Breathing Exercises & Mantra Practice with Dr Nida & Robert Thurman

Literally meaning “saving the mind,” a mantra is a creative sound considered expressive of the deepest essence of things and understandings, so its repetition can evoke in a formulaic or even magical way a state of enlightenment or positive energy.

Some mantras resemble sentences, and express some wish, vision, or affirmation, while others are just a single syllable or two, containing the germ of a deity, realm, or state of concentration.

A very simple type of daily life meditation is the common Tibetan practice of recitation of the mantra “OM MANI PADME HUM” the mantra of great compassion. Literally, “Om—The jewel in the lotus—hum,” for a Tibetan it means that all is well with the universe, the force of good and love is everywhere and competent to help all beings out of every difficulty. The mantra thus resonates with the most positive possible outlook.

Tibetans develop the ability constantly to repeat the mantra silently or in a low voice. They learn about the mantra and about Avalokiteshvara, the Lord of Compassion, feel close to his positive energy, and practice repeating the syllables in sessions of meditation. Thus abandoning a level of habitual mental rumination, they use that layer of the mental bandwidth for the stream of the mantra.

Some of them can combine it with a visualization in which they see the six jeweled syllables, on a turning wheel in the heart center, radiate the rainbow light rays of the five wisdoms to bless all beings throughout the universe. The stream of the mantra then connects with a constant vision of radiant color streaming forth and back in loving energies. Other mantras can also be used in the same way.

If the mantra is Jewish, Christian, or Moslem, you can use it to create the same kind of positive stream in your mind. Such a practice will be especially valuable in the death crisis. By learning to let it flow automatically, it will easily carry you over rough spots in the dying and between transitions.

Excerpt from “Tibetan Book of the Dead” by Robert AF Thurman, Random House Publishing Group.


Join Robert AF Thurman & Dr Nida Chenagtsang this summer for a Tibetan Rejuvenation Intensive Retreat at Menla Mountain June 23rd- 27th.

For more information on upcoming retreats with Dr Nida, Gucciardi & Thurman please visit

Applied Buddhist Psychology: Reflections on Menla by Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

Menla means Medicine Buddha in Tibetan, but I think the esoteric translation must be “magic.” Menla Mountain Retreat Center, located in the Catskill Mountains in New York, is a place unto itself. You arrive at Menla Mountain via a narrow road, which has turned off another small road. A sign at the turn off says “Dead End.” Perhaps not coincidentally, you are actually entering a crater created several million years ago, when a meteorite filled with all types of unearthly metals crashed into the site. The magnetic field, which still exists there today, is palpable, and it does a good job of interrupting all types of modern communication systems.

In the center of the bowl created by this cosmic event is Menla Mountain Retreat Center, a well-maintained collection of beautiful buildings including a conference center, spa, barn, and lodges. From the bottom of the meteor crater, you look up to see the hills, forested with mature oaks and maples, and in the rain, the hillsides cascade with streams running down from the crater’s rim. The melody of the water complements a cacophony of hundreds of birds. I was happily kept up at night by a pair of owls calling across the valley. That was after I encountered a bear, which, thankfully, was quite smelly, and so warned me that it was watching me as I made my way to my room in the dark. Turkeys and deer appeared regularly to listen in on the teachings throughout the weekend.

Gaden Shartse Dokhang Monk Photo by Sacred Stream

Gaden Shartse Dokhang Monk Photo by Sacred Stream

The teachings were those of Geshe Chophel, the spiritual master of the Gaden Shartse Dokhang Compassion Tour that FSS is hosting, and Robert Thurman, who is one of the most articulate and passionate interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism alive today. Bob managed, in articulating the nature of the Medicine Buddha, to tap dance into his favorite rap on nothingness (“There cannot be any such thing as nothingness because that would still be something…”) and the monks created a beautiful sand mandala of the palace, or home, of the Medicine Buddha. Geshe Chophel gave us a tour of the mandala itself before he offered the Medicine Buddha initiation to a group of about fifty people.

The Medicine Buddha is like the patron saint of healers, and is, himself, a master healer. Tibetan medicine, a sophisticated system that recognizes the entire natural world as containing any form of medicine that might be needed, emerged from the field of energy of the Medicine Buddha. The Medicine Buddha depicted in thangkas is deep cobalt in color and holds the flower that cures all ills and a bowl of nectar which is an elixir for all disease.

The mandala that the monks created out of colored and consecrated sand after the opening ceremony is a highly symbolic depiction of the field of energy from which the cobalt form of the Buddha emerges. In the center is an ornate gilt box that contains all the existing texts related to healing in Tibetan medicine.

Around the center square of this box are the Eight Medicine Buddha Brothers, each in the form of a petal surrounding the center square, and each containing a sacred healing syllable referring to the type of medicine each brother carries. Around the brothers is a square frame of sixteen symbols contained in each of their own boxes. These represent the sixteen Bodhisattvas who return to the realm of suffering, after attaining enlightenment, to relieve the ills of those who are still caught in the cycle of suffering.

Another set of twenty-four squares frame the square of the Bodhisattvas. Geshe Chophel said that these squares represent the wrathful deities who protect the medical knowledge and its practice contained in the inner squares. At the four directions, each with its own assigned color and element, are the four doors through which the initiate can approach the teachings. Geshe Chophel told us there was another layer of meaning beneath these symbolic representations whose interpretation is reserved for initiates who undertake a deeper study of Tibetan medicine.

