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Essays on Karma, for Kindle

Both an introduction, a kind of ‘Karma for dummies’, and a look at the philosophical questions that the doctrine of karma calls up. You will learn to question what you have always thought about karma as well as deepen your understanding of the Indian and Buddhist background of this teaching central to much of Asian philosophy. [click to continue…]


It takes a while to get comfortable with the richness of allowing yourself to just be with your own mind. It’s a little like meeting an old friend for the first time in years. There may be some awkwardness in the beginning, not knowing who this person is anymore, not knowing quite how to be with him or her. It may take some time to reestablish the bond, to refamiliarize yourselves with each other. (Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ch. 4)

This is perhaps the hardest aspect of meditation. Kabat-Zinn suggests that it passes, but after 4 years of meditating it is still there in my daily practice. There is always a resistance to just sitting and staying with what is.

When you think about it, it’s a bit sad. If it is tough to stay with yourself for 15 minutes, are you taking care of yourself? 15 minutes isn’t that much. Even 45 minutes (which is what the MBSR mindfulness course works towards) is not really that much.

Kabat-Zinn’s approach here is positive: take the time to get to know yourself, by simply sitting and looking at what happens. You will find inner richness. The wealth of getting familiar with yourself.

H.P. Blavatsky

Blavatsky’s relevance in the 21st century

H.P. Blavatsky was my first spiritual love. As a 19-year-old I drank in her Key to Theosophy (*) and loved the idea of finding a common core between all religions, science and philosophy. I thought that this had to be attempted, for the welfare of humanity. Grand ideas – and very unrealistic. While the commonalities between religions should be valued and cherished, it is unrealistic to ignore the differences.

However much Hinduism and Buddhism have in common for instance, that doesn’t mean Buddhism is a form of Hinduism as some claim. The common history between Judaism, Christianity and Islam means that they grew up together. However, Muslims are well trained to explain why Islam is better than Christianity and Judaism. Similarly, starting with Paul, there is a lot of Christian theology that explains just how Christianity is beyond Judaism.

Back to Blavatsky. I learned a lot from studying her work for the next decade or so. I read her full Collected Writings. I ate it up, in fact. Most of it is a lot more legible than her famous Secret Doctrine.

When I started studying world religion (including Buddhism and Hinduism) at Leiden University, I learned – among other things – that Blavatsky’s use of terminology was often a bit off. In fact, the only way to understand her writings is by ignoring other people’s interpretations of Hindi and Sanskrit terms and sticking with Blavatsky’s. This is a sort of mental gymnastics few people can manage. One Buddhist-theosophical teacher I know used her Buddhist explanations of terminology in her explanation of theosophy. Many less learned theosophists do the opposite: they use Blavatsky’s interpretations of words when reading non-theosophical books.

Neither is fair. [click to continue…]


Matthieu Ricard – compassion and altruism

The great Tibetan Buddhist Monk and philosopher Matthieu Ricard was in Amsterdam yesterday to talk about his new book – the Dutch translation of the French ‘Plaidoyer pour l’altruisme’. It will be available in English this summer as Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World, in a shortened version (by the looks of it). It is an encyclopedic work – with corresponding size: 928 pages in French. The Dutch edition is equally large and only available in hardcover.

Ricard has gone head-on with the Western scientific and philosophic idea that real compassion doesn’t exist. For instance, it is a common thought (going back to the likes of Freud) that underneath all compassion there is selfishness. The science doesn’t support this, thankfully, and Ricard brings it all together.

He notes that with most other qualities we expect practice to make perfect, yet with qualities like compassion we somehow expect them to be either innate and unchanging, or able to change very fast – one night of meditation ought to do it. In contrast, he himself meditated for 25 years.

Surprisingly, he started the evening by giving us a quick overview of just how badly we are screwing up the planet (excuse the word – he certainly didn’t use it). It is his hope that as we develop compassion, ‘extending it to the other 1.6 million species’ as well as future humanity, we will do something about the pending climate change and humanitarian catastrophe while it is still reasonably doable.

