Lung: Meditator's Retreat Dis-ease

The most important aspect of retreat is to keep your mind happy
– Geshe Lhundup Sopa

“One’s practice should be free of looking for results. Even if one spends one’s entire life doing practice and has not a single experience, no results at all, that should still be a cause for great joy to have spent one’s life like that.” –Geshe Sopa

When I first met Lama Yeshe, I already had a daily watching-my-breath meditation and chi gong routine. I had some of the best mahamudra meditations I’ve ever had at that first course. Mostly, this was Lama Yeshe’s blessing. However, I noticed that as I dropped the breath and chi gong practice and focused only on Vajrayana practice, my meditations became less and less spacious and relaxed.When I added the factor of accomplishing so many mantra recitations in a certain amount of time, the meditation practice became a project to complete. I started DOING something and this brought up all my thinking work habits I had learned in school.

In the fourth grade I had a teacher who threatened every child with a beating if they didn’t do their homework and regularly beat kids every day in front of the classroom. I was never “paddled” but I certainly developed very tense work habits. I see now that whenever I have to do anything that is writing or thinking under pressure or thinking with the idea of producing results, I have to consciously relax the anxiety patterns that I developed as a child and was not aware of until a few years ago. With this interesting karma, when all the visualizations and mantras entered my meditation practice, it didn’t take long for me to develop a good case of lung.

Now, after years of meditating in Lama Tsong Khapa’s lineage of practice, I am learning to relax. For me meditating is like a music, dance and acting. When we pay attention to the great masters we can see they are totally relaxed and the art just pours out effortlessly from their inner creative treasure trove. We can do that, too, on our cushion. Like me, you may not realize it, but you may be tense in your muscles and mind most of the time. For me, all the years that I had to get up and be at school or work by 8 a.m. was a mildly traumatic experience every morning–and I pretty much stayed in that over-adrenalized state all day long. It feels good to be high on a mild stress rush all day; however, when we take that mind into the realm of meditation retreat, we get lung!

Meditation is more about being and less about doing. We are seeking to transform the way we be, while we do. What I have to offer here is just a bit of my experience.. I hope it can be of some benefit to other eager meditators.


Lung, is the Tibetan word for wind and is pronounced “loong”. In the context of meditation, lung could be translated as meditator’s disease or over-stressed nervous system . There are many different types of lung. I am not a Tibetan doctor so I can’t share textbook knowlege of lung, but I can share what I have learned in the last 25 years, 12 of which were in retreat. Lung happens to most every meditator, even very experienced meditators. It is similar to an athlete who strains a muscle and then has to rest for a while to let that muscle heal. Even professional athletes and dancers strain muscles sometimes. We meditators strain our nervous systems. Unless the lung is very severe, it is nothing to be afraid of or worry about, it is just a trade hazard that we can learn to work with and endure. Lung is one of the hardships of practice. Lung is our teacher because it is the feedback we receive when we are not meditating properly–or living a balanced lifesyle.

Generally, meditators’lung is congested chi in and around the heart chakra, we feel a pain in the chest or have heart palpitations. We can also experience “head lung”, which feels like a strained or tired brain; when we just cannot think or visualize any more without discomfort–the effort is almost painful. We all learn about lung when we attend our first Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist group meditation retreat. Either we get it, or we hear about it from our friends who get it. The mind rides on the winds and when the winds run unsmoothly, we feel stress.

When many people begin a retreat on a Tibetan Mantra Yoga Sadhana practice that involves visualizing complicated forms, reciting liturgy and reciting mantras, they discover after a week or a month that their minds actually become more agitated than they were before. They may experience pain in the chest or back pain, headaches; they may cry easily and anger easily, too. They may feel anxious, have panic attacks, or insomnia. Some people get depressed. Some people have delusional paranoia, or hear things, or feel strange sensations in their bodies. Others get indigestion, constipation or diarrhea. Lung is often experienced as negative attitude towards the practice (your mind and body want to stop!) so you get doubts about the practice, doubts about your Lama. You may find yourself with extreme negative thoughts. Lung can get so bad if it is not remedied and if the person continues the pattern that causes it, a person can become severely mentally disturbed. But that is rare. Mostly its a good case of negative mind or a nagging obsession that won’t go away. Sometimes lung manifests as aversion to meditating. You just don’t want to go back and sit on that cushion! For women, lung is not so unfamiliar because it can be similar to PMS–actually, PMS is just another type of lung, liver lung.

Anyone under mental pressure and strain experiences lung. Meeting deadlines at work, family stress and studying for final exams brings on lung. Everyone has their own style of lung. It’s a good idea to learn your personal pattern so you can know when to relax in your retreat. When you start to feel negative or can’t sleep one night or have indigestion, or uncontrollably growl at someone, then, you know it is time to rest, to back off on the intensity of your practice. Often there are signs that indicate lung is on the verge of breaking out into major symptoms. For me, I almost always have an anxiety dream based on the theme of the night before a final exam at university when I haven’t studied at all and I’m frantic. That tells me, “Time to slow down, Nyingje-la! “ When I used to start designing fashions in my meditation sessions while reciting a mantra, I knew it was time for a good long break and a walk.

When some of our wonderful Tibetan Masters first encountered people from modern industrialized societies, they were impressed with our level of education and intellectual acuity; thus, they assumed we would make great practitioners. They taught us advanced practices and soon saw us all get lung! I think this is rather like a figure skating master who discovers a group of ballet dancers and thinks they will make great figure skaters. The ballet dancers get out on the ice and try to dance and they all end up with sprained ankles and broken bones. We have these greatly activated minds, but they developed without any visceral awareness of the winds that carry those mind bytes. Our attempts at secret mantra practice are like the ballet dancer trying to figure skate who hasn’t first learned to skate around the rink before attempting a pirouette. If we want to be successful at these practices we have to find our “skating legs”, we have to learn to feel the winds. We do this by simple breath meditation and any type of hatha yoga or chi gong. Watching our breath and learning about our wind-mind before we add all the visualizations and mantras is like skating round and round the rink for hours and hours before we even try to turn around on the skates. I don’t know any western gelugpa pratictioner who hasn’t had lung and some of them will not attempt a long mantra retreat because of this lung experience. I wonder what happens when a ten year veteran of daily Zen or Kagyu shamata or Theravadan practice enters Vajrayana practice…my sense is there would be less lung.

Geshe Rabten thought all westerners have tsok lung (chronic heart lung). Gen Lamrimpa said to us, after he spent a year leading a calm abiding retreat for westerners, that he thought westerners could never learn to meditate because our minds are too fast because we grew up with machines and computers. In other words, we all have chronic low grade anxiety or tsok lung. Many of us have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in varying degrees…some mild, some really bad. It is so ubiquitous we think it is normal. There is an epidemic of depression and anxiety in America that is growing rapidly, even among children. Our lifestyle gives us lung. This same source of most of our health problems is also what causes us to have a difficult time in meditation retreats.

When we talk about lung, we must distinguish between acute lung and chronic lung. Acute lung comes from concentrating too hard on the mandala or reciting mantras too fast or working too hard in service at our jobs, or frustration in relationships.With rest and Tibetan medicine (if we can get it!), it goes away when we finish the retreat or stop doing what was causing our mental stress. Chronic lung, what Tibetans called Tsok Lung, is what in this culture we would label varying degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. This essay is concerned with acute lung that arises in meditation retreats. Chronic lung can be treated with herbs, diet, acupuncture, Tibetan Medicine and talking therapies. I would try these options before going to pharmaceuticals because these chemicals may only compound the imbalance in the long run. However, when symptoms are so intense people may need immediate relief. They could take pharmaceuticals for a short time, with the help of these supportive therapies and then slowly wean themselves off the pharmaceuticals. I would check with a Lama before taking any pharmaceutical chemicals. From what I have read and heard, they are dispensed way too easily and frequently, harm the body and mind in long term and are not necessary if a person is willing to change their eating habits, take herbs, go to an acupuncturist and/or a skillful psychotherapist–preferably a practicing Buddhist.


In 1991 in Dharamsala, Jetsun Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche told us that faith and intention are the main ingredients of tantric practice. This is so important. Not understanding this is a major factor in the production or lung in retreat. We just have to set our intention and then have faith that the practice is happening. We get too serious and try very hard to see all the details of the mandala and say 1000’s of mantras a day, thinking more is better—and expect immediate results! This gives us lung. Lama Yeshe told us a similar advice at The Six Yogas course at Vajrapani Institute. Lama told us to close our eyes and visualize the person next to us. You don’t have to reach out and touch that person, you just know she is there. That is how you visualize. Visualization is perhaps a mistranslation. Maybe viceralize-visualize is closer. It is a felt-sense as much as a visual sense. Close your eyes now and feel that you are in your room. Close your eyes and feel you are in the mandala, then gently remember how it looks. Visualizing is remembering, however your particular nervous system remembers…

In Tibetan Medicine, lung (wind) imbalance is related to attachment; bile imbalance is related to anger/aversion; and phlegm imbalance is related to ignorance. At first, it may not be so clear how unskillful meditation that leads to lung is related to attachment. If you think of attachment as the mind that wants, that grasps, that clings, and then check up while you meditate, you can see how a subtle version of grasping and clinging can abide with you as you focus on your meditation object. It comes in the form of wanting more clarity than you have, or wanting to finish up, or not wanting to finish. If you are in a neutral state of mind, and then think of something you want to do, you can feel a slight tightening in your chest, a little excitement or anticipation. Most of us think this is happiness, but, actually it is a state of grasping. This can cause lung also.

Probably people don’t get lung who meditate for stress reduction purposes only and aren’t interested in attaining Enlightenment. We get lung because we are trying to DO something, trying to attain something, instead of relaxing and letting it happen naturally. Lung comes from forcing our mind beyond its capacity to stay relaxed while meditating. THE KEY TO GOOD MEDITATION IS A RELAXED MIND. Forcing the mind to concentrate only harms our development in the long run. This is very hard to learn because we don’t often know when we are forcing our mind–until we get lung! We are habituated to having a slightly grasping or excited mind when we do things, because this is often where we find the energy to do what we want to do; but this does not work for us when we want to meditate. We get lung from forcing our minds to stay on the meditation object when it is tired. We get lung from saying the mantra too fast and for too long. We get lung from forcing a visualization to be clear. We get lung from trying to keep the thoughts at bay instead of understanding that it’s okay for thoughts to come and go–we just don’t grasp on to them. What we are looking for is to stabilize on the mind (and its voidness) that lies below the thoughts. …No accepting and no rejecting… Thoughts are the waves on the ocean of mind…focus on the ocean, not the thoughts. I have often thought that meditating is like any other art form, from the view point of process. But meditating is much more difficult because you cannot see or hear what you are doing, so it is difficult to know when you are making a mistake. It’s rather like a blind man painting with his feelings. Lung tells you when you made a mistake; it is actually our teacher.

Another big cause of lung is this: “I’m not good enough! I have to work harder!” We are so serious about our practice! Yes, getting out of samsara and opening ourselves up more and more to experiencing the real suffering in the world with our compassion makes it all seem so grave and serious… but without joy and bliss and relaxation, we just get really bad lung! Try practicing the non-differentiation of samsara and nirvana and experience the bliss while our consciousness of suffering grows. We have to let ourselves feel bliss, joy, happiness, every day… Ever notice how playful Tibetan Lamas are? Most of us really have to cultivate allowing ourselves to let go and enjoy.

Many of us come from a culture where three factors interfere with our evolution towards enlightenment: (1) We are socialized by patriarchal tyranny that trains behaviors through negative feedback… “you are inherently bad if you don’t act the way I tell you to!”… with a threat of violence or rejection as the controlling discipline. (2) Christian Culture tells us we are born in sin, born bad and, therefore, we are uncomfortable with just being ourselves…(3)Puritannical laws that tell us that enjoying life–especially our bodies– makes us even more bad. As a result, we learn to censor our needs in order to survive in our families and communities. Our unallowed impulses to express many of our authentic feelings and emotions are relegated to our unconscious. Even the sense that we are bad goes into the what Carl Jung labeled our shadow–and thus evolves the low-self esteem that permeates our lives. The really troublesome outcome of this process is how un-allowed-to-be-known aspects of our psyche provoke and motivate many of our behaviours in our daily lives–and we can’t see it! So this unconscious part of self, our shadow, can contribute to making lung when we go on an extended retreat, (—and in all aspects of our lives!)

Tibetan Masters describe the process of meditation as being similar to training a wild horse. If you tether a horse to a short rope and try to beat it into submission, you will have a very difficult time taming that horse. But if you give it a large corral to run in and if you approach the wild animal with kindness and love, you can ride that horse in a short while. (Remember the movie, “Horse Whisperer”?) Most of us were trained by our parents and/or by our teachers with this first method. We think this is normal and that is how we generally relate to ourselves.

So, without realizing it, we use this same “beat or chastise into submission”approach to training our minds and the mind just does not respond. It gets uptight, tired, cranky and agitated. We have to learn to relax our minds and treat ourselves very gently. Kyabjr Ribur Rinpoche told us over and over again, ”.—- r–e–l–a–x —- .“This is the key to meditation without lung. Chagdud Tulku talks about two types of leisure: outer leisure and inner leisure. Outer leisure is having the time to meditate, inner leisure is having a mind that is relaxed and free of obsessive non-stop thinking. Lung is the result of no inner leisure. So, the key is to love ourselves and lighten up! Renunciation is not about denying ourself pleasure, it’s about waking up to the desire to train our minds to ride easy with any type of emotional grasping–and this only happens when can accept and love every aspect of our self-experience. Once we are comfortable with our selves, then compassion for others can grow.

Meditation comes when we give ourselves that huge corral so all the shadow feelings can emerge to consciousness; when make a conscious effort to not judge, to sit with our thoughts emotions and let them rise uncensored and just watch, ride the wave and let it go. When we cultivate a patient and loving watcher –the unconditional loving parent, inside that will let every pain that ever happened and is happening just be; when we sit with the energy and let it come up and out, then we can begin to stablize our spacious awareness of the mind. It is also really helpful to figure out what your particular karmic propensities and natural skills are… a good astrologer is a big help– so we aren’t forcing a square key into a round hole. Be yourself! There are some great books and great therapists out there these days..

Even if we are psychologically whole, retreat lung can still come as a tennis player can strain an elbow. It comes very slowly, after days of forcing concentration or reciting mantras too fast without being aware of it. By the time you realize you have lung, it’s very hard to dissipate without stopping the meditation altogether and resting the mind for a few days by engaging in fun and play. Lung seems to be just part of learning how to do Vajrayana practice. The more you practice, the sooner you catch the habits that lead to lung and therefore it beomes less and less of a problem. The more you meditate, the more you are able to perceive the texture of your mind, so you can see or hear the mistakes like an artist or a musician would. It just takes time on the cushion. Like any other form of discipline, it only becomes easy with a lot of practice…right effort: gentle, loving, relaxed, no expectation, no pushing effort. We need to remember that one of the four powers of Joyous Effort in Shantideva’s teachings on the Six Perfections is the power of rest. In America, resting is a sign of weakness. Rest is just as important as activity in manifesting any sort of production–like Winter before Spring. Some people feel guilty about resting…let that one go.. If resting is going for walks, making music, painting, cooking, sleeping, reading…do it.


“Relax….. grow yourself, love yourself, dear.” –Lama Yeshe

“Let it be…let it be..whisper words of wisdom, let it be…”–Paul McCartney

LEARN HOW TO RELAX. Make relaxation just as an important aspect of your awareness as what is going on in the mind. If you focus on relaxation, naturally less thoughts come up. Just allow yourself to breathe and relax for 5-15 minutes before you start any mental activity in your meditation session. Don’t push yourself, your body or your mind—more is not better and might is not right. It is true that we have a perfect human rebirth and must take advantage of every second, but we have to be some balance to our activity. The most important aspect of retreat is to keep ourselves inspired. Read the stories of Mahasiddhas, read your favorite books and meditate on bodhicitta with true inspiration. Remember all the topics of the lam rim and apply them to the thoughts that come up in retreat. For me, death and impermanence, the two bodhicittas and guru devotion are the keys to making retreat highly meaningful. Whatever comes up, find the aspect of the lam rim that works to transform the situation… and if the mind is still dark, just wait it out, it will

change, particularly when we remember that we are doing this for others. That has to be foremost in the mind.

If you sit down and your mind feels agitated, just sit with that and breathe into it. Ask yourself what is going on. Let that little child inside you, or your shadow, have a comfortable safe inner refuge so he or she can tell you what is going on deep inside. And just sit with those feelings and feel love for that voice inside that needs to be heard. Ask what she wants, needs, demands, and see if you can do what she needs to be happy. If it is the voice of your self-cherishing mind, rather than push it into silence or submission, try listening to her needs and work out some way to make her feel needed and consolled rather than silenced. If we work on this aspect on ourselves on our cushion, it gives us much less grief when we are relating to the rest of our life. It seems we can only learn to recognize self-cherishing if we pay attention. It is so sneaky, Any time I am unhappy, the cause is self-cherishing, but forcing it to go away only makes it come up stronger somewhere else. But if I cultivate a felt-sense of love for others and apply it to myself, self-cherishing melts.

Lama Yeshe told us once that when we are tired after a days work, instead of taking caffeine and forcing yourself to say all those daily commitments; relax on the couch and meditate on bodhicitta. The last empowerment Lama Yeshe gave at Vajrapani Institute was the Vajrasattva Initiation in the summer of 1983. Generally, the introduction for such an event is a 30-60 motivational talk. This time, Lama asked us to just sit there with him and meditate on non-conceptual Bodhicitta. So we sat for some time in silence with Lama.. maybe 30 min. I remember not too much was happening for me, but Lama, for sure, planted a seed. Now, when I remember bodhicitta, my heart feels like it is in love and a warm feeling flows through my body and my mind is as relaxed and happy as a clear blue sky. I think if we do enough of this practice before and after a mantra recitation session… we won’t get lung!

The Vidyadhara Trungpa Rinpoche required his students to sit in shamatha meditation on the breath for many hours before they could begin Vajrayana practice. I guess it is still the policy in the Dharmadhatu Centers. I wonder if they get less lung because of this policy. I suspect so because they learn to use the tools of a meditator (mindfulness or remembrance of the object and the awareness that brings the mind back when it strays) on a very simple object before embarking on complex visualizations and mantra recitation. This is why I sit for some time relaxing with my breath and adjusting the posture before beginning a sadhana.

In our interest of completing a mantra count, we usually go too long and have no energy left to meditate on divine pride and clear appearance for the dissolution process. This is a good way to get lung..End your session before you are tired and then sit at least five minutes in spacious meditation, just relaxing into the three circles of emptiness of bodhicitta dedication or relax at the dissolution time. Even though you want to get up, just sit and breathe into the mental tension until your mind is relaxed. One more mala round is not better! .Also, at the end, you can visualize your hollow body filled with five colored lights radiating out all the lung and blessing all the sentient beings and the environment.

Spend a little time everyday, if possible, relaxing your gaze by looking up at the sky or staring out at a long distance view and gently recognize emptiness. This really lets the lung out.

Learn to relax in all your actions. Meditation is play, not work. Relax: lie down or sit in a comfortable chair or do chi gong for a few minutes after your session ends. (This is advice from H.H. the Dalai Lama.)

Don’t force your visualization. Be satisfied with what comes.

Contentment is the key to a good retreat…cultivate contentment and a happy mind…meditate on the Innermost Jewels of the Kadampa Geshes everyday….The key to contentment is breathing with bodhicitta all the time; detach yourself from grasping on to experiences by a deep understanding of karma and let go of all notions of blame and shame. “Follow your bliss” as Joseph Campbell used to say. Find some little activity that brings joy to your heart, feeding the birds or the squirrels, or singing a song, or crafting a beautiful object… cook a nice meal..

“Set your re-set button” once a week, if not once a day…i.e., recreate until you feel grounded, open, joyful, clear and motivated. Find some little activity that brings joy to your heart, feeding the birds or the squirrels, or singing a song, or crafting a beautiful object… cook a nice meal, take a shower or a bath, paint a picture… Lama Yeshe loved to garden and found such joy in flowers. Maybe great yogis don’t need to do this, but until we have developed enough inner bliss, we have to create it somehow or else we just can get depressed in a long retreat…. but some of us are also fortunate enough to feel the bliss from the meditation right from the beginning. For me, it seems to come and go in a very long retreat… usually depending on if I am trying too hard or not! But generally, it is there enough to keep my enthusiasm going!

Retreat is not about how many sessions you do a day or how many mantras you do a day. Retreat is about experiencing your blissful, spacious, empty mind; familiarizing yourself with the lam rim; and cutting mundane conception. Retreat is about changing your habits of being, thinking, doing. The sessions, the mantras, the recitations are tools to facillitate that, so there’s no need to get caught up in being super strict if doing that prohibits or inhibits your inner experience. This doesn’t mean you can be lazy, it means you must listen to your body and grow your own wisdom. Lama Yeshe told us over and over again, to grow our own wisdom, listen to our bodies, take care of our bodies and minds, and that we know best what is going on inside of us. In an extended deity mantra retreat, only one full session of the complete sadhana is required to keep the retreat going.


There was a group of people who spent three years doing a deity retreat, but did not do the great mantra retreat. When I asked why, the answer was, “We were afraid of getting lung.” My experience tells me that the benefits of reciting millions of mantras far outweighs the downside of experiencing a little lung, or even a great lung… Lama Zopa Rinpoche commented to a friend of mine who was so concerned over the incredible hardships I have endured in retreat,”The benefits next life of enduring those hardships this life will be UNBELIEVABLE!” Ven. Losang Yeshe, who has been meditating at Land of Calm Abiding for ten years now told me, “I’ve come to realize that lung is just part of the territory.” Yes, that is right. It is just part of our learning process. Even old venerable geshes get lung sometimes.

