by Tim Burnett & Robin Boudette, October 2020


In October 2020, Mindfulness Northwest Executive Director and Guiding Teacher Tim Burnett co-led a 7-day retreat on the teachings on the foundational Buddhist teaching of the Three Marks of Existence with his long-time collaborating teacher, Robin Boudette.


Talk 1: Tim Burnett – Overview of the Three Marks of Existence


Talk Notes

The Buddhist teachings that underlay our mindfulness training – the Roots of Mindfulness – are really helpful and deep pointers. On the one hand they suggest some specific and clear things we can focus on so that we can live more gracefully and with less suffering. Maybe if we take Buddha really seriously there are ways of living with total freedom from suffering – that would be great.

On the one hand they are a list of teachings that each suggest things to focus on, and Robin and I will unpack them one by one. How to study these kinds of teachings really means how to study your own life, your internal patterns, your thoughts, your suffering and confusion, with a set of fresh eyes. I think of these kinds of teachings as more like lenses than anything else. When we take up teachings at first we have to hold them up and examine them from different angles so that we have at least an idea of what the teaching is and what it implies. But then the teaching becomes really valuable when we figure out how to point it back at ourselves, at our lives, and look through it like we look through a lens to see something more clearly. Now that I need reading glasses this metaphor has a lot of meaning to me. It’s bizarre in a way if I push these up on my face you get blurry and the notes on my talk get blurry, I put them back down and there’s clarity.

The thing about our usual lenses is we forget we have them on because we have them all the time. And our actual lenses are more complicated than reading glasses which just magnify the visual field a bit as amazing as that is. Our actual lenses include consciousness and they take in information from the senses, from our history, from our relationships, from our conditioning, and put it all together into vision of who we are and what the world we are operating in the middle of is. Our usual lenses are reality construction lenses, we do more than focus and magnify. Or maybe our usual lenses magnify some things and leave out other things and make guesses and assumptions about yet other things, usually without knowing we’re guessing and assuming, but the deep power of our consciousness is this happens so quickly and automatically that we don’t even know we’re doing it. We just experience a me in the middle of world and we move around and do stuff and think our thoughts. Some things about this world we each construct we like just fine, but there are also a lot of things we don’t like. Plenty to complain about or wish was difference.

So that’s all true enough as a description of what we’re up to this week. We’re taking up a set of teachings – the core list is just three topics: easy to remember – we’re taking up these teachings, trying to understand some of their implications and then seeing if we can them around and look through them at our own lives. And see what we can see. Do these teachings suggest ways we’re fooling ourselves? Do they suggest ways we’re suffering because of a mindset or an assumption or an understanding? And if so maybe we can shift that and suffer less – in some cases it may be possible to suffer a lot less. A whole lot less.

But what I think is really transformational about these particular teachings is they shift the frame in our endless self-improvement project. These teachings suggest the problem isn’t that we aren’t wise enough or good enough or anything enough. These teaching suggest the reason for our suffering is we aren’t accepting the way things really are. That we’re existing in a world in our minds that’s different from the way the world is. That there’s a gap there and that gap is a big cause of suffering. The path forward here is understanding and acceptance. It’s about attunement and harmony with reality. It’s about noticing the ways we resist and fight with the way things are. Stop fighting and stop suffering. And here are ways that our quest for self-improvement can be a kind of fighting with the reality of who we are. A not accepting. The teachings of the three marks invite us to set that down.

They make me think of one of my favorite Suzuki Roshi quotes which I’m constantly saying. Suzuki Roshi, the great Japanese Zen teacher who came to San Francisco in the 1950’s was looking at the assortment of American hippies who’s gathered around him wanting to learn about Zen and meditation and said, “I think you’re perfect just the way you are,” I bet everyone was quite surprised. They were working hard to straighten themselves out with Zen training. I doubt a single one of them ever had the idea, “I’m perfect just as I am”. Do you ever have that idea?

But then Suzuki Roshi went on, “…and I think you could use a little improvement.” Can you feel how both of those things could be true? They seem to be contradictory in the usual way of thinking but I think you can feel that they really aren’t in some mysterious way. You’re perfect just as you are, and you could use a little improvement.

Robin and I are going to try to say practical and helpful things about these teachings. Robin and I and Catherine, and there will be a few times that Teresa steps in to help lead too actually – just complications of different schedule conflicts – we’ll try to say practical and helpful things about doing these practices.

But let’s remember it all operates in a space that we can’t really understand with the mind that knows how to do practical things. It all operates in a more mysterious space than that. Acceptance with a few light and open touch may be a way to open the door to this mystery. But actually you don’t have to do anything to open the door to the mystery. The mystery, or whatever you want to call it, is right here whether you open the door to it or not. We are in the middle of it. We are the mystery, the world is the mystery. There’s something bigger at play here than the practical. And where can we start but the practical.

So let’s get down to it!

The first of this list of three is impermanence. This whole universe including each of us is never static, never permanent, never really stable even though we assume some stability at times, everything’s changing. Everything without exception is in flux and change. We think we’re the same as we were last night when we first met but are we really?

And it that’s really true how can we say anything for certain about anything? You can see the mystery seeping in right away.

One example about the implications of a deeper engagement with impermanence:

We generally believe our stories about the future – which is a bummer in many ways because often our stories about the future are more negative than positive, but that’s another story – either way we think, based on past experience and our imagination trying to take into account any changes we are aware of from last time around – we think we know what’s going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month. I have a calendar with items on it years in the future and when I see those listings I think I know what will happen at that future time and I assume that the Tim I’m experiencing now will be there then to experience that.

And yet Covid has been like a giant wake up bell to help us practice not knowing about the future. In very concrete ways like here we are doing a retreat on Zoom. As I mentioned last night we’re a living example of this right here: last October when many of us here gathered at Samish Island Retreat Center and were hanging out with the wonderful members of the Community of Christ who take care of that place we were talking about how this October we’d be back there. This is the 5th annual 7-day Roots of Mindfulness retreat actually! None of us in mid October 2019 could ever imagined a year later the world would be locked in a pandemic making gatherings like that not just different but completely unsafe. Maybe we could have done it and gotten lucky but if one of us brought a case of Covid there unknowingly many of us would have gotten sick and if the stats are to be believed it’s not unlikely one of us would have died as a result.

We’re kind of used to this now but take your mind back a year! We never could have imagined any of this then. Impermanence, change, unknowability. Our idea about the future are just that: ideas.

