Category Archives: Essays

Metta as the most useful method of meditation for people in the West today

Most people these days don’t have a lot of time for meditation. The week is divided between work, caring for their family, and relationships. From what I have seen, all methods of meditation can be helpful to us. There are a few ways, however, that metta, or Buddhist loving kindness meditation especially matches our needs here and now…

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Healing the World Soul

I think of where we are also as a spiritual place. There is a level to our being here that could be called the group soul of this country. On that level, there is a great deal unanswered for, legacies that only occasionally appear in dramatic ways, but that are present in our lives, in our attitudes, in our homes and games, and diet, and economics, and education.

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Knowing the World As a Sacred Place

An Invitation to the Vajrayana View

We are not here on Earth to be alone, but to be a part of a living community, a web of life in which all is sacred… this is something we each need to rediscover and honor anew…  – Llewelyn Vaughn-Lee

If we begin with the view that this world is sacred, then everything that spiritual traditions teach us follows naturally.

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The State of Wonder

Wonder is a state of mind in which we do not look at reality through the latticework of our memorized knowledge, and in which nothing is taken for granted…

Wonder, rather than doubt, is the root of all knowledge… – Abraham Joshua Heschel

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Love is the Eye That Sees Beauty

For many, the days and nights here are experienced as moving from the mundane, and the commonplace, to states of want. The usual starting place is one of ordinary life, with only brief moments of being uplifted by some heroic feat in sports, or beauty in music, or in nature, and then back to what are seen as being plain lives…

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Why compassion is the most important thing in the world

I think most people could tell you, after having lived some years on this earth that what really lasts in memory is not so much what people do, but the goodwill they share with us. When we’re treated with kindness, it stays with us. It can nurture and strengthen us for a long time. Deprived of love, we wither, or become twisted. Cared for, we are healthy and we thrive. After a while we know that love is essential for living.

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Cultivating Joy

Cultivating joy has a reputation in Buddhism for being an easy practice, one that anybody can do, and that really takes just a few moments. Just sit back and think about some of the great things that people have done, and are doing now, or the beauty that is in this world…

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Freedom of Mind – the Root of the Social Gospel

For Dr. David Hilfiker, with photographs by Frank Espada

‘We belong to each other…’

I. The social gospel defined

The social gospel is the view that we are made to care for each other; that we are here to protect, support and encourage each other; to love, nurture and celebrate every one of our family, from birth, through all the stages of life, in struggle and difficulty, and in times of ease and success.

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The Metta of Martin Luther King

Part I – love as a method of personal and social transformation; Part II – An all-encompassing method; & Part III – A world perspective

I thought it might be interesting to sketch out a few notes on the parallels between Dr. King’s ideas, and the teachings on metta. Both show us love as a method of personal and social transformation. There are a few places where they overlap, and some ways they can potentially compliment each other.

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Interdimensionalty in Buddhism and in American Cinema

If the doors of perception were cleansed,
all things would appear as they are, infinite
…” – William Blake

In a recent movie, Tomorrowland, a young woman touches a magical medallion, and is transported to another world, where it is safe, beautiful, and enlightened. When she lets go of the button, she’s back in her ordinary world. When I first saw this, I thought immediately of how it was just like the working of mantra in Buddhism – under the right circumstances, it can shift a person’s awareness immediately, and produce the vision of a Pure Land that has been right here all along.

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A Basic Method of Meditation

Meditation – the cornerstone of the contemplative life

I always enjoy reading the basic meditation instructions from noble teachers because, while they may seem simple, I know there is a great richness to them. What they are describing in these apparently simple teachings are the cornerstone of their contemplative life and practice. And they invite us with these instructions to unfold the fruit of the practice for ourselves…

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The Metta Sutta

He or she who wants to attain peace should practice being upright, humble, and capable of using loving speech.  He or she will know how to live simply and happily, with senses calmed, without being covetous and carried away by the emotions of the majority.  Let him or her not do anything that will be disapproved of by the wise ones.

(And this is what he or she contemplates:)


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Loving Kindness Practice

{In more detail}  Introduction

There is a light in the mind when we love selflessly, no doubt about it. Love is what lets us see beauty. Delighting in others is a kind of enlightenment, we could say, and that light is sustenance; it brings happiness and well being to the heart and mind…

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The Essential Characteristics of Buddha Nature

Based on the teachings in the Uttara Tantra Shastra

All beings are equally endowed with Buddha Nature. It is not something that saints and sages have in a greater measure, and ordinary people have less.In all places and times, in all cultures, for all people, this essential, perfect, true nature is exactly the same. Seeing this at once removes both self denigration, and any pride we may have.

