Exploring the 4 Noble Truths Part 1: Life is Suffering

buddha varanasi The giant Buddha statue in Varanasi, India, commemorating the spot where the Buddha first revealed the 4 Noble Truths to humanity.  I was there is 2015.


Buddhism is often misrepresented as a cynical religion, a frequently espoused inaccuracy based on only a superficial understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.  I have practiced Buddhist meditation and studied Buddhist teachings for years, and many of my good friends are either Buddhist monks or teachers.  I can tell you from experience that Buddhist practitioners are some of the most joyful people I know.  And I myself have become a far happier person after integrating the Buddha’s meditation methods into my own life, although I still do not consider myself “Buddhist.”

One of the reasons why many people associate Buddhism with negativity is the single-minded focus on human suffering in the Buddha’s historical teachings.  The Buddha famously said that if you were shot by an arrow and were bleeding to death, you would not ask irrelevant metaphysical questions about where the arrow came from, who shot it, or why it exists.  The Buddha was reluctant to comment on questions about the existence or non-existence of the gods, or the ultimate fate of the universe, because he believed that the essential purpose of the spiritual life is the pragmatic search for human happiness.  He wanted to actually remove the arrow instead of merely “explain” its mysterious origins.

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Six Practical Ways to be More Connected with God in Daily Life


Introduction: There are no “Shoulds” in God

One of my goals as an author is to bring God “down to earth,” and help people connect with the Divine within themselves in practical ways that can be integrated into daily life.  In the West, most people view “God” as something outside of them to be believed in, and do not realize that He/She/It is within them (and ultimately IS them), and can be experienced ever more deeply through spiritual practices like meditation.  Although we are already one with God right now in this very moment, most of us still need to do spiritual practices to remove the ignorance that veils us from It, just as fog veils our reflection in a mirror.

People often view spiritual practice as an obligation, but in reality it is a celebration for people who understand that God is Ever Present, Ever New Bliss, as the great Master Paramahansa Yoganada once defined It.  A wise woman once told me that, “There are no shoulds in God,” because the spiritual path is ultimately about connecting more deeply to Love, Joy, and Bliss, and not about pleasing a Deity outside of you.  For once you realize that God is the Source of all Joy, seeking Him becomes potentially effortless, because you realize that He is what you have been seeking all along!  Furthermore, once you realize that you are One with Him, and that He is actually the One experiencing “you,” your own seemingly ordinary life becomes transformed into His very expression, “The Kingdom of Heaven within you” (as Jesus expressed it) or “Nirvana” (as the Buddha called it).

Here are six practical tips for communing with God in daily life as a working person with a 9-5.  For a more comprehensive explanation of my spiritual views, read my book Daily Bliss in the link above.  If you do not believe me, or if these methods don’t work for you, I simply don’t care.  As Hafiz once said, God and I are having a wild party, and will enjoy Ourselves no matter what, but it would also be great if others joined in the Fun!  All my writings are merely expressions of what works for me that will hopefully inspire others to seek the Divine within themselves.  And don’t be fooled:  No “how to” manual or “___ step method” can lead you to God if you do not love Him more than worldly things, and are not willing to sacrifice lesser goals to realize Him.  Only His Grace can open your eyes to the fact that He is the goal of life Itself and that, apart from Him, there can be no lasting happiness.

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Re-interpreting Jesus II: The Kingdom of God


Why, after 2000 years and massive changes in culture, language, and historical circumstance, are people still talking about Jesus?  Regardless of your religious views, Jesus’ continuing worldwide influence is historically astonishing.  If someone in the year 30 A.D. predicted to you that the most famous man to ever live would be a Jew who was brutally executed as a rebel by Rome, who was a relatively marginal figure in his own time, and who’s movement was rejected by the majority of his own religion, you would have assumed that he/she was crazy.  At the end of the day, history is fundamentally unpredictable, and the human intellect will always fail to grasp the inscrutable ways of Fate.

In any case, why are people still talking about Jesus?  For me, this fascination can be partially explained by the cryptic ways Jesus spoke about God and about himself that often make him seem like an unknowable enigma to people who study his life. Unlike the historical Buddha, who used precise technical language to describe his subtle mystical experiences (If Eskimos have 100 words for snow, Vedic religions have 1,000 words for meditation experiences), Jesus used simple metaphors that were profound, but that can be interpreted in countless ways as a result of their fundamental imprecision.  This fact has made Christianity almost endlessly malleable, producing hundreds of conflicting denominations which all use the same texts to justify their beliefs.