The future is so completely a mystery. The way our minds are wired we’re conditioned to believe that our memories of the past predict the future right? In 2015 we imagined being back at Samish in a similar fashion in 2016 and it seems like we were although we actually had quite different experiences from the previous year but it all seemed familiar and similar. And we repeated that a few more times and thus as we left to drive home on October 13th, 2019, we were saying to each other: “see you next year!” and imagined driving back up that driveway and unloading our things into those same cabins, and having tea and chatting in the dining room before dinner, having our orientation and walking down to the meditation hall as the light faded to night and the cool Fall breeze blew. Maybe some Snow Geese flying high overhead.

And yet here we are on Zoom. Unimaginable. The future is a complete mystery. Only we keep talking ourselves into believing we know what’s going to happen.

And it’s much the same with the second two of these three marks of existence. The second mark has to do with the nature of satisfaction and suffering.

We think we know what will make us happy, we think we know what activities and attitudes and accomplishments will give us lasting satisfaction and joy. And yet our actual experience is, well let’s say, a lot more varied and less certain.

Sometimes it seems like our ideas are unobtainable and we just can’t get there. This makes us suffer. Did we misunderstand what the satisfying situation would be? Is there something wrong with me because I can’t see to get there?

Or you do get “there” and then you find it’s not as great as you thought it was. It could be pretty great for a few minutes maybe but then you’re mind’s on to the next thing. The mind always wants more than it has as the poem said. Were you wrong all along about how great it would be? We end up running around trying to close all of these gaps between where we think we are and where we think we need to be to be happy and satisfied.

It doesn’t totally not work just like we weren’t wrong before 2019 about next year’s Samish. Some of our ideas are reasonable for sure. We make choices, we make changes in our lives, we learn new things, we do our practice, I hope overall you are a bit happier than you were before. I am as far as I can tell. And yet there’s something more subtle and mysterious happening around our search for satisfaction.

It doesn’t always add up the way we think it will. And we are surprisingly resistant to that evidence. Maybe this time my accomplishment or acquisition or my overseas travel will lead to lasting happiness and I’ll stop feeling sad or depressed or doubtful.

Satisfaction and suffering seems to be a lot more mysterious than we tend to think. The second mark of existence is trying to point that out. Laster we’ll unpack some of the technical Buddhist language in it to reveal some of the layers to that teaching.

And the third mark of existence is about the self in the middle of all of this.

Is this person here really who we think she is? He is? They are? We notice that our habitual lens tends to be pointed out away from the self towards others, towards objects around us, towards the world.

In this third mark of existence we turn that lens around to look at ourselves. There are many metaphors in Buddhism and other spiritual teachings about mirrors. This last mark is a mirror. Look carefully in the mirror and what do you really see.

We tend to say, without thinking about it, oh I see me, that’s what I see. Well what does that really mean? What is this “me” – is the me you’ve always believed yourself to be really true? Really accurate? The first two teachings should already be shaking your “me” up a bit.

If everything’s impermanent and changing then is the me you perceive today really the same me of yesterday and the year before that you think it is? I actually had an old friend get in touch a few days ago whom I haven’t had a real conversation with since I was 21 years old. That was a long time ago. And yet I do feel a connection to this person. But does she know the Tim who is here now? Or does her memory of the 33 years ago Tim give her a leg up in knowing the Tim of know and she’ll just meet this new more readily. Very strange. And suddenly memories of our earlier friendship are rippling up and I’m reliving them in the mind. Who is the Tim in those memories? Mysterious.

And if the nature of satisfaction and suffering is more complex and mysterious do all of your preferences and ideas and values even make sense? Or perhaps you’ve just gotten good at ignoring evidence to the contrary – more lenses, sometimes the lenses are dark or distorted and we see what want to see, or maybe we don’t really want what we see so much as we see what we expect to see even if it makes us miserable.

So to take a step back again:

On the one hand these teachings on the three marks of existence are practical and powerful.

They are saying: look carefully and think this all through again. Everything’s changing, life is hard and confusing and doesn’t work the way you think it does – you might be looking in the wrong places for satisfaction, and are you sure the person you think is in the middle of all of this is really who you are? Are you really sure or is that just a story you’ve told yourself for so long that you believe it without question at this point? Could a better story be more accurate? Or are there any stories about the self that are truly accurate? Would it be better to see if you can live without such a fixed story? Would a more flexible story be helpful? Is it possible to exist for at least some moments without any story at all?

But, again the 3 marks of existence are also pointing to something that’s beyond of all this practical stuff. The complexity of life and cause and effect and the vast universe and our deep unconscious and conscious minds. It’s all pretty mysterious. Beyond something we can understand and make sense of and sort out perhaps.

It’s possible our mind is an emergent kind of field from our the interconnections in our electro-chemical brains right? We tend to think that’s so. The brain has nearly 100 billion neurons in it and the interconnected networks those 100 billion nodes can make are many times more than 100 billion. These numbers are staggering. We can’t really make sense of them. 100 billion times a lot?

I googled it of course and if you took 100 billion pieces of paper and stacked them on top of each other you’d have the equivalent of a 430,000 story building. It would take quite a while on the elevator to get to the top floor. And that’s what inside every one of our heads.

It’s a mystery this being human, this being in a universe. The practice does help, teachings do help, just staying alive for more years if you have any curiosity about it all does seem to help us feel a bit better about it all for the most part. But will we ever understand it? Will we ever figure it out? Will we ever find the perfect teachings so we can live a life of utter happiness and contentment?

One of the great things about the three marks of existence teaching is that they point us towards a very deep level of acceptance of ourselves and our world. Can we live in a deeper harmony with how things actually are with us, with the world. This is not a passive kind of thing, we are then all the more able to take action and strive for change and growth and improvement and healing for everyone. Actually we’re on a more solid foundation this way.

Of course we want to try to improve and fix things to avoid suffering, and this works to an extent, but the three marks don’t call on us to fix things but to free ourselves from some deep misunderstandings. These teachings call on us to merge with things as they are and to understand at a much deeper level how things are. These teachings call on us to stop fighting against reality.

So the three marks of reality. The short hand titles are: impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and non-self.

And we’ll spend the whole week exploring this. Thank you for listening to my first musing talk on all of this. Don’t worry too much about these talks. They can’t straight out the mystery either. But it’s good to explore these ideas, too. Just see what catches your attention and feels helpful and let the rest go. You can always catch them again on the website later. Thank you.

