Dave’s Vegetarian Fried Rice

When I reflect on my life, being a long time vegetarian is one thing that brings me great joy. Eating without eating any animals is such a simple choice, and it feels profoundly wholesome. It’s also fairly easy to do!!

Recently, in responding to someone on Twitter saying “Post something positive…” I posted this picture of my Vegetarian Fried Rice. Someone said, “Share the recipe!”

Here it is!!

Making Dave’s Vegetarian Fried Rice.

1 cup long grain rice (and water per package instructions)
1 cup quinoa (plus two cups water)
1 package of Layona’s Vegetarian Tuna Chunks (other non-meat proteins can be used, but look up Layona’s and get it if you can. You won’t be disappointed).
A handful of freshly cut pineapple pieces
A handful of coarsely chopped cashews
One broccoli crown
One carrot (or 3-4 baby carrots)
2 Tbsp Peanut Oil
2 Tbsp Braggs Amino Acid (“Braggs”)
2 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp Chinese chili oil
1 tsp truffle oil (white or black)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
4 eggs (haven’t tried egg substitutes, but I’m sure they’d work. Three eggs or two eggs works fine, too, if you’re watching that kind of thing).

Cook the rice per the instructions. You’re going for non-sticky rice, so adjust as needed.
Cook the quinoa. One cup quinoa and two cups water go into a small pot. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer. Cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit 10 minutes.

While the rice and quinoa cook, chop the pineapple, cashews, broccoli and carrots into pretty small pieces. I like everything that goes in to be the size of my pinky fingernail or so. No big bites, just evenly sized small bites. Chop the vegetarian Tuna Chunks into 1cm cubes (approximately).

Make the Braggs ++ sauce: in a small bowl, combine the Braggs, Soy Sauce, Chili Oil, Toasted Sesame Oil, and Truffle Oil (optional, but super nice). Stir and set aside.

In another small bowl, crack the eggs and beat lightly. Set aside.

In a large pan (use your largest fry-pan or rice and veggies will be flying all over the place) add peanut oil and use a medium high heat. Add one piece of Tuna Chunk and wait till it sizzles just a bit. Add Tuna Chunks and cook until nicely browned on all sides; 4 -5 min. Add broccoli, and carrots and cook them for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. A lid will help steam the veggies between stirs. When the broccoli looks bright green, add the cashews and pineapple; 1 to 2 minutes.

Now that everything is looking awesome, add the rice and add the quinoa. The pan will be full, but don’t make it so full that you can’t stir it. Flatten out the rice and quinoa on top and pour the Braggs++ sauce in a spiral around the rice and then mix immediately to spread the flavor. Chop up any clumps with the spatula. Mix mix mix. Let it sit. Mix mix mix. Let it sit. If any sticks to the bottom, use a hearty spatula to scrape it up.. that’s the crunchy goodness. Once the whole mixture is very hot, add the egg, again in a spiral over all the rice and immediately mix mix mix so that there are no big clumps of egg and it’s distributed very evenly. I like to use a mix/chop/scoop motion to really get it mixed well. The egg should be cooking with the hot rice. Make sure it’s all cooked.

Boom. You’re done. Serve it hot with a crack of salt on it, maybe.

So good. Let me know what you think in the comments!!

Peace, my veggie loving friends!!!


Another cycle through the seasons of practice

If you follow this blog, you’ll know that the posts have become more infrequent. I have the intention to return to blogging more often. What’s been going on? Has practice continued?

I know it’s a cop out to say “I’ve been busy”, but that seems like the best thing to say. I’m still at Mission Dharma, going weekly, on the board of directors and still a lead volunteer – so that commitment is still quite strong and keeps me well connected to the Sangha and a great weekly practice.

I did teach another intro to Buddhism course this fall. The students were great, with more philosophical questions this time and I really enjoyed teaching the material. Preparing to teach is a wonderful way to deepen one’s Right Understanding! There was some conflict with the other dharma teacher. I’d rather not go into detail, but personality differences brought some stress to the class (not during the class, but surrounding it). Teaching teams make for tricky dynamics – despite all the Goodwill and Right Intention.

My daily practice has really dropped off. I’ve picked it up again just this week, but there’s little momentum. This is where the busy-ness comes in. And I can really feel it (the not practicing) in my life… not acutely, but more like a dull ache. I’m more heavy. I’m triggered by the awful politics (2017 was Trump’s first year in office). I feel less freedom, less delight, more dissatisfaction … more dukkha. I guess it’s just that simple. I’m not cleaning out on a daily basis. I’m … you get the idea.

