ACI LA Newsletter

amaste and welcome to the ACI-LA September newsletter. Before bringing you up to date on ACI-LA, we'd like to announce two upcoming amazing events:

We are honored that Lama Christie will be teaching for two nights and signing her new book - The Tibetan Book of Meditation, which illuminates meditation techniques that combine wisdom and method to transform your mind and open your heart. If you can't be there in person, you can tune in remotely, and even arrange to get a signed copy of the book sent to you. For more information and to register - go to

Details will appear in October's newsletter, and notices will go out. But SAVE THE DATES!

Many members of ACI-LA traveled last month to Cape Ann Massachusetts to the annual Windhover retreat. We were received warmly and graciously by the members of our sister center in Rockport, the Vajramudra Dharma Center. It was a week of yoga classes and beautiful, powerful teachings by Lama Marut and senior teachers, Lindsay Crouse and Rick Blue who produce this richly inspiring retreat each year. Many thanks to them and to all who attended and helped out.

This month we have a powerful message from Lama Marut on the topic of faith, an essential component of a spiritual life.

Yoga classes are offered nearly every day this month along with some special teachings. Lauren Benjamin will be teaching Bok Jinpa III: Set Your Meditation on Fire Part III. Rick Blue will instruct us on ACI Formal Study Course 7: Vows of the Bodhisattva as well as Guided Meditations on Sunday nights.

These teachings as well as all the offerings at the Mahasukha Center are listed at the end of this newsletter, with details available on the ACI-LA website. Click here to see the events:

The Mahasukha Center has grown into a sanctuary of authentic dharma and yoga traditions for application in today's modern world. As a community we work together to be happy and to serve others, and gain the tools and resources to practice wisdom and compassion.

We continue our efforts to support the 3-year Great Retreat, scheduled to begin in October of 2010. (To see the full description, go to


This Month
A Message from Brian (Venerable Marut)
Darin's Digital Funhouse
Dharma Website of the Month
Dharma Flicks
Dharma Podcasts: Recent Audio Uploads
Upcoming ACI-LA Classes
How You Can Help
Thank You

ACI LA Newsletter

A Message From Brian (Venerable Marut)

Doubting Faith  

One of the reasons for the popularity of Buddhism in the modern West, especially among the highly educated, is that it seems so pragmatic and rational. Unlike some of the other religions in the current spiritual marketplace, Buddhism appears to discourage blind faith and instead emphasizes an appealing reasonability. Buddhism can be seen to be cool and hip because it seems to conform so nicely to a modern, skeptical, and urbane worldview.

Some have seized on this portrait of Buddhism to argue that it is not really a religion at all. It is, according to some, more of a philosophy, therapy, or "science of the mind." And for many of us who are disillusioned with what we disdainfully refer to as "organized religion" (as opposed to "disorganized religion"?) but are still drawn to a spiritual life that won't insult our intelligence, it's just fine that Buddhism might not be a religion. For some of its contemporary adherents, the more secularized and rational the Buddhism, the better.

Whether or not we regard Buddhism as a religion, it's not hard to find textual confirmation of this portrait of a rational Buddhism. The Buddha himself advised his followers to scrutinize the authenticity of his teachings like one would examine gold: "As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it (on a touchstone), so are you to accept my words only after examining them and not merely because you revere me." With the recent rise of fundamentalism, where religious discourse tends to be authoritarian, doctrinaire, and closed-minded, it is reassuring to hear a spiritual teacher encouraging us to think for ourselves.  

In another widely quoted passage from the Pali text known as the Kalama Sutra, the Buddha insists that we must abjure outside sources of authority and "figure things out for ourselves":

"Do not believe in something because of what others say, or because it has been handed down by tradition (parampara), or because it is the received opinion. Do not believe in something just because it is cited in the scriptures, or because it seems to be logical, philosophical, commonsensical, or in accordance with your preconceptions. And do not believe in things just because they are said by trustworthy people or by your guru. Only when you've figured things out for yourself - 'this is immoral and blameworthy, disapproved of by the wise and conducive to ruin and suffering' - should you reject them. And only when you've figured things out for yourself - 'this is moral and praiseworthy, recommended by the wise and conducive to well-being and happiness' - should you act accordingly."

