What is Lineage and How Do We Connect to It?

Buddhism takes pride in having a 2,500 year unbroken lineage stretching back to Gautama Buddha. But the passed-on knowledge of how to bake bread or construct a building like the Pantheon is also lineage.

Each of us lives at the intersection of countless lineages and without their skills and knowledge we’d be, culturally speaking, butt naked, thirsty and starving.

buddhist lineageIt is easy enough to fathom the lineages of baking or carpentry, but what is a spiritual lineage, something that seems so intangible? Buddhism as spiritual lineage is the transmission, from teacher to student, of our original or primordial mind.

Since it is innate and not external to ourselves, our original mind cannot really be “transmitted” but only pointed to.

When we recognize our original mind we become, in that moment, part of the lineage because we are sharing in the same quality of mind as the masters who preceded us.

As Chogyam Trungpa once wrote, “Father and child are one in the realm of thought” – though by “thought” what he meant was before-thought.

In order to discover lineage, Chogyam Trungpa wrote,

You have to look back, back to where you came from, back to the original state. In this case, looking back is not looking back in time, going back several thousand years. It is looking back into your own mind, to before history began, before thinking began, before thought ever occurred. When you are in contact with this original ground, then you are never confused buy the illusions of the past and future. You are able to rest continuously in nowness.

Meditation is the process in which we glimpse the moment before thought, moments of pure awareness or original Buddhist monks in Laosmind. It is in these moment of “nowness” that we join with the lineage. Similarly, seeing nature or moving works of art also brings about moments of nowness. When our mind is stopped by seeing a Caravaggio or Cezanne we become part of the lineage of these painters. When we glimpse pure awareness we become part of the lineages of Dogen, Milarapa and Thich Nhat Hanh.

Just as appreciation of a painting masterpiece brings love for the painter who created it, glimpses of the true nature of our mind brings love or devotion for the lineage. These glimpses spark a passionate relationship of longing for our teacher and the lineage of teachers who preceded us. This is one of the ways in which meditation is far more than mindfulness alone.

Without longing and devotion we cannot fathom what lineage is, much less become a bonafide part of it.

Since lineage is experienced on this inner level, its development is both linear and multidimensional. History and organization tell us something about lineage, especially in the cases when it was formally passed from one master to the next, but lineage is also an “infection” that is passed in ways that history and organizations can never fully record. Great masters touch countless people simply through their presence and we can never know how these moments of transmission become realized in the lives of their recipients.


By Bill Scheffel

Pema Chödrön Teaches Tonglen Meditation

Tonglen, Tibetan for ’sending and receiving’, is a meditation practice designed for working with difficult situations. In this teaching, Pema Chödrön, demonstrates the basic technique of Tonglen meditation. The practice can be used to generate compassion for friends, animals, whole nations and groups of people, or yourself. “With the in-breath you breathe in with the wish to take away the suffering and you breathe out with the wish to send out comfort and happiness to the very same people, or animal or nations, or whatever it is you decide.” Tonglen is over one thousand years old, and is considered by the Tibetan Buddhist tradition to be an important practice for developing altruism and selflessness. 
The Dalai Lama has said of Tonglen:
“Whether this meditation really helps others or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective, and the benefit is immense.” He is known to practice the meditation every day. 

5 Reasons You Might Want a Teacher

A Teacher is knowledgeable about and practiced in, the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha). They can help you understand the teachings in a practical way and challenge your preconceived ideas about the world. A good teacher will also be skilled in giving meditation instruction to keep your practice on track.

A teacher is of course not required on the spiritual path. The Buddha himself was self-taught. After studying under many gurus, he discovered that his own life would be his guide. However since we have thousands of years of teachings at our disposal, we don’t have to make all the same mistakes that previous practitioners made. A teacher can mitigate useless suffering on the path and point us in the right direction.