So… here’s to a new year. I did sit at home on Monday. I went to Mission Dharma on Tuesday. I sat again last night (but only for 10 minutes) and now it’s Thursday. I don’t plan on making a grand commitment, but I do want to deepen my daily practice again. And come back to blogging. And read more (dharma and non-dharma). And drink less. And I’m going to try to remember that it’s not like a light switch — sitting more isn’t going to suddenly *blip* make my days lighter and brighter – it’s a process that is ‘forward leading’ as opposed to ‘spiraling slowly down’. I’ve been through this Dharma up / Dharma down dance before. I see it. Again. Just another cycle through the seasons of practice … even this is known. Even this.

Maintaining and Transmitting the Dharma or Winning Political Points in Samsara

As a member of Mission Dharma’s board of directors in 2017, the Sangha’s role in a wider society and it’s relationship to politics has become an issue I’ve been invited to explore.

Politics in the Trump era are mind boggling. Not only are the intentional policies scary and threatening — with immigrants in the cross hairs, tax cuts for the rich, medical benefits for millions on the verge of being lost, public education under attack, the military budget spiraling out of control, the threat of nuclear war in the news — but now we have widespread, pervasive threats to the very institutions of government, the rule of law and even the very bedrock of honest intellectual discussion and dialog: Truthfulness itself.

Looking at our political landscape, good people want to get involved. Some of those good people are on our board, and they want to give Mission Dharma a voice in this political fight.

I am not anti-political at all. I was arrested at the start of the Iraq war for sitting zazen in the middle of the street at Market and Kearny Streets in San Francisco. I’ve carried many signs in many marches, most recently at the Women’s March after Trump was inaugurated. I don’t have a problem raising my voice. Often my signs or my chanting come from an unhappy place – and sometimes I will even voice anger. I know this about myself. In exploring the Sangha’s role in politics, I want to be extremely cautious that anger plays no role in the Sangha’s raised voice.

I have decidedly mixed feelings about Mission Dharma being politicized. The Buddha’s Path, in my mind, begins with the world as-it-is and through the practices of mindfulness, equanimity, open heartedness, and secluded concentration it points to — even leads to — a freedom which is beyond conditions. It points to the unborn, the deathless, emptiness, the Absolute. Buddha nature is not of the world. Dharma, in that it points towards Buddhanature must not ever be compromised into becoming a tool for one side or another in any worldly struggle for power. If used in this way, it no longer points beyond the manifold world; it is no longer Dharma.

Can Mission Dharma, then, write a statement regarding it’s political stance that’s (a) consistent with the organization’s Mission Statement (below) and (b) consistent with the BuddhaDharma itself?

Mission Dharma is a sangha whose purpose is to create a safe and welcoming space for all to practice insight meditation and loving kindness for the purpose of awakening wisdom and compassion for the benefit of all beings. We support a deep understanding of the Dharma, the Buddha’s teachings on liberation, as expressed in the Theravadan tradition.  Mission Dharma welcomes all, whether new or experienced practitioners, from all diverse backgrounds.  

It seems any political stance we take has to be grounded in aspects of the teaching, without exception. We cannot say we are on one side of any issue without connecting our reasoning to the Dharma. We have to show our work.

If we want to say we support “Black Lives Matter” or better yet, if we want to simply say “Black Lives Matter”, we need to first reassert our commitment to Right Intention: the promotion of harmlessness and the relinquishment of ill-will. If we commit to non-harming, abandonment of killing, and the relinquishment of ill-will; and if we bear witness to the unjust, unfair, unequal treatment of non-whites in our society — then when we say “Black Lives Matter”, we are practicing Right Speech, which is true, timely, and beneficial.

If Mission Dharma reasserts it’s commitment to Right Intention, Right Speech, and Right Action, then some positions will be made clear. In other cases there may be debate. In some cases, where there is confusion or if elements of the path can be used to support opposing sides, then perhaps it will be best to practice silence — as the Buddha often did when asked worldly questions.

In so far as Mission Dharma takes a stand on any issue, it must embody the Dharma as it interacts with the world at large. The messages on our banners mustn’t incite ill-will, for instance. We must march both peacefully and mindfully, should we march at all. Our intentions should be made explicit: “May our actions be for the benefit of ourselves, those we interact with, our enemies, and all beings”. This may sound lofty, and it is. But if a Buddha Dharma Sangha doesn’t hold these intentions, who will?

