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Denis Wallez
«Intentions do matter.»
«Intentions do matter.»


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Well, after 8 years of service, including 6 months in India with its sand and random power cuts, my laptop is now officially dead, as in it was revised and repaired before, but now we're also past the repairable status...
So, if you liked my contribution here since 2011, now is the perfect time to help me continue it, via and if not, then let's assume it's for the best: it has been a good run, thanks for reading, and see you around one day!

If you feel like volunteering for the 'ownership' of the Buddhist communities I lead here, send me a private hangout message.

With kind regards for now,
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Posit: "Data physics" -- mass is an impediment to motion. No mass, no impediment

By way of relativistic physics, and a wee bit o' stretching.
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Too much tradition?

People also think that the thrones of the lamas are a part of the Dharma practice. Actually they can often be a source of conflict. Take for example that you have prepared a throne for me. I am sitting on it now. If you do not do the same thing for another teacher, then problems may arise. This is the way of politics. If you had provided a beautiful chair instead, nobody would have any problems with it.
The older Tibetan lamas, even the good and friendly ones, are used to certain customs based on their culture. When they come to the West, the absence of Tibetan musical accompaniment, or the throne lacking a beautiful brocade cover, might make them feel that something is missing. They will also tell you that you should arrange everything in a certain way. You might then think that this is part of the practice. If you do, you are building up the Tibetan tradition in the West. I do not think that these cultural protocols are going to last. If they do, they will be a source of problems in the future. Who should have a higher throne? Somebody is bound to have a smaller throne. In this way many problems can come up.
You must see the difference between Dharma and tradition. When problems occur, understand that they do not come from the enlightened ones, but from the administrators. Even the Chinese communists who do not believe at all in religion nevertheless use it from time to time for their own political ends. This is because the administration system is so well established and is so powerful. In the West you do not have to adopt the administrative and political aspects. I do not mean that your teachers should now sit somewhere on the floor, or you should point your feet at them when you sit. But there is simply no need for too much tradition.
— 14th Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche
(Lecture given in Vienna, September 1993)

#Buddhism #Dhamma
Illustration: statue by Annie Dorefice (Bois d'Oingt, France)
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Dire que je suis surpris que le numéro de regard bouddhiste juste publié soit le dernier, à cause de difficultés financières alors que nombre de contributions au magazine étaient bénévoles... serait mentir.

J'ai moi-même contribué à plusieurs numéros, gratuitement, sous deux rédacteurs en chef.
Le premier n'a pas eu la liberté de faire les choix qu'il voulait, les financiers trouvant cela peu pratique et souhaitant imposer des règles arbitraires par pure facilité et par préjugés. Ce rédacteur en chef a fini par en avoir marre et a repris sa liberté.
Le deuxième fondamentalement a remis en cause les bonnes évolutions du précédent (il s'y opposait déjà quand il n'était "que" membre du comité de rédaction), et a promu du contenu pour débutants, plus des histoires de cérémonie du thé que du Dharma, plus des photos de voyages exotiques que du texte, plus du simpliste que de la réflexion (et dans la foulée a donc décidé de se passer de mes textes). Les financiers étaient contents puisque leurs preconceptions étaient respectées... Et voici le résultat : banqueroute. Félicitations !
Le problème de la dernière approche est que 1 les gens n'aiment pas payer un magazine cher et être pris pour des cons, 2 si c'était pour des photos, alors les magazines spécialisés en photo ou voyage sont bien meilleurs !!! Quant aux pages cérémonies du thé, et autres traductions d'extraits de livres pour profiter de la célébrité de leurs auteurs (au lieu de développer de nouveaux auteurs, de nouveaux contenus... de devenir en soi ce qui attire et non un simple ressassé de ce qui avait attiré ailleurs), que dire si ce n'est que c'est une approche vouée à l'échec ? À une époque où le contenu est dur à vendre, tant l'offre est large et tant il y a de gratuit sur internet (légitimement ou pas), zéro originalité et contenu inférieur ne risquaient pas de réussir.

Ni rédacteur en chef Zen ni rédacteur en chef Theravada n'auront trouvé une solution, mais le vrai problème fut les financiers et leur aversion aux risques, leurs copinages aussi qui clairement ont influencé qui était publié et qui ne l'était pas...
Il est triste que ce magazine ferme, mais c'est également mérité. Laisser e.g. Psychologie Magazine profiter de suppléments "méditation" pour l'été, par réticence à publier du texte sérieux, indiquait clairement un magazine bouddhiste incapable de fournir le contenu recherché par les sympathisants ciblés.
Espérons qu'une autre initiative apparaisse un jour avec une approche contenu favorisant la recherche personnel, l'étude et le sérieux...