Talk 2: Robin Boudette – Impermanence


Talk 3: Tim Burnett – Self, Not Self, ?


Talk Notes

This morning (or afternoon), let’s turn our attention back to ourselves. The mark of existence that addresses this is usually the 3rd on the list. Robin helped us explore the 1st – impermanence – yesterday. That was a wonderful guiding phrase she offered: “keep calmly knowing change” – I appreciated her sharing that first hearing about these three marks of existence was a great relief and that they can serve as a map. How seeing how we’re deluded about permanence, suffering, and self leads to freedom, leads to relief, leads to happiness. Remember how she quoted her teacher as calling the three marks of existence “the three wisdom doors.” 

So today let’s look at the 3rd one. I find it the most subtle. And probably it’s accordingly the most important We’ll circle back to th 2nd about suffering and satisfaction tomorrow. But really like any good teaching all three are always present. The 3rd mark on self includes the 1st on impermanence and the 2nd on self and so on.

We actually don’t know with any certainty what the Buddha said. In the culture of the time there was some literacy for tracking transactions and so on but there wasn’t writing in the way we think of it. So the Buddha didn’t write anything down and his disciples didn’t either. But they repeated what the heard. And eventually an organized system of reciting different parts of the Buddha’s teachings evolved and monks specialized in this. It was an oral tradition. Perhaps something we’ve partly lost in our era of writing and books and now words on screens. But actually that’s too dramatic maybe our oral tradition has just shifted. Think of the hundreds or maybe thousands of pop songs you have in your head somewhere. If I start singing:

On dark desert highway…

Most of us know right away

….cool wind in my hair.

Or some version of that – I thought it was cool wind in her hair so I looked it up. Our protagonist is alone in his convertable, I guess, in the California desert about to stumble across a mysterious hotel.

Oral tradition. And if you’re from another culture or younger than most of us here sorry – that was the Eagle’s famous song “Hotel California.” If you do know it backwards and forwards I’m sorry to plant that song meme in your head. But you see the point. Our minds…incredible.

So we don’t really really know what the Buddha said but when it was all written down several hundred years later it’s likely the main points were intact as he intended even if the details would have inevitably evolved in a long long game of telephone.

So here’s what the Buddha is actually recorded as saying. It was written down early on in the Pali language – a kind of intellectual high brow langugage of southern India. This might have happened in Sri Lanka – right around the time of Christ.

[read Pali twice, then line by line with English]

sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā — “all saṅkhāras (conditioned things) are impermanent”

sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā — “all saṅkhāras are unsatisfactory”

sabbe dhammā anattā — “all dharmas (conditioned or unconditioned things) are not self” [8]

An interesting thing there is we’ve been using a single noun – “existence” – as what these three marks, or seals, wisdom gates point to but there are two different nouns in the original.

The impermanance and suffering marks are applied to something called “saṅkhārā” and the not-self mark is applied to something called “dhammā”. 

I’ll do my best not to loose us too deep in a tangled thicket of Buddhist philosophy but it’s good to get a sense of where this stuff really comes form and how it was said before we simplifed it into English and then simplified it further into Buddha quotes on social media. 

An aside on there: the majority of Buddha quotes on social media are not what the Buddha said even kinda. They often sound very nice and perhaps are quite astute and true but rarely are the actual recorded words of Buddha. There’s a great website run by a Western monk called where you can double check this.

Here’s his most recently posted example of something that the Buddha didn’t say:

“Rule your mind or it will rule you”

He never said that but he did say:

Monks, I know not of any other single thing so conducive to great loss as the untamed mind. The untamed mind indeed conduces to great loss.

Monks, I know not of any other single thing so conducive to great profit as the tamed mind. The tamed mind indeed conduces to great profit.

Same sentiment I guess, but in the Western tradition we do like our quotes to be actually what the person said as best we know.

Back to our bit of scripture. 

sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā “all saṅkhāras (conditioned things) are impermanent”

saṅkhārā – is a technical Buddhist term – there are problems with the idea of Buddhism as a “science of the mind” but that applies here pretty well. The early Buddhists did a lot of meditating and a lot of thinking about how the mind seems to really work in a moment by moment way. There were really interested in how the mind perceives and then goes on to construct our reality. The emphasis was a kind of ground up analysis of what happens.

You could, very roughly, safe that Western Psychology takes a more top down approach. In the Western approach we assume that we are people in a shared objective world with personalities and we can investigate how it all works through experimentation and observation. See what people do in different situations. See how often it’s not what we, or even they, assume will happen, and then infer the inner workings of the mind.

This bottom up approach of Buddhist assumes no such thing as a person or an external world. It starts an experience of mind experiencing some moment of perception, moment of existing, and asked “ok: what happened there” and “ok: what happens next” – it’s very granular.

In that system saṅkhārā or in Sanskrit saṃskāra refers to an early step in the reality construction project the mind does. It refers to the way we turn experience very quickly into impressions. Those impressions can land in a wide range of conceptual categories. Here’s a bit of definition from Wikipedia:

It is a complex concept, with no single-word English translation, that fuses “object and subject” as interdependent parts of each human’s consciousness and epistemological process. It connotes “impression, disposition, conditioning, forming, perfecting in one’s mind, influencing one’s sensory and conceptual faculty” as well as any “preparation, sacrament” that “impresses, disposes, influences or conditions” how one thinks, conceives or feels.

The word epistemological word in there refers to construction of meaning. Epistemology is the study of knowledge and meaning itself. So it’s not like these ideas are unique to the Indian or Asian traditions. Anyone who thinks carefully realizes we’re doing a construction project all the time. It’s a question of what pieces of that process you assume to have some kind of inherent truth or reality to them and which pieces you think are constructions.

The idea in Buddhism is more or less that he aren’t exerpiencing some kind of external reality but we’re experience our impressions of reality. We confue our ideas about something with the thing itself. And we do this with pretty much everything: physical objects, ideas, images, people, ourseles. Some schools of Buddhism take this a step further and say there actually is no external reality at all – it’s all a construction of individual minds and collective minds. But there is a range of understanding there. Buddhism isn’t one thing but a complex multi-layered movement with many schools and ways of approaching things. Like there are many Christianities and many great bands but we are always going to have opinions about which school of Buddhism is right, which branch of Christianity is the most wholesome and helpful, which bands are awesome. 

