The Errant Abbot

Jul 4

Happy Interdependence Day

Happy July 4th everyone, I hope you and your families have a happy and safe holiday! It’s always interesting to me, to reflect on the Fourth of July Holiday, often termed “Independence Day” in celebration of the birth of a nation. On one hand, the genesis of this nation instilled the notion of liberation into the hearts and minds of myriad peoples in the modern world and on the other, it simply gave rise to another set of constructs and borders existing only as strong armed ideas set out of a map.

In 1775 Patrick Henry delivered in a speech to the Virginia Convention his famous line “Give me liberty or give me death”- all notions of “independence” aside, that’s a sentiment I can grok. Indeed, from the very beginning of the turning of the wheel of Buddhasasana, this has been a central tenet of our practicing, wherein moksha or liberation from the discursive patterns of thought that separate us infinitely from the direct engagement of reality where our lives take place, are transcended and true freedom is realized, where in the words of American avant-garde composer John Cage we are “granted permission…but not to do what we want”.

Liberation is about the realization of profound interdependence, it’s about moving beyond the illusions of “I, my and me” and finding a life of “us-ness”, all together becoming the great way. In the truly awakened heart (bodhicitta) there is no freedom nor liberation for one, without freedom and liberation for all, and thus I invite you to join me in prayer with your thoughts, words and deeds, especially today, that all may be liberated, fulfilled, and free.


Jul 2

This was really a very fun talk to give, at Open Door Sitting Group in Claremont California on Sunday June 29th. 

Jul 2

Giving a Dharma Talk at Ocean Eyes Zen Center, in Huntington Beach California with Ven. Wonji on June 28th 2014

Jul 2

My Dharma Talk from a recent retreat at Mt. Baldy in Southern California

Supporting Sangha and Spreading Dharma   

Please personally consider donating to this cause, as I just did- Venerable Chitta (Thich Nu Tam Phuc) is head of our efforts in Mongolia to reinvigorate the dharma amongst the younger generation, whom are largely being influenced by western materialism via importation of consumer-centric culture and media, alongside western missionary activity. The monastics at the temples in Mongolia primarily cater to the elder generation with puja and prayers, most of whom did not pass on Dharma practice to the younger generations because of political (communist) suppression of spiritual life.

As part of her efforts, Ven. Chitta is completing a semi-traditional (engaged) three year Vajrayana retreat, and in spite of her retreat kuti burning down last Christmas, she has persisted and in addition to her dharma work and practice, she is teaching English language skills to Mongolians with the propesnsity to learn- she needs our support! ~sunyananda

Pastoral Counseling vs Psychotherapy

Despite cross pollination, Buddhist pastoral counseling differs from psychotherapy (especially contemporary modes in the vein of mindfulness based cognitive therapy etc) in-so-much as a.) It is non-diagnostic, b.) It is rooted in not only contemplative technique, but also distinctly “spiritual” (Buddhist) philosophy, and perhaps most importantly, c.) Is, in alignment with life within the spiritual community (sangha) and in the purview of spiritual friendship (kalyanamitra), firmly reliant on the sharing personal experience and insight gleaned through actual contemplative practice and philosophical inquiry.


In stewarding the continually changing landscape of a lifetime, the mystery is never solved, only penetrated more and more deeply, and that’s okay, enough and okay.

- Sunyananda Dharma

Jun 2

All Monks Are Priests, But Not All Priests Are Monks

Ordination in Buddhism doesn’t, even mostly, have to do with some sort of spiritual empowerment or entrustment of authority. Rather, Buddhist ordination is about, almost soley, adoption by and of a community living by common principles (rule) and in common aspiration in service of all beings.

In our tradition we are monks daily and priests only some of the time, and even in that all priests are monks, but not all monks become priests- they’re separate issues. Monasticism is a commitment to a life of service and simplicity, with practice and cultivation as chief concern. Priestly duties (liturgical, ceremonial and pastoral) are some-of-the-time duties carried out by monks so authorized to do so (inka and dharma transmission) as needed. ~sunyananda

Morning Musings on Segues to Wisdom and Skill

The highest levels of martial artistry looks effortless- an advanced practitioner can easily traverse the litany of skills, both hard and soft, fast and slow with ease. Likewise those with truly cultivated practice of Buddhadharma seem to move about the terrain of life with no hindrance, coming and going freely, not getting caught up, or ensnared in seeming dualistic reality.