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An Introduction to Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana means ‘the great way’, that aims to benefit all people, and all forms of life. This word comes from one of the ways a person can practice Buddhism. The motivation for their meditation, prayers, ritual and mantra can be not just for their own sake, but for the sake of all their precious family, and for the sake of all beings

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An Introduction to Buddhist Prayer

In America, and in the West in general these days, people don’t usually associate Buddhism and prayer. We usually think of Buddhism as a tradition that teaches quiet sitting meditation, and it is certainly that. Right below the surface, however, we find that there is a great deal of prayer in Buddhism.

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Saints East and West

{A brief essay on Saints, outlining their nature and activity, written as an introduction to the prayers of the Buddhist Mahasiddha Tang Tong Gyalpo.}

“Man generally is not conscious of the power he has. When a man becomes conscious of that power, he is able to do things which people cannot ordinarily accomplish.” – Hazarat Inayat Khan

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On Mythological Time and Space

With our ordinary sense of time, events happen one after the other. Looking ahead, we make plans, and looking back, we measure how far we are now from an experience according to the clock, or calendar. Mythological time though is something completely different. In mythological time, every story that’s been told, of sacred adventures, is about what is happening now, and eternally, and in all times and places…

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The Esoteric Aspect of Connecting With a Tradition

From the outside, when we see a person connecting with a Tradition, it looks fairly straightforward, and self evident. We may see them going to church, or to a temple; on a retreat, or pilgrimage; we may find them joining a candle light procession, reading scriptures or sutras or inspired poetry in time set apart, or having a daily meditation practice. This much can be seen.

Within the experience itself however, there is a richness that is subtle, and tangible. This is less often talked about, and so I’d like to say something about it here…

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The Avatamsaka Sutra and Buddhist Tantra

There are two ways a person can go about understanding Buddhist teachings. One is to study the sutras and commentaries, to listen to teachers and try to make sense of what they are saying on an intellectual level. The other way is to practice in line with what has worked for people in the past, all the way back to the Founder of the Tradition. When someone takes this second path, and they start to get some results, their reference point is then their own experience.

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Loving your enemies – returning good for harm

The idea of responding to being insulted or abused with non-reactivity, and then even with love doesn’t come along in Buddhist practice until what they would call an advanced stage. By contrast, it’s right there, plainly spoken in the Christian teaching, as loving one’s enemies. To me, there’s something beautiful about this, in that the goal, of having a universal kindness and goodwill is taught by Jesus right from the beginning in Christianity. At the same time, there’s a great benefit to having a step by step method to work with, to cultivate such love, that would otherwise seem unapproachable. It’s like having a map through the terrain to where we would go…

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Towards Wholeness and Greater Love

A Commentary on Five Lines of Teaching by Padampa Sangye

Pith instructions are like seeds we can take and cultivate in our contemplative lives. When we find a teaching that matches where we are in our lives at a particular time, something stirs in our depths, and another step can be taken towards wholeness, fulfillment, peace, and the realization of our fundamental nature…

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Readings on Ethics – Preface

The Beautiful Path

There is a great need these days for the study and practice of ethics. The universal values of caring for each other, and for this sacred earth have always been needed, but they are especially called for when life has gotten out of balance. We turn again to traditional teachings, which are our precious inherited wisdom. By changing the way we live, they all tell us, we can restore health on personal and collective levels…

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Recollecting the Qualities of the Three Jewels, Praise, and Taking Refuge

Homage to the Founder,
the Endowed Transcendent Destroyer (of defilements),
the One Gone Beyond,
the Foe Destroyer,
the Completely Perfected, Fully Awakened Being,
the Glorious Conqueror, the Subduer from the Shakya Clan

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The Profound Practice of Taking Refuge

The practice of taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha is thought of as a basic teaching. Verses in Pali or Tibetan, and now English are recited every day by millions all over the world, before teachings. This potentially can be something that is just glossed over, or it can go deep, and serve as a foundation for the whole of our whole spiritual life…

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Oh Joy to Know At Last – There is No Happiness in Samsara!

For a mind that only knows cycling through experiences that can be described as the six realms, the search for happiness is endless, and bound to be disappointing, and frustrating, again and again and again. This is teaching us: There is no lasting satisfaction for a samsaric mind – one that clings to a self, and misperceives the nature of this life…

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Islands, and the Bridge

Islands in a raging flood – Ethics, Meditation, and Wisdom

The nature of a raging flood is that it is extremely dangerous. You can see other people losing their lives to it, as well as houses, cars, and buildings being swept away. You can lose your own life to it.

