ACI LA Newsletter


In last month’s newsletter, Venerable Marut encouraged us to develop a yoga practice grounded in a classical understanding of the purpose of yoga. He said that if we are succeeding at our yoga we should be becoming wiser, seeing things as they are. And this, in turn, will help us move closer to another of the real goals of yoga – happiness.

Venerable Marut reminded us that yoga, like all spiritual paths, is meant to produce happiness in the lives of those who practice it. Happiness emerges out of wisdom and actions that are guided by it. We cannot attain true happiness with a mind that twists and distorts our perceptions of reality.

This month, Venerable Marut reminds us that we suffer because we mistake the way things really exist. We suffer because we ignorantly yearn for, and then attach ourselves to, things that do not exist the way we think they do. In order to gain real happiness, Venerable Marut encourages us to identify our attachments– and then work to eliminate them.

We hope this month’s newsletter supports your spiritual practice and helps you get really happy.

  This Month
  A Message from Brian (Venerable Marut)
  Student Contributions
  Dharma Flicks
  Dharma Website of the Month
  Dharma Book of the Month
  Dharma Podcasts: Recent Audio Uploads
  June Retreat Announcement
  Current ACI-LA Classes
  Thank You
  ACI LA Home


ACI LA Newsletter


A Message From Brian (Venerable Marut)


n the Buddhist tradition, the main problems of samsara or this suffering life are summed up as 1) anatman (“selflessness” or the lack of essences to things), 2) anitya (impermanence), and 3) duhkha (the unsatisfactory nature of every aspect of the unenlightened state).

Behind every one of these three fundamental problems is a cause, which is variously identified as “craving” (trishna; tanha), “desire” (raga), or “grasping” (upadana).

We suffer because we ignorantly yearn for, and then attach ourselves to, things that do not exist the way we think they do (they are without essence and impermanent) and therefore cannot bring to us what we are seeking in them.

Happiness, then, is the state of freedom from craving and grasping that comes from wisdom that replaces ignorance. Happiness, in other words, arises from no longer being driven by one insatiable desire after another and from detaching from what one is grasping to.

Happiness comes when we let go. When we relinquish our cravings and attachments, we are freed from a prison-house of our own making. For there is no one or nothing other than ourselves that makes us unhappy. We are the sole architects of our own suffering.

We are like masochists in denial. We continue to recreate and embrace the sources of our suffering even while vociferously asserting that we don’t like being unhappy. We hear time and time again that the craving for and grasping to worldly goals such as money, possessions, success in our professions, relationships, etc., will only bring us more unhappiness – and yet we continue to do so. The proof that this is so is that we continue to suffer.

What’s going on here? I think it may be one of three things.

First, perhaps we don’t truly believe that wanting these things when we don’t have them (and thinking that if we get them we’ll be happy), and then clinging onto them when we succeed in obtaining them (and thinking that if we can keep them we’ll be happy) are the causes of unhappiness. If this is so, then we need to go back to the basics and study, contemplate, and meditate on the elementary building blocks of a spiritual life.

No spiritual progress is possible without some plain old renunciation. . . which means some version of giving up on the idea that worldly things will result in true happiness. It’s not just Buddhism that argues this. Jesus and other spiritual teachers were quite clear that (for example) “it is difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24), or "none of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his possessions" (Luke 14:33). This, needless to say, does not mean that divestment of money and things in and of itself means you have “renunciation,” but it does mean a radical break with certain ideas and values about what’s important in life and where your energies are being directed.

There is a second possibility here for why we continue to recreate the causes of our own suffering. Maybe we are fooling ourselves, thinking that we have indeed achieved a degree of renunciation when we haven’t. This is actually pretty likely for those who have been studying and practicing for a while and know the “right answers,” but haven’t really gained the realizations of the Dharma – one of which is knowing, deep in your bones, that worldly pursuits are all ultimately dead-ends.

Suffering is a great teacher. If you are unhappy, hurt, dissatisfied, disappointed, resentful, envious, proud – if, in sum, you are struggling with one or another of the 84,000 mental afflictions – it is always due to some type of craving and clinging. When you are afflicted, do a search and destroy mission and trace the affliction to its root. You will find quickly enough what you are ignorantly desiring and foolishly grasping onto, which is the real source of your suffering.

But there also may be a third possibility here for our continual reinvestment in samsaric life. We may have indeed renounced craving and attachment to worldly things. . . only to refocus them on spiritual things. We may have given up our grasping to worldly forms of identity and ego enhancement (money, position, trophy wives or husbands, etc.) only to reposition that attachment within the spiritual realm (“I am a practitioner”; “I am a Buddhist”).

