ACI LA Newsletter

amaste and welcome to the ACI-LA November newsletter.

A special reminder that on November 3rd through 5th Lama Marut hosts the 2nd Annual Great Bliss Festival and Benefit

On November 3rd & 4th Lama Marut teaches Living the Perfect Life, Here and Now.

On November 5 th he hosts the Benefit of Bliss, where he'll give a welcoming address and then open the Silent Auction, the Co-op Auction along with music and refreshments. Go to /bliss_fest09.html to register and for more information, including how to participate in the auctions by live video webcast.

This month's message from Lama Marut is an enlightening reminder of how the 'way' can be an obstacle on the way to the goal, and even seeking nirvana can be another form of grasping and attachment.

As usual, Mahasukha yoga continues to thrive, with classes offered nearly every day this month. Special teachings will be taught as follows; Rick Blue continues with the ACI Formal Study Course 7: Vows of the Bodhisattva as well as Guided Meditations on Sunday nights. Cliff Spencer begins ACI Formal Study Course VIII on Death and the Realms of Existence. And check the calendar for Lindsay Crouse's class on Spelunking into Paradise and the sure to shake you up Dharma Free-For-All with ACI-LA teachers.

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 December 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)

When the Way Gets in the Way  

The teachings of the great spiritual masters are rarely straightforward - although we often wish they were and usually try to make them what they're not. We hear profound and complex truths and then do our best to squeeze them into our simplified little pigeonholes. Spiritual truths generally do not conform to our desire for black and white divisions. Instead, they often appear to us as paradoxical or even contradictory.

The word "paradox" comes from the Greek "para" ("beyond") and "doxa" ("belief"); paradoxos means "beyond belief" or "conflicting with expectation." And the truth does indeed often "conflict with expectation!" When we hear that the best thing to do when someone hurts us is to forgive and love them back, this does not accord with our impulsive and habitual urges. When we read that "the first shall be last and the last shall be first" we wonder if there hasn't been some mix-up at the printer's.

"A paradox," according to one dictionary, "is an apparent falsehood that is true, or an apparent truth that is false." And we, in our ignorance, often invert the two. We, for example, think of things that are impermanent as permanent, the impure we mistake for the pure, that which is without essence we believe has an essence, and what ultimately brings us problems we think will bring us happiness. Another dictionary defines "paradox" as "A statement that seems contradictory or absurd but is actually valid or true." The fact that the truth can appear to us to be "contradictory or absurd" is simply a measure of the depths of our own ignorance.

Bob Thurman is reputed to have said, "A dharma practitioner must have a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance." We must learn to open ourselves up to the paradoxical nature of spiritual truth, which really means we must let go of our usual classification of things into watertight and mutually exclusive categories. We must try to get more comfortable with the risky ambivalence of contradiction, incongruity, and conundrum.

It might seem paradoxical, for example, to say that we practitioners must BOTH learn how to work hard AND learn how to relax, to be BOTH disciplined AND free, to be BOTH mindful AND spontaneous. How can we be two contradictory things at once?   How can we embrace and put into practice such paradoxical instruction?

We are fortunate that in our immediate lineage we are taught how important discipline and effort are to a spiritual life. Dabblers and dilettantes in the dharma don't usually stay too long with us. We insist that there is no substitution for -- and no real progress without -- a regular daily practice: daily meditation, contemplation, dharma study, checking one's morality, and some kind of physical practice like yoga that will keep the inner energies flowing well. Without the fourth of the six perfections of Mahayana Buddhism -- virya or "joyful effort" -- not much will happen in your spiritual life, as the Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life states clearly:

Once you have practiced patience, begin
Your practice of effort, for enlightenment lies
In making these kinds of effort.
Without a breeze they never flicker,
And just so in the absence of effort
Merit can never occur.

No effort, no merit. And I think anyone who is honest with themselves will recognize this. We know that it is at those times when we are really practicing well and consistently that we see noticeable shifts in our spiritual progress and level of happiness. On the other hand, it is when we slack off for days or even weeks and months that we backslide into our old habits and the unhappiness they engender.

But as many type-A personality dharma practitioners quickly find out, it is possible to bring all the stress we associate with our secular life into our spiritual life as well. We can worry, get tense, feel anxious and insecure, and in general get all worked up about the very thing that's supposed to bring us relief from such agitation. If your spiritual practice has become the source of anxiety and stress, it ain't a spiritual practice anymore.

It's important to work hard on the path to improve and perfect yourself. But it is equally important to cultivate a relaxed and stress-free attitude about the path. The way can get in the way if it becomes the source of anything other than happiness and joy.

