Dharma Notes

The scent of bluebells… or bullshit?

Something fresh for you..Bluebell_aka_Hyacinthoides_non-scripta

Recently I was talking with someone and we were imagining the notion of sitting inside  a lotus bud, in a pure–land, hearing the Dharma bells sweetly singing of ways to the truth as we surely grow into buddha-hood…(ok you have to use your imagination for this!)

…and then contrasting that with a common position in samsara where we have climbed inside a dustbin to keep safe and then pulled the lid down tight on top of us. The sights smells and sensations are… ummm…rather different.

Then tidying up some paperwork yesterday I came across a few lines of James’ –                                      “if you believe in conceptual elaboration, if you believe that the creativity of your own mind is telling the truth about the world, you will delude yourself and stay in the staleness of the repetition of your own mental confectionery!”– and the thought of the ego burping away as it chews on all the old beliefs and certainties makes life inside the dustbin seem even less attractive!



Taxing reminder!

So long as people give priority to material values then injustice, corruption, inequity, intolerance and greed – all the outward manifestations of neglect of inner values – will persist.

(H.H. the Dalai Lama)

Of the many words attributed to the Dalai Lama some seem much more likely than others… but who could argue with the truth of this?

The Illusory nature of experience

400px-Double-alaskan-rainbowThis talk,  The Illusory nature of Experience , is a very good friend… and if you get it… you’ve got it!  …but what have you got?…. answers on a postcard/via contact me!

Last year I edited the transcriptions made by Sue Scott and Babs Littler of this talk which James gave in Macclesfield in 2012.

For me editing is very time-consuming but interesting  process as the intention is to produce a finished article which, whilst being easier to read than a transcript and hopefully flowing more easily, looses none of the integrity of the original. It’s a bit like working on a multi-faceted precious stone, like a diamond, cutting and polishing it so that it shines the most brilliantly.

One of the great beauties of these teachings is that the more you engage with them the more they reveal and there is maybe a deeper impact from a slower pace of engagement which the reading of a text invites. There are many others on the simplybeing.co.uk website.

I remember reading as a child of the story of the diamond cutter in Amsterdam charged with splitting the Cullinan diamond and how he fainted as he struck the blow thinking that the diamond had shattered into pieces rather than split in two…here the pressure is not so intense! yet i am conscious of the fact that it is all too easy for an error to creep in which could distort the intended meaning.

I’m very slow at this work but in the event James did not ask for any changes to be made so you can trust it as a valid representation of this teaching.

You can watch the videos of this talk on Vimeo or listen/download from the simplybeing.co.uk website.


London Talk…The seductive creativity of ignorance: delusion as a way of life

James Low gave a talk for Shang Shung UK in their new centre on 25th Feb.

Here is a link to that talk and video …. ‘Why emptiness is liberating’….

and I have just finished making something audible from the talk below that James gave at their invitation  last year

The seductive creativity of ignorance: delusion as a way of life

James Low, 23 April 2015

Organised by Shang Shung UK, at SOAS, London University

“You are not who you think you are and, since self-knowledge tends to be conceptual, it is easy to get lost. The self is a topic that is explored in all schools of buddhism. Tonight we will look at it from some aspects of the dzogchen tradition.”

Recorded by Baz Hurrell

You can listen to it here.

This recording was made on a mobile phone and trying to make it listenable has been a challenge. The replacement introduction was recorded later in the year… as for the rest, having just luckily found out how to process over-saturated sound, it’s mostly pretty good. I’m glad of this because it’s dharma in a nutshell… it includes the vision of a mandala of communication,connectivity,creative interactions, resonance and harmony…. and an explanation as to how our constructed sense of self is a shape which serves to limit our ability to inhabit that vision – “You can’t dance with a lobster!”

‘Glad tidings’ now published….

The ‘Glad tidings recordings’  from the retreat in Sharpham (see post ‘Glad tidings of great joy’… underneath the cartoon below) have just been published on the simplybeing.co.uk website – thanks to Chris Leißmann.