Indeed, according to some sources, the last words the Buddha imparted to his disciples were to "Be your own lamps, be your own refuges. Take refuge in nothing outside yourself. Hold firm to the truth as a lamp and a refuge, and do not look for refuge to anything besides yourselves."

Such quotations jibe nicely with our modern sensibility and its stress on the individual, its egalitarianism and suspicion of authority, and its abhorrence of what we regard as the irrationality and superstitions of the past (and of the fundamentalisms of the present).  

But choosing to represent Buddhism in only this way obscures another facet of the tradition. Faith (the Sanskrit is shraddha, for which see below) is also a prominent and necessary component of Buddhism, just as it is for every religion. We cannot easily shunt this element aside in the effort to make Buddhism more palatable to us secularized Westerners. Faith is at least as important to the Buddhist path as is rationality. And, what's more, faith and reason are not the polar opposites many of us seem to believe they are.

Perhaps we can start by rehabilitating the true meaning of "faith." The word does not automatically come with the adjective "blind" prefixed to it. Faith is not antithetical to reason. Indeed, as Gandhi noted, without reason faith cannot survive: "Faith must be enforced by reason. When faith becomes blind it dies."   

Another word for faith is "conviction," believing something is true because one has really worked it out. One arrives at faith or conviction through exercising, not repudiating, one's rationality. And this conviction then can serve to see you through the hard times. "Faith," wrote C. S. Lewis, "is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods."  

Faith is not the opposite of reason; it is the opposite of what we might call "lazy doubt," the unwillingness to wrestle intellectually and emotionally with the thorny questions of life. This kind of doubt is regarded in Buddhism as one of the major mental afflictions (it made the "top six" list), for it underlies and enables inertia and thus bankrupts our hopes for self-improvement. "Thoughtless doubt" has been described by the first Dalai Lama, Gendun Drup, in the following verse:

It wanders through the sky pitch-black night,
Attacking our hopes for high spiritual goals,
A viper that threatens the life of our freedom;
Oh protect me I beg, from the terror
Of the demon of thoughtless doubt.

This kind of doubt is thus one of the biggest obstacles to spiritual progress. But it is unfortunately sort of chic in some corners of contemporary society. Being without convictions of any sort is sometimes seen as a mark of sophistication. Sogyal Rinpoche writes,

"If we were to put our minds to one powerful wisdom method and work with it directly, there is a real possibility we would become enlightened. Our minds, however, are riddled with confusion and doubt. I sometimes think that doubt is an even greater block to human evolution than is desire or attachment.   Our society promotes cleverness instead of wisdom, and celebrates the most superficial, harsh, and least useful aspects of our intelligence. We have become so falsely 'sophisticated' and neurotic that we take doubt itself for truth, and the doubt that is nothing more than ego's desperate attempt to defend itself from wisdom is deified as the goal and fruit of true knowledge. This form of mean-spirited doubt is the shabby emperor of samsara, served by a flock of 'experts' who teach us not the open-souled and generous doubt that Buddha assured us was necessary for testing and proving the worth of the teachings, but a destructive form of doubt that leaves us nothing to believe in, nothing to hope for, and nothing to live by."

This kind of fashionable but dangerous lazy doubt paralyzes and depresses. In contrast, faith is the precondition of a vital spiritual life aimed at true happiness. In the Buddhist as well as the yoga texts, faith is listed as the first of the "five powers" (panca bala) that comprise a spiritual life. The power of faith (shraddha) counteracts the inaction that accompanies doubt and thus enables joyful effort (virya). Effort overcomes laziness and leads to mindfulness that in turn empowers the concentration (samadhi) necessary for the cultivation of wisdom (prajna).