I’m already tired of the sound of Hotel California looping around in the back of my head, sorry about that. 

Anyway so it’s not exactly “reality” that’s impermanent and to subject to triggering our suffering in Buddhism it’s these impressions we believe to be reality.

Why does all of this matter?

Well think about this. If it’s not really reality that’s so unstable and unsatisfying but the impression you’ve created about reality that’s that way that suggests we may have some options here. Some possibility of changing our understanding or our relationship with the challenging aspects of life. If it’s all, more or less, in our minds, we probably have more of a sense that our minds can change and grow and evolve and learn than if the very fabric of some kind of fixed external universe can be changed.

And in this is where we start to see that Buddhism isn’t saying “life is suffering” in an everything sucks, too bad for you, get used to it kind of way. It’s saying you’ve been conditioned to create a life laced with suffering. 

And here Buddhism and Western Psychology share a sense of conditioning. We’re not the independent objective free-thinking rational observers we think we are. Psychology is full of tricky little experiments that reveal people’s biases and ways they actually act which are so different from what they say they’ll do when you catch them on a good day. And it’s because of the influence of conditioning.

We’re conditioned by our society, our upbringing, our friends and family, the media, our choices and activities, our ideas of who we are. And much of that operates in us below the level of our conscious awareness right? Have you caught yourself doing something that just seems really odd and counter productive or harmful or not in accord with your values? Why did you do that? Just a screw up? You were stressed out that day? Just wasn’t myself today? Well….those are all descriptions of conditioning. 

Buddhism just tends to take that thought down to a more granual experiential level: dropping some assumptions about what the “me” in the middle of that story is just for starters. That it’s not independent actors who are conditioned by history and circumstances, more that there’s nothing there but conditioning. The very reality being perceived and acted with in is a big pile of conditioning that gets confused for some kind of objectively real stuff.

The point in all of this being the possibilty of freedom through a deeper understanding as Robin was saying so clearly yesterday.

And for some people a careful analysis of the moment by moment experience like these technical Buddhist terms are pointing to is very helpful. 

Like for me I really love the Buddhist idea of “feeling tone” – these impressions, these saṅkhāras, are also flavored by the mind as being pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. As I’ve gone along I’ve found it helps me, sometimes, to be able to experience something difficult or challenging as “just unpleasant” and leapfrog out of the horrible struggle and strife I can get into trying to figure it out, solve it, fix the me that seems to have led to it, prevent it from every happening again. And the same with the pleasant actually: to be able to experience something nice as “ahh, that’s pleasant” and sometimes you can eapfrog out of “wow, how did I get so lucky – she likes me! yay! how do I keep this going, how to do I please her so she’ll keep liking me, how do I keep feeling loved and reassured every second of the day” – I told you I’m practicing a lot of curiosity about relationships, right? And boy does it all go better if I don’t tweak into that kind of “how do I understand, manage, improve, and prolong this pleasant situation” – no one wants to be with that guy. He can be charming but in the end he’s awfully needy and clingy and can even get a little manipulative.

So these ideas can be helpful. That we’re reality impression creators. That we flavor those reality impressions with feeling tone so quickly and unthinkingly: I like it, I don’t like it, err I guess I don’t really care. And that we then bundle is all up into an ongoing story of who I am.

And that’s what the third mark of existence is about. Don’t believe your story of who you are. Whatever you think you are, that’s not it. 

The Pali original there pivots to a broader term than saṅkhāra impressions:

sabbe dhammā anattā — “all dharmas (conditioned or unconditioned things) are not self”

Dhammas or Dharmas – another Pali / Sanskrit cognate meaning it’s the same word – in this context are both the impressions of reality and whatever the un-impressed-upon reality might be. In Buddhist psychology almost everything is conditioned and constructed by the mind – and as we’ve seen all of those constructed ideas, things, feelings, thoughts, etc are both impermanent and sticky for suffering – all of them. But the key point there is that “ALMOST everything” are these conditioned, constructed reality-impressions.  There is a something, that most Buddhisms would say isn’t really a something exactly, that’s not conditioned.

And since something isn’t in this huge category of stuff we can hold in a conceptual frame it gets called by what it’s not: the unconditioned. Sometimes it’s called the unborn, or the unfabricated. And being in touch with this not-something supports a deep find of freedom.

We might say spaciousness as a working definition. Sometimes during meditation, and other times too, right, we all feel open, spacious, okay. A wonderful part of this practice is if we slow down a bit – like we’re doing this week – we notice this quality of spaciousness more often. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, please just tuck this away as a seed for later.

And if these kind of low level analytical ideas are not your jam, don’t worry about it. Focus on the practical teachings that work just fine even if you aren’t too worried about the nature of self or of reality. The Eight Worldly Winds blowing us around are a great example. It’s worth getting those on your fridge or bathroom mirror post-its or however you remind yourself of things that are surprisingly easy to forget because our conditioned selves are caught by the very forces these teachings are trying to free us from.

gain and loss, 

pleasure and pain, 

praise and blame, 

fame and shame

This is all not to neuter us is an important point. It’s fine and natural that we want gain, pleasure, praise, and fame. It’s totally understandable that we don’t want loss, pain, blame, and shame. These teachings aren’t saying dont be human anymore. Be Suppah Buddha or something.

What they do is help to cast a little doubt on what happens next. 

We want gain because we think the next thing is we’ll be happy.

We don’t want loss beause we think the next thing is we’ll be sad.

Take a look. The wonderful old story of the Chinese farmer or so many other stories help here. But even better is to look carefully back over your own life. Did the things you found terrible at the time lead to terrible results? Some do, certainly, but a lot really don’t. I bet a lot of the difficult things that have happened to you led to very good things. To new opportunities, to learning, to growth, to ways of being that you never could have imagined. 

And the reverse is true. Getting what you think you want doesn’t always lead to lasting happiness does it? We like to kind of gloss over this point as we want our theory of happiness to stay intact so can go running off after the next shiny thing or person or idea. But take a look, maybe it was exciting and inticing whatever it was, but did it really lead to the satisfaction and freedom from suffering our hearts to deeply desire? Did it lead to peace?

And then in the middle of all of these adventures is this most complex of impression constructions: me. The third mark of existence is in a way so simple: everything you think could be me, is not. It’s not. And one way some schools of Buddhism work with that is to examine each thing you think you are carefully, to sit and meditate with that, and realize ultimately – no, I’m not that. Maybe I’m this. 

