Clear Motivation

"Be kind whenever possible. It's always possible" – The Dalai Lama

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In All Actions I Will Examine My Mind

In all actions I will examine my mind

And the moment a disturbing attitude arises,

Endangering myself and others,

I will firmly confront and avert it.

Today I will practice this verse from the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation. Inspiring verses about loving neighbors, turning cheeks and being the change are easy to find. But instructions for how to actually do those things are more rare.

Mindfulness keeps me from being distracted. It holds my attention on an understanding of which mental states are beneficial and which are harmful.

Introspective awareness follows from mindfulness. It recognizes when I become distracted and my mind falls into a negative state. It acknowledges the arising of disturbing attitudes and mental afflictions, so that I can apply their antidotes and return to a neutral or positive state.

With the two mental factors of mindfulness and introspective awareness, I will examine my mind. Of course disturbing attitudes will arise. Instead of becoming absorbed and taken by them, I’ll use my own mind to see them. Instead of letting them control my actions, hurling me around like a tornado, I’ll ground myself firmly with mindfulness, focusing on their disadvantages.

Since mental afflictions directly disturb my peace of mind and lead me to act in ways directly and indirectly creating misery for myself and for others, they are my worst enemy. If I’m to ever speak of  “success” in my life, it only makes sense to due so in terms of the degree to which I’ve been able to subdue my own mind and abandon these distorted mental attitudes.

The value of a peaceful mind is deeply understated in our culture. There is little more precious than this. Today, I will firmly confront and avert destructive emotions.

When attachment towards food, people, money, or possessions arise, I’ll reflect on impermanence. All things will age and disintegrate; the pleasure derived from them quickly vanishes and turns to pain or disappointment; and I myself will die and go on with nothing save my mind and imprints of my actions. Seeing this, I’ll avert attachment.

When aversion towards people or situations arises, I’ll reflect on love. All beings wish for happiness and wish to avoid suffering. They deserve happiness. Anger only hurts myself. May they have happiness and its causes. Difficult situations simply arise – this is the nature of my existence. Anger only creates more suffering. Seeing this, I’ll avert aversion.

When ignorance regarding situations or objects arises, I’ll reflect on dependent origination. All things, people, and events arise in dependence upon causes and conditions. Many factors contribute to the existence of anything. Ignorance takes things to exist as independent entities, which leads to attachment and aversion and all sorts of harm. It further ignores the reality that my own actions, words, and thoughts produce effects. It prevents me from seeing reality clearly and from attaining what I want – happiness. Seeing this, I’ll avert ignorance.


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Holding Others as Supreme

Whenever I am with others,

I will practice seeing myself as the lowest of all

and from the very depths of my heart

I will respectfully hold others as supreme.

This is the second of the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation by Geshe Langri Thangpa.

When it comes to methods for producing happiness for oneself and others, this verse hit the nail on the head.

When I refrain from obnoxiously asserting myself and stubbornly clinging to my way, my views, and my thoughts, I’m free of tension and those around me have the freedom to be themselves.

By cherishing others with greater concern than I have for my own self, my problems, grievances, and fears will vanish. They won’t seem so big. While I ordinarily seek my own welfare first and foremost, there actually isn’t any sound reason to do this. Is there?

By practicing this verse, I can reverse that habit and seek to benefit others first and foremost. Naturally, my own welfare will be secured as a by-product of altruistic livelihood, so there’s truly nothing to worry about.

Today, I will endeavor to give others the benefit of the doubt, to cherish them as myself, and to give up my egocentric wish to get all the attention and praise and make everyone agree with me.

This will be a challenge, but knowing the great benefits – the bliss of liberation from the chains of self-grasping – will infuse me with the perseverance to keep trying.

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For the Welfare of All Beings

With the thought of attaining awakening

For the welfare of all beings,

Who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel,

I will constantly practice holding them dear.


This verse, from the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation by Geshe Langri Thangpa Dorje, elucidates the entire point and essence of spiritual practice.

To the extant that I hold other beings dear, with warm-hearted affection and compassion, with acceptance and tolerance, with empathy and sympathetic joy that encourages goodness in others – to that extant my life will have meaning. To that extant I will approach awakening.

Today, I will practice this verse.

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A World Perfectly Fit for Dream-Like Awareness

Regard all phenomena as a dream

In postmeditation, be a child of illusion

These two slogans are instructions from Geshe Chekawa’s Seven Points of Training the Mind. I think these days, the outer circumstances in our world make it especially easy to practice like this.

The 95-year-old man I care for is from a different world. He remembers when the milk man came with his daily delivery in a horse-drawn carriage. He remembers when basketball teams only had white players and army troops in the war we’re segregated. He finds amazement in the reality that women now hold positions as CEOs and leaders.