Pour favoriser la création d'enseignements bouddhistes ne s'arrêtant pas à la surface, n'hésitez pas à soutenir un auteur indépendant

Photo © Denis Wallez, reflet dans un bol de thé
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"not for the sake of popularity" comment to follow, when I have a tool to write it...
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The blind ant runs about for the sake of happiness.
The legless worm crawls about for the sake of happiness.
In brief, all the world is racing with each other,
Running toward happiness, one faster than the next.

Sometimes, seeing a goddess is revolting.
Sometimes, seeing an old woman creates lust.
Thinking, “This is it,” something else comes along.
How can the deceptions of the mind be counted?

Our attitudes change so much
From childhood to when we are old and decrepit.
Analyse your own experience and you know this.
How can you have confidence in today’s thoughts?

Due to the mind’s insanity, we do not recognise our own face,
Yet we constantly measure the secular and sacred, heaven and earth.
Courageous are we who seek lasting refuge
In this series of mistaken appearances.

-- Gendun Chopel
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Ignorance causes suffering
("free" as well as "non-profit" are illusions)

The attached article was praised on FB for its clarity, alongside a praise of the author (well-known Joseph Goldstein) and a critic of fee-based courses…

Putting Joseph Goldstein and a critic of fee-based courses in the same post is quite funny though. Because Joseph Goldstein produces a lot of high-quality work… and yet he's also part of "$2715 + dana" retreats like

It's easy to criticise fee-based courses, but the basic truth is that when it's dana-only, Westerners abuse the system: the very very very large majority doesn't make an effort to give as much as they can, on the contrary they tend to seek a good deal and pay as little as they can get away with… and then this is not sustainable, even for renowned teachers with high-quality productions.
I remember a decent buddhist teacher on g+ providing dana-based online programs who once had several hundreds of participants, but with an average dana of a mere $0.32 per participant, for an 8-weeks program! This didn't cover the production costs, let alone feed him. People gave positive feedback, but no dana.
Easterners have a better cultural understanding of what it takes to keep a living tradition alive, and of the value of an ecosystem / virtuous circle of mutual support. But Westerners are influenced by consumerism, by "pay per session" logic, by "seek the best value for money".
When people withhold dana, the Dhamma will indeed decay, but it's a mistake to think it's caused by fee-based courses: the fee-based courses are just symptoms, caused by people not making enough effort to give sustainable dana, caused by people holding back, caused by greed and materialistic hoarding (minimising dana to avoid 'losing' money). If people gave dana properly, if they practiced the first parami (or paramita, depending on the tradition), then fee-based courses would not arise: they're just symptoms, and what needs be addressed is the cause, not the symptom.
Of course, sometimes Easterners give dana to "buy" some (karmic) merit, and this is flawed logic and a misunderstanding of causality; however, this still works better to perpetuate the Dharma than withholding dana (on the Western excuses that merit is 'empty', that the Dhamma 'should' be given for free, etc.).

A last point: this is hardly a new issue, and the Buddha gave many speeches about the value of giving, hence providing us with evidence that this was not clear / natural to people in his environment either.
But Westerners are extremely naïve / greedy about the "Dhamma should be given for free". Because early buddhists were wanderers, and they'd teach where they received alms… not receiving alms, they'd continue walking, to the next village then the next… The "for free" means something like "there's no minimum (very small dana is highly meritorious from someone with very small ressources)" but it doesn't mean "you'll get taught even if you give nothing at all, in particular when you could give something"! Wanderers just kept walking until they got alms, or were invited for a meal, then they stayed… and if they stayed in one place, then they taught…
Naïve calls for "free" are misguided and denying historical evidence that even the Buddha wasn't giving the Dhamma "for free": it's actually not supportive to people to let them get away with hoarding / not giving / greed… to the point that all spiritual traditions (not just Buddhism) praise generosity. What mattered was not how much donation was received (there was no minimum, and many people are poor, and there's a vinaya rule forbidding the focus on richer houses during alms rounds), but the effort to give. An 'effort' usually requires going beyond what's simply convenient "pocket change".

Some may argue that it is always better to seek our teaching from the ordained, because it's on average cheaper, dana-based and it is rare that a temple or monastery has to close. This would suggest that where the organisation is part of a recognised lineage, people are more comfortable giving appropriately, secure in the knowledge that it isn't profit-driven.