If we cultivate guru devotion, we can know that what we experience is purification, that we will come out the other side as whole people. Sometimes the guru puts us in situations that bring up lung; we can learn to manage the lung and see it as our greatest teacher. We can also make offerings and requests to the guru to guide us through this experience. If we relax and listen in our meditation, the answers come. Sometimes the guru can come to us in a dream, and next day the lung is gone. If we can cultivate great faith in the guru, then lung is not such a problem,, we can make it through.

Group secret mantra retreats in the FPMT usually emphasize completing a certain number of recitations within a limited time frame. I’m not sure why we do it this way, maybe that was the tradition in the monasteries, but I know some people attend one of these retreats and have such a tough time it takes a year to recover or they never want to try again. Maybe now we need to take four weeks instead of three for these traditional 100,000 mantra retreats because there is great benefit in completing a nearing retreat of the 100,000 so you can do self-initiation everyday and this is probably worth a little lung in order to do that.

Lung isn’t such an grave issue for a month-long retreat, it will pass when you leave. However, when you are doing a long retreat, you have to be careful. The emphasis and the goal is to generate a relaxed mind that is sensitive to your energy state, (although this is ideal for a short retreat as well!) Energy sensitivity allows you to develop and maintain the open heart of bodhicitta and the awareness of wisdom at all times. This allows you to get close to the deity, which, after all, is the goal. If you get caught up in the outer aspects of retreat, such as keeping your tight schedule, saying a prescribed amount of mantras everyday, this may preclude that experience. We can learn how to tune into our body and work within the restraints that our nervous systems present to us. Everyone is different in this respect but most of us are totally out of touch with our bodies needs and subtle energies. I don’t think most Tibetan people were so imbalanced.

We have to really think about how the practice we do comes out of a culture that is nothing like our own. Tibetans had no machines. Their lifestyle was very slow and relaxed. They had no junk food, no white sugar, no coffee, no TV, no telephones, no computers, no commuting,, no freeways, no chainsaws….little stress. They did not keep strict track of time schedules. All these factors give us a very different base on which to practice. I believe we can and we must learn how to adapt these practices to work for us. This will happen when we learn to manage the tsok lung, our subterranean low grade anxiety that easily flips into depression. We can do this with exercise, diet, breathing, attitude shifts, purification, accumulating merit, guru devotion and love.

Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche told us once in Dharamsala in 1982 that the best way to do retreat is to abandon the eight worldly concerns: seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, seeking gain, avoiding loss, seeking fame, avoiding infamy, seeking praise and avoiding blame. When you get all caught up in finishing by a certain date, or doing so many mantras a day, that is a worldly dharma. And believe me, it ruins your retreat and gives you lung. I have had to work against this tendency in every retreat I have ever done. The mantra commitment and the lung actually teaches us to abandon the eight worldly dharmas.

A good lung prevention policy is to pay attention to your mind in the break times. If it is tired, not relaxed, can’t remember to do the break time awareness, then you are setting up for lung. Slack off in your sessions. You know how we joke about Tibetans being on “Tibetan time”? There is a great deal of wisdom here…when we follow the energy of the day, we go on Tibetan time, too, and there is a lot less potential for lung to arise. Of course in group retreats we must keep to the strict schedule, but not so when we are on solo retreat…

Our teachings tell us to do everything for others.. if we get lung, we can at least feel happy because we are getting lung in our service for all sentient beings. we can take on all their lungs and give them bliss!


Daily prostrations,–especially doing the 35 Buddhas Confession Practice before every session!– chi gong and yoga practice are GREAT preventative measures. Some sort of chi gong or yoga session has to be included in the daily routine. I know there are extensive hatha yoga type exercises in the Nyingma and Kagyu schools, maybe for Gelugpas, the debate court satisfied the need to move the winds through the body’s channels. Any form of physical exercise to relax the mind, body and winds(spirit) will probably work just fine. For me personally, Yogananda’s hatha yoga technique offers the foundation for a strong physical body, opens the channels, and trains the breath to maintain relaxation while doing any activity that is crucial to meditating without lung. I highly recommend this practice. The philosophical base is a bit different from Buddhism, but we can just learn the yoga techniques. They are excellent and what we need to become proficient meditators.

The “Five Tibetans” are excellent, not just for their lung prevention, you get a lot of action on your winds in just a small amount of time. For busy people, these are excellent because you get the benefit of an hour long yoga session in 10-15 minutes. All exercise routines can be overdone and then you don’t feel like exercising the next day. Start out small, with 15 minutes and add just a little every few days. Always rest a little while after you exercise and don’t eat right away, wait 10-15 minutes, the rest lets the chi circulate and heal before you move on to the next item on your agenda.

In Gloria Aronson’s book called Five Simple Steps to Emotional Healing, she offers a little acupressure treatment you can do on yourself that is very effective in grounding out emotional upheaval. You simply tap eight places on your body for 30-60 seconds. It takes about five minutes. The eight taps is an excellent way to start a session and prevent lung. It clears away the emotional winds that make it difficult to concentrate that forces us to squeeze and get lung. The eight places are:

—the inner point on your eyebrows, tap both at the same time

—the outer corner of the eyes

—just below your eyes, on the top of your cheek bones

—one point just under the nose

—one point just under the lower lip

—just under the collarbone, two fingerwidths below

—four inches under the armpit

—the outer edge of your hands, tap your hand edges together like karate chops.

Please try it, you’ll be amazed at how helpful it is, also for opening up the lower chakras so you can breathe chi into your navel chakra. If you cannot relax and breathe into your lower abdomen while you sit, then you probably already have some sort of lung. Take time to learn to breathe into your navel chakra, also called the dan tien, or hara, the area below your navel. You can practice this lying down first, then bring it into your sitting posture. Use chi gong, the five taps, yoga, pray for help, whatever works to open up your lower chakras. It is very helpful to breathe into your secret chakra, the area of the perineum while you meditate, feel energy going right to the base of your spine. At first you may only visualize it, but with time it will go there. This keeps the energy down, and not flying around giving you distractions and lung from trying to stop the distractions. You can practice the inhale at the base of the spine, exhale at the heart. When you can do that, then you can try some vase breathing, but if you try vase breathing before you can naturally breathe into the lower abdomen and have it expand, you will probably just get more lung!

Brazilian Toe Massage:

When my husband, Roger Munro, lived at Chenrezig Institute in 1980, he learned a healing technique called the Brazilian Toe Massage. It is very simple and very effective to balance the energy in two people. He heard that there are hospitals in Brazil that only use this technque for curing disease. I have never heard of it anywhere else. It is so simple, I thought to include it. It takes two people, so doesn’t work for solo retreat.

One person lies down on their back. The other person sits at that person’s feet, facing the first person’s feet. With the middle finger and thumb of the giver’s hands, he grabs the whole middle toe of the receiver. He holds this for five minutes. Next, leaving the finger on that toe, you transfer the thumbs to the next outside (smaller) toe, then put the ring finger on that toe and hold for five minutes. With the same transition, move to the little toe and used the little finger and thumb to hold that toe. Then, move to the second toe and use the index finger to hold that toe. Then, move to the big toe and use the index and middle finger to hold that toe. Each toe is held for five minutes. This balances the energy in both people. The giver can do hara breathing (breathing into the lower abdomen) while giving the massage, but it is not necessary. The receiver breathes naturally and relaxes. Sometimes you feel jolts going through the bodies, that is okay. The main focus for both people is to relax.

If can you sit in the vajra posture, this definitely helps to prevent lung. The mind seems to relax into peace and clarity simply from sitting in that posture. It is good policty to begin your practice by spending some time to adjust your sitting posture while you relax your mind by watching your breath or however you can relax your mind. If you can sit in the vajra posture, that is the best. Geshe Sopa told me to at least start out that way even if you can’t sit the whole session in vajra posture. It straightens out the winds so the mind is less distracted. Please note that not everyone has the anatomy suitable to sit in the vajra posture, so if that is your case, then just keep your spine straight with your head slightly bent forward to open up the area where the head connects to the spine… and check that the jaw is relaxed!!!


Eat a diet that promotes grounded, relaxed energy, that is soothing for the nervous system. This means a well-balance diet that is slightly yang and with plenty of protein. If you live on snacks and don’t take time to make a proper meal every day, this will steer you towards lung. For sure, if you don’t eat enough protein, and eat unrefined flours and lots of sugar, this is a certain recipe for lung. Chinese medical science observes that most people in the industrialized world have what they call liver congestion, spleen deficiency and kidney deficiency. Our organs are tired and over-worked. Just this alone gives us lung, so it is important to nurture these organs, also the heart.

Yams and orange vegetables and beef nourish the spleen/stomach energy. Green vegetables, pork and chicken nourish the liver. Black beans, all beans, black sesame seeds and fish nourish the kidneys. We also need to eat the Omega 3 essential fatty acids everyday that is found in flax seed oil and fish oils. Eating saturated fats like butter, coconut oil and ghee are also very good for preventing lung. Some seeds and nuts are good, but not too many and stay away from margarines and all processed foods with lots of chemicals in them. FAT IS GOOD FOR YOU! especially for your nervous system, just don’t eat too much. Fat does not make you fat, eating too many calories makes you fat. Especially if you are a vegetarian, you must get those good fats and plenty of protein in your body. Good whole grains are very good to eat every day. AND EAT ORGANIC! Drink lots of pure water everyday. Get a good water filter! Learn how to balance the pH, the acid/alkaline ratio in your body fluids. If you are too acid, the minds tends to be tight.

Get off caffeine. You can never find your real energy level or sensitize to it if you are charged up on caffeine and sugar. Gen Lamrimpa, an accomplished yogi who lived in the mountains above Dharamsala, made a point of telling us that he takes no caffeine and sleeps as much as he needs to.

For good energy without caffeine, you can make an herbal infusion of the nettle, oatstraw, chamomile. You can buy them in bulk. Get a quart mason jar, put a handful of the herbs in the jar, pour boiling water over it, cover it with a sweater or blanket over night and drink it throughout the day. If you take one to three drops of Gota Kola tincture two or three times a day, before your sessions, this deepens the concentration without straining. Also B12 anemia is a common ailment these days. If you are tired a lot, try taking sublingual B12. It has to be the kind that dissolves under the tongue, you can experiment with doses varying from 500 mcg to 5,000 mcg. Note that it comes in micrograms, not milligrams. Taking 500 mg of Vit C three or four times a day helps a lot in retreat as well. Lama Yeshe told us to take multivitamins and minerals because the food isn’t nutritious enough these days… and for sure stay away from genetically modified food… who knows what they will do to us.

Before starting a long retreat, or anytime actually, I would go to a practitioner of Chinese or Tibetan medicine, have your pulses taken, find out what organs need help, ask what foods to eat and what herbs to take to strengthen those weaknesses and reduce the excesses. Chi Gong will help immensely with this.


In our FPMT retreats, we just read our sadhanas. Tibetan and other English-speaking Tibetan and Zen communities chant their liturgies. I have often thought that this lack of chanting is one of the reasons we get lung. Chanting keeps the heart energy open. Chanting is not quite the same as singing. Chanting sounds come from down in your chest. You have to open your throat and your heart to get a good chant going. In the Anglican liturgies I participated in as a child, we alternated singing and standing and sitting and praying and listening. It’s a good method to keep people concentrated, alert and focused. The Tibetans do that, too, but somehow, when we westerners started doing Tibetan practices, we just sit and read. And we don’t even read out loud when we are at home. This can cause lung if we do practice this way 8 hours a day. One day we will be able to chant our sadhanas in our own language.


Because this is so important, I will say a a bit more about breathing. I like Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple breathing technique that is taught in the book Being Peace. Breathe in, “I am calm”. Breathe out, smile. Breathe in, “I am present”. Breathe out, “All is wonderful”. We can dispense with the words and just feel those ideas as you breathe…and smile!… We don’t try to hold the mind on the breath, or keep the thoughts at bay. The idea is to relax and notice when the mind is no longer focused on the breath, then, gently return attention to the breathing. OR, you may want to try square breathing (in four counts, hold four counts, out four counts, hold four counts) for a few minutes before you start, or the nine-round breathing if you know that one, or do the five minute taps. Experiment and find what works for you.

When we meditate with a relaxed mind, the thoughts of the past or future, hopes and fears, surface naturally. Let them come up and let them go with unconditional love for yourself; slowly your lung will go away when you relax and don’t judge yourself. Pay close attention to how you talk to yourself, how you relate to your wandering mind and how you feel about yourself while you meditate. This is very important. Are you harsh and judgmental or are you accepting, gentle and kind? We can be kind and precise about our actions simultaneously. For years, I didn’t even notice how I replaced my mind on the object. I just did it, the way I did everything else, out of touch with any feeling. When I became aware of the feeling it was rather cold and judgemental. It’s not: “you idiot!” but rather, “my dear kind little friend”.

Because we are not doing anything, other than breathing, we have the opportunity to get to know the mind, our basic tool and medium, before we add the thoughts, visions, and words of a sadhana. As soon as we start doing, we engage the mind so there isn’t much chance of seeing the patterns that cause the lung. As soon as we engage the mind in activity, we engage all those a priori attitudes about ourselves that govern our doing that we are unaware of — the military general takes control–. So if we stop doing, and simply breathe with awareness, we can get to know our way of being. Then, slowly those attitudes and the emotional traumas that created those attitudes surface to awareness. As they surface to awareness we can let them go by meditating on emptiness or compassion and get closer and closer to simply being without all this added baggage.

I feel like the best meditations come when it feels as if the perception of my experience is like a roll of movie film. When the movie camera is rolling the film so slowly that I can actually glimpse the space between the frames, and breathe into that space, dwell more and more in that space, there is where deep meditation comes. You have to slow down, catch the glimpse, and breathe it wider and wider.

There are two additional techniques you can add to the watching the breath that help to dissolve the discursive thought. The first is to expand the boundaries of your sense of self. Make your mind go out bigger and bigger to become all of space. Add some light if you can. Then your thoughts are no longer the central aspect in your mind. They just become little blip in the big space so they no longer have a strong charge. Discursive thoughts begin to become insignificant; they no longer grab your attention. The second technique, I learned first from Stuart Heller before I had met any Tibetan Lamas. He taught the process he called, “touch, accept and release” for healing energy blocks. I realized later in a long retreat that that was what I was doing with my mind. Touch those thoughts (don’t push them away), accept them and let them go. Ven. Pema Chodron explains it very well. She teaches to cut the story line and just sit with the energy. I find that very helpful because sometimes I see it’s the same neurotic energy pattern coming again and again on which I put different story lines. If I become aware of the energy pattern, where it is in the body, it may release in a chi gong or a meditation sesssion, then, no more neurotic thoughts. For me, this works better than simple applying sutrayana-style antidotes over and over again; although at times that is helpful, too.

When we learn to just recognize thought as energy; it has no more charge. When we see that different story lines arise from the same energy pattern coming up again and again; it is asking us to pay a little attention to this pattern. If we continue to drop the words and our emotional involvement with the drama, thinking this and that about the issue, and just sit with the underlying energy and feel it in our body; then, slowly the experiences, often the emotional traumas, that created those energies that create the attitudes and story lines surface to awareness. As they surface to awareness we can let them go and get closer and closer to simply being without all this added baggage. If we let them go with the feeling of love for ourselves and if we cultivate the feeling of spaciousness in our mind as we relax, relax, then slowly that is all that is left: love and space.

Then, if we can do our sadhanas in that frame of mind, love and space will become bliss and void, our concentration will begin to develop and then we can actualize generation and completion stage practice. I don’t think there is any other way. This all takes time, but I cannot emphasize enough take the time to learn to feel love in your heart before you begin a sadhana. Taking refuge and generating bodhicitta is not just words to say. If we mix the feeling of refuge and bodhicitta while taking the time to watch the breath until the thoughts cease before you begin your sadhana and if we sustain that throughout the sadhana, then, the bliss comes and we get no lung. If the mind is too agitated to slow down after 10-15 minutes of watching the breath, that is totally okay and normal. Just get started anyway; usually, the mind will calm down by the time you get to the Dharmakaya meditation, because we have made the merit right there for that Dharmakaya meditation with all the practice of accumulation and purification that comes before the dissolution.

Experiment and find out method works for you. When you find a relaxed-body-breathing pattern, add the mantra recitation to that. Then you won’t get lung. Stay in your body, aware of your energy. Your breath awareness will do that for you. I also find it helpful to rest a bit after I have finished medtating on a long sadhana up to the section of mantra recitation. I may start the mantra recitation but I don’t care about what my mind is doing for five minutes or so. I just let the wild horse run around and rest for awhile before I gently focus the mantra recitation visualization.


We can do chi gong and eat right for years, but if we don’t shift the attitudes that give us dis-ease, particularly the mind that wants to do more, faster, bigger, better….and the underlying sense of low self esteem and shame that drives the bigger, better mentality…we will always have lung, always be ill. Contentment and acceptance with whatever is going on, relaxing more than you think you need to are key elements to successful meditation practice–and a happy life!

As you go through the visualizations and mantra practice, we do our best to keep the mind relaxed. This takes a good degree of awareness, which is why we beginners get lung. Hold the spaciousness of your mind. Don’t just zero in on the visualization. Remember the main ingredient is faith and intention. Just believe it is all there. If you are working on a visualization or concentrating on a mantra or the nature of mind, keep your mind relaxed. If you can’t relax and you can’t concentrate, just let go. Let the mind go completely for five or ten minutes, even while reciting a mantra, and then come back. In the beginning, you may experience very little spaciousness or concentration. Just focus on relaxing. If you focus on accomplishing and doing, it will just send you backwards. Don’t put all your mind on the object of meditation. Put about 1/4 of your mind on the object, 1/4 on relaxing your body and mind, 1/4 on awareness– attention to what your mind is doing with the object, and 1/4 on maintaining a sense of loving kindness towards yourself. This will give you the right effort. It’s a bit like driving a car along downtown streets while talking to a friend and paying attention to the children in the back seat. Mostly why we get lung is because we try too hard. We learn that trying hard or working hard gives us rewards in worldly pursuits, but it just doesn’t pay off in this activity. Quite often, the day after I’ve had a really concentrated relaxed day, the next day, my mind is agitated and full of toughts. This is lung. I just let go and realize that once again I concentrated too long or too hard. If I just relax that day and let my mind go abit wild in the session, I can concentrate again the next day; but if I force the mind, the concentration only gets worse and the lung deepens. Stop the session before you are tired. This is tricky but really essential!

We need to give our minds a lot of space. If we attend to our mindfulness with affection and love for ourselves, we begin to change the source of our lung. Don’t worry about the results of your meditation practice. Just focus on staying relaxed and centered. Don’t worry about what else is going on in your life, either. If your mind is racing, do the five minute tap. If that doesn’t work, stop your session, go for a walk, eat some grounding food and write out all those thoughts in your journal or sing your favorite song as loud as you want. Don’t sit there and try and force your mind to be still. This will only make your lung worse. It is only when we recognize our situation, accept it and embrace it with love, are we ever able to move through it. We all have to find our own style.

As you go through your sadhana, take time to rest. Stop at the obvious places and practice stabilizing meditation on what you just recited from memory or read. Relax, remember the space all around you, remember emptiness and bodhicitta, and then start again. Rushing through a sadhana will guarantee a case of lung. Reciting a sadhana without meditating on it may create imprints for future lives, but is much transformation going on? Is it going to go very deep and give us any realizations this life–which are the real imprints we are wishing for. It’s also not going to give us much inner satisfaction and so there will be less motivation to turn away from looking for happiness in outer, impermanent, worldly pleasures that are in reality only the suffering of change.

Do you remember what it’s like to play? That is the way we meditate best. Like a child playing in a sand box making elaborate scenes out of sand–totally absorbed and totally enjoying. It’s also good to have an activity to do in retreat that you find relaxing–some form of creative release that is fun and no work. Roger Munro taught me the fine art of a one-person party! Have one every day! Enlightenment is serious business but we can’t be too serious about it. When I find myself laughing at myself a lot in retreat, I know I’m in the right “head-space.”

Saraha, the great Indian Mahasiddha blessed us with the best six similies for good meditation ever:

the sun with no clouds in front of it–a brilliant sun

the flight of the garuda bird–no forcing

an ocean without waves–totally relaxed mind

child looking at temple murals–no squeezing the visualization

bird leaving no trail as it flies– let the thoughts come and go

best cotton thread, soft and strong–gentle but precise—–from Advice from a Spiritual

Friend, Wisdom Pub.

I keep these on the front page of my sadhana to remind me to remember them. And about those sadhanas….if you memorize them you will have much deeper meditations and can do them anywhere–especially at the death time-when you will most need it. They are intended to be meditated upon, not merely recited.


How we relate to people can be a great source of lung. As we develop more skill in guarding the mind with awareness, we catch our uncontrolled emotional outrage response addictions and dissolve them into space and transform them into love; and therefore, we experience less relationship lung. In the meantime, we just have to do the best we can to practice what we learn from the thought transformation teachings, be kind to ourselves when we make mistakes and apologize to others when we make mistakes. One thing I have noticed from working with the Eight Verses for Training the Mind and lojong in general is this: It is important to offer the victory to others, yes, emphatically yes, but that doesn’t mean that we let destructive relationship patterns continue or we don’t let our needs be known. This is what transforms thought training into co-dependence and I don’t think that was Geshe Langri Tharpa’s intention. In the emotional moment, yes, offer the victory. Later, analyze the situation and decide if it is beneficial to let it go, or is it important to talk about the issue with your co-worker or sex partner or friend or child or parent. We have to communicate, not just swallow poison—ours and theirs—.

Relationships can get very dry, stale, full of resentment and die out if we continue to offer the victory and never address a situation that is not good for anyone involved. You can only help someone if you are well yourself. So, if you can, arrange a meeting in a neutral environment and discuss your issues with “I statements” and avoid the “you did this and this and this”…rather, “I feel like this when such and such happens…” Maybe you need a neutral mediator. Sometimes the best action is to offer the victory. Some people aren’t ready to talk about their shadow issues or maybe it is simply not appropriate to do so. It depends on the person and how much you care about them or how important, in the big picture, is your relationship to that person or how important is a good relationship with that person to accomplishing a higher goal. You have to make sure your ego is not invested in the outcome. No power trips, please. The goal is harmony, not winning your view.

