Being a modern-day Bodhisattva

six perfections

This is the 3rd of 4 articles on our precious human life.

In Breathing for Peace Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

six perfections

Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.

We could do something truly radical by using our life to become a friend of the world, a modern-day Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is anyone who, motivated by universal compassion, wants to help everyone without exception find lasting freedom and happiness. Compassion fuels their entire spiritual progress. They understand that the most far-reaching and satisfying way to help others is to keep increasing their own good qualities of generosity, moral discipline, patience, joyful effort, concentration, and wisdom – the so-called six perfections – until they become an enlightened Buddha able to help everyone all the time. This motivation is called bodhichitta, the mind of enlightenment.

A Bodhisattva is a rare being, a special person, an actual hero or heroine who gains victory over our real enemies of anger, greed, despair, discouragement and so on. Someone who wants to become enlightened for all living beings is uncommon, but just because it is rare doesn’t mean we can’t become one. There are people throughout the world working selflessly for others, in ways obvious or hidden. Sometimes we stumble across their stories and are inspired.  

Rick Chaboudy modernday Bodhisattva

Rick Chaboudy, modern-day Bodhisattva, savior of too many animals to count

If we decided we wanted to help others with surgical procedures, we would understand the need to train as a surgeon. We wouldn’t march around with a carving knife announcing, “Anyone care for some heart surgery? Or perhaps a little amputation?” Wanting to help everyone, a Bodhisattva knows they first need to improve their own motivation, skills and capacity. They have a way to make every single day meaningful and are a great role model for how to live in the world.

How can we live a meaningful life?

How does someone become a Bodhisattva? Simply through daily practice, one step at a time. You may be thinking, “Well this is a bit fanciful isn’t it?! I started reading this article just out of curiosity, and possibly to help me get through this stressful day without killing someone, and now you’re suggesting that I aspire to become a fully enlightened Buddha!” But it is far closer than we may think. We can tell that we already have the seed of bodhichitta because we already want to help others at least a bit more than we can right now, and we already want to improve ourselves at least a bit. Take both of these to their logical conclusion and we have bodhichitta – the wish to help everyone without exception by improving ourselves until there is no further room for improvement.

Modern Buddhism free book

We want our life to have some meaning, don’t we? Pleasure alone is not enough, it feels hollow, because it has no lasting value. True happiness and meaning go hand in hand. If we use our life to travel the spiritual path, we can be in the position of helping not just ourselves but infinite living beings. We can become real heroes.

Spreading a little happiness everyday

A friend of mine sent me this anecdote:

“Straight after university I spent a year working in television in London as a production runner for the Channel 4 comedy series The National Theatre of Brent. As a lot of my time was spent in gridlock, “driving” the company car on errands in London traffic, I had plenty of time to examine road rage. So frustrated by their lack of movement, drivers in front of me would honk their horns continuously, forcing their way into whatever gaps presented themselves. Yet an hour down the road, despite all their aggressive heart-attack—inducing attempts, I would see them again – a whole five cars further ahead!road rage

I decided to conduct an experiment. Whenever possible, I would allow a trapped car into the space ahead of me. When I did this, I was greeted by a smile and wave from the surprised driver, and that car would often play it forward, repeating the gesture of kindness to another car ahead of it. Traffic seemed to flow more easily as a result. My journeys did not take any longer, and they were a great deal more restful and entertaining. This is just a simple illustration. We have these kinds of opportunities to practice loving-kindness every day.”

By improving our love and compassion and the wish to improve ourselves for the sake of others, and by gradually engaging in the Bodhisattva’s way of life, our life approximates that of a Bodhisattva and we become more and more like one. With this good and big heart, even if we improve ourselves only a little bit each day by, for example, patiently resisting the temptation to get angry with someone, and even if we only slightly help one or two people each day, by, for example, helping a little old lady cross the street, every little bit counts a lot because right here and right now we are already making strides on a cosmic spiritual journey.

Thank you for being there

noodles

I just finished an Annie Chun’s All Natural Asian Cuisine noodle bowl, bought not inexpensively at the local Whole Pay Packet, I mean Whole Foods (who went and put such a money-sucking store right next to my house?!) It was kind of untasty to tell the truth, seriously it looked nothing like the picture on the packet, but it only took three minutes to make, and has kept me fed for another couple of hours so I have the energy to write this. So far in all the days of my life I have been kept alive by mountains of food already, all provided to me by the kindness of others – at least, I sure didn’t have anything to do with my noodle bowl other than buying it with dollars given to me by others, warming up the water in a kettle provided by others, using water from goodness knows where coming out of a faucet whose plumbing I had zero to do with, and putting it in my mouth (provided by my parents) with a fork manufactured by others. And of course that is just scratching the surface of all the causes and conditions that went into my supposedly “instant” dinner and my ability to eat it.

kindness of others Buddhism

Just in the last ten minutes I have been entirely dependent on others, and I could take any ten minutes in my day and never get to the bottom of it. As Geshe Kelsang says in Eight Steps to Happiness, we are all interconnected in a web of kindness from which it is impossible to separate ourselves.

Mountain reflections

Buddhism home is where the heart isI saw a “Colorado Native” bumper sticker recently in the Rockies (where I live now!) Where am I native to, I thought? I seem to be a bit of a nomad. But I think I may be indigenous to the land of others’ kindness. We are all indigenous here. We are born into it naked, with nothing, and then supported by it. It is quite a big world. Can feel at home anywhere if we remember.

I was marveling at the feats of human ingenuity – the roads, tunnels, and bridges carved goodness knows how through the mountains next to the rivers, rocks, and frozen waterfalls, past Glenwood hot springs and the place called No Name, a Starbucks (yee haa!) in every wild west town. I watched the wheels of vehicles rotating on the highway as a moment by moment testimony to other people, each inch of the meeting of tire and asphalt coming from their kindness – I didn’t pay for even an inch of the journey between Denver and Grand Junction.

Buddhism in ColoradoI glanced at the driver – on the surface it looks like a driver is in charge of turning the steering wheel, but in fact the wheel has to turn in dependence upon the curving road, which is entirely dependent on others – not even the coolest driver has any autonomy. Driving, like any of our activities, merely reflects off a vast narrative of causes and conditions, karmic and environmental, just carved into the scene as a whole – the driving in this instance not other than the mountains, and the mountains not other than the drive. So with no inherently existent driving in all that, no findable driving, where is the inherently existent driver? Our constrained and findable self, whatever we are doing, is just an hallucination of self-cherishing ignorance.

These kinds of contemplations on our complete dependence on others and on our environment, which we can do anywhere, help us feel closer to others — more in our heart, and less fixated on a heady, dualistic sense of me and them. (Funny how the more in the heart we are, the more we feel connected with the whole wide world.) They also increase our wisdom understanding emptiness, that nothing exists from its own side.

There was a gold rush out here once. Didn’t amount to much (though I believe they found some silver). But as Buddha pointed out, if we were a pauper living our whole life in a hovel, we’d be pretty delighted if someone showed us that we had a gold mine right beneath our feet. The gold of our Buddha nature has always been inside us, we simply haven’t known. And we can mine these seams of limitless wisdom and compassion through contemplations on the interdependence of ourselves and others.

(As you are probably guessing, I might have had too much time to think on that journey – ten hours in a car, caught in a blizzard, my thoughts meandering along with the winding roads … surely I am practically a native of the Western Land of the Snows myself now?!)

