Thoughts and Letting Go–The Mind’s Kite

This is my first deep writing in a while. Yet again, it appears unexpectedly in the open space of Morning Pages. Enjoy!

Here we are… Another day. It’s great to be writing in this moment. As I slow down and attend to the process, I feel utterly awash with sensation. There is so much detail–sound, smell, light, touch, vibration–in every moment. Usually, though, we’ve shut much of it out as we narrow our vision/smell/hearing/etc. to some small set of attention. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, its’ somewhat necessary. There’s so much to experience that we can’t hold it all at once. It’s the same with our thoughts. A quiet moment of mindfulness reveals that they are a legion; however, in most moments, we’re running along with one in particular as though it were a huge kite yanking along a child on a windy day. The funny thing in each instance is our lack of awareness of the process and possibility in each. With sensation, we forget that there is so much that we are closing out in this moment, or maybe, we don’t forget as much as not even realize that’s happening. With the thoughts, the same: we don’t realize that we are holding onto that kite string and running along with them (the thoughts). Meditation can show us both that there is so much to be aware of in every moment, bodily, and so many thoughts flitting by, mentally. It can open us to our full unfolding, right here, right now. It also shows that those thoughts are not “me”. I don’t have to run along with them. I can just as readily let them go–that kite can just fly away. It is only in grasping to it that I give it the power to pull me here and there. I can just as readily watch it fly on the wind without feeling its pull. Whether that kite is in the shape of the most beautiful butterfly or the most terrifying dragon does not make it any more enduring, any more absolute. It’s just another passing moment, another gust of wind. In grabbing onto the string, I keep it flitting about in the broad, open expanse of my mind; otherwise, it will pass out of sight soon enough, and I have the opportunity to watch it soar by without mistaking that string and kite as an extension of myself–as an immutable truth that defines me.


In this moment and in every “now”, “I” am a flux of all these sensations and thoughts, a huge amount of possibilities manifesting in reality. It’s one small fold of the universe universing itself; it’s an unfolding emergence; it’s a human becoming.

May All be happy.
May All be healthy.
May All be at peace.
May All live with ease.

May this help you let go of that kite, seeing the unfolding potential that is in every moment. May you find the liberation of not grasping onto thoughts and definitions, thereby taking the first steps out of the orbit of samsara.


Path of the Dharma: Dhammapada–Chapter 23: The Elephant

Note: I’m going to move forward in the book to this late chapter and then skip back to a couple earlier sections. Also, the passage below, although long, is not the complete chapter, rather about 2/3 of it. I chose this particular selection from it to emphasize one point of content, honing the Manjushri sword of wisdom.

Patiently I shall bear harsh words as the elephant bears arrows on the battlefield. People are often inconsiderate.

Only a trained elephant goes to the battlefield; only a trained elephant carries the king. Best among men are those who have trained the mind to endure harsh words patiently.

Mules are good animals when trained; even better are well-trained Sind horses and great elephants. Best among men is one with a well-trained mind.

No animal can take you to nirvana; only a well-trained mind can lead you to this untrodden land.

The elephant Dhanapalaka in heat will not eat at all when he is bound; he pines for his mate in the elephant grove.

Eating too much, sleeping too much, like an overfed hog, those too lazy to exert effort are born again and again.

Long ago my mind used to wander as it liked and do what it wanted. Now I can rule my mind as the mahout controls the elephant with his hooked staff.

Be vigilant; guard your mind against negative thoughts. Pull yourself out of bad ways as an elephant raises itself out of the mud. — Trans. Easwaran

455 (75)

The well-trained mind will take you along the path like the well-trained elephant carries the rider.

Something about the metaphor in this chapter struck me profoundly. The image of the well-trained elephant is very clear, and yet again, we have a comparison that distinguishes the path to nirvana from the other. In this first passage, the Buddha makes clear that the best quality to cultivate is a well-trained mind. This echoes the main message in the other sections we’ve discussed so far. He emphasizes here, however, that the only thing that will allow you passage to nirvana is a well-trained mind. The previous sections didn’t emphasize this destination.

