Monthly Archives: June 2013

Sunshine Doe!!!!



The past couple days have been terribly exciting, whatever that means relative to how I usually spend my time these days. It was completely clear for almost 24 straight hours, meaning I got wonderfully blue and sunny skies during the day, as well as the waning moon, endless stars, and the Milky Way at night. After so much rain the good weather definitely invigorated me to get out and do something.


Yesterday I went to Norbulinka, the Tibetan center for the arts in lower Dharamsala. It was started in order to preserve Tibetan arts in exile. I don’t have all that much to say about it but really just wanted an opportunity to put up some of the pictures I took there. It was awesome to get to see the thanka painters at all different phases in their work. After spending so much time reading about how intense thanka painting was in feudal Tibet it was amusing to see a bunch of Tibetans in their early 20’s listening to their ipods and wearing backwards hats while painting these incredible pieces of religious art. I also found a way to get on the roof of the gompa just as it got clear so I had a perfect view of the snow on the mountains. Then I hopped around to a bunch of places between Bhagsu and Dharamkot for the rest of the night and ended up on my roof looking at the stars while a jam session was going on next door with solos from all sorts of Indian instruments.


Today I went to get registered to go see the Dalai Lama speak on Monday and Tuesday. It was kinda a pain because I couldn’t find the place for the longest time and it turned out I needed some things I didn’t have. It was so nice out today that I was happy to walk up and down the hill a bunch of times. In the end it only cost 20 cents to go see the Dalai Lama so my trouble was probably worth it.


This afternoon I finally succeeded in finding the best Malai Kofta in the area. I had to have tried it at a least a dozen other places but today I finally had one that was by far the best food I’ve had since I’ve been here. I posted up there for awhile reading Heart of Darkness and the Wizard of Oz.


I started going to a yoga class too, which I plan on doing on a daily basis until I leave here. It’s in the late afternoon so it’s a nice way to segway from reading for most of the day into my evenings (since I’ve really been raging a lot here,) and it’s only $2 for 2 hours so it’s hard for me to justify not going.


Having so much time to read has been killer. Over the past 4 days I’ve read 1984, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, Heart of Darkness, and 2 of the Oz books. Going over past visions of a dystopian future has been really interesting. One of the most standout commonalities across all 3 visions is the necessity of eliminating anything that encapsulates the ethos of the past. In 1984 this is taken the furthest by falsifying data on a daily basis in order to keep the past perfectly in line with what the government dictates is happening in the present. But even in Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 the government takes the destruction of books as seriously of possible. Knowledge found in books makes people feel inferior in relation to their more well-read peers, confuses them with their foreign concepts and ideologies, and, worst of all, prevents the gradual shrinking of language in order to limit the capacity for critical thinking. As Orwell puts it, “he who controls the past controls the present. He who controls the present controls the future.”


I find Huxley’s view the most convincing, though I generally hold a high opinion of Huxley so I’m biased. The society he envisions is guided by two fundamental concepts drawn from Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud: mass-production and the equalizing of the pleasure principle and the reality principle. Through mastering mass production of people by cloning and accelerating their growth process and conditioning them through hyponopedia (teaching people while they sleep) the government creates a remarkably efficient and stable caste system. Carnal desires are no longer stigmatized and monogamy breaks down, eliminating any possible discontent from repressed sexuality. And if a basic sensory need isn’t being meet, one can simply take some soma to go on a reality-disassociating psychedelic trip. If all basic sensory pleasures are no longer restricted in any way by society, and if people are naturally conditioned towards certain psychological dispositions, it’s very hard for anyone to ever become unhappy.


This stands in opposition to Orwell’s vision of a society built by restricting any and every form of pleasure. 1984 is a society built almost exclusively on control by punishment and the fear of punishment. Furthermore, society is permanently at war, functioning both as a way of dumping all of society’s labor into an endeavor that doesn’t improve standard of living, as well as a method of justifying authoritarian behavior since permanent crisis can be said to justify permanent control of everybody and everything by the government. I can understand how Orwell might have conjured up this vision for the future based on the behavior of Hitler and Stalin’s governments, though Huxley’s portrayal strikes me as more in line with our present day situation. I actually was reminded a lot of my experience in China while reading Brave New World. At the end of the day, even if the government is infringing on what I (as an American) would consider ‘basic liberties’, if standard of living is high enough and sensory demands are being sufficiently met, it’s very hard to imagine people rebelling. Obviously this is a vast oversimplification of the situation and far more could be written on the topic, but, frankly, I’m enjoying a Kingfisher right now and don’t feel like writing any more right now.



Return to Triund



Haven’t been in much of a blog writing mood lately. I’m afraid I might have burned myself out writing 2-4 entries a day for about a week. It’s been raining pretty constantly for 10 days now so the options for how I spend my days are pretty slim, meaning I don’t really have a whole lot to write about. I don’t actually really have anything espescially interesting to say right now but this was the best excuse I could come up for posting the first batch of half-decent photos I’ve taken since I’ve been here so…enjoy that.

On Sunday I decided to take a hike and go camping so I could get myself to the best possible vantage point to see the supermoon. When I woke up it was raining pretty heavily but I figured it would pass so I set off anyways. Besides, I’d planned on making the hike for almost a week so I would have felt pretty badly if I decided to pack it in just because I was afraid of getting my dreads a bit wet.  The hike itself only took about 2 hours and was relatively rain-free. I was inside of clouds almost the entire time so I didn’t have much of a view to admire, but at least I wasn’t getting drenched.