The monks worked for many days, patiently and persistently bringing the mandala to life. Normally, the mandala is dissolved right after its creation, as a reminder of the impermanent nature of life. But this mandala will become a centerpiece of the healing center that Menla Mountain is. However, a group of students participated in the dissolution of the previous sand mandala that another group of monks had created many years before. The monks offered the sand of that mandala into the pond which is at the center of the crater and offered marigold blossoms and milk to the naga, a type of nature spirit, of the pond. These offerings are made to ensure that the naga be healthy and happy and so be able to keep the natural landscape in balance.

The magic of our time at Menla is counted in so many ways: the place which is like no other; the monks, themselves, coming from across the world, to create the mandala for the Buddha who is the center of the Menla Mountain Retreat Center; Robert Thurman was there to offer our students insight into the healing of the Medicine Buddha; the group of psychotherapists and healers, who happened to be there and were able to receive the initiation of the Tibetan healer to support them in their practice; and the group of students who came from far and near to learn at the knee of Medicine Buddha and all received insight and healing. The crisp, fall days were like a chorus of praise to the Medicine Buddha, supporting all who came to the end of the road that led to Menla.

To learn more about the work of Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. visit or join her as she returns to Menla Mountain Retreat in 2016 for Embracing the Sacred Feminine March 10th – 13th with Robert AF Thurman.

Opening The Door To Self & Selflessness Through Shamanism

Understanding The Self, Soul & Shaman’s Journey

We understand the breadth and depth of the self in many ways through many types of experiences. Often, we come to understand our experience as human beings by directing or projecting parts of ourselves either outward or inward. The self at a soul level reveals, through the language of images, which parts of ourselves are seeking understanding at ever-deepening levels. In relationships with others, we project these parts outward in the form of images. In dreams, we project these parts inward in the form of images. The reflection we receive back gives us information on which we base our sense of self.

The images projected inward in dreams and those projected outward into external relationship both have the same source. That source is the self at a soul level. It seeks to reveal all that is hidden by projecting these images outward or inward. This is an effort to allow the individual to integrate the experience and information contained within those images and return to a sense of wholeness.

For many of us, this process takes place almost entirely unconsciously. We feel that life just happens to us, that our dreams are just fragmented recreations of our daily lives. Many of us live our lives with a sense of emptiness, never imagining that we could look within for guidance.

But, if we allow ourselves to begin to trace the images we create in relationship while awake and in dreams while asleep, we begin to perceive patterns. These patterns can be further elucidated through conscious intention and explored through hypnotherapy and, more intimately, the shamanic journey.

In this exploration, images open to reveal patterns. Patterns open to reveal motivation. Motivation opens to reveal what is needed for understanding. The need for understanding opens to reveal the fulfillment of that need. And the fulfillment is the self at a soul level. This path can be taken from many different starting points to understand many different issues. And the shamanic journey provides the compass and maps for any path, starting at any point, and leads always to the rediscovery of the self at a soul level.

The Journey into Self with the Shaman’s Toolbox

The journey into the self at this level is the journey that the shamanic experience defines. It is taken in an altered state, very similar to the hypnotic state, but this state is induced with repetitive soundings, such as drums, rather than words. The shamanic journey provides us with direct and controllable access to the inner workings of our self at a soul level. The images that energy patterns take within the shamanic journey reveal the nature of our self at a soul level. They even point to the realities in which the soul is contained. Although our ability to perceive the information available to us in non-ordinary reality is ever-expanding, that ability can be severely tested at each level of understanding which the shamanic journey unfolds for us. Although the shamanic journey reveals ever more complex levels of reality, the form that it takes is quite simple. The journey begins with lying down and closing and covering the eyes. A drum or other repetitive percussive instrument is sounded at regular intervals. In indigenous cultures where horses are common, a shaman might say s/he is riding the drum like a horse to non-ordinary reality.


Exploring Non-Ordinary Reality

What is this non-ordinary reality where so much is revealed about the nature of the workings of the self at a soul level? The existence and the general cosmography of non-ordinary reality has been described in very similar fashion in cultures that are vastly dissimilar in all other ways and have arisen in different corners of the globe. Before describing non-ordinary reality, it is important to note that discovery and journeying in non-ordinary reality is participation in a process, not an establishment of a belief system.

The general description of non-ordinary reality where the journey takes place is strikingly similar across cultures that have never had contact with one another. This description that has emerged from cultures across time and space is as follows. There are three worlds: the Upper World, Middle World and Lower World. It is understood that the Upper World and the Lower World are the realms where compassionate spirits or energies can be contacted. The Middle World is understood to comprise ordinary reality (“the every day world” we experience when awake) as well as a non-ordinary reality where other classes of spirits or energies also dwell. Generally speaking, the spirits people come across that are involved in spirit possession, hauntings, or other anomalous encounters are understood to be confined more or less to the Middle World. Therefore, journeying to the Upper World or Lower World does not involve the encounter with these classes of spirits.

Access to the Upper and Lower Worlds in non-ordinary reality is generally undertaken from a known point in ordinary reality. This is a place in nature in ordinary reality where the person making the journey has been and knows well. The departure point for the Lower World is generally through a cave, a hole in the ground, a hole in a tree, or a body of water. The departure point for the Upper World is generally through a high place such as the top of a tree, mountain or hill. In many indigenous cultures, springs or mountaintops are revered as testament to the understanding of them as portals to non-ordinary reality.