There are 17 mp3s lasting about 25 mins each (the keynotes of a few are listed). The five-starred tape 5B  became tracks 15 and 16 in the recordings… these are  the January cracker!


When we make the ego King …

bwhn706_hi…..When we make the ego the king and try to control the world (or control ourselves), we may gain some power for a moment or two…If we go for stabilisation on the level of manifestation and forget the ground then we may be able to make things happen. However, although this control may be temporarily achievable, we have cut – fundamentally – the line of awareness into the ground nature of the process.

From the talk James gave at Sharpham 20/2/2000 which will shortly be published.



Click on the cartoon to see the full picture ……Merry Christmas!


Glad tidings of great joy …. : )

crackerBy Christmas day, if all goes well at this end, the recordings of James  teaching at Sharpham in Devon February 2000 will be on their way for Chis to put up onto the audio section of the  Simplybeing.co.uk  website… digitised and with most of the hum, tape hiss, loud coughs and throat clearing removed! I’ll let you know when its made its way there.

The setting and style of communicating in this retreat is intimate and it speaks to the alsolute heart of the practice…(if it was you who made the recording do let us know and take the credit)…and in my opinion tape 5B is a ‘cracker’ – maybe a nut-cracker!

In the meantime here’s another  gift of truth from one of the ‘wise men’… which i jotted onto the back of an envelope some time ago….

‘If you believe in conceptual elaboration, if you believe in the creativity of your own mind as telling you the truth about the world, you will delude yourself and stay in the staleness of the repetition of your own mental confectionery.’    mmm hmm!                               James Low

Now published …. above the cartoon above!

Emerson College 2014 recordings now available

The recordings of that weekend in July 2014 when the Heart Sutra was explained are now posted on the Simplybeing.co.uk website; you can play and listen or download.

If you were not at that weekend maybe you’ll make it next year. The venue is delightful, the food good, and the quality of the teachings speak for themselves.

You can either camp or stay indoors. There are likely to be movement /Qi Gong workshops, music and dance…all in the company of (in my experience) wonderfully warm and open-hearted people.

P.S. An excellent edited transcript of the Eifel  2008 retreat is also now available and ties in well with this, exploring the illusory nature of reality and emptiness from the hinayana, mahayana, tantra. mahamudra and dzogchen perspectives.



A prayer for now and always, for those – all – who are suffering.

This prayer is called The Four Immeasurables.

It is an every-day prayer for the release from suffering for everyone suffering now; a prayer that past suffering may be released and healed and that future suffering avoided.

So it’s a prayer for everyone which can be said by everyone. At the time of saying it brings the links between us all into speech, and this energy moves out into the world motivated by a profound gesture of goodwill:

May all beings have happiness, and know the root of happiness

May all beings be free from suffering, and cut the root of suffering

May they abide in happiness free from suffering

May they rest in equanimity free from aversion (turning away from or hardening the heart) to enemies and strangers, and from grasping at, or clinging to, friends and relatives.


How to enjoy and appreciate without appropriation?

Why bother extending this prayer to all beings rather than just the ones that we like, that we think like us?

To unpack this and look at a very big way of loving  you might like to listen to the talk James Low gave in Macclesfield on  Love,compassion, joy and equanimity. 



In Tibet this is a prayer has been said for thousands of years; below is a recording of  James teaching it at Macclesfield



the words are below…


An invitation to swim… in an ocean of dharma!

Swim Lessons Children 2_920x550‘The interplay of the primordial purity and the immediacy of the spontaneous experience is the basis of Dzogchen understanding.’

‘All that I know myself to be is the content of the mind — patterns of experience and interpretation.’

‘The one who gets angry or sad is the radiance of the openness spiralling into itself and creating the illusion of an entrapped world – which then releases itself.’

These quotes are taken from talks James Low has given in Macclesfield over the last decade or so. They are a series which starts with the ‘view of Dzogchen’  and approaches the heart of the dharma in many different ways which relate to our lived existence with great clarity and and a sense of humour. The talks are multi-layered, accessible to all who are interested, you don’t need any prior knowledge or expertise.  They reveal their richness though repeated listening, reflecting and engaging, and  are are free to listen to or download. For me they were a revelation and i hope you share my delight in the explanations.