I am a total avid fan of Marshall Rosenburg’s system called Non-Violent Communication. There are workshops given worldwide now and I recommend them to everyone. It takes our mind-training texts just that one step further into the nuts and bolts of how to be skillful when communicating with ourselves and others. I highly recommend the study of Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication training. This is the speech aspect of our mahayana thought trainings, totally wonderful!

Daily breathing meditation is also essential if we want to develop the awareness of the mental process that can “put the on breaks” before we uncontrollably lash out at someone or lie or whatever we do that is harmful. If we are busy and think of our dharma practice as reading a bunch of sadhanas everyday, or reciting mantra commitments with no concentration; this does very little to develop our “mindfulness muscle” as Jon Landaw calls our awareness faculty. We may keep our commitments, which is very good, but are we developing our minds, are we becoming more skillfully virtuous?


I don’t know about the rest of the world, but here in California, we are quite familiar with a phenomena called “road rage”: the irritability, agitation, impatience we feel in traffic jams. This is caused by the mental tension combined with the inhalation of the exhaust fumes on the highway. We get a similar experience in meditation if we are meditating in a toxic building. Many of our meditation gompas fill up with exhaust fumes from cooking gas stoves while we meditate, and/or they are made of toxic plywoods, painted in toxic varnishes and carpeted with synthetic carpets. There is nothing we can do about this type of lung except to make sure our personal meditation space is non-toxic. (see references).

If you meditate in a room that is not out-gassing toxic materials your mind will be less agitated and/or sluggish so your clarity and relaxation will come with much less effort. They may not come at all in a toxic room, you may just feel agitated or dull. I already mentioned about the fantastic experience I had at my first course with Lama Yeshe. One factor I realized years later, was that the course was taught at Grizzly Lodge, an old Boy Scout Camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. It was built before 1930, made entirely of solid wood, probably Ponderosa Pine or Douglas Fir. There were no toxic chemicals outgassing in that building. My second course was the next year at Vajrapani Institute where they had just built a gompa out of plywood and covered the plywood flooring with a cheap carpet -the worst sources of formaldehyde poisoning in indoor environments. I had a very rough go of it. My mind was agitated the whole time. I was told it was lung. I think it had to do more with the poisons I was breathing every day on and off from 5 a.m. to midnight. I recognize that I am more sensitive than most people to this toxicity, but I see it to varying degrees in most everyone. Most people just think they have lung! I did. Ask the old folks at Vajrapani Institute about their first Vajrayogini Retreat they did in 1981 in their brand new “painted gompa” that was filled with outgassing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s). The lung was outrageous! VOC’s aren’t the only cause for lung, but they are a “surefire” contributing condition.

Breathing toxic fumes alters the endocrine response system. Our hormones’ balance is altered. In men and women this produces symptoms like insomnia, irritability, fatigue, depression, diabetes…The EPA established in the 1980’s that the air inside a normal building in the USA is more toxic than standing in the streets of downtown Manhatten at rush hour. So, if we are looking to fine-tune our nervous systems to meditate on subtle minds, if we just want to be happy and not harm others, it is in our interests to keep the toxic chemicals out of the house–and out of the food and anything we put on our body.


There is nothing inherently holy about keeping silence, it is only a tool to help us in our meditation practice. When my husband, Roger and I did our first four year retreat, Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche advised us to generally keep silence, but to talk when it is necessary. That, to me, is very sound advice (of course!). If we talk every day, it is difficult to get into deep meditation because the mind is more gross. But, if we don’t talk when there is something we need to say or if the circumstance requires talking, then we can get lung if we don’t talk. But to talk is necessary only in a very grave circumstance. Talking can be a way to benefit others. Keeping silence can be another worldly dharma: ”I kept silence for four months…” can just be another ego trip and have nothing to do with transforming the mind, only a hindrance. Being stubborn can help us stay in retreat, but it can also give us lung if stubborn also means inflexible.

We have rules in retreats as guidelines, not as hard and fast rules. If you have to go out to the doctor or the dentist, then, go. Take care of your body. If your parents are dying, then do something that is appropriate. We westerners tend to take everything way too seriously and this doesn’t help us get enlightened at all. If you do have to leave a strict retreat for some reason, Lama Yeshe told us to blow out the boundary as we go out and bring it back in behind us as we come back in. If I have to leave, I offer a torma to the protector deity at the gateway of my boundary and make another offering when I return to strict retreat. You can also do a gek torma when you get back. Retreat is about cultivating wisdom and compassion, not about obeying rules with the fear that you will go to hell if you break them! Karmic results come from the motivation more than the actual action.


We tend to live our lives at a very fast pace so when we get up in the morning to do our daily practice or before we go to sleep, we tend to squeeze a certain amount of recitation into a certain amount of time. This is a certain recipe for lung. When I began my second great retreat, after a few months I noticed I had developed a bad habit when I attended Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche. I would jump right into my morning prayers the minute I woke up. I left not a second to let the dreams surface or to let myself cultivate a sense of bliss and void before arising as the deity. This is a great way to start the day off with lung! Jamgon Kontrul the Great taught that in retreat we must behave like we are recovering from a long chronic illness. In actual fact, we are in recovery from the disease known as samsara! Often in retreat, a lot of emotional stuff comes out and psychic change occurs in our being; this takes a lot of energy and we can be very tired. So, rest. Some traditions meditate and sleep in a meditation box. I have been told by lamas and abbots to sleep in a separate place from where I meditate, and to sleep well, lying down on a bed that is not on the floor. Accomplished meditators can sleep and meditate in one place sitting up, but for beginners, this can just make our bodies hurt and our meditations very sleepy.

How can we make evolutionary changes towards enlightenment in our fast-paced lives? If you can, take 5-15 minutes when you wake up in the morning to relax and feel bodhicitta, dedicate your day to helping others and rejoice. For me, it is extremely beneficial to lie in bed before I get up for 10-15 minutes. I remember my guru, remember death and impermanence, place my hands over the area below my navel and breathe into that area, watch my breath, fill up with chi, relax my mind,

feel love in my heart for all beings, generate bodhicitta, arise as the deity and rejoice and movitivate my day. I also review my dreams at this time. If I just jump up or just plunge into recitation, I forget the dreams and they are powerful guides, especially in retreat! I may do the dream recall as soon as I wake up, before I do anything else…It’s good to cultivate that state between sleeping and waking; it seems to be very fertile ground for healing and receiving messages from the inner and outer guru and from people in need.

The best thing to do is like Lama Yeshe said in his last teaching on Bodhicitta: “When we finish work we are tired and don’t have much energy left. So, when you come home from work, lie down comfortably and meditate on bodhicitta. It’s much better than rushing in speedily, throwing down a coffee and dropping onto your meditation cushion to try to meditate; your nervous system needs time and space. You can’t be rushing through traffic one minue and sitting quietly meditating the next. It is much better to have a quiet, blissful cup of coffee.

And don’t pressure yourself either; that too is very bad. Don’t punish yourself when you are too tired to meditate; ‘I should be meditating; I am bad.’ You destroy yourself like this. Be wise. Treat yourself, your mind, sympathetically, with loving kindness. If you are gentle with yourself, you will become gentle with others, so don’t push. We are dealing with the mind, not rocks and concrete; it is something organic. ”

This is the remedy. This is the best teaching on healing and avoiding lung. If you have specific commitments to do, you can read them while you rest when you are too tired to really meditate. I finally understood what Lama meant when he always referred to the process of transformation as organic when I cut my finger in retreat. It was a deep cut that needed four stitiches. As I watched my finger slowly heal, I thought: my mind can change only as fast as its nature will allow it to–it’s organic. I can’t force my mind to heal any more than I can force my finger to heal. I can only give it the conditions it needs and it will heal organically, all by itself. The trick to a good retreat is to stay relaxed and happy, do the practice without pushing and let the transformation come…there is nothing to be done…just a lot of practice to do.Like Gen Lamrimpa said, “You can’t force a flower to grow, you give the seed water and fertilizer and watch it grow…” So with our minds, we practice easily and be patient. When you get to the place where you can feel the deity in your being, you can feel pace and rhythm of practice, let your instincts take over. If you are in a constant state of refuge and guru devotion, there is a feeling to it, just let that guide you.






As with all “problems”, if we remember compassion for ourselves, the empty nature of self and the lung, and see the lung as merely an experience to work with and learn from, not as an obstacle, we can function and carry on and get over it. Our Jetsun Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche’s book, Transforming Problems gives us the tools we need and explains all of this, so there is no need for me to do that….As for the energetic side of it, sitting in meditation and simply breathing into a hollow body is good to clear out lung. The feeling may be one of great impatience, like you just have to get this sadhana over and done with as fast as possible, but, if you just sit with that feeling, before you begin and penetrate that impatience with your breath and the hollow body, the energy will relax…especially if you do prostrations before you sit.

Do something for other people that makes them happy, you’ll be amazed at how your lung goes away. If there’s no people around, do something for the animals, the spirits, the plants, the planet…Anything that opens the heart cures lung. This may be all that you need to do!

You can do all the prescribed actions to prevent lung, but still you may get it, but not as bad and it goes away rather quickly. This is because working with these subtle energies requires very sensitive adjustments in your concentration intensity and duration which varies every day as all the outer and inner influences on your winds fluctuate…the weather, your hormones, astrology, your diet, who you talked to, what you thought about, what you dreamed about, what toxic substances you inhaled, all influence your capacity to concentrate in your sessions. Consequently, each session is new and unique and even though you may be right into your awareness field and sensing your body, still you may just forget, get involved in the bliss or the visualization or the emptiness and just hold it one or two minutes too long…or something comes up and you start to work harder…anything can bring on lung. So then, what do we do?

The main cure for lung, according to Tibetan Medicine, is taking meat, alchohol and having sex. In other words, the cure for lung is to get really loose and relaxed and joyful and “let it all hang out”. Uptight people who suffer from “Serious Buddhist Syndrome” are very likely to have or to get lung. We have to take our karma seriously but we have to take it with a great deal of humour and fun and light-heartedness as well. Judging from the increasing proliferance of eating meat, drinking alcohol and having sex in our culture, we can see that lung is everywhere! The more stress, the more lung. I think if the Tibetans had rock n’ roll bands and dance halls, going dancing would be one of the cures they recommmend. For me, it is a great one…take your favorite dancing music to your retreat with you!

Marijuana helps to relieve lung. Like alchohol, if it is used as medicine, occasionally, not everyday, when lung is very acute, it will back it off. There is much less danger in using marijuana to relax than alchohol because it doesn’t make one angry or violent and is much less destructive to the liver and kidneys. In small amounts, in can be very helpful medicine. Of course, if you can do without it, that is preferable, but I support the legalization of marijuana and the use of medical marijuana. It really helps people with chronic disease.

Tibetan Medicine has a great herb for lung, actually they have a few, but the one I am most familiar with is called Black Agar or sometimes Agar 35. It is a very black round ball of herb. If the Tibetans could market this worldwide, I think they could make enough money to buy back Tibet from the Chinese! It is a wonderful herb because it relaxes your mind and body and makes you blissful without the unpleasant side effects that come from drinking alchohol or smoking marijuana. You just get the relaxed blissful feeling, nothing else. You can probably order it from the Medical Center in Dharamsala, but it is better to go to a Tibetan Doctor for a total diagnosis.

If there are no Tibetan Doctors around, Chinese acupuncture and herbs can really help also.

Most acute lung cases can be cured without doctors and medicine; just not as fast or as easily. Rest more, hike to a long distance view, sing more, enjoy more, etc…Eat strong foods. Beef and lamb are the surest, direct cure for lung. Geshe Denpa Dargye, the glorious geshe at Osel Ling, used to ask for beef fat when he had lung. The fat heals the nervous system. I know this is a bone of contention with vegetarians. Many Tibetan Lamas remind us that more sentient beings are killed in the production of one lettuce than are killed in meat production. They also tell us that by eating meat, if we pray for the animal, this is more beneficial because they animal has already been slaughtered. If we didn’t ask for that, in actuality, we are helping that being by eating its flesh. It’s just up to the individual, but I have seen vegetarians who eat predominately white pasta, dairy and sugar and have such bad lung…but maybe in the long run there is some benefit to this…

If you are a die-hard vegetarian, you may want to know that the fat in peanut is similar to the fat in beef that gives lung relief. Butter and ghee are pretty good, too. But, take care in eating peanut butter, it is very hard on the liver and that, too, can give you an agitated mind. Ven. Max Redlich told me once that toast with butter, honey and nutmeg is a good lung cure. If you can’t eat toast, you can put the other ingredients on rice cakes or on oats you toast in a dry, oil-less frying pan or in the oven. It still tastes good.

Taking a supplement of the B vitamin, inositol, has greatly helped my nervous system to stabilize. All the B vitiamins are necessary for good nervous system function, we use up our B vitamins when we meditate. Vitamin C helps, too. If you are restless at night, take a calcium/magnesium supplement before going to sleep or try the amino acid 5-HTP at bedtime. 5-HTP is what the body uses to make seratonin, so if you are depressed or anxious you might want to try that also.

Adequate calcium in the diet is also necessary for a calm nervous system. Dairy products, tahini and all the greens of the cabbage family (collards, kale, broccoli) are high in calcium. Spinach, chard and beet greens actually decrease the calcium absorption because they are high in oxalic acid so they aren’t so good to eat. You need magnesium and Vit. D to metabolize calcium. If you take a supplement, the ratio of Ca to Mg is 2 to 1. Some people say sunbathing with coconut oil on the skin helps lung, maybe this has something to do with Vit. D and calcium absorption.

If your lung manifests as exhaustion, then support the kidneys and adrenal glands. Withania tincture is excellent for that, as well as black sesame seeds and black beans. If your lung manifests as impatience, anger and irritability, then support the liver with diet. Cut back on fats, eat greens and take dandelion root tincture if you tend to run hot and milk thistle if you tend to be cold. If your lung manifests as obsessive thinking and the wild elephant mind, then support your spleen by cutting out sweets and eating yams, sweet potatoes, and winter squash, butter and corn. Prickly ash tincture is good for the nervous system, particularly when the digestion is affected by overwork or anxiety.

Because yams and winter squash nourish the spleen, they are good for promoting concentration. Sweets, especially white sugar, not only make you agitated but they weaken your spleen which will make concentration difficult, which will cause you to strain and develop lung. Even though chocolate contains caffeine and sugar, sometimes a little chocolate combined with a good hike is a great lung cure! Everything in moderation….You can get chocolate that is made with grain malt or dried cane juice instead of refined sugar; this is better for lung because you get the heart opening effect of the chocolate without the overkill buzz of sugar.

Also, supporting the adrenal glands and your kidney chi is really good for all meditators. When your adrenals are stressed, the mind is much more nervous and agitated, the winds run rough, you have lung. Licorice root helps the adrenals. The life force wind is centered in the kidney/adrenals. When that is weak, our whole wind system runs rough, our brains can’t concentrate well, so we strain and get lung. When we have low adrenal function, it is really important to eat a good meal in the morning, (dinner for breakfast) and rest as much as the body needs. You may want to try the actual adrenal gland supplements in the health food store, although I’m told it’s not good to take this over long periods of time. But sometimes we need to take these natural hormone replacements just to help the body have the energy to heal itself. If you do take hormones, take supportive herbs and food simultaneously. After some time, 6 months to a year, you can wean yourself off the hormones gradually. One week you cut out Sunday’s hormones, in two weeks you cut out Saturday and Sundays hormones…like that until you no longer take any of them.

I have found that flower essences are really helpful for meditators. They work very subtly to remove those emotional habits that we work so hard to transform. Take the flower remedies and they just go away by themselves. They can be extremely powerful healers. I have found that the Desert Alchemy essence Fairy Duster settles a restless mind. There are many more for concentration so check them all out. See the references section for the books. I use a pendulum dowser to ask which ones to take, and then read what the books say about it and make my decision based on the pendulum’s results and what the book says.

Julia Graves has discovered that Asparagus flower essence helps to clear energy blocks in the central channel and Weeping Cherry helps to relax muscles along the spine.Harebell for blocks in the head area, Glory of the Snow for tight throat chakra; Black Cohosh for dark energy in the pelvic area; Calendula for leaking pelvic energy and Trillium for controlling the bliss…white for feminine energy and maroon for male. Retreat time is wonderful to experiment with flower essences–but you need at least three-four weeks to see the change. Flower remedies in the bath are a very good way to take them as well. Clean the tub before hand, put in 8-15 drops and soak for 25 minutes.

Homeopathic remedies can help also, such as Calmsforte, but everyone is unique… you have to experiment and see what works for you. Kali Phosphoricum or Biochemic Phosphates (Schussler Cell Salts) for mental strain work well for me. Valerian root herbal tincture can help (this is herbal valium). Passion flower tincture relaxes muscle tension that comes from mental stress. This is really good for lung, especially when the lung manifests in tight neck and shoulder muscles. Drink the nettle, oatstraw, chamomile tea. Take a bath with lavender or chamomile. Make a really strong chamomile tea, about 2 liters, and add it to your bath water. You will sleep so well!!!

Daily hard aerobic exercise cures lung, especially exercising the arms and chest to clear out the heart and pericardium meridians. This is probably one reason why Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche advises to begin every meditation session with Prostrations to the Thirty-Five Buddhas. Not only does it fortify and clarify the winds, it purifies the karma to get lung! Regular chi gong practice is the best prevention, but if you already have lung, it will help cure it, too.

Sometimes lung comes in the form of a really sore back. A bath is very helpful. Get your back hot in the shower or in the tub and then rub your upper back and chest with one of those long handled Chinese bamboo back scratchers. In the shower or bath, get your back warm, then rub behind your heart, and whole back quite vigorously until the skin turns bright red. Rub your chest, too. Lung is congested chi in the heart chakra area. This gets the lung out. Lie on a MA ROLLER regularly and this type of lung is less likely to occur. (A MA ROLLER is a piece of turned wood about the size of a rolling pin that has ridges in it that massage the muscles on either side of your spine as you lay down on it.)

Apply pressure or moxa to acupuncture point P6, located about one inch above your wrist in the middle of the palm side on your arm. You’ll find the sore spot. You can also apply deep pressure for 1-2 minutes a day on sore points on your palms.

I sing for a half an hour or so when I have lung. That always gets it out. Have fun with your prayers, sing them and chant them. Find some way that is within your retreat boundary to HAVE FUN. Have a one-person party every day.

Take time to gaze into long distance views and just space out. Then meditate on emptiness. We just have to let go, let go, let go…

CURING CHRONIC LUNG OR PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

When we live in fear and anxiety for long periods of tme, especially as children, we have lung all the time. “Normal childhood” traumas grow up into neuroses. If there is intense and/ or on-going physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or we experience a war, or a natural disaster, or some heavy violence, then we have PTSD. This is why many people take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs these days. Can PTSD be cured so we don’t have to rely on anti-depressants? Some people can, but it takes consistent devoted therapy, either self-therapy in retreat or with a group or with a professional. Peter Levine has developed a bodywork psychotherapy that is effective for curing PTSD. Thich Nhat Hanh does great healing work with Viet Nam Vets just by talking about the trauma, letting it out in a healing environment, where it’s all okay to have been abused or have been the abuser…Abusers are just as traumatized. A newer therapy called BodyTalkSystems that works with the energetic memory of the system can help quicker than acupuncture or talk therapy.

Some of the flower essences can be extremely effective such as the Desert Alchemy, Coral Bean. When working with flower essences, you need to study the remedies, and, if you can, dowse the remedies with a pendulum to figure out which ones will work for you because it is totally individual. Some remedies work in a month, some take many months. The homeopathic remedy, Stramonium, is also good for some people

It’s all up to karma, but, I’m almost certain the original trauma must be revisited and new reactions have to come in relation to those traumas. The actual memory may not have to surface, (although in many cases it will), but the physiological imprint, the traumatic energy, has to be touched and released. The reason I say almost is I am sure there are cases of PTSD cured by faith-healing and prayer, but even then, something, an energetic response or a memory or both, has to come out or shift. For many of us, the trauma may not be a specific event, but simply an ongoing stress that lasted throughout childhood. It may even be the tonsillectomy you had when you were seven. If we pray for help, guidance will come.

If you wish to heal your trauma karma, you have to want to do the work, no can give you a pill to make it go away. It is very helpful to meditate on karma and realize you created the cause somewhere so you can begin to forgive the perpetrator. Meditate on compassion so you can identify with the samsaric suffering of the perpetrator and understand they are also trapped in their karma. And it is very important to do purification practices to purify the more subtle cause of your PTSD, to do accumulating virtue practices to create the cause to find the right healer and the right medicine, and to make requests to the Guru-Deity to guide you towards healing.

Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery, is a book I recommend to everyone, even if you think you don’t have PTSD. When you read the book you see how many people you know have these symptoms, including you. It really helps to understand your personal mandala and the state of our planet and why wars must be stopped. She cites that the one out of ten men who don’t come out of war combat with PTSD are the ones whose main thought during the battle was to save his comrades’ lives, not his own. This is a bit of proof from the scientific world of the great power of cherishing others more than the self. She also documents that the people who cure themselves of PTSD do it by helping others who have suffered the same trauma.

I heard of another therapy that is working very well to cure PTSD. A therapist takes the person back to the original trauma…and this can sometimes take some digging when denial has been used to shield the memory. The therapist encourages the person to talk about the trauma and really feel it again. As the person is talking, (or crying) the therapist gently taps on the person’s palms, alternating right and left palm every few seconds for 3 to 10 or 15 minutes depending on what is coming out of the patient. This distracts the brain and re-wires the memory so the traumatic effect on the nervous system is eliminated. I think it must take a skilfull therapist because you have to know how long to tap on the palms to erase the memory. But, there are stories of remarkable recoveries… and it is so easy.

