Talks & Writings

     Here is a recent dialogue between Bonni and a student that may be helpful to others who are having difficulties in their daily lives

Dear Bonni,

For a question:

I am pondering about conditioning and illusion.

Buddha talks about illusion and the “true” way of seeing.

In daily life what is illusion, feeling the cold because our heating system is not working yet?
My partner’s worries about the credit he took renovating the house and now monthly payments? – Only illusions?? How to really stay grounded and centered and not be carried away by fear fields and worries which are not existing in the first place? What exists and what doesn’t?

And conditioning? Since I have given birth to my boys I realise every day how conditioned I am, by my childhood, parents, country, tradition. But has it all been bad, or should I not go into bad and good. When do I try to step out of conditioning and where has it been beneficial to be in a tradition?

The good old way of doing things, handcrafts for example? Is this also some kind of conditioning? Where to refuse the modern age, the new way and where to treasure the old ??
And where does dismantling of the, so to speak, “perceptive me” start so the true self can expand and benefit all sentient beings?

Well , that is all for today, I hope I am clear enough with my way of saying things :).

With love and light,

Dear student,

This is a very, very important question . . . much misunderstanding around this.

Let’s start with this pair of ideas:

There is a samsaric reality . . . often referred to as Relative Truth.  In this reality, objects are solid, individuals feel like separate entities, opinions get in the way of unified feeling and perception, and the realities of cold, finances, emotional states, unskillful actions, attachments and so forth are most definitely real.  They need to be taken seriously and responded to, using the guidelines of the self-liberation precepts to help us make good choices when our conditioned views and preferences cause conflict and narrowness.  All our actions (physical, verbal, mental/emotional) create patterning . . . the precepts help us to move toward more wholesome patterning.  It is in this “reality” that causes have effects and we create our wholesome or unwholesome patterns of body/mind.  All beings live in this reality 24/7.

There is a universal, or enlightened reality . . . often referred to as Absolute Truth.  From this point of view, no conditioned phenomena has any independent, intrinsic, existence.  All phenomena come into being and pass away . . . at the sub-atomic level, from moment to moment.  When the word “emptiness” is used, this is what it refers to:  that all conditioned reality is “empty” of permanence.  Whether you look through the lens of a mystic or a physicist, the appearance of solidity and durability in the samsaric world dissolves; is seen to have exactly the same quality as a dream.  It is in this “reality” that phenomena are experienced as illusory.  Only beings with some degree of spiritual realization experience this reality; for the rest, it is just a concept.

But the concept can be very helpful, if it helps us to take ourselves, our conditioning, our hopes and fears, pain and pleasure less seriously, less personally.  This doesn’t mean that we ignore the samsaric reality . . . just blow it off as not important . . . but use this larger understanding to help us heal the patterning of desire, aversion and ignorance that exists in our mind and causes us to act in unwholesome ways.

What exists and what doesn’t?  Nothing really is; everything arises in the meditator’s mind.  Your samsaric reality is quite unique to you; as your partner’s is to him.  So much conflict comes from this.  And there is nothing more powerful than seeing the effect of our conditioned preferences at work in our children.  For me, this was the most powerful motivation to work for liberation.

Conditioning can be wholesome or unwholesome . . . these are more useful concepts than “bad” or “good.”  The old ways are not necessarily better or worse; it is our clinging to things having to be one way or the other that causes difficulties to arise.  The way we use our bodies shapes our brains, as do the language(s) we speak;  this is all conditioning.  So is culture, food, family, politics, religion and everything else.  Everything conditions everything in an interconnected, interdependent reality.

No dismantling of the “perceptive me” is necessary . . . seeing the relative nature of “me-ness” is all that is required.  This usually starts with the realization that there are many different experiences of me-ness that show up when we are in different situations!  There is no true self that shows up (not in Buddhadharma, anyway!)  It is only your everyday, conditioned, relative self that can train in the aspiration to awaken in everything you do and can “re-condition” your sense of self to behave, feel and think in ways that are wholesome and therefore non-harming.


Here are some contemplations that help with all of this:


 Taking Refuge

I take refuge in the vast intelligence of universe;
I take refuge in the order and chaos of universal law;
I take refuge in the interconnectedness of all manifestation.
In the Buddha, his Teaching and the Community of awakened ones, I take refuge until enlightenment is realized.
By the merit of generosity and other good deeds, may I awaken quickly for the sake of all living beings.

  Training Precepts
1. I undertake to train myself to abstain from taking the life of any living beings.
I vow to train myself to support, extend and appreciate the life of all living beings. I will train myself to live with a sensitive and responsible awareness of the whole ecology of life.

