Category: Buddhism

Buddhism Bio

pre-Buddhist Years

buddha-sarnathA timeline of sorts about my discovery and connection to Buddhism and the Dharma.

Where do I begin? What attracted me to Buddhism? What drew me to continuing my study of the Dharma? Well, maybe a bit of personal history/background would provide a foundation for more historical info.

I come from a Catholic upbringing, the last of six kids, baptized as a Catholic, attended Catholic parochial schools until the end of my freshman year of high school. I was an altar boy during my 6th, 7th, and 8th grade years and was never molested! Imagine that! I must be in the minority. So, never a squeal session under the cassock. I even had thoughts of becoming a Maryknoll missionary, going off to Africa (or some such) and being a priest. I went so far as to receive the Maryknoll’s propaganda magazines and attend some of the local seminary altar boy picnics. How exciting those were! Not! Imagine if you will… a bunch of pubescent, goody-goody boys running around playing softball, eating watermelon with priests and brothers. Zow! Ahh… the Age of Innocence.

Move forward to 8th grade graduation… I am awarded the “Most Religious” award from the pastor of the local church. His words to me as I accepted the little medal, “This is only the beginning.” A bit ominous, but true in many ways. What did he see in me?

In a word, warped! Not especially broken, but slightly bent, a little twisted. I went to an all-male Catholic college prep high school for my freshman year. One year was enough! Too damned much testosterone for my tastes. I stopped attending Catholic services my sophomore year of high school and rarely ever set foot in a Catholic church since then.

I grew up during the Vietnam war and was vehemently against the killing and destruction happening every day. My older brother was shipped off to ‘Nam and served during 1968-1969 year. I requested that a prayer be said for him and for his safety every day during my 8th grade school year. It was a horrible time. (He survived and returned physically unharmed.) I was classified 1-H in my senior year of high school. The 1-H classification is a “holding” category, my number would be up and I would have been put between a rock and a hard place, having to make a decision of serving (not freakin’ likely) or taking a little road trip to Canada.

My first real encounter with any teachings that was outside Catholic doctrine was when I read “Be Here Now” and “Grist For The Mill” by Ram Dass (Richard Alpert.) This was circa 1974. I was a little afraid of what I was reading, mostly concerned that Ram Dass’ words were somehow sacrilegious, I had no real previous exposure to teachings outside the scope of accepted Catholic doctrine. Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t a total innocent nor completely clueless. I had read Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice” in 8th grade–the nuns were a little taken aback! I had attended anti-war demonstrations in my little home town, had numerous incidents of being chemically altered during my sophomore year in high school. I was deeply touched with Ram Dass’ obvious spirituality, how in touch he was with his connection to humanity; my lack of being totally cynical put me in a space where I was able to see the truth of his words. Ram Dass wrote beautifully and touched my heart, but I didn’t discern that he was providing any methods or practices I could use to make sense of my life and my place in the world.

A little side trip that was a real life-altering experience: my older brother, Michael, had AIDS and was seriously ill from AIDS-related opportunistic diseases. His partner received help with day-to-day care taking from a local San Francisco AIDS-support organization known as Shanti. I helped with respite care for my brother on a number of weekends and my heart was opened again, I rediscovered my compassion (or metta as it is known in Buddhism.)

I bring up Shanti because I later went through their volunteer/HIV-AIDS support training in my home town around 1992. This training was another vehicle that helped to open my heart, see beyond myself. I finished the training (one weekend of a Friday night, all-day Saturday, and the majority of a Sunday, and then an additional training session each week for eight weeks) and was chosen to be a volunteer. I was assigned my first HIV/AIDS client shortly thereafter. I worked with my client, Bo, being a listener, being an advocate for his health care, helping with errands, and finally being present while he died. My presence with Bo while he died was why I trained: he would have died alone.

I put my training to use again a year later when my mother was diagnosed with lymphoma, colon cancer and ended up in a coma in the hospital after surgery. She passed away right as I passed her a rosary: she closed her hand around the rosary and took her last breath and expired. I was fortunate to be with her and to help her move along.

Flash forward about two years… I picked up a small book by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Buddhist monk/teacher from Viet Nam named Thich Nhat Hanh. I found a great introduction to Buddhism and mindfulness in his The Long Road Turns to Joy guide to walking meditation.

Potent Quotes

Here are a number of quotes I’ve collected over the years that I considered “potent” — very significant or simply clarified some finer point of the Dharma.