We are all works in progress; in practice we will make mistakes. When setting intentions and speaking for the Sangha, however, the Sangha Leadership must summon clarity of mind, bring Right Intention to bear, and speak in harmony with the Dharma. Any statement made in anger, ill will or from a partisan view falls short of this and will inevitably bear the marks of Dhukkha: it won’t hold up over time, it will bring about division or derision, it will cause attachment and suffering.

Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple Soup Beef

A good friend from San Francisco introduced us to the Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple in Berkeley this weekend. He’d talked a lot about it in the past, and this weekend, he brought his family across the bridge and we met at our house with another wonderful set of friends, with six kids and six parents in all, and headed off to lunch at the temple.

I loved the ornate temple decor on the front of the building, and felt welcomed and happy as we drifted in through the driveway entrance alongside the temple, and found ourselves amongst a huge community gathering — full of people, food and energy! There were at least a hundred and fifty people there enjoying the warm day with plates of curry, rice, Pad Thai, and noodle soup.

The food I had was delicious. Getting so many people from the area into a Buddhist temple was a delight to behold — and quite a surprise. I’m not so sure you’d see this in San Francisco, somehow. It seems to fit quite nicely in Berkeley. It’s a little less hip and a little more .. I dunno .. Berkeley.

The temple has an interesting way to handle the financial transaction of buying the food. I’m not sure if they do it this way so that the servers don’t have to handle money (due to the prohibition of money handling by monks and nuns, perhaps) or if it’s just an efficient way for them to keep the lines moving, but they were using a system of chips as currency. $1=1 chip; and the meals were distributed using a system where one choice was 7 chips, two choices was 8 chips, three choices was 9 chips. Other foods had other ‘chip’ prices. It was very clever and easy. You could trade in unused chips for dollars, or donate them to the temple at the end! Great idea.

I have to say there is one puzzling thing about the food. They had one vegetarian line and two meat lines. The only soup they served was a beef broth soup with … well, beef, I guess, floating prominently in the bowl. I really don’t want to disparage the temple, but I cannot square my understanding of Buddhism with the choice to serve so much meat. The vegetarian choices were excellent and there were seven or eight distinct things to choose from. It’s not like their menu would be lacking without the meat. Do they think nobody would come unless they serve it? This is an introduction to Buddhism, undoubtedly for many of these people. What kind of example does it set to include animal flesh in the food? When it comes to right conduct (Sila) abstaining from killing is literally the #1 rule:

The five precepts

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami

I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.

I would love to speak to the abbot about it. I’m sure they’ve heard the question from others. They must have!! I’m sure they have a pat answer. I just can’t seem to guess what that answer could possibly be. I’ll just have to make it part of my practice at this moment to ‘let it go’… not dwell or get stuck on it… detachment… confusion is like this… disappointment is like this… sometimes it doesn’t make sense, and that can be ok. Breathing in, breathing out.

It’s hard for me when meat eating comes up in buddhist contexts. This isn’t the first time. The only place I’ve seen it skillfully addressed is in “The Crooked Cucumber” (Suzuki Roshi’s biography), when Suzuki skillfully uses a cheeseburger switcheroo with his head student while on a road trip as a means to get him to not take his vegetarianism too seriously (ie. not to get attached to his vegetarian ‘self’). This is why I’ll eat the errant piece of chicken that fell into a burrito – or not worry too much when a food order gets mixed up and I end up with a mouthful of something suspicious. Let it go. Not striving for purity. Just following Sila; just maintaining the intention to do no harm. No need to take myself or my efforts too seriously. That said, I’d be pretty hard pressed to serve beef soup at a buddhist potluck, let alone at the temple!

What’s-his-face and the experience of humiliation

With the US election of 2016 just 7 days behind us, the prospect of President-elect What’s-his-face being our next president is one of the most depressing state of affairs I’ve ever encountered.

I’ve been trying to stay present with the emotions: anger, fear, disbelief, frustration, disgust. The fact that this person ran on a platform so antithetical to the Buddhist concepts of Right Intention, Right Speech, and Right Action suggests that we’re about to take a giant step backwards, collectively, from liberation towards suffering. The wind has completely left my sails. My stomach, throat, and breathing are all heavy. My face feels tension. My mind is racing between all of the awful statements that were made during the campaign, to all of the helpful agencies that will be disbanded, to all of the platform promises filled with hate and discrimination that will be enacted and all of the environmental damage that will be done as ignorant policies are unleashed on the land.