2. I undertake to train myself to abstain from taking that which is not freely given.
I vow to train myself to dwell more and more in the mind of spontaneous generosity.
Daily, I will train myself to give material support, emotional support, an example to others of awakening in action.

3. I undertake to train myself to abstain from sensual misconduct.
I vow to train myself to use the senses to further awakening, explore Dharma, and to experience the world more profoundly and more compassionately.

4. I undertake to train myself to abstain from unskillful speech.
I vow to train myself to use verbal communication in a skillful and compassionate manner.

5. I undertake to train myself to abstain from taking substances that cause intoxication to the point of heedlessness.
I vow to train myself to be ever more directly aware of how nutriment affects the mind and body. I will eat and drink in a way that is supportive of awakening.

Meditation on the Body
This body is composed of atoms born in stars, molecules, cells, tissues and organs.
It is a union of uncountable viruses, bacteria, fungi, plants and animals.
It is conditioned by families and societies, by thoughts and dreams.
It is shaped by sun and gravity and the whole of the ecosphere.
It is an interbeing of all these processes from micro to macro.
Wondrous! Transient!
May it teach me wisdom!
Bones, flesh skin. Skin, flesh, bones.

Meditation on Death and Impermanence
All compounded things are impermanent. Everything that comes into being is
certain to pass away. I too will one day pass away and there is no way to know
exactly when. It could be years from now. It could be today.
Recognizing this, may I cease grasping after permanence and live each moment
fully with clear, bright, non-clinging awareness.

Vow of Infinite Compassion (Bodhisattva Vow)
However innumerable beings are, I vow to meet them with kindness and interest.
However inexhaustible the states of suffering are, I vow to touch them with patience and love.
However immeasurable the Dharmas are, I vow to explore them deeply.
However incomparable the mystery of interbeing, I vow to surrender to it freely.

The Four Immeasurables
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow.
May all never be separate from the sacred happiness that is sorrowless.
May all leave attachment to dear ones and aversion to others
And dwell in the interconnectedness of all that lives.

May this powerful action heal all the distortions of body, speech and mind and
firmly establish all beings on the path of liberation.

You need diligent attention to your body, the sensations within it, your mind (emotional) states, and seemingly “outer” phenomena from moment to moment in everyday reality.  This is referred to as “mindfulness” but I think the phrase “continuum awareness” has a deeper impact.  You need daily, focussed, formal meditation practice and you need time to do the necessary, deeper work of healing in regular retreat, preferably with the guidance of a teacher.  Most of all, you need a consistent approach to training in all these things.  I know this seems like an impossible task when life is complicated with small children.  However, the spontaneous, immediate nature of their experience is wonderful inspiration for you to cultivate in yourself . . . and very joyous, too!

I think this is a good start!  I hope it helps, and if more questions arise than are answered, that is very good indeed!

Overview of Buddhist Meditation (3)

We do this work to expand awareness, deepen wisdom and increase compassion for the benefit of all beings.

Why is it necessary to go to all this effort to learn about meditation? If it is true that the force of Universe is moving all of us in the direction of awakening, why the emphasis on this seemingly artificial “practice”?

The answer is that the “individual” consciousness, associated with a particular body, and the story that develops with it, is subject to many distortions which have accumulated on its journey from beginingless time until now. These distortions have three root causes: intentions and actions arising from hatred; from greed, and from ignorance. Obviously, there are many variations on each of these three themes. If this were not the case, the awakened state would be fully realized, because this transcendence is the fabric upon which our lives are woven. It is only because we carry the screens, blinds and filters created by past unwholesome activity that we are not able to perceive this reality right now. Read the rest of this entry »

Overview of Buddhist Meditation (2)

We do this work to expand awareness, deepen wisdom and increase compassion for the benefit of all beings.

First of all, I’d like to refresh your memory of the Jungian mandala of the four functions of the human being which we spoke about last week. Do you recall what they are? Sensing, evaluative, intellectual and intuitive.

Now, the fact that you have a physical body is rather obvious to you! And most adults have some sort of understanding that this physical body has an anatomical structure similar to other adult human bodies, but with built-in strengths and weaknesses that are quite individual, conditioned by genetics, accident and opportunity (or lack of opportunity) for development. Read the rest of this entry »

Overview of Buddhist Meditation (1)

We do this work to expand awareness, deepen wisdom and increase compassion for the benefit of all beings.