We may have just transformed into what the great Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called “spiritual materialists.” We may have simply switched up one set of ignorant desires and graspings for another:

The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality. Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the teachings of spirituality for its own benefit. The teachings are treated as an external thing, external to "me," a philosophy which we try to imitate. We do not actually want to identify with or become the teachings. So if our teacher speaks of renunciation of ego, we attempt to mimic renunciation of ego. We go through the motions, make the appropriate gestures, but we really do not want to sacrifice any part of our way of life. We become skillful actors, and while playing deaf and dumb to the real meaning of the teachings, we find some comfort in pretending to follow the path.

At some point in our spiritual lives we must even give up desire for spiritual “progress,” and identify and detach from our grasping to our identify as a “spiritual practitioner” or “Buddhist.” For these are just more props for what Rinpoche calls the “bureaucracy of the ego”:

It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego. This means stepping out of ego's constant desire for a higher, more spiritual, more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue, judgment, comfort or whatever it is that a particular ego is seeking. One must step out of spiritual materialism.

All forms of ignorant desire and self-destructive attachments must be relinquished in order to reach our real goals. Free yourself. Identify your cravings and discover what you are attached to – and then work to eliminate those cravings and desires from your own life.

And at every level of one’s spiritual progress there’s more to do.

With all good wishes,






ACI LA Newsletter

  tudent Contributions

Surreal Thinking

By Irma Gomés Danel

What one must paint is the image of resemblance—if thought is to become visible in the world. —Rene Magritte
Born of the political ideology of Karl Marx and the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, surrealism is one of the most influential art movements of the 20th century. The term was first born in 1917 by the French artist and poet Guillaume Apollinaire, and in 1924 it was used by André Breton to describe a radical political movement aimed at changing the perceptions of the world. This school of thought and art explored dreams, the irrational from the unconscious realm, and extraordinary places to draw a new world. During the 1930s surrealism escaped the bounds of a radical avant-grade art movement and transformed other art forms: theatre, design, fashion and advertising.

Surrealism is an invitation to a realm of new possibilities, a realization of an illusory world. Wait. Where have we heard that our world is like an illusion? Buddhist teachers and philosophers of Tibet and India came up with this idea many centuries ago. The renaissance of Lord Buddha’s theories in the 1920s on the “western” continent, coincidental or not, is a clear, wonderful graphic expression of what he meant. Surrealism is more palpable, as it is an exploration process in writing, drawing, collage and painting that culminated in the development of the surreal object: a juxtaposition of common elements that make up a seemingly bizarre idea.
A construction of a new meaning, the materialization of a dream. An exercise to change our perceptions, a conscious effort to explore whether things really exist the way we think they do.

The surrealists seemed to understand that the world is coming from the person, and found a magnificent way of breaking through our own ideas and pre-conceptions.
Consider, for example, the following illustration by Magritte:

Where, in our rationale process does a “horse” become a “door” or a “clock” becomes “the wind”? When we think about it even more carefully, it is not even a “horse”, but a “drawing of a horse” which the artist has labeled “door”. This breakdown of the rationale thinking process can then be followed by the creation of a fantastic universe, where a “horse” or the “wind” do not appear to us as they normally do.
If we can deconstruct our reality, then it can be whatever we want, and we will be likely to imagine our world as the most beautiful thing, a paradise where we can create music out of sun rays, where we can ride in capillary locomotives and build a perfect castle by merely playing a flute, to ride vegetarian multi-color lions and to catch the moon in a cage (and then feed stardust to our new prisoner).

What is even more fascinating is how surrealists can help us think through reality. Remedios Varo, my favorite Mexican artist painted in 1961 “Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle” which offers an alternative vision of the earth’s creation. In here, the girls trapped in a medieval tower embroider the world according to a magic recipe prepared by the central figure.

This gives us an idea of what creation means. We spin our own maze, our universe, the self-created puzzle: The world of one's own imagining. One labors to make a certain sense of one's life, and then is trapped by the labor's fruits. We all wake up and get out of bed because we want something; we want happiness. And it is in our actions that we embroider our future reality.
If Karma and Emptiness work as our lamas have explained, then this painting also represents how we can become the central figure and then dictate how we want our universe to look like. A simple yet profound concept that needs further inner exploration.

Conventional inertia is so strong that it absorbs our thoughts like a black hole. And the surrealists can help us out-smart reality by consciously changing it. If we could develop Salvador Dali’s imagination to land a lobster on a telephone receiver and at the same time believe strongly that we must help relieve all beings from suffering, we would get there faster. Our common tendency is to nourish “me” “mine”; We are like Magritte’s candle that un-illuminates the space around it when we act selfishly. We need to think surreal in order to consider others first, to learn about loving kindness and open our hearts to go to un-imaginable places.

