The Refuge Chant

Incense perfumes the atmosphere.
A lotus blooms and the Buddha appears.
The world of suffering and discrimination
is filled with the light of the rising sun.
As the dust of fear and anxiety settles,
with open heart, one-pointed mind,
I turn to the Three Jewels.

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The Fully Enlightened One,
beautifully seated, peaceful and smiling,
a living source of understanding and compassion,
to the Buddha I go for refuge.

The path of mindful living,
leading to healing, joy, and enlightenment, the way of peace,
to the Dharma I go for refuge.

The loving and supportive community of practice,
realizing harmony, awareness, and liberation,
to the Sangha I go for refuge.

I am aware that the Three Gems are within my heart.
I vow to realize them,
practicing mindful breathing and smiling,
looking deeply into things.
I vow to understand living beings and their suffering,
to cultivate compassion and loving kindness,
to practice joy and equanimity.

I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning,
to help relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon,
living simply and sanely with few possessions,
keeping my body healthy.
I vow to let go of all worries and anxiety
in order to be light and free.

I am aware that I owe so much
to my parents, teachers, friends, and all beings.
I vow to be worthy of their trust, to practice wholeheartedly
so that understanding and compassion will flower,
helping living beings be free from their suffering.
May the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha
support my efforts.

– Thich Nhat Hanh and the Monks and Nuns of Plum Village

from Chanting from the Heart:  Buddhhist Ceremonies and Daily Practices


Even the Smallest Glimpse

“Even the smallest glimpse of freedom heightens our awareness of the pain we have created by our ego-fixation. Seeing the contrast is what inspires us to go forward on the path. In particular, each time we sit on the cushion and meditate, we relax and let go a little bit more. The notion we’ve held onto—that if we don’t keep up our ego-momentum something bad is going to happen—dissolves bit by bit.”

– Judy Lief

The Doors of Liberation

“Dualistic notions, such as birth and death, being and nonbeing, sameness and otherness, coming and going, are the foundation of all afflictions. Meditating on the three doors of liberation helps us throw away these notions. The three doors of liberation, which are taught in every Buddhist tradition, are emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness. Contemplating these three profound truths can help liberate us from fear and suffering. They are our doorways to freedom.

Living mindfully and with concentration, we see a deeper reality and are able to witness impermanence without fear, anger, or despair. Nirvana is not a place to get to. It’s not something in the future that we’re trying to reach. Nirvana is available to us right now. Emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness are called the three doors of liberation because if we meditate on them, they will liberate us from all kinds of discriminative thinking so we can touch our true nature.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

 Excerpted from the May 2014 Shambala Sun


“After meditating for some years, I began to see the patterns of my own behavior. As you quiet your mind, you begin to see the nature of your own resistance more clearly, struggles, inner dialogues, the way in which you procrastinate and develop passive resistance against life. As you cultivate the witness, things change. You don’t have to change them. Things just change.”


– Ram Dass

Night of Mindfulness, Saturday, March 29th

Dharma Teacher Tom Duva and Qi-gong instructor Dennis O’Toole
229 Bolton Center Road Bolton CT
Bolton Congregational Church Community Hall (behind church, please park behind the hall)
Saturday March 29th,  6PM-10PM
Bring suitable clothing for  indoor/outdoor activity, as well as a blanket, and a friend!
We will be focusing on compassion and forgiveness as tools of Metta(loving kindness)
There is no charge for the event but all are invited to offer generosity (Dana) if you are so inclined, to support  the Teachers and the Bolton Congregational Church.
Snacks and tea will be provided.
Please RSVP

The Bearable Lightness of Being

When we honor life but don’t make it a big deal, we lighten up, open up, and become more joyous.  The fancy name for that, says Pema Chodron, is enlightenment.

Meditation teaches us how to let go. It’s actually a very important aspect of friendliness, which is that you train again and again in not making things such a big deal. When you have pain in your body, when all sorts of thoughts are going through your mind, you train again and again in acknowledging them openheartedly and open-mindedly, but not making them such a big deal.

Generally speaking, the human species does make things a very big deal. Our problems are a big deal for us. So we need to make space for an attitude of honoring things completely and at the same time not making them a big deal. It’s a paradoxical idea, but holding these two attitudes simultaneously is the source of enormous joy: we hold a sense of respect toward all things, along with the ability to let go. So it’s about not belittling things, but on the other hand not fanning the fire until you have your own private World War III.

Keeping these ideas in balance allows us to feel less crowded and claustrophobic. In Buddhist terms, the space that opens here is referred to as shunyata, or “emptiness.” But there’s nothing nihilistic about this emptiness. It’s basically just a feeling of lightness. There is a movie entitled The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but I prefer to see life from the view of the Bearable Lightness of Being.

