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Novel Insights & Wisdom

Where the serious business of evolving, the spark of human potential, and the flash of humor meet ... a collection of gems from pages kept throughout decades, and expressions as fresh as morning dew.

Each update to this page will appear at the top with the date of posting, for convenience of those returning for additions. Older postings appear on Page Two and Page Three. The additional postings will be announced at "Latest News."

November 14, 2017

Touching Our Hearts ...

A friend of a friend has written about her experience as a volunteer with Friends of Orange County Detainees. With her permission, we are sharing the writing with you here:

"Today I did my first official visit with an immigration detainee as a part of Friends of OC Detainees. In the time that I was waiting for him to be brought into the visiting room, I spoke to the guy next to me who was waiting to visit his brother. The brothers are from Palestine and are both seeking asylum in our country, as Christians fleeing ISIS and Hamas. The one brother has been held in detention for the past year, with no end in sight. The visiting brother fears what will happen if asylum is not granted, as they are stateless; thus with nowhere to go if they are deported. He was obviously in distress. A lady on my other side cried as her detained family member was returned to his cell - she looked at me, tears streaming down her face, and just said "it makes me so sad." I wanted to hug her.

"I didn't know what to expect from the man that I was visiting, as all you know beforehand is the person's name, gender, country of origin, and languages spoken. You can't be sure how proficient their English speaking is, so you can't be sure of how well you're going to be able to communicate. I was a little nervous about it, but it turns out I need not have been concerned at all. He was articulate and engaging, intelligent and well-read. We had a great conversation about his life in his home country, his decision to leave based on the political climate there and his road to seeking asylum here. As he has only been detained for four months, he is still hopeful, positive and full of optimism. I will be visiting him again.

"Every one of these people has a different story and has had a different path to where they are now - waiting for their asylum statuses to be determined. Some wait years - often years of isolation, as many have no family members or friends near enough to visit. It's difficult, and something I can't imagine having to go through. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to do something to make someone's time in detention a little less lonely and difficult, to learn a lot about their world and hopefully forge a friendship for life."

January 25, 2017


It was while traveling throughout America in the early 1970s when I came across a book that enlivened my entire spiritual development at that time, and rendered it utterly inspired. The book that remains my continuing inspiration is The Tantric Mysticism of Tibet, by John Blofeld.

This book is timeless travel through the realms of mysticism, particularly via the school of Vajrayana -- as Blofeld terms, "the ultimate flowering of Mahayana doctrine." (P. 35)

Drastically short-cutting here, I am including excerpts having to do with the characteristic tantric method of Vajrayana meditation: visualization, involving the three faculties of body, speech and mind. (P. 83)

Even if all this terminology is foreign, no matter. Each of us contains within us vast cosmologies that, once experienced, take us out of our egoistic attachments and disclose unbounded understanding. Think Carl Jung.

Preceding the excerpts, it is essential to include Mr. Blofeld's caution: "The victory entails a shattering revolution of consciousness, progressive diminusion of cherished egos and, ultimately, the burning up of the last vestiges of self. It would be folly to embark upon so perilous a quest without the guidance of a teacher who, having progressed far along the path, speaks from an illumined mind, though he need not actually have attained Liberation." (P. 32)

Excerpt from PP. 84, 85: "The purpose of visualization is to gain control of the mind, become skilled in creating mental constructions, make contact with powerful forces (themselves the products of mind) and achieve higher states of consciousness in which the non-existence of own-being and the non-dual nature of reality are transformed from intellectual concepts into experiential consciousness -- non-duality is no longer just believed but felt. In short, visualization is a yoga of the mind. It produces quick results by utilizing forces familiar to man only at the deeper levels of consciousness, of which ordinary people rarely become aware except in dreams. These are the forces wherewith mind creates and animates the whole universe; ordinarily they are not ours to command for, until the false ego is negated or unless we employ yogic means to transcend its bounds, our individual minds function, as it were, like small pebbles isolated from the great ocean.

"How visualization achieves its results is hard to convey because it is based on assumptions foreign to Western thought (although not quite unfamiliar to the Jungian school of psychology). The methods bear a more than superficial resemblance to magic arts generally dismissed as hocus pocus. By Vajrayana adepts, however, the fundamental identity and interpretation of all things in the universe is accepted as self-evident and the mandala (great circle of peaceful and wrathful deities) on which visualization is often based is recognized as a valid diagram of the interlocking forces which in their extended form comprise the entire universe and in the contracted form fill the mind and body of every individual being. Each of the deities with whom union is achieved has a vital correspondence with one of these forces; therefore the mind-created beings can be used to overcome all obstacles to our progress."

Because of the earlier reference to the false ego, here is the next excerpt I have chosen from P. 54 on "The Concept of No-Self": "It is held that absence of self is the true nature of every sort of entity -- abstract or material, animate or inanimate -- without exception. When Buddhists speak of finding one's true self, they mean finding the no-self, which is a universal possession sometimes called in English the Self.

"Yet this does not imply that a sentient being is a lump of flesh animated by a life-force that is snuffed out at death; it points to the profound truth that lies between the erroneous concepts of eternal existence and annihilation. Just as there is no part of a teapot, for example, which can be described as the real self of that pot, no essence of teapot independent of its substance, shape, color, age, condition and function, so do gods, men and animals have nothing which can be divorced from the constantly shifting physical and mental characteristics of their beings.

"The seeming individuality of each is a bundle of transient qualities, all ephemeral and unstable, all dependent for their fleeting existence on innumerable interlocking factors to which billions of causes, prior and concurrent, have contributed. Take away all these qualities and what remains is indivisible from the own-nature (or own-non-nature) of all other entities. There can be no individual soul for, when the transient qualities are removed, what is left is the immaculate non-substance that neither exists nor is non-existent, in which there is no duality, let alone plurality. What science teaches about the constitution of matter provides some sort of a rough analogy; it is seen that 'entities' consist of atoms of varied formation which are in fact no more than temporary manifestations of a single force -- energy."

For readers whose interest has been piqued by these excerpts, I have found that The Tantric Mysticism of Tibet, by John Blofeld is available through In fact, at this time there are four reviews, each one giving the book five stars.

My copy is held together with tape and much worn from those early travels. It was published in 1970 by E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., U.S.A.

Lily G. Stephen

December 11, 2016

Words to pay attention to: During this highly unusual time when many are concerned and sometimes hopeless about the current state of affairs, the words of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes can help to clarify and embolden. What follows is her open letter. Let our spirits rise.

"Mis estimados: My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of
almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest
degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.
"You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired
to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday
people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge
you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing
these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly
because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we
have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to
meet on this exact plain of engagement.
"I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see
one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in
the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully
provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of
"Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on
the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in
this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and
rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to
withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance,
"In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much
is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a
tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside
your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the
wind without raising the sails.
"We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we
more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we
will know them when they appear. Didn't you say you were a believer? Didn't
you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn't you ask for grace?
Don't you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?
"Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of
stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any
small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some
portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given
to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip
toward an enduring good.
"What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding,
adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone
on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who
will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
"One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a
stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like
gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares,
builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the
lantern of soul in shadowy times like these - to be fierce and to show mercy
toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
"Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing
to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the
strongest things you can do. There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
"The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is
that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who
you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds
we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us
here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great
ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is
not what great ships are built for."
By Clarissa Pinkola Estes

American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst,
author of Women Who Run With the Wolves

September 25, 2016

Lady of the Lotus is a book I've had for so long that I only recall being impressed by my first reading, but few details came back to mind when I took it from the case of my personal books in Bob's huge library.

While passing some quiet days of healing from severe neck pain, this book by William E. Barrett (1900-1986) was an old friend as soon as I reconnected with Mr. Barrett's engrossing tale. This book fits the description of spiritual fiction at its best. Though he dreamed of writing it, beginning as a young man, he was to research and travel in connection with this story throughout a writing career that included three of his books made into films: The Left Hand of God, Lilies of the Field, and Pieces of Dreams, based on The Wine and the Music. Lady of the Lotus was the last book written by Mr. Barrett.

He chose to write, based on painstaking research, about the life of Yasodhara, Princess of Koli, who was the historical wife of Shakyamuni Buddha. In the Forward, the author wrote: "In doing the research, I have built a personal library of Buddhism-Hinduism-India-Nepal that totals 430 volumes. I have talked to many Buddhist scholars, Buddhist Monks, missionaries of other faiths in Buddhist countries. I have walked where Siddharta and Yasodara walked, in Nepal and in India...It is, in the telling, a story that I know well in lands that I know. I have had to build many intuitive bridges but I believe that the bridges are sound, that this is the story as it was."

I made note of many passages in this book that inspired in that profound, heart-soaring way which comes from inner knowledge of the way things really are. It has been difficult to choose just one to share with you. At last, the simplicity of this one won out; in Yasodhara's voice: "Life is a series of becomings. We try to make the right decisions, move to the right motivations. The results that seem to us as miserable failures are often our greatest triumphs." [Lady of the Lotus, by William E. Barrett, 1975, published by arrangement with Doubleday & Company, Inc., first Avon printing April, 1976, p. 318.]

What I have found to be an interesting side note is that William E. Barrett was a Roman Catholic.This book constitutes a voice from the past that has so enriched these days for me at the beginning of autumn. I recommend it to you.

July 13, 2016

To me, three significant references have collided in a very short time during this period rife with anger manifesting throughout America. First, I received a circulated email written by Arjun Walla, pointing out the words of the 14th Dalai Lama about our human responsibility, on a large scale, to solve the atrocities occurring world-wide. More important, he quoted His Holiness' words that are the two opening paragraphs to a dramatic message posted at the Dalai Lama's website. Now I want to share them with you:

"Of course, war and the large military establishments are the greatest sources of violence in the world. Whether their purpose is defensive or offensive, these vast powerful organizations exist solely to kill human beings. We should think carefully about the reality of war. Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous - an opportunity for men to prove their competence and courage. Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting it is criminal attitude. In fact, we have been brainwashed. War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous. Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering.
"War is like a fire in the human community, one whose fuel is living beings. I find this analogy especially appropriate and useful. Modern warfare waged primarily with different forms of fire, but we are so conditioned to see it as thrilling that we talk about this or that marvelous weapon as a remarkable piece of technology without remembering that, if it is actually used, it will burn living people. War also strongly resembles a fire in the way it spreads. If one area gets weak, the commanding officer sends in reinforcements. This is throwing live people onto a fire. But because we have been brainwashed to think this way, we do not consider the suffering of individual soldiers. No soldiers want to be wounded or die. None of his loved ones wants any harm to come to him. If one soldier is killed, or maimed for life, at least another five or ten people - his relatives and friends - suffer as well. We should all be horrified by the extent of this tragedy, but we are too confused."

Within a couple days of reading H. H.'s entire message (and you can read it in full at, as I read Leaves from the Valley, a work of historical fiction by Joanna Trollope who is a descendant of Anthony Trollope, I came upon this reflection of a newspaper editor: "The English, Hope had declared, in the autumn of 1853, were gorged, and sick of their own success; there had been no call to arms since Waterloo; the great British public was bored with peace."

And just this morning a public radio station played in my car; I heard a fragment of an interview with an author who proclaimed the nobility of the military.

For so many of us who have been anti-war throughout decades of the 20th century, the proliferation of disregard of human lives at this time is downright demonic. His Holiness urges everyone to focus in taming agitated minds through whatever religion is subscribed to, even those with no religion at all. We must remind ourselves daily that it is in our hands and hearts to make change. Let's build trust, not arms.

April 29, 2016

Preparing for the Great Perfection

As promised, here is my report on the April 8-10, 2016 weekend of teachings at the Chagdud Gonpa located at Junction City, California and called Rigdzin Ling. "Rigdzin" means "Place of the Awareness Holders."

The challenge is to condense four days of multi-level experience into a readable report, neither too long nor too abbreviated. (I got there on April 7, so my sojourn began then.) So first, a short bio of Jigme Tromge Rinpoche, who is the son of the late Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche and who had the somewhat unusual relationship with his father as his Rinpoche; then a bird's-eye description of the magnificent 300+ acres of the Gonpa, followed by a synopsis of teaching gems.

As found in Rigdzin Ling's online announcement: "At a young age, Jigme Rinpoche was recognized by H.E. Chokling Rinpoche as his previous life’s son, Tsewang Norbu. He was a reincarnation of Yudra Nyingpo, one of Guru Rinpoche’s twenty-five disciples, and an emanation of Chenrezig.
"Rinpoche was born in 1965 in Orissa, India, where he had the good fortune to receive a traditional Buddhist education. He has had extensive training in the teachings and practices of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism and has studied with many great masters of our time including H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche, H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche. He also studied philosophy with Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche and at the philosophy school of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, late head of the Nyingma school."

To be in the presence of a reincarnation of one of Guru Rinpoche's disciples, let alone his other dharma connections, was highly significant to me, since for 40 years I have had  reverence and devotion to Guru Rinpoche.

A lot of photo processing work has been done (updated 5/17/16). Now Page One of a Rigdzin Ling photo page is available, with links to Page Two, or either can be accessed on nav bar to the left. Still, those pictures fall so short of what they portray. The Gonpa property is just over 300 acres. It was an old gold mine, literally. Now it’s a spiritual gold mine. Most of the property is undeveloped due to ravines, ridges, and all facets of wilderness with its inhabitants of bears, mountain lions, and other critters. Yet I testify that immediately upon driving through the entrance, there was a distinct and profound sense of protection. Bird song is an amazing music to be heard everywhere at the Gonpa. I was greeted by my totems, a pair of geese, almost immediately upon arriving. What I didn’t see in that first photo shot, I saw soon afterward – four goslings looking as if newly hatched, already following along and foraging.

The schedule for these teachings was tight. For example, each meal was allowed a half hour. Time was built in for meal clean-up, and registrants were assigned chores to help with this. Teachings and empowerments took place at 9:00 a.m until 12:30, and 2:30 until 6:00. Rinpoche has a good grasp of English; only a few times did he ask for help with a certain word from four lamas who were in attendance. He is humorous and humble.

Some of his admonitions were as follows. In our personal practice sessions when we sit down, we take a few moments to see how we engage with our true nature, not having a casual attitude. To result in growth, every sitting is fresh. Otherwise we waste our time. What he terms "forethoughts" are important. So when we have joy in our practice, we expect this joy to continue next time.

Rinpoche wants us to be truthful and honest with ourselves. Are we really taking advantage of the preciousness of our birth? He points out the value of recognition in karma teachings (recognition of an action before it takes place, or in the middle of an action, we can let it go).

He tells us to put effort in rejoicing and virtue can come in many ways. Doing this life practice transforms jealousy into joy for someone else's excellence. Bodicitta requires us to see others more precious than self. Cherishing others dissolves the negativity of previous lifetimes of cherishing self.

Our practice boils down to grinding down negative habits. All previous lives steeped in samsara; now we tame our minds. No matter how ingrained a habit, it can always be changed.

Rinpoche covered a lot of ground about the workings of ego as it relates to our behavior,  and methods for intervening in negative behavior. I took 11 pages of notes, but I hope this synopsis will suffice. There is also a restriction about making his entire teaching program available to those who didn't attend. So I offer these gems as encouragement for practitioners to follow the Dharma Road whenever possible. It can be life-changing to bring home with us encouragement and teachings from these wisdom masters, and we know of the impermanance of life. Let's use it while we have this life. Samaya.

Click here for Page One of Chagdud Gonpa-Rigdzin Ling photo gallery.

Here is the link for Rigdzin Ling:

Page Two