Buddhism and meditation in the Rockies

Is anyone not kind to us?

I think that is what Thanksgiving is about, remembering the kindness of others. I suppose it is customary to remember the kindness of our nearest and dearest as we gather around the laden dining table, but we can also remember the kindness of strangers, and why not even of enemies?

Attentive friends and family are obviously kind to us in ways we can recognize (at least, if we notice in the first place). When we meditate on our dependence on all living beings, we realize that strangers are very kind too, eg, Annie Chun and co, the road and railway company, etc.

What about people who annoy us or even set out deliberately to harm us? They are arguably the kindest of all as they allow us to practice patience and unconditional love, qualities we need for lasting happiness and freedom.

We watched the Life of Atisha in Cascais, Portugal, at the Kadampa Buddhist Fall Festival the other day – a truly insightful script and well executed production directed by the talented Olivier. There was a lot of good acting, but Atisha’s cook arguably stole the show. Atisha took this rude, obnoxious servant all the way with him to Tibet and, when the Tibetans asked him why, replied:

Without this man, there would be no one with whom I could practice patience. He is very kind to me. I need him!

Geshe Kelsang goes onto say:

Atisha understood that the only way to fulfill his deepest wish to benefit all living beings was to achieve enlightenment, and that to do this he needed to perfect his patience. For Atisha, his bad-tempered assistant was more precious than material possessions, praise, or any other worldly attainment. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

We don’t need to have a servant to practice patience, there will probably be someone willing to fit the bill amongst our parents, partner, or children over Thanksgiving, or our boss and co-workers back at work next week. If anyone tries to start an argument over the holiday, you could try just playing about with offering them the victory and see what happens. I think it is often not the content of an argument that is the issue (especially when we’ve overeaten and feel grumpy)–it is the emotional luggage and inappropriate attention. Diffuse this and the content can often take care of itself.

Kind just because they’re therekindness of others in Buddhism

Shantideva says that others are kind just because they are other – because they are there, really! If they are there, we can cherish them, and if we cherish them we experience happiness both now and in the future.

As Mark Twain put it:

The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.

I borrowed a cat this morning, here in Denver, called Bella. She is a cuddly little grey fur ball, who sat on the fire escape crying to be let in my attic window, and then lay peacefully next to my leg as I meditated. In Buddhism, we never meditate alone – we don’t have to have an actual cat (or human) sitting next to us, but we always think we’re surrounded by countless living beings. It takes us out of ourselves, makes the meditation flow better.

kindness of others ShantidevaFor as long as there are people around you, or even just one person, we can be cherishing others and making our life meaningful and happy. Big heart translates into big action. One analogy Geshe Kelsang uses is that even if all we are doing is putting crumbs on a bird table, if we do it with great compassion our action is far more powerfully beneficial than giving a diamond ring to someone out of attachment.

This next bit is old news, and wide rivers have flown under the bridge since then; but it is when I became 100% convinced of the advantages of cherishing others in times of crisis, so I’ll share it. When I was fired from my very enjoyable long-term job several years ago, I relied upon those around me to bring me out of it – not by expecting them to do anything, but simply by serving as my immediate objects of cherishing to take me out of myself, to help me keep moving onward and upward. I would not just survive, in the words of Gloria Gaynor, I was determined to thrive. I remember the moment I received my firing letter. Immediately I had perspective as it was the same morning that my dear friend Trish died of cancer, died most beautifully I might add, with a smile on her face and with the faint euphoric words over the phone the night before: “L, this is all just appearance! Geshe-la is everywhere!” News travels fast, but not that fast, and before she found out another friend came to me in tears of guilt about losing a precious gift a friend had given her, and then another friend came to me in tears seeking advice on how to communicate better with her husband. Later they both said words to the effect: “So sorry to dump on you, I had no idea you’d just been fired!” but they didn’t know they were being the kind ones, allowing me think about others in my hour of need.

Kadampa Buddhism in ColoradoAnd I continued as I meant to go on, deciding that the only way not to go doolally would be to firmly and stably put myself in everyone else’s shoes. Self-cherishing is like trying to keep your balance on high pointy (just focused on one person, me) Giuseppe Zanotti stilettos; loving others is like wearing solid flat (focused on lots of people, others) Doc Martens. When you find yourself navigating uncertain terrain, lumpy, full of potholes, treacherous in places, believe me you’d far rather be wearing Doc Martens. It worked every time I did it (which was a lot due to desperation); and I know I’m more stable and confident now thanks to it.

Thanks, in fact, to others.

Enemy or victim?

Winston 5

Yesterday J and F bought Winston for a visit. He has been scratching himself a lot recently, due to fleas, and J has been applying anti-histamine cream out of great concern for his discomfort. Apparently, I was informed, he no longer has fleas. But sitting at the dining table, stroking Winston, F looked up suddenly: “Oh, here’s a flea.” Then he added, perhaps somewhat in defense of his beloved pooch, “You must have fleas in the carpet!”

Winston 5 Now, not wanting to quibble, but I did feel the need to point out that I have thus far never had any fleas in my carpet, and Winston is the one who has been scratching like crazy, so I was coming to an entirely different conclusion… my carpet (and cat) were now at risk from Winston, not the other way around!

And I caught myself developing a split second of aversion toward this usually adorable fellow, “Oh, Winston, as if it’s not enough that you chase my cat, I wish you hadn’t bought fleas into my house”, as if the fleas were all his fault, and somehow part of him. But of course it was not his fault. He is a poor little dog plagued by flea bites, not an annoying flea-dog at one with his fleas.

This got me thinking some more. If I had the constant, unconditional love for Winston that J and F have, I would not assume for a moment that the fleas are somehow his fault, nor ever identify him with his fleas. I would distinguish between Winston and his fleas, seeing the faults of being bitten by fleas without seeing a single fault in Winston.*

You know how, if we encounter a co-worker with a huge head cold and then develop symptoms ourselves, we can easily think: “Oh it is their fault I feel so ill, they are the one who gave me this” (as if the head cold was part and parcel of them as opposed to something victimizing them.) Think about the panic, aversion and vilification that used to surround people with cancer, for example, or more recently AIDS, as people conflated the victims with the very enemy who was drawing the life out of them. They were not distinguishing between the person and their illness, and this caused hard-heartedness and even cruelty.

Yet when a mother sees her child with a head cold, she is not thinking about herself but about him, so she never identifies the child with the illness or develops aversion out of selfish concern for her own welfare. Instead she distinguishes between her child and his illness and tries her best to free him from this enemy, to make him feel better.

mother childThe common denominator here strikes me as being love. When we have love for someone, we seem to naturally focus on their pure nature and potential and don’t mistake them for their temporary faults, even if we see that they have them. We don’t think “Oh, all you are is a flea-carrying cur, get out of my house!” or “You are just one big head cold, get away from me!” We think “Oh, you poor thing, let me help you overcome your problems and feel better.”

This reminds me of that quote I mentioned here:

It is because they distinguish between delusions and persons that Buddhas are able to see the faults of delusions without ever seeing a single fault in any living being. Consequently, their love and compassion for living beings never diminish. ~ Transform Your Life, p 131

It strikes me that this goes both ways, in a virtuous cycle. If we don’t identify people with their delusions, we can keep loving them; and if we love them, we are far less likely to identify them with their delusions.