Faith is thus the precondition for wisdom, as Arya Nagarjuna also notes in his "Precious Garland": "Because of the faith one has in it, one relies on a spiritual practice. And because of the wisdom one acquires through that practice, one really knows what's what. Of these two, wisdom is the main thing and faith is its prerequisite." Without faith to inspire us, we never exert any effort and therefore never learn "what's what." Immobilized by doubt, we remain inert and ignorant. It is faith that leads us to begin rational inquiry into the purpose of life, the causes of happiness and unhappiness, and the true methods for achieving our goals.  

Placing faith in our teachers, in what they teach us, and in our ability to learn and progress provides the motivation to work for change. Too often the paralysis of doubt prevents us from even beginning - from finding a teacher and initiating the process of learning what they have to teach us. As Reginald Ray notes in regard to a typical reluctance to commit to a teacher, our doubt holds us back from taking the leap we must take if we are to move ahead:

"At a certain point, the disciple begins to realize that he or she could continue to hold on to reservation and suspicions, and could always wait until tomorrow to require further experiences and further proof of the teacher's authenticity and reliability. But then the question arises, how much information is enough? At what point will one be convinced? And then one realizes that no matter how much information is acquired, there is always the uncertain future that stretches out in front forever. The disciple realizes that, at some point, to go further he or she will have to make a leap.

One begins to realize at this point that what is at stake here is not mistrust of the teacher but fundamental paranoia and unwillingness to trust anything. One always wants to hold on to some shred of solid ground, some filament of self-reference, to make sure that one is all right. But the disciple sees now that that basic mistrust itself is the problem; it is preventing him or her from going deeper. It is necessary to abandon oneself to the good graces of the teacher. At that point, one needs to leap."

Such a necessary "leap of faith" to overcome doubt and mistrust does not, however, entail abandoning all reasoning and questioning. While overcoming one kind of doubt is necessary to even begin a spiritual life, the cultivation of another kind of doubt is the condition of possibility for detaching from the complacency that thwarts and stifles our ability to work hard for our spiritual goals.

As Oscar Wilde has declared, "Skepticism is the beginning of faith." For without a skeptical attitude toward the truisms and mere appearances of the unexamined life, we can never grow into the mature conviction and wisdom that are born of hard intellectual and spiritual labor. Or as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says (with his typical flair for the controversial), a worthy recipient of spiritual teaching must first be a total cynic:  

"At this point, we are talking purely about the beginner's level and the preparations that might be needed in order for spiritual transmission to occur in the very early stages. It is necessary for us to sharpen our cynicism, to sharpen our whole critical attitude towards what we are doing. That cynicism provides a basis for our study and work."

While faith is the antidote to one kind of doubt, another kind of doubt is thus the necessary correlate to faith itself. Freedom from suffering and the attainment of true happiness cannot come from passive acceptance of the status quo. Mark Twain was right when he noted, "Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul." It is doubt that impels us to start questioning what we have hitherto blindly accepted, and it is that questioning and rational inquiry that leads to conviction -- a reasoned faith that frees us from ignorance and complacency.

In an article entitled "The Distance Between Faith and Doubt,"Zen priest Sensei Sevan Ross argues that without "Great Doubt" there can be no "Great Faith":

"Doubt is what unseats the ego as we have come to know it. Doubt is the questioning that, if it grows enough and we have determination, can come to encompass everything. Life becomes questioning, period...

Often someone can be convinced that they have Great Faith, but lack this kind of Doubt. When asked about this, I am thrown all the way back to memories of my Catholic childhood. Some of us had what we thought of as Great Faith. We accepted our inadequacy in God's eyes and put our faith in His mercy. Or so it seemed. But you see, we had no Doubt. Not the Doubt of Zen, the Doubt of intense questioning. We started out with no questions at all. We took it all literally.

