It’s Broken

Some time ago I heard this story….told by a Buddhist teacher.

She with several others went on a trip to Southeast Asia to work with Theravada Buddhist monks. When they arrived they were shown to small broken down huts where loud music blared from the nearby village all night long. The accommodations were sparse, untamed and relatively wild. They were to meet with a teacher who was as they thought in the process of building a temple. They made the trip to help the teacher build the temple. To their surprise they met him sitting in a construction site….the materials were rotting from the moisture and heat, there was no real semblance of a building at all except for one or two walls held up by leaning 2×4’s. No windows. No doors. The materials were moldy, covered with growth and rancid.

In the midst of these decaying and broken things sat the monk on top of a stack of wood surrounded by torn bags of concrete. The contingent of helpers were dazed at first but soon took to thinking they must help him build the temple. On the very first meeting, in their exasperation of the mess they told him they would help clean up, fix up, build up the temple. The monk looked at them as though he didn’t understand what they were saying and in all great composure turned and said to them, this is the temple. As one might imagine the contingent were dismayed even distressed by his indifference to the broken down building site and to his sincere declaration: This is the Temple.

Desire for something more, better, ordered, organized, proper, perfect….an endless list of something more is a distraction from the truth it is broken. The distraction leads us to feel burdened and stressed by wanting something more, something different, something better in the face of It’s broken. 

The Mountain

The Mountain by Albert Herbert 1991 Private Collection  (Sister Wendy On Prayer, Figure 10)

The image is primitive, childlike and expressive. It is a two-dimensional picture of something big in the physical world. Although it is sharp, angled and appears to be an apparent obstacle it is accessible and invites us to come up. Herbert’s work does not show a clear, well-beaten path; in fact the painting leaves us wondering how did Moses get up as high as he did? How will we make such a climb? Herbert leaves that for us to work out.

What we do see is that mountains are majestic, a royal earth phenomena calling us to look upward, skyward, to come up to the heights of spiritual life. In Herbert’s work there is a clear indication that Moses is accompanied by wildlife, we might even say he enters, no he must enter the wild, untamed world to get nearer to the summit.

In looking at our teaching, It’s broken it is important to keep the mountain in mind otherwise we risk a steep stumble into despair. The world, It’s broken if understood brings peace, if misunderstood brings confusion.

We realize acceptance for what is and continue on towards the sky above the mountain. We begin at the foot and make our way through the wild, untamed world.  We calm down. We stop pushing the river and use our powers to climb upward through the rugged terrain. We use our effort to keep going. We are content right in the middle of It’s broken.


On a retreat recently a student gave me a gift of a stamp with my new Chinese name on it. It came in two sizes. During the retreat I had the opportunity to use the stamps and posted up a little board using one of the stamps. When the student saw the stamp mark, she declared, “It’s not beautiful. I want it to be beautiful.” I remarked, “It is good enough.” (It’s broken)


The Reminder


In the light of It’s broken everything is good enough or just enough or enough as it is. It is suffering to want something else. It is a distraction keeping us from seeing the truth, It’s broken. When we know and see It’s broken, we enter the wild, untamed world of the mountain and use our power and efforts to “…. (make) the solitary ascent….to labor along the way….to strip the heart of all that is distraction….to hold on in confidence to the certainty that God (undying, unborn, our True Self) is there, even if—-(even when) we see nothing.” John of the Cross

It is from this mind we meet what comes and act accordingly.



“Nothing, nothing, nothing on the way….and on the mountain, nothing. Nothing but God alone.” John of the Cross

When we do otherwise we are caught in the world of wanting what shows up in our life to be different than what it is; we forget It’s broken and are caught in striving for something else, something different. This is suffering.

To climb the mountain….we go it alone, labor with what we meet along the way and strip away all distractions….confident in nothing….nothing, nothing, nothing which turns out to be something.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

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Concentration: One of Three Powers in Karma Yoga by Fashi Lao Yue

Buddha in the Garden by Fashi Lao Yue

A Request: Before you begin to read take some time to find your attention and concentrate on what you read. Ask for an intuitive approach, giving you some help to receive what is important to your practice, to your life.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 NIV

Keep the quote in mind in this sense: all bondage (the thief) is in the mind and all freedom (the True Self) is in the mind.