*By the way, I have nothing against fleas per se. They are sentient beings and as such are not enemies at all. But I won’t get into all that right now.

What do you think?

Postscript: I wrote this some time ago too. Winston has since moved to New York and I am about to move to a place with another carpet.

Celebrating Mother’s Day

mother's love 2

To celebrate all kind mothers everywhere on Mother’s Day (USA), including you, since a bunch of flowers is a bit hard to pull off, Kadampa Life offers you instead a double billing. Two fabulous guest articles, one on the Buddhist meditation of seeing everyone as our mother and the other a story of a mother’s love.  

Happy Mother’s Day
by Sona Kadampa

mother's love 2If you’re a mother, I hope your family is spoiling you today. As kids, we used to give our mum the works – a lie-in, breakfast in bed, fresh flowers, home-made cards, gifts, and Sunday lunch out.

It felt good to appreciate what she did for us, year after year. And now my own friends and family are having kids, I can see the quantities of love and hard work that go into mothering.

Buddha’s teachings, Dharma, teach us to use that feeling of gratitude as a powerful seed that can, over time, blossom into a vast, unconditional mind of love that encompasses everyone.

It’s a big seed to swallow if you’re new to Buddhism because it builds on an understanding of past and future lives. However, it’s worth the effort, and even if you’re still on the reincarnation fence this beautiful practice can be of great benefit.

In Joyful Path of Good Fortune Geshe Kelsang invites us to consider how our consciousness existed in the moment before mum and dad ‘made’ a brand new body for us to live in. He says:

Where did that mind come from? It came from the mind that existed before conception, the mind of the previous life. This mind itself came from the previous life, and so on without beginning.

In that earlier life we could have been an animal, an insect, or a different kind of being entirely, living in a realm unknown to us. Or, we might have been the next-door neighbour. Whatever kind of existence we had, we definitely had a mum. Maybe we had a butterfly-mum, maybe we had an elephant-mum. Maybe we had a mum very similar to the one we have now. Whoever she was, where is she now? Where are all those mothers now?

Buddha’s answer:

I have not seen a single living being who has not been the mother of all the rest.

Whether you believe in rebirth or not, I think this meditation can change your life. Even attempting to view everyone in the way you see your mother at her best, with an attitude of gratitude, appreciation, and unfettered love – opens up a new, loving pathway in the mind.

Every living being – the swimming ones, the flying ones, the many-legged ones, the irritating ones, the peaceful ones, the famous ones and the notorious ones – were once, in a different time and a different form, our mother, and we’ve had a close, loving relationship with them all. How cool is that?

My own mother died when I was a child. I missed her fiercely as a teenager, and feel her absence to this day. This meditation brought a special ‘mum’ feeling back for me, 20 years after her death. Rather than focusing on my personal loss, it taught me to contemplate what Mum gave me – a deep, unshakeable feeling of being cherished and protected. By using my memory to access that feeling, I can turn anyone into my mother. I can ‘remember’ what they did for me – even when, just as my mum sometimes did, they’re having a bad day. Then, I naturally feel close to them, appreciate them and want to do something kind for them. Just like we used to do on Mother’s Day.

mother's day in BuddhismNext, Geshe-la gets us to go into those kindnesses in some detail. It’s very extensive and well worth a read.* From her pregnancy to this day, our mother has loved, worried about, and watched over us. We wouldn’t be able to walk, talk, or even think straight without what she gave us. She dedicated her whole life to striving, with no time off, to turn us from a helpless, frog-like creature into a fully functional human being.

You can add your own personal memories to the list. As a single mother, my mum worked harder than anyone I know, giving up so much, just so we could have the things we wanted.

I thought I appreciated this at the time, but I realised years later that my appreciation was still pretty self-centred! One year, on the anniversary of my mother’s death, a Bulgarian friend told me their custom would be to eat her favourite meal on that day. I decided I would do this – but then I realised I had no idea what my mother’s favourite meal was.

Of course, I knew what mine was. Mum cooked a mean macaroni cheese, and her fish fingers and parsley sauce were mouthwatering. But I had to ask a family friend what Mum loved – and got a surprise. She loved steak, with grilled banana on top. I’d have remembered such an unusual meal if she’d ever cooked it – but we kids were not steak fans, so we never ate my mum’s favourite meal at home, in all those years of macaroni cheese and fish fingers.

Still, it’s never too late to show some appreciation, even if your mum of this life is gone. Six months after I met my partner, also a Kadampa Buddhist, his mother died of a long-term illness. In her last days, as the family gathered, I had the chance to promise her I’d look after her son, and to tell her that he was using his life in an amazing way. It meant the world to be able to tell her this.

It’s hard to say these things to a loved one when they’re in the full flush of health, but you can show appreciation in quiet ways, too – for example, by engaging in a gentle, regular process of reducing your delusions. I discovered, a little late in life, that a relationship without the delusion of attachment is well worth having.

As an adult, I acquired a stepmother, and with her I seem to have a quieter, more accepting relationship than many of my friends have with their own mothers.

It took me a long time to work out why our relationship was so easy-going, but I have a theory on it now. We do not ask each other to make us happy. For example, she isn’t particularly invested in or critical of what I do with my life, and my expectations of her unquestioning support, forgiveness, and a share in her resources are – compared to the expectations I had of my mum – moderate.

mother's kindness

In Buddhist terms, our relationship benefits from less attachment. That’s a delusion that is often mixed with love and features a lot in families. When we’re demanding, disappointed, or unsatisfied with our loved ones, usually attachment is at work, and it can be squarely blamed for many family arguments and schisms.

I’m nowhere near controlling my attachment, but the natural situation with my stepmother has shown me how peaceful and fulfilling a loving, attachment-free relationship can be. So, to help mothers everywhere, including my own – all of them – I’ll be working to replace attachment with appreciation this Mother’s Day.

We can’t give breakfast in bed to every mum in the world this Mother’s Day, nice as that would be. But we can appreciate the contribution every single living being has made to our wellbeing, now or in the past, and meditate on that warm, gentle feeling of ‘thank you’.

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*Editor’s postscript: If, as sometimes happens, your mother suffered from strong delusions and/or bad habits and was not there for you, it can help to recall that she did give you your body, and apply these contemplations instead to your principal caregivers as you grew up.

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A Mother’s Love
by Eileen Stead

It is said in Buddhist teachings that a Mother’s love is the closest we can get to pure love in samsara, where most experiences of love are contaminated by the deluded mind of attachment.

I once asked for a definition of love, and the answer came, “Love is wishing for the happiness of others without expecting anything in return.” A totally selfless love without a thought of one’s own happiness or comfort. This is why a Mother’s love is said to be the paradigm of love, for what kind Mother would not leap into freezing water to save her child from drowning?

This is the story of one such Mother, but it was not the freezing water of a fast flowing river but the “dark satanic mills” of Huddersfield from which she rescued her two children. When she was a girl, she had a dream, or should I say a passionate wish, to be a singer. She did have a lovely pure voice, and was sometimes called upon to sing the Soprano solos in the “Messiah” at the local church. But alas, her destiny was to work in the clattering environment of the Mill, which she hated.