[N.B. At present there are sixteen talks posted so, if you want to start at the beginning, scroll down to “older posts” to get to number 1 ]


Mind and its projections are innocent. They are very ordinary, very natural, and very simple. Red is not evil, and white is not divine; blue is not evil, and green is not divine. Sky is sky; rock is rock; earth is earth; mountains are mountains. I am what I am, and you are what you are. There are no obstacles to experiencing our world properly, and nothing is regarded as problematic.

cover image

From “Ground Mahamudra” in The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness, Volume Three of The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, Chögyam Trungpa, page 594

Ringu Tulku–Dharma map


This is a long quote! But it gives an over-view of the structure of teachings of the dharma.

If you’re lucky you  get a taste of the ‘whole’ and then can access the different aspects from that perspective, or you can work from the aspects to the whole. Either way is valid.  Ringu Tulku’s last sentence emphasises the need to start at the beginning yet he also states that when he himself got the ‘end’ teachings he then worked backwards from there. Our states will vary, but whichever way you go the tale of Gampopa and Milarepa, at the end, is instructive!

Just to note that there are nine yanas in the Nyingma system as explained in the audio talk the view of dzogchen.    Ringu Tulku Rinpoche is a lama in the Kagyu tradition.

Extract : Daring Steps [Sale Edition] www.widom-books.com 0208 553 5020      £3.00

Traversing the Path of the Buddha INTRODUCTION (abridged)

In the Buddhist teachings the necessity of acceptance is often mentioned, but sometimes this is misinterpreted to mean a kind of passivity. With this attitude one might say, “If someone gives me a slap in the face, he can give me another. Whatever happens I’ll just accept it.” This is not quite what is meant, and our acceptance should be more active. If we try to deny death, for instance, and avoid thinking and talking about it, this is not acceptance in the Buddhist sense. Milarepa knew that no one can escape from death, that it will surely come, as an unalterable fact. He saw the problem clearly, in an unconfused way. Consequently, he did not try to avoid it, but exerted every effort to work on it. Once we see our problem clearly with open eyes, we will be able to overcome it. When Milarepa said that he meditated on the inevitability of death to the extent that he attained deathlessness, it meant that he had no more fear of dying. This is the true transformation we need to achieve. It does not mean that he did not die. He did. Yet, since he understood death completely, in its true perspective, it did not haunt him anymore. Once we are able to deal with our problems and work upon them in this way, even the inevitability of our own death, which is usually regarded as something extremely negative and frightful, will no longer constitute a problem. Whereas, as long as we are incapable of the type of fearlessness that Milarepa attained, our problems will remain severe.

Why did the Buddha feel compelled to leave his palace and seek the Dharma? Because he found that the fundamental problems each human being has to face cannot be avoided. We cannot escape from dying, falling ill, aging, getting what we do not want, not getting what we do want, and so on. Seeing this, he tried to find a solution. In this context, we can only work on ourselves. We work on our own hearts and minds. Our mind is the practice. We ourselves are the practice.

The teachings of the Buddha are the expression of his own experience, which he conveyed in accordance with the different and specific requirements of individual people. Human beings differ so much in terms of their levels of spiritual development, their capacities, mentalities, and attitudes, that one way of teaching could never suffice for everybody. For this reason the Buddha gave many teachings and provided a multitude of different approaches. He started with the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, and then proceeded to a more advanced level of philosophy and meditation. This again was presented even more deeply and directly in a third cycle of teachings.