If you have this type of Tsok Lung, there is no reason to despair or think you can’t meditate. You can work with it and heal it if you put your intention and faith in that direction. What I have given here is just what we have done…you will find other things as well. If we remember that our primary practice is to purify negativity, accumulate positive karmic potentials, make offerings and requests to the Guru-deity, anything is possible. We just have to imagine ourselves as the deity and point our feet in that direction, step by step, slowly, joyfully, mindfully, we can get to the space where we can really be of benefit to other beings. However, please only go into retreat under the advise and care of a qualified teacher.


In long retreats, due to the blessings of the Guru-deity, we discover a state of being that is conducive to maintaining awareness all day long. This is the goal. It is relaxed, open, attentive and blissful. This is the same state that will nurture the immune system. We can use that inner awareness as your guide to determine what to eat, when to meditate and for how long, when to exercise, when to rest or sleep. (I have learned to use a pendulum to ask questions to my inner guru and this works for me.) More importantly, we learn to pay attention to what takes us out of that state of being. We learn to manage all our activity to maintain and grow that awareness. It’s like the adept river guide who steers the boat down the river effortlessly because she uses her intuition, knowledge and experience to stay in the river’s central current. In this case, we use our intuition, knowledge, and experience to stay in the center of our being.

This state allows us to remember to motivate and dedicate all our activities with bodhicitta motivation; to remember the subject/object emptiness; to remember the illusory nature of what we experience via our six sense organs; to remember divine pride. Then, we can reap the most benefit from retreat because we are constantly creating the cause for enlightenment.

Retreat is about the 24 hour experience, not just the 8 or 9 hours you spend on your cushion.

We just have to remember that our nature is to suffer, lung is natural, it comes with the body. So, let’s be light and humorous about our predicament. Our lam rim practice gives us the rocket fuel we need to traverse the path to enlightenment, but there will always be ups and downs and occasions to suffer until all the causes for suffering are extinguished in our mindstreams. So, relax and take it easy, work steadily with faith and aspiration– as karma permits– discover ways to feel joy in every day. Joy has to be cultivated for most of us. Discouragement and doubt, our greatest obstacle, come up when we are tired. So take it easy…We CAN do it! Years ago, through Ven. Tsen-la’s kindness, I told Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche that I couldn’t practice lojong. Rinpoche said, “How many years have you been in samsara?…and how many years have you been practicing lojong?” We need a lot of patience, isn’t it?

Constantly reflect on the kindness of the sentient beings who are the cause for our enlighenment. Constantly reflect on their unavoidable suffering. If we keep the sentient beings, our dearest friends, every one of them, in the center of our hearts; with the deep wish to bring them the greatest happiness and joy, we can overcome any obstacle. Cherishing others, doing ton len however we can, is our best friend and best protection.

How we come out of retreat is very important also. If we come out too fast, even if we did not get lung in the retreat, we could get it in the re-entry phase, be very gentle with yourself. Don’t talk too much especially!

I offer sincere regrets if I have misrepresented anyone’s ideas of if I have given any misinformation or made any big mistakes.

Completed on the 28th moon day of the fourth month in the Iron Snake Year. June 19, 2001. Edited in July, 2006. Paula Chichester, aka Ven. Lhundup Nyingje

May this little writing be of some benefit to all beings. May all beings experience the precious Bodhicitta and may the have temporal and ultimate happiness in all their lifetimes. May all wars, famines, disease, natural and manmade disasters and human, animal and planetary exploitation stop right now. May all wonderful conditions flourish and may enlightened leaders prevail.



These are the innermost jewels of the Kadampas. By merely keeping them in the heart, the fortress of delusion collapses, the ship of negative karma disintegrates and one will reach the very blissful ground of remedy. Therefore,if one has these ten innermost jewels, one will achieve liberation and enlightenment quickly and without hardhships; and, by the way, one wil lattain the happiness of this life and the happiness of all future lives.

I request the posssessor of the mighty one, the kind Gurus, the direct and indirect Gurus, please bless me to give up this life, as did the holy beings who came before me.

By seeing sickness, old age and death, the unequaled son of Tsetsang (Prince Siddhartha) felt great sadness and then abandoned his reign of the kingdon. At the end of six years, having lived the autere life of an ascetic, on the banks of the great river Naranza, he became fully enlightened. Reflect on the nature of the uncertainty of death just like the life stories of the previous holy beings who reflected on impermanence and death, who felt great sorrow, who gave up this life, who practiced in solitary places and who achieved enlightenment in one life. Reflect on the nature of the uncertainty of death like this. Why shouldn’t I give up the activities of this life? Home, field, house, relatives, food, wealth—all of these do not allow pure Dharma practice to arise.

Except for the needs for survival–the three robes, begging bowl, and so forth–, I won’t keep gold or jewels or anything extra, not even one piece, for myself. At that time, wealth, family, friends, (cats and dogs, too) will not benefit me. Furthermore, there will be the suffering of separation from them. By reflecting in this way, I should give up seeking the means of this life.

I should entrust the depths of my attitudes to the Dharma.

I should entrust the depths of the Dharma to the beggar.

I should entrust the depths of the beggar to death.

I should entrust the depths of the death to the cave.

I should proceed will with the uncaptured vajra. (By proceeding with the vajra mind that does not change from renouncing this life, I practice Dharma without being captured by the beloved ones.)

I should definitely leave behind the vajra without shyness. ( This means: Leave behind worldly concern. Whatever people say about me, good or bad, I won’t change my mind when I go out into the world with renunciation for this life.

The transcendent wisdom vajra should accompany me. (I should equalize Dharma and my life and not transgress the commitment to renouncing this life I live in.)

I should attempt to be out of line with the human beings. (I should be out of line with worldly human beings who are attached to this life.)

I should keep the lowly position, wearing ragged clothes.

I should reach to the line of dogs and achieve the line of devas. (Accept the loss of food, clothing and reputation. No matter how much hunger, thirst and other hardship happens, I will bear it to practice Dharma. When one gives up the works of the mundane world and completes one’s practice in solitary places, one achieves the Supramundane Deva of the Devas, which is enlightenment in this life.)

In short, the impermanence and death will come soon. Now is the time to give up this life. Due to the compassion of the Guru and my own virtue, may I be able to give up the work of this life.

If one recites these words verbally and reflects on their meaning, one will be able to give up quickly the works of this life completely.

(This text was composed by the highly attained lama, Tsokdrig Rangdrol. It was translated by Kyabje Thubten Zopa Rinpoche on the 23rd day of the first month of the year of the Earth Rabbit, March 10, 1999, at Kacho Dechen Ling in Aptos, California, USA. Commentarial assistance by Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche is in the parentheses. Translation assistance was offered by Ven. Tsenla and Ven. Nyingje. lightly edited by Nyingje May all beings benefit.



Jensen and Vanderhaeghe, No More HRT, Menopause, Treat the Cause. Quarry Health Books 2002. available from Even though this book is primarily for middle aging women, the information about how to make your body healthy, how to support your liver, kidneys, digestion, how to work with stress, what to eat, etc.,is the best I have ever seen for men or women of all ages.


Baker, Elliott and Banta, Prescription for a Healthy House, In word Press

Dadd, Debra Lynn, Home Safe Home, Tarcher Putnam

Hartley and Marks, Rousseau and Vasley, Healthy by Design

green building guide:


Kaminsky and Katz, Flower Essence Reperatory, The Flower Essence Society, 1986

Scherer, Cynthia, The Alchemy of the Desert, Desert Alchemy Editions 1997;


Beattie, Melody, Codependent No More

Orloff, Judith,M.D. IntuitiveHealing. Three Rivers Press 2000

*Bradshaw, John, Healing the Shame that Binds You, Health Communications, 1988.

Bradshaw, John, Reclaiming and Rechampioning Your Inner Child,

Briere, John N. Child Abuse Trauma

Dossey, Larry, M.D., Reinventing Medicine,

Epstein, Mark,M.D., thoughts without a thinker, Basic Books, 1995

——————-going to pieces without falling apart, Basic books

——————, going to being, Basic Books

Heller, Stuart, The Dance of Becoming, North Atlantic Books, 1991.

—————–, Retooling on the Run, North Atlantic Books, 199?.

Levine, Peter, Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma, North Atlantic Books 1997

*Herman, Judith,M.D., Trauma and Recovery, Basic Books, 1992.

Kane, Jeff, M.D., The Healing Mind.

Miller, Alice, Drama of the Gifted Child, Basic Books, 1997.

—————Banished Knowledge, Doubleday, 1988.

Preece, Rob, The Alchemical Buddha, Introducing the Psychology of Buddhist Tantra. Mudra Press, 2000

**————-The Wisdom of Imperfection, Snow Lion 2006

**Rosenberg, Marshall, Non-Violent Communication, Puddle Dancer Press.

Richo, David, Shadow Dance, Shambala Books, 1999

Solomon, David, The Noon Day Demon: An Atlas for Depression

Jung, Carl, Memories, Dreams and Reflections

Moacanin, Radmilla, Jung’s Physchology and Tibetan Buddhism, Wisdom 1986

Horricks,…Getting the Love You Want


Chia, Mantak and Maneewan, Cultivating Female Sexual Energy, Healing Tao Books, 1986.

——Cultivating Male Sexual Energy, Healing Tao Books, 1985.

*Degraff, Deborah A., The Body Owner’s Manual, Berkley Books, 1998.

Gach,Michael, Acu-Yoga, Japan Publications, 1983.

Iyengar, B.K.S., Light on Yoga, Schocken Books.

Ohashi, Waharu,Shiatsu, Dutton, 1976.

Teeguarden, Iona, Acupressure, Japan Books

——-The Joy of Feeling, Japan Books

Johnson, Jerry A., Chinese Medical Chi Gong Therapy

*The Five Tibetans

*Reid, Daniel, The Complete Guide To Chi Gong, Shambala Pub.

*———–The Complete Book of Chinese Health and Healing, Shambala Pub.

*Wong Kiew Kit, The Art of Chi Kung, Making the Most of your Vital Energy,

Element Books Ltd., 1993.

Pharmaceutical DRUGS:

Cohen, J.S., Overdose..very informative book on the use and misuse of pharmaceuticals, what they do to you etc…if you take pharmaceuticals, or go to a conventional allopathic doctor, this book will help you stay informed so you don’t get even more sick by taking their “cures”.


*Aihara, Herman, Acid-Alkaline, ….

Enig, Mary, Know your Fats, Bethesday Press

Fallon, Sally, Nourishing Traditions, New Trends Press,

*Pitchford, Paul, Healing with Whole Foods, North Atlantic Press

Kim Le, The Simple Path to Health, Rudra Press, 1996

Happy Healthy Retreat Houses

Building a house is a personal and a community activity. There are very few houses that the builder was the only person whoever lived in that house. Therefore, when you build a house or renovate a house, you are doing it for many more people than just yourself. It is good to remember this when you plan a design and a budget for a house. You have to think of the social benefits a house will give as well as the personal benefits you can immediately see. For this reason, building a healthy house can be a priority for everyone, even if you are sure that petrochemically derived products don’t compromise your health at all. The next person that uses your house will benefit from its healthy attributes and you may in the future as well. Your pets will, too. Veterinarians report that the dogs and cats are experiencing the same catastrophic rise in chronic illness that plague humans, which is resulting from the rise of toxic substances in our environment and foods.

Why is it advantageous for personal and community health to invest in non-toxic building materials? Healthy people are happier people and being happy in our homes is probably the most important attribute we are looking for in a home. Many of the conventional building materials, plywood, varathane, house-paint, glues and sealers contain volatile organic compounds, VOC’s. VOC’s enter organic systems, animals (including humans) and the food and water we ingest. When these compounds enter our blood stream they endocrine inhibitors. On our cells, the building blocks of every tissue in our body, are receptor molecules that catch messenger chemicals that are tell our cells what to make and what to do. These messenger chemical compounds or transmitters are the way our endocrine system organizes and orchestrates everything that happens in our bodies. For example, they are the messengers the pituitary gland sends to the brain cells that tells them what to do… The circumferential boundary of the cell has receptor sites where these messengers connect to the cell and “tell the cell” what to do. These VOC’s that we inhale and the pesticides that we eat have a similar chemical architecture to these messengers.

When our bodies fill up with these manmade chemicals, they go to the receptor sites and occupy the place where the messenger would have taken its message. The message is not received and the cell does not function according to what the body needs. As one can imagine, this causes great havoc in organic systems, all of them, from the tiniest bacteria, to the frogs, the trees, your dog and you. This is the ecological nightmare that we live in today. This is a major reason why we see such an increase in the rates of disease in modern industrial society, particularly those diseases related to the endocrine function such as diabetes, depression, cancer, headaches, obesity, chemical sensitivities, Alzheimer’s, and so many of women’s health problems, PMS, infertility and uncomfortable menopause. The endocrine system is completely confused by these compounds. This phenomena is not well known in the general society mostly because the information is not popular among the corporations who happen to own the media as well as the companies that profit from the sale of these chemicals. It is up to us, the consumer, to seek out this information from the big-hearted scientists who are figuring it out! We won’t find it on the label of the products or in the popular mainstream media such as TV, radio or magazines or newspapers. But if you want to be happy and healthy, you would do well to invest a little more money in the alternative building products. In the long run, the benefit far outweighs the added initial capital output.

There is also a more far-reaching positive influence you make when you build a healthy house. In the USA especially, our democracy is based more on where we spend our money than how we vote. If we buy healthy products and don’t buy the toxic chemical products, we are sending a message to the industries that make and promote the use of those toxic chemicals. Therefore, when we build a non-toxic house and use non-toxic household products, we are helping the fishes and the frogs and lizards and the snakes and the birds and the butterflies and everybody in our ecosystem!

Because the healthy house products are new, less well-known and less-advertized, there is a smaller market for them. They do cost a bit more. If we take on that cost now, in the future, as more people do like us, the prices will come down. And it isn’t that much more, maybe 10 %, depending on the size of the house and if you are using your own labor. If we look at prices as the only criterion in our economic analysis, we lose the big picture and the greater benefit for everyone. Our health, the health of future inhabitants and the health of our larger ecosystem is much more valuable than a few dollars.

Building healthy buildings is especially crucial in Dharma Centers. People who go to retreat are often already beset with mental and physical chronic illness. These symptoms are definitely exacerbated in toxic buildings.

There are two main topics to learn to make a health-giving house: how to use feng shui and how to avoid using toxic chemicals in the building itself and inside the home. Until you educate yourself to be aware of these two topics, you may not notice them; but, I guarantee you are influenced by them.

If you put the average person in the meditation hall at Land of Medicine Buddha, they may feel slightly unsettled in there, but they won’t pay much attention to it. If you put Lillian Too, feng shui master, in that Gompa, she is so agitated by the negative chi flow from the exposed beams overhead, she can’t bear to be in there. During a normal retreat at Vajrapani Institute, most people experience back aches and fatigue and sleepy minds. They blame it on themselves and reckon meditation isn’t something that is fun or that they are good at. If you put Sumden or me in that gompa, we have the same symptoms. We are even more aware of it, much like Lillian and the beams, and we know it is coming from the fumes out-gassing from the floor, the woodwork and travelling up from the gas ranges below. The average person just drinks more tea and eats more cookies and feels fine. But I dare to ask, what is their mind and body experience in their meditations? And what is the long term result of medicating yourself with caffeine and sugar? Not so good….when you reach 50 years or so, you will be feeling arthritis or diabetes or any number of ailments…not so good for meditation practice, either.

As we begin to develop subtle states of mind, these two factors have much stronger influence on how we feel. If we want to develop subtle states of mind, we must pay attention to these two hidden factors if we want to reach our goal of a clarity and awareness. This is why feng shui and toxic chemical awareness must be taken into consideration when building a retreat house. Most retreat house builders are not meditators so they have not yet developed this keener sense of awareness. People who go into the retreat houses Sumden has built immediately feel good, but it is not obvious to them why. To the untrained mind, feng shui and toxic chemical awareness are hidden phenomena. It doesn’t take much time to learn to be aware of both of them and your retreat or your life will be far improved on all fronts. Abolishing the toxic chemicals help to give you the freedom to be feel good without stimulants, to have a clear, calm and stable mind and thereby able to penetrate subtle states of mind. Feng shui not only improves health, it improves ALL the aspects of your life…from your lovelife to your career, to your children, to your golf game, to your bank account.


To be able to make the connection between the air you are breathing to the way you are behaving and the way you feel is a very difficult connection to make. We are changing environments constantly and, therefore, breathing different cocktails of toxic chemicals throughout the day. Each building is built with different substances that have different toxic chemicals in them, although there are some major standard products in use such as plywood and varathane. My husband, Sumden, and I were told all this information as early as 1984 when we met Peter Richardson, who had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Peter had all the CAT-scans and everything else done to verify his M.S. and was about to undergo some very expensive treatment when he met a holistic doctor. Peter changed his diet, took the gas range and heater out of his house, had all his amalgam fillings replaced in his mouth and he was totally cured of M.S.! We were happy for him but were sure that wasn’t our problem. We were living in a plywood, moldy, retreat house that had gas for cooking and lighting. We, like everyone else we have tried to communicate this to, just sloughed off Peter’s advice that our house made us sick and angry.. We thought we had “lung”. We did, but what we didn’t know is that those toxic chemicals CAUSE lung!

One of the big obstacles to acknowledging this source of poison is that it can be a major job to overhaul a toxic house, so people would rather deny it. Change, openness to new ideas, is difficult for anybody. You need a very strong reason, and this one is difficult for people to see even when you are really sick from a chemical in your house. Who wants to accept that their cooking gas makes them sick? What a hassle!

It took us 5 years of preliminary practices, suffering all the way through, before we finally had the karma to see that toxic air was a major source of our emotional and physical suffering. People with already compromised immune systems from other causes are much more intensely affected than people who are fairly healthy; but I am convinced it affects everyone. In fact, a major way to acquire an exhausted immune system is by a constant exposure to toxic chemicals for an extended period of time. Examples of this are living in a house with a gas leak, or working in the automotive industry, or the building industry or the dental industry or moving into a brand new house. I am also convinced that the more you meditate, the more sensitive you become.

We aren’t the only ones who thought the effects of gas and plywood poisoning was just lung and there wasn’t much to be done about it from the outside. Recently, a very good monk left Shinne Land because he said he had a bad case of lung. He told one of the other Sangha members there that his lung went away when he was fasting. This means when he wasn’t cooking, which means when he wasn’t breathing gas fumes. Those little houses don’t vent very well in the winter time with the house closed up. The lights and the refrigerators are also gas. He left in the spring, after winter….

Another Sangha member died at Shinne Land recently. According to what she expressed to a friend of hers, she also had a very bad case of lung. The autopsy could not reveal the cause of her death, but she died at the time there was a very very large earth shattering sonic boom. Sumden, who is extremely sensitive, was nearby during that boom. He knew immediately that something terrible had happened. He thought I had died. This type of shock can cause the mind to leave the body if there is a lot of lung. From what she told her friend, who told me, her “lung” sounded exactly the way both mine and Sumden’s mind’s get when we live in a small house with unvented gas. We used to think it was lung, too. Her lights and refrigerator were also gas. When they found her body, the gas stove was still on, fumigating her house.

There is also the story of a monk who was doing three year retreat at Vajrapani Institute. I gather he already had some psychological obstacles and they got much worse in the retreat and he had to leave. When Jetsun Lama Zopa Rinpoche advised me to do my next Great Retreat at Vajrapani Land, I was shown his retreat house. I instantly knew that I would have the same experience he had…The hut is made of plywood, the paint and wood sealer is toxic, it is moldy and the heater is propane. I would go mad in there. Rinpoche told me the house should be torn down, they still let people use it….

This is serious business, especially for meditators who spend all day long inside. What is really frustrating for me is to know what is going on but I don’t have the karma to have people take heed to what I have to say. I was the same, so I can’t expect them to be any different. I can’t prove 100% that the plywood and gas are the cause of these sad stories, but even if it MIGHT be true, the situation is grave enough that this information warrants some consideration. At least we could TRY building healthy buildings on FPMT lands and see if people have better experiences. I am sure they will. We could build houses that offer the cooperative condition to ripen the seeds of calm abiding rather than the seeds of anger and hostility in peoples’ minds. (We have not had a very good success rate at Shinne Land. Even the first nun was full of hostility when she left, I heard. It is so sad to me because I know the gas makes many people very disturbed.) If we are really about preserving the Mahayana Tradition, then, if these toxic chemicals impede people’s ability to meditate, then this information is part of preserving the Mahayana Tradition. Lama wanted us to investigate how to make Tibetan Buddhism work in the west and I am convinced this building information has to be an integral part of the plan. These houses built with toxic chemicals were not in Tibet! This information was not part of Tibetan Culture, but it is part of modern culture. We are foolish to ignore it, in my opinion, of course.

Sumden informed me recently that two or three of the retreatants at Shinne Land decided to test our advice and removed the gas refrigerators and stoves from their small cabins. They report that they are feeling stronger as a result of this rennovation. Maybe we are making some progress after all!

Just recently I attended a week-long retreat at Vajrapani Institute, the place I have suffered some of the worst cases of toxic air poisoning. I began to pay attention to the evenings when I felt the worse at the end of the night. It was the evenings that the windows were shut. After those very same evenings, our greatest living yogi of old Tibet, whose very mentioning of his name brings tears to my eyes, the Jetsun Ribur Rinpoche, would not come to teach the next morning because he had some sort of indigestion. I would also ask other students, the healthy ones, who have no chemical allergies, how they felt during that evening session. “OH,” they would say, “ it was the worst night ever, I couldn’t pay attention at all, my back hurt and I was so sleepy.” When I mentioned this to the Lama’s translator and attendant, “Oh no, Rinpoche doesn’t have those allergies.” They are not allergies, they are simply air poisonings. Those of us who have broken down livers and immune systems just notice it much more intensely. (It is also interesting to note that on those evenings, the cooks were baking below and propane gas is known to cause gastro-intestinal upset.) If I mention my observations to anyone, they look at me like I’m crazy. Or they think this is just Roger and Paula’s problem. I can see it hurts them all.