Reggie and Vera SteadAt the age of twenty six, Carrie Brogden (a good Yorkshire name!!) married, and soon became pregnant. Now in those days — 1908 — there was a paucity of prenatal care, and when she went into labour early on a Whit Monday morning nobody had suspected that the young couple would be blessed with twins. But that was it–first a big healthy boy followed by a diminutive but equally lively girl; and from that moment, Carrie Brogden made a vow that her children would have the opportunity she never had. They would become musicians. How she would achieve this, she had no idea, but she had planted the seed in her heart.

When the children were six and a half, the First World War broke out and life changed dramatically for everyone. The young men were hastily conscripted and shipped off to the battle fields of France and Belgium. The horrors of that war — the fighting in the trenches, the loss of limbs, having to survive in the waterlogged ground with your dead buddies lying beside you – provided endless agonies.

Carrie’s husband did come home eventually, but he was a saddened man. He was suffering from angina, and, worse than that, he had been gassed and found breathing difficult. You may be thinking “What has all this got to do with Carrie’s ambition for her children?” But wait! There was to be a small War Pension. Not a lot, but, she thought, just enough to pay for music lessons. Bravely, she announced her plan to the family. The Pension would pay for the Music Lessons, and not be used for anything else. She herself would become the breadwinner.

Having found an excellent violin teacher for the boy and piano teacher for the girl, she started her life of selfless dedication to earn the money she needed to fulfil her promise. Being an excellent cook, she would rise at some unearthly hour to start cooking; and then would sell her homemade “pies and peas” from the kitchen window. She became well known in the neighbourhood and did good business. Later, her husband, who had recovered a little from the war, began to make ice cream, which was also very popular.

This they did for a number of years. The young teenagers were by now progressing well in their studies, particularly the boy who, according to his teacher, was the best violin pupil he had ever taught. At only sixteen, he was asked to lead a small orchestra in the one and only silent cinema boasted by the local town.

Reginal Stead MBE lead violinist BBC Northern OrchestraAs was the custom in the North of England in those days, anyone in work brought home his or her pay packet on Friday and placed it unopened on the kitchen table. The mother then took charge, opening the envelopes and handing out a meagre amount of pocket money to each member of the family, keeping the rest for household necessities. At least that’s what the young man thought, but all the money he earned at the cinema was put secretly away in a box while she continued to slave away in the kitchen.

When the young man was eighteen, fully grown and winning first prize in violin competitions amid glowing reports, his teacher said, “To continue to be a success, he must have a good Italian violin. I’m taking a trip to Cremona and will bring back a couple of instruments for him to try. They will be expensive, I’m afraid, about two thousand pounds.” The young man was aghast and looked at his Mother in consternation, but she coolly replied, “Yes, we can afford that.” I‘m sure you must have guessed, dear reader.  She had saved every penny he had earned in the Cinema, and in that box was exactly the right amount of money to buy the Italian instrument. I remember its name. A Joseph Gagliano. A fine violin.

From there on his career blossomed, and after the Father died of a heart attack at the age of sixty Carrie Brogden attended every concert of her now famous son. She felt great pride and knew in her heart that she and she alone had made this possible. Of course, without his dedication and natural ability it could not have happened, but she understood that, without her, he would most likely be working in the dreadful clattering atmosphere of the mill.

This is a story of a Mother’s love, but being in samsara, as we are, did attachment creep in? A little pride perhaps? Who would begrudge her a little of that? I think the holy beings would understand, and forgive her.

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Editor’s postscript: Reginald Stead MBE become a member of the Hallé Orchestra in the 1930s and went onto become the leader of the BBC Northern Orchestra from 1945 to 1971. The BBC conductor, Edward Downes, later stated that Stead was “one of the finest leaders in the country and could play all the solos beautifully.” Eileen first heard him when she was six and he was eighteen; she was bewitched by his violin playing while on holiday with her father. Years later they met again and married.

 

In praise of integrity

Integrity dictionary

I recently re-read a good article on Heart of Compassion on honesty and keeping it real, well worth reading twice. It has also prodded me to finish writing down some thoughts on integrity that I’ve had up my sleeve for a while.

Integrity definitionThe dictionary definition of integrity is:

Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

One of the things I love most about the old Kadampas is their integrity. They seemed to practice Dharma as if no one was looking, totally for its own sake, with no side-tracking worldly concerns. (The 8 worldly concerns are attachment to praise, pleasure, a good reputation, and gain, and fear of or aversion to their opposite.)

A few years ago, when I was about to go on quite a long retreat, a friend said: “You’ll be setting a great example!” I remember thinking, and replying, “I don’t want to set an example, though. I just want to practice as if no one is looking.” I don’t know if that thought was a cop-out or not, but I know at the time it helped me enjoy the retreat a great deal.

integrity and Understanding the Mind TharpaAlthough it can obviously be helpful to set a good example, it is counterproductive if there is pretension or concealment involved. (Perhaps it is better to be a good example than to set one?)  If I look to someone for inspiration or advice, for example, I am not worried about their faults per se because we all have those. What will destroy my confidence in their ability to help me is if they don’t seem to be doing anything about these faults, particularly if they don’t seem to believe or care that they have them, and even more so if they are trying to cover them up or being prideful. (Others probably evaluate our advice using similar criteria.)

A Bodhisattva promises to work for the welfare of all living beings without pretension or deceit. Here are some useful definitions from Understanding the Mind (where you can read all about them) that have helped me understand what integrity is and aspire to it, since it seems free from these faulty attitudes.

The definition of pretension is a deluded mental factor that, motivated by attachment to wealth or reputation, wishes to pretend that we possess qualities that we do not possess.

The definition of concealment is a deluded mental factor that, motivated by attachment to wealth or reputation, wishes to conceal our faults from others.

If we have wealth or reputation, we have to be particularly careful because we have the grounds for attachment to arise every day – trying to hold onto our wealth or popularity, fearing their loss. Our behavior will no longer have integrity if it is motivated by these concerns and results will not be as good as they could be, even if we are ostensibly helping a lot of people.

Here’s another good one, self-satisfaction:

The definition of self-satisfaction is a deluded mental factor that observes our own physical beauty, wealth, or other good qualities, and, being concerned only with these, has no interest in spiritual development.

If we count among our “other good qualities” the fact that everyone right now loves us, praises us, and does what we ask, we develop a spiritual smugness that means after years of supposed practice and example we have not taken an actual step forward toward liberation or enlightenment.

Crabs in a bucket

If you put a crab in a bucket and it can climb out of that bucket, it will climb out. But if you put two crabs in the bucket, when one of the crabs tries to climb out, the other will pull it back in. (Apparently. I’ve never tried this.) Neither will ever escape. It doesn’t matter that it is possible to escape; the crabs will hold each other back from doing so.

Atisha

Atisha, founder of Kadampa Buddhism

Sometimes we may not believe in the idea of our own limitless potential and instead have a jealous or insecure sense that someone else’s success somehow diminishes our own. With that mentality, even if we are not fully aware of it, if we see others improving we will naturally if unconsciously reach out to hold them back, or at least experience that most ignoble of  feelings, schadenfreude, when we see them fall back.

However, we don’t only hold each other back by criticizing each other, putting each other down, or rejoicing in their misfortune. Actually, I think we are more effectively held back in samsara when people shower us with praise, power, and gifts, especially if we take it seriously and buy into it. Words of fame and praise do nothing to advance us spiritually, especially if we become dependent on them for our self-image and self-esteem. As Venerable Atisha says in his quintessential Advice for all wannabe Kadampas:

Words of praise and fame serve only to beguile us, therefore blow them away as you would blow your nose.