Here’s another short peace from Juan Ramon Jiminez

I am not I.

Talk 4: Robin Boudette – Suffering


Talk 5: Tim Burnett – More on the self-ing self


Talk Notes

Let’s explore this conditioned self some more today and see if we can feel out way a step beyond the idea of a conditioned self which assumes, doesn’t it, that there’s a self here that’s been conditioned.

I want to start with a fun little story from the poety Naomi Shihab Nye – we’ve heard at least one of her poems this week. Sit back and relax, it’s story time.

From her book Honeybee

A great story of (mis)perception!

I was 17, my family had just moved to San Antonio, A

local magazine featured an alluring article about a

museum called the McNay, an old mansion once the

home of an eccentric many-times-married watercolorist

named Marian Koogler McNay. She had deeded it to the

community to become a museum upon her death. I

asked my friend Sally, who drove a cute little convertible

and had moved to Texas a year before we did, if she

wanted to go there. Sally said, “Sure.” She was a good

friend that way. We had made up a few words in our

own language and could dissolve into laughter just by

saying them. Our mothers thought we were a bit odd

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, we drove over to

Broadway. Sally asked, “Do you have the address of this

place?” “No,” I said, “just drive very slowly and I’ll

recognize it there was a picture in the magazine.” I peered in

both directions and pointed, saying “There, there it is,

pull in!” The parking lot under some palm trees was

pretty empty. We entered, excited. The museum was free.

Right away, the spirit of the arched doorways, carved

window frames, and elegant artwork overtook us. Sally

went left, I went right A group of people seated in some

chairs in the lobby stopped talking and stared at us.


“May I help you?” a man said. “No,” I said. “We’re fine.” I

didn’t like to talk to people in museums. Tours and

docents got on my nerves. What if they talked a long

time about a painting you weren’t that interested in? I

took a deep breath, moved on to another painting-

fireworks over a patio in Mexico, maybe? There weren’t

very good tags in this museum. In fact, there weren’t

any. I stood back and gazed. Sally had gone upstairs.

The people in the lobby had stopped chatting. They

seemed very nosy, keeping their eyes on me with irritating curiosity.

What was their problem? I turned down a hallway.

Bougainvillea’s and azaleas pressed up right

against the windows. Maybe we should have brought a

picnic. Where was the Moorish courtyard? I saw some

nice sculptures in another room, and a small couch. This

would be a great place for reading. Above the couch

hung a radiant print by Paul Klee, my favorite artist,

blues and pinks merging softly in his own wonderful

way. I stepped closer. Suddenly I became aware of a man

from the lobby standing behind me in the doorway.

“Where do you think you are?” he asked. I turned

sharply. “The McNay Art Museum!” He smiled then, and

shook his head. “Sorry to tell you. The McNay is three

blocks over on New Braunfels Street. Take a right when

you go out of our driveway, then another right.” “What

is this place 1 asked, still confused. He said, “Well, we

thought it was our home.” My heart jolted. I raced past

him to the bottom of the staircase and called out, “Sally!

Come down immediately! Urgent!” I remember being

tempted to shout something in our private language, but

we didn’t have a word for this. Sally came to the top of

the stairs smiling happily and said, “You have to come

up here, there’s some really good stuff! And there are

old beds too!” “No, Sally, no,” I said, as if she were a dog

or a baby. “Get down here. Speed it up. This is an emergency

She stepped elegantly down the stairs as if in a

museum trance, looking puzzled. I just couldn’t tell her

out loud in front of those people what we had done. I

actually pushed her toward the front door, waving my

hand at the family in the chairs, saying,

“Sorry, ohmygod, please forgive us, you have a really nice place.”


stared at me in the parking lot. When I told her, she

covered her mouth and doubled over with laughter,

shaking We were still in their yard. I imagined them

inside looking out the windows at us. She couldn’t

believe how long they let us look around without

saying anything either. “That was really friendly of

them!” “Get in the car,” I said sternly, “This is mortifying.”

* * * *

The real McNay was fabulous, splendid, but we felt a

little nervous the whole time we were there. Van Gogh,

Picasso, Tamayo. This time, there were tags. This time, we

stayed together, in case anything else weird happened.


We never told anyone.

* * * *


Thirty years later, a nice-looking woman approached

me in a public place. “Excuse me,” she said. “I need to

ask a strange question. Did you ever, by any chance

enter a residence, long ago, thinking it was the McNay



Thirty years later, my cheeks still burned. “Yes. But how

do you know? I never told anyone.”


“That was my home, I was a teenager sitting with my

family talking in the living room. Before you came over

I never realized what a beautiful place I lived in, I never

felt lucky before. You thought it was a museum.

My feelings changed about my parents after that too.

They had good taste. I have always wanted to thank


At first I loved this story as a powerful, and charming example, of how we misperceive our world. And how incredibly resistant we are to evidence that contradicts our assumptions. Young Naomi and her friend were convinced this was a museum and they were able to ignore the total lack of signs that it was in fact a museum: no sign, no front desk, no labels on the work, the fact that a group of people in the “lobby” – really the living room presumably – were looking at them oddly. No they persisted strongly with their belief until it simply couldn’t be denied anymore.

And this happens all the time. The problem is we often don’t notice we’ve just been in the middle of a misperception. What if the owner of the house hadn’t gotten up to talk to her before she and her friend decided to leave? It could have gone that way too, right. The ending could be, “after a while we’d seen everything of interest and waved goodbye to the odd little group in the lobby. They waved back and we drove away to get an ice cream. It was a nice trip to the McNay museum, I recommend the place. Lovely.”

This is what happens often for us, right? We leave work even more convinced that so-and-so is a such-and-such and has it in for us. We hang up the phone even more convinced that our young cousin is never going to get his shit together. We close the web browser after reading the news even more convinced that our side is right and that other side is essentially just insane, or maybe just brainwashed.

But thinking about this story more in light of the 3rd mark of existence I wonder if a more powerful aspect of the story is the pain of a shifting sense of self in young Naomi. She was happily bubbling along in a version of self “museum visitor” and when the owner told her, “well we think of it as our home” she was plunged into a very painful identity of “trespasser” or “fool” – so very upsetting.