For instance, one of Jesus’ central teachings is his almost constant emphasis on “The Kingdom of God.”  What did Jesus mean by this?  Many evangelical sects teach that Jesus was referring to a realm in the afterlife that only his devotees will be admitted to; more socially conscious preachers have taught that the Kingdom of God is a movement that will create an era of socioeconomic equality on the earth; more mystical interpretations argue that the Kingdom of God is a state of spiritual illumination similar to the Buddha’s Nirvana.

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Re-interpreting Jesus 1: Beyond Religion (The Law and the Prophets)

 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”  – Matthew 5:17-18


A religious historian once said that saying the word “Christianity” is like saying the word food. There are thousands of different kinds of foods, and no one assumes that the word “food” accurately describes the spectrum of possible things to eat, which is unimaginably diverse.  In public discourse, we erroneously talk about Christianity as if it were one monolithic entity.  I reality, as scholar of religions Reza Aslan likes to say, there are “Christianities.”  For every religion is, by definition, merely an interpretation of texts; so many interpretations, so many sects. Yet Jesus himself belongs to no religion or denomination, but is part of humanity’s universal library.   Anyone is free to approach his sayings with an open mind, and to develop his/her own understanding of their spiritual meaning.

I grew up in the Bible Belt, and as I reached the age of reason, I developed a strong distaste for the intolerant and often ludicrous forms of Christianity I had thus far witnessed in life.  I “threw out the baby with the bathwater,” and didn’t want anything more to do with Jesus’ teachings.  It was only later in life, ironically while living at a Zen monastery, that I re-explored the teachings of Jesus, and found in them a treasure trove of wisdom, the ingenious mystical expressions of an awakened spiritual master.

When I re-read the gospels with a mind cleared of my anti-Christian bias, Jesus often sounded more like a Zen master than the founder a dogmatic religion, and I noticed that many of his teachings were nearly identical to similar ones found in Buddhism, and other of humanity’s great religious traditions.  To see the universality of these recurring themes in multiple religious systems is important not only for Christians, but for anyone who ascribes to a particular faith.  For, to me, religions are paths to God that do not exist in mutual exclusion to one another.  It is my belief that humanity’s great religions will be doomed to extinction unless they learn to adopt this more universal, inclusive standpoint.  If they do not, they will be drowned in the tide of globalism that the human race is on an inevitable collision course with, and will remain stuck in a tribal ethos that is merely an unfortunate vestige of our blood stained past.

To me, the mystical statements of Jesus undeniably reveal the mind state of an awakened person.  When Jesus utters ridiculous and (in their historical context) blasphemous statements like, “I and the Father are One,” and “The kingdom of God is within you,” he is expressing his direct experience of God-Consciousness, or Enlightenment.  Just as it would be ridiculous to worship a Zen master as a god for saying, “I myself am the Buddha,” it is ridiculous to worship Jesus the human being for saying, “I myself am one with God.”  Both are merely expressing universal mystical experiences in different spiritual languages.  The day will come when the majority of Christians will realize that their own Christ-Consciousness is the source of Jesus’ mysterious teachings, and will realize in astonishment that they themselves are one with God, just as he was.

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Peaceful Protest: Wisdom from the Bhagavad Gita on Helping the World from a Spiritual Perspective

Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind. -Krishna

krishna  – Krishna was an earhtly prince who did many practical things to help the people of his time, but was always established in Self-Realization through yoga meditation.


In periods of seated meditation, there are states of great peace and great turmoil that pass through the mind in oscillating intervals.  As with the personal, so the collective: as human civilization evolves, periods of relative peace are often followed by chaotic times that require protest and dedicated work on behalf of the oppressed.  As current events unfold, it appears we are entering a period marked by increasing ignorance, injustice, and even impending catastrophe: nationalist politics threaten to deprive the rights of minorities; terrorism strikes fear into the hearts of decent people worldwide; climate change even threatens to destroy the world as we know it.