The nature of an island in a raging flood is that it is a temporary place of safety, on the way to the far shore, which is the only real freedom from danger in this situation…

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The Need for Samatha

They say that nothing moves without intention. Before we begin a project, or a way of life, or meditation, we need to know its benefits. This comes first. Once we’re convinced of these, everything else follows naturally. It may take time, and effort, but when this much is clear, there’s an ease to it as well. To that end, I’d like to say something about the need for a certain kind of meditation, that is essential if we wish to receive the fruits of Buddhist practice…

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Using the Anapanasati Sutta to Cultivate Shinay

Introduction – Tending Towards Simplicity

There are a few ways in general that we can practice with the Sutra on Mindfulness of Breathing. One is to think of the 16 steps as following one after the other, organically. We can also go briefly through the steps, or the tetrads (sequences of 4 steps) and then focus just one one part, or even just one step. As Thich Nhat Hanh has said, practicing any one of these meditations can bring insight, and freedom of mind

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Preliminary Questions for the Teachings on the Two Truths

I suspect that the teachings on what are called the Two Truths are similar to many other profound, far reaching ideas in Buddhism, in that while they may be of great value to people, they have become quite abstract, embedded as they have been in academic traditions, and seemingly removed from our lives.

Like other wisdom teachings though, nothing could be further from the truth – I suspect that they describe exactly the nature of our lives here, and can be of wondrous benefit, but that they also need to be unpacked, understood, and spoken anew…

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The Bodhisattva Thought Training Teachings

Bodhicitta, is ‘the mind of enlightenment’, the mind of freedom, happiness, and Great Love. A person who has this great heart/mind is called a Bodhisattva – one who lives to serve others with wisdom and compassion. This leads to the Thought Training teachings, that come from dedicated teachers in the past. These are ways to develop in everyday life…

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A Practice That Thrives in Difficulty – An Essay

The following is based on a Traditional Tibetan Buddhist teaching for transforming suffering into the path to freedom and peace.

‘When the world and its contents are filled with evil, transform this into the path of awakening’ 

from the Seven Points of Mind Training, by Geshe Chekawa, 12th Century, Tibet

‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love…’– From the Prayer of Saint Francis

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A Belief in the Miraculous – Preface

When I was in my 20’s, I had the good fortune to study teachings from the Western Esoteric Tradition.  These included, among other things, explanations of other levels of existence, psychic development, and systems of divination.  Such teachings were very helpful to me back then, as the realities they spoke of were a close match to my own lived experience

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In Praise of the Vajrayana

A Brief Introduction to Buddhist Tantra

The Skillful Means of the Mahayana

The Stages of the Path teachings cover the entire range of Buddhist teachings, from refuge, to teachings on liberation, to the Mahayana motivation and Wisdom. They conclude with reference to the Vajrayana, the ‘lightning’ or ‘diamond thunderbolt’ vehicle…

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A Thousand Years of Miracles

For more than 2,000 years, people have been healed by calling on the name of Jesus; crutches and wheelchairs left along the road, and at sites of worship;

For 2,000 years, the laying on of hands, casting out harmful spirits, restoring life; and there have been countless interventions, visitations, apparitions, visions, in dreams and in contemplation, of Jesus, Mary, the Saints, and Angels;

Two thousand years of miracles, two thousand years, and still we don’t believe!…

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The Blessings of Paritta

The Tradition of reciting or chanting Buddhist teachings is mostly practiced in South East Asian countries, such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Burma and Thailand. These cultures are different from the West in that they have more natural faith in the Dhamma, from long familiarity with it. Their world view also supports their belief in the effectiveness of hearing and reciting teachings and prayers…

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A few notes on faith

From Faith, Devotion, and Blessings on the Path to Liberation

Faith comes in a few different ways. First, there is the intimation of a greater truth, something in us that says, ‘Yes, this is the way to go’.

This becomes verified faith, as we follow our intuition. Our trust in a teacher or a tradition proves itself. We become healthier, more at peace, open to others and responsive.

After this, and higher than these two is unshakable faith. Having this kind of trust calms and steadies the mind.

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Metta and Classical Music Study

I’ve been a student of the classical guitar since the mid 1980’s, and of metta, or Buddhist loving kindness practice for almost that long. There are a number of things they have in common, and so I thought I’d bring these two subjects together, and let each shine their light on the other…

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A reflection on the power of gratitude

Our roots go deeper than we know

In every traditional culture, we find parents and elders teaching their children gratitude, and the essence is always the same, that of cultivating a living sense of appreciation for what we’ve received.  Parents don’t do this for their own sake, instead they do it as a gift to their children. They do it because they’ve known these blessings themselves, and know that this is what will sustain future generations…

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The Precepts of Love

There is so much contained in love at it’s best that I thought it would be worthwhile to write a few words about it this morning. I highlight love ‘at its best’ to distinguish it from the fleeting, partial, or limited kinds of affection we all know so well.