After this shock treatment (a hush came over the audience) he explained among other things that there are at least two types of empathy.

The first can lead to emotional overload and burn out. The second helps doctors help their patients. However, the second is also what makes psychopaths so very charming and persuasive, even though they have no affective empathy at all. They see people as objects to be used.

Quoting Martin Luther King he said:

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness.

And (not quoting anybody)

Compassion is what love becomes when it meets suffering.

The alternative to burn out from affective empathy isn’t distancing yourself, but what he calls the ‘glow of compassion’. The glow of compassion energizes and makes people happy. That burned out feeling and that glow are two very different things and the glow can be trained. So he claims based on both experience and research.

In another optimistic note, he observes that one reason why we ignore altruism, is because it is so normal. If you ask for directions in a strange town, you are likely to get it. The stranger who helps you find your way will have no selfish reward at all. We take this for granted. Ricard called it the ‘banality of goodness’.

I am looking forward to reading the book, when it comes out in the more affordable English edition.

Here is the full video of the evening:

Copyright foto Netty Leleulya


Karma, Meditation, Books, Awareness and More

Every once in a while I do an overview post of all the spiritual stuff I have put online in the past period. It turns out that the last time I did this was almost a year ago, so this post is long overdue. This post is also the basis for my newsletter.

Most importantly of course, 2014 was the year I published my first book: Essays on Karma. I can report that it was downloaded 385 times in 2014 and that two people gave it a 5 star review.

My posts on All Considering for 2014:

My book reviews on Great Spiritual Books for 2014 and January 2015 are a mix of material I wrote earlier for Squidoo (more on that later) and book reviews of books I read this year.

Squidoo is a site that I was very active on for the past years. At it’s height I earned a very decent living there. It helped me buy my house. It is also one of the places where I developed as a writer. However, the last year or two have been frustrating and when the news came that Squidoo was quitting and all our content would be moved to Hubpages, I was pretty happy about it.

However, it turns out that my spiritual content is not doing so well on Hubpages as it did on Squidoo. A lot of it doesn’t fall in step with their editorial guidelines and Google has pretty much stopped sending traffic. I have therefore begun moving much of it to my own sites. The book reviews went to my spiritual books blog, and a few pages ended up here on All Considering.

However, most of it fits best on my oldest site: KatinkaHesselink.net. The result is that I have – after years of neglect – been looking at that site with fresh eyes. I have given it a redesign and individual pages have been enriched with the material from Squidoo. What follows is a list of those pages and as you can see – it is quite long. Most already existed, but I have added a few totally new pages as well. I am about halfway through my former spirituality Squidoo account, so you can expect more of this in future. This is a selection.


Spiritual gifts and presents

I also have a small blog devoted to Indian spirituality. I started it when I was planning to go there again. I didn’t go, but I did start a blog and have now used it as a home for some Squidoo content:

This year was notable for me for various reasons. One was that I got to see H.H. the Dalai Lama, first in Rotterdam and then in Hamburg. As he taught on the Bodhisattvacharyavatara by Santideva in Germany, I made sure to read a translation and commentary. I settled on the one by Pema Chodron (there are many). She is one of the Buddhist teachers I admire most, so I made a site about her a few years back.


2014 design

2014 – what a year!

What do you know, just when I have the energy to tell you all that I am too busy to blog – I post one thing after another. So this is my habitual end-of-year blogpost. This was a busy year for me. I bought a house and moved into it, I lost my grandmother, I started on the path towards becoming a mindfulness teacher, I went to Hamburg to see HH the Dalai Lama, I am signing up for finally finishing my bachelor religion studies and the main site I do business on has folded.

Are you keeping up? Probably not. I know I have a hard time keeping up myself, sometimes. [edit] (In fact, I forgot all about publishing my first book: Essays on Karma)[/edit] Thankfully the business part of my life is going better than expected – and just in time for Christmas too. That gives me some room to breath and finish that bachelor degree before the mindfulness training starts I set my heart on. With a few clients added in, I will be able to manage just fine.