I got to my destination around noon, with 7 or so hours to spare until sunset. The place I was planning on sleeping, Triund, is a pretty ideal spot to camp when the weather’s nice. It’s a spacious plateau covered in lush grass that’s kept fairly short due to all of the cows, horses and goats that graze up there. Since I had so much time on my hands I decided to scramble around the boulders for a bit. I thought it would be nice if I could find a cave to spend the night in, really do the whole Buddhist thing right. However, I only managed to come across 2 suitable caves, one of which was already occupied and the other was filled with trash. So I decided to bite the bullet and shelled out the 600 Rs ($10) for a tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag.

I met some other guys that were spending the night up at Triund so we put our tents together and got to work on making a fire.  It had been raining pretty regularly so we could only salvage wet wood but at least we got something burning. They’d each only been in India for a week so far so it was kinda amusing to play the role of some sort of tour guide to area.


The guys I was with decided to turn in pretty early before the sky had cleared up much but I decided I would stay up as late as it took to get a good look at the moon. After all, that was the whole reason I’d made the trip up to Triund and all I had planned for the next day was strolling back down to Dharamkot.

There were pretty heavy clouds and a rainless lightning storm for an hour or so but some heavy wind came in and finally pushed it all away. For about 20 mintues I had a perfect view of the moon, which was huge and golden, surrounded by bolts of lightning and pouring rain that was still far enough off in the distance that I managed to stay dry. However, the wind kept coming in and it started pouring on me so I decided to turn in for the night.


So…yep, that’s whats up these days. I also met a group of Tibetans that are around my age so I’ve been kicking it with them at night, which has been fun, though they keep trying to give me tattoos since they’re all just starting to learn. Might have to hold off on that, at least for the next month that I’m here so they can get in a bit more practice. I was intending on going to a birthday party for the Karmappa tonight but had no idea how to find where it was being held. I wandered around between Dharamkot and McLeod for about an hour before it started to rain and I gave up. Oh welllll. That’s monsoon season for ya.


The Sad Tale of Slug


I just spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get the Internet working so I could post this. Every day at this place they change the wi-fi so you can’t come mooch if you aren’t buying anything (though I’ve been here enough times already I can get away with it.) I was told today’s password was ‘sugar’ but it just wasn’t working. Finally, I tried ‘suger’ and it worked. Wonderful.

The worst thing that’s happened to me today was that I accidently stepped on a slug this morning. I was walking downhill to get some masala chai before breakfast and was looking at my phone so I didn’t see the slug, but I could feel it squelch the instant I put my foot down. I felt awful. I’d actually gotten into the habit of actively moving slugs off the path if it was somewhere that somebody might step on it.
So, considering that was the worst part of my day, it’s been a pretty okay.

I thought it would be nice to include photos in my posts but I’m afraid there isn’t much to be taking pictures of. I think tis beautiful here but it doesn’t really come across in photos as anything more than standard mountains and sky. The moon has been astonishingly bright, even as early as 6, but my iPhone camera doesn’t do it justice. I’ll bring my real camera up to Triund for the supermoon but that’s not much better than my iPhone. Oh well. All I can do is encourage everyone else to get to as high a point as possible to see it.


Woke up around 7, did some meditation and set motivations for the day, and then rushed out to try and find someplace to watch a stream of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. That was obviously a ridiculously unrealistic expectation, so I contented myself with constantly refreshing the ESPN homepage until the Internet crashed. I headed off to meditation, getting updates on the game via text the whole way, but had to start meditation with 30 seconds still left in the game. There was a split second when I debated bailing on meditation so I could find out the result, but I realized how absurd that was so I went in.

I’m glad I did since it was a really good session. Over 45 minutes we worked on dissolving each of the elements in the body in turn (earth, water, fire, wind, space) until nothing remains but consciousness, basking in the clear light of its own awareness. Despite a mentally scattered morning I found focus and clarity quite easily today. Even if clear light isn’t actually experienced by anyone but the advanced meditators and individuals at the moment of death and orgasm, sufficient concentration and imagination definitely produced an incredibly clear, alert, and blissful feeling. I actually totally forgot about the basketball game until I was out of meditation and turned my phone on again. I’ve also realized that I can now sit for 45 minutes straight with nearly no pain in my lower back or knees, which was unthinkable even 2 weeks ago. I’m sure it’s the type of thing that will disappear if I don’t keep up it so it’s a strong incentive to maintain a daily practice.


I had been planning on going to the Tushita library to do some research on mandalas after meditation but the hours were changed today so I ended up getting breakfast with a handful of people from my retreat that are still in the area and have been coming to morning meditation. It was the first time in 4 days that I’ve had a face-to-face conversation with someone for more than 30 seconds so it was incredibly enjoyable. That being said, I’m finding it remarkable how absent any feelings of loneliness have been. Before coming to Dharamsala I was anticipating enduring a couple weeks of existential crises as I adjusted to living by myself without any regular contact with the people around me. I think the retreat helped me become a lot more comfortable in my own body and accepting of the idea of living contentedly with myself, so it accelerated the whole process and crunched it into a week and a half long period. The more time I spend around people at cafes and restaurants the more I become with not really engaging with them. It’s usually a group of people sitting around smoking chillum, talking about nothing in particular. I certainly met a lot of fascinating people the first few nights I was here but I think a lot of that was through my group from retreat, so it was a rather particular crowd. A lot of the people hanging around here just wanted to kill some time someplace relaxed and cheap for the summer, so Dharamsala is pretty ideal. Having a particular purpose here has been nice, though, and all of my projects have essentially been collapsing into one.