Putting the Buddha’s discovery into practice is no quick fix. It can take years. The most important qualification at the beginning is a strong desire to change your life by adopting new habits and learning to see the world anew.
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Tricycle Fall 2001

Right now we have the ability to receive teachings and practice the Dharma. Isn’t this the right time? Wouldn’t that be better than continuing to act like an animal, concentrating only on eating and sleeping and letting time run out? Why not take your future into your own hands?
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
Tricycle, Fall 2001

“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” conveys the message that no teacher can do our work for us and that extreme reverence for a teacher or a set of beliefs may keep us from reaching our own truth.
Sandy Boucher
Opening The Lotus, pg 9

Offering your body and mind to emptiness, or in other words, to the pure sense of human action.
Dainin Katagiri, Roshi
Returning To Silence (pg 9)

If you study Buddhism thinking that it will help you, that means that you use Buddhism for your ego, for selfishness. No matter how long you do this, it is egocentric practice. If you continue to practice like this you will never be satisfied, because desire is endless.
Dainin Katagiri, Roshi
Returning To Silence (pg 9)

…Do not use Buddhism for yourself. Offer your body and mind to the Buddha-dharma. Buddha is not divine. Buddha is your daily life.
Dainin Katagiri, Roshi
Returning To Silence (pg 9)

Certainty is our lens to interpret what’s going on, and, as long as our explanations work, we feel a sense of stability and security. But in a changing world, certainty doesn’t give us stability; it actually creates more chaos. As we stay locked in our position and refuse to adapt, the things we’d hoped would stay together fall apart. …By holding on, we destroy what we hope to preserve; by letting go, we feel secure in accepting what is.
Margaret Wheatley
Shambhala Sun, Nov. 2001, pg 17

The nature of ignorance is to lack deep communication with nature or with the universe. It is to separate, to isolate, to create discrimination and differences, so that finally we cannot communicate as a harmonious whole. These differences we create appear as fighting, anger, hatred, and war.
Dainin Katagiri, Roshi
Returning To Silence (pg 17)

An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t. It’s knowing where to go to find out what you need to know; and it’s knowing how to use the information once you get it.
William Feather

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Good Earth tea

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967

The bombs in Vietnam explode at home; they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967.

Renunciation does not have to be regarded as negative. I was taught that it has to do with letting go of holding back. What one is renouncing is closing down and shutting off from life. You could say that renunciation is the same thing as opening to the teachings of the present moment.
Pema Chodron
Tricycle Fall ’91 (pg 50)

Renunciation is realizing that our nostalgia for wanting to stay in a protected, limited, petty world is insane.
Pema Chodron
Tricycle Fall ’91 (pg 50)

“When I am accused of something that I didn’t do, I bow in acknowledgement of all the things that I did do.”
–quote attributed to R. H. Blythe
Tricycle, Fall ’91, (pg. 69)

….Evil is just deep unconsciousness–a terrible inability of people to comprehend the oneness of humanity. The willingness to war against other people is a consequence of this.
Bruce Joel Rubin
Tricycle Fall ’91 (pg. 79)

Three axioms arising from practice:

  1. The situation is not other than your mind;
  2. You don’t choose the situation, but can choose how to practice it;
  3. Any situation can take the form of wisdom and compassion.

Bonnie Myotai Treace, Sensei
Zen Mountain Monastery

…If we don’t see the end we don’t know what to do, or if the end is far away we become upset. When we think of how to master zazen or attain enlightenment or try to understand zazen as taught by the Buddha, we become exhausted. We can’t practice. Sometimes, when we feel lazy, we should think of those questions.
Dainin Katagiri, Roshi
Returning To Silence (pg 116)

They do not lament over the past, they yearn not for what is to come, they maintain themselves in the present, thus their complexion is serene
Samyutta Nikaya I, 5

To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to purify one’s mind-this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
Dhammapada 183

Look not to the faults of others, nor to their omissions and commissions. But rather look to your own acts, to what you have done and left undone.
Dhammapada 50

Buddhism teaches absolute equality which stemmed from Buddha’s recognition that all sentient beings possess this innate wisdom and nature. Therefore, there is no inherent difference among beings.
Rev. Chun Kin
“Buddhism Education”

A person’s true character is revealed by what he does when no one is watching.
Good Earth tea

When people say they are bored, often they mean that they don’t want to experience the sense of emptiness, which is also an expression of openness and vulnerability. … Fearlessness is a question of learning how to be. Be there all along…
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche<
Shambhala Sun, (pg 30)