So – what about this blog? Well – here are my top spiritual blogposts of all time.

  1. 10 simple mindfulness exercises
  2. On how to stay celibate
  3. Best Buddhist Blogs
  4. Karma in the Bhagavad Gita
  5. My disillusionment with Jiddu Krishnamurti
  6. Shamanism, Buddhism, and Ayahuasca – hallucinogen and spirituality (guest post)
  7. Did Buddhism win the best Religion of the world award?
  8. Anatma, no Soul, Buddha Nature, Vedantins vs Buddhism
  9. Are humans meant to be vegetarian?
  10. The five stages of the soul transformation process: Michael Mirdad

[click to continue…]


Bodhicitta is the mind of enlightenment. It not merely the wish to help all sentient beings attain enlightenment, it is the firm decision to take every single one of them to that state.

This is obviously as inclusive as it gets. EVERYBODY is included in bodhicitta and the corresponding Bodhisattva vow. And the bodhisattva vow is taken by every practicing Mahayana Buddhist.

Buddhists are humans and therefore generally haven’t been able to integrate Bodhicitta in their lives, so the Tibetan Buddhist tradition advises starting with meditating on equanimity.

Equanimity is the start to Bodhicitta, and it doesn’t require any sort of faith, so it is a great practice for anybody who wants to face up to racism or prejudice in their own mind.

Meditating on equanimity starts with visualizing a friend, a stranger and an enemy. Observe the difference in how you feel about them. In my morning meditations, I often settle for visualizing someone who has recently hurt or offended me. If I can feel friendly towards them, I’m off to a good start of the day.

The aim of this practice is not indifference, but equal good will towards all three.

Racism has been much in the news lately. In the Netherlands we have been faced, again, with the consequences of the UN advice to change our pre-Christmas Sinterklaas-celebrations. The Dutch are used to feeling that they aren’t racist. This is an irrational feeling, as study after study shows that people of color or a non-default heritage have a harder time getting interviewed for jobs – let alone getting them.

I have also heard stories of office culture where calling people of Indonesian descent ‘peanut’ is accepted as normal. This is done without any sense that it might be derogatory. I hope, for an English language audience, that it is obvious that this sort of thing is not in fact innocent.

As I understand it, psychologically, racism centers on two things: prejudice and tribal thinking. [click to continue…]

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Meditation and self-knowledge

I sometimes wonder what my life would have looked like if I had started meditating at 25, because that is roughly the age that I made my first attempt. At that point it was not too hard for me to follow the instructions in a meditation-booklet and so I concluded that I did not need to meditate.

Ah well. In hindsight that is one of the disadvantages of trying to practice without guidance.

We will never know how my life would have been different.

I do know however, that I have learned a lot since I did start meditating regularly a few years ago.

  • I handle stress better.
  • I know how to stop myself from dwelling on dreams too much.
  • I waste less energy fighting myself and the situation as it is.
  • I am better able to laugh at my own illusions and other people’s little quirks.

In other words: meditation has helped me become more aware of my own emotions and thoughts, so that I don’t get lost in my own stories as much.

That is very useful.

Does that mean that meditation is the only road to self-knowledge? Of course not. Studying psychology, keeping a diary, analysing dreams, going into therapy, facing fears, trying out things you have always avoided – there are all kinds of ways to develop self-knowledge.

I am convinced that it is also the other way around: it helps, when starting to meditate, to already have a basic level of self-knowledge. If you have never looked inward, trying for the first time to face yourself for an hour at a time may be too much. Even a simple yoga-class can be too confronting.

Is it possible to meditate too much? Perhaps – one way to grow in self-knowledge is to deal with the way you respond to people. That is a route that full-time meditation closes off. There are stories of yogi’s who have meditated on patience for years and yet lose it the first time someone insults them after they come out of meditation.

Self-knowledge is not, any more than inner peace, an on-off-button. Meditation can help, but it is not a universal panacea.