After breakfast I went to my usual lunch spot and posted up there for a few hours with a book on the dialogue between psychotherapy and Buddhism. It rained for about 4 hours so I didn’t have anything to do besides hang out and read, which was pretty great. The book hones in on two of the areas I’m most interested in, so reading detailed analyses of crossover between the them was fascinating, though I ended up taking so many notes that I barely finished 40 pages over the course of the whole afternoon. Still, it’s not like I had anything else to do or anywhere to go so it’s hard to complain. This is really the first time in my life when I don’t feel any need to rush through reading. It’s nice to be able to take as long as I want to digest something. As I found out with Siddhartha, reading like that drastically increases the amount of enjoyment to be found in any reading endeavor. Even in the past when I’ve been reading for fun I’ve felt the need to rush through to get onto another book, for no real reason besides to say that I’d read it and catalogue it in my mind. It’s a pretty useless way to read and it’s shocking how little I end up digesting unless I’m responsibility for the material for school so it’s been a nice change in practice. Reading mindfully I guess.

When I got back to my room I found some 25 lb dumbbells lying in the courtyard of the guesthouse and was told I could hold onto them while I’m here if I want. I don’t plan on developing a particularly extensive workout plan while I’m here but I’m finding with all the time I spend sitting around reading and writing it would be nice to get some exercise in addition to my self-guided yoga sessions. No matter how much clarity and peacefulness come about through meditation, there’s something immensely pleasurable about the satisfaction and soreness that can only come from a good workout. Plus, it would be nice to be completely flabby by the time I get back to school in the fall. My ego isn’t so transparent at this point that I’m entirely indifferent to my physical appearance, though my beard is coming in nicely. I brought a bunch of razors but I like the idea of growing a beard for 2 months or so. It’s not quite worth the work of maintaining any sort of special facial hair when I interact with others so infrequently and the bathroom mirror is so tiny I can’t barely see myself in it.

A enourmous wasp just fell into my drink and is struggling and I don’t know what to do. I’m cringing washing it but am certain if I pluck it out it’ll sting my hand, and I can’t just pour out my drink onto the floor. It’s a shade of orange and I’ve never seen a wasp so big, so I’m wary of getting stung. I wonder if this is bad karma. I guess I’m intentionally allowing another being to die because I’m overly concerned with my well-being. On 2nd thought, it’s definitely bad karma.

Probably to make matters worse, I didn’t take any precepts today so I’m seriously looking forward to getting a big dinner and a Kingfisher later. After the rain lets up the night is usually pretty clear so I’m hoping I can get a good view of the moon as I eat. Last night it was so bright that I was able to read outside by nothing more than the moonlight. Counting the days until supermoon!


On an unrelated note, I’ve been enjoying reading 1984 again and have nothing in particular to say about it at the moment but wanted to keep hold onto this quote and this seemed as good a place as any to put it:
“By 2050-earlier, probably-all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Bryon-they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like, ‘freedom is slavery’ when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”


Meditation: Proper Posture


For my first post regarding formal sitting meditation practice I thought the best place to start would be with proper sitting posture. Most people choose to sit cross-legged on the ground, though if this is uncomfortable then there’s nothing wrong with using a chair or even lying down (though beware of sleepiness.) Much of the instructions will be the same regardless of how you choose to position yourself.

(I would have liked to include pictures but my Internet wasn’t quite up to the task. Hopefully this is relatively self-explanatory, though I’ll attempt to put pictures up at a later date.)

Proper posture for seated meditation is absolutely imperative. Having a relaxed body facilitates having a relaxed mind, which makes it easier to get into subtle feelings, both physical and mental. It’s also closely related to how the energy (prana or rlung depending on which tradition coming from) moves throughout your body. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition it is said that rlung (wind) is what carries the mind, so leaving your energy channels as open as possible to facilitate the movement of rlung is extremely important.

Lets start with the lower body. It often helps to sit on a cushion so that your hips are elevated above your knees. Feel free to use however many cushions you need when you’re getting started. It’s better to build down than to struggle with too few for a long time. Cushions aren’t always necessary but adopting this position helps relieve some pressure from your lower back, which is often one of the first places that tension crops up. There’s no reason to sit half or full lotus if it isn’t comfortable for you, especially early on in practice. Only when you can sit like that for at least 30 minutes is it okay to adopt complicated postures with your legs. If you do choose to sit in half or full lotus be sure that you aren’t blocking the flow of blood to your legs as they will fall asleep and become a distraction to your practice. The primary goal for your lower body is to establish a solid base to support the rest of your body. Be comfortable and be relaxed.

Pay close attention to your hips. As you rotate your hips back and forward, notice how this effects the position of your back. Avoid putting yourself in a position in which you’re arching or caving your spine too much.

Turning next to the abdomen and torso, lets focus on the back. The back should be as straight as possible, but without holding any tension. Allow your back to be soft straight. If this puts a slight curve in it, so be it. It often helps to imagine a string attached to the top of your head, which is gradually drawn up, pulling your back erect. It can also be helpful to lift yourself up on the in-breath and relax the muscles in your shoulders and back on the out-breath. It should feel as if your muscles are draped over your skeleton, holding as little tension as possible. This allows you to sink into the present moment, easing off all resistance to being in this moment right now.