Understanding & Exploring The Role of The Shaman

In many indigenous cultures, the shaman has been charged with interceding with the spirit world on the behalf of another person. This intercession generally involves a request for assistance in healing on a physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual level. In order to act as an agent for healing, the shaman spends many hours developing relationships with compassionate spirits that are understood to be available in non-ordinary reality. The shaman develops these relationships by journeying in non-ordinary reality. The shaman also journeys in non-ordinary reality to seek help from these spirits when s/he is asked to provide a healing.

In most indigenous cultures, it is not common for all the members of the culture to have access to the knowledge contained in non-ordinary reality. However, anyone with an interest and dedication in understanding the nature of the shamanic journey and non-ordinary reality can have this access. Anyone with strong intent can develop a relationship to at least some of the knowledge contained in non-ordinary reality.

So, it is simply a matter of focusing one’s intention to journey for understanding. We journey to create relationships with the energies that dwell in non-ordinary reality within us. These energies, which are traditionally called spirits, appear in many different guises, usually in the form of a felt or seen image.

These guises are generally forms in nature, but can also be mythic figures or beings that are close to our culturally held notions about reality. The guises these energies choose are the bridge they make to contact us. The bridge we make is our attention and intention to make contact. When both sets of intentions are aligned we are able to interact with these images taking form within us in non-ordinary reality. This allows us to gain insight and understanding about the nature of our lives in ordinary reality.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 11.25.57 AMIn my practice, I usually introduce the concept of the shamanic journey once a space has been cleared in the psyche through the resolution and understanding of (seemingly) externally generated imbalance. Within the context provided by Depth Hypnosis, the knowledge gained in the shamanic journey demonstrates clearly how a person’s relationship to his issues shifts through the process of clearing.

Over the course of six to ten sessions, the client is taught how to journey in non-ordinary reality. He learns to establish relationships with different points of inner power, which appear as forms of nature, and he learns how to interpret the information that is received. The client is helped to connect the information received in the shamanic journey to the larger context of his relationship to himself at a soul level.

By the end of this cycle, the client is able to function independently in non-ordinary reality to gain insight on issues that once seemed unknowable or unsolvable. He becomes able to understand more clearly the influences that affect the future. He becomes more able to make decisions based upon a sound understanding of those influences.

I will often use the information gained through a shamanic journey as I would the information gained through a dream. Information from both experiences is generated in image form, which is rich with nuance and possibilities. As in dreams, much of the information contained within the shamanic journey is “coded” in such a way as to evade the defenses of the conscious mind. Learning how to “read” these images is an extension and elaboration of the “sixth sense” mentioned earlier. Developing the skill to decode information provided in the journey is very helpful in situations in ordinary reality that require deeper understanding than the five senses provide.

Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D

To learn more about the work of Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D please visit

Join Isa & Robert Thurman for ‘Embracing The Sacred Feminine’ March 10th – 13th at Menla Mountain Retreat in Phoenicia, NY. For more information or to book a space visit www.menla,org.

On Yoga: Intention & Practice with Robert AF Thurman & Richard Freeman

“Whenever you decide to try a particular yoga, the crucial first step is always deciding to make the change. You must begin by accepting the fact that your habitual conceptions could be wrong.

If, for example, you live with the delusion that it is just fine to remain addicted to nicotine, that three packs of cigarettes a day puts you in optimal operating condition, then there is no way you will successfully complete a yoga to quit smoking.

Likewise, in this crucial quest of the self, the presumed core of your self-addiction, you must first convince yourself through empirical observation that the way you hold your self-identity— the constricted feeling of being wrapped around a solid, independent core— is uncomfortable and disabling.

Photo by Thomas LairdWe can take great encouragement from the fact that the Buddha told us we could escape from our suffering. Still, we cannot merely accept someone else’s report. No one else can do the job of replacing misunderstanding with understanding for us.

We must look at reality and verify for ourselves whether our habitual sense of having a fixed self or the Buddha’s discovery of selflessness is ultimately true. In this way, we can begin to transform the self-preoccupation.”

Robert AF Thurman from Infinite Life

Richard Freeman has been a student of yoga since 1968. He has spent nearly nine years in Asia studying various traditions which he incorporates into the Ashtanga yoga pracice as taught by his principal teacher, K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India. Richard’s background includes studying Sufism in Iran, Zen and Vipassana Buddhist practice, Bhakti and traditional Hatha yoga in India. Starting in 1974 he also began an in-depth study of Iyengar yoga, which eventually led him to Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. Richard is an avid student of both Western and Eastern philosophy, as well as Sanskrit. His ability to juxtapose various viewpoints, without losing the depth and integrity of each, has helped him develop a unique, metaphorical teaching style. Richard is the founder of the Yoga Workshop in Boulder, Colorado which is his teaching home base. He has numerous practice DVD’s and CD’s, is the author of “The Mirror of Yoga” and travels throughout the world teaching courses, workshops and trainings.

Join Richard Freeman, Robert Thurman & John Campbell for Buddha & The Yogis July 1st-8th at Menla Mountain Retreat.