In 1995, we were fortunate to spend some hours with Geshe Yeshe Tobden, a famous yogi from Dharamsala. He definitely agreed with us and said that for him, the newer a building is, the harder it is to meditate in one. Maybe that is why he preferred to live in his shack that he built for 90 rupees in the early ‘70’s, even after he had many wealthy Italian students.

The reason why “healthy” people, i.e. people with fairly good immune systems, don’t notice the effect the air is having on them is because these are the same people who drink caffeine and alchohol and eat sugar and wear perfume. These stimulants keep you operating at a higher frequency so you don’t notice most of the effects of these chemicals. If they tried to do a retreat without these stimulants, I’ll bet they would notice them immediately. Most of these same “healthy” people suffer from at least one of the following: depression, chronic back pain, arthritis, frequent headaches, insomnia, anxiety, PMS, hypo-thyroidism, sinus allergies, hair trigger anger, forgetfulness….on and on…. which they treat with aspirin and prescription drugs and alchohol. People who have chronic cases of Candida albicans are much more susceptible to experiencing the effects of toxic air. Most people don’t know about Candida, either.

For years, Sumden and I felt rotten and went through periods of mental instability like I had never experienced before. We thought this was due to our purification practices and to the lingering after-affects of hepatitis A and Candida. This is true;–but, when we began to take the toxic chemicals out of our air and food and clothing and bedding, we felt drastic, immediate changes in our body and mind. We had the energy to do what we wanted to do and we never had any more arguments…only if we had been poisoned in someone else’s home. And even then, we knew what the cause was and could stop ourselves. It may be of interest to the reader that we finally were able to understand that toxic air was a major cause of our distress when we completed the preliminary practice of reproducing 100,000 images of Lama Tsong Khapa, the great Tibetan Yogi and Scholar whose teachings became the foundation for the Gelugpa Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. We were, like magic, thrown out of the Dharma Center where we lived in New South Wales, Australia and blown to Adelaide (at least 2,000 miles away) where within three or four days we were taken to Dr. David Mitchell, M.D. – homeopath who had a waiting list three months long! Dr. Mitchell diagnosed all the poison for us.

When we landed at Milarepa Center, in the northeast of Vermont, USA, to begin construction of a small retreat center for the two of us, we knew we had to build non-toxic houses. We didn’t know a lot about it at the time and there was no literature about it in the popular media. We did know that propane gas made us both very angry and tired. Lucky for us, Martha Tack had just become the director and she still commuted to her job at the Harvard School of Design Library. If there was any literature to be found on non-toxic housing, it would be there. Sure enough, every weekend for about two months, Martha would bring us three or four books from the library. It was enough to give us a working knowlege with which to begin construction.

That was in the winter of 1991. By the time we finished our retreat, almost five years later, a critical mass of alarmed citizens had developed to the point where there was a new industry of non-toxic building supplies, catalog companies and stores that sell non-toxic indoor products and paints and glues, etc. The internet now has many sites that sell products and information on how to build non-toxic buildings and rennovate old ones.

It is difficult for me to be patient on this matter. I have spent 20 years in toxic gompas in FPMT and other Dharma centers watching the people’s nose drip with allergies, watching everyone writhe in back and knee pain, watching people fall asleep, or even pass-out during teachings, watching myself (and others) lose control of my emotions after a few hours in those gompas. The ex-India campaigners can’t make it to the morning teachinings, they have such hangovers from the night before. (They are the most susceptible because they, poor dears, have the worst immune systems.) I don’t blame anyone. Nobody knew about these dangers when they built with those materials or installed gas ranges with no vents (which is illegal, by the way) in kitchens beneathe or next to gompas. I just wish someone besides Sumden and me would see the pink elephant in the middle of the gompa and at least develop the wish to make a healthy one! And stop building toxic houses!!!!!!

Some construction workers report of nagging pains, fatigue and forgetful mind but do not equate them with the materials they use. It is not easy to make that connection and if your work depends on it, that makes it even harder. Next to dentistry, the building industry is the slowest to change. And with good reason, there is so much money invested in a house, people are very wary to try something new, in case it fails.

And I am just reporting what I see in my little world. I know that this is the secret cause of so much of the violence and hostility and mental illness and physical disease in America today. Just look at all the children with asthma and attention deficit disorder–and cancer! Not to mention the rising incidence of homocide in children…. These chemicals cause uncontrollable anger and violence; I have seen it in myself! The statistics are skyrocketing, but nobody knows it’s the soap they use and the sheets they sleep on and the rugs they play on and the gas in the kitchen. And the worst part is the chemicals induce the stress, that weakens the immune system, that makes the body have stronger negative reactions to the chemicals, which makes more stress…weaker immune system…more violence… It is an ever increasing downward spiral into total hell. It takes so much time for science to prove these things. The EPA can’t begin to keep up with the amount of new chemical products on the market today. The people who produce them don’t have to test their products’ effects on mice. They don’t really think that far, and they don’t really care, either. (Their minds are too debilitated by the toxic fumes they breathe all day long!–just joking, dear.) For anything to change, it will take a grass roots movement. It is slowly happening, but if I can judge by the reaction I get from my own community, it’s a slow boat to China, this one.

Well, I’ve let out my steam. I’ll put away my curved knife and skull cup and return to a more peaceful aspect…. Now, for some sound information on how to live without toxic chemicals. I will discuss a healthy house in the context of a retreat house, but this information applies to any building–office, shop or home.


Ideally, the best retreat house is one that you can build for yourself that is catered to your specific feng sui and health requirements. Second best is a space you can renovate to suit your personal situation. Third best is a hut that is given to you to use for retreat and you just do the best you can to remedy the already existing feng shui and building materials. You can apply the ideas here to all three situations. Of course, if your retreat is a few weeks or a few months long, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to build a new house just for that….unless you are wealthy and want to build and donate a very nice retreat space for a Dharma Retreat Center. That would be marvellous.

There are basically four parts to designing a realization-facilitating retreat space. Tibetans call it a House of Attainment.

1. Feng-shui

2. Building materials best suited for retreat

3. Energy conservation considerations

4. Features to keep out the local animals and insects

Before I begin, I would like to mention again that this topic is by itself the subject of a whole book that Lama Zopa Rinpoche requested Sumden Lhundrup to write for his students. He is very talented in any aspect of design and is a master of space and form. He has built at least a dozen retreat houses all over the world, of stone, of mud and of wood. He is in a very long retreat and has no space in his life to write that book just now. Maybe he will write that book one day; in the meantime, poisonous houses are erected every year, so I thought to give a little introduction to the subject with references to good books. I have researched information and assisted physically with most of Sumden’s building projects, so I have a fairly good knowledge of the subject. I will do the best I can with a rudimentary review of the basic ideas. There are many websites theses days that offer information and materials on healthy ecosystem-conscious housing. Builders and designers can be contacted on the internet. If you need more assistance than what I offer here, please look there.


For those of you who are new to feng shui (pronounced fung-shway), it is the Chinese science of geomancy. Feng sui teaches how to optimize your living space by understanding how the compass directions and the earth’s magnetism interact with astrology and the elements of fire, water, earth, metal and air. Understanding these influences and their interrelationships shows how to improve the health, life-span, prosperity, wealth, relationships, family, success and personal growth of an individual. Particularly when applied in the design of a building, feng shui teaches how the influences of the elements, directions and astrology produce specific results for indviduals. When working with an already existing building, feng shui gives remedial measures that can be done without any major rennovations. It definitely is real and it definitely works and can produce amazing results when used properly. It is good to note that a person’s karma has a more powerful influence on what happens to them than does feng shui. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore feng shui. It is really important. You can feel it quite easily when you begin to work with it.

Feng Shui is like Chinese Medicine for the environment. Chinese and Tibetan Medicine teach how the elements and the flow of chi inside our body affect our inner experience such as the mental and physical status of our mind and body. Feng Shui teaches how the elements and the flow of chi outside our body affect our outer experience and inner experience such as the status of our relationships, careers, personal growth, health, etc. If you add to this the Vajrayana Buddhist Teachings on how the five elements and their corresponding wisdom qualities affect our secret experience, we have a very exciting system to transform the mundane into the supra-mundane in all aspects of life. All yogis of the past utilized these three realms of knowledge on their path to Enlightenment. When you incorporate these outer, inner and secret element and energy-balancing systems into your life, you discover a very enlightening, stress reducing, virtue and health-encouraging and endlessly interesting lifestyle—and a very interesting and totally pleasing retreat house, too! Feng Shui is a lot of fun because you use color, imagery, materials and space to enhance and enliven the energetic ambiance in a house. You can energize the elements that are weak in your body by energizing those elements’ locations in your house. You energize the parts of your life that need help, like career, health, relationship, by energizing those attributes’ locations in your house. With feng shui, even the smallest retreat hut can fells like a celestial mansion…which means you feel satisfied and happy.

It is very important to remember when you are designing your retreat house that you are going to be in this house every day for months or years without going anywhere else. AND, You spend about 22-23 hours a day inside that house. That is why the air quality is important. This is also why feng shui is so important for a retreat house. It has to be a house that gives comfort, pleasure and some diversity in color, elements and style. With feng shui, even the smallest house can be balanced in earth, fire, air, water and metal elements. This balance promotes contentment which is the basic necessity for a successful retreat. You don’t need to give yourself cabin fever! It’s hard enough to keep lung away without having to contend with a toxic, psychologically stuffy house.

My good friend Judy Weitzner first introduced me to feng shui in 1987 when she asked me to ask my friend, Ron Rhoades, to look for a feng shui book at his job with Book People, a large distributor of “alternative” books in Berkeley, CA. There weren’t many books on feng shui then in English, the one that turned up at Book People opened up a whole new way of looking at the natural world for me. When we left India in 1990 to figure out where to do our Great Retreats, we stopped in Singapore and I was able to find more books there. It was all very complicated to me, calculating astrolgy and all these diagrams of room layouts, compass calculations, etc. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. The only part I could understand was about the auspicious land forms to look for when placing a house. I found a perfect site in the 400 acres of forest at Milarepa Center. That may have saved our lives! It was a south facing slope on the side of Barnet Mountain, where the land leveled out for a couple of acres; the land mass to the east was slightly higher than the land mass to the west (the green dragon and the white tiger). There was a lake in front and a stream running north-south to the east.

When we began our next retreat center project at Land of Medicine Buddha. Again, I bought what seemed like the best book on Feng Shui and, again, I couldn’t put the effort into deciphering all the compass calculations; it just seemed so complicated. Six months later, after we had framed and half-finished the buildings, our Jetsun Lama Zopa Rinpoche arrived with his new-found interest in Feng Shui AND he brought his new feng-shui teacher, Lillian Too, to Land of Medicine Buddha. What an incredible blessing Lillian has brought to all of Rinpoche’s students. Lillian writes very easy to understand books on Feng Sui!!! They are simply stunning! Too bad they weren’t in the book stores where I went looking…..not yet published.

Lillian’s book, The Complete Illustrated Guide fo Feng Shui, is excellent and totally user-friendly. I recommend it to everyone. I recommend all her books. It only takes a few hours to learn the basics. You figure out your birth element (wind, water, etc) and find out what your best directions are, make a grid of your house or office and assess your situation. Lillian gives excellent cures or remedies if you find harmful feng shui in your house, like the house faces an inauspicious direction for you, things like that. If you are about to design a house, then you draw the nine part layout of the bagua that is specific to you and design your house around that. This makes it easy to figure out where to put the altar, the kitchen, the bed, etc.; which direction to face while you practice and sleep and eat and cook, all these things are part of feng shui.

There are three main schools of feng shui, as far as I know: (1) the form school, which describes auspicious land forms, where to put a building on the site you have; (2) the compass school which tells you how to orient the building and all the inside rooms for maximum benefit, colors to use, how to use the elements to your advantage; and (3) the flying start school, which is based on the astrology of the building and of the inhabitant. Flying star basically tells you where the chi is flowing in the building, so you know where to site the activities you will be doing inside. This is not covered in Lillian’s Complete Illustrated Guide, but she does have a book on it or you can get help from Bill Kane. If I were to build another house, I would base it more on the form and compass school because the flying star changes every seven years. You may have to change the roof or change a door every seven years. I don’t know if I will have resources to do that, but if you do… go right ahead! The feng shui masters say the flying star is the most important. My experience tells me that a lot of power comes from learning and working with the compass school, which Lillian describes very well and with lots of illustrations.

Here is what Lama Zopa Rinpoche has to say about Feng Shui. The following is a letter Rinpoche wrote to all the FPMT center directiors in October of 1997:

“The main causes of success and diffficulties are good karma and negataive karma. However, there are also external conditions that contribute both to success and prosperity and also to problems. These outer conditions can be created by setting up the correct fengshui inside one’s house, and in the external surroundings. So these are conditions to bring success to stop problems.

When good karma is very strong, external and internal conditions will change naturally due to the power of good karma, even without any application of feng shui. However, having an understanding of feng shui can help. Correct application of feng shui can help to solve these problems depending on how extensively one applies the correct feng shui. This can be true even in the case of the FPMT centers that have been developed for many years and are doing quite well due to much purification, merits, and correct Dharma understanding.

Within the organization, we are building retreat centers and setting up city centers, so we need many things to benefit the Dharma successfully. When there is much harmony and finances and when things go well, people have more space in the mind to develop compassion and a good heart. In this way, they are able to continue their practice without so pressure, worry , and fear in running the center. Also, people tend to be more mentally clear and physically healthy. Of course, for bodhisattvas the harder it is the happier they are because of the opportunity to sacrifice their life and bear hardships for others.

I feel that the first, best, and biggest benefit and the main solution is the Dharma. I think feng shui is the next most important solution to help others and stop the normal problems that people always talk about–relationships, job, health, education, wealth and long life.

I would also like to request all the centers to put a picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the southwest or northwest part of the director’s office at the center also the gompa (the meditation hall), in order to create the causes for His Holiness to guide us.”

There is one factor in feng shui that I’m not sure you will find in Lillian Too’s books and that is the value of putting holy objects in your retreat house. Lama Zopa Rinpoche shows us the value of the presence of holy objects in our environment all the time, but we aren’t so quick to catch on to it. I think it is because of our Christian upbringing. I can hear the words resounding in my head, “Thou shalt not bow down to graven images!” I don’t think this is a conscious thought, we just don’t quite get it when it comes to statues. Rinpoche once told me that there are two great obstacles for western people: (1) not believing in the infallibility of the law of cause and effect and (2) having no faith in the power of holy objects. Sumden is totally in tune with the power of holy objects and his influence has given me the opportunity to see the effect with my own experience. ..Which is what it takes for most of us. I include a teaching Rinpoche gave on this subject when Rinpoche blessed my meditation room. The walls are totally covered in pictures of Gurus and Buddhas and Deities…almost all of them were given to me by Sumden.


( from a video of Lhundup Nyingje’s retreat house taken by Ven. Brian Halterman)

Sumden Lhundrup describes features of the retreat house:

This room is particularly built with sound-proofing features to keep out noise and the summer heat. It has double windows so there are four panes of glass, the walls are about 12 inches thick, lots of insulation in them. I put in a false ceiling with r-50 insulation so the room is much quieter than the rest of the building and it’s much cooler in the summer and warmer and drier in the winter . This whole house is built with non-toxic materials, so you can keep the windows closed if you want to. You can keep the house closed up in winter and not get cabin fever. This building is also built to Paula’s auspicious feng sui. She sits in her success corner, facing her most powerful feng sui direction. The elements are enhanced in their corners. We used feng sui to pick the colors for the house and where to put the kitchen, bathing, sleeping areas, etc. We were careful to remedy all the sha chi (negative chi) by rounding all the corners and using crystals at the doors and windows. Bill Kane offered the flying star precscription, which, among other things, included building a metal mountain in the front of the house, a large water feature at the back and a large wind chime over the front door. For the metal mountain we built up a foundation of stones and on top of that we put a 50 gallon drum filled with 1500 Mitukpa tsa-tsas. We painted the drum gold and put on top a brass 10 inch stupa and a 18 inch garden-style Buddha statue painted gold. Inside the meditation room, you notice there are lots and lots of pictures of Gurus, Deities and Buddhas on the walls and this is through the inspiration of Rinpoche. The reason for that is so that are more objects to create virtue-merit, all the offerings become more meaningful and all the practice becomes more meaningful. So, this is a new tradition, a lot of photo-copied Buddhas everywhere.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s response to the room filled with holy objects:

It is mentioned in the King of Concentration Sutra, even if you see a drawing of Buddha on a stone wall, even out of anger, it causes gradually to see ten millions of Buddhas. Ten millions of Buddhas, like the hundreds of deities of Tushita doesn’t just mean a hundred, it means MANY. Even if the motivation is total non-virtue, black, due to the power of the holy object, the power of the Buddha, it creates so much power and inconceivable qualities because Buddha has achieved inconceivable qualites, which Buddha has accomplished by being free from all the defilements which is derived from the great compassion that is generated towards all sentient beings, including us. Due to the power of holy objects, the mind is purified. Just by seeing a holy object, it purifies the mind, the defilements and obscurations. It purifies the mind and plants the seed of enlightenment plus liberation from samsara and all these things. Then in the future the seed is planted for the mind to become more developed on the path to enlightenment, more and more to be able to see more and more numbers of Buddhas. Then, of course, ultimately you are able to become one with the numberless Buddhas. That also means that you become able to achieve the Guru, which means the absolute Guru, the dharmakaya of the Buddha’s holy mind. Your mind becomes oneness with the Dharmakaya, the Guru’s Holy Mind; this is the definition of achieving the Guru.

So, with all these, every single painting of Buddha, pictures, statues; each time you open the eye, each time you wake, you see Buddhas. Each time you open your eye, you see holy objects. Each time you open your eye, each time you wake up from sleep, you plant the seed of Enlightenment, not just one, but so many hundreds of seeds of Enlightenment. So that’s a simple way to make life so meaningful. In my house in Aptos, the offering room and my room are filled with holy pictures: the Guru Puja merit field, Medicine Buddha, Thirty-five Buddhas and others. When other people come, if they put their palms together, during that short visit– one minute two minutes, whatever– if there are one thousand pictures of Buddha, they create one hundred thousand causes of Enlightenment during that minute. That’s the highest achievement, liberation from samsara, that many causes. Then, they also create one hundred thousand causes for good rebirth next life. It’s not just creating one good karma to receive a good rebirth next life. It’s not just one time, not just one hundred thousand times, because karma is expandable.

So therefore, now, if there are one hundred thousand pictures of Buddha, when people put palms together, they create the cause for inconceivable numbers of lifetimes of good rebirth. So just by putting your palms together and prostrating to the pictures and holy objects each time when you enter into the room, you create that inconceivable merit.

Generally it is mentioned in the Sutra you achieve eight benefits if you put your palms together to one statue, to one Buddha. In the future lives you achieve a perfect body, that means with all the perfect senses with the beautiful shape and color, like that. You receive perfect surrounding people who support you so that all the holy wishes will be fulfilled, to benefit other sentient beings, to practice Dharma, able to live in morality. Without morality, you have no basis for realizations, such as shamatha, great insight and all these things.

The cause to achieve realization of the whole path to liberation and enlightenment is devotion. Without devotion, you cannot receive the blessing s of the Guru; without blessings, you cannot achieve realizations. So, these benefits you get from putting the palms together (and prostrating to holy objects) are very important. The next benefit you receive (from putting palms together to holy objects) is the brave heart to do things in public for others, to serve the teachings of the Buddha; then one gets born in deva or human realm next life. Then next one is very important: the cause to achieve the aryan path. There are five paths to achieve enlightenment, merit, preparation, right seeing path, path of meditation, no more learning. If you achieve the Mahayana Aryan Path, the path of right seeing, the third one, from there you will overcome death, cycle of death and rebirth, old age, sicknesses, sufferings of samsara. So good bye sufferings of samsara. That’s what happens, like an apple a day, good-bye doctor. So here, by achieving this right seeing path, good-bye oceans of samsaric suffering which continuation has no beginning. Good-bye. When you acheive Mahayana aryan path, arhat, also you overcome all those suferings, the cycle of death and rebirth. In tantra, when you have achieved the graduated path of generation and completion stage, when you come to the isolation of body, isolation of speech and mind, that which is clear light, illusory body, unification those two, the unification of no-more learning. So when you achieve clear light, at that time, you over come the cycle of death and rebirth, so it is the Aryan path. In Tantra the Aryan path is the clear light of meaning, there is clear light of example and clear light of meanin which is the extremely subtle wisdom directly seeing emptiness. So in tantra, when you have clear light ,you are free from the cycle of death and rebirth. So therefore its very important to put palms together to pictures of Buddhas and statues, you get that benefit to acheive the aryan path and the last one is enlightenment.

Then there are also ten benefits mentioned in the sutras; therefore, whether it is a family house or an individual house, if you have space, put many many pictures, outside inside, but not disrespectfully. Sometimes people use holy objects as decoration and put them in a disrespectful place. You shouldn’t do like that, you should place them respectfully; then, it is very good. I started this tradition after reading about its benefits, and in Taiwan I have seen thousands of Lama Tsong Khapa merit fields in the students’ houses– whole bundles stacked on the altar and also they offer the Christmas light offerings. The Taiwanese students started two things: the extensive offerings and the many pictures.


If you are building a structure on a virgin piece of earth, you may want to perform a ritual called The Great Slithering One to ask permission of the local earth spirits to build a house there before you break ground. I have put this in an appendix. It is a good idea to do this because it can prevent future disasters and minor obstacles to the building and those who dwell in it.