Ordinary language we use around making mistakes has this sense of conflicting and painful identities. We make a mistake and say things like, “I’m an idiot, sorry.” Which is very different from saying, “oops, I’m a reasonable and intelligent person but I see I made a mistake here, sorry.” Instead: “I’m an idiot” becomes the self of the moment. What does that do to us?

And this story also points out the power of conditioning on and from that sense of self. As Naomi and her friend climbing into that car they climbed into the identity of museum vistors looking for the museum. They were predisposed to seek a reality that supported that self. So instead of seeing a private mansion they saw a museum because that’s where museum visitors go.

And then there’s the teenager who grew up to come tell Naomi 30 years later how that moment had radically shifted her sense of self and as framed by who her parents were. Powerful stuff.

Back to politics: what place, what reality are democrats or liberals primed to inhabit and experience? what reality are republicans or conservatives primed to inhabit. And we are so very good and finding what we’re looking for because what are the lenses we’re looking through? Conditioning. Who drew the map we pull out of our pocket? Conditioning.

These are kind of global external examples but these ideas of self go down to the core. Our feelings are not logical feelings naturally induced by the good and bad things that happen to us: they are produced by a conditioned mind within a conditioned self.

And then there are our actions and choices. Here’s a wonderful little ditty of a poem we love to read in mindfulness class about habit patterns – one of Robin’s specialties – and mistakes.

Portia Nelson – Autobiography in Five Chapters

Chapter I


I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost… I am hopeless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.


Chapter II


I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in this same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.


Chapter III


I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it there.

I still fall in… it’s a habit… but,

my eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.


Chapter IV


I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.


Chapter V


I walk down another street.

I love a lot of things about this little poem but my favorite thing is how much I hate, how we all hate, all those middle chapters. We want to leap from chapter 1 to chapter 5. I see the problem, I know there are holes in the sidewalk. It’s only logical to spot walking up and down this street, this pattern in my life, falling into these damn holes. And yet here I am doing it again, and again, and again.

And also that there is change through that. That there may be some value to doing the dumb things we hate, to falling into those holes, it may be part of a process whether we realized it at the time or not. We can’t have the clarity of finally seeing hole in chapter 3 without the denial and blindspots of chapter 2. These is no choice to do it differently in chapter 4 without falling in and taking responsibilty in chapter 3. And so on.

But when we’re in those middle chapters we just don’t get it right? Don’t we have a brain? Do we even have free will after all? Why am I making this dumb choice over and over. We look for a theory that will at least explain it: is this an addictive pattern? Am I just blind to the signs here? Did someone else influence me in a bad way that I internalized? Yeah! That’s it, this is my mother’s doing – she’s why I’m ass up in this hole!

The early Buddhist have an interesting part of the answer. They saw volition – the impulse to do something – as just another mental object, just another reality-impression sanskhara like we talked about the other day – and volitions too are conditioned. We may think, “I’m a rational person, I’m even able to slow down here and think this through, to consider the evidence, to make a careful choice – surely it’s just when I’m in a rush that I feel into those sidewalk holes, not this time.” And then we take the next step and BAM, down we go. Again we’ve sent a nasty email without realizing it, again we’re been biased and prejudiced without know it, and the evidence does make it through our filters of denial eventually.

There is a sense of consciousness and choice but it seems clear from every psychological frame, West and East, that that sense of will power and choice is not free from distortion and conditioning and the vast repository of condition that we call “self”

So what to do? How to practice with all of this beside just persistence – which isn’t bad either. As Robin was saying yesterday – stay with the suffering, be present to it, you’ll see through the fear that your husband is bleeding out, the desire for a cigarette will abate – stay. Or in the model of the poem: just keep walking. As I mentioned from Japan: fall down 7, get up 8. Turns out to be: “Nana korobi ya oki” just to give a little Nihongo full credit for that wisdom.

That’s a good approach. And as we add more curiosity and acceptance and let the resistance settle away it’ll take few chapters to remember there was a junction to another street back there. It’ll take fewer seconds to release from panic in an emergency and show up for what is, not what might be, or what should have been but to respond to what is in a smart order. You comfort the dog, I’ll get the anticeptic and bandages, you check the drop in clinic’s hours. We don’t need “oh my gawd, how could this happen? what a disaster!” just then.

There are kind of wise management of the conditioned self. This is stop pretending it’s an objective self in and objective world where I’m seeing everything clearly. It’s a conditioned self in a conditioned world full of distorted perceptions actually. You kind of can’t deny that really.

And Buddhism also has some deeper approaches that are worth exploring.

A classic one was to replace your model of self with a different one that’s close to what’s actually happening here. And this approach is imbedded into mindfulness too: we talk about paying more attention to what’s arising in this present moment right? When you do that you’re paying less attention to your selfing, your self-based and self-centered fantasies of what’s happening and what should or shouldn’t be happening. The present moment – the idea of a moment as just this, just now – is a moment of brief liberation for that powerful conditioned pattern and that’s huge. Of course then the mind drifts back to…OH MY GOD! How could this be happening! Give me a cigarette.

Another related model is a sensory awareness model. A colleague and I had a funny little public play in a mindfulness workshop one time. We were really teaching together – and Robin and I will do this tomorrow – talking about mindfulness and it’s benefits and so on. And my co-teacher turned to me and said, “well you know, Tim, there are really only six possible things that can happen!” I think this was a stock phrase from his training but I didn’t know it so I actually didn’t know what he was talking about, so I said, “Oh? how’s that?” in a very genuine way. It was a natural Abbot and Costello moment and got a laugh. And then he said, “well either you’re seeing, or you’re smelling, or you’re touching, or you’re tasting, or you’re thinking. There’s nothing else that can happen in any given moment.”

And that can be so liberating – that’s a pivot from what’s happening in this moment to what is being experienced in this moment. There’s a little bit of freedom between “there is seeing.” and “I am seeing something I don’t like” – just “seeing” – and that you can apply that same sensibilty to thinking, instead of believing in the thinking or being lost in the thinking. How am I experiencing this moment? It’s a moment of thinking – and you can realize that actually sense no other sense input is being attended to at that moment the entire world vanished for those moments of thinking. We tend to shift back and forth so quickly that we don’t notice that the conscious mind really is only one place at time. In mindful communication this can be clarified: you notice in a quiet careful conversation with your partner that a moment of thinking about what you’re going to say later is a moment of NOT listening to your partner. A few words go by that you absolutely did not hear. And since we are good at making meaning you’re mind took the fragement it did here and filled in the rest for you, so there was an illusion of continuous listening.