Profit and respect are nooses of the maras, so brush them aside like stones on the path.

Geshe-la in Tibet

Geshe Kelsang in Tibet

I was once on a little pedestal by dint of my position – not a huge pedestal like Nelson’s in Trafalgar Square, more like one of those plastic pillars a foot high in a MacDonalds playground, but still not quite on the level playing field. When I was pushed off my pedestal (as we all are sooner or later), I took incredible inspiration from the old Kadampas, and still do. The real Kadampas would hide their best qualities in plain sight. On the outside they were a pure example by observing moral discipline motivated by non-attachment and contentment, on the inside they were motivated by a fiercely kind bodhichitta, and, even more deeply and secretly on the inside, they were relaxing in the bliss and emptiness of Tantra. 

It is not what you do but why you do it. There is no such thing as ordinary activity without an ordinary mind. With an ordinary mind, even seemingly pure activities will have ordinary results.

Part 2 coming soon to a blog near you. Meanwhile, over to you, do you agree with this or not?

Finding my heart

baby in arms

I am only a parent of cats and take my hat off to parents of small humans, who seem to have to work 24/7 for others. But I think even pet parents have some of the same experiences, and also some of the same concerns when it comes to balancing love and attachment and avoiding undue worry and stress when things go wrong…♥)  So, when Kadampa working dad recently had the good idea of starting a Facebook page for Buddhist parents, I joined the group too. And to let more parents know about this forum, I thought it was a good excuse to post this guest article by him. Scroll to the bottom of this article to read the Facebook About. 

Just before I was to get married I was at the New Kadampa Tradition Summer Festival in England.  I went up to what was then the Protector Gompa (a special meditation room dedicated to the Dharma Protector).  I felt like getting married was the right thing to do for my spiritual practice, but I still had doubts.  So I made as sincere of a request as I could that my path be revealed to me.  What happened next was the only time something like this has ever happened to me.  I was meditating, my eyes were closed, but in my mind a Buddha who I understood to be Tara approached me.  She was made of a silvery metalic liquid, but very much alive.  In her hands was a baby – in normal flesh and bones that I could see as clearly as I could see any person out of meditation.  She then handed me the baby and said, “This is where you will find your heart.”  And then everything vanished.  I can still vividly remember and see this within my mind.  All doubt was then dispelled and I knew what my path was to be.  Thirteen years later, I now have five kids!

Prior to my being a parent, I was very much a Vulcan – heart-felt emotion wasn’t really part of my personality, and I was very intellectual in my approach to the Dharma (I still am, unfortunately, but it is slowly changing…).  I really struggled with feeling any Dharma realizations like love and compassion in my heart, and as a result I tended to shy away from such meditations and instead to focus on emptiness and other philosophical or technical topics.  “Finding my heart” was (and still is), in many respects, my greatest spiritual challenge.

To my surprise, the love I have for my children is not some sappy, mushy sort of thing, but is rather very active.  It can best be described as “There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.”  It is a feeling of a fortunate assuming of personal responsibility for their welfare – I am glad it is me who is responsible for them, because I wouldn’t trust that anybody else would look after them the way I would and I very much want them to be taken care of.  It is a love that ‘knows them’, in many ways better than they know themselves.  I know and understand how they work and think, so I am always sensitive to what is best for them.  It is a love that happily works for their benefit.  It is a love that would rather me have the hardest tasks or the worst things so that they can have the best.  It is a love that somehow can see past all of their faults and understand where those faults are coming from and develop compassion wishing to protect them.  It is a love that literally laughs out loud when I see their summer portraits and the unique goofiness in each of their expressions!

And here’s the thing:  all of this comes naturally.  I haven’t worked to develop this love, I just naturally feel it.  Venerable Geshe-la explains the reason for this is because we have special karmic connections with these particular beings from our previous lives where we now spontaneously feel a pure love towards them.  Of course there are times when our minds are full of delusions towards our kids, but compared to everyone else we feel the most natural love for our kids.  It is thanks to my kids that I ‘found’ my heart, I realized what it means to feel an active love for somebody.

How wonderful if we can extend the love we feel towards our children to all living beings, where we can view all living beings as our children.

Here is the Facebook forum: https://www.facebook.com/groups/288032664659782/members/ 

About: The purpose of this group is to provide a platform for Kadampa parents to share their experiences of how they use the Kadam Dhama to be better parents and to ask questions about how to apply the Dharma to common parenting challenges. Through this, we can all learn from each other’s trials and tribulations as we seek to unite the Kadam Dharma with modern parenting. Over time, this page will become like a repository of the accumulated wisdom of Kadampa parents, which will then hopefully prove helpful to future Kadampa parents for generations to come. The group is open to parents and non-parents alike, because in the end our job as Kadampa Bodhisattvas is to help others grow. Please add all of the Kadampa parents you know to this group. The group is also open to Kadampa teachers who wish to better understand and help their students who are parents. And yes, parents are free to post pictures of their little ones doing all of the silly things they do! Please note, the views expressed in this group are those of individual practitioners and do not represent those of the New Kadampa Tradition itself. This is an “unofficial” group of practitioners. For the official New Kadampa Tradition Facebook page, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/kadampa

Breathe out problems, breathe in love

giving meditation

The other day someone asked me: “I know we’re supposed to put others first – but I was taught that in the Girl Guides and its always just made me feel like a doormat.”Buddhism is not about being a doormat

Interestingly, someone else in a separate conversation on the same day also told me that they’d been taught that in the Girl Guides, but their take was different, they felt it was a Buddhist teaching for them in disguise, and they really liked it

What is the difference? The answer is what is going on in the mind. Putting others first has to come not from a sense of onerous, self-sacrificing duty but from a genuine cherishing of others, feeling that their happiness is important, even more important than our own. If we genuinely feel that way, we will naturally and happily want to put them first, there’ll be no self-flagellation involved. But that does not mean that our happiness becomes entirely unimportant. Happiness is our nature, our Buddha nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong, insofar as it doesn’t work, is seeking it outside when it is inside, and thinking that our happiness is more important than anyone else’s when it’s not.

Actually we need to learn to enjoy our own company a great deal, and it is no fun hanging out with a doormat! We have to like and respect ourselves, which means we have to have something good to like and respect about ourselves = and generally this is our positive and happy qualities, all of which come one way or another from cherishing others. Cherishing others is a win win for us and for others.

we are not the center of the universeThe great Indian Buddhist Shantideva famously said that all suffering in this world comes from self-cherishing and all happiness in this world comes from cherishing others. All of it. I’m not sure there is even an exception to this rule. What Shantideva says makes sense because self-cherishing is a delusion, an unrealistic mind – who else but your own self-cherishing attitude thinks you are the most important person in the world?! (Asked what he felt about death recently, an Australian comedian joked half-seriously that his main fear was who was going to take his place in the center of the universe.) Not even your own mum agrees with this assessment of your own importance, except maybe sometimes, and certainly none of the other 7 billion humans on the planet does — and don’t even think about all the animals who have no clue who you are and don’t care. When we are thinking and acting while taken in by an hallucination, it is no surprise when things don’t work out. Cherishing others, on the other hand, is entirely realistic because it understands that others actually are important, both to themselves and also to us. Others also think they are the only real ME, and we depend on them for everything.

