Bravery: The Living Buddha Within You. ~ Frank Berliner

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Frank Berliner

We are honored to exclusively share with you, our dear readers, excerpts from Frank Berliner’s new book, which you can purchase here if so inspired. Frank is a Buddhist and Shambhala teacher and professor at Naropa University, and our original Buddhadharma columnist (going 12 years back!). He is my meditation instructor and life coach, of sorts (I just call him “mentor”…or consiglieri), and his ability to convey simple wisdom about how to be fully human is powerful, dignified and helpful. May it be of benefit! ~ Waylon Lewis



It is only very recently that the mindfulness meditation of the Buddha has begun to enter the mainstream of American life. It remains to be seen whether this will be a long-term phenomenon or a passing fad in our consumer culture. Certainly it is a very positive development. Even this small gesture toward slowing down, paying closer attention to the inner world of thoughts and emotions, and reducing tension can benefit each of us.

But this is only an initial step into the vast landscape of meditative training. The Buddhist tradition out of which the new, American adaptations have come is primordial, challenging, and profound.

It is primordial because human beings have been practicing it for a very long time. Of course the mere fact of this does not automatically confer value. More significant is that this practice has been handed down orally from teacher to student throughout that time in many different cultures around the world. While it is ancient, it is not archaic, and is always fresh and up to date. It is a vibrant, living tradition, based not on creeds or dogma, but on direct personal experience.

It is challenging because the wholehearted willingness to face your heart and mind as a lifelong discipline will inevitably bring you to places within yourself that require bravery to confront, to remain present with, and to befriend. Making friends fully with all the hidden recesses of your heart and mind is certainly the most arduous task—yet at the same time the most precious gift—that you can possibly experience in life. My own teacher referred to it as “the path of the warrior.” By this, he meant the warrior who makes peace through bravery and gentleness, not the warrior who makes war out of cowardice.

Finally, it is profound because it has the potential to give you access to an unimaginably transformative level of awareness, insight, love, and connection with others in your life. In those individuals who have fully embodied the commitment to this practice, the fruits of all this are unmistakable and inspiring. These rare individuals show us what life as a fully human being looks like, feels like, and is. They also remind us that we can do the same, if we have the faith and the exertion to try.

This book is the result of the impact of such a human being on my own life. My spiritual teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, was a meditation master in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition whose life and work have done so much to plant the complete teachings and practices of Buddhism in the cultural soil of this country. In the pages that follow, I have attempted to communicate some of the essence of what he taught me, to mix it with my personal experience, and perhaps with yours as well.

As it is traditionally and truly said, all benefit that may come from this book is due solely to my teacher, and all faults are my own. May there be benefit!

Frank W. Berliner
4 April 2014


Chapter 1.

The Living Buddha Within You

It takes courage to lead an authentic life in this world.

There are so many sidetracks that steal away our resolve and our commitment to do so. Driven to material gain and distracted from what matters, we find ourselves in a world where the wisdom that might guide us toward this genuineness has been ignored and almost lost. What the poet William Wordsworth wrote two hundred years ago is more timely now than ever:

“The world is too much with us, late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”

But in our heart of hearts, many of us never give up our longing for wisdom.

Twenty-five hundred years ago, a young aristocrat from a powerful family in northern India resolved to follow this longing’s call. He abandoned the life that had been prepared for him, perceiving it clearly as a gilded cage. He set out to find his own truth. He searched resolutely for his own answer to the perennial existential question that human beings will never stop asking:

In the brief time that I have on this earth, what is most important, and how shall I live in a way that honors it?

In the time that has passed since he lived, what he discovered has influenced and guided countless others. But only in the past fifty years has the map for this discovery been available to us in the West.

That young aristocrat was the Buddha. He wasn’t born with that name. He received it from others who recognized immediately that the genuineness he had discovered was radiating out from his life in every word and every gesture. Quite simply, he was completely awake—which is what the word Buddha means.

Democracy of Inherent Wakefulness

The wonderful news is that each of us has the potential to make the same discovery that the Buddha did. The living Buddha within you is the ultimate expression of democracy. Thomas Jefferson wrote about democracy in a way that has inspired millions of people all over the world. He wrote that we are all created equal, and endowed by our Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Buddha would have described the matter slightly differently.

Instead of a “Declaration of Independence,” he might have called his discovery a “Proclamation of Wakefulness”. He would have reminded us that this wakefulness is not bestowed by someone else. Instead, it is fundamental to who we are as human beings. Rather than pointing to our inalienable rights, he would have described our deepest inherent qualities, such as bravery, kindness, and wisdom.

