Jane Hirshfield, poet: "Buddha meets someone who doesn’t see anything special about him because the awakened Buddha doesn’t look any different from anybody else. He is ordinary. Buddhism is not about being special. Buddhism is about being ordinary. And it is not about the continual exudation of bliss. It is about walking a normal human life with normal human beings, doing normal human things. And this reminds you that you yourself might be a Buddha. At this moment, the person you’re looking at might be one. It’s an interesting practice. Just each person you see as you walk down the street; 'Buddha? Buddha? Buddha? Buddha? Buddha?'"

At Last – a quick guide to Buddhist Terms and Symbols

If you’re headed to Bhutan any time soon (and why wouldn’t you be?), it’s useful to have some terminology and understanding of Buddhist symbols under your belt. Below is a quick summary of key terms and symbols.


Dharma = the teachings of the Buddha
Dorji = thunderbolt scepter
Druk= dragon
Chorten = a stupa where sacred relics are enshrined
Bon = precursor to Buddhism, an animistic religion
Dzong = fortress or a castle
Kanjur= the translated words of the Buddha
Lama= spiritual teacher
Rinpoche= means “precious jewel,” a term used to refer to a highly learned teacher
Stupa = structure built to house religious relics
Tenpa= Buddha
Thanka= sacred or religious paintings or scroll
Trulku= term used for an enlightened or a highly realized being


Precious Umbrella (duk)

Precious Umbrella


Preserves beings from illness and negative forces

Endless Knot (pelgibeu)

Endless Knot


Represents the union of wisdom and compassion

White Conch (dungkar)

White Conch


Represents the melodious sound of the dharma teachings

Lotus Flower (pema)

Lotus Flower


Symbolizes the purity of mind, body and speech

Golden Fish (sernga)

Golden Fish


Represents a state of fearlessness without drowning in the ocean of suffering

Golden Wheel (khorlo)

Golden Wheel


Symbolizes the wheel of the Buddha’s doctrine

Vase of Treasure (bumpa)

Vase of Treasure


Represents long life, wealth and prosperity

Victory Banner (gyeltshen)

Victory Banner


Represents the victory of the Buddhist doctrine over harmful forces

Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

If you know me at all, you know my answer is a resounding Yes! It's interesting that this connection, between the language one speaks and how one views the world, is being drawn more frequently. This recent NY Times Article highlights more of the work being done in the field.

If the language one speaks affects how you view the world, isn't it natural to conclude that the words used in your thoughts (whatever your language), affects how you are in the world? Buddhism, Don Miguel Ruiz, and Byron Katie, to name a few, have been expounding this conclusion for years. Is science only now catching up?

The Monk Who Had a Better Car than I Do

When I first began to click with Buddhism, I was unsure about how to go about the practice. Buddhism itself teaches you the way via the 8 fold path. Understanding and working the 8 fold path is a life-long practice. I needed something to give me a more immediate sense that living this life was in my grasp and my call was answered by my guide in Bhutan , Namgay. He gave me a book, entitled, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams & Reaching Your Destiny. While some think it was written by the Tony Robbins of India, Robin Sharma, I found it to be a concrete guide for how to get started living a more Buddhist life.

In essence, the book, much like The Alchemist, translates Buddhist principles using an allegory. The story is about a hot shot lawyer, Julian, who has a heart attack, finds peace in the Himalayas and returns to his old law associate, John, to give the gift of his new found wisdom. Julian conveys his wisdom via the same tale he was told by the “Sages of Sivana.” The tale is about a magical garden that surrounds a lighthouse from which a sumo wrestler emerges wearing nothing but a pink wire cable over his private parts. The wrestler leans down to pick up a gold stopwatch and slips next to yellow flowers. The scent of the flowers revives him and when he stands up he sees a diamond path leading from the garden.

The story is meant to be silly so it’s memorable but it is also symbolic. Every element in the story stands for a principle and the book details specific ways to live the principle. I’ve broken them down below.

The Garden – this stands for your mind. It’s really important to cultivate it and make sure only positive things grow there. Things you can do to protect your garden:

1. Opposition thinking – counter-act negative thoughts and worry thoughts with positive, uplifting thoughts a. First, become aware of the negative thoughts b. Second, know you can replace these thoughts

2. Eat a natural diet

3. Read books filled with wisdom and keep enlightened company

The Lighthouse – this stands for your life’s purpose. Everyone has one and your job is to discover your set of gifts and where they lead you. Things you can do to uncover your purpose:

1. Self-examination: spend time to learn what you like

2. Goal setting: set clearly defined objectives for yourself monthly and be sure to give your goals a time-line

3. Remember to have fun and seek passion

Sumo Wrestler – this stands for the principle of self mastery. You master yourself by practicing discipline and working to improve yourself constantly.

1. Beginner’s mind – ask the most basic questions and seek instruction

2. Strengthen yourself daily – work to improve your mind, body and soul through the “10 rituals”:

a. Ritual of Solitude – daily mandatory period of peace – silence, stillness – the same time every day

b. Ritual of Physicality – daily vigorous exercise

c. Ritual of Live Nourishment – vegetables, fruit and grains

d. Ritual of Abundant Knowledge – read regularly

e. Ritual of Personal Reflection – daily reflect on your day; list all you did and all you thought – were they positive or negative?

f. Ritual of Early Awakening – every day, get up early

g. Ritual of Music – listen to music daily

h. Ritual of the Spoken Word – positive mantras: “I am strong, able and calm.”

i. Ritual of Congruent Character – act daily to build your character through industry, compassion, humility, patience, honesty and courage

j. Ritual of Simplicity – live a simple life by reducing your needs

3. Run your own race – have courage, grow your courage. Do things you fear. “The degree of courage you live with determines the amount of fulfillment you receive.” Courage “gives you the self-control to persist where others have failed.”

Pink Wire Cable – this stands for self-discipline. To build yourself into who you want to be requires tiny acts of will.

1. Work to control your thoughts: it’s important to remember the power of words and fill your head with hopeful, kind and courageous words.

2. Build your will power by exerting it: do something you don’t like doing but needs to be done; “every time you exercise will power, you strengthen it”

3. Start off small and gradually raise the bar: small victories will lead to bigger ones

Gold Stopwatch – this represents time. Time is precious and it’s important to live a life that respects the limited time we have. Ways to do this:

1. Live full, productive days while advancing your purpose: “The best time to plant a tree was 40 years ago. The second best time is today.”

2. Plan time for the things that matter, like relaxing, family, reading

3. Set priorities; learn to say no – “Having the courage to say no to the little things in life will give you the power to say yes to the big things”

Fresh Yellow Roses – they represent the quality of your life. As the book states, “The quality of your life will come down to the quality of your contribution.” This doesn’t mean you have to quit your job and become the next Mother Theresa, but it does mean it’s important to understand your connectedness with the world (one of the main themes of Buddhism). How?

1. Take the time to meditate every morning on the good you will do for others during the day

2. Give to those who ask

3. Cultivate deeper, more meaningful relationships

Path of Diamonds – this stands for living in the present. Happiness, as you know, is not a destination but a journey. The future is not assured, so stop sacrificing the present for the future. As the book reminds us, “Don’t kid yourself into believing that you will start to enrich your mind, care for your body and nourish your soul when your bank account gets big enough.” How to live in the now?

1. Engage in a pursuit that challenges and delights you - find your mission then direct all your energies towards it, fully expecting success

2. Practice the art of gratitude every day – note the diamonds on your current path

3. Relive your Childhood – schedule in time to play and wonder

The book has a lot more wisdom to share, but I hope these Cliff notes give you something to reference.