This'd be a funny argument after praising the clarity and benefits of Goldstein's teachings, who's not ordained, but OK…
Dana-based events in other setups actually do occur regularly… but there's a "survival bias" at play here: they occur, then either the teacher stops or (s)he switches to fee-based, forced to acknowledge that this doesn't work. So what remains to be seen is only fee-based. But that's not proving that dana-based don't occur, they just vanish fast precisely because it doesn't work out.
This "survival bias" is a classic issue in economics: if you do statistics on the stock markets for example, you only see the stock prices of companies which didn't vanish by bankruptcy until now… This can mislead you dramatically, e.g. if you expect the average portfolio to provide similar returns (even though the average portfolio provides no warranty whatsoever that no company of it will go bankrupt). So if you're looking into the economics of Buddhist institutions, you also have to consider the survival bias.
Traditional setups / temples receive more dana from local Easterners culturally "buying merit" through dana, but this is not exactly a sign of quality of the lineage. They also receive dana from tourists visiting, to see the bells and whistles and statues and robes and ear some exotic chants, which is not exactly a sign of quality of the lineage either. And at the end of the day, temples struggle, many closed and disappeared (survival bias again); it's a massive struggle in Japan at the moment, it has been in Sri Lanka during famines and hardships, it has been in India, in China, etc. The logic is the same everywhere: it requires subsequent donations to provide food, shelter, clothes and medicine (the "four requisites") to practitioners. Calling it "profit" because someone pays their bill themselves at the supermarket, or "non-profit" because someone receives food paid at the supermarket by the giver himself, is misleading.
And if some places receive more donations (enough to keep some people ordained on site, not immediately starving), and a practitioner focuses on these because the practitioner has to give less to attend, then (s)he's ridding off the generosity of others! I'm not convinced it's a good sign for the practitioner… it's actually another sign of greed, of seeking "good value for money" rather than seeking to support places where there isn't enough yet (to provide for permanent guidance). If you want the Dharma to spread, for your benefit as well as others', then you need to think about funding practitioners and setups that are not yet fully-funded, not yet sustainable; falling back onto the lower-risk and cheaper doesn't equate "effort", it equates "complacency".

#Buddhism #Dharma #Dana
PS: yes, I'm aware that 'Westerners' and 'Easterners' are broad categories, caricatural and with exceptions (and yet, most people who will react to / complain about this caricature will do so as a feeble way to deny that they too are actually withholding dana. They'll use the "I'm insulted" to avoid looking inward)… and yet, my personal observations still support that Easterners living in the West have more cultural understanding of the "mutual support" logic of dana than Westerners!
This is the fourth post of the "needlessly provocative" series, a.k.a. "not for the sake of popularity" series ( On dana-paramita, see also
Buddhism has no specific guideline on supporting teachers, it simply asks for you to consider causality: if you want this living tradition to survive, how are you participating, in practical terms, to make this happen? Nice words, exposure or social media ‘+1’ might feel good, but they do not actually help with the basic necessities:
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Giving, without a gift being given…

« What [the Buddha] is saying is that when we give something to a particular person, or when we try to do something good for someone, we often attach to that person. We might ask who the person is, whether he or she is worth helping, wonder whether our help will be appreciated, or whether our gift will be really helpful for the person. If we value that person, or if the person is one of our children, for example, we probably offer our help without any question or hesitation. But if this person is someone we don’t know, we start to question whether he or she is worth helping, or whether our action of helping really will help or not. Even when we have a good heart, somehow our heart is limited. And after the action of helping, if our gift is appreciated by that person, we become happy. But when someone doesn’t appreciate our gift, we often become sad or even angry. That is because our giving is influenced by three poisonous minds. We expect something even when we try to help others; we attach ourselves to the person, and we attach ourselves to the gift. What Buddha is saying here is: without being attached to a particular person or a particular thing, and without being attached to the merit of our action, just do it — just offer your gift. But that is really difficult — almost impossible for me at least. According to the Diamond Sutra, however, that is the practice of a bodhisattva. Without attaching to anything, just offer whatever it is you want to give. That is the practice of dana-paramita. »
— Shokaku Okumura (

#Buddhism #Dharma
illustration: "selflessness" (muga) calligraphy
Buddhism has no specific guideline on supporting teachers, it simply asks for you to consider causality: if you want this living tradition to survive, how are you participating, in practical terms, to make this happen? Nice words, exposure or social media ‘+1’ might feel good, but they do not actually help with the basic necessities:
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Bottomless pit, or abyss, or…

The pātāla sutta (SN 36.4) seems to be one of the most 'secular' sutta from the Pali canon, where the realms of existence (likely one of the hells in the sutta, but there's no reason the same wouldn't apply to other realms) are actually presented as metaphors of mental states, not as actual physical planes.