But like the oil inside a sesame seed, this wakefulness inside us must be extracted if we are to enjoy it fully.

The living Buddha within you is hidden beneath layers of hope and fear, doubt and distraction, and especially the habit of not paying enough attention to what is happening within you and around you, right now. You must gently but persistently peel away these layers, so that you experience the rich nourishment at your core. No one else can do this for you. Seeking wisdom is like being a diner who is planning a visit to a fine restaurant for the first time. You can read the menu and imagine all the delicious meals you might order, but until you have actually tasted the food, chewed it, and eaten it, you will still be hungry.



Endorsements for Bravery: The Living Buddha Within You.


“Mr. Berliner has given us a personal, compelling, and very accessible account of the practice of meditation and the authentic spiritual journey it unlocks. Beautifully written, with warmth, humor, and clarity, this is a book that will be widely read and treasured by many.”

Reggie Ray, Spiritual Director, Dharma Ocean Foundation, author of Touching Enlightenment and Mahamudra for the Modern World.


“In Bravery: The Living Buddha Within You, Frank Berliner has given us one of the most comprehensive and clear-eyed expositions of the teachings of the Buddha by a western Buddhist practitioner and teacher. A long-time student of the renowned Tibetan meditation master, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Mr. Berliner has drunk deeply from the well not only of his teacher’s encyclopedic presentation of the Buddhadharma but also that of western philosophy, psychology and literature.

This is an both an excellent primer and in-depth study of the core elements of Buddhist psychology and philosophy explained with crystalline clarity for the western student within the context of western thought, classic and modern. It is a must read for serious Buddhist practitioners and it deserves a central place in any Buddhist studies or Buddhist psychology university curriculum.”

Fleet Maull, author of Dharma in Hell, the Prison Writings of Fleet Maull and the forthcoming Radical Responsibility, is a senior teacher in both the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and the Zen Peacemaker Order and the founder of Prison Mindfulness Institute.


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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Frank Berliner

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Frank Berliner

Frank W. Berliner grew up in New York and was educated at Yale, where he received his BA, and Naropa University, where he earned an MA in Transpersonal Counseling. He has studied, practiced and taught meditation for 40 years as a close student of the founder of Naropa, the Tibetan Buddhist meditation master Chogyam Trungpa.

Over a 12 year period from 1980-1992, Mr. Berliner served as National Administrative Director of Shambhala Training, and the Executive Director and Resident Teacher of the Berkeley Shambhala Center.

He is now an Associate Professor of Contemplative Psychology at Naropa University, where he has taught Buddhist and Western Existential Psychology, and the practice of meditation, to BA and MA students since 1995. Mr. Berliner pioneered the teaching of meditation online at Naropa, beginning in 1999. Between 2001 and 2007 he was the buddhadharma columnist for elephant journal.

In 2012 he published “Falling in Love with a Buddha”, a memoir of his experiences as a ‘warrior apprentice’ to Chogyam Trungpa. He is currently finishing “The Living Buddha Within You”, based on his integration of the Buddhist and Shambhala teachings of Chogyam Trungpa, which will be published in September of 2014.

Frank is also a psychotherapist and life coach in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.

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anonymous Jul 29, 2014 9:33am

Frank…I was away from the internet so I am just getting back to you. I kind of anticipated your first point and my response is that whatever the intent the Buddha left his princely life, which includes his fear of samsara initially upon discovery and his motivation to release all beings from the fear and the cycle itself. I take issue with your "Data" driven "historical view of the Buddha's life. The Buddha taught the Prajnaparamita on Vulture Peak. The notion that the Thervadans hold the true Buddha and all others are fabrication is small minded. It was Bodhicitta which liberated the Buddha completely. I also anticipated your third point. But since as you say you are writing from the perspective as the beginner…the "honoring your lives" is a samsaric tool in my mind which says nothing about liberation. I understand what you are trying to convey but I am opposed in this too frequent dumbing down of Buddhism which does not strike at the essential point of why we practice. Why do you feel personally responsible to give an overview for westerners of the Buddha? Good luck on your book sales.

    anonymous Aug 10, 2014 1:49pm


    I must confess that I find your tone rather patronizing and dogmatic, and a distortion of my response to you and its intention which I cannot allow to go without clarifying your distortions. So let me try again:

    1. I never asserted that the Theravadins have the correct view, and that all others are fabrication.

    On the contrary, I am a student of an authentic vajra master, and have studied and practiced Vajrayana for nearly 40 years. In my training, the Theravadan view is referred to as Hinayana, as I assume you know.