In regards to the arms, it isn’t particularly important where you place your hands. Many people choose to put their hands on their knees, either cupping their knees, or resting with the palms facing upward. It is also common to place one’s hands in the lap, with the right resting gently in the left, connecting the thumbs at the top. This creates two circles in the body: one in the hands and the other formed by the arms. As a teacher once said to me, with the hands in this position it is like the Self resting in the Universe. Alternatively, the left hand of wisdom lies in the lap, while the right hand of compassion sits on top, thumbs coming together in union. Be sure to keep some space between the upper body and the arms so that heat can escape. If you are too warm while sitting it is likely that you will start to become sleepy and drift away from your object of concentration.

Keep your head upright in line with the spine. If the head comes down, it is easy to grow drowsy. If the head is tilted too far up, too much energy is likely to come up and flood your mind with thoughts. Think of your head like that of a swan, with the chin tucked slightly back. This opens the flow in the neck, allowing energy to move freely up and down the 2 central channels of the body.

The eyes are very essential. Many people believe that it is best to meditate with your eyes closed but this leaves you prone to sleepiness and daydreaming. Too wide open, however, and it is easier to become pulled in by distractions. It is best to leave the eyes just slightly open so that everything is darkened but shapes and colors are still visible. Initially, this will feel quite uncomfortable and the eyes will often flutter, opening and closing to resist relaxation. But if you keep at it and allow your eyes to relax, soon it will become very natural. This is very helpful in the long run to keep the mind sharp and focused. When you meditate you don’t use earplugs or stick things in your nose to prevent senses from entering those organs, so why attempt to block out all sensations to the eyes?

Place the tip of the tongue against the back of the upper teeth and pressed up against the roof of your mouth. This serves the double function of diminishing the amount of saliva that collects in your mouth so that you don’t need to swallow so much, as well as activating an acupressure point in the palette that increases blood flow to the pineal gland, which is located where mystics often cite the 3rd eye to be.

So that’s the body. Again, the main goal here is to be comfortable, remaining relaxed while simultaneously erect. Early on, it’s common for pain to develop in the knees and lower back, but this will lessen over time with regular practice.

In my next post on meditation I’ll get into the basics of shamatha, including the importance of setting a motivation each time before you sit, what you should be doing with your breath, and how to deal with painful sensations in the body. However, don’t forget, if the pain becomes too much and prevents you from focusing on your practice, feel free to move and readjust your body so that you’re comfortable. Don’t get carried away by moving with every minor ache, though, or you will never be able to settle in calmly.

Enjoy your practice.


Low-Key Livin’


Another fantastic day today. I always feel like I’m not actually doing anything here but when I look at how I spend my time it turns out I’m doing a pretty decent amount of activities. I guess I don’t have any of the stress that often motivates my efficiency back home so it’s easier to feel like I’m doing nothing when I’m really doing something. Funny thing about stress. Not as necessary of a motivator as I often give it the credit for.

I woke up at 7 and sat for 20 minutes, followed by taking the 8 Mahayana Precepts. Ideally, I should be waking up before dawn if I intend on taking the precepts that day but I don’t quite have it in me at this point. In any case, I don’t currently have the full directions for taking the precepts so I’ve been going about it by setting an intention for the day and then committing myself to maintain the precepts until sunrise of the following day. It isn’t official but, given where I’m at in my practice, I feel good about what I’m doing. Taking the precepts consists of abstaining from:
Wrong speech (lying, gossip, idle chatter)
Sexual activity (including thoughts and with yourself)
Wearing perfume, ornaments or jewelry
Singing, dancing, or playing music
Eating after noon

All in all, it’s a pretty easy set of guidelines to abide by when I’m spending most of my time by myself. I’m generally disinclined towards killing and stealing, and it’s hard to engage in wrong speech or sexual activity when my interactions with other people are so minimal. Still, I definitely need to keep an eye on myself to make sure that my mind doesn’t wander off into the gutter when I’m out on a walk. The two biggest difficulties for me have been avoiding playing music and eating after noon. Having lunch as my last meal of the day is actually pretty freeing, though, since it means I don’t need to plan my evening around dinner (but I’ve hardly been doing that anyways.) I’ve also been doing a lot of hiking so hopefully cutting back on meals will help balance out the fact that all I eat are carbs. Plus, it saves me money, though my meals usually only add up to $6-$8 a day anyways so I’m not especially concerned about that. In general I find taking the precepts to be a good practice to constantly keep me aware of what I’m thinking about and cutting non-virtuous thoughts off at the source before they carry me away.

The view from my usual reading spot

The view from my usual reading spot

After taking the precepts I had a couple croissants and a cup of masala chai for breakfast and then headed off to morning meditation at Tushita. Today’s meditation was on the 6 senses, which I really liked, though admittedly I had some other things on my mind that kept coming up. It’s a very simple, yet powerful meditation, so I intend on posting it as one of the first entries in my ongoing series on meditation.