Test the teachings like gold

We don’t need to take Shantideva’s word for it though. In fact we should never take even Buddha’s word for anything, he said so himself – advising people to test everything he said as they’d assay gold to see if it was genuine. We test what we hear and read about Buddhism in the laboratory of our own mind, reasoning, and life experiences in order to come to our own conclusions and decisions, our own good ideas. However much we admire or trust someone, just taking on what they say without thinking it through and making it our own idea has limited benefit, for sooner or later we’ll fall back on our own habitual thoughts and behaviors again. That’s one reason why I think in Buddhism we talk about listening, contemplating, and meditating – we don’t just stop at listening.test Buddha's teachings like gold

So, in this instance, we can look at our own lives to see whether self-cherishing causes us problems or not, and whether cherishing others causes us happiness or not. A simple experiment to get us started is to think of a problem we’ve had recently, such as today. Any problem will do.

Okay, I’ll go first. I work as a project manager for a medical journal and sometimes one doctor or another can be a bit big for their boots. One was complaining about the imposition of only being paid $1,500 for a few hours’ work, and I found myself wondering briefly what planet he lived on. I was a little miffed at his rather rude and condescending email and felt discouraged for a few minutes. Then I got over it.

So, let’s analyze what was going on, and, specifically, who was I thinking of when I was feeling miffed…

Why, me, of course. “How dare he be so insensitive to ME!! Doesn’t he realize what my hourly rate of pay is?!” As my thoughts began to run away with themselves, I started to project this worry into the future as well… “Oh no, I have to work with this guy for a whole MONTH, what if I can’t do it …?”

Then, how did I get over it? By thinking about him and how he wants to be happy but, in this instance at least, doesn’t really know how to – if $1,500 for 3 hours work can’t make you happy, you may be relatively hard to satisfy. His own irritation was doubtless stressing him out. Plus, his dog probably loves him, he can’t be all bad. I genuinely wished him happiness and the problem magically disappeared.

Ok, your turn. Who were you thinking of while you were having your problem? ….

…. Now, if you imagine cherishing the other person or other people around you instead of yourself, what happens to your problem? ……

breathing out problemsDid the problem disappear? Poof…!

If it did, you can extrapolate that the same thing will happen to all your problems if you move away from the poky space of self to the vast space of others.

(This is not just the case for relatively small problems, such as having to work with an irritating client, but with seemingly insurmountable, existential ones. Loren Jay Shaw, for example, was in Super Max solitary confinement for 3 years, and it was cherishing ants that stopped him going quite literally insane.)

Combine your understanding with breathing meditation

Then, what you can do next, if you like, is think that this problem and all other problems caused by your self-cherishing appear in the form of dark clouds at the level of your heart, in the center of your chest. Think:

“I don’t need any of this – these thoughts are just bad habits, and they are not me.”

Then with this decision, breathe the dark clouds out through your nostrils so they disappear forever. Do that for a while, feeling your heart becoming lighter with every breath.

After a little while, imagine breathing in blissful, clear light – like the sky, only infinitely clearer. It enters your nostrils and descends to your heart, or heart chakra — your spiritual heart located in the center of your chest. It looks like light, but its nature is love, cherishing others. You can also think of it as all the love from throughout the universe, including that of all holy beings, blessings. With every breath, feel your heart become happier.

Than spend a few minutes combining the two, breathing out the last of the dark clouds and breathing in the blissful clear light.

Buddha peaceWe can identify with this peaceful, spacious feeling at our heart, thinking:

“This is my Buddha nature. This peace and love I am feeling, however slight, indicates my potential for limitless love. This is who I am.”

We are not the clouds of our delusions, we are the sky of our Buddha nature. We can hang out in this blissful clarity at our heart for as long as we like, feeling at home there, thinking “This is me.”

Then, for the extra icing on this meditation cake, we can think that everyone in the world has this same potential at their heart. How wonderful it would be if they could remove self-cherishing and its problems and identify with their pure love instead. Then we can dedicate all the good karma or good fortune we’ve created so that we and others quickly accomplish this.

Before we rise from meditation, we can think ahead briefly to how we are going to remember this love for the rest of the day. One excellent way is to use the Lojong (mind-training) motto with everyone we meet or think about:

“This person is important. Their happiness matters.”

Home is where the heart is

Rousseau lying on back

I have had the thought of late that I don’t think I’ll ever be completely, utterly happy until I realize I am everywhere. We all are, as there is no world outside our mind.

I suppose what has partly bought on this cosmic rather pleasing thought is the amount of times I’ve been asked in the last few months since I came to Liverpool from Florida:

“Really? That is a BIG change?!”

Whereas it is a surprisingly un-big change.

Plus, give me a dollar or a quid for the amount of solicitous comments I’ve received along the lines of whether I am feeling at home yet? (I am, thank you.) But the truth is I don’t feel I left home. Home is where the heart is, as they say. My home is in my heart. Luckily, my heart goes with me everywhere.

Rousseau lying on back Kadampa LifeFlorida was only ever dreamlike appearance to my mind, and I can still “be” there when I want to in my heart-mind. Same for everywhere. As Geshe-la points out, the mind can go anywhere – it’d take considerable effort and expense to lug my body to the moon, but my mind can go there in an instant just by thinking about it.

Beatles and meditation

“Love is all you need.”

Florida is empty of inherent existence and can be anything depending on my thoughts, so I like to imagine it as a Pure Land — I still enjoy offering it up to all enlightened beings and living beings, with all its pterodactyl pelicans, lapping turquoise seas, and gorgeous gargantuan tropical undergrowth. My hairdresser yesterday spent 10 minutes marveling aloud at the Armadillo she had once seen in Florida – I offer him up too, along with, now, the swans in Sefton Park, the miniature chirpy birds, and the timeless and Tara-green English countryside.

Be here, now. Be everywhere now.

It was EM Forster who said:

Only connect.

daffodils at Kadampa Meditation Centre Liverpool

Thank you, Flower Fairy!

Love is the great connector. With equanimity, we reduce our sticky attachment Velcro-ing us to our only (bring out the violins) loved ones, and love the ones we’re with as well as the ones we’re not currently with. (An anonymous flower fairy just left the first daffodils of spring outside my door with a message wishing me a joy-filled day — what’s not to love about Liverpudlians?!) [Remembering how everyone is our kind mother and that we depend on others for every atom of our being, we can feel at home anywhere. Love makes us feel entirely connected, settled, and supported – it stops loneliness and homesickness in their tracks.

I just this moment received this gracious reply from an old friend I wrote to in Florida, who is going through a hard time:

“You are so kind to have me on your mind with all the new frontiers you are forever moving through.”

That’s what I mean! Why wouldn’t I have her on my mind? Why would I be concerned for her over there but not over here?! To prove it, I’m now going to dedicate this article to her and Chuck.