That's why in the chapter on virya Master Shantideva also insists that to maintain pleasure in the practice one should take time off when necessary: " When one loses strength, one should leave off in order to work again later." All religious traditions have some form of the "holiday" ("holy day"), and in some of them it is programmed into the weekly schedule. Honoring the sabbath means taking a day off from one's labors -   from one's secular work but also perhaps from the exertions of meditation, study, mindfulness, etc. When one has worked hard all week on a spiritual pratice, it is advisable to "leave off" for a bit, as Master Shantideva advises, so as to return to the practice refreshed, renewed, and inspired.

So, work hard but relax when needed. But there's more. We must also learn to relax about working hard.  

It's not just that, without taking breaks, the way or the path can become productive or stress rather than happiness. There is a deeper level to the concept of "the way getting in the way" -- of the means themselves becoming obstacles to the end. The very idea that the path leads to a place different from where you are is, ultimately, a problem. It is a form of discontentment with the here and now. And discontentment cannot be overcome through perpetually desiring something that you don't have or wishing you were someone you are not now.   It is overcome by simply being happy with what you have and who you are.

There is an obvious problem in the idea that one needs to be a different person or acquire something other or more to be content. We cannot "achieve" or "attain" happiness in any other way than by just being happy with who we are and what we have. We continually defer the goal by thinking that we haven't yet reached it; we always keep it just beyond our grasp in the indefinite and imaginary future rather than in the real here and now.

Paradoxically (as it were), we need to work hard to get to the place where we realize that there has never been anything at all that we need to "acquire" or "obtain." We won't "reach" or "arrive at" nirvana; we will recognize and realize that it has always been a possibility right here, right now. To quote the great Arya Nagarjuna:

There is nothing whatsoever
That distinguishes samsara from nirvana
Or nirvana from samsara.

"Samsara" and "nirvana" are not distinct places or conditions; they are just two different perspectives on present reality. Our idealization of nirvana or enlightenment as some sort of never-never land, some heavenly realm completely and utterly different from where we are now, keeps it always in abeyance and at arm's length. Anam Thubten, in his new book entitled No Self, No Problem , writes:

Nirvana is not some kind of beautiful, celestial garden filled with peaches and mangoes, a place where everybody is walking around with beautiful halos. It is not a place where everyone is in a constant state of bliss. It's not even a transcendent state of mind that we are going to achieve. It is not a beautiful, ecstatic, trancelike state of mind that we can cherish. Rather, nirvana is a great cessation of the separation between us and the truth. It is the mere acknowledgment of what has been the case all along. It is like waking up from a nightmare. It's a great relief to discover that nothing has to be done.

We're deferring our own enlightenment by demanding the appearance of "mangoes, peachs, and halos" in the outer world. But nirvana and samsara are merely different viewpoints on our present reality. There is no nirvana to achieve through hard work and practice (although without hard work and practice, nothing will happen). There is only a nirvana to realize and apprehend through wisdom and understanding the truth (which comes from hard work and practice). We will, eventually, simply notice enlightenment, not procure it.

The nirvanic point of view is perfectly content, at peace, with nothing that needs changing or correction. And the samsaric point of view is the opposite. It is defined by discontentment, striving, effort, thirst and craving for something more, something different, something new and transformed from what is.  

"Samsara," declares the Ashtavakra Gita, "is nothing other than having something that needs to be done."

So back to the paradoxical nature of the truth. We must work hard... to get to the point where we realize there is nothing whatsoever that needs to be done. As Arya Nagarjuna puts it, we will never get to the goal by grasping at it:

"Without grasping, I will extinguish suffering
And nirvana will be mine!"
The grasping of those who say this
Is a great grasping and clinging.

It is the grasping to the nirvanic state of non-grasping that keeps us from the nirvanic state of non-grasping! The very striving for truth, for happiness, for enlightenment, thwarts our awareness of it. In the Ashtavakra Gita, we read that

The fool does not reach ultimate reality because he wants it so bad. The wise one, without wanting at all, realizes the nature of the supreme and ultimate reality...

The fool does not obtain peace because he desires peace. The wise man always has a peaceful mind, knowing how things really are.

The "orthodoxy" tells us to discipline and exert ourselves (and that is true). A "heterodoxy" might suggest the opposite, to relax and let go (and that is also true). But the "paradoxy" teaches us to do both - to work hard AND relax, to make strong efforts to come to the realization that nothing needs doing, nothing needs to be fixed or to change or to be anything other than what it is... and always has been.

With all good wishes,




ACI LA Newsletter



Lama Christie's talks on ustream:

On October 2-3, Mahasukha Center welcomed Lama Christie McNally for a loving teaching and book signing in connection with her newly-released The Tibetan Book of Meditation. During the first evening, Lama Christie discussed how her writing flowed once she identified her audience - herself as a college student searching for a path to leading a meaningful life. The teaching included two guided meditations and a lesson on emptiness; meditation is the key to understanding emptiness and changing our karmic projections. Lama Christie suggested that mastering meditation requires a steadfast commitment and thousands of hours of practice, even if that means starting with 10 minutes per day. After earlier asking if ending suffering for all people was worth 30 minutes of meditating every day, she ended the evening by asking simply, "What else are you going to do?"