1. Buddhism is an oral tradition

Buddhism is primarily an oral tradition, transmitted from teachers to students since the time of the Buddha. Although, many books about meditation and Buddhism are available as learning resources, most traditions emphasize the importance of hearing the Dharma directly from a teacher. Some teachings in the Tibetan tradition, for example, can only be received by hearing them from a lama or senior teacher. An instructor can help you connect to the Buddhist path on a deeper level by embodying the Dharma in their presentation of the teachings.

2. Its easy to deceive yourself

A genuine teacher will challenge your ego and keep you grounded. Without guidance it’s easy to be deceived by your thoughts or feelings. Its important to be able to check in with someone who has been practicing and teaching for awhile who can help identify what is progress and what is self deception. What might feel exciting or like a big deal during practice, may just be a thought or feeling that that has taken over. In Turning the Mind into an Ally, Sakyong Mihpham Rinpoche writes about visiting a student on a three year meditation retreat. After a year on retreat, Rinpoche’s student passionately described to him all the breakthroughs and revelations he was having. “Without saying he was right or wrong, I encouraged him to keep practicing,” writes Sakyong Mipham. After the second year, his student realized he was being sucked in by a thought process. “I realized it was just a giant thought. It lasted about a year, and in the past few months I’ve just seen it for what it was a let it go.” Having a teacher to check in with will help you avoid becoming stuck or pulled in by spiritual fantasies.

3. It helps you stay committed 

It’s popular these days to do a lot of spiritual shopping. Many people put together many elements from different spiritual traditions, making their own personalized path. While its good to find a path that resonates with you, dabbling without settling down can be a way to avoid going deeper. A teacher can help clarify a path, and keep you on the strait and narrow. Meditation can be challenging and a teacher who deeply understands the dharma can help you out when things get difficult. They can’t walk the path for you, but they can help you stay committed to the practice and stay honest with yourself.

4. Its good to ask for help

It’s sometimes tempting to take an aggressive or self-disciplining attitude towards meditation practice. Many students try to do it all themselves, feeling that they can be their own teacher. However, it’s a privilege to have support along the path. Having a teacher is no different from having a mentor as a child, or a university professor as an adult.  Its hard to self teach ourselves to read, and the same applies for meditation. A good teacher can teach the dharma in a way tailored to our personal background or personality, like a good teacher would accommodate their teachings to an individual students learning style. The path of meditation can also be more complicated than it seems. It’s useful to have a guide to teach us about the Buddhist perspective on working with the mind and emotions.  Being willing to ask for support is important so we don’t give up when the going gets tough.

5. Some traditions require it 

Many Zendos require students to have a teacher guide them on the path. Shambhala Buddhism requires students have meditation instructors to help answer questions and keep them grounded on their path. Some advanced teachings require close work with a teacher. This should not be considered a neccesity, but can be useful to gain a deeper understanding of complex teachings and tame your wild mind.

Put Away Your Crystals and Grab a Cushion

In our quick-fix, instant-gratification culture, spirituality can easily become a way to build up our egos or even avoid ourselves altogether. The aim of many new age practices is to become a more highly-developed, spiritual person, but in the process, some of the practices simply enable us to bypass how things actually are.

Some spiritual practices help us avoid or numb our lives completely. “So much of what passes for spirituality these days is really about pleasure seeking, getting high,” says Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. “This self-absorption disguised as spirituality only leads to more suffering. Real spirituality is about getting grounded. Once we understand who we are, we can realize the needs of others and do something about helping them.”

As part of a genuine spiritual path, Meditation gives us the opportunity to explore our whole experience without rejecting any part of ourselves. Meditation keeps us honest so we can discern if what we are experiencing is genuine or just a fantasy.

Studying our Experience

Everyone comes to meditation with projections and expectations about practice. Maybe we expect to become more productive or intelligent. Maybe we think practice will make us more likable or interesting. However, meditation requires letting go of these preconceptions.

The spiritual path is not about living up to an ideal or concept, or even about believing in anything in particular. True spirituality is about discovering one’s own dignity and worthiness through exploring one’s own experience.