An Introduction to Ayurveda by Mariko Hirakawa

Ayurveda, unlike Yoga, is still in its infancy in the West and is still largely undiscovered by many. One of the most ancient systems of medicine in the world, it is said to have been transmitted by the Himalayan sages in the Indian subcontinent some 5,000 years ago.

It is a system of preventative as well as curative medicine, although its scope goes well beyond our contemporary Western understanding of medicine.

The word Ayurveda is often translated as ‘the science of life’, from its two constituent Sanskrit words, ayuh (life), and veda (science or knowledge). Ayuh is closely related with prana, the life force, and indicates our life span on this planet. Therefore, a more specific translation of the word Ayurveda would be a body of knowledge concerning our embodied state.

Nadi Pariksha Pulse DiagnosisAyurveda is an amazingly comprehensive science that covers virtually every aspect of living in this human body. Its knowledge was transmitted in an oral tradition from master to disciple for thousands of years until it was committed to writing around 1000 BC.

Charaka Samhita, one of the primary texts of the Ayurvedic tradition, states that the purpose of Ayurveda is to “preserve and enhance the health of the healthy, and to alleviate the diseases of the sick.”

For the contemporary yogi, perhaps the most useful aspect of Ayurvedic medicine is its advice concerning how to modify our diet and lifestyle to balance our specific constitution according to seasonal factors and geographic location.

In addition to behavioral medicine, Ayurveda offers a vast pharmacopoeia of herbs and deeply cleansing therapies known as pancha karma to treat imbalances and diseased conditions.

It is a testament to the depth of insight these sages attained that modern research is now confirming the truth of their statements uttered thousands of years ago. And unlike modern medical findings, Ayurvedic principles are time-tested and unchanging as the laws of Nature.

Study of Ayurvedic principles is an invaluable asset to the serious yoga practitioner, as it sheds a whole new light on understanding our tendencies, personality traits, health issues, and so much more.

Because contemporary yoga practice has become almost purely physical, there is a great need for Western yogis to spend time off the mat studying the root traditions so that we can fully embrace the tremendous of wisdom that has been handed down to us through the selfless intent of these great sages.

z5C2tQ9To learn more about Auyveda & the work of Mariko Hirakawa please visit her website or join her in person for the weekend intensive Ayurveda & Yoga: The Art of Healing Through Self-Discovery at Menla Mountain Oct 1st-4th.

Digital Detox: Daring to Be Silent with Sharon Salzberg & Robert AF Thurman

For Kelley Amadei, every year begins with silence. Just after New Year’s, when a deep chill has settled in, she checks into The Garrison Institute for a nine-day silent meditation retreat with the American Buddhist teacher Lama Surya Das, and wraps herself in a warm duvet of quietude and stillness. Asked to honor a code of Noble Silence when the retreat begins, Amadei joins a hushed group of 20 to 50 people who have sworn off cell phones, devices, media, books, and everyday chitchat for the gathering’s duration. Together yet alone in a veil of reticence, they walk the corridors of the sprawling former monastery, smell its dark wood and incense, eat in the dining hall, stroll the grounds on the Hudson riverfront, listen to the lama’s teachings, and sit for meditation. It’s an experience that stands in stark contrast to her digitally connected life—as an executive coach to high-powered business people, Amadei is always online—and that’s exactly what she likes about it. “I think it started out as a search for better self-awareness,” says Amadei, who lives with her wife and son in Garrison, not far from the Institute (it was Lama Surya Das who led her to the area). Over 15 years she has built up her practice from a half day of silence on her own to a yearly nine-day retreat. “I get to connect with myself in a way that feels more authentic.”

Introducing the Digital Detox

Silence as a spiritual practice comes cloaked in a rich history; nearly all religions weave some aspect of quiet contemplation into their tapestry of rituals. Carthusian and Benedictine monks pass in and out of great islands of silence. In the Quaker meeting tradition, silence is the mystic heart: People may speak out of it, yet no vocalization is frivolous. Secular life has rarely prized silence, but in today’s Age of Distraction—where social interactions preclude physical presence via an array of devices from mobiles to tablets—silence is more exotic than ever, and perhaps more necessary.

“We are pretty constantly always in touch with someone else these days,” says Sharon Salzberg, an internationally known meditation teacher who leads three or four silent retreats a year at places like The Garrison Institute and the Insight Meditation Society, which she cofounded, in Barre, Massachusetts. Salzberg references the modern malady of “continuous partial attention,” a phrase coined by the writer Linda Stone to describe the cognitive condition that arises from connecting through the digital realm. We don’t want to miss anything, yet we’re not fully present either. It’s a constant state of high alert that feeds into feelings of stress and overwhelm, compromising our ability to think clearly and be creative and effective. “You’re on e-mail and you think, what about Facebook? You’re texting and you think, what about Twitter? It’s too much,” says Salzberg, who notes that a silent retreat can act as a digital detox and a counterbalance to all that virtual movement. “It’s such a bold and wonderful experiment not to engage in our normal social chatter. It’s a tremendous gift to give to oneself.”