So, we never really had Great Faith. We couldn't have, because Great Faith and Great Doubt are two ends of a spiritual walking stick. We grip one end with the grasp given to us by our Great Determination. We poke into the underbrush in the dark on our spiritual journey. This act is real spiritual practice - gripping the Faith end and poking ahead with the Doubt end of the stick. If we have no Faith, we have no Doubt. If we have no Determination, we never pick up the stick in the first place."

"Good doubt" (as opposed to the "lazy doubt" described above) is, therefore, not at odds with faith but rather is its requirement and complement. Without faith or conviction reason is stunted, marooned in indeterminacy and shallow pessimism.

So by all means be critical and rational as part of your spiritual path. Embrace doubt and even cynicism. Never accept things blindly. Buddhism does indeed call us to be skeptics and rationalists.  

But begin by targeting the very doubt that keeps us in our suffering state. Sogyal Rinpoche challenges us "to deflate the claims of doubt itself":

"To do as one Hindu master said: 'Turn the dogs of doubt on doubt itself, to unmask cynicism, and to uncover what fear, despair, hopelessness, and tired conditioning it springs from.' Then doubt would no longer be an obstacle, but a door to realization, and whenever doubt appeared in the mind, a seeker would welcome it as a means of going deeper into the truth."

Don't be taken in by the "cool" kind of modern cynicism, which is really just indolence, confusion and resignation posing as worldliness, wit and intelligence. Avoid despair. Learn to be happy and live a fulfilling life. And realize that it is faith - springing from "good doubt" and grounded in reasoned conviction - that can set you free.

With all good wishes,



ACI LA Newsletter


My Lama's Voice:

To see emptiness directly,
great time and energy
is required.

Why is it that we spend time
doing the things we are doing?

What is the result
of those things?

Are they self-existent?

Is it possible for our
priorities to change?

Think on this.



My Father

Today, sixty five years ago the man who would become my father was born.
As I look back to all the moments I spent with him, I have but no doubt that he emanated into the planet to bring me to enlightenment. He passed away too soon and I can't help but think how life would be if he were around.

Dad was a very spiritual person, he was a sort of a gnarly yogi in many ways. He would wear his suit and work as a lawyer from 9:00 to 5:00 and then some weekdays after work he would go and volunteer helping a shaman -a healer- in his consultations in a very poor and dangerous neighborhood in Mexico City. He would remove his jacket and loosen his tie, and just like that with a small dinner and a lot of love he would bring the poor and sick to the healing room: His job was to pray with people and give them hope as the shaman performed whatever rituals needed to cure that person. He saw many miracles in that room. He would come for lunch and talk to us about the wonders he had seen the night before: heart and lung replacements, cancer healings, the blind would see and the invalids would walk again.  He would finish around 3:00 am and needless to say nothing ever happened to him or his car.

My dad was not a devotee and could not think less of the catholic church; however he brought us to church on Sundays and years later paid for many Buddhist texts and even week long retreats. He taught me the importance of a spiritual life and that miracles can happen. He supported all my crazy decisions -except for one: I wanted to go to India and study Sanskrit, but he told me it would be important to get a bachelor's degree to make a living and help others- He delighted on asking what I had learned and enjoy a philosophical conversation accompanied with some tequila or a Spanish red.

I had the fortune to learn from Dad, but we have all had someone special who has led the way and that is what we must do for others. At the same time, we need to be paying attention as teachers come in many different flavors. They are the boss who leaves us unemployed and the divorced girlfriend that needs our company. They leave us a song that makes us think of them when we need them and the cool breeze in a hot day.

To our holy parents who gave us a precious human life, I prostrate.