In this way, the Buddha’s teachings were written down in different sutras and tantras, each dealing with a specific subject matter on a specific level. The Buddha himself did not categorize his teachings, but to facilitate study and understanding they have been put into categories. These have emerged as three sets of teachings known as Shravakayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Nowadays in the West, the Shravakayana is commonly called “the Hinayana.” This term is not quite appropriate, though, as it literally means “small or lesser vehicle” and thus bears a falsely belittling connotation. From the Buddhist point of view these threeyanas or vehicles are not separate from each other. They constitute, in their entirety, the one and complete teaching given by the Buddha. This complete teaching was originally written down in Sanskrit and later translated into Tibetan. In Tibet it is preserved in either one hundred and one or one hundred and three volumes, according to different systems of presentation. These volumes are of different sizes, ranging from six hundred to more than twelve hundred pages, and are collectively known in Tibetan as the Kangyur. Together they comprise the entire teaching of the Buddha and present it in terms of threeyanas, or vehides. Their followers today are called Theravadin, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhists, respectively.

Of these, Theravadins rely mainly or even solely on the Shravakayana sutras as their basis of understanding and practice. There is a slight distinction between the terms “Shravakayana” and “Theravada,” with the name “Theravada” originating in the following way. After the Buddha’s parinirvana, or visible presence passing from this world, it was part of a monk’s discipline to recite the Vinaya, the set of rules observed by an ordained person, every fortnight. A certain division developed among the monks regarding this tradition. The elder ones wanted to do the recitation in Pali, a more colloquial form of Sanskrit, while the younger and more erudite monks preferred to recite in Sanskrit. The term thera denotes a senior monk and thus the name “Theravada” came about in reference to these senior monks. From India, Theravada Buddhism went mainly south and is now to be found in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, and so forth. Mahayana Buddhism, based upon the Mahayana sutras, spread to China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Vajrayana Buddhism developed mainly in Tibet and Mongolia, and to a lesser extent in Japan, China, and Korea.

Vajrayana Buddhism aims at presenting the entirety of the Buddha’s teaching. The teachings of the Shravakayana and Mahayana are not considered as being separate from it. All three vehicles form an integral system of instruction, and their categorization is just for the sake of easier understanding. The Shravakayana contains the most fundamental teachings. Without this basis it is not possible to understand the Mahayana or Vajrayana. The relationship of the three yanas can be illustrated in terms of three concentric circles. The outer circle is the Vajrayana. It embraces and encompasses the other two. The next is the Mahayana, which embraces the Shravakayana at the center. Alternatively, their relationship can be illustrated in terms of the levels of a mountain. In this metaphor, the Shravakayana forms the base, the Mahayana the bulk, and the Vajrayana the peak. Whatever is taught in the Shravakayana system is not rejected by the Mahayana or Vajrayana teachings. It is just further clarified and revealed to open the way for our under-standing to develop into ever deepening levels, until true depth is attained.

The teachings of the three yanas should not be discussed and presented on just an academic or intellectual level, we would come away having memorized yet another piece of information. Instead of that, we have to learn how to put the teachings we receive into practical use, how to make them into our path and integrate them into our daily lives.

When I received Maha Ati and Mahamudra instructions, I thought, “This is wonderful, but I cannot do it without having taken the preceding step.” So! retraced my steps evermore back to the actual starting point. At first we will be looking for a swift way out and be attracted by teachings that say, “If you practice this in the morning, you will be enlightened in the evening, and if you practice this in the evening, you will be enlightened in the morning.” When statements like that are misunderstood, they can arouse false expectations. We will hope for a quick result and an easy way to achieve it.

This happened even to Milarepa. At first, he had been an extremely powerful black magician who was able to launch hailstorms and so forth. Then finally he repented of his evil deeds and wanted to practice the Dharma. The first teacher he turned to had mastered a very high and effective instruction. Being slightly proud of that, he said to Milarepa, “You are very fortunate. My teaching is such that whoever practices it in the morning will be enlightened in the evening and vice versa.” This flattered Milarepa, and he thought to himself, “I am really a very special person. First I was a black magician and with just a little effort attained great powers. Now the practice of the Dharma is even easier. I am a genius!” After having bestowed the necessary instructions, the teacher advised him to practice. A week later, he went to Milarepa’s retreat and inquired as to his results. Milarepa replied, “Since your instructions will yield such quick results, I have not yet started to practice. I had a rest first.” Then the teacher realized that he had been too rash and said, “Being so fond of my teaching I have been bragging too much. These instructions are not suitable for you. You must go and find Marpa.” Hearing this name, Milarepa was instantaneously filled with great faith and followed the advice. Then, following that, Marpa gave him real trouble before even accepting him as a disciple. It can happen, therefore, that someone practices in the morning and is enlightened in the evening, but it needs some doing.