Finding Wisdom in Stillness

Amadei doesn’t have to travel far to reach The Garrison Institute, but as she approaches, a shift in consciousness begins. “It’s really beautiful to see the enormous shadow of the monastery as you’re driving up the private road. When you step inside, there’s this feeling of Noble Silence even before it begins, a seriousness or deliberateness.” After checking in and leaving her cell phone with a staff member, she finds her room before the group meets in the meditation hall. “The senior teachers and retreat managers come in to welcome us, lay out the ground rules, and tell us what to expect,” says Amadei. Even though retreatants are instructed to be silent with one another, they listen to teachings at prescribed times, and they can talk to a staff member whenever they have questions or concerns. “The staff tries to set us at ease that this is an intense and beautiful experience, that it’s going to be uncomfortable at times and that’s okay.” Amadei likes this sort of honesty—because the silence is not always easy for her. Sometimes inner demons claw through. “There’s always this anticipation of what’s going to come up for me in the silence. Where’s my mind going to go? What deep, dark, uncomfortable thing am I going to uncover this time? Am I going to be willing to face it?”

Insight Meditation Center

It’s natural that when quiet descends outside, the noise level increases within. “The silence acts as an intensifier: We can see more clearly the lack of silence that’s going on in our mind,” says Salzberg, who considers this a good thing. “A lot gets revealed. The things in our mind become more workable because we actually see them.” Used in this way, silence can be a tool to help train our attention, just like meditation. “We look at what we’re thinking and feeling, and we understand more about the things that motivate us. We realize that we have a choice; we don’t have to buy into every thought that comes up in our mind.” Salzberg gives an example of negative self-talk such as “I can’t do it, I can’t do anything.” Within the silence, this kind of terribly limiting habitual thought reveals itself as just a thought. If we see it that way, we can more easily let it go.

The Slow Life Movement

As life speeds up via our omnipresent technology, we’re seeing a countermovement these days toward practices that wind us down. Mindfulness, a form of meditation that focuses on awareness of the present moment, is going mainstream: The CBS show “60 Minutes” recently ran a segment in which reporter Anderson Cooper surrendered his cell phone—and stepped bravely out of character—for a weekend silent retreat with mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn. Some people choose to float in sensory deprivation tanks to find quietude (New Paltz now has the Hudson Valley’s first hydrotherapy spa, Mountain Float Spa). At Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults tucked into the redwoods of Northern California, staff members in hazmat suits collect campers’ devices when they arrive. Forbes calls it the camp “where people pay $570 to have their smartphones taken away from them.” They don’t see their electronics again until camp is over four days later—meanwhile enjoying an unplugged life with a choice of activities that range in flavor from nostalgia feeding (kickball and capture the flag) to wellness warrior (qi-gong and Thai massage). All-camp silence and a silent dinner are among the signature Camp Grounded experiences. (Yes, they have sing-a-longs and make s’mores too.)

“We’re overstimulated most of the time,” says Liz Schulman, a yoga teacher and the co-owner of Living Yoga studio in Cold Spring. Cultivating silence is similar to the yogic practice of Pratyahara, or sensory withdrawal—a Sanskrit term from the Yoga Sutras, the ancient text by the Indian sage Patanjali dating back about 2,000 years. Practitioners consider the Yoga Sutras to be an instruction manual for how to achieve Samadhi, or bliss; Patanjali lays it out in eight steps, or limbs. “Pratyahara is the fifth limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path,” says Schulman. “It’s a shifting or refocusing of all of your senses to what’s happening in your inner landscape. They say in yoga that the senses dominate the mind, the senses are the king of the mind. If the senses are drawn out, then the mind is drawn out. When we learn to turn our senses in, we can turn our mind in, and it readies us for the last three limbs of the eight-limbed path, which are concentration, meditation, and bliss.”

The Courage to Go Inside

For those who are not used to self-exploration practices like these, there can be a lot of resistance. Schulman recently taught a three-week meditation course and found that even a 10-minute sit was highly uncomfortable for many people. Similarly, the idea of dropping into silence for even two or three days is terrifying for most of us. “People come to a retreat and they’re nervous, asking, ‘How am I going to be silent?'” says Salzberg. “They say, ‘My partner doesn’t think I can be silent.’ Somebody said once, ‘They’re doing a betting pool at my office because they don’t think I can be silent.'” But the anticipation is nearly always worse than the silence itself, which usually wins people over in the end. They appreciate the peace, the restfulness, and the way that the present moment becomes more available and more vivid. Eating food in silence becomes really about eating food and tasting it, because you’re not distracted by a conversation with the person sitting next to you. “Almost always people look back on it at the end, and the silence is one of the most beautiful aspects of having been on retreat. For once in our lives we can let go of trying to impress people or make a certain impression. We can just be ourselves, and it’s great.”

Photo by Arthur via Flickr

For Amadei, starting off the year in silence feeds her in countless ways. “I’m a better mom for it; I’m more thoughtful about how I interact with my son and how I communicate with my wife. I’m more aware of my own habits, my own patterns of reaction. I’m more compassionate and more present. In my work, it helps me to practice what I preach, which is self-awareness. The more we understand ourselves, the more we can understand our impact on other people.” Amadei also gets to steep herself in the Tibetan Buddhist wisdom of her guru, Lama Surya Das, who teaches about Dzogchen, or the Great Perfection. “The silence compounds his teachings,” she adds. Once she returns home and starts talking again, her speech feels more pointed and effective.