After meditation I went down to McLeod Ganj with my backpack filled with all the stuff I don’t need here in India. Getting it shipped was quite an ordeal. I had to get it wrapped up in cloth (which was a seriously impressive process to watch), then hand over a few photocopies of my passport, and fill out some custom forms. It ended up coming out to $80, which could have been my rent for the next 2 months. Still, it feels great to have been able to unload half of my things. I’m not moving around a whole lot but I know I will be in the future so it’s nice to know that I can keep all of my possessions in a bag on my back and that the bag isn’t even full. I have very little faith that the stuff I shipped actually makes it back to the States but, hey, it will be a nice surprise if it does.

Getting a bag sewn to ship my backpack in

Getting a bag sewn to ship my backpack in

After shipping my bag off I got some lunch and caught up with some people back home. I took advantage of having such good Internet and did some research on applying for a Fulbright. I’ve decided I’d like to be an English teaching assistant in Mongolia. The more I learn about the country the more parallels I see to the situation that Tibet is in so I think it would be interesting to explore how two different peoples have worked to maintain their cultural and spiritual identity under the oppression of alien forces (China.) I also exchanged my copy of Siddhartha for 1984, which is another book I read in high school but likely had only a fraction of the appreciation for that it deserves. Then I went back to my room and washed my hair, which would have been quite nice if the hot water hadn’t run out after 20 seconds. I also think I fried my blow dryer even though I could have sworn I was using the right converter, so it looks like I’m air drying from here on out. Oh well. Just being able to submerge my head in a bucket of cold water was seriously refreshing.

Stitching my bag up

Stitching my bag up

I also decided that I’m going to hike up to Triund on Sunday night to get the best possible view of the supermoon. There’s someone at the top that rents out tents so I’ll hike up there with just a small backpack and pray for clear skies. I’ve found that I’ve been spending a lot of time in a very small circle going between Bhagsu, Tushita, Dharamkot, and McLeod Ganj, so I think a long hike and a night camping higher up in the mountains will be a nice change of pace for me. Plus, gotta work on getting my legs in hiking form for Machu Picchu (Machu Pikachu?)

And sealing it up with wax

And sealing it up with wax

All in all, life is very low-key and very wonderful. I’m tremendously enjoying having to do so much walking to get everywhere I go and having so much time to read and write. Today I was trying to think about all the things I miss from back home and I only needed the fingers on one hand to get through the whole list:
Family (which includes my dog)
Potable tap water
Adventure Time
NBA Playoffs
The fact that 40% of what I miss is related to TV might be a sign that some material desires still need to be curbed but I’d like to think that every time I watch Adventure Time I’m becoming just a little bit wiser.

See you in Boston! (maybe)

See you in Boston! (maybe)


The Life of a Happiness Junkie


What’s your addiction? Is it money? Is it girls? Is it weed? I’ve been afflicted with not one, not two, but all three. Why’s everything that’s supposed to be bad make me feel so good? Everything they told me not to is exactly what I would. Now I tried to stop, man, I tried the best I could but you make me smile with my heart.
-Kanye West

Diamonds are forever. For real doe?

Let me begin with a story about something that happened when I was 15 years old. I had just gotten a new video game and was so stoked on it that I planned on staying up all night to play it. It must have been a weekend night if I could afford to stay up all night but clearly beating this game was far more important than doing something social. Anyways, I brought all my blankets and pillows into the den because I knew I would be there all night and I wanted to be comfortable. As soon as I finished dinner I rushed off to the den and got holed up there for the long haul.
Sometime around midnight I started to get hungry (because I’d barely eaten anything at dinner so I could start playing as early as possible) so I went into the kitchen and looked in the pantry. There were two big boxes, each one filled with 10 small packets of these low-carb, bite-sized wafers. One of them was flavored like Oreos and the other was Chips Ahoy. I’m pretty sure that there were real cookies in the pantry but for one reason or another I decided I wanted to go low-carb. Clearly my 15-year-old self was extremely health conscious. I knew I’d be up for a long time and I needed sustenance if I was going to keep focused on playing my game all night so I brought all 20 packets into the den with me.
Over the next 4 or 5 hours I proceeded to eat every single one of the wafers. They were absolutely delicious. I have no idea how I did it, but somehow I finished every last one. I must have eaten at least 200 of these little cookies. Then, of course, I got incredible sick and threw up. Now I can’t even look at that snack without cringing.

What makes you happy? A fancy new watch? A 6-pack of good beer? Is it money? Is it girls? Is it weed? Or maybe just some low-carb, bite sized, Oreo flavored cookies? Maybe you’ve moved beyond the material ish and find your happiness in something else. How about long weekends? A beautiful day at the beach? Spending time with a loved one? Obviously these are some pretty great things, the stuff that happiness is surely made of.
But are any of these things actually true sources of happiness? What would it even look like for something to be a true cause of happiness? For something to deserve this label I believe that it would have to fulfill two conditions:

1)   It would always make you happy.
2)   The more you have of it the greater your happiness.

So think back to those things that make you happy. Do they meet those two conditions? Are they still making you happy right now? Would you keep getting happier with more and more of those things and experiences? Although it’s a simple example, I certainly learned that cookies were not a true source of happiness for me.

Because here’s the crux of the issue: what we view as happiness is actually in the nature of suffering. This is not to say that it is suffering, but that within every happy experience the seeds of suffering are already sown. As soon as a source of happiness arises so too does a new potential source of suffering. Buddhism labels this as the suffering of change, but an example might help.

Let’s say that you agreed that long weekends make you happy. Great, it’s 5 pm on Friday and you’ve got 3 full days of freedom ahead of you. But what starts to happen on Monday as it creeps up on you that you have to go back to work tomorrow? Suddenly the happiness of a long weekend starts to feel a lot like suffering.