Uncertainty

One of the six general sufferings of samsara, according to Buddha, is Uncertainty. Impermanence means that everything is unstable – our relationships, our locations, our enjoyments, our bodies. Unless we find a way to transform change, we are in for trouble – and not just in this life but in all our future lives.

how to handle things falling apartAs a child, we travelled, my parents and I. We lived in New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Guyana, Turkey, Ghana, and Singapore, and visited many other countries too. Though my parents adapted remarkably well to change on almost every continent, for them travel was rooted in, I think, a sense of Britishness. They were happy to come back and retire here; England is home for them. My older brother who started in England and was packed off to boarding school aged 7 told me at Christmas that if he could choose where on earth he would live, he too would live in England, just where he does live. For me, though, starting my life in New Zealand, paying occasional visits to the motherland, England never felt like my roots. My parents were my roots, and that was fine, as I never doubted that they’d look after me (I was lucky!) Every two or three years I’d be going to a new continent and meeting new people. One day, on the school bus waiting to drive off to another first day at another new school (nine in all), I felt an existential ennui at having to start all over again making new friends, and doubted that I’d have the energy or ability to do it. Just before the bus rolled away, my mother gave me this parting shot:

“If you want people to like you, like them first.”

When I asked how I could possibly like a whole bunch of strangers, she said:

“Get them to talk about themselves. And remember that everyone is beautiful when they smile.”

She doesn’t remember saying these things, but I do.

Madhyamaka Centre 1980s

Madhyamaka Centre 1980s

As an adult, I have continued to go from place to place – apart from a 14-year stint at Madhyamaka Centre, by far and away the longest period I’ve spent in one place, a veritable exception to the rule. (And on three separate occasions, months apart, after we all moved into Madhyamaka Centre in 1986, my teacher Geshe-la asked me the curious koan-like question: “Have you moved into Madhyamaka Centre yet?” knowing full well that I had [or thought I had!] Make of that what you will.)

Why am I telling you all this? Partly as I’m feeling chatty, and partly because it has been my karma so far in this life to move around a great deal, and this uncertainty has given me ample opportunities to contemplate the truth of Dharma. So, hopefully, if you’re perhaps in the midst of some big move or change, reading this might help a bit.

All this moving is nothing, obviously, not to mention luxury compared to the amount and type of upheaval experienced by refugees all over the world. It is also nothing compared to our constant travels from life to life. Other general sufferings of samsara are having to leave our body over and over again and having to take rebirth over and over again.

meditation in Puerto RicoChange is inevitable so if we can find a way to feel at home and to feel happy wherever we go — place to place and life to life — we are free. We have mental freedom. That’s what I want. Geshe Kelsang left Tibet with just his robes and 2 texts in the late 1950s, and then he had to leave India to come over to an alien West to try and bring peace to a bunch of materialistic, self-indulgent (speaking for myself) barbarians. Not only did he remain perfectly happy through all of these upheavals, but I am quite sure he has mastered the art of being everywhere at the same time, as well as never leaving home.

“You can only have 130 friends!”

That modern-day phenomenon, Facebook, is a connector too, in its own way. At its best, it helps people feel close across continents, in that locationless cyberspace that could be anything really, so make of it what you will. I was recently talking to a young teenage boy about Facebook in the World Peace Café downstairs, and he told me that Facebook doesn’t work because you can only really have 130 friends. I knew what he meant, but I still told him it wasn’t true – we can love as many people as we want, it is up to us, not up to them. A Bodhisattva is known as a friend of the world. Karmically a Bodhisattva may spend more time with some people than with others in any given day or year, but mentally they remember their deep connection to everyone in the universe. If we emulate this, then when we physically encounter old and/or new friends in this and future lives, on Facebook or anywhere else, we are ready for them!

The mandala of bliss and emptiness

Just to get a bit Tantric for a moment, the mandala universe is everywhere. The union of bliss and emptiness pervades all phenomena, is the “stuff” of all phenomena. As it says in The Root Tantra of Heruka and Vajrayogini:

“In the supreme secret of great bliss
Always gather the nature of all.”

The mandala and Deities are this bliss and emptiness appearing as completely pure form, pervading time and space. Bliss and emptiness are in our heart and they are simultaneously everywhere. Heruka and Vajrayogini are everywhere. Compassion and wisdom are everywhere. (At the least, I like to be in 24 places at a time …) You can find out more about Tantra in Geshe Kelsang’s books

Buddhism expands horizons

Expanding horizons

Buddhism does nothing if not expand our horizons. We think about limitless past and future lives, limitless worlds, beginningless and endless consciousness and time, how every single living being is our mother, how there is nothing really “out there” as everything is mere appearance to our mind… We can break out of our poky prison, so dingy we can hardly see past the end of our nose, with its bars of self-grasping ignorance and self-cherishing.  If I check my problems, I can see that they all stem from grasping at things as fixed and real and/or thinking my own happiness and problems are far more important than everyone else’s. Dharma expands us in space, time, awareness… til we feel connected to everything and everyone in a non-dual experience where prison walls have no place. Then we spring everyone else from this crushing prison as well, bringing them to an absurdly welcome and serene state, bringing them home.

Happy Valentine’s Day to Everyone

A good day to talk about love, I think. This is the annual “love day”. For most of us, our love is a mixture of two things – attachment, which is not in fact love at all, and love, which is.

I like Valentine’s Day in America. Everyone sends everyone Valentines. In England, Valentine’s Day is just about romantic love, or it was when I last lived there. You send a Valentine’s Day card to someone you are in love with or someone you’ve been admiring from afar. It is often mysterious, “from a secret admirer.”  But here you may get a card and flowers saying “love from Grandpa.”  In England, that would be very strange, you would be worried. When I first got over here I learned about this difference, and then entirely forgot what Valentine’s Day is like in England. I sent my Dad a Valentine’s Day card, and he was touched, but a bit mystified.

But, as I said, I like it. The multimillion dollar card industry may have it made in the States, but I’m with them on this one. So Happy Valentine’s Day, Dad, and everyone else!*

What is desirous attachment?

It is not the same as desire – we need desires, but we don’t need attachment. Attachment is “dö chag” in Tibetan, which literally means “sticky desire”. There is a stickiness, neediness, dependency, and self-centeredness associated with attachment. It’s “I need you to make ME happy”, as opposed to “I want to make YOU happy”, which is actual love. Attachment weakens us, and we give away the key to our happiness. Love strengthens us, and we stay in charge of our happiness.

Attachment is all about me and what I can get from you, and love is all about what I can give or do for you. There are three kinds or levels of love, affectionate love, cherishing love, and wishing love. Briefly, affectionate love is just liking people, having a warm, fuzzy feeling, the way our mom feels when she hasn’t seen us for awhile, just unconditionally delighted to see us without that needy, “I want YOU to do something for ME.” On the basis of affection, if we think about how kind someone is, we come to cherish them – we find them special, we want to take care of them, their happiness matters. So because we cherish this person, our question is “Are they happy?” The answer is usually, “Well, they could be a lot happier,” and we wish for them to have what they need, what they want, to be happy now and always. This is wishing love.

Attachment stands in horrible contrast to all types of love, but to begin with it can be quite hard for us to tell them apart as our relationships are so mixed up. It is one of Buddha’s great kindnesses that he distinguishes between them so clearly. It can save us from immense heartache. We can learn to reduce the attachment and increase the love in all our close friendships, which is guaranteed to bring us more meaning and joy.

Here is a definition from Understanding the Mind:

“Desirous attachment is a deluded mental factor that observes its contaminated object, regards it as a cause of happiness, and wishes for it.”

“Contaminated” means tainted by the ignorance of self-grasping, which makes it seem as though the object or person we are attached to is real, “out there”, independent of our mind, as if we are uninvolved in bringing it into being. Attachment externalizes happiness, thinking it inheres in things and people, as opposed to being part of a peaceful mind. It can be a cream donut or a person – neither one has anything to do with me. It seems to be capable from its own side of giving me the happiness I want. And because our happiness is out there, we need to go get it.