When you design a retreat house, the first thing to do is to decide how big your house or hut will be. This is mostly dependent on your budget but also on the site. Next, look at the site. Spend some time there and get the “feel” of the place. I heard a famous architect say that you should pick out where you want the garden first and design the house around that, i.e., design the landscape in which the house will sit. A house should feel connected to the garden. A good house design will invite the inhabitant to walk outside to be in the garden. Find out where your water source is and how you will get it to your house. Figure out the best way to set the house so that there is good water drainage all around the site. Read the feng shui books on house placement, find the site that maximizes your potential for the white tiger, the green dragon, the black turtle and the red phoenix (all names for land forms on the four sides of a house). Match the land to your personal good directions and overall feng shui lay out. Look at the compass directions. Make sure the land is stable. Don’t put a house on a hill or near a cliff if it is going to slide down, obviously. A steep site is not good feng shui because the chi is always falling away from the house. If the house is not on a flat spot, but isn’t on a steep place, you can take some time to level the land where the house is going to be. Sumden always takes the time to do this before he builds a house. He makes sure there is good drainage all around that level spot he prepares and then he builds a solid foundation on level ground. This is not only good feng sui, it also provides a level circumnambulation path around the house, which is a very, very nice attribute for a house . It is so relaxing to just amble around your house, doing walking meditation or recite prayers. Circumnambulation is a practice like prostrations, and when done with Bodhicitta motivation, brings great blessings to your mind and body. It is also just easier to build a house on level ground. If the hut is small enough, you can level the land with a shovel. Place the house so it will maximize solar gain. This means there are many windows on the south side and not so many on the north. (Of course, this is just the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere.) If you don’t have good feng shui directions in the south and east (in N. Hemisphere), you don’thave to put the front door in those directions, but you can still have many windows on that side.

Draw the feng shui bagua that will promote your good health and good qualities. Design the inside lay out of your house around that bagua. This will tell you where to put the kitchen, the meditation area, sleeping area, which way to face when sleeping, meditating, the bath, the fire, etc. Find ways to eliminate the sha chi, like making rounded corners on the walls. (Incidentally, I learned from the small apartments in New York City that you can have a bathtub any where in your house. It doesn’t have to be near the toilet. You can have a bath tub in your house and a toilet outside your house. For retreat, this is best.)

About sleeping and meditating in retreat: Years ago, Sumden and I met an abbot from one of the Gelukpa monasteries. I am sorry, I have forgotten his name. This kind Kyenpo had completed a great retreat and he gave us some advice on how to do one. He put a lot of emphasis on separating the meditation seat and the bed. He said not to sleep where you meditate because this will tend to make your meditations drowsy. When you sleep, sleep well, with your legs outstretched so you can rest properly with good chi circulation. When you meditate, meditate properly, with your legs in vajra position so you mind is alert with good chi circulation. Don’t have the bed or the meditation seat on the floor. Elevate them so chi will flow under you and so you won’t loose kidney chi or be unnecessarily cold.

Because of this advice, even when our meditation huts were only 7 ft.x 7 ft. (2.3 m x 2.3 m), the bed was along one wall and the meditation box was along the opposite wall, facing the bed. The altar was above the bed. That was all that was in the hut. The beds had to be only two feet wide to accomodate this configuration. Poor Sumden, he is a extra-large tall man, he could barely fit in is bed! I was okay. The meditation seats were as high as the bed and were 3 ft.x 2.5 ft. We had storage under the meditation seat. Still, we are really glad we set the huts up like this. The kind Khyenpo was right.

Another important factor to consider when planning your house is ventilation. Make sure there are windows on all four sides of the house, so that air can flow through all parts of the house when the windows are open. Two sides is okay if you have a small retreat hut. You must be able to air the house out with fresh air. In the corner of the house where my kitchen and library are, the window stayed shut all the time because I took the screen out because this was the window where my stove sits just outside of it. (See the section on gas). The whole house would fill up with the glue and print fumes from the books, which, unless the printer uses soy-based inks, are very toxic. I made a screen to fit the stove window, I leave the window open now and I notice a huge improvement in house air-quality. My energy level took another leap up.

Obviously, if you plan and design with great detail, you will have a much more satisfactory result. I have to thank my friend Melissa Washburn, an architect who uses feng sui, because she made me sit down and draw my own bagua and come up with my own design, and then, she began to talk to me. This way the house grows out of the owner’s creative process, enhanced by an architect. This makes for a very successful house-building adventure. Houses always seem to take twice as long as you think they will to build and twice as much money, too. If you have a limited budget, think you have only half or two-thirds of what you actually have when you plan. A house is only half finished when you get the outside done. The finish work takes a long time. That’s where that money goes. If you are hiring a builder, be sure you know what you want and stick to it. Take the time to look into alternatives before doing what your builder is used to. If you have a builder who will not do what you want and acts like he knows more about your house than you do, get another builder. If you have the time to build your own house, this is best …at least be able to supervise the builders. You will be happier that way.


When Sumden was preparing to build his house at Shinne Land, he was fortunate to be living with our Jetsun Zopa Rinpoche. (All of Rinpoche’s feng shui books just happened to arrive from Nepal at this time.) Rinpoche did mo’s (divinations) on what type of material would be best for a retreat hut. Adobe or rammed earth came out best; then straw bale, last was the conventional wood stud framed house that is standard in USA–even the non-toxic version. I hear that the rammed earth monastery, Thubten Shedrup Ling, in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia is perfectly wonderful. Straw bale also appeals to me because it is so fast and so cheap. People unfamiliar with this method don’t understand that they are covered in stucco and are quite waterproof. You have no influence from the straw, it is airtight sealed inside the wall. In Nebraska, USA, they have been building with straw bales for over a hundred years. It is labor intensive but only for the placing of the bales on a concrete slab. The videos I have seen show 10 people working for a weekend and all the walls are up in two days.

Straw bale, rammed earth and adobe bricks appeal to me because of their quiet quality and their thermal conservation. I lived in a 200 year old adobe house in New Mexico and it was marvellously cool in the summer and toasty warm in the winter. Straw would be the same. There is such a nice earthy grounded feeling to them. The reason we never used these materials is because our retreat sites have always been in remote areas and you need a good concrete poured foundation for these house types. That was just too much work for us to do by hand. When you build with straw bales, all you do is lay the concete slab with reebar as long as the proposed walls sticking up all around the edges, make the window, door and roof frames; haul in the bales and impale them on the reebar like you stack bricks. Stucco the outside and inside, put up the roof and you are done! If I built another 10×10’ hut, or 10x 20’ hut, I’d do that….only make it 12×12 on outside so it’d by 10×10 on the inside. Two foot thick walls would be like a cave!

A really good feature you can include in a cement base for the floor is to put pipes for hot water into the cement. The water can be solar heated or wood-heated and all winter long is heated from the floor. There’s no smoke fumes to contend with and the warm floor is simply luxurious–and really good for your kidney chi! There are books that tell how to do this.

Yurts are quick and cheap but unless you can get them imported from Mongolia made of homemade wool flannel, they are generally made of plywood, which is toxic. Yurts are not very thermal efficient and are hot in summer and cold in winter. It’s a personal choice. We lived in a canvas and wood yurt for a few months and it was miserable in the winter in northern California…damp and moldy. Mold makes you really sick. They are probably okay in a high altitude desert where the winters are dry and aren’t too cold and the summer’s aren’t too hot–or if you insulate them.

Most major cities have recycled building material businesses. You can get windows, doors, sinks, bathtubs, all kinds of good junk, even good unused lumber sometimes. It’s good for your budget and good for the planet. I have learned from the carpenters that doors are best to buy with their frames. Making a door frame can be very time-consuming. It depends on what you have more of time, or skill or money.

If you are going to use the standard stud constructed wooden house, there are several things you can do to make them more user-friendly. First, use 2×6’s instead of 2×4’s for the stud frame. I would even use 2x 8’s if the house is small and you can afford it. The thick walls comes closer to the quieting and thermal conserving effect of the thick walls of adobe or straw bale. I’ll just list the rest of the non-toxic adjustments:

–Take the paper off of the fiberglass insulation before you put it in the walls and ceiling. Fiberglass is just glass, but the paper and glue is toxic.

–Put a layer of visquene plastice between the fiberglass and the sheetrock. This is a vapor barrier.

–On the outside of the studs, wrap the house with housewrap like tyvek. This lets the moisture out but keeps the wind out.

–Instead of plywood for the shear factor for stability, you can order a product called Hardi-Panel, which comes from Australia originally. It comes in 3×8 or 3×10 and probably 3×12, or 4×8, 4×12, etc. You put it up over the studs where builders usually put plywood and then attach a siding to the plywood. The Hardi-panel does both of this at once. It looks like stucco when it is finished. It is fireproof which is another good feature. It is made of cement and wood fiber, no toxic chemicals. It doesn’t smell at all.

–For the roof, instead of plywood, you can do it the old-fashioned way by laying 1×8’s on top of the roof frame and attach a fire-proof roof to that–. They make large shingles, like 2×4 ft.out of material similar to Hardi-panel or you can get a metal roof. That rolled roofing stuff is flammable, toxic and only lasts twenty years or so, it is cheap in the short-run, but not so in the long term, and if the house is in the forest, it’s not fire-proof at all!

—If you are building a small super low budget small hut, you could just use corrogated sheet metal for the siding and roofing if you sealed it well with caulk and those wood strips that fit the corrugations. You see houses like that in Australia and some of the original buildings at Shinne land are built this way and they are holding up well, must have been built 50-70 years ago…

–For the sealing caulk, use the 100% silicone caulk. It is toxic for a couple of weeks until it cures, then it is fine. So while you are building it’s okay to use. The other caulks can outgas toxic chemicals for months and months, so READ LABELS. Make sure you seal the house well before you move in to keep out the drafts and the insects. By this I mean, put caulk all around where the subfloor meets the sheet rock and all around the window frame.

–To avoid plywood on the subfloor, you can either lay down a layer on the diagonal, above the floor joists of 1×8 pine or fir or cedar; or you can dispense with the subfloor and use a good tongue and groove 1×6. Remember to put plastic under the floor and to insulate the floor well. We turned our floor frames on their sides and stapled hardware wire all along the bottom on top of the plastic and then laid the insulation inside of that. NO mice problems.

–We put in a hardwood floor once and made our own goop to go between the cracks by mixing hardwood sawdust with casein glue (made from milk), which you can order from a company called The Natural Choice in New Mexico. It worked fine. It must be what they used before petrochemicals hit the building industry. There are cork floorings now and also real linoleum is also non-toxic. There are softwood tongue and groove wood floorings also. Ceramic or stone tile floors are totally safe. Just be careful what you use to seal the tiles. Look for a tile sealer in the alternative catalogs, they are there.

–Some of my greatest discomfort in buildings comes from the varathane and urethane wood sealers people put on floors and furniture and built-in cabinets and bookcases.

There are many chemically-safe alternatives on the market now. I fee so sad when I go inside new gompas and smell that stuff and feel my headache and fatigue coming on when I know there are perfectly good alternatives available.

–There are also wall -paints, water sealers for decks (Stay away from Thompson’s Water Seal) stains, etc.available that have zero VOC(volatile organic compounds). Many of them can be found in regular hardware stores. There are catalogs listed in the reference section and I’m sure the internet has even more. You can learn a lot just from reading the catalogs.

–Sumden built in most of the furniture in the houses he has built, like the bed, the altar, the meditation seat, kitchen cabinets, etc. This saves space in small huts and it looks cool, too! If you bring in second hand wood furniture or cloth chairs, they are likely to be covered in a toxic substance. In a small retreat hut, you can build your own. We found that redwood, which is still cheaper than buying hardwood, has no offensive substances. Pine can cause allergic reactions for many people, and even if you don’t start out with one, a house full of it could make one. Redwood is a lot prettier than douglas fir. Cedar is smiliar to pine in its smell quality. He also used leftover hardi-panel for shelves, etc.

–For the indoor soft things like meditation cushion, mattress, pillows…you can make your own or have them made by futon people or buy them ready made out of organic cotton and untreated raw wool for stuffing. It works great. I made our futons for our retreat houses at Milarepa Center. It wasn’t hard to find a source for the wool. There are organic type businesses most everywhere now. I purchased it from a futon-making business. First we made a huge splurge and had futons made for us, but the law required them to spray fire retardant on them and we couldn’t stand that. I tried unsuccessfully to wash it out. Then I made some. If you can’t make them, you can buy non-toxic futons in catalogs now but it’s really cheap and easy to make your own. And there are also local futon companies that will make large thick organic wool and cotton meditation cushions… like 2.5x 2.5 feet to go in a meditation box..whatever size you wish.

–Be careful of the fabrics you choose for curtains, too. I bought ready made cotton curtains this time and they were fine after three washings. Make sure you wash fabrics at least three times in non-toxic soap (we use Dr.Bronner’s) before bringing them into your retreat space. If you sprinkle water on cotton fabric and the water immediately absorbs into the cloth, the cloth is okay. If it beads up and sits there, you need to wash it more. Your clothing can be a major source of indoor air pollution so check it out.

Plywood, particle board, all the wood products that are not solid wood are glued together with toxic glues. Outdoor plywood is less toxic than indoor plywood so if you insist on plywood, you can use the outdoor stuff indoors. It does outgas and an older house is less likely to cause a problem. I live in five year old plywood house now. I still have dark circles under my eyes from my allergy to the formaldehyde in the plywood, but because I have eliminated most other forms of toxicity, although I look ugly, I don’t feel ugly anymore…I feel great! New plywood can be a really killer and can set off chemical sensitivites you never before experienced. That happened to me. I’d stay away from it if you can. If you live in a plywood house, there is a company called Pace Chemical that makes a wood sealer and wall-paint, called Crystal Aire, that seals out most of the formaldehyde that is out-gassing from the plywood. If you use plywood in a new building, then cover it with Crystal Aire afterwards or put Crystal Shield paint. or some similar product…better to avoid the plywood or particle board.


1. MOLD. Mold is an organism thrives on moist environments and emits toxic fumes. Unless you live in the desert, you must be very careful to keep the house dry in the wet season. If you live where there is a hot humid summer and you have electricity, a de-humidifier is a very good investment. People who have had Candida for years, even if they get rid of it, are highly sensitive to mold. It will cause all the symptoms the Candida caused. Candida is also a mold. If you can’t use a de-humidifier, or even if you can, keep your walls and floors especially clean in summer and watch out for signs of mold–check out the places regularly that aren’t in the path of regular air flow.

Mold is a major obstacle at the two Santa Cruz area Dharma Centers. The housing for the transient workers is made of plywood, often have leaky gas appliances, leaky wood stoves and are moldy. Because they are vacant for periods of time, the mold accumulates. I think it is fair to say that people who are attracted to work at Dharma Centers, are more often than not people who have experienced a higher than average amount of psychological trauma in their lives. These people are the ones who are more likely to be senstive to molds, gas, formaldehyde, etc. (Trauma and stress deplete the adrenal gland function which causes chemical sensitivity.) It is no wonder that their mental and physical well-being degenerates while they are there and they don’t stay l ong. They go seeking refuge and just get worse and we, in all our Buddhist wisdom say, ”Oh, too bad, it’s purification.” I think we can help people more than just giving them conditions for their bad karma to ripen! This has happened to me and to other people I know. A very bright, but very sensitive person, just recently had to leave Vajrapani Institute with a serious case of depression. If I lived in the house he was living in, I’d be exactly, well, not exactly, but similarly, the same way. If we want to build healthy communities, we need healthy buildings. Simple isn’t it? Why is it so hard for people to see this?

2. DUST MITES. Dust mites are microscopic insects that live on the skin that falls off our bodies in our beds and clothes. Many people are allergic to their dander, like people who are allergic to cats and dogs. A lot of people don’t realize it. You can alleviate that by purchasing special covers for your mattress and pillowcases. They are found in the same catalogs that provide products that don’t use toxic chemicals.

3. WOOD SMOKE. If you have a wood stove for heat (and even if you don’t) you must air out your house everyday–open up all the windows for a few minutes, even when it is cold. I once met a woman in her eighties who lived out on a farm in rural Vermont and she was still active in her garden and chopped all her own wood. She said it was because she aired out her house really well, every day. And in Vermont it gets unbelievably cold in the winter! We lived in Colorado for three winters and every winter we would hear the story of the hunting party that went to a cabin in the woods, loaded up the wood stove, went to sleep and never woke up. They died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Commercial wood stoves tend to leak gasses like carbon monoxide as well as smoke. In a small retreat hut, this can be quite a source of chronic fatique, even if you still air out the house everyday. Sumden has designed and had a welder build two different sized wood stoves that are completely sealed on the inside of the house. They are basically a sheet iron box that fits into the wall from the outside of the house. The door and the smoke stack are on the outside of the house. All that is inside is the heating box of burning wood. They work really, really well. I’ve often thought he should patent them and give them to someone to market. They would be so great in small retreat houses. For Lamas like Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche who have lung diseases, they would be so perfect. They probably developed those lung diseases from the wood smoke in their mountain huts. For the general public who live in larger houses they could really help people who are so chemically senstive they can’t use gas heat and wood stoves are the only unsatisfactory alternative.

Even if you aren’t sensitive to woodsmoke and gasses now, if you spend a few winters in retreat inside a small house with a leaky wood stove, I guarantee you will be. You have to remember, on retreat, you are inside about 23 hours a day, in the same house. This is very different to most other lifestyles. The retreat house I live in now had a large wood stove in it already. My woodsmoke sensitivity is not all that great, I thought, so I left it and we didn’t install one of Sumden’s stoves. I noticed the second winter that it does bother me (the smoke and gasses leak out the door), so I only burn one fire a day. It rarely freezes here in northern California and I spent most of my time wrapped up in a red wool blanket in my meditation box. I light the fire at the lunch break. If it is really cold, I may refuel it a second time, but I always notice it effects me. It’s usually about 50 degrees in the morning and evening…not too cold. If I move to another retreat hut one day, I will definitely use one of Sumden’s design stove. If you put the Sumden’s stove in a wall near a door with a large roof overhang, it isn’t much trouble to go outside to start the fire. The results are far greater than that little effort.

FOAM INSULATION. In the mid-1970’s, when the first energy crises hit North America, someone developed a foam insulation that could be sprayed inbetween the outer and inner walls of all the old houses that had no insulation. A few years later, Canada banned its use after its effects on health were discovered. Unfortunately, as usual, the industrial lobbies were too influential to pass such legislation in the U.S.A. Go Granny Dee!!! ( Granny Dee is the 90+ year old woman who recently walked across the U.S. to publicize the need for campaign finance reform to return democracy to America.) This stuff is really killer. The main toxic ingredient is formaldehyde, I recall, the same that is in plywood.

With all good intentions, they did this to the house at Milarepa Center. They took an 200 year old farm house, blew poison into the walls, took all the old paint off the interior wood work (floors, bannisters, window and door frames, doors) and replaced it with poisonous varathane. They quit using the wood fired basement furnace that supplied clean heat to all the rooms and installed wood stoves on the first floor. Now the basement is so moldy, you have to hold your breath to go down there, and of course, the mold permeates the entire building. There is no septic tank ; the toilet goes into the creek, so they installed two indoor outhouses that smell really great, let me tell you! This was all done with good intentions as house improvement but that house is so sick it is no wonder at all in my mind that nobody stays there except for the devoted and good-hearted founder whose heart and soul is inseparable from the place.–(and who developed cancer after he rennovated the house with all those great new—highly toxic—materials.)

CLEANING PRODUCTS AND PERFUMES. The two main sources of pollution here are petro-chemical products and formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a main ingredient in most perfumes, skin cream fragrances, after-shaves, etc. Make-up. Laundry detergent, dish detergent, floor cleaners and waxes…all that stuff. There are alternatives available at all major health food stores and in the catalogs. We use Dr. Bronner’s soap for clothes, body and dishes. You can use washing soda or borax if your clothes need extra cleaning. Don’t use chorine bleach. Beware of sponges,too. You can use steel wool and an organic cotton dish-cleaning cloth for your dishes. Be careful what you put in your car, too. And make sure you know what they are putting in your car at the car wash. Armour-all is another killer product! In Dr. Theron Randolph’s revolutionary book on allergies that was published in the ‘70’s, I think, he talks about one of his child patients who was extremely angry and uncontrollable by his parents. He got worse everyday after dinner. Dr. Randolph figured out that it was the dish-washing detergent the mother used! The smell would permeate the house and the boy would throw a trantrum. They got rid of the soap and the problem was gone. Even if you don’t have allergies, I strongly urge you to throw out the Tide, Cheer, the Joy or whatever commercial detergent you use and go to the health food store for your washing needs. Even a lot of those are no good. Why? Because they are full of phosphates that pollute the water and it all goes to the ocean you know! Little froggies all over the planet are going extinct!

PHENOLS. Phenols are gasses that come out of plastics. They are what you smell in your new car, the TV, the stereo, the computer. Right now I am sitting at this at least seven year old Macintosh powerbook in between the screen door and a window. I get a headache from the lap top otherwise. I used to think it was just eyestrain. Some of it is just the electromagnetism coming out of the screen.

FABRICS AND FABRIC TREATMENTS. Scotch guard and the water repelling agents put on couches and chairs can make you sick. A dentist we had in Vermont told us he washes his new clothes three times before he wears them to get out the formaldehyde they put on to make them look fresh and new. Ever notice how light-headed you feel or how absent-minded you get in a fabric store or a department store or a K-mart? Just stand in the detergent section in Super market for five minutes and check out your mind. Be careful of second-hand clothes, too. They may have a nasty chemical in them that you can’t wash out. Generally, they are okay, but if it is wool, really watch out, you cannot wash out the PERC. I would not advise buying second hand wool items.