Perhaps, we should take a moment here and question what exactly nirvana is. Otherwise, we run the risk of falling into undefined terms and elaborate concepts without understanding the intention of this message, rather falling prey to our own fancies and preconceptions. This task of considering nirvana may sound easy, but it isn’t and could be written about at much greater length. The word “nirvana” has a certain exotic and fantastical feel to it, at least from my perspective. I remember using it as a child to indicate having reached some ideal and unassailable state–a perfection of sorts that once attained never falls away. Such an understanding reiterates familiar metaphysical dichotomies of being fallen and transcending our state of lack to a completion in the ideal. The two phrases I just used indicate two familiar examples of this–Christianity (transcending fallen state–the lacking nature of sin–through the perfect grace of the ideal: God and Christ) and Western philosophy’s metaphysical systems in general from Plato onward (contrast of the lacking living world with the ideal one which is the Truth, the Real world behind the shadow one that we are in–appearance vs. essence). While there may be arguments for such an understanding of nirvana from passages in the Pali canon, it does not fit well with this section from the Dhammapada.

This passage makes clear that the path to nirvana is the path of the well-trained mind. The examples here show that the well-trained mind is not swayed away from the good, selfless presence in the world (as discussed in my first selection from the Dhammapada) by lust, laziness, etc. We’re shown through the metaphor of the trained elephant that the mind can be trained so that it does not wander about, and this, just this, is the path to nirvana. It’s not acquiring some special state (which wouldn’t fit with the Buddha’s emphasis on impermanence anyway) or going somewhere else outside the “ordinary” world (Where would such a place be anyway???). Rather, it’s being fully immersed in the world with our mind as it is underneath all the constant layers of distractions and compulsions.

We often think of nirvana as the result of enlightenment, highlighting the profound wisdom in this path/practice (to be enlightened is to have seen the Truth), but we could also cast it as liberation; that is another, if not equally emphasized, “attainment” (there’s really nothing to attain, more like something to lose) of Buddhist practice, and with that re-thinking, we can see that the path of the trained elephant is simply that–liberation from the myriad sufferings of a confused mind. This regal animal can bear us to the core of our own happiness, revealing our own basic goodness beneath the desire, aversion, and ignorance of our untrained mind.


Walking the path step by step…

In case we conclude that a capitalized Mind is something other than our usual one, Huang Po deflates all delusions about its transcendence.:

“Q: From all you have just said, Mind is the Buddha; but it is not clear was to what sort of mind is meant by this “Mind which is the Buddha.”
Huang Po: How many minds have you got?
Q: But is the Buddha the ordinary mind or the Enlightened mind?
Huang Po: Where on earth do you keep your “ordinary mind” and your “Enlightened mind”?”

A familiar implication is the Chan/Zen insistence that enlightenment is nothing more than realizing the true nature of the ordinary activities of one’s everyday mind. When Hui Hai was asked about his own practice, he replied: “When I’m hungry I eat; when tired I sleep.”

The Pali texts of early Buddhism do not emphasize “everyday mind” in the same way, for they often contrast the consciousness of an ordinary person (puthujjana) with the liberated mind of an awakened arahant. Yet there is the same focus on not-clinging, a notable example being in the “Book of the Six Sense Bases” in the Samyutta Nikaya. There the Buddha repeatedly teaches “The Dhamma for abandoning all.” He emphasizes that practitioners should develop dispassion toward the six senses and their objects (including the mind and mental phenomena) and abandon them, for that is the only way to end one’s suffering.

“Through dispassion [his mind] is liberated. When it is liberated there comes the knowledge: “It’s liberated.” He understands: “Destroyed is birth, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more for this state of being.””

Listening to this discourse, “the minds of the thousand bhikkus were liberated from the taints by nonclinging.” The absence of grasping is what liberates.

“Truly, is anything missing now?
Nirvana is right here, before our eyes.
This very place is the Lotus Land, this very body, the Buddha.”–Hakuin

Passage taken from David R. Loy’s A New Buddhist Path, pp. 50-51.