Things change so drastically so quickly today that their illusory nature almost bursts from the seems of the digital news cycle feed.

How are things like dreams? As we experience them, they seem quite real. But once they’re over, they’re gone – a mere memory. Waking life, too, is this way.

The contents of dreams seem real and solid; I rarely doubt the true existence of the objects I perceive while dreaming. Of course, they’re really projections of my own mind. Like this, if I analyze the nature of the objects that I know while awake, I do not find anything that exists objectively, independent of my mind.

Is it possible to know something without it appearing to my mind?

When I see an attractive person, I’m certain they truly exist. Likewise if something, like the cold or a political debate, appears so excruciating that it’s impossible to bear.

How unquestionably real did the supremacy of white men seem to be for many centuries? But that just appeared to be true to certain individuals with the predisposition to see it. It’s like a bubble. Nothing substantial was ever there.

An illusion appears to be real. I get sucked into a movie and have genuine feelings for the characters, but they’re all just images appearing in dependence upon the conditions of a script, a director, actors, a camera, a screen. Similarly, all phenomena are like empty illusions, arising in dependence upon causes. They’re like a reflection.

Is there no difference at all between my dreams of last night and my activities of yesterday? My dream self has no real efficacy. However, the actions I perform in waking life affect both other beings and my future self. This is a difference.

Today, I will not allow myself to get bogged down by unpleasant circumstances or over-excited by pleasurable ones. I’ll realize that my life and whatever I encounter lack intrinsic existence. What I experience arises in dependence upon my actions and my mind.

As a child of illusion, I won’t be reactive or depressed, but will see that my own happiness and suffering depend upon myself. Watching the world’s incessant change rain before my eyes will give me wisdom. Seeing the cause of happiness, I’ll generate loving-kindness and warm wishes towards all the beings I meet.

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The Five Precepts

Living with a basic standard of wholesome ethical conduct immediately puts a stop to the gross forms of misery that afflict us. Distrust, paranoia, and insatiable greed are all held away from one with the five precepts.

All sorts of scandal, extortion, war, and environmental degradation would stop if these precepts were widely adhered to. If criminals committed to live by these precepts, there would be no repeat offenders.

The actions I’ve done for which I still feel sorrowful regret were transgressions of these precepts. All the troubles arising from dishonesty, stealing, abusive or disloyal sexual conduct, drugs and alcohol, and killing are avoided by training in these precepts.


Yesterday was sojong (purification and restoration of precepts) for the monastic community, but lay persons, too, can hold the 24-hour Mahayana vow and purify and restore our precepts. I was struck by the power of conscientiously refraining from harmful behaviors as I exerted special effort yesterday to abide by the precepts.

Self-confidence grows by seeing that I really can transform my deeply ingrained habitual tendencies. I felt light and contented by understanding that a pure life is a blameless, guiltless, worry-free, trouble-free life. There’s nothing better!


Today, I’ll continue!

The five precepts as formulated by Ven. Thubten Chodron:

  1. From my own experience and examination, I know that harming others, specifically taking their lives, harms myself and others. Therefore, I undertake to protect life and to avoid killing. By my doing this, all beings will feel safe around me and peace in the world will be enhanced.
  2. From my own experience and examination, I know that taking things that have not been given to me harms myself and others. Therefore, I undertake to respect and protect others’ property and to avoid stealing or taking what has not been freely given. By my doing this, all beings can be secure around me and harmony and generosity in society will increase.
  3. From my own experience and examination, I know that engaging in unwise sexual behavior harms myself and others. Therefore, I undertake to respect my own and others’ bodies, to use my sexuality wisely and kindly, and to avoid sexual expression which could harm others or myself physically or mentally. By my doing this, all beings will be able to relate to me honestly and with trust, and mutual respect among people will ensue.
  4. From my own experience and examination, I know that saying untrue things for the sake of personal gain harms myself and others. Therefore, I undertake to speak truthfully and to avoid lying or deceiving others. By my doing this, all beings can trust my words and friendship among people will increase.
  5. From my own experience and examination, I know that taking intoxicants harms myself and others. Therefore, I undertake to avoid taking intoxicating substances–alcohol, recreational drugs and tobacco–and to keep my body and environment clean. By my doing this, my mindfulness and introspective alertness will increase, my mind will be clearer, and my actions will be thoughtful and considerate.

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Power of Science Rests in Quality of Motivation

The power humans cultivate as scientific investigation yields deeper insight into the physical world is itself a neutral force. It’s neither beneficial nor destructive; whether technology is of any use to humanity, or else a terrible bane, depends on the motivation of the user.