DRY CLEANING. PERC (perchloroethylene), a chemical they use in dry-cleaning is a known carcinogen. People in the dry-cleaning industry have cancer rates six times higher than average. There are safe alternatives to PERC and some dry cleaners use them. Check out your local market.

CARPETS, especially synthetic carpets, are one of the greatest sources of indoor air pollution. And it doesn’t go away with years of wear. Wool and cotton are generally okay, but you are much safer if you buy from a store that can gurantee it is pure wool and has not preservatives or water-repellents put on it. Many carpet stores are aware of this now and sell non-toxic carpets for the well-informed customer. Again, the internet is a good source for locating one in your area. In New York State they passed a law where the carpets have to have a health warning sign on them like cigarretes do. The healthy house books discourage any use of wall-to-wall carpeting. They are often laid right over the plywood, they trap dust and dirt, which go moldy and they are generally toxic. You can’t pick them up, clean them and air them out like you can with throw rugs It’s better to buy wool or cotton throw rugs. You can support the Tibetan refugees that way, too!

CANDLES. When I lived in a tiny retreat house, I discovered that the candle on my altar was the source of my insomnia…which I had never experienced before. I notice all candles bother me, even the beeswax ones, although they are much better. Butter lamps are fine. When the Jetsun Lama Zopa Rinpoche was staying in a small room at Deer Park in Madison, he filled his room up every night with candles. The air was really bad. Sumden and Brandon Beznoska replaced them all with those Christmas electric “candles”. The dark circles under Rinpoche’s eyes disappeared immediately.

Tim Moran recently gave me a coil of copper wire that holds a cotton wick he made out of cotton string braided together. He gave be a gallon of lowest food grade olive oil. It works quite well in a 6” butter lamp from Tibet or Nepal that Sumdem gave to me. Electric light offerings are the cleanest, and karmically very clean if you generate your own electricity with the sun.

BOOKS: Keep your books in a part of the house that has extra good ventilation. The glues and inks on most books are really toxic. Printers don’t have to use those inks anymore, soy-based inks work great and are totally safe. Sumden bakes his new books by putting them in a plastic storage container, standing up and opened, with a piece of plastic sheeting or glass on top in the sun for a few days. Second hand books are much better–unless they are moldy!

STORAGE OF TOXIC MATERIALS: If you have gasoline, chain saws, weed-wackers, kersosene, house paint, caulk, etc…DO NOT STORE THEM IN THE SAME BUILDING THAT YOU LIVE IN. Even in a basement, they will leak into your living space. I keep mine in my privy and I bought one of those tiny outdoor plastic storage boxes for Elaine, the other resident here. They are basically an enclosed set of shelves. Even cardboard boxes can be a problem for some people.


Would you run your car inside the house and let the exhaust fumes fill up your airspace? This is similar to what happens every time you cook a meal on a gas range without the vent going. The gas has no smell, so people don’t notice it’s effect on them. What you smell in raw propane gas is a garlic smell they add to it so people will know when gas is leaking. The burning gas is also full of toxic chemicals. Of course, not everyone has the same degree of reaction to the gas. But it is very difficult to tell if you do or not. Notice how you feel after cooking a meal. Are you tired because you ate a big meal or is it the gas? People who cook a lot on gas, like professional cooks, often have chronic neck stiffness and pain. This is from gas. Unions warn chef apprentices about the frequency of developing alchoholism in thier profession. One of the main reasons chef’s drink is to calm their nerves, the gas makes them nervous, uptight and irritable. Alchohol allows them to maintain some clarity and composure in their minds while they breathe gas all day long. I began to develop my senstivity to gas after I spent two summers cooking on the unvented gas ranges at Vajrapani Institute. After I left there, I spent a year in a house with a leaking gas range. Since then, gas makes me feel intoxicated, tired and my brain stops activating its ability to inhibit quick emotional responses.


As for the gas heaters, I’d use wood before gas, even if it is vented–especially if your retreat hut is in a forest. Some people object to the idea of using wood because they say you kill insects. I have never seen an insect on a piece of wood I put in my fire place. I check it. Some woods are more prone to insect infestation, like here in California, the insects tend to be in the oak, but not in madrone or fir. The thick-barked woods tend to harbor more insects.

One thing you need to know about this list of indoor air pollution, which is not complete, I am sure is this. Each one of these things by itself may not make you ill, but when you have them altogether in one house, and if you spend 22-23 hours a day in that house, you are bound to feel more exhausted than you would without these things in your house. So even if you are totally healthy, with no chemical sensitivities at all and you want to have an energetic, pain-free, enthusiastic retreat, you must minimize these factors of pollutions as much as you can. When your energy can come from your own healthy chi, instead of from caffeine and sugar, it is a much more calm and stable base on which to relax your mind into tranquility. I don’t know how anyone can meditate when they drink tea and coffee and eat sugar….such a cacophony of thinking goes on!

It isn’t that hard to do in a small retreat house.

For cooking, we have been satisfied with a two-burner gas range that we put on a shelf, outside the house, right at a window level. Sumden built a weather-wind-mouse proof box around it. You open the window to put the pots on the stove and close it up while it is cooking. It must be able to draw the air away from the house when you open the window. On a recent visit, Sumden noticed the gas came in the house when I opened the window. He put a peice of tin over the half of the window opening, the top half, and now the airs goes out the window and up the stack when I open the window. I am no longer exhausted after a meal. I thought it was my poor digestion. It was, but the poor digestion was caused by the gas! My next project is to order a book on solar cookers and begin to use the sun to cook most of my meals during the sunny season. They use them all over Africa. It’s free and doesn’t harm the environment at all!!!

You really have to be “on the ball” all the time in this game of keeping your air quality pure. If you can’t do anything else, at least get yourself a good air filter to put in your meditation and sleeping room! Sumden is very keen on detecting toxic air. He is like the canary in the coal mine. His sensitivites are keener. He must be a Bodhisattva who took rebirth in the west so he could manifest these sicknesses to show us grosser beings modern obstacles to enlightenment. I have noticed since I have been able to recoup my sleep deficit, I can identify toxic effects more clearly. This is an example of why you have to work on all fronts (diet, rest, detox, etc.)to have a stong body and mind.

Here’s an example of what I am talking about. My friend, Victoria, does my shopping for me and, until a few weeks ago, my laundry for me. Last fall, my laundry began to have a perfume smell to it and I didn’t pay much attention. I just aired it out on the line before I brought it in the house. This spring I was far more fatigued than I should have been considering I have been doing everything I talk about in this book. I started doing more chi gong and felt somewhat better. I ordered some new bedding for Sumden and Victoria agreed to wash it three times before we sent it on to him so he wouldn’t have to do it by hand. He let me know right away there was something really poisonous in that washing. Victoria only used the soaps I asked her to. There was some chemical in the washing machine that wasn’t in my soap or maybe the soap I thought was okay for me wasn’t! I got all the clothes and bedding out of my house and felt better immediately. So you have stay on top of what comes in to your retreat house!!! Now I wash only with Dr. Bronner’s.

Another example is this laptop headaches that I already mentioned. Sumden reminded me of the phenols they outgas. I didn’t consciously sit by the door, but when there was no headache, I took note of the airflow in the room.

POWER LINES AND ELECTRICITY: Although there is some debate over the deleterious effects of power lines. I wouldn’t build a house near them. They may not cause cancer but I’m sure anyone who is sensitive to energy would feel the effect of those power lines. I know some people who notice a big difference in their meditation practice when they are in a house with no electricity at all. I think that if you do have electricity, DC current, which comes from a simple solar system is preferable to AC current because it moves in one direction. The AC current is alternating so tends to have a very subtle agitating effect. Some people are extremely sensitive to electricity and must keep their exposure to electric applicances and other electrical gadgets to a minimum. Everyone is sensitive to it to some degree so it is best to keep appliances and stereos out of the meditation room and bedroom. There are little instruments you can by to measure the gauss input of your appliances. I think they also tell you what is a healthy exposure. Don’t sleep with any electric things plugged in near to you. and BEWARE OF CELL PHONES. They are very dangerous, don’t put them up to your ear, use an earphone jack that is connected to the cell phone. They are especially toxic inside an automobile, so get out of the car to make that phone call. There are people in Europe who have been over exposed to cell phone who have to wear metal suits, like space suits, just to be healthy now… If you live near a cell phone broadcast tower, move away! Cell phones and cell phone waves are carcinogenic and cause brain cancer.


Since the days of the Whole Earth Catalog, there have been many wonderful books written on alternative to petrochemical energy based homes. Today, you can look to catalogs like Jade Mountain of Colorado and Real Goods and Alternative Engineering in California. Or go to any good book store and just browse the solar energy/alternative building section. Harnessing solar energy is not very difficult. If you can budget a couple of thousand dollars into your retreat house plan, you can have all the electricity you need. Solar collectors are now made that work through cloud cover, so winter is not a hindrance. For heating there are a number of passive and active solar plans.

One of the greatest contributions you can make to world peace and economic justice is to convert to solar power or to build a new house with solar power. The petrochemical industry is reponsible for so much war and famine and hardship. I wish I had a book to reference this to you but I think anyone who has access to information about what goes on in the world in relation to oil can see our foreign policy is centered around supplying our nation with oil–at any cost! And the cost is often very great to poor people in oil rich developing nations whose governments are lead by military juntas who are supported by oil companies and the CIA. If you want to help all the people and creatures of the world, you can help by lessening the American demand for oil. Most of our power plants are petroleum based—and nuclear power is even worse!!! I heard on a news documentary once that Harry Truman wanted to implement solar power back in the 1950’s with the forecast that by 1975, our nation would be primarily powered by the sun. But guess what? The oil lobbies killed it. The oil lobbies may run our government, but WE HAVE GRASS ROOTS POWER. The only way our country is ever going to change is by individuals taking the responsibility upon ourselves to change. Uncle Sam ain’t gonna do it, folks; He’s been bought out. If you added on the social cost (like the opportunity cost of our military budget) of maintaining the economic hegemony of the petrochemical industry, our petroleum powered electricity would be far more expensive than the investment in a solar system for your house! It’s worth it just for your karma alone!

Since the days of the Whole Earth Catalog, there have been many wonderful books written on alternative to petrochemical energy based homes. Today, you can look to catalogs like Jade Mountain of Colorado and Real Goods and Alternative Engineering in California. Or go to any good book store and just browse the solar energy/alternative building section. Harnessing solar energy is not very difficult. If you can budget a couple of thousand dollars into your retreat house plan, you can have all the electricity you need. Solar collectors are now made that work through cloud cover, so winter is not a hindrance. For heating there are a number of passive and active solar plans. I’ll mention one I like as an example.

My brother, Lew, built the nicest family size house I have ever been in. He built it in 1979 for less than $5,000. He used recycled materials for most of it–a lot of that was free from the dump! It is two stories and sits on the side of a hill. The first floor I would guess to be about 20 feet by 30 feet. The floor has a concrete slab base that is covered in simple terra cotta tile. This acts as a heat sink to collect the heat in the day from the sun or wood stove and radiate the heat back throughout the night. The first half of the northwest wall is set into the hill at the back of the house. (The second floor rises above the ground) This wall is made of river rock and cement. He collected the rocks and put them in the hillside and built the house around that. (You have to make the drainage so the water coming down the hill doesn’t go behind the rock wall, but to the side and away from the house.) The wood stove is set against this rock wall so that the wall, too, heats up in the day and keeps the house warm at night. Also, having a house connected to the earth stablizes the temperature of the house. There is a bay window on the south side where the dining area is and there are windows all along the southern exposures. The glass french doors on the south side open on to a little patio that looks down onto Round Valley. The second floor windows are oriented the same way. The first floor is all one room for kitchen, dining, playing and relaxing. I don’t know how high is the ceiling but I bet it is nine feet. The place is so spacious and, at the same time, cozy and warm. The upstairs is bedrooms and the bathroom and storeroom are off the main room downstairs. It is very simple, very elegant and it even has that wonderful quality that invites you out into the garden to view the panorama of Round Valley stretching out before you.This is created by building on a concrete slab at ground level and placing a bay window next to French doors that open out onto a south-facing patio.

You could take a theme like that and put the water pipes in the concrete floor and do away with the fireplace in the house. Steve Pearl told me you could attach 50 gallon drums to the south side of the house, laying on their side, that heat up the water in the day that circulates through the floor. You could probably figure out a cooling system with cool water too. In the winter the water is heated with an outside firebox.

Sumden built a retreat hut under a rock overhang at Osel Ling in Spain. Windows were all along the front. Totally cool. He always puts a big window on the south side of his retreat houses. In the winter the sun warms up the floor. In the summer the sun is over head, so it doesn’t come inside. It is so nice to come out of a long session in the cool morning and lay down in the sun…especially when there is snow on the ground outside!

Our retreat huts at Milarepa Center had to be so small that we put the wood stove under the house. There was no room for it in the house. We went outside to tend the fire. This turned out to be a good idea when we experienced the gas and smoke leaking out of the stoves. I think this is how Sumden got the idea to design that great stove he uses now. The area under the house was three feet high which meant the house itself was above snow level, there was a storage space, and the floor was warm all winter. We read about this technique in a book on Korean Architecture. In Korea, it is a common building practice to have the house elevated off the ground and have the heating under the house. The warm floor in the winter is so nice.

One thing we took from one of the books from Harvard was a plan to make a small viewer that would let you see where the sun would be in the winter months from the site of your future house. Sumden built it out of graph paper, plastic and a wooden dowel I think. I can’t remember exactly, but he calculated the angle of the sun for the latitude where we lived and drew that in an arc on graph paper. It stood up on a small platform that you held up to your eye and sighted through it, like you would hold up a pair of binoculars. I remember going around and marking the trees that would block our sun in the winter as he looked past the arc on the paper in front of him while he stood at the house site and looked south. Then he harvested those trees for our firewood. This is a really helpful tool if you live in a wooded area. It can probably be found in one of the solar house books.

There are many good ideas. It’s good to use one that is tried and true. The main thing is to assess your site and your climate and figure out a plan that works well for both. At least you must put large windows or a glass-slide door on the south side, make the walls thick and insulate well. I wouldn’t recommend using glass slider doors in cold climates like in the northeast of USA. They are not so thermal efficient and freeze shut in winter. A flat ceiling with thick layers of insulation (like R50) on top is an excellent way to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter. This style of vaulted ceilings with visible rafters is not only bad feng shui, but it is not very thermal efficient. If you want space, you can make a high ceiling. The main thing is to assess your site and your climate and figure out a plan that works well for both.

To conserve gas, you can have a solar hot water heater. Even those camping solar showers are good for the summer. You can cook with a pressure cooker and get a solar oven!


The basic idea is to seal up the holes where the animals and insects can come in as you build. Sumden caulks around the windows on the inside and where the subfloor meets the sheet rock. This keeps the dampness out, too. To keep out sinsects,you can also put boric acid, a powder found at drug stores, around the perimeter of the subfloor before you put the insulation and sheet rock up or whatever type of walls you are using. I already mentioned how we lined the bottom of the floor frame with hardware wire to keep out the mice. Sumden also makes sure there are no holes where the roof rafters come out of the siding. He just makes little patches with hardware wire and staples them over the holes by the rafter. Innovate and figure what to do with the materials and house style you use. Think ahead. It’s so much better to keep them out than to have to take the time to catch them. I often end up killing a few by accident when I try to catch them. Catching them is so stressful for them, too. Keep your sink, tub and shower drains closed in summer, too. Put in drains that can close. There are biological drain cleaners now, so you don’t have to use chemicals anymore.

If ants do come inside, I learned from Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche that a small amount of honey laced somewhere just outside the house will keep them out. I have used fructose and water mixture, you could use sugar and water. I put it on a ceramic tile and the ants are happily munching away all day with no care at all for what is inside the house. It is nice to feed them, too.—and you have to do it every day until they go away.

If you have a pest problem, you can go to Steve Tdebits website. Steve says that termites can be prevented if you paint a borax solution on the wood until it is soaked, three times.

GEKS: GEK is a Tibetan word for interfering spirits. When there is a new baby in the house, Tibetans incense bathe any person or thing before allowing them into the house. When Ganden Tri Rinpoche arrived at Maggie Kress’s retreat house Silas and Sumden had just built for him, his attendant Tashi, went through the whole house and incensed it very well, particularly all around and under the mattress where Ganden Tri Rinpoche was to sleep. In a four year retreat, Sumden and I began to notice that we experienced hindrances every fortnight when our groceries were delivered. He suggested we recite the Heart Sutra and incense the bags before we brought them into our boundary. We noticed no more hindrances after that. One time when I was cooking for Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, He and his attendants had spent hours preparing to do a Lu puja. They were ready to start but they coudn’t find the text anywhere. It seemed to have just disappeared from the house. I arrived to cook dinner just after Rinpoche had completed a Gek Tor, an offering to appease the Geks, and within minutes they found the text. I remember Roger Kunsang saying if he had ever doubted the existence of Geks, it was gone now. So you may want to take care of Geks in your retreat place, too.

NAGAS: Nagas are water spirits. Even if you don’t believe in them, it’s good to take precautions not to harm them because they will harm you if you believe in them or not. The main way to offend nagas is to desecrate land around water. This means don’t throw garbage in streams, keep areas around water lines and water tanks and springs neat and clean. If your house is near a creek, keep the grounds around your house clean. If you want, you can make friends with nagas by making incense offerings to them. You can even learn to do a Naga Puja. Traditional peoples who make ceremonial offerings to water spirits to ask for rain or to ask rain to go away are not stupid. Here are a few examples:

When Sumden lived at Chenrezig Institute, a couple also lived there. They were healers, yet, they both had tropical ulcers on their feet. One ulcer was so infected, pus was coming out the top and bottom of the foot. They tried everything. Finally, they went to Geshe Legden, the abbot of Sera Je Monastery who spent a year at Chenrezig Institute. Geshe-Legden asked them if they lived by water. They didn’t think so. They went back to their camp and, sure enough, a water line, went right by their camp. So, they went back to Geshe-la with this news and Geshe-la asked them if they were neat and tidy? He told them to go back and clean up their camp area really well and make it beautiful. They did and their ulcers went away.

In the winter of 1997-98, in California we experienced a phenomenon that weather people call El Nino, which means it rains and rains and rains until Big Sur starts falling into the ocean and the Santa Cruz mountains slide all over the roads. Houses fall down, roads are destroyed. It’s a mess! We were already way into this state, Highway 1 had slid into the sea all over Big Sur and another huge storm was brewing out in the Pacific. Lama Zopa Rinpoche was in retreat in Big Sur at the time. His trusted attendant, Ven. Roger Kunsang, contacted Sumden and me and asked us to do a large grain and smoke offering with Geshe Wangdu. We did the naga puja for many hours. My friends with TV’s said that while we did the puja, they could see the storm on the satellite picture move away from the Central Coast of California.

When Sumden and I spent 18 months building a retreat center at Land of Medicine Buddha, we did not know about The Great Slithering One, the puja to request permission from the local Naga King to dig in the earth and build a house in his domain. After the project was completed, we had to tear it all down. It says in the text that if you dig the earth in the wrong place, without the Naga King permission, the house will be destroyed. After this, Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche translated the text into English for us. This puja is included in the appendix and I highly recommend its implementation!

BARDO BEINGS AND OTHER SPIRITS: In most cases, these beings cause no harm, but they are around and if you want to make them happy and make your environment more harmonious you can make offerings of burnt grain to them called the SUR in Tibetan. I include this ritual in the appendix also. You can make a charcoal barbeque just like you are ready to barbeque but instead you smother the coals with flour, wheat or corn, whatever you like. You can add juniper or other types of incense. These beings gain nourishment from the smoke. Their bodies are too subtle to ingest food but they are still hungry. It is good to do this if a person close to you has died because their spirit may be hanging around for a few days or weeks. You can use coals from a fire, too, of course. Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche does this every night. It is a great way to practice loving kindness and generosity.

So…about those healthy houses…plan well, talk it over with builders, don’t think you have to do it just like they say, but listen well and go away and think about it. Don’t rush, think of all the possibilites and make sound choices based on your budget and your needs…and make offerings to the local spirits. Remember, houses, even tiny retreat houses, always cost much more than you think they will, even with the best of planning, because nothing happens according to plan.

written by Paula Chichester in 2001


This is the puja that must be done before a house (or stupa) is built. It is an offering to the local spirits, the Naga King, to request permission to dig up the earth and build a structure in their territory. I don’t know the author of the text. Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche translated it in August of 1998 for Ven. Roger Munro before building his house at Shinne Land, scribed by Paula Chichester.


(by Paula Chichester)

When you read the explanation of how to draw the grid to find where to draw the center line of the Naga King, it seems quite complicated. What follows in this intro is how Sumden Lhundrup (Roger Munro) summarized the procedure. We have done it three times so far and it appears to work. You draw a square on leveled earth which has 45 inches on each side in the USA and 90 cm on each side in the rest of the world. (see note 2.) Each side must have 90 units (or parts is the word Rinpoche uses); so in the USA, each unit or part is one half inch. Each side of the square represents 90 days of the season. 360 altogether for the entire year.(I guess you could make it 91 units on each side to make 364 days of the year, but this is not how the text is written.) The main point of the drawing exercise is to find the area under the arm of the Naga King because this is where you dig up a piece of the earth called “the earth attainment”. You find this by placing the Naga King on the square with 90 units on each side. The units correspond to days of the year, you find where the day of the puja is on the circumference of the square and this is point from which you draw the midline which goes down the center of the Naga King. The first day of spring begins on the bottom left side, when you are sitting at the bottom. Beginning from here, you go around the square until you come to the present day, following the Tibetan Calendar. This is the top point, you draw a straight line connecting that point to the point on the opposite side of the square. Then you draw in the Naga King using the rest of the grid to get the correct size. To find the area under the arm you do this: make a grid on your square of 10 parts, 9 units each. The area you want is in the fourth square down from the top on the right side of the center line of the naga king, (i.e., the line you drew from your date point). If you go down to the fourth square from the top of the naga head and then go horizontal from the left side over six squares, the area under the arm is in that horizonal plane inside the 6 and 7 horizontal squares. You can further divide these squares into 9 units to get the most exact location. It is easy if you look at the diagram. You need the grid so you can get the Naga King body in the correct proportions. After you dig up the earth, you can bury an earth treasure vase in that place.