Then again, anything that is worthwhile is not easy. For instance, when it is said that it is possible to reach enlightenment in one lifetime, this has to be understood in the right way. Of course it is possible, but only if a genuine understanding is gained and then applied accordingly. It depends on the degree to which we understand everything that needs to be practiced, and then on the degree to which we actually practice it. As for the term “enlightenment” itself, there is also sometimes a slight misunderstanding. When we hear about reaching enlightenment, there is the tendency to think, “Now I am not enlightened, but in the future I will reach this goal.” According to the Vajrayana, though, enlightenment is nothing other than the realization that we are already enlightened. It is probably for this reason that the Vajrayana teachings seem so easy. What they express is the fact that reaching enlightenment is not something that can be compared to climbing a mountain, to struggling hard and then finally reaching the top. Enlightenment is not obtained from somewhere else. Once we know how to look and see everything clearly as it is, without any delusion, this is enlightenment. For this reason, the concept, “I have to reach enlightenment in one lifetime,” this kind of struggling and fighting attitude, can almost become a hindrance. Through our practice of Dharma we should become increasingly more relaxed, up to the point where we almost do not want to reach enlightenment anymore. So when it happens, we might say, “What I thought was so big is just that simple.” Thus an attitude based upon struggle is difficult.

The methods of the Vajrayana are not accessible through understanding alone. They offer simple techniques, and then the experience has to come from ourselves, once the techniques are understood correctly. In this way these methods are very effective and strong. At the same time, they are not so easy to apply, because we normally do not trust these methods. Our assumptions and concepts that form our intellectual understanding do not allow us to follow them. These techniques need to be to carried out in an experiential way; they simply need to be applied and thereby turned into our own experience. Not being used to such an approach, we will not find them easy. Furthermore, once we are able to apply these methods, we will have to work hard.

Milarepa’s best disciple was Gampopa. After he had received all the necessary instructions and gained genuine experience of them, Milarepa told him togo to a mountain called “Gampodar” near the Nepalese border, where he would find his disciples. When Gampopa was ready to leave, Milarepa accompanied him part of the way, until they had reached a small stream. Here Milarepa said, “Now you go, my son.” Then he hesitated and said, “I have not given you my most secret instruction, though, but maybe I should not do so either.” Gampopa prostrated himself many times, offered a mandala, and entreated him to bestow this teaching. Milarepa would not be moved, and so finally Gampopa went on his way. After he had crossed the water and reached the far bank, Milarepa called him back and said, “After all, you are my best disciple. If I do not give this teaching to you, to whom else should I give it?” Gampopa was filled with joy and prostrated himself over and over again, expecting a very sublime and outstanding instruction. Then, Milarepa turned around and, lifting his clothes, showed Gampopa his backside. It was covered with innumerable scars from meditating sitting on rocks for so long. He said, “Look, my son. This is my final and most secret instruction!”

It is therefore vital to start at the beginning to provide a sound working basis.

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Hang up your crook!

Happy thoughts and sad ones

Anxious ones and scary ones

Scamper around like new-born lambs

Let them go where they please…

You are no thought shepherd!images



Enjoy your retirement….


to John and all …



Meditation acknowledges basic bewilderment and the space in which basic bewilderment forgets to create its tantrum. Then there’s some gap, some room somewhere. However, it seems a long, long way from there to everyday simplicity. When we discover this space in meditation, it’s as though we have gone to the peak, to Mount Everest. Then what? It seems to be a long way down to the ground. There are actually many opportunities for relating with bewilderment. There’s the opportunity to finally stop everything. We decide not to rush, not to run anymore. We stop for a moment, just to be quietly with the meditation technique, whatever it may be. Then there are just teeny-weeny stars shining through the darkness—an occasional glimpse.

From ‘Karma’ in Chogyam Trungpa’s book Work,Sex,Money