In the end, it’s the grand prize of the present moment that Amadei carries away with her. “On the first full day of silence, I always hike,” she says. “I notice so many more details around me—the sensations on my face, the different angles of branches and trees.” Last year, meditating on a rock by the water’s edge, she witnessed for the first time the Hudson River flowing both ways. It startled and amazed her. “I happened to be sitting at the exact moment when the current started to shift and move back upstream. It’s moments like that. They couldn’t happen without the silence.”

Excerpted from Daring to Be Silent by Wendy Kagan from Chronogram Magazine, Used with Publisher’s Permission.

Image by Insight Meditation Society.

Image by Arthur

Nobel Prize to a Dissident: My Appeal To The World 2009 by Dalai Lama

Every March 10th, from 1961 until 2011, in commemoration of the greatest uprising of the Tibetan people against the Chinese military occupation, the Dalai Lama delivered an appeal to the world on behalf of his people. Each statement is a heartfelt call to recognize the truth and the factual reality of Tibet’s history and situation; a cry for help, a plea for justice, and a pledge of determination to withstand the worst and to overcome. In these annual addresses, he began to articulate and fully express his overarching appeal to humanity.

All of the Dalai Lama’s March 10th speeches, at their most poignant and eloquent, are collected in My Appeal to The World, introduced and historically contextualized by Sofia Stril-Rever, an author and scholar of Tibetan history and culture and Buddhist spirituality who has long served as his French translator.

In honor of the non-violent resistance of the Tibetan people & to the mark the publication of this important collection of the Dalai Lama’s speeches Tibet House US / Menla Mountain will be sharing each of these talks in their unedited form over the next several months.

Photo of HH Dalai Lama by  Giandomenico RicciMarch 10th, 2009

Quite apart from the current process of Sino-Tibetan dialogue having achieved no concrete results, there has been a brutal crackdown on the Tibetan protests that have shaken the whole of Tibet since March last year. Therefore, in order to solicit public opinion as to what future course of action should be taken, a Special Meeting of Tibetan exiles was convened in November 2008. Efforts were made to collect suggestions, as far as possible, from the Tibetans in Tibet as well. The outcome of this whole process was that  a majority of Tibetans strongly supported the continuation of the Middle Way policy. Therefore, we are now pursuing this policy with  greater confidence and will continue our efforts toward achieving a meaningful national regional autonomy for all Tibetans.

Since the occupation of Tibet, Communist China has been publishing distorted propaganda about Tibet and its people. Consequently, there are, among the Chinese populace, not many who have a true understanding about Tibet. It is, in fact, very difficult for them to find the truth. There are also ultra leftist Chinese leaders who have, since last March, been undertaking a huge propaganda effort with the intention of setting the Tibetan and Chinese peoples apart and creating animosity between them. Sadly, as a result, a negative impression of Tibetans has arisen in the minds of some of our Chinese brothers and sisters. Therefore, as I have repeatedly appealed before, I would like once again to urge our Chinese brothers and sisters not to be swayed by such propaganda, but instead to try to discover the facts about Tibet impartially, so as to prevent divisions among us. Tibetans should also continue to work for friendship with the Chinese people.

Making Way for a Joy Revolution with Robert AF Thurman & Sharon Salzberg

They may come from different traditions within Buddhism, but in their new book, Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit and Be a Whole Lot Happier (Hay House, 2013), Robert Thurman and Sharon Salzberg are essentially saying the same thing. Our anger- and fear-based culture could use an intervention. A peaceful, enlightened intervention. The Tibetan Buddhist teacher and founder of Menla Mountain Retreat Center in Phoenicia, Thurman delves into spiritual philosophy with intellectual rigor. Salzberg—a regular presenter at Menla and at the Garrison Institute—uses her nationally known meditation and mindfulness wisdom to offer practical advice for everyday living. Here, they give a new twist to the idea of anger management, offering teachings not just about Buddhism, but also about ourselves.

View from Delos Inn at Menla Mountain

What birthed the idea for your new, co-written book, Love Your Enemies?

Sharon Salzberg: At Menla, Bob and I often teach a workshop together called “Working with Your Enemies,” in part because many people have a lot of suffering around inner and outer enemies. Inner enemies are things that we feel governed and overwhelmed by, like anger and fear, while outer enemies might be people whose actions have harmed us in some way. Maybe we get a little obsessed and give over too much of our life energy to those people or those feelings.

Robert Thurman: We have found it a tremendous release, a life-changing relief, for people to really deal with these issues—internalized anger, bitterness, resentment, sadness. We thought, why don’t we do a book? Sharon has the tremendous resources of the Vipassana community and the mindfulness and loving-kindness skill sets that they develop. I have the resources from Shantideva, the great Buddhist master from India (the Dalai Lama is the special teacher of his tradition), and also the selflessness meditation of Tibet and what is called mind transformation yoga—seeing through the rigidity of ego and seeing ego resilience. So those things mesh nicely.

I’m interested in the idea put forth in the book that as a culture we’re addicted to anger. How did we end up here?

SS: In Tibetan Buddhist teaching, they say that anger is what we pick up when we feel weak because we think it will make us strong. So if we look deep into a state of anger, we find a kind of helplessness. I think one thing American society is based on is this idea that we should be in control all the time. Of course, we’re not. And so we feel perpetually helpless, and we can’t bear it—we think it’s wrong. So we pick up anger as the likeliest, most familiar means to not feel that anymore. Then we get caught in a vicious cycle.