When I teach martial arts, we move from hard to soft. Many people already have some idea of hard style motion, and most often resort to brute force when miming self-defense motions, or even lifting a heavy box. That being the case, we work to give that almost instinctual use of muscle a form to channel into for efficacy’s sake, in alignment with the proper principles and mechanics of motion. Likewise study and practice of the dharma most often moves from purely intellectual (jnana) to the experiential (prajna). We have lots of mental fodder to be worked through at first, namely Buddhist philosophy to give a form to our cognitive function, to align a direction that will be most useful.

Moving from the purely intellectual (speculation and understanding) to the experiential (insight and wisdom), is likened to moving from the active to the passive. So too, is moving through the somatic skills of pugilism from hard to soft. In the beginning we associate hard style skills (kang bup) like kicking and punching with linear motion, and we learn to develop great force that way. Performing those skills with multitudes of repetition they become more relaxed as efficiency sets in, and we can begin to perceive their true nature. Looking closely at so called “linear skills” we can begin to see that they are actually composed of elliptical arcs (which is about all that hinge and ball joints are capable of producing.

Gradually, through wrestling with our cognitive function through the form of dharma practice, we may begin to perceive our thoughts, seeing the seer, beholding the beholder as it were and our propensity for intellectualism begins to somewhat fade as we attain insight into the experience of the “thinking mind” itself, somehow beyond it which is the beginning of prajna (experiential insight and wisdom).

As hard skills (kang bup) come to be understood as soft skills (yu bup), our approach becomes more relaxed, rather than forcing a strike or block we allow them to unfold in harmony with the motion of our attacker (kongkyuksa), which allows us to begin developing the soft and circular, relaxed and passive motion of yu bup (soft skills) appropriately. Trapping, locking, throwing and pinning appear with the slightest effort on behalf of the defender (banguhsa), and the attacker (kongkyuksa) almost traps, locks, throws and pins themselves.

As experential wisdom (prajna) takes root, life’s problems begin to float by, with nothing to cling to, the answers to life’s kong’an (koan) appear with ease and without intellectual strife. And with wisdom grown in heart, we may freely transliterate experience to intellectual concepts, and ideas to the extent that words open themselves (as concession to their own inadequacy) to help all beings awaken.

When it’s time to punch we can punch, when time to kick we can kick, throws and locks appear with no effort, in response to the call of the situation at hand.

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Wisdom (prajna) is intellect (jnana), intellect is form. Hard is soft, soft is hard. Linear and circular interpenetrate one another. This is freedom (moksha).

The point is that we need a segue to refine our uninitiated propensity to the point that we may behold the entire spectrum of reality within it. We teach that reality is beyond the scope of labels, not good and not bad, and yet for the same reason is thus both good and bad. So when bad appears we can call it that, when good appears we can relish in that, all whilst seeing through to the marrow that is transcendent of those labels, therefore we don’t get too caught up in them and can behold and uphold the wonder in it all.

So too, the “art” in “martial art” is found in the finesse that blurs the lines of style and/or skill.


Shooting Up Labels

We live in a culture so addicted to individuality, to the labeling of “I, my, me” that we’ve become prone to almost instantly accept any label as proof of uniqueness and I-dentity. I’m depressed, I’m an alcoholic, I’m stupid, I’m intelligent, I’m successful, I’m deserving…pick your poison (and we do). We trade this moment’s ever unending rebirth, the newness ever unfolding into wonder right now for assumed understanding, choosing to suffer, to drudge through a thick, mediocre, and melancholy malaise that we cast under each foot, even before it can raise to take a step.

What is there in the life that is unchanging? Who is there in this life undying? What is there not impermanent that our non-selves can possibly hold onto? Try to grok the perversity of getting hung up on no-thing being grasped by, nay absorbed into no-one.

To simplify means to fullify, to focus our lives so that we may have the opportunity to become mind-full of our current experience, that is the experience that every sage from time immemorial has deemed far more than enough. The process of emptying our minds begins by filling our lives to the brim with projected experience that we may only for even the sake of time alone begin to digest through ideas, phantom mind musings in hollow likeness of any-thing itself.

The great way begins this way, breathe in, breathe out and repeat. Relax, center, appreciate- there’s nothing more to life than this. Just this. This.