Any rational person understands that mere prayers and a “spiritual” perspective are not enough.  When people are hungry, they must be fed.  When laws are unjust, they must be protested.  When leaders concoct schemes to defraud the innocent, we must fight nonviolently to thwart their plans.  In short, all sorts of practical work must be done to improve the world, and every person has their own particular work to do.

To realize God is not to deny the obvious suffering in the world, but to have a different perspective on it.  While we do our work, we can simultaneously understand that the physical world, with all its seeming madness, is not the only Reality.  The sages and mystics of many religions tell us that our life is like a dream, and that whatever happens in the dream ultimately has no effect on the Dreamer, our True Nature. Everything we see in the physical world of matter is like the waves on the ocean.  The waves are sometimes peaceful, and sometimes raging in terrifying storms.  Yet whatever happens on the surface, the depths of the Sea remain at peace.  A sage is a person who works on the surface for the welfare of the world, but is simultaneously in touch with the depths.  Perhaps a better way to say it is that a sage is someone who sees that the waves and the depths are, in reality, one and the same.

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The Rest is Gravy: A Rambling

“Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

Interfaith corollary: “If you single-pointedly worship Me, I will take care of all your needs.” – Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita

This is my first blog post in a while.  I’ve been working full time as a drug and alcohol counselor, a strange and unexpected twist on my spiritual journey that I hope to write about more in the future.  My job has been demanding most of my creative energy, and this blog had to be set aside temporarily.  Lately, though, I’ve realized that I should pay more attention to the inner desire I have to write, and make more time in my week to prioritize it.  This post has no real organization, but is merely me “popping the cork” to a hopefully entirely new generation of blog posts where I will write about spirituality, religion, society, and my own bumbling journey along the path to God.  But enough of my excuses for my lack of involvement in this blog, which probably amount only to laziness if I am scrupulously honest with myself.

So what have I been learning in nearly the past year since I’ve written seriously on this blog?  I’ve been learning the same lesson over and over again that was wonderfully and simply expressed by King David nearly 3,000 years ago in the above Psalm.  Oftentimes we complicate the spiritual path, forgetting that God-Realization is far more important than mundane aspects of our life we incessantly stress about (“the desires of your heart”).  For me, the heart of the spiritual path is turning away from empty material hopes, and placing one’s hope in the higher satisfaction of God-Realization – the actual experience of God/Bliss which many religions attempt to describe, but that no religion can ever possibly contain.

Some readers may be turned off by the fact that I am quoting from the Bible, but do not mistake my feeling of connection to a Bible passage (I am ethnically Jewish, after all) for blind sectarianism. Although I study religions for a hobby, at the end of the day I am a seeker of the Divine Itself. I am not Jewish, not Christian, not Hindu, not Buddhist, but a seeker of the Nameless Bliss and Joy is eternally One with my own natural awareness in this very moment!  Scriptures undoubtedly have spiritual, inspirational, and cultural value, but they cannot generate an actual experience of the Divine; they are like a tiny candle compared to the mighty Sun.  Truly – although I revere God-inspired scriptures such as the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and the sutras of the Buddha –  scriptures become like a hindrance, or even repulsive like animal feces, to anyone who has had a genuine mystical experience.  They are the path and not the Goal.  They are the treasure map, but not the Treasure.

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Inspiring article I found on the New York Times website


The link to the article I am referring to is above, which talks about how Muslims donated big sums of money to Jewish institutions after the antisemitic destruction of Jewish grave sites.  It is great when the media gives a more balanced perspective of Islam and actually reports on the good deeds of the Muslim community, and the literally thousands of denunciations of terrorism that pour forth from Muslim leaders all over the world every year. I take an interfaith persective genrerally, but speaking as a Jewish man, Muslims are my brothers and sisters who worship the same “God of Abraham, Moses, King David and Jesus” found in BOTH the Bible and the Qu’ran. It is truly a tragedy that many Jews, Christians, and Muslims remain ignorant that the Bible and the Qu’ran, though obviously different in certain ways, nevertheless reflect nearly identical worldviews and spiritual mythologolgies. Any true Jew should view Muslims as part of their spiritual family, and visa versa. When will we stop arguing over what name to call God and start living lives that reflect His love for all humanity?