When you begin to see life from the point of view that everything is spontaneously arising and that things aren’t “coming at you” or “trying to attack you,” in any given moment you will likely experience more space and more room to relax into. Your stomach, which is in a knot, can just relax. The back of your neck, which is all tensed up, can just relax. Your mind, which is spinning and spinning like one of those little bears that you wind up so it walks across the floor, can just relax. So shunyata refers to the fact that we actually have a seed of spaciousness, of freshness, openness, relaxation, in us.

Sometimes the word shunyata has been translated as the “open dimension of our being.” The most popular definition is “emptiness,” which sounds like a big hole that somebody pushes you into, kicking and screaming: “No, no! Not emptiness!” Sometimes people experience this openness as boredom. Sometimes it’s experienced as stillness. Sometimes it’s experienced as a gap in your thinking and your worrying and your all-caught-up-ness.

I experiment with shunyata a lot. When I’m by myself and no one’s talking to me, when I’m simply going for a walk or looking out the window or meditating, I experiment with letting the thoughts go and just seeing what’s there when they go. This is actually the essence of mindfulness practice. You keep coming back to the immediacy of your experience, and then when the thoughts start coming up—thoughts like bad, good, should, shouldn’t, me, jerk, you, jerk—you let those thoughts go, and you come back again to the immediacy of your experience. This is how we can experiment with shunyata, how we can experiment with the open, boundless dimension of being.

Enlightenment—full enlightenment—is perceiving reality with an open, unfixated mind, even in the most difficult circumstances. It’s nothing more than that, actually. You and I have had experiences of this open, unfixated mind. Think of a time when you have felt shock or surprise; at a time of awe or wonder we experience it. It’s usually in small moments, and we might not even notice it, but everyone experiences this open, so-called enlightened mind. If we were completely awake, this would be our constant perception of reality. It’s helpful to realize that this open, unfettered mind has many names, but let’s use the term “buddhanature.”

You could say it’s as if we are in a box with a tiny little slit. We perceive reality out of that little slit, and we think that’s how life is. And then as we meditate—particularly if we train in the way that I’m suggesting—if we train in gentleness, and if we train in letting go, if we bring relaxation as well as faithfulness to the technique into the equation; if we work with open eyes and with being awake and present, and if we train that way moment after moment in our life—what begins to happen is that the crack begins to get bigger. It’s as if we perceive more. We develop a wider and more tolerant perspective.

It might just be that we notice that we’re sometimes awake and we’re sometimes asleep; or we notice that our mind goes off, and our mind comes back. We begin to notice—the first big discovery, of course—that we think so, so much. We begin to develop what’s called prajna, or “clear wisdom.” With this clear wisdom, we are likely to feel a growing sense of confidence that we can handle more, that we can even love more.

Perhaps there are times when we are able to climb out of the box altogether. But believe me, if that happened too soon, we would freak out. Usually we’re not ready to perceive out of the box right away. But we move in that direction. We are becoming more and more relaxed with uncertainty, more and more relaxed with groundlessness, more and more relaxed with not having walls around us to keep us protected in a little box or cocoon.

Enlightenment isn’t about going someplace else or attaining something that we don’t have right now. Enlightenment is when the blinders start to come off. We are uncovering the true state, or uncovering buddhanature. This is important because each day when you sit down, you can recognize that it’s a process of gradually uncovering something that’s already here. That’s why relaxation and letting go are so important. You can’t uncover something by harshness or uptightness because those things cover our buddhanature. Stabilizing the mind, bringing out the sharp clarity of mind, needs to be accompanied by relaxation and openness.

You could say that this box we’re in doesn’t really exist. But from our point of view, there is a box, which is built from all the obstructions, all the habitual patterns and conditioning that we have created in our life. The box feels very, very real to us. But when we begin to see through it, to see past it, this box has less and less power to obstruct us. Our buddhanature is always here, and if we could be relaxed enough and awake enough, we would experience just that.

So trust this gradualness and welcome in a quality of patience and a sense of humor, because if the walls came down too fast we wouldn’t be ready for it. It would be like a drug trip where you have this mind-blowing experience but then you can’t integrate the new way of seeing and understanding into your life.

The path of meditation isn’t always a linear path. It’s not like you begin to open, and you open more and more and you settle more and more, and then all of a sudden the confining box is gone forever. There are setbacks. I often see with students a kind of “honeymoon period” when they experience a time of great openness and growth in their practice, and then they have a kind of contraction or regression. And this is often terribly frightening or discouraging for many students. A regression in your practice can create crippling doubt and a lot of emotional setback. Students wonder if they’ve lost their connection to meditation forever because the “honeymoon period” felt so invigorating, so true.