In 1940 Salvador Dalí said “I try to create fantastic things, magical things, and things like in a dream. The world needs more fantasy. Our civilization is too mechanical. We can make the fantastic real; and then it is more real than that which actually exists.” Sprinkle this idea with a little renunciation, the feeling this is a broken world and the fact that everybody around us is suffering because there is an inborn misunderstanding of how things work, and with a strong desire to teach them how to reach paradise, and you’ll get there faster.

If you are reading this, you have renunciation, you care for others; you are no ordinary person, you have surreal ideas and know there are people around you who could stop their suffering if they only learned how things work. And you want to help them, just like Dali’s aspiration to make “the fantastic real”. This idea is sublime, extra ordinary, precious.
So study well all ACI-courses and don’t forget to go to the modern art museum in search for different ideas. We need surrealism to reach new heights. We need to develop an altruistic and irrecoverably changed vision of the world if we are to succeed in our mission, to navigate our mind with our Teacher’s blessings and attain our surreal paradise. Right here. Right now.


An aphrodisiac phone


Reflections on Emptiness Teachings from Arya Nagarjuna

By Stéphane Dreyfus

This course was an in-depth view of the teachings on emptiness by the greatest philosopher of the Mahayana tradition taught by Venerable Marut.  Teachings were based on original translations from Arya Nagarjuna's great Sanskrit classic, Mulamadhyamakakarika (The Fundamental Teachings of the Middle Way), and classes included guided meditations on emptiness. 

Venerable Marut mentioned early in his first class on Arya Nagarjuna's text that for some reason it is talks on one of the hardest subjects in Buddhism, emptiness, that draws the largest crowds. He went on to surmise that if the class had been on developing compassion only fifteen or so people would have been present. But there was quite a crowd of newbies and "oldbies" there Tuesday night, all of them paying rapt attention to the monk who was systematically breaking down reality as they knew it. Teaching with grace, force and humor Venerable Marut covered some of the extraordinarily deep points of four of the chapter of the Mulamadhyakakarika. He guided the students through a game of logical cat and mouse that Arya Nagarjuna was playing with our minds, clarifying and giving wonderful examples, bringing the difficult text to life. And finally, before sending us home refreshingly bewildered, Venerable Marut reminded us exactly why we must ponder the subject of emptiness: it is only through understanding how our reality works that we will be able to make our most compassionate desires a reality.




ACI LA Newsletter

  Dharma Flicks

Implicit Dharma - Being There

Adapted from the novel by Jerzy Kosinski and directed by Hal Ashby, Being There is a Shakespearean comedy of errors meets a Buddhist meditation on emptiness. Being There depicts the story of a gardener named Chance (Peter Sellers) who grows up in the townhouse of a wealthy man in Washington, D.C. For reasons that remain unexplained, Chance has had virtually no contact with the outside world and no social interaction for his entire life. Apart from his limited relationship with Louise the maid (Ruth Attaway), Chance's cultural and social education is derived entirely from what he watches on the television sets provided by his employer. Chance’s situation takes a fantastic turn when he is emancipated from the house and, due to a well timed cough, is introduced as “Chauncey Gardinier”. The company present in this moment instantly begins to conjure extravagant notions of who this new and exotic man might be. With the wit and charm that we would expect from Peter Seelers, the rest of the film plays out as the blank screen of Chance the Gardner is seen as everything from a businessman down on his luck to a possible presidential candidate. Emptiness indeed!


Explicit Dharma - Baraka

In this gorgeous cinematic tour-de-force by Ron Fricke, the meaning of the word “Baraka” (Arabic for “spiritual wisdom or blessing transmitted from God”) is explored within the ancient spiritual traditions of the world. In places as diverse as the Canyon Lands of Utah, the cityscapes of New York, the Zen Monasteries of Kyoto, and the Ghats of Banares, the images of the film (accompanied only by music) make for a poetic meditation on the sublimnity and preciousness of each moment of our lives and the delicate balance that grants each of us our place in the world. (Note for Los Angeles based readers: This film screens semi-regularly at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood in its original 70mm format. It is an experience not to be missed!)





ACI LA Newsletter

  Dharma Website of the Month

We thought it might be useful to bring to your attention a valuable dharma-oriented website each month. There are so many great dharma sites on the web…

Web Site of the month:

We are very pleased to feature as the website of the month! The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) transmits the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and values worldwide through Tibetan Buddhist teachings, meditation, community service, retreat centers, and projects that preserve the tradition. FPMT is based on the Gelugpa tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa of Tibet as taught by Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

The site includes teaching materials, prayers, practices and audio downloads, as well as information on charitable projects around the world. There is also a Dharma store providing a vast selection of Buddhist study materials including materials for children as well as incense, malas and cushions.

The entire site supports a well rounded Buddhist practice



If you come across a site that you’d like others to know about, please email Shannon and contribute to this part of the newsletter.