Some Brief Thoughts on Spiritual Peace

There is an eternal Spirit that is not affected by the tumultuous events of the world. Anyone rooted in this God-Awareness has a peace that nothing can ever take away. Anyone who rises above the belief that they are the body can be peaceful spiritually even in times of great distress and historical chaos. The events in a movie can be wonderful, boring, or tragic, but the Watcher of the movie is always at peace. Through regular meditation practice and God’s grace, any human being – like Jesus or the Buddha – has the capacity to realize that their Buddha Nature, True Nature, or Christ Consciousness is always free, never dies, and is actually Peace Itself. Things, dreams, and relationships with people can be temporary blessings, but only the realization of our oneness with God/Buddha Nature can truly satisfy us.

This is a hard truth, but until we learn this primordial spiritual lesson, we will circle and circle, lifetime after lifetime, wondering why we are perpetually unfulfilled. Yet when we return to God it is understood that His Joy is infinitely superior to any temporary joy based on human desire; yet in truth we do not “return” to God, for God realizes that He has only been pretending to be “you,” and has been free all along.

Wishing you the highest boon of full awakening in God-Consciosuness that all beings are, whether they know it or not, truly seeking,


Lessons from the Gita 3: God Realization – The End of Religion

krishna  – Krishna revealing to Arjuna the timeless Way of the Yogis.

“In this world there are two orders of being: the perishable, separate creatures and the changeless Spirit.  But beyond these there is another, the Supreme Self (Brahman), the eternal Lord, who enters into (or manifests) the entire cosmos and supports it within.  I am that supreme Self, praised by the scriptures as beyond the changing and the changeless.  Those who see in me that Supreme Self see truly.  They have found the Source of all Wisdom, Arjuna, and they worship me with all their heart.”

The End of Religion

In the West, everything is a debate.   Politics is Democrat vs. Republican; economics is Capitalism vs. Socialism; and religion is so often unfortunately painted as religion vs. science, or even as one religion vs. another.  Atheists argue that all religion is a lie, and the religious respond with equally passionate claims of dogmatic surety.  We often and unwisely approach religion as a problem to be solved with our intellect, or as an “argument” to be won by debate.  Does it ever occur to us that God is an experience that is not confined by any tradition, that cannot be confirmed or denied by the perishable human intellect?

When I first began my spiritual search seven years ago, I was immediately drawn to the religions of the East like Taoism, Hinduism as expressed in the Bhagavad Gita, and especially Zen Buddhism.  What most intrigued me about them was the idea that the Divine was not something outside of me to be “believed” in, but an actual experience that is the essence of what we ultimately are.  These religions were not “true” or “untrue” in the intellectual sense of the word, but merely described paths to an experience that is beyond all words and concepts.  To “have faith” in this sense was not to have faith in a God in heaven, but to have faith that through spiritual practice the experience of God is possible to have for yourself.

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Lessons from the Gita 2 – Three Dimensions of Renunciation

krishna – Krishna teaching the mysteries of the universe to his devotee Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.

“Those who have attained perfect renunciation are free from any sense of duality.  They are unaffected by likes and dislikes, and are free from the bondage of self will.  The immature think that knowledge and action are different, but the wise see them as the same.” – Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita

Renunciation is a word that freaks many people out, largely because they do not understand its spiritual meaning.  They associate it with images of emaciated forest Yogis who engage in silent meditation for years at a time, or perhaps with Christian hermits spending long days and lonely nights fasting solitude.  This misunderstanding unfortunately hinders many people from integrating the blessings of renunciation into their everyday lives. For periods of intense meditative separation from everyday routine are indeed a small aspect of renunciation, but true renunciation is a state of mind that is not limited to any particular life circumstance.

The Bhagavad Gita revolutionized and redefined the idea of renunciation at time in India when the population felt that God-Realization was only attainable by a small spiritual elite.  It proclaimed that renunciation is a matter of the heart, which transcends the mundane conceptions of monk and lay person, spiritual practitioner and “worldly” person that unfortunately still dominate many religious communities today.  The Gita radically proclaimed that a life of actively serving others (while inwardly renouncing desire and practicing frequent meditation) is actually superior to a life of solitary meditation alone.  Anyone who understands that God-Realization is the highest goal of life, and strives to structure their life around this lofty ideal, is a renunciate in spirit, regardless of their vocation, race, gender, or religion.

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