The principle method of studying experience is through the practice of meditation. This can be likened to a scientific inquiry into who we are. The Dalai Lama calls studying this subjective experience, the “science of the mind.” During practice one questions one’s thought-patterns and begins to observe one’s mind in a neutral, unattached way. We all come to meditation with expectations, but the process of meditation is opening to the changing of our thoughts, ideas and perceptions.

Cultivating Bravery

Genuine spirituality is about developing the courage to explore the dark areas of one’s life with gentleness and compassion. Meditation is the practice of resisting the urge to reject, judge or control parts of ourselves we don’t like. This openness lets us be in the world without hiding behind beliefs and viewpoints.

Just being alive is a very raw experience; meditation develops this bravery and gives us the skills to open up rather than close down. “Ultimately, the definition of bravery is not being afraid of yourself,” says Pema Chödrön. Spirituality is ultimately about finding the bravery to help oneself and others.

Compassion and Vulnerability

Genuine spirituality is about becoming less selfish and developing kindness and compassion towards others. Being helpful and caring for others requires getting in touch with our own hearts. Instead of seeking out a spiritual high or comfortable experience, meditation practice helps us touch into vulnerability as a way to develop compassion.

Usually we reject painful emotions, fearful that they will overwhelm us. However, Pema Chödrön teaches that touching into our own vulnerability connects us to others.

She writes, “Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion.”

When we give up defending ourselves, its possible to be truly compassionate and helpful to others. When we are more comfortable in our own skin, its possible to let more of the world in.

Some perspectives to ponder:

“It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego.  This means stepping out of ego’s constant desire for a higher, more spiritual, more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue, judgment, comfort or whatever it is that a particular ego is seeking.”

– Trungpa Rinpoche

“If you go deeper and deeper into your own heart, you’ll be living in a world with less fear, isolation and loneliness.”

– Sharon Salzberg

Learning to Meditate – Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Learning to Meditate with Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Meditation is the practice of getting our mind familiar with relaxation and calmness.  In this teaching, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, demonstrates the basic approach of meditation, using breath as the object of practice. “Breathing makes us realize how fragile we are, how human we are and how precious things are.”

In his instruction, Sakyong Mipham teaches us how to work with thoughts and emotions during practice by continually bringing our attention back to the breath. He instructs us how we can adopt an attitude of relaxation and tranquility in our practice and develop a personal relationship to mind training by asking “Why am I meditating?”


Finding Time To Meditate

Finding Time To Meditate

When life gets hectic, meditation tends to be the first thing to go. Sitting and doing nothing might seem like a counter intuitive strategy for dealing with a busy schedule. However, meditation practice is actually a great way to get your mind in shape to tackle those tasks on your to do list.

“It seems we all agree that training the body through exercise, diet, and relaxation is a good idea,” says meditation teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, “but why don’t we think about training our mind?” Exercising your mind through meditation cuts down on the time you waste worrying and mulling over your tasks and prepares your mind to actually accomplish them.

There is also increasing scientific evidence that meditation helps us focus.  A 2011 study at the University of Wisconsin, found that participants who meditated 5 -15 minutes a day had activation patterns in their left brain associated with rational thinking and positive emotional states.

A 2012 study of University of Washington office workers found that mindfulness practice improves employees’ ability to work steadily without switching tasks, and maintain focus without stressing out. Its not surprising that mindfulness helps focus and fosters a positive, engaged mindset.

Mindfulness Meditation focuses your attention on the present moment, training the mind to dismiss distractions, which actually helps us get things done more efficiently and with less stress.

Finding Motivation

It might be difficult to prioritize meditation if you’re unclear on why you’re practicing. Finding your personal motivation for meditation helps build a strong practice routine.

When we feel that there’s no time for practice, we’re often not connecting to our motivation for practice, which makes it easy to forget or toss aside as soon as things get busy.

Before practicing, take a moment to reflect on why you want to practice. Perhaps you want to lower stress, create some space in your reactions, touch into what is really going on, attain enlightenment, or simply become more relaxed.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche writes, “After we sit down and before we begin practicing the technique, we should slow down and reflect on our presence in the world. We need to think for a few minutes about what we like and what we don’t like, what we’re worried about, and where in our lives we feel a sense of relief.”