I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.
Jack London

Contentment, unlike happlness, is not dependent upon our circumstancs. It is an inner perspective from which we are aware of the difficulties or problems of our lives without being emotionally controlled by them. Contentment is an experience of inner peace.
Matthew Flickstein
“Journey to the Center”, (pg 15)

I’ve learned that it’s better not to wait for a crisis to discover what’s important in your life.
“Live & Learn Pass It On”

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.
Good Earth tea bag

Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person-to-person.
Mother Teresa

Make an island of yourself, make yourself your refuge; there is no other refuge. Make truth your island, make truth your refuge; there is no other refuge.
Digha Nikaya, 16

The devil often cites Scripture for his purpose.
William Shakespeare
Rules For Writers, pg 475

May all creatures, all living things,
all beings one and all,
experience good fortune only.
May they not fall into harm.
Anguttara Nikaya II, 72

With good will for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, & all around,
unobstructed, without hostility or hate.
Sutta Nipata I, 8

“As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I.”
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.
Sutta Nipata 705

Buddhism Books

Here are some books on Buddhism I have read and recommend for visitors who are interested in furthering their knowledge and understanding of Buddhism. I’ve formatted this list as a table with a clickable link to the book offering on

Title Author ISBN # Description Amazon URL
Journey to the Center

Matthew Flickstein


This is your guide to deeper
insight and contentment. Using hands-on exercises, journal
entries, guided meditations, and stories, Matthew Flickstein
combines Eastern meditation techniques and methods of Western
psychotherapy to offer you this practical workbook for realizing
your greatest potential.

Link to “Journey to the Center”

A Path with Heart Jack Kornfield


One of my favorite books. Based on
Jack Kornfield’s dharma talks: full of great stories, insights,
observations, and recommendations about living in the modern
world and living an authentic life, following the path with
connections to our heart.

link to “A Path With Heart”
After the Ecstasy, the Laundry Jack Kornfield


This book offers a uniquely
intimate and honest understanding of how the modern spiritual
journey unfolds – and how we can prepare our hearts for

link to “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”

A Heart as Wide as the World Sharon Salzberg


Sharon Salzberg reveals how our own happiness is found in the
capacity to open our hearts to others – and shows that this
capacity is far more vast than we may ever have thought possible.
Through meditation and the practice of lovingkindness, Salzberg
shows how we can discover our intimate connection to those around
us and to the world as a whole.

link to “A Heart as Wide as the World”

Lovingkindness : The Revolutionary Art of Happiness Sharon Salzberg


Sharon Salzberg shows us how we might systematically cultivate
lovingkindness in our lives. Given the pain and turmoil that we
often experience, the endemic misperceptions of the human mind
regarding who and what we are, and how we relate to the stress
and pain of our lives, practicing lovingkindness is an arduous
discipline – no less so than attending to one’s breathing or
observing the stream of one’s thought.

link to “Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness”

Swallowing the River Ganges

Matthew Flickstein


A practical guide to the Path of Purification Amazon
link to “Swallowing the River Ganges”
The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

Thich Nhat Hanh


One of my favorite dharma teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh.
Transforming suffering into peace, joy, and liberation.
link to “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”
Awakening the Buddha Within : Tibetan Wisdom for the
Western World

Lama Surya Das


Lama Surya Das shows how we can awaken to who we really are in
order to lead a more compassionate, enlightened, and balanced
link to “Awakening the Buddha Within”
Selling Water by the River

Jiyu Kennet


Here is a fascinating inside view of the religious side of Zen
through a comprehensive manual of instruction for trainees.
link to “Selling Water by the River”
How to Meditate : A Practical Guide

Kathleen McDonald


What is meditation? Why practice it? Which technique is best
for me? How do I do it? The answers to these often-asked
questions are contained in this down-to-earth book.
link to “How to Meditate”
Phra Farang

Phra Peter Pannapadipo


Tells the story of Peter Robinson, a successful businessman,
who at forty five, gave up his comfortable life in London to
ordain as a Buddhist monk in Bangkok. But the new path he had
chosen was not always as easy or as straightforward as he hoped
it would be.
link to “Phra Farang”
Buddhism: A Way of Life and Thought

Nancy Wilson Ross


A great book that provides a clear, concise overview of
Buddhism, the different traditions and locations. Highly

link to “Buddhism – A Way of Life and Thought”

Bearing Witness: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Making Peace