Kyabje Thubten Zopa’s Translation of the Text


At south and north, get the four intermediate corners. At each quadrant periphery, you divide into five, depending on the place, how tight extended, according to that, you make the sign, even the center line. On the east-west line, divide into 10 equidistant pieces (five on each side of the center line) by dividing each quadrant into five. On the center line, mark the east west line. Hold a string from the center line and measure up to corners but not quite as long and hold it there to make diagonal lines.(see note 2 for instructions on making the square).

The naga king’s body is 10 cubits. Ten cubits means the number of large parts (the squares), not actually a cubit. ( A cubit is the distance from tip of mid-finger to elbow, but in Sumden’s system for drawing it is 4.5 inches or 9 cm.) Make five marks, four center lines are divided into five, then you put the line, including the edge.

Each side has ten great parts, each great part is divided into nine. Altogether there are 8,100 parts. Outside is 90, you can count each piece one side 90 at outside. (90×90=8,100) At each corner mark comes 90, so the total becomes 360 days (4 sides x 90=360) The gross reality for three winters, the head faces to the east, face is towards the south. (This means the top of the head is directed east, but face is facing to the south.) Don’t draw profile view lying on one side. Check on the Tibetan calendar when are the three months of winter, higher winter, middle winter, lower winter. Three springs head is to south, face is to west. Three summers, head points west, face is to north. Three autumns, head to north, face is to the east.

In some texts, the tradition is three winters the head faces to the south; three springs, head west; three summers, head north; three autumns, head west. Other than that, in Kilacha, in old printed texts, there are many different explanations but all these are causes of exhaustion. In vajra mantra of old secret tantra (Nyingma), the twelth month (hor) examine from the twelve and the spring. Vajra mantra from the new secret mantra looks at the spring time moon. One has to know from the calendar and astrological things to check. Nay Khyim, there are about 12 Khyims to be checked from Tibetan astrological calendars. Other systems are like water with the turtles, takes out (essenceless).

One’s own pure system, the way to look at is in the three springs, the head points to the west, face is north (first). The three summers, the head points north, face to east (second). Three autumns the head points east, face to south (third). The three winters the head points south, face to west (fourth). Also one should sit head is west, tail is east, etc. Each corner is called du ching nam kang (30th) and should be the 30th of the month. (Three springs starts at the first day of the Tibetan year.) The fourth month is beginning of summer first day. The first day of the four seasons, the head of the landlord (naga king) is in the small part of the corner of the grid (center line of body coming out of head) of the first day of season. In the middle of season, head is coming between the 15th or the 16th of middle north (along center line pointing west). It circles towards the right clockwise and each day the head moves one degree (small part) without knowing.

The proportion of the body abiding that way and from where to get the earth attainment, if one takes from anywhere, this is extremely dangerous. It has five poisons by seeing, touching, breathing and so forth. This naga landlord is the king of all. This is a deva king of all and a dangerous one, if one is not careful. Completely surrounded by the worldly deva (tsa) and dekye, the eight groups of worldly gods. The tea offering to the dedye is very good to stop storm travel, earthquakes, etc. They are very much connected to the weather and som many things where there is danger with elements.

If one does war (digs up the earth attainment) on the head or back side, tail, hand, or face, middle tail and so forth, another part of the arms, the general will be killed. If you draw the mandala on these parts, the vajra master will die. If one does marrieage, the wife dies. If one does the wrathful tantra, the practitioner dies. If you make a grave there, the astrologer who chooses the grave site dies. If part, they die. Any show is bad to all. If the patient’s pillow in on that side, the life will be taken away. A house built there will become a graveyard. Whatever is done, people will get sick. (If you build) a throne, the guru will die or heavy sickness. If operation, healing with iron fire, this turns out wrong. It becomes the cause for death, so therefore, this method should be cherished.

Now, to understand the body and how it circles, the five limbs, the importance to recognize the direction of the north, then check the date of the month, then from that day down to the tail, wherever the day today falls, the day of the puja, examine the landlord who goes by slithering tails, from that small square down to the tail, wherever it is abiding, that is the center line of the body. Then, in front of that and behind, measure nine small parts on either side of center line. Morning, part is from backside; afternoon part is from front; two great parts wide. Draw these lines of front and back of center line side.

Wherever the day of puja falls, the center snake point of tail is always at the opposite end. Snake crown is one great part, high face is one great part; heart, one great part. Heart to navel, one great part. Navel to secret place, one great part. That is the upper part of the body. From secret place to end of tail is five great parts. Therefore, where it is on the diagonal, etc., the cross line (center of square) is always at the secret place. The end of the tail comes down to the limit. (Five great parts down.) The left side of the body is always down, right side up, left hand at left ear, right hand on right hip, holding the wish-granting jewel. The color is like the root of the lotus (white).

The ornaments are as in the following prayer, draw well with sand (draw first in ground with a stick, then fill outlilne with color–you can buy colored sand for navajo-type sand paintings at large hobby stores.) To find the earth attainment you can just do outside of the body if you know well. Or just do where head is facing to establish the location of the elbow. You don’t need to divide the whole square into the nine parts, just be clear where the parts of the naga are.

From the head of the snake go down 27 small parts to the heart, again from the heart come down 9 small parts (on the drawing this is the bottom of the hand.) From center line go to the landlord’s left (right in drawing) half 14, which means 13 and a half small parts and then come back to the right (left in drawing) half 5, which means 4 and a half small parts. This creates a rectangle where the right side is the 13 and a half line and the left side is the 4 and a half small part line. The top is the large part line under the breasts (heart) and the bottom mis the line, 9 small parts down from the heart. The upper left corner is the bottom tip of the elbow and this is the area to dig. On the area just to the left of the rectangle, not in the rectangle.

These are two systems to discover the earth attainment. I think the latter one is correct. Understanding the season is to get the correct earth attainment correctly under the arm.

Second type of explanation:

27 small parts, from head of snake to the heart, again from heart come down 9 small parts (bottom of hand) from there go 9 small parts from center line go left (right side on drawing) half fourteen (an expression that means 13 and a half small parts). From left go back along small line to right, go one half 5 (which mean 4 and a half). According to the Geshe in Taipei, this goes to top of the elbow and you dig there. The 13 and a half is right side of a triangle that goes from line at bottom of hand up to heart, one big square and the inside lineis the one half 5, so right at the corner, top corner and below that is the area that you dig.


After this is well done, in front of the landlord put torma of the three whites and three sweets. (Butter, curd, milk; brown sugar, honey, molasses) Then adorned with various scarves, perform two water and five sense enjoyments.(argham, etc). Then the vajra master faces towards the landlord and does this ceremony. Sit in the south.

Do the preliminaries, refuge, bodhicitta, the four immeasurables. Dispell, purify the drawing, (the two mantras to dispell hindrances and dissolve into emptiness. OM SVAHAVA…etc.) While it is empty, in front is the great slithering one, colored like the root of lotus, extremely white radiating one. The upper part of the body is in divine aspect and is beautified with many ornaments, crown of various jewels, ear ornaments, necklace, belt armbands, bracelets, garland, turquoise and amber and so forth, decorating the body. On the head are nine various colored snakes moving like on a canopy making sounds like “phui”, right side above, left side down. The left hand supports left side of face, right hand holding wish granting jewel with thousands of beams granting all wishes at right waist. The lower part of body is in the aspect of a very glorified green snake.

At the crown is cheite naga named Thaye; at neck, red naga: Jogpo; at ear, white naga: Pema Karpo; at heart, blue naga: Norg Gyes; on shoulder, yellow naga: Pema Chenpo; at navel, yellow-white naga, Dung Dyong; at secret place, green naga: Tobgu; on tail, black naga: Rigden. All this upper part is in divine aspect. The lower part of the snake is coiled, having one snake moving, carrying various jewels blazing with light. From one’s own heart, the beams of seed syllable invoke in one second the great slithering one with 8 nagas, similar to what one has visualized. DZA HUM BAM HOH. They become non-dual. Put palms together showing the five-pronged vajra:



Put the landlord under the pledge.


Then sprinkle milk over the torma, bless with six mantra and six mudra concentration. (see note 1)


Then long prayer from Chakrasamvara torma to worldly protectors: (You the entire gathering of gods, nagas, yakshas, etc…) down to complete all the wishes. Then the vajra master, holding the bell and dorje, offers praise and request:

EH MA HO! Who has dress of the ocean possesses a jewel holder, possesser always holding…….bliss, you the owner of the land, slithering holding various jeweled ornaments. The eight great naga kings who depend on the parts of your body, you are the da chen of the earth, whose upper parts of the body, the controller deva, having the poisonous snakes, crown ornament moving like a cloud. Lower part of the body is curved like a vase spout. Powerful one, to you I pay homage. All those who get born and transmigrate extremely depends on the holding base (earth). In order to ripen the vajra master, please grant the joy of the attainments of the art.

King of Nagas replies:

You, the holder of wisdom, you can enjoy as whatever you like.

Then, the vajra master with divine prides takes the earth attainment from under the arm (not part of the body). Use a pick with a vajra handle in the left hand underneathe and right hand hold from the torso. The vajra master faces head of slithering landlord. Then turn your back towards the tail, visualize that way. Then you dig four times (can be any implement and any size hole), then scatter around the foundation border outside (of the building to be built). The fifth scoop is the earth attainment, therefore, keep it in a container.

This (fifth scoop) one is called the earth having the five elements, (the earth attainment).If there is earth charcoal, nails, hairs, dry life, sand, husks in that five elements, then, various harms will come to the human beings. These cause anger, epidemic disease, pains in joints. Without those mistakes, the earth is very soft, rich and dark. If it is white, yellow, red and black. If it is a mixture of colors, it means pacifying, increasing, controlling and wrath. The various actions will be actualized. (Merry, this is how my notes are, but it seems it should be: if it is white yellow, etc, it means pacifying, etc.) Without those knowing this important spot, if you dig any other place, other than the nine parts of earth (on any part of the body) parent, father, mother, brothers, wife, daughters, friends, etc. will die. If you dig backside, you will die or you will be kicked out of the place. On tail, you will lose your animals and you will lose your power. In the place where you dug the five elements, you put a treasure vase, according to the practice, then cover the earth. Then you make offerings and praise to the landlord as before.

Request for patience. The landlord and entourage are extremely please at that place.

Then erase the whole thing. The offerings are thrown in the southeast. After that, it is said that this is the place to build temple, stupa, house, mandala and so forth. You mix the five, (the earth attainment) with other auspicious earth and wherever you sprinkle it, all the shortcomings get pacified and auspicious goodness will happen.

Colophon: Translated by Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche in August, 1998 at Deer Park, Madison, WI. Dictated to Sumden Lhundrup and Lhundup Nyingje. lightly edited by Lhundup Nyingje (Paula Chichester). This needs to be checked.)




three middle fingers face out right hand; meditate on emptiness


sky treasure mudra: generate the offerings


fingers curled in facing and touching each other, middle finger out (used in fire puja also): everything becomes nectar.


left hand, vajra fist at heart; right hand, granting realizations: the offering is actualized


wrathful finger snap: the offering is received



fearlessness mudra: binds yours and theirs, due to samaya, all wishes and needs fulfilled.

Due to the power of virtuous wishes, special bodhicitta, blessings of Tathagatas gone beyond and the sphere of emptiness, may all virtuous works be achieved without resistance or obstacle.

Note 2: This is as you do in fire puja mandala: To get the perpendicular line to the center line you hold the string with a pencil tied on the end on the center line at the 3/4 mark and make an arc in the area where there will be the perpendicular line on both sides of the line.

Then you go to the 1/4 mark on that center line and with the string the exact same length as before make another arc on top of the first one. Do this on both sides of the center line and you will get the perpendicular line.

Then to find the diagonal lines, you hold the string at a length that will make an arc in the area that will be the 45 degree mark (inbetween the cross of the perpendicular lines). You hold the string in the 3/4 mark on the center line, make the arc where the diagonal will be. Then you hold the string at the same distance on the 3/4 mark on the perpendicular line and go to where you just made an arc and make another, where the arcs cross is the diagonal line. Do the same on the other side.

In all cases, you must keep the string at the same length on each side of the center line each time if you want accurate lines.)

Note 3. Additional Tibetan feng sui comments on building from Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche: Outside, the east and south, generally is good. Even that you divide each direction into eight. As for an east, 1,2,3,7,8 are bad. Sarting from left divide into eight pieces doors, 4,5 is good like that. South 1,3,4,6,8 is bad, 2,5 is good. 7 is middle. West 1,4,6 is good; 2,3,5 is middle; 7,8 is bad. North 1,2,4,8,7 is middle; 4,5,6 good. Four corners are bad, goes clockwise 1-8.

About the two story house, north side is shrine room, down below is wealth, west side place to keep food, grains, south side is for animals outside house; east and south, your rooms; kithchen, the stove should be southwest





*Bower, John, The Healthy House, Carol Publishing

Bower, John, Healthy House Building, The Healthy House Institute

*Baker, Elliott and Banta, Presription for a Healthy House, In word Press

Dadd, Debra Lynn, Home Safe Home, Tarcher Putnam

Hartley and Markds, Rousseau and Vasley, Healthy by Design

Elizabeth and Adams, Alternative Construction:: Contemporary Natural Building Methods

Hermannsson, John, Green Building Resource Guide


Too, Lillian, The Complete and Illustrated Guide to Feng Shui, Element Books, 1998

———-Personalized Feng Shui Tips, 1999.

————The Green one, can’t remember title.–Lillian has a wonderful website.

Bill Kane for feng shui

CATALOG RESOURCES: just telephone 1-800-555-1212 and ask for the listing or look up on internet.

Alternative Engineering

Jade Mountain

Real Goods

Maggie’s Organic Clothes (


Inner Balance

The Natural Choice-for alternative paints, cleaners,the casein wood glue… 800-621-2591

Lehman’s non-electric Catalog (216) 857-5757

Johnny’s Seeds

Natural Choice– healthy flooring and carpets;

(707) 824-0914

AFM Enterprises (909) 781-6860–paints, water sealers, caulk, non-toxic building materials

Pace Chem-for Crystal Aire paint that helps formaldehyde outgassing from plywood.

Grain and Salt Society; (800) 867-7258–sea salt and health books

Non-Toxic Environments, Box 384, Newmarket, NH 03857

Green Building Resource Guide,

flower essences: 1800-736-3382

Be a Professional Dharma Practitioner

By Ven. Lhundup Samten

There are monks or nuns who find it difficult to depend on other people for monetary support and who, even though they could be helped through sponsorship, decide to work for years in order to be independent. Ven. Samten tells us how one can develop trust and humility by depending on others for one’s subsistence.

Ven. Lhundup Samten (Roger Munro) “Bhikshus there are these four stains because of which the sun and moon do not glow, do not shine, are not radiant. What four? Rain clouds, snow clouds, smoke and dust, an eclipse. In the same way there are these four stains because of which contemplatives and priests do not glow, do not shine, are not radiant. What four? Drinking alcoholic beverage, indulging in sexual intercourse, accepting gold and silver, obtaining requisites through a wrong mode of livelihood.”

This goes back to the Western mind and how we perceive things. Why does everyone have to assert his or her own independence and individualism? Perhaps it is because we cannot trust each other, we cannot allow ourselves to feel vulnerable or too sensitive.

In a way, it is understandable for most Westerners to feel suspicious of others, to lack trust, because so many people have experienced a lack of love in their lives and never learned how to love and trust others. Instead of nurturing feelings of love, suspicion emerges. When these people are asked to give over the responsibility for their livelihood to others, it is a very frightening situation. It is scary to think that someone else is going to have a say or an opinion over what you do. So it does not surprise me that some many of us are resistant, and we want to keep our “own” money and our ‘own’ means of support. This is what we are taught in our society today. But if you really are sincere and want to follow the Dharma path, you cannot be expending all of your time and energy in working for food, shelter, and clothing. There are just not enough hours in the day. This is really a practical consideration; if you are dedicating yourself daily to getting food, clothing, and shelter, there is not much time left over for the practice of Dharma. This is why Buddhist monks and nuns rely on donations from others and monasteries rely on benefactors. It’s because practically, you cannot do both jobs successfully.

This is a problem for all of us. Even if you have your own wealth, you still have to expend a lot of energy managing this wealth, and you stay entangled by many family and social strings concerning this wealth. Of course, if you have independent money, you can do a lot of good by practicing generosity. But again, doing your own practice becomes difficult. You always have to make sure your money is properly invested and is increasing. You become a self-employed businessperson looking after your financial affairs.

For all of these reasons, I think it is most beneficial for those who wish to practice seriously to have benefactors to help minimize the amount of time and energy spent on worrying about financial matters. I think it is just a very practical matter that if you are going to practice seriously, you need benefactors to help you practice. People who themselves cannot practice seriously can help you, and you can then dedicate your practice to their welfare. In this way everyone benefits. You have the hours in the day to get your practice done, and your benefactors receive merit from helping you. They create the cause to have the same thing happen to themselves – to be practitioners helped by other benefactors, whether later in this life or in a future life.

When I met Geshe Yeshe Tobden at Land of Medicine Buddha, I was introduced as this ‘great meditator,’ having just finished a ‘big deal retreat.’ Immediately, one could see that he was not happy. Geshe-la ate his dumplings and then hurried away without saying one word to me. Fortunately, the next day I had the good karma to give him a ride to San Francisco. For the first part of the trip, not one word was spoken in the car; everyone just seemed to be engaged in his or her own serious practice. Half way into the trip, though, Geshe-la turned to Paula (Munro, now Ven. Lhundup Ningje) and, through his translator, asked, “How did you people get your food while on retreat?” Paula started to explain to him the logistics of how food was delivered to us. Geshe-la interrupted and asked: ” Where did the money come from to provide this food?” She told him that we begged. We solicited benefactors amongst our friends, and many people got involved to support us during our retreat.

Geshe Yeshe Tobden

Geshe Yeshe Tobden

This news made Geshe-la very happy, and he reacted with great animation, putting his arms around me, shaking me up by the shoulders and inviting me to stay with him whenever I came to India. It was a very touching experience. Geshe-la continued to explain that he had traveled all over the West and had seen every part of the Dharma being practiced here, but the one thing he found lacking was this aspect of practitioners and monks and nuns relying on benefactors and not having to look after their own wealth.

Geshe-la encouraged us to keep up this aspect of the practice because he said that it is the most important part for people to see. That is, to see that the Buddha’s promise is true: that if you give up this life and practice seriously, although you won’t become a millionaire, your basic necessities will be provided. That is the most basic practice for us to do as monks and nuns and as meditators: to allow ourselves the lack of control that it takes to be associated with others in that way. To let go of our desire to control things and take care of ourselves out of fear and lack of trust in others. This will bring us a long way toward coming that much closer to attaining inner peace and to increasing our love and trust for other precious sentient beings.

It is difficult to let go of this level of control over our lives, but it is a part of the lesson we must learn. We all want to control our lives, to come and go as we please, to do what we want. But, when we have to rely on the kindness of others, things don’t always work out exact as we have planned. We cannot always do exactly what we want; we often have to compromise and give up some of our freedom. But actually, we gain much more than we give up. We gain the time and liberty for our practice and freedom of the mind.

Over time, we will gradually realize that the only way really to be able to practice is through giving up other things. When we give ourselves over to the Dharma, things that have preoccupied us in the past, such as financial support, will be taken care of. This is true now and has been true for over 2,500 years. However, in the West we still have to begin to realize this.

We must accept that Buddha’s promise – that anyone wearing the robes of a monk will never go without food or shelter – is true and not cling to our wealth. In accepting this, we must also be willing to accept a certain level of poverty. If you are already poor, this may not be a problem, but if you are used to having your own wealth and support system, this “giving up” is going to be difficult at first. I feel that you have to reach a certain point of poverty before the Buddha’s promise is activated. You must have a need before others can fill it for you. If you don’t have a need, no one can fill it.

This is something that will have to take root in Western consciousness as we begin to understand that practicing Buddhism is a full-time job. If you really want to learn the Dharma, you must become a full-time Dharma professional. You cannot mix this practice with other kinds of livelihoods. Actually you can, but then you are not endeavoring to be a professional Dharma practitioner. If you are a backyard mechanic, you don’t have a huge workshop with a vast assortment of tools; you are limited to a small workspace and are, therefore, limited in what you can do there. For that matter, how many successful part-time doctors or part-time lawyers are there? Even in the professional world, to achieve the most out of your vocation, you must apply all your energies in that direction. It is the same with your Dharma practice. I am not saying that we all must leave our households to become monks and nuns. What I am saying is that we all must realize how a sincere practice in the Tibetan tradition is a serious undertaking that requires much time and effort. In order to maximize those things, some of us will decide to become professional Dharma practitioners and give up whatever we must to achieve this goal.

Another thing that is sometimes misleading is the concept that we all have to enduring great hardships and deprivations – to practice like Milarepa, Tilopa, and Naropa. That is not the way for most of us. We all need to have a minimal standard of living to survive. In 1996, I was with Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche in New York City, at the end of our retreat. We were joking with Rinpoche, apologizing for not attaining enlightenment during the retreat, and Rinpoche told us not to worry, that for most of us it takes a very long time and very good conditions to gain any realization and to make the practices work. Rinpoche reminded us that these good conditions include a place in which we can flourish, with good food and shelter, and that we need to keep healthy and warm. We don’t have to suffer like Milarepa – that would be going to an extreme. Instead, we require a middle ground: sufficient support to keep us going, but without too much abundance or indulgence that will hold us back. Once on this middle ground, sincere practitioners can accomplish much and experience many realizations.