(In the case of attachment, the object or person seems to have the power to make me happy. In the case of anger, it seems to have the power to make me unhappy.)

Are you a spiritual person?!

Having strong attachment is the opposite to the spiritual life. If I ask you, “What is a spiritual person? Are you a spiritual person? Do you have to wear open-toed sandals to be spiritual? Do you have to wear robes? What do you have to do to be a spiritual person?” and then go ahead and answer my own question, I would say that a spiritual person is someone who knows where happiness and suffering come from. They know their source lies in the mind. They know they’re on a journey to happiness. They still can be doing the same things that everybody else does – they can have a job, raise a family, eat donuts — but where they seek happiness and fulfillment is on the inside, in the mind. Do you agree?!

Attachment is the opposite. That’s why Buddha called the rest of us “worldly people” – someone is worldly if they are always looking outside of themselves for their happiness, and don’t recognize that their happiness comes from within.

As mentioned, desirous attachment is not the same as desire. There are many non-deluded desires that it is suitable to cultivate, such as the wish to help others, to accomplish pure happiness, even to overcome desirous attachment! And there are neutral desires too, such as the wish to open the door. If we got rid of all desire, we would cease functioning at all. We need to work on what we desire.

How do we develop desirous attachment

Very simply put, attachment exaggerates the apparent qualities of an object until we feel we have to have it. Here is another definition from Understanding the Mind:

“First we perceive or remember a contaminated object and feel it to be attractive, then we focus our attention on its good qualities and exaggerate them. With an exaggerated sense of the attractiveness of the object we then hold it to be desirable and develop desire for it. Finally our desire attaches us to the object so that it feels as if we have become glued to it or absorbed into it. Only when all these stages are completed has desirous attachment occurred.”

This is quite unlike love, which does not distort its object but recognizes it for what it is, for example as kind or lovable. Our neutral minds also don’t distort the attractiveness of their object — you go to the sock drawer to decide what socks to wear today, but you don’t spend hours thinking about it, unless you’re a sad case. With attachment, there has to be an exaggeration of seeming desirable features going on in the mind.

We can exaggerate at the speed of light!  Exaggeration is like a top notch advertising agency in the mind. We just meet someone, “Oh, he’s got nice eyes… I bet he’d make a great husband. I wonder if he’ll marry me?” The whole advertising industry feeds into our attachment, they know us – think how glued people were to the commercials in last week’s Super Bowl. The producers didn’t spend a million dollars on them just to provide us with entertainment. They know they’ll work to make us buy stuff  because we have attachment that is all too ready to go along with a gross exaggeration of the apparent qualities of a product. “Oooh, if I buy this dream car …” 

I’ll take this subject of love and attachment up again in a few days — Valentine’s Day will be over, but I’m betting it’ll still be relevant :-) And here is that new article… Falling in love (again) according to Buddhism.

Over to you: what do you think about all this?!

*This article originally appeared as Love, attachment and desire according to Buddhism. I am currently in England and, as of 9.19 am, only one person has sent me a Valentine’s Card… I rest my case.

World of kindness

world of kindness

By a guest blogger.

world of kindnessWe are all connected in mutual acts of kindness. We often think people are not kind unless they are trying to be nice to us in unselfish ways. But this is not true; a kindness is any act from which we derive benefit, irrespective of the other person’s motivation. In September 2006, the San Francisco Chronicle ran this story:

 Socialite Paris Hilton thrilled a homeless man in Hollywood Tuesday night when she handed him a $100 bill. The cheeky beggar raced up to the wannabe singer’s car as she was leaving a McDonald’s and asked her for $100. A source says, Paris reached down beside her and handed the man a crumpled $100 bill. She then stopped to pose for pictures with the homeless guy, who offered to wash her windows, before racing off.”

This beggar did not question the selflessness of Paris Hilton’s motivation before accepting the gift; he just appreciated having the $100 … In the same way, if we benefit in any way from the actions of others, then for us they are kind, irrespective of motivation.

I became an American citizen last year. Even pre-warned by my aunt, who had been at her own Ceremony a few months earlier, I still couldn’t quite believe that I teared up to Neil Diamond singing Coming to America. During the Ceremony you watch a film montage of faces of immigrants from the last 100 years – photos of travellers of all ages coming through Ellis Island to start again, to be reborn, with nothing in their pockets, but with a burning hope that their future will be a better place. (And due to the kindness of others, it often was.) I was struck by how all my enjoyments here in New York have arisen from the kindness of immigrants I never knew who built this city.

statue-of-liberty-pictureThere is a walk in Manhattan you might enjoy sometime. It takes you from the Hudson River Park on the Lower West Side down to the Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Park overlooking the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I sit there sometimes, looking out toward that iconic figure holding the flame of freedom in her outstretched hand, the symbol of opportunity, and meditating on just how lucky I am — on how every single cell of my body arises in dependence upon the kindness of others.

I woke this morning with a body conceived by my parents, and grown from enormous amounts of food provided by them and others. My parents also gave me my name, which I use all the time! As I slept, my head rested on a pillow made by someone I never knew in the Philippines, on sheets sown by Indians, under a duvet stitched together by Californians. People in Philadelphia filled my mattress. I stepped out of my bed to land on a rug woven by Tibetans in a house built by Americans in the 1920s. I drank Indian tea planted, grown and harvested by hundreds of workers, in a tea-cup designed by someone in China, stirred by silver spoons welded by people from Sheffield. I put on clothes fabricated by numerous people, all able to do it by being supported by numerous others, in Pakistan, Indonesia, America and England. And that was all in the first five minutes of my day! I greeted my neighbors in the English language created from the German and Romance languages, improved in large part by Chaucer and Shakespeare, carried down through countless generations, and gradually taught to me by many different caregivers. I commuted to the library to work on sidewalks laid by others, avoiding cars by following traffic lights invented by others. Others created my job and the demand for my work, and even the money I earn for my labors was invented and printed by others. For entertainment this weekend I might check out a movie, which if I bother to stay and watch the credits I will see was produced by a team of thousands. I will also read a Buddhist book that has come to me by some miracle from generations of wise Teachers who practiced these teachings and so kept them alive for me today.

I live in a body and a world constructed entirely from others’ kindness. Precisely what did I do to create the necessities and comforts of the world I enjoy moment by moment? Almost nothing. If I had to give back everything others have given me, what would I have left? Nothing at all.

Do I remember that I live in a world created by the kindness of others? My answer is, “Yes, I will try to, now, today, and always.”

Being confident

As well as increasing my feelings of gratitude, I find this meditation makes me confident – I don’t feel the need to go grasping at friends because I feel full of love already. And I think it can also have the side effect of helping us become popular! It is an awful irony that when we are lonely and desperately need a friend, our loneliness can give off an unattractive energy that makes a lot of people uninterested in coming anywhere near us. We seem like altogether too much hard work. Conversely, when we look like we can take it or leave it, we have that genuine air of confidence that makes us irresistible.

Postscript: I asked a friend for this article as I have been traveling a lot recently and unable to blog. I’m pleased I did, as I really like it. Please feel welcome to contribute articles yourself, sharing your own experiences of putting meditation into practice in daily life.

Over to you: Do you live in a world of kindness?

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