Bernie Glassman


A wonderful book rich with practical and spiritual wisdom for
making peace in our hearts and in the world. How Glassman Roshi
was moved to start the Zen Peacemaker Order.
link to “Bearing Witness”
The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and

Philip Kapleau Roshi


This rich source book on Zen Buddhism includes Yasutani
Roshi’s Introductory Lectures on Zen practice and his private
instructions to ten Westerners studying Zen.
link to “The Three Pillars of Zen”
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Shunryu Suzuki


The mind of the beginner is needed throughout Zen practice. It
is the open mind, the attitude that includes both doubt and
possibility, the ability to see things always as fresh and new.
It is needed in all aspects of life. Beginner’s mind is the
practice of Zen mind.
link to “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”
Returning to Silence

Dainin Katagiri


Offers a basic understanding of Zen Buddhism. Special emphasis
on discovering the experience of enlightenment in the midst of
everyday life.
link to “Returning to Silence”
Opening the Lotus: A Woman’s Guide to Buddhism

Sandy Boucher


Do women take a unique approach to spirituality? What are the
elements of the Buddhist path, and what particular challenges
might a Western woman face in beginning a Buddhist practice? What
profound benefits does Buddhist practice offer to contemporary
link to “Opening the Lotus”
Everyday Zen

Charlotte Joko Beck


Offers a warm, engaging, uniquely American approach to using
Zen to deal with the problems of daily living – love,
relationships, work, fear, ambition, suffering. Beck shows how to
live each moment to the fullest.
link to “Everyday Zen”
The Miracle of Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh


This lucid and beautiful guide to Eastern meditation provides
Westerners with a method of learning the skills of mindfulness – of
being awake and fully aware.
link to “The Miracle of Mindfulness”
Touching Peace

Thich Nhat Hanh


Thich Nhat Hanh continues to develop the teachings on
practicing the art of mindful living begun in Being Peace.
link to “Touching Peace”
Nine-Headed Dragon River

Peter Matthiessen


This moving, highly personal story attempts to convey the
essence of the Zen experience as the journal shuttles between an
account of modern Zen masters in America, details of the Buddha’s
life, lyrical introspection and poetic recollections of Nepal,
Tibet, India and Japan.
link to “Nine-Headed Dragon River”
Zen Flesh Zen Bones

Paul Reps, Nyogen Senzaki


The essence of Zen–as a way of life, a religion, an
aesthetic–can be found in the works of the Zen canon. Reps draws
short stories and vignettes from such classic works as The
Gateless Gate and 101 Zen Stories to help listeners come closer
to answering the question: What is Zen?
link to “Zen Flesh Zen Bones”
Buddha’s Little Instruction Book

Jack Kornfield


Buddha’s simple instructions have helped people to find
wholeness and peace amid life’s crises and distractions for more
than 2,500 years.
link to “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book”
Awakening Loving-Kindness

Pema Chodron


Small, pocket (abridged) edition that contains great lessons
and methods of practicing. This book, and any of Pema Chodron’s
books are highly recommended.
link to “Awakening Loving-Kindness”
The Jewel in the Lotus

Stephen Batchelor


This is the first book in English to bring together a clear
and down to earth introduction to Tibetan Buddhism with
selections of teachings from each of the traditions that have
flourished in Tibet, and now in the West, for more than a
thousand years.
link to “The Jewel in the Lotus”
Introduction to Buddhism

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso


An explanation of the Buddhist way of life, a compelling
introduction to the life and teachings of Buddha. Those new to
Buddhism and meditation will find this book an ideal guide to the
Buddhist way of life.
link to “Introduction to Buddhism”
Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

Chogyam Trungpa


Drawing from the teachings of Tibet’s age-old warrior culture,
Chogyam Trungpa shows us how to use the principles of enlightened
warriorship in our own lives to conquer the self-doubt,
negativity, and aggression that keep us from genuine happiness
and total fulfillment.
link to “Shambhala-The Sacred Path of the Warrior”
Taking the Path of Zen

Robert Aitken


Robert Aitken presents the practice, lifestyle, rationale, and
ideology of Zen Buddhism with remarkable clarity. Taking the Path
of Zen will serve as orientation and guide for anyone who is
drawn to the ways of Zen.
link to “Taking the Path of Zen”
Only Don’t Know

Seung Sahn


The first Korean Zen Master to teach in the West, Seung Sahn
challenges his students with kong-ans, encourages them in their
practice, and teaches them by holding before them the clear
mirror of his own mind.
link to “Only Don’t Know”
Imagine All The People