Contemplation connects meditation practice to our life off the cushion, and makes the discipline of practice feel natural instead of imposed or harsh. It gives us a bridge between our speedy life and mindfulness practice. Eventually this bridge will dissipate, and meditation will become a natural part of life.

When you can’t meditate

There are times when it’s just impossible to get away. Sometimes we skip brushing our teeth, or a morning run. Our teeth might feel kind of grimy and our body tired, but it happens.

There are ways to touch into mindfulness in your everyday life. The RAIN method is one technique that can help ground us if we feel like the day is running off with our mind. This simple practice has four steps:

  • Recognize what’s going on
  • Allow the experience to be there, just as it is
  • Investigate with kindness
  • Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying with the experience.

This simple mindfulness practice of self care, helps us stay grounded when we don’t have time to meditate.

There are also times when we are too overwhelmed to meditate. Sometimes stress and anxiety can make it simply too difficult to find our object of meditation. In these moments we are completely taken in by a storyline, which colors our whole perception.

In this situation, says Mipham Rinpoche, “we’re too close to the action. Its too soon to investigate the scene of the accident.”  In these situations, getting some distance  from your thoughts can be helpful. Going on a walk or bike ride, a shower, calling a friend or doing a quick stretch routine, can be more calming than sitting. “Knowing when we can meditate is honest meditation,” says Mipham Rinpoche.

How Do I Start Meditating

How do I start Meditating?

Even though meditation is relaxing and good for us, it can be difficult to actually start practicing. We can get so addicted to the speed of everyday life that the thought of slowing down and doing nothing can be downright scary. However, once we put in a little effort to get on the cushion, we’ll start to see the benefits of practice which will bring us back for more.

Here are some steps to help you get started.

Ground Yourself

3_22Before starting your practice it is important to understand that meditation is not about changing ourselves into some extra-special spiritual being. “The main thing the Buddha discovered was that he could be himself–one hundred percent, completely.” says, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. “We are not saying that our immediate situation is unworthy. What we’re saying is that the present situation is completely available and unbiased, and that we can see it that way through the practice of mindfulness.” The point is not to reach some higher level of mind by manipulating how we are feeling. Meditation is simply tuning in a little to our experience and discovering how we actually think and feel. Having an aggressive or tough approach to our practice won’t help us relax, and will only make sitting more difficult.

Choose an Approach

There so many resources available online to help us choose an approach that it can be overwhelming. However, while they differ in their methods, all traditions share basic principles about developing mindfulness awareness. The most important thing is to find out what technique works for you. If you try to use a technique that feels uncomfortable you will not practice often. We can trust in the fact that mindfulness practice techniques have been around for thousands of years. People have woken up using these simple techniques.

Here are some places to start:

(Link to videos we will post soon)  

Schedule your practice times

Its important to plan out a meditation schedule and stick to it. Even if you only schedule   5 minutes in the morning, briefly tuning in can change your outlook for the day. Most teachers will tell you that consistency is more important than how long you practice. Committing to practice for a set amount of time is important because otherwise you will get up when you start to feel bored or uncomfortable. Staying on the cushion when you don’t feel like it is important for developing the discipline of meditation practice.

Its too easy to skip sessions, but the more you practice the more it will start to become a habit and you will feel like something is off when you miss a session. The less you practice, the more getting to the cushion will feel like a big event you have to psych yourself up to do.