Lama Christie opened the second evening with a guided "giving and taking" (Tong Len) meditation aimed at relieving another's suffering. She explained that being clear on the benefits of meditation for oneself and others is essential to developing a consistent practice. In that others' suffering comes from our own hearts and minds, meditation is the antidote that alters those karmic projections. Through meditation we open and heal our hearts and minds, and that healing ripples out to others. Lama Christie encouraged the audience to consider that perfecting meditation is the best and fastest way that we can help others in the limited time we have.

Lama Christie suggested using her book to explore different meditations for varying motivations. She advised remaining with one meditation for at least two months to gain a deep understanding of it. Lama Christie also emphasized the importance of developing a "watcher" presence to monitor the mind and pull it back to the meditative object when it begins to slip away as a result of mental agitation or dullness. Through disciplined practice over time, we may develop the ability to maintain single pointed focus (shamata), ultimately leading to seeing emptiness directly.

Submitted by Tony Tolbert




Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
         -Albert Einstein

This is how it often goes with the wise Lama Marut's teachings and my tiny brain. He says something completely outrageous like, "Work less" or even worse, "Spend less" and then about a year later it starts to make a lot of sense. How does he do that? He has some amazing tools in his skillful means kit. Watch the next time he comes to town when he mentions the word "television" and see people look away, look down, drum their fingers, jiggle their knees. These teachings we try to ignore are getting to us, getting under the skin of our bad habits.

I have tried a couple of his suggestions on for size. Keeping the book which I balked at for two years, has been the biggest life changer in ways I never contemplated. I do still own a television but my hand turns purple if it nears the on button.  

Sometimes I find that doing something concrete helps anchor the teachings. Doing the book is like this even though some of the concepts I am trying to grasp are anything but concrete. Here is something concrete to really ground you: stop spending for one year.  

We think we don't really spend much in the same way an alcoholic thinks she can quit drinking anytime she wants. My cell phone is a hand me down, my car is 8 years old. But then upon closer scrutiny there is that 8 th pair of black boots. The 6 th iteration i-pod. The one item my altar is missing that it just begging to be bought.

I contemplated the idea for a year the way a cat slowly circles a new toy. The rules are as follows. I am allowed to spend money on items other than food only if I sell something of equal value that I already own. Once you commit to this, you quickly get real with what's important and what's expendable. I immediately wondered how much I could get for my mother's small yipping dog, but thought better of that in the end.

So far there has been some suffering. If you aren't going to go to a store and buy someone a birthday gift, you have to make it. This takes planning, creativity, and time. I have little of any of those and quickly coming was my best friend's birthday. I bartered four French lessons for a piece of pottery by a local artist. Finally, the reason I majored in French in college!

Mostly there has been unparalleled joy in seeing the world differently. You cannot imagine the joy in even finding a safety pin on the ground. Or a discarded file folder, like new. We often think of money as a panacea. Buy something, feel better. Lama Marut has drawn the sad bell cure of desire for us many times. Regardless of what you buy, our karma to enjoy it will wear out eventually. Either it breaks, runs off with someone else, or we get sick of it. Given those choices, it makes sense to reflect on where we are putting our money. If it's not going into the bell curve of desire, it can go into buying karmic seeds that sow enlightenment. Into our burgeoning dharma centers, traveling teachers, copies of holy texts. In giving up spending we can take up giving.

I do have lists already of things I will buy when this year of self-imposed saving is over. Some i-tunes, a new printer, a tangka. But for now I am learning to be grateful for all the things I already have. Maybe by the end of this year of not spending I won't even have a list. I'll have a new way of life.

Submitted by Alicia Tolbert


Video contribution:

This selection is by Sakyong Mipham. Be sure to watch it through to the end.




Be content with what you have.
Rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
- Lao Tzu

All the Buddhas of all the ages have been telling you a very simple fact:
Be - don't try to become.
Within these two words, be and becoming, your whole life is contained.
Being is enlightenment, becoming is ignorance.
- Osho

In Tibetan, authentic presence is wangthang, which literally means 'field of power'. The cause or the virtue that brings about authentic presence is emptying out and letting go. You have to be without clinging.
- Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche


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 Darin 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

"Our mission is to enrich the lives of individuals and the success of organizations and businesses by providing meditation instruction that is founded on ancient tradition and tailored to meet contemporary needs."