The love I would like to talk about is the kind we look to when we want to remember who we truly are and who we can become…

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A Midwife for Love

Combining metta and the reflection on impermanence

Taken separately, both metta, the step by step development of loving kindness, and regular reflections on impermanence have the potential to bring us a keen sense of the preciousness of life, a kind of fearlessness, and greater generosity. When they are combined though, their power is increased even more.

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Rediscovering Joy

Putting the joy back in Joyful Effort

In Buddhism, we call a bodhisattva someone who’s intent on helping others in every needed way. He or she does this through what are called the Six Perfections, which are Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Joyful Effort, Meditation and Wisdom. This is, or should be, a path of unsurpassed happiness, and mature joy, because this is not a small ambition to have. Such great love is, in fact, the fulfillment of our lives here.  Sometimes, however, we lose our zeal…

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A Buddhism for Progressives – Preface

Two Traditions

As the son of an activist, I learned when I was young about the need to care for others. It was part of our upbringing to talk about and to think about what was going on in our world with compassion and with a sense of responsibility. Like many other young people who were raised in the 60’s, we received from our parents and from previous generations this precious legacy of the creative struggle for human rights, dignity, and social justice…

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The Glory of the Good Fight

To join in what my father’s generation called the good fight was to enter into the timeless struggle for human rights everywhere, with like-minded, courageous souls. It meant to stand with them, to march with them, to raise your voice with them, to fight along side them, and perhaps most of all to be inspired by their dedication and action, and to give your encouragement at every turn…

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A Life Giving Vision

The way we’re operating right now as Americans and as a global society is unsustainable ecologically and for more and more of humanity. How do we make the systemic changes needed so that human and organizational creativity naturally lead toward sustainable and restorative practices instead of destructive ones?

What can ordinary citizens do?..

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Power and Love – a Buddhist Perspective

We fear power because we associate it with aggression.  It’s there in everything from militarism to abusive husbands and boyfriends, to those we say are ‘drunk with power’ – implying control, domination, and injustice.  But power in itself is neutral.  Power can be turned any way, and this is something we need to know, for our own sake, for that of our community, and world.

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Spread the Word – The Answer is Love

I first saw what has come to be known as ‘the human microphone’ during Occupy.  This is where one person speaks, and those around him or her repeat it, so that others can hear. They begin with saying ‘Mic check!’ ‘MIC CHECK’, the crowd replies. This is a time when we all need to repeat the best things that we hear, a time when we all suffer and struggle together, and whatever wisdom we can gather needs to be spoken far and wide…

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Getting on the same page when it comes to American history

It’s almost impossible these days for people with different political views to have a meaningful conversation.  Each side is so committed to their point of view it seems there’s no basis for communication. On one news program after another, there is very little dialogue, and expressions range from bewilderment, to contempt and insults…

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Reframing Modern Day Colonialism

{A brief history of colonialism for anyone in need of clarity about the past.}

At times, we here in these United States barely register the meaning of words that should make the hair on the back of our neck stand on edge. This is because we have not been taught our history, or else it has been so watered down. Take the word colonialism…

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A Sketch of Frank Espada’s Life

63. On 29th St._photo by Jason Espada
On 29th St., in San Francisco.  Photo by Jason Espada

The following was written in 2014, in preparation for visits from curators, who were coming to view the entire range of my father’s work, within the space of a few short days.  I took this as an opportunity to touch upon the most significant events in his life, and to celebrate the man I had come to know more fully through organizing his archive.

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The Puerto Rican Diaspora

Documenting the Puerto Rican Experience in the 20th and 21st centuries

Imagine if you will conceiving of a project that would document the Puerto Rican experience across the United States… Imagine further that this project would be undertaken by someone who is widely respected as an advocate for these people, and that this person, in addition, is a first-rate photographer… Continue reading

From Eugene Smith to Frank Espada

{Photo credits: Eugene Smith, by Don Getsug; Frank Espada, Big Sur, 1984, by Jason Espada}

As soon as I heard the photographer W. Eugene Smith’s voice, in a documentary produced for Japanese television, I recognized him immediately as a spiritual ancestor. It was not just what he said that was so moving, and familiar to me, but his fierce love and commitment to the people he photographed.

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