Funnily, many monastic translators struggle and avoid presented the realm as one of the realms of existence, or one of the hells, so we get sutta on the "abyss", the "pit", etc.
And, sure enough, there's no pātāla in the traditional (Theravadin) 31 abodes (
But then would this suggest the Buddha is talking of some inexistent domain? I doubt the Buddha who here rejects the naïve interpretation of hells as an actual place would be OK with people tip-toeing and going round in circles to avoid saying clearly that the Buddhist cosmology is a metaphor ;-)

Here is Piya's always helpful translation with serious notes:

#Buddhism #Dharma #secular
"not for the sake of popularity" series
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Kōan curriculum

A reshare of led to the following questions: « How are koans used in teaching? Does one progress through a series of them, "completing" each one? Or does one revisit them again and again, finding a new answer each time without end? Do I understand this correctly, that improving the process of engagement is a noble goal, and that koans are often exercises towards that end? Or is it a test, pass or fail, in some kind of structured process? Or are they designed to help us learn how to ask helpful questions? All or none? Do I need an answer to continue practicing? ;-) »
Time to talk about the kōan curriculum ?

How are koans used in teaching? Does one progress through a series of them, "completing" each one?

I guess it might be useful to distinguish how they are used nowadays, vs. how they were.

Examples of historical considerations relevant to such a question:
• Kōans are a distinct feature of Chán / Zen / Sǒn / Thiền (, and are at the heart of "direct, mind-to-mind transmission" (
• It's been long considered within the very tradition he founded (the Soto school of Zen in Japan) that Eihei Dōgen (1200–1253) didn't use kōans… until the Shōbōgenzō (Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, a collection of 300 kōans) was identified as his!
• Similarly, without the contributions of Hakuin Ekaku (1686–1768) in the Rinzai Zen tradition in Japan, and notably his fivefold classification system of kōans, it's possible this whole category of expedient means would have been forgotten.
• Sǒn, the Korean version of Chán/Zen, is also a descent from Linji / Rinzai, but the influence of Dahui Zonggao (1089–1163), and its Hua Tou (Korean: hwadu, Japanese: wato) reduction of kōans to their 'key phrases', might have lost a few too many details along the way if Japanese Zen had not survived.

One might note that the very existence of the Shōbōgenzō questions the assertion by Dōgen that he came back from China "empty-handed", but that's another matter… What's reasonably clear is that he didn't bring sutras, statues, 'magical' props, etc. But there's also controversy (to say the least) as to whether he actually received transmission from his own Chán masters! He claimed as much, but there's no certificate to be seen…
And we know that Hakuin didn't receive inka from Shoju Rojin, of who he considered himself an heir though…

So nowadays, it's often considered that one has to go through a series of them, of increasing difficulties (according to Hakuin)…

It's also considered that completing the curriculum is necessary to receive Zen 'transmission' (inka shōmei) and to teach…
Yet, it's well known that spiritual materialism is a major trap (it's not about collecting or accumulating 'solved' kōans!).
Moreover, the kōan system is then reduced mostly to progressing through a series of riddles aimed at relinquishing views, then more views… polishing the mirror with finer and finer grained sandpaper… i.e. the very opposite of the "sudden awakening" it's meant to tell about, and to provide opportunities for!
Finally, it's then considered that one ought to continue perpetuating the lies of an 'unbroken' lineage since the Buddha, even though we know that it's already been broken (even before Hakuin, cf. Touzi Yiqing an ancestor of Dogen !) and the whole thing is a polemical propaganda invented (from the 6th century, and many times re-invented through the centuries) when some teachers needed to assert their legitimacy against the spiritual competition. My essay "The invention of Chán lineage" is available to regular readers/students of my posts, upon request. There's a Zen saying "Good children don't use their parents' money" about the fact that one shouldn't publicise oneself based on the achievements of one's teacher, but hey it's so convenient to say "my teacher was a great teacher, so I must be great if (s)he acknowledged me as a successor…" LOL!