This property of mind that one psychologist I like calls the “filling in trick” is how we have this illusion of continuity when those were switching between different senses and our thinking all the time. Flip, flip, flip, flip. But you get that flipbook going at speed and it looks like one continuous movie right?

So actually choosing to tune into the senses more fully is a liberative action. I’m going to stop obsessing over this – thinking, thinking, thinking – and go stand at the window and watch that tree move in the wind of this Fall storm. Looking, looking, listening to the whistle of the wind, looking, thinking (it does pop in sure), looking. And feeling the body – ahh some of the tension is gone in my forehead, the belly must have been so tight because now I feel it loosening up. Whew. So this is a deeper thing than “taking a break” it’s actually a gradually remapping of the way we maintain our sense of self with our obsession with thinking. Especially that kind of worried self-y thinking, “what do I have to do next again? gosh I’m so behind. Is Karen upset with me? Boy I can’t believe I forgot to call Mom over the weekend” You know this voice? More awareness iwth the senses is a freedom – it’s more than temporary relief to be more tuned into the world around you.

And when Robin’s friend Jud Brewer and his colleagues at Yale popped a bunch of long term meditators into the FMRI machine they saw exactly that. They were putting more of their brian’s energy into the areas associated with sensory awareness and less in the areas associated with self-referential thinking – the famous “default mode network.” Steady meditation over time helps that shift and changing our patterns around where we put our awareness all the time does too. Have you had some moments during our breaks like that – moments of just being tuned in to the senses? Sometimes it feels like the mind totally stops right? Retreat is a good container for exploring this, or maybe allowing this.

And the classic early Buddhist model of self we can remap to is one called the “five skandhas” – very similar idea. it’s not a me me me self, it’s a moment of experience and in that model the moments of experience divide up tidily into five heaps. There are moments of encouraging phsyicality and form. Stuff moments. There are moments of being shoved around by how we see things as pleasant, unplesant and neutral – feeling tone moments. There are moments of perception just as we just discussed. And then a very big heap in that system which we explored already is there are many moments of assembling ideas about reality – skanahda moments – mental formation moments, and there moments of conscious awareness of a knowing of thoughts and emotions and ideas. And it’s not that the fifth piple – moments of conscious awareness is the boss of the operation as some kind of self – the conscious awareness in the five skandhas model is just like another sense – the eyes see visual stuff an the conscious awareness experiences mental stuff. One isn’t better than the other. This is very different form the western mind and matter model we have, the famous phrase from Descartes, “I think therefore I am.” is a hillarious joke in Buddhist psychology. The monks fall to the floor laughing when you say that.

I’ve gone on a long time I know but I want to mention one more model before we go – it’s my favorite. This is the model of a later Buddhist school called Yogacara Buddhism. The model is called the 8 consciousnesses model. It’s really cool and it explains a lot in a way that helps me calm down anyway.

It builds on my teacher friend’s excitement for there being just 5 senses and the thinking mind happening at any one time. The first 6 of the 8 consciousness it explores are exactly that. Visual consciousness, auditory consciousnes and so on until mental consciousness.

But the problem with that model is how do you explain stuff like collective suffering and societal bias which Robin brought up yesterday. How does the bias of racism co-arise with the visual perception of someone with very dark skin and a certain facial shape? Where did that come from if there is only a moment of vision, then a moment of thinking-cognition, then a moment of feeling hungry, then a stray memory, and so on?

And another problem that’s not explained in the “only one of six things are happening in this moment” model. Why do we have this feeling of me, here, having these experiences? Where does the sense of self come from? Seems like a 7th experience that sort of overlays or envelopes the other six.

The explanation of the Yogacara model to solve both of these problems is really elegant.

They say there’s a seventh consciousness which is your sense of self. It’s called manas in Sanksrit. An manas is always in motion, it’s a very dynamic kind of consciousness – it’s like a shuttle diplomat that flies back and forth between those six kinds of conscious experience and a a really far out dark place called the storehouse consciousness – called alaya vijnana in Sankrit – I love that name “alaya vijnana”. This storehouse is a storehouse of individual and collective conditioning. It’s vast and it’s shared. It’s the standard western subconscious and Jung’s collective subsconcious and probably several other ideas in different psychologies.

It’s vast and it’s dark. You can’t see what’s in there. But you have a good idea there’s a lot in there or they wouldn’t need such an enormous warehouse. You know most of what’s going on in your mind you don’t really know about right? – we get so focussed on our conscious awareness that we think our ideas are the boss, but we also know better. Well this model says that in a massive way.

And the fascinating thing is the conditioning is not like bits of energy or tendencies the condition is stored there as seeds. Seeds the can grow in the dark. Seeds of anger. Seeds of racial bais. Seeds of brilliance and insight. It’s a massive seedbank.

And when the manas consciousness – that seventh consciousness that has the feeling of “me” gets some input from the first six consciousnesses – you see something or hear something or think something – it makes a quick dash into the storehouse, it dives into the darkness with the energy of what you just experienced hanging off it of like a cloud. And the gasses in that cloud create conditions for some of the seeds to germinate. This all happens really really fast.

And the germinate seeds become powerful impulses, ideas, reality impressions, that the manas 7th self-y consciousness carries back out to the whole interlocking system that is “you” and inspired you to take an action. Then you feel something, or you say something, or you do something, or you think something.

This system is worthy of a retreat all by itself it’s really complicated but to just play with it a little bit more.

Say you grew up with racist parents. I’m taking an anti-racism class right now and one of the people in my affinity group is a lovely women from Portland who grew up in Georgia with parents who were overly racist. She of course feels like she’s not racist but sometimes stuff slips out. And impulse or an opinion. Like noticing that dark skined strangers on street feel more ominous and threatening than light skinned strangers. And she’s really trying hard to undertand all of this and it’s upsetting and confusing to her. “I am not a racist” is a statement of simple identity.

But we don’t get that, we are not that. We are not a simple identiy. We are a process. As Buckminster Fuller said, “I am a verb.”

So in her case there’s a visual experience: dark skinned person approaching the street. The visual first consciousness is activated and sends a text to the 7th consciousness who says, “hmm dark skinned stranger eh? let’s see what germinates in the storehouse!” and she flies down in the darkness with the image, wouldn’t you know it a racist seed germinates quite readily and manas flies back to HQ and tells the body to be on a alert, there is danger here.