Here’s another example. You’ve spent the whole day walking around and your body is exhausted. Sounds like suffering. You finally come to a chair and sit down. What a relief! But as soon as you’re sitting you’ve already created a new opportunity for suffering. As you sit for a longer and longer time your body starts to become uncomfortable until you finally stand up. What a relief! And yet soon the suffering of standing will set in yet again. And so the process goes on and on. There’s no relief.

Think about any experience you’ve ever had that has made you happy. Is it still making you happy right now at this very moment? Or did it come to an end? Even if the external conditions continued, do they still make you as happy as they once did? Don’t just take me at my word. Examine your own experiences. See how real the suffering that is inherent to happiness is.

Siddhartha saw merchants trading, princes hunting, mourners wailing for their dead, whores offering themselves, physicians trying to help the sick, priests determining the most suitable day for seeding, lovers loving, mothers nursing their children-and all of this was not worthy of one look from his eye. It all lied, it all stank, it all stank of lies, it all pretended to be meaningful and joyful and beautiful, and it all was just concealed putrefaction. The world tasted bitter. Life was torture.
-Herman Hesse

I understand that this may sound incredible pessimistic, but it is merely a realistic assessment of the way that our happiness works. Because it is common for us to grasp at things that make us happy, it is inevitable that we will experience dissatisfaction once the source of happiness comes to an end, as all things must.

Objects that we designate as sources of happiness are not pleasurable in and of themselves. They only seem to be because of the way that our minds perceive them. As I talked about in my meditation on the ‘I,’ once we label things as being agreeable to the ‘I’ we tend to grasp at them. This is not to say that happiness is inherently bad, but that it must be coupled with equanimity in order to avoid the suffering of change that grasping brings about. The mind that grasps is a mind that is always wanting more, always wanting better, constantly searching for its next fix of happiness.The mind that grasps is a mind that suffers. This doesn’t apply merely to material things, but to any sort of sensory-derived experience. So long as we want, we will never be satisfied.

Consider the 8 Worldly Dharmas. We all want to be happy and to avoid suffering. We all want profit and to avoid loss. We all want praise and to avoid criticism. We all want respect and to avoid disrespect. So long as we fall into this pattern of grasping and aversion we’re bound to remain dissatisfied. We must cultivate the mind of equanimity.

Just look at the impact of living in a society that runs on desire. It’s virtually impossible to maintain a steady level of happiness when we’re always in search of our happiness high. And each of these highs must be accompanied with a low. Such is the life of a happiness junkie.


Thoughts on Siddhartha


It ended up being quite a wonderful day. I went back to my room and did some yoga, which helped circulate my blood a bit more and ease the tingling in my legs.
I have a recording of all the guided meditations from retreat so I’ve been going through one each day. Today’s happened to be on subtle impermanence, which was wonderful because it really brought me into my body and ended up completely getting rid of the nettles sensation. Remarkable really. It went away after only 6 or so hours.

I brought a book over to a rooftop restaurant from where I could see out into the valley. Even as early as 4 o’clock I could see the moon crystal clear in the sky. It rained almost constantly for the first 10 days that I was in Dharamsala and since then it’s been beautiful. Clouds and haze blow in frequently but it’s generally remarkably clear, especially higher up in the sky above the valley. The shadows on the moon are looking far more distinct than they usually are. A couple nights ago I had a dream that I was looking at the moon but after a long time I realized that I was actually looking at the Earth. The way the lines on the moon are standing out they look like continents and I had a strongly odd déjà vu back to my dream.

I ended up staying on the roof for a couple hours and getting dinner there, as well as finishing Siddhartha, which I’d just picked up yesterday. I remember reading it when I was a junior in high school. I actually have a very distinct memory of sitting on a bus on the way to a tennis match. Sam Clark was sitting in front of me signing Hotel California. Cam Roberts threw his racket over 3 courts after dropping a set. I played 6th singles. However, despite remembering those details, I had entirely forgotten what the book was about. I had it in my mind that it roughly followed the Buddha’s life story, which I suppose it does but not how I had believed. It’s a beautiful interpretation, drawing elements from a a bunch of Indian religious philosophies rather than just Buddhism. In order to finish it Hesse actually entered a life of seclusion in order to study Indian and Buddhist scriptures in reach a deeper understanding of the state that his novel’s protagonist strives to achieve.

I also don’t recall the writing to be so captivating. It’s not the same translation as the one I’d initially read, which certainly makes a difference. There are a handful of typos, the font varies from page to page, and some of the passages are actually skewed to the side. It was published by an Indian company so I assume it was translated from German into English by an Indian, in which case they would likely have a more solid cultural foundation for many of the concepts expressed by Hesse. It’s also written with British spelling for a lot of words, so that strengthens the case.

Additionally, I also think I have a lot more awareness of and appreciation for the ideas that the book conveys. Clearly it hadn’t made much of an impact when I read it 4 years ago since I couldn’t even correctly recall what it was about.
I really enjoyed the thread of Siddhartha constantly comparing himself to the childlike people, the one’s who are trapped in samsara unaware of their condition, seemingly arbitrarily placing value and meaning on their mundane activities. He ultimately comes to the conclusion that he was separated from them by the inability to lose himself in love to another person. He becomes childlike in many other ways when he enters the world of materiality, but he still never finds himself able to devote himself to love until he meets his son. He decides that, in the end, love, and the simultaneously suffering and bliss that it creates, is a part of samsara too, keeping one forever bound in the suffering in the world. He finally releases his love and looks into his wound, waiting it “to become a blossom and it had to shine.” In his last throes of samsaric suffering, he is able to see himself most fully in the childlike people around him, filled with understanding and compassion.

