat Bhai was badly burned in the explosions.

The relatives of the injured were angry, very angry. One of them said foreign hands were out to destabilise the country

"My clothes were on fire," he says, still writhing in pain. "I have burn injuries all over my body."

The wounded men and women have been put in a large hall, which is crammed with their relatives and friends.

Medical staff run from one end of the hall to the other depending on who needs more attention.

The relatives of the injured are angry, very angry.

One of them says foreign hands are out to destabilise the country.

He says Indian Muslims are being used to carry out the attacks but the plans are being made outside India.

His sentiments are echoed by many in the hall.

Fears of retaliation

There is palpable tension in some parts of the city.

Crowd gathers round scene of one of blasts
Makeshift devices appear to have been hidden in everyday items

Six years ago it was in Ahmedabad that many Muslims were killed in violence which was seen as retaliation for the killings of about 60 Hindu pilgrims in Godhra, Gujarat.

Muslims now fear there might be retaliatory attacks against them.

But so far there are no signs of a backlash. State chief minister Narendra Modi and other leaders have appealed for calm and it seems people are listening.

The police headquarters look like a garrison. Units of the Rapid Action Force are on standby here.

The city's joint police commissioner, HP Singh, says they still did not know who was behind these blasts or their motive.

But investigators are working on leads, following the discovery that the registration numbers of the two vehicles used in the hospital attacks were fake.

Mr Singh confirms that an e-mail sent to some media outlets five minutes before the blasts originated in Mumbai (Bombay).

The anti-terrorism squad in Mumbai has since raided several places where they believe suspected militants could be hiding.