Oh no, alert listeners – or any one who’s still awake – might be saying. Does that mean my new friend is doomed to have this biased racist reaction to dark skinned people forever?

Well the hopefulness of the model is two fold. First is there are only so many seeds down there. And every one that germinates is one used up. Her racist upbringing in a racist society may have deposited a lot of them down there but not infinite. There’s also a less agreed upon theory that if she notices this process happening with awareness is causes a few of the seeds that were next to the one that germinated to whither away – such is the power of mindful awareness.

But the second idea, or maybe the third if the mindful awareness idea holds up, is that when the manas consciousness gets back to HQ to trigger the fight or flight response there’s also a moment when conscious awareness can influence the outcome. Whatever she thinks or notices or feels or does next is ALSO a powerful moment of influence on manas. Next thing is manas is going to fly back into the storehouse and PLANT a new seed. So if she notices her impulse, takes a breath, focussed on the person and sees their humanity or maybe finds a safe way to engage with them – a smile say – manas flies back into the warehouse and plants a seed of understanding or a seed of tolerance. But if she goes with the fear and constriction or maybe amplifies it somehow – the person is wearing a hoodie say and she reacts further to that – then manas is back in the warehouse planting yet another seed of racism and bias.

In this model there is the power of awarenes and choice and you can see how our practice helps you weird that power more effectively but it’s part of a bigger system. You don’t know what seeds are down there, you can guess form what happens back in HQ as she did – boy I must have a lot of racist conditioning if I keep tensing up like that on the street. And that awareness helps you to stop planting more racist seeds and on a good day plant seeds of tolerane. And eventually the seeds of tolerance outnumber the seeds of bias and fear and she sees a dark skinned person and just sees a person. “hi, how are you?” Does that mean she was a racist before and now she’s not a racist? No, that’s a simple self-based frame and this model explores a much more complex reality that sure seems to fit experience better.

So that’s a crash course in Yogacara Buddhism. Seeds of potential for every possible thought, feeling, and bias stored in a vast dark warehouse waiting for the right conditions to sprout. But you can see the results of the sprouting and you have influence over both what gets used up and what gets planted anew.

OKAY that’s far more than enough – I do get rolling. Here’s a classic folk song popularized by the Kingston Trio. My parents had this one Kingston Trio album that got played a lot but I don’t think this was on it. The chorus is simple, sing along. It’s the worried man song. Sorry for the gender specific language, I hope we can just remap man to “all beings” and enjoy the tune. The chorus strikes me as a great teaching for us on the 3 marks of existence but the verses are kind of just a little story filler form a certain cultural time. Still it’s a fun one.

It takes a worried man

To sing a worried song

It takes a worried man

To sing a worried song

It takes a worried man

To sing a worried song

I’m worried now,

But I won’t be worried long

Got myself a Cadillac,

Thirty dollars down

Got myself a brand new house

Five miles out of town

Got myself a gal named Sue,

Treats me really fine

Yes, she’s my baby

And I love her all the time

It takes a worried, worried man to sing a worried, worried song

It takes a worried, worried man to sing a worried, worried song

It takes a worried man

To sing a worried song

I’m worried now,

But I won’t be worried long

I’ve been away on a bus’ness trip,

Travlin’ all around

I’ve got a gal and her name is Sue,

Prettiest gal in town

She sets my mind to worryin’

Ev’ry time I’m gone

I’ll be home tonight

So I won’t be worried long

It takes a worried man to

Sing a worried song

It takes a worried man to

Sing a worried song

It takes a worried man to sing a worried song

I’m worried now,

But I won’t be worried long

Well, Bobby’s in the living room,

Holding hands with Sue

Nickie’s at that big front door,

‘Bout to come on thru

Well, I’m here in the closet

Oh, lord what shall I do?

We’re worried now

But we won’t be worried long

It takes a worried man

To sing a worried song

It takes a worried man

To sing a worried song

It takes a worried man

To sing a worried song

I’m worried now,

But I won’t be worried long





Talk 6: Tim Burnett & Robin Boudette – Question and Answer session

Talk 6: Tim Burnett & Robin Boudette – Question and Answer session


Talk Notes

Questions submitted:

  • When a discomfort or need arises during walking meditation when is it better to stick with walking and set it aside, when is attending to the need self-care? “I have a hard time discerning between when I should change my perception and when I have a real need that needs to be met and I need to change positions for the well-being of my body. “
  • How does one manage perseverating thoughts of regret from past, unskillful behaviors from over 30 years ago that were hurtful to others?

Affirmations help, e.g. Maya Angelou: “If you must look back, do so forgivingly.” “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, be better.”

  • What does “keeping up the momentum” really mean? I appreciate it but I’m confused by it. What is the momentum building up to?
  • If all things are impermanent, does that mean that impermanence itself is actually permanent? 🙂 I’m thinking along the lines of “change is the only constant.”
  • What is the role of a teacher? Is a teacher primarily meant to be a guide, who helps to facilitate the students’ exploration of their own lived experience? What else makes a teacher? How important is it to learn the different concepts? How does a person find the “right” teacher? How have you been helped or supported by your teachers?
  • Tim, you clearly pointed out in one of your talks, all the things that are NOT the self. What is your belief on the “self” question- Is there is a “self”? Or, there is no self beyond the conditioned stuff? How does “consciousness” relate or does not relate to the “self”?
  • Can you say more about the nature of the unconditioned things that we human beings can experience? From your personal belief and/or from the Buddhist teachings? How do we know when something is conditioned vs. unconditioned? Is “love” for example always a conditioned experience?
  • Is seeking freedom from suffering just be another attempt at seeking “pleasant” experiences and avoiding “unpleasant” ones? And, if there is no “self,” why do we spend so much time on wishing ourselves and others that we may be peaceful, happy, joyful, etc.? How do mindfulness and compassion naturally arise from each other? Something about the “true nature” of our experience?
  • Mindfulness is focused on paying attention in the present moment and letting go of the thoughts of the past and the future. If there is no “self” experiencing the present, past, or the future, why does it even matter that we focus on the present? And, what does it actually mean to “be here in the present?” When we do practices, are we experiencing the moment with our senses (or “skandhas”?) or our mind? Whose mind are we hoping to calm or center?
  • If all we have is the present moment, does it matter what choices we make, or how we live? This might be more of an ethical question.