Monthly Archives: May 2016

Where’s the bliss now


                                                                WHERE’S THE BLISS NOW

 When my father found out he was dying he came to live with me. Each morning, when I’d bring him his medicine, he’d look up at me with eyes full of gratitude. He had been a hard nosed, even brutal, businessman all is life. Somehow dying had burnt off some of his outer crust. In the glowing embers that remained was something that looked a lot like love. When Zen master Kaisen Shoki was being burned up in a fire his response was:

 Zen of great peace does not necessarily require mountains and rivers. When the activities of the heart are eliminated, even fire is cool.

 One morning my brother and I were standing around father’s bed talking with him. We hit some sort of snag in the conversation. My father became very still, pointed one finger up in the air and said, “Where’s the bliss now?” My brother and I also became still. In the stillness I felt what was lying beneath the snag, which, as it turned out, was bliss. For the next few months of his life my father would say, “Where’s the bliss now?” whenever we got caught up in the details of living and dying, which was often because he was still an old lion.

The first line of a gatha expresses the situation; sitting down to a meal, waiting in traffic, comforting a sick friend. The second line, I vow with all beings to… , establishes us in a sincere heart space and reminds us that we are not alone; The third and fourth lines remind us of our original face. In these last two lines of the gatha we evoke the undercurrent of bliss hidden behind appearances. This is a practice of letting go of resistance to any situation we might find ourselves in. When we let the gatha enter us even fire is cool. It seems counter intuitive that bliss would lie hidden within an argument or a traffic jam or a broken heart. But this insight is one of the many gifts of our practice. The gatha makes use of the awareness that awakening is not for some after life but right here in whatever the moment holds-no exceptions. Sometimes it’s challenges and sometimes it’s our simple, immediate life. Washing dishes, rocking the baby.

Certainly meditation practice can help us bump into this awareness of the presence of awakening right here and now. Yet, sometimes people just bump into this awareness by accident and sometimes people meditate for years without encountering this bliss that is closer than their own breath. The awareness of our true nature is attached to a myriad of other insights such as our interconnectedness and the realization of how limited our minds really are in understanding life. There are many gates. A gatha is a key to the gate of relative reality. We think there is no way out of the pain but there it is, and the way out in further in-where is the bliss now?

 When anger or sadness arise
I vow with all beings
To accept my emotional nature
It’s how I embody the Tao.

 This is not to say the way of awareness is easy. Life can be brutal as it rips self-illusions and hubris from our clenched hand. The tighter we hold the more painful the process. Life is not “kind” but it is compassionate. It seeks to balance itself in truth. Since we humans often prefer the stories we tell ourselves to the truth underneath the story there is usually some burning involved in getting to our true natures. What is underneath that which sustains our ego is so much more beautiful than anything we can concoct. The gatha brings us right to that place, into the underneath of our stories.

So much of religious practice and self help culture focuses on making us better people. The gatha practice accepts us exactly as we are and helps us remember who we really, really

If action must wait for satori
I vow with all beings
To forget satori completely.
What a relief! Let’s go home. 






While driving home from Oakland to Sonoma in thick Friday afternoon traffic I watched myself become more and more proprietary about “my lane”. The tension travelled from my mind to my hands and throughout the rest of my body. Craning my head to see who had the nerve to cut in front of me, I watched my mind become sharp and rigid. Where was my 40 years of meditation? Where was the bliss I felt only yesterday while sitting in my chair enjoying the present moment? I tried using my breath to return to an unconditional present moment, but to no avail. The triggered body was already activated. It would take something stronger to help me see things from a larger perspective.

There is a natural human tendency to get caught up in the details of our lives. We are all prone to loose our perspective when we get triggered, regardless of how much mindfulness practice we have under out belt. In thick traffic, while arguing with a loved one, in the middle of a challenging workday, we don’t always have the luxury to remove ourselves from the situation and take the time to center ourselves in meditation. Yet these are precisely the times we most need to remember a broader perspective.

Enter the gatha. Gathas, as described in last month’s newsletter, offer a simple and beautiful way to bring awareness into the muddled stuck areas of our daily life. Remembering the bigger picture while in the midst of a brain fog, fear and irritation provides us with a bit of breathing space. In that space we can let go, even for just a moment, of the tension we are carrying. Outwardly things remain the same. Inwardly, everything has changed.

When do you lose perspective? When do you forget that you are not alone in this vast world? that you are a jewel connected to the infinitude of beautiful, bright jewels in Indra’s web? When does your mind race out of control? When do you forget the peace you discovered in meditation and become fearful and grasping? Is it in the middle of thick traffic? While paying bills or filling out tax forms? While saying no to your teenager? We all have different triggers. It’s helpful to know what yanks our chain. Try this exercise:

Take a moment and think about your week. When did you feel most lost? Write down some of the times you lost perspective, felt out of control or were just mildly distracted. Remember these times without any self-judgment. Odds are there are many other people who are triggered by the same things that trigger you. By looking at your daily challenges you become more aware and more apt to recognize them the next time they arise. But, most importantly, what you noticed can be used to develop a strategy for dealing with challenging times. It can used to erect a lifeline for when the challenges inevitably reoccur. By taking what you’ve noticed and creating a simple line, such as, “While driving in traffic” or “When I feel anxious about my parents visiting”, you have the first line of your personal gatha.

We have begun of our homemade gatha journey. The ideal way to explore this is with others in a group, but for now we can take this journey together from our respective arm chairs. Next month we’ll take the next step in creating our personal gathas. I hope you continue to join us on this journey! We would love to hear about what you are discovering.

Happy Noticing!