Choose a Book as a practice guide

It can be a good idea to have a book to study alongside your meditation practice. Reading a few passages before or after a practice session deepens your relationship to meditation. Sometimes meditation can become routine that we forget why we began practicing in the first place. Reading can renew our inspiration. Depending on what tradition draws your interest, there are many books for beginners that can help guide you through practice: Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield, The Miracle of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Mind Beginners Mind by Suzuki Roshi, Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

Find a Community

Meditation is not always easy and having the support of fellow practitioners can help strengthen our commitment to practice. Buddhists call a community of practitioners a sangha. A sangha can be group a group friends who get together to practice or a bigger community that meets at a Buddhist center. Meditation centers often host talks by senior teachers,  discussion groups and classes. Some centers will also help you find a meditation instructor who can guide you one on one in meditation practice and answer questions as they come up. “Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are three precious jewels in Buddhism, and the most important of these is Sangha.” Says Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Sangha contains the Buddha and the Dharma. A good teacher is important, but sisters and brothers in the practice are the main ingredient for success.” Practicing and studying with others is a great way to support our practice and develop deep spiritual friendships.

Benefits of Meditation

The benefits of meditation are vast, and in many ways unmeasurable or quantifiable. Here are just a few to get your inspiration going.   

Reduces Stress

In the past decade, meditation as  a tool for stress reduction has become increasingly popular. There is so much in the in the news about mindfulness, it could be easy to dismiss as a passing fad or cure all. But Scientists and psychologists are increasingly finding that meditation does help people better manage stress. And why wouldn’t it? Stress is all about our reactions to life circumstances. How we respond to the world is a reflection of how we think and feel. While a certain amount of stress is beneficial by alerting us to dangerous situations, a huge amount of stress is added on by our own minds. By creating more space between our thoughts and reactions, it is possible to reduce the unnecessary amount of stress we put ourselves under.

Increases self-awareness

Mindfulness practice develops self-awareness, the capability to observe our own behavior without judgement. Several tests are used by scientists to measure self-awareness among meditators. The “Five facet mindfulness questionnaire” was developed by researchers to determine the effectiveness of mindfulness training describes self awareness as an “enhanced capacity for acting with present-centered awareness rather than on ‘automatic pilot’–lost in the past or future.” Several studies have found that practitioners self-report self-awareness using this method. The ability to slow down and reflect on life is an under-utilized skill in today’s action oriented have self reported . Being able pause and reflect on one’s actions and how they are affecting others, can change your life. Increased self-awareness fosters better relationships with those we live and work with.

Increases self-acceptance

“All suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for,” says John Kabat-zinn, researcher and director of the Center for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Stress and anxiety can be a clever way resist who who we are, out of fear of not being who we wish we were. Meditation lets us find our who we truly are, behind the storylines and thought-chatter. In her book, When things Fall apart, Pema Chodron explains,  “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” Meditation is a radical form of self acceptance that develops integrity and genuineness and reduces anxiety and depression.

Regulates Emotions

Recent studies have shown that mindfulness training can help regulate emotions in the brain. At the University of Toronto, researchers found that after 8 weeks of mindfulness practice, the brains of meditators and a non-meditator appeared quite different. When shown distressing images, Non-medtator’s brains showed significant activations in the left side of their brain, areas that are “self-referencing.” Shown the same pictures, meditators scans displayed a more even spread of activations on both left and right sides of their brain. The study demonstrated that meditators have calmer reactions to troubling stimuli, by not over activating their left brains. The epidemic of PTSD in veterans, a disorder characterized by the inability to regulate emotions, have initatied more research in this area. Distancing our identification with anger, lessens its destructive power.  

Develops Contentment

Although it’s common to find articles claiming meditation makes you happy, from the the perspective of mindfulness based meditation, contentment might be a more accurate term. Meditation develops a basic contentment with things as they are. Happiness usually means chasing something outside of us. Practicing meditation and being in the present moment leads to a sense of contentment towards yourself and others. A basic contentment, stops us from treating others as obstacles or competition to our happiness. Happiness is usually thought of as something it’s possible to have, contentment is more a way of being.

Improves Physical Health

Science is increasingly finding that the mind and body are more connected than previously realized. Research has linked anxiety and depression to heart disease, chronic respiratory problems and other ailments. Our emotions and thoughts affect our physical body in more ways than we realize. A recent study published in Psychosomatic Medicine,  found that participants who practiced a mindfulness regiment developed more anti-bodies to influenza than a non-meditating control group by the end of the study.