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Did you ever think that organisations, corporations and institutions have a life of their own?

David Loy was in Amsterdam yesterday to talk to a university students and (mostly Zen) Buddhists about his book: Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution.

In Buddhism the main cause of human problems are the three poisons. They are: Greed (or attachment), Ill Will (anger, aversion) and Ignorance. On a personal level meditation is seen as the solution. However, what about social injustice? Can meditation fix that?

What Loy proposed was this: social institutions (organisations, corporations) have their own motivations and people are trapped in them. For instance – what if the CEO of Shell had an epiphany: ‘we’re pumping CO2 into the atmosphere and ruining our planet. We have to change Shell to make sure we don’t contribute to this problem’. It is not hard to think that this leads to a problem – or rather, his speedy replacement.

Because the three poisons are institutionalized in corporations, institutions and organisations. Individuals can’t change the direction of those institutions any more than they can walk to the moon. Greed is easy to see: our whole economy is built on the premise that growth is necessary and good. Never mind that this is physically impossible. Armies and politics institutionalize Ill Will. When newspapers don’t report truthfully, they institutionalize Ignorance. When schools have to teach Biblical myth as scientific truth, they institutionalize ignorance.

David Loy calls for a revolution: let’s not use our meditative practice merely to tackle our own three poisons, but let us try to also tackle the three poisons as manifest in social structures. Let us not merely help people in need – however necessary – but also tackle the reasons they got in trouble in the first place. Because one of the things we have learned in the West is that institutions can be changed. That is the basis of our democracy. They are subject to change, they can be managed – however, it does take collective effort.

If the Buddha was alive today, would he teach only meditation? Or would he, as David Loy suggests, also try to tackle the social structures that cause so many of our problems?

I think he has a point. Social structures can be changed. The question that he did not answer was in the room after his talk finished: HOW? I think it starts with making sure that – to the extent that it is possible – we use our own wisdom to support those institutions that we can really get behind and create new ones that do reflect our current insights. Sometimes we may even be able to change existing organisations, but I think that is rare.


A Dummy’s Guide to Spiritual Hitchhiking

I was challenged to make this article (*) ‘A dummies guide to spiritual hitchhiking’. Although I write a lot about spirituality online, I have never hitchhiked a day in my life. My brother on the other hand hitchhiked all the way from Amsterdam to Pakistan, and back. AND he met sufis and other spiritual folk on the way. The route goes mostly through Muslim country.

As a former European scout, I do have experience hiking, sleeping out in the rain (without a tent even – and no, we weren’t too cold) and a bit of survival training.

As a result this page contains 8 tips on how to survive hitchhiking, how to get the most out of it spiritually and some reading tips on the topic.

1) Safety tips for Hitchhiking (#)

  1. Wear well visible clothes, stand at a safe spot, be careful while walking on the road.
  2. If you doubt about the ride offered, turn it down.
  3. If it starts raining, standing under a tree is an option.
  4. You can also check if the doors open from the inside by pretending not to have closed the door properly.
  5. Note the vehicle’s registration number, or at least the make, model, and colour, etc. You could then SMS this to a friend. You can pretend calling your mum and saying car type, color and licence number aloud. This makes driver believe he is under surveillance.
  6. Hitchhike with someone you know. On hitchhike forums (such as at Hospitality Club, Jayride or DigiHitch) you can find other hitchhikers.
  7. Hitchhiking at night is more dangerous than at daytime.
  8. It’s probably safest to not go with more than one guy in the car.
  9. It’s better to sit in the front of the vehicle.
  10. It is a good idea to get yourself some pepper spray, just in case. But it can be illegal to carry in some parts of the world so be aware.
  11. Keep your backpack close to you (i.e. on your lap), so you can grab it if you need to get out quickly.
  12. Wear your most valuable stuff on your body: passport, wallet, money, mobile phone. This way you will keep these items in case you should abandon your bag.
  13. If there are other houses or people in sight, you can wave to them or pretend to say goodbye to a friend. The driver will think that somebody has seen you getting into their car.
  14. If getting in a truck or car driving long-distance, maybe to where you want to go, including sleeping in the truck with the driver. Never tell yes to go all way from the beginning. Say you are going to visit a friend in a city on the way and then when you get a feeling of safety with the driver tell him that you will visit your friend some other time and go all the way now.
  15. Aim to leave the vehicle at a safe spot.
  16. Always trust your instincts.
  17. Think positive and you will attract positive. Do nothing of this and you might be safer.
  18. Try to be good conversation for the driver