Along with all of this is a feeling of lethargy. While investigating this, I realized that there is another emotion that’s present, and calling it out has been helpful: I feel humiliated. I had to tease apart the difference between simply being embarrassed and feeling humiliated. If we drew a lottery and What’s-his-face won, then we’d be embarrassed about it. Knowing that this is something that was intentionally done to us, though, by individual’s choice and action – that moves the feeling from simple embarrassment to a sense of humiliation.

We as a nation have been humiliated – by (just fewer than!) half of the voters. They knowingly, willfully did this to all of us. They chose explicit hate, fear, and anger. And now the nation has to live with a known liar and scam artist, a cheating abusive husband, an ogling peeping tom beauty pageant owner, a litigious bastard of a business owner – the nation must humbly accept this man as our rightfully elected president. That’s humiliating. He will speak on my behalf on the international stage. He will make decisions on my behalf regarding the welfare of my family, my neighbors, and all the creatures of our planet – on the land and in the air and sea. His picture will hang in the post office or even in the principal’s office at my daughter’s school. That’s revolting. The fact that so many others chose him to play this role in my life feels – humiliating.

On reflection, this can only be the case in so far as I identify with being a citizen of this particular country. You can be sure I’ll be examining this identification, but I want to love our country. I do identify as an American and I want to be proud of who we are. Please note: I’m not always proud of everything we do, but I’ve been hopeful that we’re at least heading in the right direction, with a ‘one step back and two steps forward’ kind of trajectory. This just feels like an all-out retreat in the wrong direction towards so much sadness, so much unnecessary suffering. This is why people are struggling so badly, saying “he’s not my president” and dissociating themselves from their affiliation with the country. They are trying to find a way out of the humiliation.

Naming the emotions has helped. Recognizing the feeling of humiliation has helped. It doesn’t solve the underlying pain, but it is letting me see it more clearly, so I can sit with it. I’m trying to stay connected to the Dharma, sitting on my own, reading passages from teachers addressing the election, and sitting with others in my office (which, so far, has been the best response to all of the craziness).

Right now, things are like this: unpleasant feeling tones, confusion, uncertainty. Humiliation feels like this. Sadness feels like this. Breathing in; breathing out. Tension feels like this. Worry feels like this. Breathing in shallow, breathing out shallow. Feeling the body. Aware of the thinking mind, thinking, thinking, thinking. Right now, it is like this.

Good luck to all.

Conditional happiness is not yet freedom

I wanted to transcribe this because it’s been on my mind since I heard it – and listened again to it on Facebook via the live feed stream that Mary did that night. I found the idea that chasing happiness causes a dependency in us, a form of bondage, a critical idea. Please read below. If you want to hear Howie give the talk, you can search for Mission Dharma on Facebook and go back to 11.1.16 for the live stream. Here is the first 4 minutes of the talk:

“We all want freedom. We all want to be happy. We all want to be free of anxiety, worry [and] suffering… and it is possible. But the way that we ordinarily try to discover that sense of  well being is by trying to experience as many moments of pleasure as we can. And then devote a lot of our time to seeking pleasure. And when we get a little pleasure, we say, “Oh, I’m Happy” but we don’t actually realize that this very means of seeking happiness is actually making us, creating in our mind much more dependency on having some pleasure to be happy. The Buddha described the happiness that depends on things being the way we want them – he called that ‘conditional happiness’. He called it ‘worldly happiness’. He called it the happiness that depends on satisfying some kind of hunger. He also called it the happiness of bondage because it just creates … less and less feeling of freedom; much more dependency on things being the way we want.

The Buddha said that we have to have these kinds of pleasures in our life, but we also have to understand a few things about them: their pleasure; their defects – they don’t deliver in the long haul; and what it means to be free from this kind of dependency. We want to know the dangers of getting caught up in the wheel of endlessly looking for sweet experiences. And we also want to experience the pleasure because our senses need to be glad.

That kind of happiness is part of our life, but it hasn’t made anyone truly happy. It has mostly made us feel bound and dependent on conditions for our sense of wellbeing. On the other side, the Buddha said there is this kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on conditions.. called ‘lokuttara sukkha’ the happiness that is unstuck from conditions… beyond the common influence of whatever is happening.. it’s called the happiness of freedom… so that’s what the teachings really aim for, a reliable kind of freedom.”


-Howie Cohn

November 1, 2016.

Pleasure and Pain – is that all there is?