Some of the first research conducted around mindfulness training explored how mindfulness training can alleviate chronic pain. John Kabat-Zinn’s research on this subject has led to the development mindfulness pain reduction techniques that are currently being a used in used in clinical settings.

Teachers who Helped Bring Buddhism to the West

Suzuki Roshi

220px-Shunryu_Suzuki_by_Robert_BoniAll of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement.

Nicknamed “Crooked Cucumber” by his teacher Gyokujun So-on Suzuki, Suzuki Roshi was part of the first wave of Zen masters who brought their teaching to the US. He first gained an interest in traveling to the west after serving as a translator in England. His employer, an english woman found an interest in Zen, and Suzuki became her teacher. The experience open his eyes to the idea that western students could break through their ignorance or prejudice and learn from the Zen tradition. Suzuki traveled to America for the first time in 1959, landing in San Francisco in the midst of a beat generation just starting to get interested in eastern religion. As the story goes, his growing fame was fairly low key. He began holding sitting in the mornings, and eventually his Sangha grew, and founded the San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara retreat center.

His teachings emphasized Zazen (meditation practice) above all else, rejuvenating what he saw as a lax and americanized zen being practiced in the us. He also stressed that westerners could help rejuvenate Zen with a fresh beginners mind, without preconceptions.

His influence on spreading of Buddhism in the west is still probably best encapsulated in Zen Mind Beginners Mind, which introduced an entire generation to Buddhism and is still one of the best selling books on meditation in the west.

Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche

2First we have to remember desire and anger. Think of friends toward whom you feel desire and enemies toward whom you feel anger. Let desire and anger arise, but then remember that these thoughts are self-liberated, that they do not arise or cease, that their nature is beyond conceptual fabrication. Then thoughts of desire and anger will be self-liberated.

Khenpo is regarded as one of the most highly realized living teachers in the kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He has been hugely influential in introducing the yogic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism to the west. Born to Nomads in the Himalayas, Trultrim Gyamtso, spent years wanding tibet as a wandering ascetic, doing solitary retreats in caves in the tradition of the famed buddhist yogi Milarepa. At times he lived in the charnel grounds, doing practices to that work with fear and understanding egolessness and emptiness. After years of intensive study he was awarded the title of Khenpo. Since he has taught around the world, famous for his intellectual acumen and debate skills. Although a famous teacher, Khenpo is still esentially homeless refusing property or money. Those who have seen him teach remember his songs of realization which he sings where ever he teaches.

The Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche after meeting Khenpo Rinpoche remarked, “More yogi than khenpo.”

“Know this life to be like a dream.

See the mind’s unborn nature.

Aspire to be of benefit to others.”

D.T. Suzuki

078fogofwarThe truth of Zen, just a little bit of it, is what turns one’s hum drum life, a life of monotonous, uninspiring commonplaceness, into one of art, full of genuine inner creativity.

No list of buddhist pioneers would be complete without D.T. Suzuki. In many ways, Suzuki was the first to spread Zen buddhism to the west. A highly regarded scholar in Japan, Suzuki sought to understand intellectually the zen experience. He was fascinated by how to introduce Zen into a western context, and dedicated his life to this pursuit. He first came to the United States as a translator and quickly made connections with the Theosophists and other groups interested in eastern thought. He attracted the interest of psychologist Carl Jung who wrote a preface to An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, the first book to introduce Zen in English.

Suzuki was a pioneer in Buddhism Modernism–Buddhism that emerged out of its engagement with western culture and psychology. He broke down Zen into its essentials, establishing how Buddhism would be taught taught for generations.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

His_Holiness_Dilgo_Khyentse_Rinpoche's_broad_smile,_Seattle,_Washington,_USA_1976Instead of allowing ourselves to be led and trapped by our feelings, we should let them disappear as soon as they form, like letters drawn on water with a finger.