Remember, just because you’re in this for spiritual growth, doesn’t mean you should not take care of yourself. Hitchhiking is a great way to experience the positive in people, but it’s also a great way to experience the risks of life first hand. Balance both when traveling.

My brother once got stuck on a mountain with a sprained ankle. Lucky my parents didn’t find out about that till he was safe home…

Books about hitchhiking as a spiritual endeavor

On the Road: The Original Scroll, Jack Kerouac
The original to ‘On the Road’, the book that put Karoac on the map as an author and was the first celebration of hitchhiking as a quest.
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
Hitchhiking as a spiritual quest to Buddhism.
Hitchhiking Grandmother: The Adventure and Spiritual Journey of a North West Woman Who Hitchhiked Across America and Europe After 50

2) Be poor: cloths

It’s pretty clear that if you’re going to hitchhike, you need to make the risks as low as possible. That means, and I’m going to do this when I go to India next year too (though there will be no hitchhiking involved), is to dress down. Don’t make yourself a target for thieves. Wear humble cloths, shoes that are sturdy, but unassuming. Wear cloths that are climate appropriate without being expensive.

After all – this is not about looking good. It’s about finding yourself and having an adventure. Dress the part with cloths that stand out without arousing jealousy.

You’re hitchhiking: you should look like you need the ride.

3) Be poor: gadgets and tech

Do take a mobile phone that works in your area. Don’t take an expensive phone.

Same reason: don’t give people a reason to steal from you. Also, isn’t a trip like this about letting go? Use it as an exercise in living without the luxuries of modern life.

If you ARE bringing electronics: be mentally prepared to loose them. Be ready for the batteries to run low. Don’t assume they’ll always work.

4) Spiritual food

If you’re going to be traveling as a spiritual quest, you need spiritual food on the way of course. If you’re Christian you may want to take your Bible (the lightest you can find). However, there are also other small books out there that will be a great companion on a trip. Personally I would prefer a book that contains aphorisms: short lines to think over and ponder as I wait for that car to pick me up.

NIV Compact Thinline Bible
There are loads of compact bibles available. This is a neutral one, but you can find Girly ones as well. The reason I’m featuring this one is because it’s really small type and travel friendly.
Meditation, Sogyal Rinpoche
This is a little book I gave my brother years ago, and he took it with him on his trip. It’s a chapter out of Sogyal Rinpoche’s famous book on the after death states in Tibetan Buddhism. And as the title says: it’s all about meditation.
The Voice of the Silence: Being Extracts from The Book of the Golden Precepts, by H.P. Blavatsky
Long my personal favorite. Short aphorisms – allegedly from a hidden Tibetan book of wisdom. I don’t know if that’s true. I do know that this book is the spiritual path summarized. Each phrase enough to meditate on for ages.

5) Take time to meditate

In between rides, you’ll be facing your demons: where am I going to sleep? Will someone pick me up?

Try and face up to those issues, without panic. This is what’s in your mind, so let it be.

On the flip side: enjoy the scenery. Be aware of the sunset. Meditate on beauty.

6) Hitchhiking supplies

I already mentioned a mobile phone (with coverage where you’re going).

You will also need the following.

I may have no experience with hitchhiking, I do have lots of experience with hiking and rough weather camping. The following are must have supplies.