But change happens, even in our practice. This is a fundamental truth. Everything is always changing because it’s alive and dynamic. All of us will reach a very interesting point in our practice when we hit the brick wall. It’s inevitable. Change is inevitable with relationships, with careers, with anything. I love to talk to people on the meditation path when they’re at the point of the brick wall: they think they’re ready to quit, but I feel they’re just beginning. If they could work with the unpleasantness, the insult to ego, the lack of certainty, then they’re getting closer to the fluid, changing, real nature of life.

Hitting the brick wall is just a stage. It means you’ve reached a point where you’re asked to go even further into open acceptance of life as it is, even into the unpleasant feelings of life. The real inspiration comes when you finally join in with that fluidity, that openness. Before, you were cruising with your practice, feeling certain about it, and that feeling can be “the best” in many ways. And then wham! You’re given a chance to go further.


How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind, by Pema Chödrön. © 2013 by Pema Chödrön. Reprinted with permission of Sounds True.





No Silver Bullet

“I don’t think that mindfulness is a silver bullet that’s going to solve all the world’s problems. That’s ridiculous. But having short moments of basic self-regulation, basic free attention, and basic grounding is crucial, and there are so many things in youth education contexts that can’t be done without that in place first.”

- Chris McKenna

A Limitless Heart

As a mother would risk her life
to protect her only child,
even so should one cultivate
a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.
With goodwill for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, and all around,
unobstructed, without hostility or hate.
Whether standing, walking,
sitting, or lying down,
as long as one is alert,
one should be resolved on this mindfulness.
This is called a sublime abiding
here and now.

—The Buddha,
from Sutta Nipata 1.8

Your Mind Makes Everything

From Seung Sahn’s The Compass of Zen

 According to the Avatamsaka-sutra, your mind makes everything. It is very simple. We already talked about how our mind makes time and space. We talked about how your mind makes the same length of time either longer or shorter. Your thinking makes here and there, up and down, good and bad. Originally these things do not exist. They come from thinking. When mind appears, everything appears. When mind disappears, everything disappears. Our mind makes this whole universe. There is a famous story that explains this point.


A long time ago in Korea, there was a great Zen master named Won Hyo. When he was a young man, he had to fight in a terrible civil war. He saw many, many men killed. He watched helplessly while innocent women and children were also ruthlessly slain in the pointless give and take of battle. Lands were overrun and livestock slaughtered. This hit his mind. “Human beings have no meaning in this life,” he thought. “Why must we make so much suffering for ourselves and all beings?” so he decided that society was no good. In disgust, and yearning to find some answer to his deep question about the nature of existence, he shaved his head, became a monk, and headed for the mountains, vowing never to return until he had understood the absolute truth about the nature of existence. In a very short time, he fathomed the teachings of the great sutras. But this did not satisfy him. Even the Buddha’s own speech could not lift the heavy burden that lay on his heart like a boulder as he looked at the misery of everyday life. Seeing his condition, several of his friends told Won Hyo about a great Zen master in China who, it was reputed, had been completely enlightened as to the matter of life and death. Perhaps this master could help him. Together with another monk, Won Hyo packed away his sutras and, with backpack and straw hat, headed north across the mountains for China.

 Won Hyo traveled on foot for many, many months. Although he was very tired and weak, his determination to find a teacher was unbending. One day, he ran out of water, and as night came he collapsed on the ground, very exhausted. He awoke in the middle of the night, gripped with thirst. As he groped around for something to drink, his fingers felt the edge of a cup, filled to the brim with water. Taking it with both hands, he gratefully drank the water, which Buddha himself must have sent to help him! The water felt cool and refreshing as it ran down his throat. Because he was so thirsty, it seemed like the most delicious water he ever tasted. Happy with his great fortune, Won Hyo settled back into sleep.

 In the morning, Won Hyo woke and found beside him what he had taken for a cup the night before. It was a human skullcap in which some rainwater had collected. There were maggots and larvae moving around the sides. The skull wasn’t so old, too, so there were still bits of flesh clinging here and there. When he saw that, his stomach convulsed in nausea. Falling on all fours, Won Hyo’s mouth opened wide, and as the vomit poured out, his mind suddenly opened and he attained enlightenment. In that moment, he completely attained the true nature of his mind: Last night, since he hadn’t seen or thought anything of the water, it was delicious. But now, seeing the skull and thinking about it, the water suddenly became very bad and made him sick to his stomach. “Ah ha,” he realized. “Everything is created by mind alone!” 

Won Hyo realized that his thinking made the water good or bad, delicious or disgusting. Thinking makes things pleasant or unpleasant. Thinking makes the whole universe! Won Hyo attained this point and realized that finding a teacher in China was no longer necessary. He returned to Korea and eventually became the National Teacher. He is known as one of the greatest Zen masters in the history of Korean Buddhism.