Over the summer, I was at my dad’s house and his good friend stopped by. He’s a very friendly and nice guy and one who enjoys philosophy and analyzing the zeitgeist of our current culture, whatever that may be at the time.

This day he says to me, “David, all there is is pleasure and pain”. This was meant to be an awe-inspiring and irrefutable insight. At the time I didn’t say too much about it. I haven’t  let it go. “There’s only pleasure and pain”… it seems to cover everything at first glance and explains humanity’s motivations – but if you look at it from a Buddhist perspective, it’s such a precise expression of that-which-keeps-us-stuck in Samsara.

If there is only pleasure and pain, the whole objective of life would be to seek pleasure and avoid pain. And, in truth, this is precisely what many people (and animals) are in the process of doing. This seeking and avoiding could also be called “clinging” or “attachment” and “aversion”. These are the very things the Buddha says lead to suffering. Isn’t it the very addiction to pleasurable sensations that leads us to our consumeristic culture? Isn’t it what drives us crazy as we constantly seek out newer, better, more satisfying experiences that never really satisfy us – but leave us in debt and frustration, in agitated states of desire, or addiction? Isn’t it the seeking that causes us to live in our minds, instead of being with what is actually happening? And isn’t it the fear of pain that causes us to constantly judge ourselves, avoid experience, hate one another, and grow more guarded and tight in our hearts and our minds, fearing loss, separation, loneliness and death?

If pleasure and pain don’t cover all of the options, then what does? Well, for starters, there is a quality called ‘equanimity’ that functions as an antidote to clinging and aversion. With equanimity, one can experience pain without the accompanying state of mental suffering. Similarly, one can experience pleasure without automatically clinging to that pleasure, thinking that it’s the only path to happiness. Developing equanimity allows the mind to stay steady as pain or pleasure arises, persists, and passes. A calm abiding becomes possible for one who develops equanimity. Where does calm, peaceful abiding fit on the scale of pleasure and pain?

The pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain is also a solitary one. What if one’s pleasure comes at the price of someone else’s pain? If you can’t feel someone else’s pain, then should it factor into your equation? Wouldn’t the world be viewed as a zero sum game, with resources that bring pleasure being hoarded, while painful and unpleasant parts of life shoved onto the backs of the less fortunate? This approach sounds somewhat familiar. It is compassion that is the antidote to pleasure-and-pain’s solitary end game. Opening oneself to the pain of others, cultivating non-harming, well-wishing, and loving kindness is the path of an open heart – one that leads to the benefit of all and leads to a more freedom for those who practice it.

What’s to be said for renunciation by those who see only pleasure and pain in the world? It’s quite clear that the path of letting go – simplifying – finding happiness in the practices of mindfulness and concentration is quite the opposite of constantly seeking satisfaction through the acquisition of that-which-brings-pleasure.

The Buddha’s path has often been described as going “against the stream”. Most of the world seems to be spellbound by the illusion that “there’s only pleasure and pain” but a few have found the value of equanimity, compassion, and renunciation. Given the inevitability of death, the horrors of treating the world as a zero-sum game of accumulation, and the inherent lack of satisfaction from raw sense experience, perhaps it’s worthwhile exploring this path that goes against the stream to see where it leads.

Movement within stillness and stillness itself

Every teaching I come across these days seems to point to Awareness as the primary realization of spiritual practice — the unborn, aware, awake, “that which knows”. All beings have this aware quality. It precedes any sensation, any phenomenal activity. It’s supremely simple and closer, even, than our thoughts or our bodies.

“Rest in Natural Great Peace”, says Howie Cohn all the time, quoting Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche. That natural great peace is the ‘knowing’ that lies beneath the thinking mind. Even thoughts are known. Thoughts are ripples in the stillness of awareness. Everything is, in a sense, ripples in that still awareness.

When the mind has a chance to settle down, there is an opportunity to rest in that still awareness. If the body and mind are restless, sleepy, angry, wanting, or doubting (experiencing the hinderances), then it’s not easy — perhaps not possible — to catch a glimpse of this stillness. As the mind settles, there is a greater and greater opportunity to discover, and even rest, in that stillness. With stillness of mind, one’s object of meditation, for instance the breath, becomes very tranquil but also very easy to stay with. Like a ripple in a still lake, it’s so easy to spot, so easy to rest one’s attention on. There’s not a lot of distraction around the breath to compete with it. It’s peaceful. It’s calming. The attention is collected, secluded. Desires to be doing anything else fall away. There’s sukkkha, or joy arising from concentration.

Finding the stillness of awareness can be a great aide to breathing practice in this way.