Mini-flashlight – Getting caught in the dark? You’ll need to pack a flashlight.Stormtech Nylon Packable Rain Poncho

Coleman Taos Extreme-Weather Mummy Bag

Whether you’re planning on it or not, you’re not likely to be able to find yourself a hotel every place you go. A waterproof sleeping bag is a must in such circumstances.

And yes, you should go with synthetic. Wet natural fiber is COLD (take it from someone who has experienced it). Synthetic fibers these days can be very comfortable, light and warm. Think fleece for instance.

Internal Frame Hiking Camp Travel Backpack
If you have a functional hiking backpack, go with that. Again: looking a bit dingy is good.However, protecting your back is also important. And remember to use those hip bands once you’re on the road: that’s where the real heavy lifting is supposed to happen: at your hips. Your back will thank you later.Also, make sure to have someone help you set all the bands just right for your posture before hand. Again: your back will thank you.
Stainless Steel Water Bottle
Water is way more important on the road than food (though the importance of food should also not be underestimated). Take a good water bottle that can hang on your backpack.

7) Take what comes

On the road the most important thing is to live with what comes at you. Whether it’s weather, or a talkative driver. Whether it’s silence, or a beautiful sunset.

You’ll be forced to face up to yourself throughout it all.

8) Exercise beforehand

Be sure you’re in good health when starting on this. You may end up soaked by the rain. You may end up having to walk miles to the next inn.

Remember that if your body is fit, you’ll be better able to handle what comes to you. Whether it’s someone taking advantage of a lonely hitchhiker, or a patch of heat and no more water in your bottle.

The image is from a page about hitchhiking and other travel customs in Australia.

* This article was first published on Squidoo in 2010. I thought it would be fun to republish it here as it is no longer available elsewhere online. It has been edited only slightly.

# These hitchhiking safety tips were found on, where they are now no longer available: http://hitchwiki.org/en/Hitchhiker’s_safety


What happened to Katinka?

Recently a Buddhist friend mailed me, asking why I had written so little recently. He has a point. It is time for an update.

[edited dec. 19th 2014] My online business has taken a turn upwards, so instead of a job, I’m now seeking customers to supplement my online income [/edited]

The uncomfortable fact is that Google has sidetracked my business by changing their ranking policy. In other words: of the two branches of my business (web design and online publishing) the second is tottering on its last steps. It looks I’ll be making enough to make ends meet over Christmas, but after that it will not amount to much. Since I have never been able to live off my web design business, I will have to look for a job.

I am grateful for all I have learned over the years, for the house I was recently able to buy and for the time my business has given me to invest in myself. However, I will have to enter the normal world. I hope to enter the business equivalent to what I have been doing over the past 10 years: web editing.

Does this mean I have quit being interested in religion and spirituality? No, you know me better than that. In fact, I am planning to finish my bachelor’s in religion-studies at Leiden University this academic year. I also hope to start the academic program at Nijmegen University to become a mindfulness trainer in 2015. I have just finished the 8 week MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course, in preparation for that program to become a mindfulness trainer. In addition I am finishing the online FPMT basics program about the four Buddhist philosophical schools (Tenets or Drubtha).

Back to you. Don’t worry, I will, when I have digested it, undoubtedly transform all that spiritual food into articles on this blog. What I need is time. Time to execute all those plans, to deepen my meditative practice and to translate the best of what I have learned into my own words. I will just have to get used to a world in which I, like most people, have to work 9 to 5 for my bread. These aspects of my life don’t have to hurt each other, I think, but I have no idea how often I will be blogging. You will all just have to wait and see.

In the meantime donations are welcome.

You can help by boosting my LinkedIn profile, especially the ‘skills’ column.

By the way, since Squidoo has quit their business, much of the content I had on there has been moved to Hubpages. Hubpages in their turn has made many of my spiritual articles invisible. I am moving a lot of it to Katinka Hesselink Net. Most prominently, for now, I have moved my lists of theosophical books. See also my list of Krishnamurti Books. While I am going through this process, there will be a lot of broken links on my website. This can’t be helped. I will fix those when the moving process is over. Given all the other things I have on my plate, this may take a while.

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