RT: In the world right now, with all this propaganda in the news, one of the things they do is encourage people to be helpless. If you don’t consume the products they’re selling you, if you don’t flip out over this and that, or fear this and that, you’ll be miserable. All this false propaganda is encouraging people to maintain the worst habits. In the middle of that, we’re working to reinforce the great teachings of Buddha and Jesus and Mohammad and Krishna and Lao-Tzu, all the great sages of humanity, with a really strong, well-worked-out technical psychology of the yogic and Buddhist masters. Modern ego psychology, although it’s a little more relaxed about the notion of rigid identity, is still in its infancy compared to the great psychologies of the East. It’s not a religious thing where we’re just telling people to be a good boy or girl and be pious. We’re giving people a skill set to be happy.

Illustration by Annie Dwyer Internicola

Can you give a nutshell version of the Buddhist take on anger and other “enemies”?

SS: The book is actually based on a Tibetan Buddhist model which has four kinds of enemies. The outer enemy is the most obvious one—people who’ve harmed us or who we fear will harm us. The inner enemies are things like jealousy and greed, and anger itself; it’s not the feeling of them that’s the problem but when we get overwhelmed by them and they guide our actions. Then the third enemy is the secret enemy, which is a sense of Self and Other, Us and Them, and not realizing that we live in an interconnected universe. We feel very much alone, at odds with everyone, and threatened by the great big Other out there. But it’s a construct—it’s not based on reality but on a kind of conditioning. The fourth enemy is the supersecret enemy, which Bob describes as self-loathing. I see it as almost this feeling of hopelessness. We try so hard to be happy, yet we do the very things that can cause so much pain and difficulty and confusion, and we start to spiral down.

How do we break out of that?

RT: We must see anger as an addictive emotion, or even an addiction—and the first step to conquering an addiction is to see that it is harmful. This is where Sharon comes in really powerfully with her self-awareness methodologies; you understand the mechanisms of your mind by observing it and seeing the way thoughts arise when your emotion gets kindled and you think, This is horrible, this is unacceptable, I’m going to flip out now. You get to see how that works in your mind and you are able to intervene. Then there are the mind transformation practices the Tibetans are so good at: You use the adversity, the thing that would make a normal person flip out, to change yourself internally—to develop your patience, your tolerance, your ability to withstand difficulties without losing control of yourself, and even turn those adversities into an advantageous energy that enables you to develop a kind of inner strength. The next step is developing what I call cool heroism, where you can be quite forceful and energetic in righting wrongs and preventing harm against yourself or others, yet you never lose your cool, you always have the best judgment, you even have a sense of humor, and you do it happily, you remain joyous, even dealing with adversity. That’s, of course, practically enlightenment, but every degree that we reach is a kind of enlightenment. We have this ability. Human beings are very intelligent and have a great power of self-awareness. Once we get over the brainwashing idea that we’re just creatures of habit and there’s nothing we can do about overcoming this emotional reaction, this rigidity of self-identity that we have, as we get over that we realize that we can be responsible for how we are, what we think, say, and do. We can change it for the better, and we can have a much happier life.

SS: When you’re using mindfulness you might realize, well, I screamed at somebody last week and it didn’t work out that well. Maybe I have other options for trying to get what I want. It’s not that you have to back down, be a doormat. It’s not that you can’t get your point across, or that you can’t be strong or fierce. But if you’re overcome by anger, you’re actually not going to see many options. With anger, you get tunnel vision, and you may be less likely to get what you want in the end because of your reactive state.

Do we need to repress our feelings?

SS: Bob and I don’t mean to say that you should suppress your feelings or pretend you’re something you’re not—that would be quite counterproductive—but to understand that there’s a possibility to make a shift that serves our own well-being, which is a very important thing. It’s not just feeling a little better and having some energy. It’s having the energy to care about others and to be generous ourselves, and to make a contribution to the world. If you’re depleted, exhausted, and overwhelmed, that’s not going to happen. When we make a shift that serves our own well-being, we start to understand that we don’t have to be so bound to the past, and maybe vengefulness is not as strong as we were once taught, and compassion is not really weakness.

RT: Don’t repress your anger, but be aware of it, and come to understand how the mind works. We can look at the mind and say, I don’t have to freak out about this. Then I’ll just be hurting myself more. And if I get angry at the person who hurt me, they’re going to hurt me worse. One begins to develop the ability to maintain judgment, rather than act habitually with screaming or fighting. Eventually, we get to see that anger is just energy. As long as you remain joyous—which means that you express anger neither internally or externally, because you understand that anger is a trick to trap you into behaving like a robot—then you can use that energy another way. You can use it creatively.

Photo by Peace Fang on FlickrWhat about modern psychology’s answer to anger and other difficult emotions?

RT: Modern psychology has really gone down the tubes to materialism, where it’s just prescribing some sort of mood-altering drug and doing neuroscientific research to see what sort of brain stimulation you can have. The overall drive of industrial capitalism is that individuals are helpless to take care of themselves and have to rely on a substance, an authority, some other thing, instead of learning to become aware of themselves and cultivate themselves. We’re trying to reencourage people, and I think it’s part of a self-help movement, or self-responsibility movement, in the country and in the world. The people who won’t eat the crappy food produced by Archer Daniels Midland or Kellogg, the GMO or Monsanto clients and so on, and who look carefully into their diet and don’t take the mind-altering drug from the shrink who can’t get paid for talking to them but just for prescribing these expensive drugs. The people who move out from that and start thinking for themselves, managing their minds, doing yoga to manage their body. That’s what I call a self-responsibility movement. No one book is going to solve the whole problem, but if it helps turn people in this direction, that’s why we’re doing it.