What is meditation? It may interest you to know that in the ancient language of the culture where these practices were first developed, there wasn’t a word which exactly translates as “meditation”. This English word is our Western construct; the being who taught the system we are going to study over the next few months, Sakyamuni Buddha, used two words to describe the process: one which means “concentration” and another which means “mental development”. So here is a new idea for you. Meditation exercises involve training the “individual” mind to concentrate on particular objects in very specific ways, in order to strengthen and purify consciousness to the point where it is possible to awaken to, or perceive its union with, transcendent or “universal” consciousness. Read the rest of this entry »

Path Going Now-Here 2


Two weeks ago we ended with a consideration of the word samma and you were invited to explore the implications of a totality perspective in your daily lives. If you gave this a try, you will know directly how difficult it is. Only when we begin to realize how much we think, speak and act without awareness of totality do we begin to develop as students of the path of liberation. We have to see how much our lives are dominated by partiality. This lovely word can mean two things: preference and incompleteness — really the same, when you stop to consider.

Tonight’s task is very big . . . to give an overview of The Eightfold Noble Path as the foundation for our life as practitioners. So we have to start with the first principle the Buddha taught, also the most difficult: totality view or totality understanding. We’ll spend a lot of time with this principle, because
all the rest flows from it. Samma ditthi means knowing the nature of reality as an awakened being would know it — directly, without concepts. But for us, who dwell so incompletely in the realm of concepts, we can try to use them skillfully, as the Buddha did.

Continue reading the PDF version.

Path Going Now-Here

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”– The Red Queen to Alice, in THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, by Lewis Carroll

“I, too, use concepts, but I am not fooled thereby.” — Namgyal Rinpoche

I take refuge in the vast intelligence of Universe.
I take refuge in the order and chaos of universal law.
I take refuge in the interconnectedness of all manifestation.

At a small gathering with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Victoria nearly 20 years ago, he was asked to give a talk on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the Three Refuges, in some traditions referred to as The Three Jewels. He arrived late by helicopter from Vancouver, was visibly tired (and dare to say it, stressed) after speaking to a large crowd in BC Place Stadium that morning, and he had a very short time with us before he had to helicopter back to Vancouver for an evening reception in his honour.

Continue reading the PDF version.

Buddha Dharma: Innate Natural Awakeness

Have you ever experienced a moment of feeling fully alive? All by yourself, not doing anything, not thinking, simply feeling spacious and energetic, brimming over with curiosity and potential? Surprisingly, this is a quiet feeling; no big drama. Alert and focussed, but not focussed on anything in particular. This is the feeling of one’s own mind in its natural awake state, unconditioned by desiring this, fearing that or by habitual depression or agitation.

Continue reading the PDF version.

Service: The Practice of Going-Beyond

There is no awakening without compassionate action. Many practitioners find their growth and unfoldment has stalled, even though their skills as meditators are well-honed, and their lives well-founded in the practices of non-harming. How can this be?

One contributing factor is misunderstanding the importance of service, in the context of dharma practice. Like all words, service carries a load of cultural conditioning. We think of it as “performing good deeds” or “helping out” or “doing our part.” Volunteering fits into the same mental category as writing a cheque to a community charity . . . something we do in order to be responsible citizens and which makes us feel good about ourselves.

Continue reading the PDF version.

Developing the Positive

From a talk given by Bonni Ross in Vancouver, March 1997

Let’s begin with a traditional reflection:

From beginningless time until now, countless unwholesome actions have been performed, knowingly or unknowingly, due to ignorance.
The results of these actions are continuously coming into consciousness now, creating great suffering.
I feel remorse for having been involved in such actions.
They are like poison, and with all my heart, I wish to be free of them.
May I never perform such actions again.

Also from beginningless time, I and all beings, including all the saints and Buddhas of all time, have performed countless wholesome actions.
I rejoice in, and feel my life supported by, this wondrous ocean of positive energy.
May all my actions increase this wholesome force.

May I never give up the realization of total, unformed potential.
May I never reduce myself or any other being to the false understanding of seeing them as a permanent self or object.

Until I am able to abide without clinging in that realization, I will take Refuge — in the Buddha as guide, the Dharma as path, and the Sangha as spiritual companion.

May all my actions be motivated by the wish to decrease the suffering of all beings.

In order to fulfill that wish, I will do as all the Bodhisattvas have done — as much as possible of whatever is necessary.

By the merit gained through this prayer may I awaken speedily for the sake of all beings. Read the rest of this entry »

Dharma of Unfoldment

From a talk given in Vancouver by Bonni Ross February 25, 1997

I take refuge in the vast intelligence of Universe.
I take refuge in the order and chaos of universal law.
I take refuge in the interconnectedness of all manifestation.

It’s in my mind over these next few weeks to revisit some primal ideas about the Teaching, partly as an exercise for myself, because I find that if I make it a discipline to re-visit certain very basic principles on a regular basis it keeps these ideas very fresh and alive. I have also found that there’s a real desire in many people to have some of these principles expressed in ways that don’t rely so strongly on the ancient language. Read the rest of this entry »