  Dharma Book of the Month

Inner Revolution

by Robert Thurman

Inner Revolution by Robert Thurman is a enjoyable historical overview of the history of Buddhism, as well as the lineage of the great teachers who founded the society of Tibet. Thurman does a clear analysis of the evolution of Tibet from Shakyamuni Buddha to the 14th Dalai Lama. He parallels this with the rise of Western society, navigating between Dharma and history, teaching us the subtleties of religion’s effect on the world we have created.  This is also a book full of small dharma treasures for the laymen reader, where you can find an entire section dedicated to emptiness concepts for everyday life.

It appears to this reader that Thurman is trying to reach out to the citizens of American society, advising them to incorporate enlightened concepts into their everyday lives.

Engaging and revealing, Robert Thurman’s Inner Revolution is a personal manifesto culminating years of study and research into the enlightenment of our society.

Click to purchase from Amazon:






  Dharma Podcasts: Recent Audio Uploads

You can watch Dharma flicks, read Dharma books and now you can hear Dharma podcasts. Life in the modern world certainly makes life easy for a practitioner to get wonderful access to teachings! Don’t miss our new weekly podcasts at New podcasts of teachings are available regularly, so visit the site often! Please check out these recent audio uploads at
Explorations in Emptiness

Los Angeles, CA

05/29/07 to 06/07/07


If you enjoy having access to these wonderful Dharma podcasts, please make sure to comment in the comments section on iTunes.

Also, make sure to subscribe to keep up to date on the digital downloads! Click on the subscription button at and/ or and enter your email address to receive podcast updates. You’ll receive an email announcement when new podcasts of teachings are uploaded to either site.






  etreat Announcement

Meditation and Yoga Asana Retreat in June: Sign up Now!!

We're so fortunate to have Venerable Thupten Pelma come to Los Angeles to lead a retreat. She is a remarkable teacher and a treasure in our lineage. She has gained great knowledge and experience from her deep practice. We can learn so much from her and are so fortunate to have this Lineage Lama comes to teach us. Don't miss this one!

Please join us for a very special meditation and yoga asana retreat with Ani Pelma.

June 22 - 24, 2007
Los Angeles,CA

The suggested donation is $180. No one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Space is limited. Please reserve your spot by emailing and making your donation online at

>>> See the flier for more info!





ACI LA Newsletter


Current ACI-LA Classes

ACI classes are free and open to the public.


Lam Rim Meditation

Taught by Stéphane Dreyfus
Ongoing Tuesday Evenings
Hill Street Center
237 Hill Street
Santa Monica, CA

Course 13: The Art of Buddhist Reasoning

Taught by Cliff Spencer
Monday evenings
Starting April 23rd
Venice, CA

pcoming Teachings

Coming in July!
Formal Study Course 15: What the Buddha Really Meant, Level 2 of The Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna Paramita)
Look for details soon!

ibetan Heart Yoga in Los Angeles

While ACI-LA is not specifically sponsoring this event, we thought it might be of interest to you. Tibetan Heart Yoga was designed by Geshe Michael Roach and reflects the integration of the practices which ACI-LA teaches with a physical yoga practice.

Tibetan Heart Yoga Series 2: Mahamudra

Taught by: Vanessa Hopkins
Golden Bridge Spiritual Village
Tibetan Heart Yoga Series 2: Mahamudra, the Great Seal
Sunday, June 17, 2007 1:30 - 4:30 PM
Cost: $30 advance or $35 day of

Mahamudra thoughts are an ancient method of working on clearing out the inner channels and chakras from the inside.

In this series we will practice and learn Tibetan asana not seen in the west, plus, learn how to alleviate mental afflictions by applying ancient meditation techniques that date back to 200 AD.

Come on down, do yoga, learn how to change your world.

Matthew Lombardo is a certified Tibetan Heart Yoga Instructor and Jivamukti Yoga teacher in NYC.

Vanessa Hopkins is a certified Tibetan Heart Yoga Instructor and Hatha Yoga Teacher and she currently teaches 4 classes at Golden Bridge, including Tibetan Heart Yoga.



ACI LA Newsletter

Thank You


Thank you to Venerable Marut for his kindness in coming to teach the Dharma here in Los Angeles and around the world. Thank you to Lauren Benjamin, Cliff Spencer, Rick Blue, Lindsay Crouse, Summer Moore, and Stéphane Dreyfus for their kindness in continuing to teach here in Los Angeles.

Thank you to Stéphane Dreyfus for maintaining the ACI-LA website. All suggestions and updates for the website can be sent to Stéphane. Shannon Parry will be producing the newsletters and would appreciate submissions. Please email your contributions to Shannon by the 25th of the month.