Kheyentse Rinpoche was a master of Vajrayana buddhism and headed the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. He is much loved by Tibetan Buddhists and was considered to be a master of the Dzogchen teachings, a tradition dedicated to cultivating and maintaining the primordial natural condition of wakefulness.

Recognized as a reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, he spent 13 Years in silent retreat in the hermitages and caves of Tibet. At 28 years old he came out of seclusion and began teaching in India. Among his pupils were many of the most revered lamas of today, including the the 14th Dalai Lama. The tibetan tradition owes its preservation of its teachings to Rinpoche, who published a huge amount of teachings that were feared lost in the communist invasion of Tibet.


Thich Nhat Hanh

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAFear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.

Perhaps adored as much as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh had a huge influence on the spread of buddhism in the west, popularizing mindfulness as a distinct teaching. He was also the first to coin the phrase “engaged buddhism” in reference to his peace activism against the vietnam war. He was born in Vietnam and began training as a monk at age 16. During the war, he traveled to the US and Europe to work with fellow anti-war activists including Martin Luther King Jr. His trip, exiled him from his home. However he continued his work in Europe establishing six monestaries and over 1,000 sanghas worldwide. He has been influential in bringing mindfulness training into schools, businesses and governments

His teachings emphasize mindfulness as a way to be happy in the present moment and to build peace inside and outside.

Dainin Katagiri

220px-Dainin_KatagiriYou cannot find any peace by escaping from human pain and suffering; you have to find peace and harmony right in the midst of human pain. That is the purpose of spiritual life.

Dainin Katagiri played an important role in bring zen to westerns living outside the cosmopolitan hubs of New York or California. Katagiri was born in Osaka, Japan and moved to the united states in 1965 to teach at Zenshuji mission in Los Angeles. He became Suzuki Roshi’s assistant until his death. In the early 70’s he moved to Minneapolis, MN with the intention of founding a sangha in place without access to teachers.  

Dalai Lama 

Dalailama1_20121014_4639Altruism has two aspects. Loving others does not mean that we should forget ourselves. When I say that we should be compassionate, this does not mean helping others at the expense of ourselves. Not at all. Sometimes I say that the buddhas and bodhisattvas are the most selfish of all.  Why?  Because by cultivating altruism they achieve ultimate happiness.

No teacher has has raised the profile of Buddhism in the west more than the 14th Dalai Lama. Tenzun Gyatso was born in Tibet and recognized as the Dalai Lama as a child. He is part of the Gelukpa school which has managed the tibetan government since the 17th century. As a Dalai Lama, he is considered to be  successor in a line incarnations of Avalokitesvara. He has headed the Tibetan government in Exile until stepping down in 2011. Following a lifelong interest in science, he has sought dialogue on what he considers the affinities between Buddhism and modern science. In the 80’s he established the first Mind and Life conference which has grown into an institution that brings together scientists on the cutting edge of neuroscience, quantum mechanics and psychology.

While advocating for the Tibetan people on the world stage, he articulates a Buddhist perspective on pressing global issues.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

68896018Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which leades to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche is most famous for bringing Vajrayana Buddhism to the west and founding Shambhala Buddhism. Born in Tibet in 1939 he was recognized as an incarnate lama in the Kagyu school of Tibetan buddhism. When the Chinese invaded, he led a group of monks and nuns on foot across the Himalayas into India. During their journey he had a vision of Shambhala, a mythical paradise envisioned in buddhist and hindu texts, could be established on earth through practices that uncover one’s basic confidence and dignity. On a scholarship, he studied religion and Oxford and began teaching in England. A serious car crash made him re-evaluate how he was teaching dharma to western students. He took off his robes and vowed to present buddhism to westerners in an understandable and non-exotic form.

Moving to the US in 1970, Trungpa developed a network of Shambhala meditation centers throughout North America. Along with teaching from the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, he developed a program of secular mindfulness meditation called Shambhala training that is still taught today. Trungpa had a style that was outrageous and unpredictable. He constantly challenged his students expectations of how a guru should act. In Tibetan Buddhism this style of teaching is known as the “crazy wisdom” tradition.