Tenzin Gyatso, The XIV Dalai Lama


If you could sit down with The Dalai Lama and talk with him
about anything, what would you discuss? Fabien Ouaki, a prominent
French businessman, was granted such an opportunity and asked The
Dalai Lama what he thinks about the everyday issues that fill our
newspapers and lives.
link to “Imagine All The People”
Beyond Dogma

Tenzin Gyatso, The XIV Dalai Lama


His Holiness responds to a wide range of contemporary social,
political, and religious issues during a series of public
lectures and question-and-answer sessions with political
activists, religious leaders, students, scientists, Buddhist
practitioners, and interfaith organizations.
link to “Beyond Dogma”
Gesture of Balance

Tarthang Tulku


Gesture of Balance urges us to directly experience our own
natures and to find their surprising ways of living full and
worthwhile lives.
link to “Gesture of Balance”
Zen: Dawn in the West

Roshi Phillip Kapleau


This book draws upon Roshi Kapleau’s experience in conducting
intensive retreats, introductory workshops, and lectures, and in
guiding hundreds of Zen students of all ages at the Rochester Zen
link to “Zen: Dawn in the West”
The Mind of Clover

Robert Aitken


Robert Aitken addresses the world beyond the zazen cushions,
illuminating issues of appropriate personal and social action
through an exploration of the philosophical complexities of Zen
link to “The Mind of Clover”
Bring Me the Rhinoceros

John Tarrant


This book offers an unusual path to happiness. It doesn’t
encourage you to strive for things or manipulate people or change
yourself into an improved, more polished version of you. Instead,
it deftly shows that, rather than laboriously building happiness,
you can just unbuild, unmake, toss overboard, and generally
subvert unhappiness.
link to “Bring Me the Rhinoceros”
The Gateless Barrier

Robert Aitken


The Gateless Barrier is generally acknowledged to be the
fundamental koan collection in the literature of Zen. Gathered
together by Wu-men (Mumon), a thirteenth-century master of the
Lin-chi (Rinzai) school, it is composed of forty-eight koans, or
cases, each accompanied by a brief comment and poem by Wu-men.
Aitken has translated Wu-men’s text, supplementing the original
with his own commentary – making the profound truths of Zen
Buddhism accessible to serious contemporary students and relevant
to current social concerns.
link to “The Gateless Barrier”
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Sogyal Rinpoche


In this timely book, Sogyal Rinpoche focuses on how to
understand the true meaning of life, how to accept death, and how
to help the dying, and the dead. … This book offers readers not
just a theoretical account of death and dying, but also practical
measures for understanding, and for preparing themselves and
others in a calm and fulfilling way.
link to “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”
Teachings of the Buddha

Jack Kornfield, editor


Included here are some of the earliest recorded sayings of the
historic Buddha on the practice of freedom, selections from later
Indian Buddhist scriptures on the perfection of wisdom, verses
from the Tibetan masters on the enlightened mind, and songs of
praise by Zen teachers on the great value of meditation.
link to “Teachings of the Buddha”
The Dhammapada

translated The Venerable Balangoda
Ananda Maitreya


The Dhammapada holds a special place of distinction in
Buddhist literature. It is often characterized as the most
representative example of the teachings of the Buddha. It
provides, beautifully and simply, a key to the fundamentals of
early Buddhist philosophy…
link to “The Dhammapada”
One Dharma

Joseph Goldstein


Goldstein’s intention is twofold. First, it is to leave
readers with a path of practice that integrates various teachings
and methods of these several traditions – from the first steps of
entering the path to the transformative experience of sudden
awakening. And second, it is to show that, beneath the
differences of method and philosophy, there is a deep common vein
of liberating wisdom that runs through all the lineages of
link to “One Dharma”
Mountain Record of Zen Talks

John Daido Loori


Based on dharma talks given by John Daido Loori, the book
explores the seven areas of study that are the focus of training
at Zen Mountain Monastery in New York State: meditation, study
with the teacher, liturgy, art practice, body practice, the study
of scriptures, and work practice.
link to “Mountain Record of Zen Talks”
The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation

Thich Nhat Hanh


One of the few books focused completely on mindful walking and walking meditation. This revised edition of the best-selling title (nearly 80,000 copies sold to date) includes over 30 percent new material—including new walking meditation poems and practices—and provides a practical and inspirational introduction to this important practice. Amazon
link to “The Long Road Turns to Joy”