As I start the day I write a word on a slip of paper and place it on Sweety who now sits on the kitchen counter. (see image)

Today’s word is concentrate. To concentrate. Here is what the dictionary tells us….

focus one’s attention or mental effort on a particular object or activity.
gather (people or things) together in numbers or in a mass.
a substance made by removing water or other diluting agent; a concentrated form of something, especially food.

I see this definition as applicable to the quote. Keep this in mind.

To concentrate is something to do. To concentrate we find and gather our attention and place it on a particular object or activity. Undiluted. Fully present.

It is clear at least in this definition that to concentrate, is a two-step process. Fully focus on and remove what dilutes the focus. We focus our attention fully by gathering and remove whatever waters down our ability to focus.

This morning I focused on John’s quote above. On the surface it looks two-sided. On one side there is a thief who steals, kills and destroys. I ask, “who is this thief?” On the other side,  a giver of life and a form of giving that lacks nothing. I ask, “where is this giver of life?” If we focus and concentrate further the teaching opens and in opening is clearer.

Jesus knew the scoop. The thief is name and form (otherwise known as the ego, the me) and it is this conditioned side of us that comes to realize that something is lacking, something is missing which may result in stealing, killing and destruction. The ego is hungry, thirsty, needy, striving, searching for something that will satisfy it. The True Self beyond name and form (the Transcendent) is a life free of lack. It is a life that is able to meet what comes in life in the form of myriad things (name and form) as coming to awaken and avoids clinging and grasping after them because it knows they lead to dissatisfaction, ultimately.

As the quote suggests, the True Self knows that conditioned things will steal your peace of mind and happiness and will never bring about the fullness of life. It is a warning, a cautionary revelation of the ugly power of the thief.

Who is the brutal thief that comes to steal, kill and destroy in your life? And what gets destroyed? This is one side. What is giving life to the fullest? And what does it mean to have life to the full? This is the other side.

We need to surrender enough in order to be able to see the thief and to make no deals with it. The thief is a condtioned mental state not to be taken as real or believed to be true.

The mind who takes its own confusion as real….(fooled by the thief)

does not know that this confused reality (delusion)

is the origin of pain and suffering.

The thief is an obscuration which more often than not comes in the form of an emotion (both positive & negative). Surrender and willingness without analysis to look at the mental confusion and stop believing it is a doorway to the giver of life in its fullness. The thief comes in myriad names and forms and if taken as reality causes havoc in the mind and life.

Most emotions obscure a full life. The only ones that don’t arise from the ego (name and form) are forms of selflessness in the form of lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity with an emphasis on the no self. Even these emotions can co-opted by the thief.  Nothing in it for me is the watchward when it comes to emotion.

At first, it may be difficult to see. Our emotions blind us from knowing our True Self. If we have gotten into an emotion, we must learn to ride it out until it dies without taking action on it. If we see the confusion before it gets emotional we can STOP! When we identify with emotions, we are caught by the thief, whether it is the love-thief or the hate-thief. In this conditioned state, we need greater effort to get free. Our heaps of form, feelings, impusles, consciousness, and mental images have been swamped by the emotion.

How many times have we defended our feelings by saying, “THAT’S how I feel!” which is often accompanied by “THAT”S who I am!”

We lose our spiritual life to our feelings because our feelings generally arise from one of the poisons. (greed, hate, delusion) Emotions often arise from a lack of something in our life and we claim we have found it (positive) or lost it (hate). They sometimes give us a false sense of control as well as a false sense of being out of control. What is actually happening is that we have given up control to well-established patterns and habits that we have reified as a thief in order to survive. The highs and lows of these emotions lead to disappointment and disenchantment. It is at this low ebb that the thief is at its weakest. Because we have experienced the gamut of the thief’s power and found it wanting, in other words we learn not to believe the thief….that is, if we are willing to learn. The possibility of deliverance increases when disappointment and disenchantment shows up when we learn the thief is not to be trusted and believed.

The thief (name and form, ego, emotions) obscures our True Self. John in his quote lays out the truth if we are willing to see it. Concentration helps us gather the mind (the skandas) and dilute the thief.

All bondage is in the mind, all freedom is in the mind.


Humming Bird

Image credits in order: Yao Xiang Shakya.