“Slowly blossomed, slowly ripened in Siddhartha the realization, the knowledge, what wisdom actually was, what the goal of his long search was. It was nothing but a readiness of the soul, an ability, a secret art, to think every moment, while living his life, the thought of oneness, to be able to feel and inhale the oneness. Slowly this blossomed in him, was shining back at him from Vasudeva’s old, childlike face: harmony, knowledge of the eternal perfection of the world, smiling, oneness…The image of his father, his own image, the image of his son merged, Kamala’s image also appeared and was dispersed, and the image of Govinda, and other images, and they merged with each other, turned all into the river, headed all, being the river, for the goal, longing, desiring, suffering, and the river’s voice sounded full of yearning, full of burning woe, full of unsatisfiable desire. For the goal, the river was heading, Siddhartha saw it hurrying, the river, which consisted of him and his loved ones and of all people he had ever seen, towards goals, many goals, the waterfall, the lake, the rapids, the sea, and all goals were reached, and every goal was followed by a new one, and the water turned into vapor, and rose to the sky, turned into a source, a stream, a river, headed forward once again, flowed on once again…When Siddhartha was listening attentively to this river, this song of a thousand voices, when he neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, when he did not tie his soul to any particular voice and submerged his self into it, but when he heard them all, perceived the whole, the oneness, then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was Om: the perfection.”

“When someone is searching, then it might easily happen that the only thing his eyes still see is that what he searches for, that he is unable to find anything, to let anything enter his mind, because he always thinks of nothing but the object of his search, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed by the goal. Searching means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”
The idea of teachers is also very common in Siddhartha’s reflections. I’ve recently been thinking quite a bit about the idea of messengers, which is similar though carries a bit more apparent of a lesson. In the end, though, the apparentness of the lesson of a teacher or a messenger is really related to how willing you are to learn it.It’s truly a blessing to be fully aware when a messenger comes into your life and you’re ready to receive it.
There’s a saying that the enemy is more precious than a jewel that can grant any wish. Although the jewel may satisfy any worldly need, it is only from the enemy that you can learn to practice patience and to look for teachings in every obstacle that you encounter. Nothing is in the way. Nobody is in the way. They are the way.

“The opposite of every truth is just as true! It’s like this: any truth can only be expressed and put into words when it is one-sided. Everything is one-sided which can be thought wit thoughts and said with words, it’s all one-sided, all just one half, all lacks completeness, roundness, oneness. When the exalted Gotama spoke in his teachings of the world, he had to divide it into Samsara and Nirvana, into deception and truth, into suffering and salvation. IT cannot be done differently, there is no other way for him who wants to teach. But the world itself, what exists around us and inside of us, is never one-sided. Let the things be illusion or not, after all I would then also be an illusion, and thus they are always like me. This is what makes them so dear and worthy of veneration for me: they are like me. Therefore, I can love them And this is now a teaching you will laugh about: love, O Govinda, seems to me to be the most important thing of all. To thoroughly understand the world, to explain it, t despise it, may be the thing great thinkers do. But I’m only interested in being able to love the world, not to despise it, not to hate it and me, to be able to look upon it and me, and all beings with love and admiration and great respect.”
It all resonates strongly with the beauty of the Heart Sutra.

So for $1.50 I’d say it wasn’t a bad read.

Having so much time to myself has been wonderful. So has going to sleep at 10 and waking up at 7. I’m gradually working to shift everything earlier because it’s so wonderful here in the daylight and I like the idea of going to yoga before getting breakfast. I have so much time and there are so many interesting things to read and meditations to practice. I’m becoming increasingly less inclined towards going out and interacting with people beyond the ones I see at meditation group in the morning. I like the idea of continuing in a more free form silent retreat, having some forms of contact with people but going about things at my discretion and with as much purpose as I can muster.


Voodoo Man


Not much else to say. Jay Electronica speaks for himself and a whole lot of other things at the same damn time.

Voodooman, chicken bone, chicken bone
I can make a thunderstorm from a light rain.
My ears start ringing. My nose get bloody.
I feel a lil’ bit of pressure on my right brain.
Intermission transmission,
Put me in submission.
Glistening trapped in the light prism, whistling.
The Christ told me come closer to the light, man.
I went blind, woke up in front of a mic stand

Voodoo man, tap dancing in the French Quarter
Walking on water with a scroll in my hand.
The blueprints for disc shaped like a vessel
That was chiseled out of metal
Off the coast of Japan.
Fasting on the top of a mountain,
I went to Tepoztlán,
Saw a shiny object floating out of the ocean.
I’m sort of like a postman.
You can get the message if you want to understand,
From the rap Son of Man.

Voodoman, civilize the savage,
Criticize the parish,
Spreading false doctrine,
Terrorise the cleric,
For carrying on nonsense.
Specialized lies to paralyse the conscience.