Where do we go from here?

RT: The key is to develop harmony amongst ourselves and loving relationships, and connectedness and self-restraint and detachment, and a sense of freedom in the mind. We can’t have in this century another violent revolution where the revolutionaries just take over the levers of power and then turn out to be worse than the previous people. We have to have a joyful revolution, person by person. A fun revolution. Not fun by depending on some consumer product, but fun by developing knowledge of how your own mind and body work. A joy revolution.

Article by Wendy Kagan from Chronogram Magazine, Used with Permission
Illustration by Annie Internicola

An Introduction to Tibetan Book of The Dead: Liberation Through Understanding In The Between

In this video Menla Retreat Mountain’s founder & Tibet House US President Robert AF Thurman gives the historical background of the English translation of the Tibetan Bardo Thodol or Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State by Walter Evans-Wentz, his own translation & the context of the meditations.

About The Tibetan Book Of The Dead

The “Tibetan Book of the Dead” has been renowned for centuries as a classic of Buddhist wisdom and religious thought. More recently, it has become highly influential in the Western world for its psychological insights into the processes of death and dying — and what they can teach us about the ways we live our lives. It has also been found to be helpful in the grieving process by people who have recently lost their loved ones.  Composed in the eighth century C.E., it is intended to prepare the soul for the trials and transformations of the afterworld. Its profound message is that the art of dying is as important as the art of living.

Drawing on Tibetan spiritual traditions, it shows us the workings of the mind in its various manifestation — terrifying and comforting, wrathful and beautiful — which appear more clearly after death in the consciousness of the deceased. By recognizing these manifestation, we can attain a state of enlightenment, both in this existence and in the existence to come.

Padmasambhava - Guru DragpurThis talk excerpt is being made available as apart of the Menla Mountain Digital Archive and is produced via the generous support of Tibet House US members.  If you would like to support the work please consider becoming a Tibet House US Member & a Menla Mountain Patreon.

What is Patreon?

Patreon lets fans support their favorite creators by becoming patrons. Unlike other fundraising services, which raise for a single big event, Patreon is for creators who create a stream of smaller works on a regular basis.  As a Menla Mountain Patreon you will receive access to the full version of this talk & to special original monthly content.

To watch the full video or to learn more about becoming a Patreon and/or a Tibet House US member please visit:

Professor Thurman will be giving a talk at the upcoming The Art of Dying Conference (Apr 24-26), He will be speaking about the subject of death and dying, particularly “how facing death brings life.”

The Art of Dying, April 24th - 26th 2015

For more details, or to register, please click here.

Tibet’s Medicine Buddha: A Video Introduction with Robert AF Thurman

Buddhism was only accepted in Tibet because they perceived it as being brought there by some sort of superior being, whom they learned to call a “Buddha.” It came into Tibet full-blown, with its monastic education, universalistic social ethic, and apocalyptic vision of reality. It had to confront and overcome an already developed priestcraft capable of addressing every aspect of life and death, transitions of birth, marriage, economic ethics, magic, protection against demons and so forth.

In the  mid seventh century, an emperor named Songzen Gambo ( a near contemporary of the Japanese culture-transformer, Prince Shotoku Taishi) began the attempt to transform the civilization from feudal militarism to peaceful monasticism. In a systematic process of culture-building, he sent a team of scholars to India to learn Sanskrit, create a written language for Tibetan, and begin to translate the vast Buddhist literature. He married nine queens from neighboring countries, requesting each to bring Buddhist artifacts and texts with her to Tibet. He built a system of imperial temples laid out in a geomantic grid, centering on the Jokhang and Ramoche cathedrals in his new capital at Lhasa, creating a geometry of sacredness to contain the nation.

Tibetan Medicine Tree of DiagnosisFor the next two and a half centuries, his successors continued his work of cultural transformation, sponsoring translations, holding research conferences, building institutions, and educating their subjects. This process reached a high point during the 790s, in the reign of Emperor Trisong Detsen, who, with the help of the Indian adept Padma Sambhava and the Indian Buddhist abbot Shantarakshita, built the first monastery at Samye. Here the Indian Buddhist university structure and curriculum were transplanted, and a sixty-year process of collecting all the useful knowledge then available in Asia was begun.

Mathematics, poetry, medicine, the art of government, art and architecture—all these branches of learning were cultivated, not only Buddhist philosophy and psychology. Scholars were invited from Persia, India, Uighuria, Mongolia, the silk route states, and T’ang China, and Tibetans became skilled at comparison and combination, in their quest for the best understanding of man and nature. For example, during the 830s, hundreds of scholars from all over the known world spent a decade comparing the medical systems of India, China, Persia, Mongolia, and Uighuria, creating a Tibetan medical system that integrated the best available psychology, anatomy, neurology, surgery, botany, chemistry, and nutrition with Buddhist spiritual technology.

Medicine Buddha

Excerpt from Robert AF Thurman’s Tibetan Book of the Dead.