The Dalai Lama points this out frequently, because it’s something that deserves repeated reflection. We’re all involved in the use and development of technology, even if personally we’re not researchers, designers, or engineers. My motivation in using technology also determines the benefit that will come of it.

When Einstein suggested in a letter to President Roosevelt that with the new research on uranium it would be possible to create a bomb, I doubt that he fully considered what might come of his words. During the war, Einstein sent another letter warning of the devastating consequences that would follow from using the bomb – it lay unopened on FDR’s desk when he died just days later.

Einstein carried guilt throughout his life after the war, even though he didn’t develop the bomb himself. He understood what comes when people wield such power lacking a non-violent, altruistic motivation.

Most people don’t see opportunities to use technology in a way that will directly influence so many people. But this doesn’t mean that what I do won’t have any effect whatsoever.

One’s motivation in using technology is at the center of the gun control debate. Use of technology with an impure motivation is what led to a 15-year-old girl to kill herself (

Therefore, today, I will think about my use of technology and the way in which my using it contributes to either helping or harming myself and others. Before I engage in a digital relationship, I’ll consciously cultivate an intention of compassion. As I use watch lectures on my computer or heat food in the microwave, I’ll bring attention to my actions.

I will not let my reliance on the automatic features that I cherish in our devices to turn me into an automatic program, thoughtlessly following impulses and expecting the world to effortlessly fulfill my desires. This type of life hardly qualifies me to call myself a human being. I’m sick of it.

I know I won’t be perfect. Right now I can’t maintain constant mindfulness, and where will I go where I won’t be using technology?

I’ll start with small things. I’ll turn off lights that I see on in unoccupied rooms. I’ll exert self-discipline in my internet use, not clicking every link that intrigues me, but instead determining before I open the browser exactly what I will do and then setting about to do just those things.

Today continues a life-long exploration of how to make friends with myself and bring kindness to a world that increasingly relies on science. Seeing that everyone wants peace, in their hearts and surroundings, I’ll foster loving-kindness and compassion.

With mindful awareness, I will not destroy peace, but do my best to create it.

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The Joy of Going Wee-wee

Here is one of the best pieces of advice for spiritual practice (i.e., life) that I’ve ever heard, coming from my dear Dharma sister Ven. Chonyi

Enjoy what you’re doing.

This sounds simple enough, but looking around me – and inside myself – I discover that it doesn’t just happen naturally.

Going wee-wee was not something to which I paid much mind. Sure, it’s a relief, and I have a vivid memory of one car ride where it was a huge relief. But now that I work as a caregiver for an elderly gentleman, going wee-wee isn’t any longer only to relieve myself.

A few days ago, I noticed that as I got up during the night to assist my friend in going wee-wee, I started to feel very frustrated. “Can’t you just let it all out at once!? Just go in your bed and we’ll clean it up later – I’m sleeping!”

Luckily, before I destroyed all my virtue, the recollection of Ven. Chonyi’s words resounded through my mind: Enjoy what you’re doing. Now I have this slogan, as much koan as mantra, to keep my mind happy. Enjoy what I’m doing.

Though it doesn’t happen automatically, it doesn’t take that much effort, either. By merely having that thought, I notice that I begin to let go of my tightness. I begin to let go of my ego. After all, doesn’t unhappiness tend to show up accompanied by self-preoccupation?

If I really want to be joyful, I have to stop considering that the most supremely important thing in the universe is what I want, what I need, what I think is the right way. Get out of my way if you dare think otherwise!

Then, I can simply be aware of the current state of my mind. Not worrying about loss or gain, not fearing that I won’t get enough sleep, I can keep my loving attention on my elder in need.

Today, I’ll extend this attitude toward whatever activities I engage in. After all, why bother being miserable? Geshe Chekawa’s 7-Point Thought Transformation states, “Always maintain only a joyful mind.”

If this is impossible, then I hereby renounce my status as a human being. But it is totally possible! Of course, it necessitates that what I’m doing is not harmful to others. Indeed, for worldly or spiritual happiness I must overcome my destructive tendencies.

But once hurtful intentions are out of the way, the sheer thought to have a joyful mind beckons conscientiousness, which continuously takes delight in refraining from harm and in doing constructive, helpful actions. A joyous enthusiasm arises that spurs me on to continue cultivating deeper loving-kindness, compassion, and so much joy that it will flow out of my ears and spill into others!

This is why this life is magnificent – it has such great potential. Today, I’ll strive to not harm others. I’ll try to benefit others. Whatever that ends up looking like, I’ll enjoy what I’m doing.