    Chogyam Trungpa taught again and again that this label pointed on the one hand to its "lesser" view compared to the Great Vehicle, but on the other to the fact that the doctrine of "individual liberation" is the necessary foundation for all that comes afterward– so we should never belittle or disparage it.

    My point here was simply that to assert unequivocally that the Buddha began his journey with the intention of liberating all beings is not supported by any historical evidence.

    2. Your disdain for "samsaric tools" strikes me as a rather haughty starting point in terms of attitude. In the beginning, people must come to the path where they are. Certainly that is how I and all the other dharma students I have known over the years came to it. We are filled with samsaric motivations, and it is the job of a genuine teacher to help us clarify it. That is what is meant by "path".

    Anyone who remains with the path will discover sooner or later that to "honor your life" in the deepest sense is to seek liberation for oneself and others and nothing less, just as the Buddha did. But to expect everyone to come initially to the path of Dharma with the most profound motivation of Bodhicitta is, frankly, very unrealistic.

    3. I seek to make the buddhadharma more accessible to Western people of the next generation, just as my teacher did with me and all the other Western students who came to him in my generation. I seek to convey the essence of what my teacher taught. I "feel personally responsible to give an overview for westerners of the buddha"– as you put it– out of the same compassionate motivation that my own teacher had in teaching me and others. How else do the teachings survive from one generation to the next?

    As I said before, this is only Chapter 1 of a 28 chapter book. To conclude that I am "dumbing down" the dharma on the basis of these opening paragraphs is actually quite insulting, or jumping the gun, at the very least.

    4. If "Good luck on your book sales" is meant sarcastically– which the tone of your other comments would seem to suggest– it is a tone not befitting a dharma practitioner, Padma.

    If you don't mean it that way, I thank you for your good wishes– even though book sales are the least of my motivations here. Frankly, from a financial point of view I could care less. If personal gain were my main motivation, I would never have spent my life teaching the dharma.

anonymous Jul 22, 2014 2:53pm

"In the brief time that I have on this earth, what is most important, and how shall I live in a way that honors it?" This italicized gem is at the center as your thesis and , I am thinking, is supposed to reflect the motivation of a Buddhist and more accurately the motivation of the Buddha himself. To be honest, it sounds like something a Yuppie would say after a long weekend seminar on Team Building. Is/was this the motivation of the "aristocratic Buddha"? In our attempts to make the Buddha "accessible" to all, has it come to dumbing down his motivation to release all sentient beings from the cycle of birth and death? I don't see that the question you have posed , as an authentic concern of the Buddha, is or was a concern of Buddha. Certainly not on those terms. The question could be asked by an executive with the NRA, a jihadi on vacation, or an Israeli soldier marching into Gaza, and none of them would ever need to change any of their behaviors and habits in response to "honoring" their lives.

    anonymous Jul 28, 2014 7:57am

    Thank you for your post, Padma. Your points are well taken. Interestingly, In some ways I see no contradiction between your view, and the one I put forward here in the first chapter. Three points in response:

    1. The Buddha did not begin his journey with the intention of releasing all beings from suffering. Given the scant data we have about the life of someone who lived 2500 years ago, there is certainly no direct evidence that he did. Indeed, nearly half the world's Buddhists have never subscribed to the view that this was his motivation, even after he attained enlightenment. Theravadins assert that his aim was to free himself from samsara, and that freeing others was secondary. Not until the Mahayana schools several hundred years after Buddha's life time, did the doctrine of the Bodhisattva motivation of freeing all beings from samsara take root as the Buddha's real intention.

    2. We are only on page 1 here. We are imagining the Buddha as a curious, brave person full of longing to find an authentic answer to life's big questions. His training in meditation– even the various forms of meditation that he eventually discarded on his journey– has not even begun. We are taking the attitude of the beginner, and appreciating that the Buddha too was once a beginner, and that he had great longing but still a great deal to learn.

    3. To the degree that part of what makes us truly human is the longing for an authentic life, it gives us common ground with the Buddha, and makes his path more human, real, and accessible. Actually I find your references to yuppies, NRA executives, jihadis, and Israeli soldiers a further demonstration of this. As human beings, all of them have this longing, just as you and I do. Of course, from the enlightened perspective of the Buddha, it is obvious that their ways of trying to satisfy this longing are often misguided and at worst highly destructive. But this is an issue not of longing, but of misguided ways of trying to fulfill it. The power of the Buddha's life example and teachings is that it gives us a method for satisfying this longing that is neither misguided nor destructive, but accurate and compassionate.

    This book is an attempt to give a clear overview to Western readers of what the essence of Buddha's method was. Please bear with me as I slowly investigate its foundations, its instructions, and the result of practicing them.