May this inspire you to train your mind and release the mind that grasps so that you too may achieve liberation–the well-trained mind will bear you on the path to nirvana.


Grasping at Sand – The Pursuit of Happiness

We pursue happiness,
grasping onto desires–
Justifying this as wisdom, as nature, as fact–
Fulfillment + gratification = happiness!!!
Yet we don’t see…

The heart grasping onto desires
Is like a hand grasping
Onto grains of the finest sand.
No matter how hard we
Try to hold on,
It slips out,
And what remains
Tickles and scratches,
Holding onto the hand
Even if the hand lets go.
Yet we don’t see…

Sand flits out of the hand’s grasp
Blowing away in the wind
Lost, gone, vanished
Like a dream
As though the grains were never there
Just like this
Desires arise and disappear
Ephemeral phantoms taken as solid
Yet we don’t see…
Is there a better way to be?


Without desire, without distress
we keep to our empty heart.
The beauty of the Way is that there is no

No self
No this, no that

Everything, everything is simply emptiness.
– Loy Ching-Yuen The Book of the Heart: Embracing Tao (On Tao, §10)

Desire that has no desire is the Way
Tao is the balance of wanting
and our not-wanting mind

Travelers know that steep cliffs mean a long, hard
Just so with Tao:
No smooth roads without first a few ups and downs.
-Loy Ching-Yuen The Book of the Heart: Embracing Tao (On Enlightenment, §1)

May this help you balance your wanting and not-wanting mind, finding the desire that has no desire. May this help you slowly open the heart that grasps onto desire, one that seeks happiness in selfish fulfillment. May you instead find your way onto the selfless path that brings true happiness: an open heart of bodhicitta (have a look at my discussion of the first chapter of the Dhammapada for more on the selfish and selfless paths, and have a look at this one for more discussion of bodhicitta).


Flowers Fall

“Therefore, flowers fall even though we love them. Weeds grow even though we dislike them.” – Dōgen Zenji (trans. Okumura)


Out of the many pains that we experience in life, the most stinging and most common are losing what we want and getting what we don’t want. This happens on levels both great and small everyday. Beloved flowers fall–beautiful moments end, friends move away, the sun sets, and you eat that last bite of ice cream. Despised weeds grow–you get sick, bills come, cold, grey weather sets in, and you realize the only ice cream the store has is that other, gross flavor.

So, what do we do? The point is not to give up desire completely. Desire is also what drives us to seek enlightenment, to strive to help others, and to get out of bed each day. However, we would do well to let go of attachment to having everything go the way we want: let go of the gratification of those grasping desires. Ask yourself: is that really happiness? To collect a life of fulfilled desires and avoided aversions? Can you find peace and joy with the world as it is and try to help others find that peace and joy as well? Can you pursue that instead of pushing your own agenda first and foremost in the pursuit of happiness even if others burn in your wake? Perhaps happiness is not something you can “get” at all, and such grasping to get all external circumstances just right is a fundamentally deluded idea of what it is to be happy. Pause. Meditate. Connect. Love. Try these things, and you may find within yourself the seed of a true happiness beginning to grow alongside those weeds and fallen flowers.

May this help you find equanimity, non-attachment, and skillful action in the pains of desire.

See also: Tao a Day — Verse 26, Inner Virtues for a Taoist take on how to cultivate such internal stability, peace, and joy.

The Waking Dream

We grasp
This cannot go…”

Yet every moment
Comes & Goes
Seasons change
The world turns
Days are born & die
Everything passes

Like a dream,
The substantiality
–an illusion
With focus
This ephemeral emptiness

Figments of experience
Life = Dreaming dreaming dreaming
(That is: dream dreaming itself)
There is nothing to grasp onto
Not even yourself
What security do you seek?
Certainty in the face of death?

Even those
Embracers of “change”
Declaring its greatness
Its wholesomeness
Move on only
To their next set of certainties
Another structure
To cling onto
A shelter in the storm?
There is no storm.
That fear
–just another part of the dream

One line above reminded me of this song: