Friday, November 14, 2008

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Autumn Clouds

At his monastery in Nepal, my master's oldest living disciple, the great Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, had come to the end of a teaching. He was one of the foremost teachers of our time, the teacher of the Dalai Lama himself, and of many other masters who looked to him as an inexhaustible treasure house of wisdom and compassion. We all looked up at this gentle, glowing mountain of a man, a scholar, poet, and mystic who had spent twenty-two years of his life in retreat. He paused and gazed into the distance:

"I am now seventy-eight years old, and have seen so many things during my lifetime. So many young people have died, so many people of my own age have died, so many old people have died. So many people that were high up have become low. So many people that were low have risen to be high up. So many countries have changed. There has been so much turmoil and tragedy, so many wars, and plagues, so much terrible destruction all over the world. And yet all these changes are no more real than a dream. When you look deeply, you realize there is nothing that is permanent and constant, nothing, not even the tiniest hair on your body. And this is not a theory, but something you can actually come to know and realize and see, even, with your very own eyes."
From "The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying" by Sogyal Rinpoche, page 24/5.

Photo by Matthieu Ricard.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ajahn Chah

I haven't red this book (actually all his books in a single pdf file), but I like another book of one of his students (Ajahn Brahm) very much. Ajahn Chah is the most famous monk in Thailand and has influenced many Western teachers as well. If you don't like reading ebooks, you can order the books from amazon as well. But at least here you can get a taste first-hand.

The Teachings of Ajahn Chah: A Collection of Ajahn Chah's Translated Dhamma Talks
by Ajaan Chah, translated from the Thai by the Sangha, Wat Nong Pah Pong (2007; 3.6Mb/725pp.)
A comprehensive anthology of Ajaan Chah's Dhamma talks, translated into English. The talks include all those that have been previously published in the following books: Bodhinyana (1982), A Taste of Freedom (fifth impression, 2002), Living Dhamma (1992), Food for the Heart (1992), The Path to Peace (1996), Clarity of Insight (2000), Unshakeable Peace (2003), and Everything is Teaching Us (2004).
In the following section he describes the most basic meditation practice:
The Practice of Concentration

The training in samadhi (concentration) is practiced to make the mind firm and steady. This brings about peacefulness of mind. Usually our untrained minds are moving and restless, hard to control and manage. Mind follows sense distractions wildly just like water flowing this way and that, seeking the lowest level. Agriculturists and engineers, though, know how to control water so that it is of greater use to mankind. Men are clever, they know how to dam water, make large reservoirs and canals – all of this merely to channel water and make it more useable. In addition the water stored becomes a source of electrical power and light, further benefits from controlling its flow so that it doesn’t run wild and eventually settle into a few low spots, its usefulness wasted.

So too, the mind which is dammed and controlled, trained constantly, will be of immeasurable benefit. The Buddha himself taught, “The mind that has been controlled brings true happiness, so train you minds well for the highest of benefits”. Similarly, the animals we see around us – elephants, horses, cattle, buffalo, etc. – must be trained before they can be useful for work. Only after they have been trained is their strength of benefit to us.

In the same way, the mind that has been trained will bring many times the blessings of that of an untrained mind. The Buddha and his noble disciples all started out in the same way as us – with untrained minds; but afterwards look how they became the subjects of reverence for us all, and see how much benefit we can gain through their teaching. Indeed, see what benefit has come to the entire world from these men who have gone through the training of the mind to reach the freedom beyond. The mind controlled and trained is better equipped to help us in all professions, in all situations. The disciplined mind will keep our lives balanced, make work easier and develop and nurture reason to govern our actions. In the end our happiness will increase accordingly as we follow the proper mind training.

The training of the mind can be done in many ways, with many different methods. The method which is most useful and which can be practiced by all types of people is known as “mindfulnessof breathing”. It is the developing of mindfulness on the in-breath and the out-breath. In this monastery we concentrate our attention on the tip of the nose and develop awareness of the in-and out-breaths with the mantra word “Bud-dho”. If the meditator wishes to use another word, or simply be mindful of the air moving in and out, this is also fine. Adjust the practice to suit yourself. The essential factor in the meditation is that the noting or awareness of the breath be kept up in the present moment so that one is mindful of each in-breath and each out-breath just as it occurs. While doing walking meditation we try to be constantly mindful of the sensation of the feet touching the ground.

This practice of meditation must be pursued as continuously as possible in order for it to bear fruit. Don’t meditate for a short time one day and then in one or two weeks, or even a month, meditate again. This will not bring results. The Buddha taught us to practice often, to practice diligently, that is, to be as continuous as we can in the practice of mental training. To practice meditation we should also find a suitably quiet place free from distractions. In gardens or under shady trees in our back yards, or in places where we can be alone are suitable environments. If we are a monk or nun we should find a suitable hut, a quiet forest or cave. The mountains offer exceptionally suitable places for practice.

In anycase, wherever we are, we must make an effort to be continuously mindful of breathing in and breathing out. If the attention wanders to other things, try to pull it back to the object of concentration. Try to put away all other thoughts and cares. Don’t think about anything – just watch the breath. If we are mindful of thoughts as soon as they arise and keep diligently returning to the meditation subject, the mind will become quieter and quieter. When the mind is peaceful and concentrated, release it from the breath as the object of concentration. Now begin to examine the body and mind comprised of the five khandhas : material form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. Examine these five khandhas as they come and go. You will see clearly that they are impermanent, that this impermanence makes them unsatisfactory and undesirable, and that they come and go of their own – there is no “self” running things. There is to be found only nature moving according to cause and effect. All things in the world fall under the characteristics of instability, unsatisfactoriness and being without a permanent ego or soul. Seeing the whole of existence in this light, attachment and clinging to the khandhas will gradually be reduced. This is because we see the true characteristics of the world. We call this the arising of wisdom.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Finance Forum With Rolotec

The previous two days have been a first high light for me with my new employer Rolotec: the Finance Forum in Zurich, a major annual event in our humble Helvetian financial center.

My colleague Hans Fischer found the right words (in German) to capture the athmosphere at our company's blog (with a few photos from yours truly).

There you can also get an impression of the news sentiment visualisation demo my colleagues Sombra, Michel, and Markus created for this event.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Grigori Sokolov

He (Sokolov on the right side) won the Tschaikovski competition at age 16 in 1966 with Gilels heading the jurors.
Then he only was allowed to play in the west since the late 80s, a whopping 25 years later.
Yet, he mainly tours through Europe and does only sparely record live CDs that do hardly any justice to his music.

Have a look at this Couperin Tic -Toc -Choc! It is fantastic, yet the sound just gives a glimpse at what it is to hear him live!

He will play the Mozart sonatas soon on 2008-10-06 in Zurich. Here is a report in the New York Times of someone who has heard the program before.

The Web, on which he can be found on YouTube, giving astonishing performances, clearly doesn’t substitute for hearing him live. Neither do discs, which, as a perfectionist, he stopped issuing in 1995 (this partly explains his American situation), although years ago Mr. Sokolov’s recordings sent me hunting for a chance to hear him in person.
Fully agree, just, that I myself never listen to his recordings and would have missed his live performances had I not been pointed to his concerts.
He tackled two Mozart sonatas before the Chopin preludes Tuesday night. In his case an imposing, muscular, distinctly Russian technique combines with large, church-bell sonority. Even small preludes occasionally invoked Mussorgsky. A tendentious, soulful interpreter by inclination, he avoids any hint of routine. One imagines he never allows himself to play anything the same way twice. Sometimes, as in the Mozart, this leads toward mannerism. Humorous he is certainly not. Purists might balk, but never is he just perverse or uninteresting. At heart he’s a colorist, an intimist, melancholic, with astonishing tonal nuances and an endless, much-trafficked variety of touches.

The slow movements of the sonatas acquired moments of gravity that seemed almost to have physical weight. But the preludes were the true revelation: profoundly original, magisterial, heartfelt. The audience sat through them in complete, rapt silence. Long lines breathed to an elastic rhythm. Preludes like the one in B flat minor galloped and raced. Those in F sharp and D flat produced moments of faraway, unearthly beauty. I can’t at the moment recall anything like them.

Here was a great artist. If his case proves anything, it’s that Europe and America remain separated by more than an ocean. After he had been called back for encore after encore — a half-dozen by the end — the crowd still stood and roared. Mr. Sokolov finally retreated, as he had arrived, expressionless, with a brusque nod, bent slightly at the waist, one hand fastened behind his back like a captain on the deck of his ship, facing into a nasty head wind.
BTW, to my surprise he is a totally different personality back stage. While on stage he and his music is as serious and grave as it can get (well, somewhere in the Arrau and Richter ball park), afterwards with the visitors he was totally relaxed, friendly, smiling, and talkative.