There is still more to explore, though. Becoming stabilized in awareness-in-itself is also possible. After discussing one pointedness, Phillip Moffett invited those at the concentration retreat to become aware of ‘knowing’… of ‘knowing knowing’ and finally ‘knowing knowing knowing’, where the awareness is turned back on itself and uses itself as it’s own object. I recall Alan Watts sort of denying the possibility of this with his “teeth cannot bite themselves” argument, but Phillip invited us to do just this and it was a unique and powerful experience. There have been echoes of it since the retreat and I see so many teachings pointing to it now. It takes practice to put yourself in a position to experience a calm abiding in only knowing, but Phillip pointed to it as a vast and interesting landscape. I think I only made it through to the lobby.. but I have faith that there’s much more to come.

Calm abiding

It’s been two weeks since the 2016 Concentration Retreat, and though I made a lot of notes in my notebook about various things that arose, and lessons learned, it’s taken a while for me to get a clearer picture of what the retreat was about.

I noticed two years ago that the return from the Concentration Retreat was qualitatively different than the post-Vipassana retreat re-entry. Things feel more matter-of-fact and ordinary, but very precise. I have less interest in chasing the ups and downs — not needing to feel entertained or distracted or overly worried — and more interest in being present and feeling the pleasant sensation that comes from effortlessly staying in the present.

Often a Dharma talk or book will say something about meditation and I find that that very something will manifest in my practice soon thereafter. I’ve even thought there is some aspect to practice that involves suggestion, in the sense of persuasion, and that our minds produce the expected state or result because we are leaning into it unconsciously. I don’t know if this is the case, or if it’s better understood as being the mind’s malleability – that doors are opened and we are inclining the mind to step through them and it does! In this case, the Leigh Brasington book on the Jhanas, Right Concentration, suggested that the power in remaining in deep states of concentration is that it teaches the nervous system how to access and remain in states of not only concentration, but bliss, serenity and equanimity. I didn’t spend inordinate amounts of time in absorption states on this retreat, but I was able to get into these states and stabilize them– spending 10 minutes in some cases to a full period in another case– in what I took to be the first, second and third Jhanas. I think soaking in those states even that much has proven to be beneficial in just the ways Leigh spoke about. The qualities of a highly concentrated, happy, and calm mind were certainly present at the retreat — especially during walking meditation following the absorption-state sits. I think these qualities are still accessible as baseline mental states even two weeks after the sit.

My two sits at Mission Dharma last night were in the realm of access concentration and it’s re-invigorated my sense of calm and clarity to a great degree.

It’s so interesting to watch the path unfold.

May all beings know the great natural peace of a calm and collected mind. May all beings be free. Thanks for reading.

Not stopping and not going

During the 2016 Concentration Retreat, two different translations of a sutra were given and both became, for a time, great aids to my practice. The sutra in question is the story of the flood from the Samyutta Nikaya. The Buddha is asked by a deva how he had “crossed the flood [of craving and ignorance]” and in the first translation, the Buddha replied that he had crossed by “not stopping and by not striving”. This became a little post-it note sized reminder during meditation – don’t stop being mindful, and don’t push too hard or look too far ahead to the results or effects of what you are doing – just keep doing it one breath at a time.

Later in the retreat, another teacher used a different translation, wherein the Buddha’s reply became, “… by not stopping and not going.” This version of the answer, again a tiny cheat-sheet sized meditation hint – really struck home and brought great results.

Let me back up a bit.

Last January, Howie Cohn had taught a retreat at Spirit Rock where he also used the term “going”, or more appropriately, “not going”, to refer to simply not following the mind on any of it’s trips. Not getting caught up in the papañca of the mind. The phrase took on great significance at the time and became a whole instruction to essentially stay with what is real — stay with what IS as opposed to going with our thoughts about reality. Learn the difference between that which is arising NOW and thoughts about things that are simply… thoughts.

I’d spent a lot of time on the cushion and the sidewalk practicing “not going” — staying with what IS — during the last six months and it’s been great. Now, with instructions to follow only the breathing on this concentration retreat, I’m told the Buddha says he crossed the flood by “not stopping and not going”! Don’t stop being mindful of breathing and don’t let anything take you away from the breath. Continue on — and guard the sense gates!

This created the perfect little pocket for me to stay with the breath. It didn’t specify how to be with the breath – it’s not a demanding instruction. Just stay with the breath. Don’t stop and don’t go. Now, that’s a formula for concentration!!