Answering correctly by luck, by parroting the 'correct' answers of others, or by partial understanding isn't the point.
There's a very controversial book, The Sound of the One Hand: 281 Zen Koans With Answers, from 1916, available in English translated by Yoel Hoffmann, which contained the 'answers' to kōans, supposedly according to 2 lineages (some of the best bits are in the footnotes though).
The book still is controversial and was recently dismissed in e.g.
Interestingly, there aren't solely the 'answers' to the kōans in this book, but also the answers to 'checking questions' (used by teachers to check that the student is not merely parroting the answer learnt from another)!
While the book was meant to breach a major taboo, in fact passing answers from monk to monk has been going on forever. The taboo was about public access (all religions like to pretend they have 'secret' teachings), not so much the cheating ;-)
And yet, while the book can be of interest, it's arcane and mostly unreadable to people not having solved some kōan previously! It can be used like "chess problems" can be used: if you don't know how to play chess (and I mean better than merely knowing the rules), you mostly will not be able to solve problems. But if you know how to play already, then they can be used to deepen your understanding, to keep in shape, to maintain your skills…

At several points in history, a few teachers considered that if you truly saw through one (any one) kōan, 'answering' all other kōans should be trivial afterwards… which didn't mean that no other work, no further progress was required, but it meant you either know how to see things as they are or you don't. Seeing things as they are might be the beginning of constructive engagement, so it's not the end of the spiritual journey, it's just the moment you finally have a clue about where to go next!

Either way (a progression of kōans —falling back into polishing the brick into a mirror— or a sudden 'complete' awakening from the very first kenshō), Zen kōans (and Sǒn hwadus) are expedient means to create doubt… a doubt supposedly helping the student to become more curious, to let go of prejudices, to actually open up to reality.
A related Zen saying states "Great doubt, great awakening. Little doubt, little awakening. No doubt, …"
A classic injunction is "Don't know" (
Leave at the door whatever you think you know; don't even trust yourself (, your previous realisations, your previous insights (!

The doubt can be directly about reality, or about the Dharma (if the student is lost in believing that the Dharma is some unquestionable 'truth', perfectly capturing what reality 'is' despite being a mental representation).
Hence, although "Zen is beyond scriptures", some kōans only make sense if you know of some Buddhist scriptures, e.g. the "Mu" koan (when a Zen master states that "no", a dog doesn't have buddha-nature… although some scriptures say all beings have buddha-nature)!
The kōan is an expedient means for the student to question, to enquire, to access reality directly, without referring to what the Buddha said, what some other kōan said (another kōan about the same Zen master states that he answered that "yes", a dog has buddha-nature!) or Zen master said (

Hence, it's not about a particular, predefined, preconceived, prejudiced answer anyway (, it's about spiritual autonomy, direct access, authenticity (, personal responsibility in embodying the Dharma (rather than blindly clinging to this ritual, that precept or these pre-digested bits of wisdom… It's about realising the "selfless true self" (
And we can have fun and analyse sutras ( and kōans (,, or the recent, there might be some wisdom found in engaging with them, battling against the stream of our usual patterns of thoughts, in going through a curriculum of progressive difficulty, etc… and yet mental fabrications aren't the point (,! Daily ordinary life provides kōans just as valid as old Chinese teachers babbling (,

Kōans are a response to the analysis and certainties that arose from the 'success' of Buddhism, and from the abhidhamma period (; it's going back to the root of Buddhism, seeking to understand suffering, to see for oneself the origin of suffering, to realise the extinction of suffering… it goes back to the initial questioning (, instead of trying to find a consistent presentation of the suttas, it engages with the contradictions, turning suttas into questions more than answers (, and other past 'Zen' dialogues (and non-dialogues into questions more than answers.

So how are kōans used in teachings?
A teacher might give you one, to shake certainties and other transparent prisons which need to be relinquished in order for you to progress on the spiritual path!
And (s)he might reject all your answers for a while… or (s)he might accept your first answer, and congratulate you, if your hindrance was the thought that you're an incapable loser ;-) Teachers can be unpredictable like that (, you rarely know why they give you this kōan or that one ( ;-)

#Buddhism #Dharma #Zen #koan
As this is the second post of the "needlessly provocative" series, a.k.a. "not for the sake of popularity" series (, rest assured that yes, I know the image will unsettle some people… for them, it's particularly worth reading the next paragraph!
Image: part of "nirvana" series, in "the Museum project" by Atta Kim, published by Aperture, 2005… for which the photographer got the abbott of a Sǒn temple to let monks and nuns pose nude (at times together!). One can only marvel at the openness of this abbot: few abbots are ready to use opportunities as they arise, without wish or aversion for particular forms. The ‘clinging’ to rules, status, formalism and respectability is a famous impediment to the Liberation of the monastic community. Not so much in that monastery, it would seem.
Buddhism has no specific guideline on supporting teachers, it simply asks for you to consider causality: if you want this living tradition to survive, how are you participating, in practical terms, to make this happen? Nice words, exposure or social media ‘+1’ might feel good, but they do not actually help with the basic necessities:
Other related posts:,,,,,
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