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:
Implicit Dharma: Rear Window

A classic among classics, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window is a mystery and thriller starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly that, in 1954, raised the bar for what intrigue could mean in motion pictures. The film opens with professional photographer, L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies (Stewart) confined to his New York apartment with a broken leg. Despite his injury, or perhaps because of it, Jeff turns his investigative interests upon his neighbors whose apartments are arrayed before his window as if the activities inside were meant to be on display. We soon meet the neighbor who exercises constantly, the married couple who sleep on their small balcony, the struggling songwriter working at his piano; and the salesman with the nagging bedridden wife. Throughout the film, we are treated to our own "rear window" each of us looking into Jefferies' life as he looks into the lives of his neighbors' and throughout, we sit front and center on a time when films reveled in the simple act of a story unfolding and the grist of the human emotions therein. This being Hitchcock though, the choices of which details are reveled and which are concealed are masterful and like Jefferies, we are quickly swept into the apparent mystery unfolding in the apartment of the salesman and his wife. For the dharma student, Rear Window paints a picture of how we come to have such commitment to a state of affairs that just could not be that case. We believe for example, that "things could just happen, that they are random", or that "some things just are, or that they exist from their own side". Like Jefferies, we sit on the perch of our minds looking out into the world and too often mistake the signals we receive for "facts". Like Jefferies, we should endeavor toward knowing just exactly what is "out there" but should always remember that the veil through which we peer is subtle and difficult to pierce. For whether or not Jefferies is able to break through into seeing the truth in his neighbors' activities or to decide if such a thing is even possible, you'll have to see Rear Window.

Explicit Dharma:
Explicit Dharma:Olden Boy

Unmistaken Child follows the 4-year search for the reincarnation of Lama Konchog, a Tibetan master who passed away in 2001 at the age of 84. The Dalai Lama charges the deceased monk's devoted disciple, Tenzin Zopa (who had been in his service since the age of seven), to search for his master's reincarnation. Tenzin sets off on this unforgettable quest on foot, mule and even helicopter, through breathtaking landscapes and remote traditional Tibetan villages. Along the way, Tenzin listens to stories about young children with special characteristics, and performs rarely seen tests designed to find the reincarnated master. He eventually presents the child he believes to be his reincarnated master to the Dalai Lama so that he can make the final decision.

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:

"The Perfections of Patience, Joyful Effort, and Meditation", "The Perfection of Ethics, Pt. 2" and "The Frog in the Well Syndrome."

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:


November 3rd through 5th - Lama Marut Hosts the 2nd Annual Great Bliss Festival and Benefit
On November 3rd & 4th Lama Marut teaches Living the Perfect Life, Here and Now.
On November 5th he hosts the Benefit of Bliss, where he'll give a welcoming address and then open the Silent Auction, the Co-op Auction, the music and refreshments. Go to /bliss_fest09.html to register and for more information, including how to participate in the auctions by live video webcast.

DHARMA - by donation only

Monday 7:30-9:30pm
ACI VII:  Vows of the Bodhisattva, with Teacher

Thursday 7:30-9:30pm
Bok Jinpa III: Setting Your Meditation On Fire, with Lauren Benjamin

Friday Nov. 13 th 7:30 - 9:30
SPELUNKING INTO PARADISE, Part I: The Tenderness of Honesty with Lindsay Crouse

Tuesday Nov. 17 th   7:30-9:30 pm
DHARMA FREE FOR ALL, with Lindsay Crouse & ACI-LA Teachers

Mondays beginning Nov. 23 rd 7:30 - 9:30 pm
ACI Formal Study Course VIII: Death and the Realms of Existence


Sunday 6:30-8:30pm
Guided Meditation, with Rick Blue

YOGA - suggested donations are listed.  No one will be turned away for lack of funds
For details go to:
Please contact:

Monday 6-7 pm
Beginners, with Jessica Larsen / Rebecca Stanley
Suggested donation: Free community class

Wednesday 6-7 pm
Beginners, with Sarah Canfield
Suggested donation: $10

Wednesday 7:30 - 9:30 pm
All levels, with Sarah Canfield
Suggested donation: $10

Friday 12 - 1 pm
All levels, with Sarah Canfield
Suggested donation: $10

Saturday 9:15 am - 10:15 am
Beginners. with Sarah Canfield
Suggested donation: $10

Saturday 10:30 am - 12 pm
All levels, with Sarah Canfield
Suggested donation: $10

Sunday 2:00 - 3:30 pm
All Levels, with Rebecca Stanley
Suggested donation: $10

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

Help the Mahasukha Kula Great Retreat Fund

NEW DESIGNS at CafePress!!
Please check them out!  All profits go
directly into the retreat fund:

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. Catherine Eaton produces the newsletters and would joyfully appreciate submissions. Please email your contributions to Catherine at by the 20th of the month.