.*´¨ )
¸.´¸.´¨) ¸.*¨)
(¸.´ (¸.´ .´ : (´¸.*´¯`* Irma Gomés



Is "me" in the Dinah's Chicken sign?! - Cliff Spencer


Video Contribution

Vivian Belmont


Darrin's Digital Funhouse


Visit the new Live Video page on the ACI-LA site to see all the current and archived broadcasts on Ustream.TV, including Lama Marut's 3 Yogas of the Bhagavad Gita and Geshe Michael and Lama Christie's Spiritual Partner Teachings:


Email if you want in on the Digital Sangha list to get reminders about what's coming up or need help to view the archived teachings.

Twitter into Happiness!

Get little pearls of Lama wisdom sent straight to your cell phone every day via text message!

Lama Marut gives us another way to keep ourselves mindful of how to be happy by sending out "Dharma Twitters" via Just create a profile at (it takes 10 minutes max) and then text " follow Lama Marut" to 40404 from your cell phone.

Get a little Lama love in the middle of your busy day!


ACI LA Newsletter

Dharma Website of the Month

If you come across a site that you'd like others to know about, please notify Catherine at and contribute to this part of the newsletter.


ACI LA Newsletter

Dharma Flicks

Implicit Dharma:

Regarded as one of Federico Fellini's master pieces, is a thinly veiled auto biography that follows a fictional film director, Guido Anselmi, as he searches for the will and inspiration necessary to embark on a new film production. Released in 1963 followed on two widely celebrated releases from Fellini La Dolce Vita (1960) and La Strada (1954). It is easy to see how Fellini might feel the victim of his own success and have difficulty dealing with the pressures and expectations placed on a successful film director. In the film, Guido is bombarded by his mistress, his wife, his producer, and the rest of his friends with selfish demands and outlandish requests. As a result, Guido retreats into his dreams and there, he finds inspiration to make his new film. As a dharma student, one can see in Guido's struggle that there often lacks the solace and meaning that we might hope for in our daily lives. Fraught with the tribulations of samsara, we are often sorting out which paths and influences are worthy of heading and which will only cause greater suffering. As students, we can take Guido as an example of one who retreats into an inner world to find what he must. Although Guido's journey is far from serene, we can see that by following his own inner path, he ultimately reaches his higher goals.

Explicit Dharma:
Crazy Wisdom: The Life & Times of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Crazy Wisdom explores the life, teachings, and "crazy wisdom" of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, a pivotal figure in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Called a genius, rascal, and social visionary, 'one of the greatest spiritual teachers of the 20th century,' and 'the bad boy of Buddhism,' Trungpa defied categorization. Raised and trained in the Tibetan monastic tradition, Trungpa came to the West and shattered our preconceived notions about how an enlightened teacher should behave - he openly smoked, drank, and had intimate relations with students - yet his teachings are recognized as authentic, vast, and influential. Twenty years after his death, Crazy Wisdom looks at the man and the myths about him, in an interesting and unflinching way.

Dharma Flicks submitted by Mike Parry


Dharma Podcasts: Recent Audio Uploads

Dharma Podcasts: Recent Audio Uploads

Dharma podcasts are becoming an increasingly popular and convenient way to get exposure to enlightening Dharma teachings at the touch of a computer key. Don't miss Lama Marut's weekly podcasts at

This Month's Dharma Podcasts:
"Transforming Your Mental Afflictions" and "The First Truth: Life is Stressful!"

Weekly videocasts: /mg-video.html

Audio podcasts : /mg-podcsts.html

Audio Downloads: The "Recent Teachings" section on is replete with new public talks on yoga, Guru yoga and meditation at: /teach_marut_recent.html

Be 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.

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

To subscribe to Lama Marut's video podcasts please go to: /mg-video.html


ACI LA Newsletter

Current and Upcoming ACI-LA Classes

ACI-LA classes are donation-based and open to the public.
(Please see the calendar for full descriptions.)