Chit chatter,
Spitting out matter
While I’m shitting out data.
Mmm, chew em up shitting out rappers.
Sipping Pelegrino while I’m giving out matches.
Set yourself on fire.
Let the wisdom of Elijah
Purify ya take a nigga higher.
Sold your soul to the highest buyer
Now you’re on a wire
Talking about 2-foot tires.
Saying you sell crack
Clapping at cats with macs
But you a liar,
Pants on fire.
Same old rugged cross
Different crucified messiah


Oh, The Nettles


I’m finding myself falling into a nice rhythm here. I woke up at 7 and took a short walk to get some tea and a croissant for breakfast while checking some emails. Then I made the hike up to Dharamkot for an hour and half long Vajrasattva purification ritual. I’ll get into this meditation much later after I’ve gone through a lot of practices that aren’t so strictly Buddhist, but the general idea is to cleanse your mind of all the negative imprints that it has accumulated through unskillful thoughts, words, and deeds in the past. Although my back had been bothering me a lot towards the end of retreat from all the sitting I’ve found that all the hiking I’ve been doing has put my body in a good state so I can happily sit on the ground for over an hour.

I walked out of the gompa feeling quite light and happy. I spent the next hour or so in the library at Tushita reading about mandalas and yantras. It felt good to be doing some real concrete research for my SURP, and I find it to be tremendously interesting stuff so it doesn’t really feel much like work. I realized I’d run out of water so I walked back over to Bhagsu, grabbed my computer and headed to get some lunch.


I was originally planning on starting doing some yoga today but on my hike this morning I got run off the path by a flock/hoard/pack of goats and stumbled into a knee-high patch of nettles. I didn’t immediately know what they were so I was a bit scared because my legs immediately felt weird, but someone told me they were nettles. Admittedly, the first thing I thought of when I heard that was Salad Fingers.

My legs are pretty numb and tingly so walking around and doing yoga doesn’t sound particularly enjoyable so I’m planning on posting up with my computer, notebook, and Siddhartha for the next couple hours. I’m hoping the numbness passes and I can walk down to McLeod to mail some stuff but I was told the nettles pain is supposed to last for 24 hours. On the plus side, the tingliness is apparently because of all the blood rushing to my legs, which I was told is good for me, so….that’s something.


Mindfulness is Not Enough


The first time that I can recall trying to meditate was nearly 5 years ago when I was living in India during high school. After that, I don’t think I picked the practice up again until I got to college, at which point I would sit with a group only once a week for 45 minutes. After my experience in India last summer I began meditating on a regular basis, though it wasn’t until this past spring that I began sitting on a daily basis (to the best of my abilities.)

This entire time I had solely been practicing shamatha (calm abiding/mindfulness) meditation. I’ll get into the particulars of this a bit more in a future post strictly on meditation, but, in short, the practice consists of allowing the mind to settle down into a state of mental tranquility. Thoughts continue to come and go but the idea is to not get sucked into any particular train of thought, instead observing the thought come and go, like watching a cloud move across an otherwise empty sky. A common anaology is that our mind is often like a murky pool filled with dirt. When the water is churned up it appears to be quite dirty. But as soon as the water is no longer being churned the dirt begins to settle on the bottom, revealing the water to actually be completely clear. So too with our minds and the constant thoughts that continually keep them moving.

During mindfulness meditation the mind becomes calm and increasingly aware of its own mental activity. Thoughts no longer come as rapidly and it becomes easier to identify them when they do. This increased awareness of one’s mental processes carries over into daily life, allowing one to more easily understand their thoughts and feelings in relation to the external world. This eventually creates a gap between immediate experience and action, allowing a person to respond to their environment rather than merely reacting to it. This leads to better decision-making and a generally more well thought out way of interacting with the world.

Mindfulness, however, is not enough. Don’t get me wrong. These are all wonderful benefits and I had certainly begun to notice them in my day-to-day life once I committed myself to regular practice. As one becomes progressively skilled at shamatha it becomes easy to get lulled into the idea that some true inner work is accomplished. But mindfulness is only the beginning. By helping to quiet the mind, mindfulness increases one’s ability to focus one-pointedly. This in and of itself is only useful to a certain point. It must be employed alongside other methods in order to maximize its benefit.

When paired with vipashyana (insight) meditation, mindfulness is able to do some of its best work. This entails using the concentration gained through shamatha to probe the nature of reality and our perceptions of it. One of its primary goals is to discover the 3 marks of existence: anitya (impermanence), duhkha (dissatisfaction), anatman (no-self). Shamatha alone will not unveil any of these truths.

By using insight meditation it is also possible to begin purifying one’s mind. By analyzing our various delusions with one-pointed concentration, it becomes possible to turn intellectual rationalizations of their disadvantages into a true experiential understanding, thus helping to cleanse the delusions from the mind. Essentially, a realization is being brought from the head into the heart. Again, shamatha alone cannot accomplish this.

This is not to say that mindfulness meditation should be thrown away. On the contrary, it is highly important in order to further develop other meditation practices. On days when I’m having a particularly difficult time with thoughts running amok, I now find that shamatha is certainly the most effective solution. But in less strained situations I often will only use mindfulness meditation as a warm-up before diving into vipashyana. The two methods must be used in tandem in order to maximize the results. As such, as I continue to present different methods of meditation, I’ll begin by giving a basic outline of shamatha to the best of my abilities, and will then proceed to various guided vipashyana meditations. I realize that guided meditations are far more useful when spoken aloud than when written down to be read by others but I don’t think I have the Internet speed (or suitably soothing voice) to make spoken guided meditations a reality.