Many of the classes are given weekly so please check the ACI website calendar for full descriptions and times:

Upcoming Events

Book signing with Lama Christie McNally
Lama Christie McNally comes to the Mahasukha Center on October 2nd and 3rd for a teaching and book signing for her newly released book entitled, The Tibetan Book of Meditation.

f you would like to volunteer for this event please contact Becki Kammerling at


2nd Annual Festival of Bliss with Lama Marut
he Mahasukha center will be celebrating its 2nd Annual Festival of Bliss on November 2, 3 and 4th with teachings from Lama Marut. On November 4th, the Mahasukha Center will celebrate with the 2nd Annual Great Bliss Benefit, an auction to benefit the Center. If you would like to volunteer for this event or would like to donate auction items for the Great Bliss Benefit please contact Becki Kammerling at


Current And Upcoming ACI-LA Classes


September 5th, 12th, 19th and 26th (Sat)
Mahasukha Yoga - Beginners with Sarah Canfield
Time: 9:15 am - 10:15 am
Location: Mahasukha Center
Admission: $8 per class - No one will be turned away due to lack of funds

September 5th, 12th, 19th and 26th (Sat)
Mahasukha Yoga all levels - with Sarah Canfield
Time: 10:30 am - 12:00 noon
Location: Mahasukha Center
Admission: $12 per class - No one will be turned away due to lack of funds

September 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th (Mon)
Mahasukha Yoga - All levels - with Rebbecca Stanley
Time: 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Location: Mahasukha Center
Admission: donation-based community class

September 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th (Wed)
Mahasukha Yoga - Beginners - with Sarah Canfield
Time: 6:45 pm - 7:45 pm
Location: Mahasukha Center
Admission: $12 suggested donation. No one will be turned away due to lack of funds.

September 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th (Wed)
Mahasukha Yoga - All levels - with Mira Kingsley
Time: 8:00 pm - 9:30 pm
Location: Mahasukha Center
Admission: $12 suggested donation. No one will be turned away due to lack of funds.

September 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th (Fri)
Mahasukha Lunchtime Yoga - all levels - with Sarah Canfield
Time: 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Location: Mahasukha Center
Admission: $8 suggested donation. No one will be turned away due to lack of funds.


September 3rd (Thurs)
Dharma Essentials II: Refuge, with Catherine Eaton
Time: 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm
Location: Mahasukha Center
Admission: donation-based community class

September 10th, 17th and 24th (Thurs)
Bok Jinpa III -Set Your Meditation on Fire Part III, with Lauren Benjamin
Time: 7:3 - 9:30 pm
Location: Mahasukha Center
Admission: Free and open to the public; donation only.

September 14th, 21st and 28th (Mon)
ACI Formal Study Course 7: Vows of the Bodhisattva, with Rick Blue
Time: 7:30pm to 9:30pm
Location: Mahasukha Center
Admission: Free and open to the public; donation only


September 6th, 13th, 20th and 27th (Sun)
Teacher: Rick Blue
Time: 6:30pm to 8:30pm
Location: Mahasukha Center
Admission: Free and open to the public; donation only

To help Mahasukha Yoga teachers receive special trainings to pass along to all of us, please consider making a donation to the Yoga Scholarship Fund - just click on the lower "Donate" button on the left side of the yoga page:



ow You Can Help

Thank you to all of the ACI-LA volunteers who help with our various Dharma projects! We are currently looking for people who have specific skills in certain areas so please email us at if you:

* Would like to help transcribe full-length audio teachings
* Have document formatting / layout skills to help format our Dharma Essentials handouts
* If you have some time to look through and find broken weblinks and audio that doesn't download.
* Have accounting skills and/or are familiar with Quik-Books
* Add a link to ACI-LA website on your blog.


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 and Sal Gallina for their kindness in teaching here in Los Angeles.

Thank you to Stephane Dreyfus for maintaining the ACI-LA website, and to all our marvelous students who help make it possible to spread the Dharma.

All suggestions and updates for the website can be sent to Stephane at Catherine Eaton produces the newsletters and would joyfully appreciate submissions. Please email your contributions to Catherine at by the 20th of the month.