There is nothing there to grasp at

Discovering self-grasping

Discovering self-graspingEverything is dream-like. Anything that appears to be more than dreamlike is an inherently existent thing. And our delusion of ignorance that grasps at inherently existent things is dominating our lives at the moment, causing us to experience all our other delusions with all their pain and suffering.

(This is carrying on from this article.) For example, if something appears to us as attractive and we latch onto it as real, then what happens? We exaggerate its good qualities or power from its own side to make us happy, believing that any of its apparent good qualities are within it, intrinsic to it. If the object is real, its good qualities are real. So attachment arises.

If something is out there that is real and inherently attractive, we naturally want it – we mentally or physically try to go out to it and pull it toward us. I want this. I need it. I must have it. It’s going to make me happy from its own side. Nothing to do with the way I’m looking at it. It just is absolutely essential to my well-being. I just have to eat this pizza right now. Or I just have to get this person’s phone number right now. Or I have to climb the career ladder right now. Or whatever it is. The holy grail of happiness is always out there. I’m always going to go after it; it’s always going to feel real. And I’m going to go after it, and after it, and after it until I feel happy. Because that’s what happiness it. It’s out there.

shark circlingWhile we remain with ignorance, there will always be items of attachment appearing to our mind. As soon as anything appears nice to us, which happens because of our karma, then we want it. And we’re not happy without it. And if we lose it we suffer. So we are continually like some sort of shark circling around, never resting, trying to absorb that next juicy morsel — something, anything, that will make us happy.

I read recently about a dating site called Tinder, where people are stacked up like virtual cards – you swipe the ones you like to the right and the ones you don’t like to the left. It’s apparently addictive — you can never settle on any person because you think the next person just might be better. People get together socially and play with their Tinder app! Even if the first person is gorgeous, if you don’t swipe them to the left you’ll never know what you are missing. There is always someone better one swipe away.

I found Tinder a good example (or analogy?) for modern society having so much on demand these days – overwhelming choice means that there is always something better out there than what we are looking at at the moment. It used to take five minutes browsing the TV guide to choose what channel to watch at what time, and then you would just have to settle down to watch it! Now, thanks to Netflix etc., it takes half the evening to choose Tinderellawhat to watch, and then we’re still a little bit unsettled, “Meh, that other movie might have been better.” We’re constantly searching to find the next best thing. This is what we are like with attachment. There is always something better around the corner, so the mind is in a constant state of overstimulation, trying to find happiness out there. And why do we have attachment? Because we have ignorance. We think that everything is attractive from its own side. It has nothing to do with the way we are looking at it.

Also, from the delusion of ignorance, aversion is born. Due to our karma, something can appear unpleasant or unattractive, and because it appears that way we mistake its appearance for reality, thinking it really is that way. Things are really unpleasant. Instead of recognizing that that person who just took my parking spot right in front of me is just appearing unpleasant to my mind due to some bad karma ripening, and letting it go, the inappropriate attention of anger begins to dwell on all the faults of that incredibly annoying spot-stealing person in the car: “They must do this all the time! They think the world is created just for them. They have no idea that I have to go shopping!” The exaggeration just digs in and, before we know it, we have full-blown irritation, aversion, annoyance. We think that they exist as they appear, and they appear annoying.

stealing parking spotThis is why with anger, attachment, and all the delusions we try to get in there before we start exaggerating. In this instance, for example, we can think, “Maybe this person has a massively important doctor’s appointment or maybe they have to catch their dying mother.” We just put our mind in a different direction so we don’t see all these apparent faults that we have created and exaggerated – clearly exaggerated as we have never met this person in our life, have barely glimpsed them through the car window, and we now have a list as long as our arm about how horrific they are.

Where did that all come from? In the case of anger, we are paying inappropriate attention to all their apparent faults. We exaggerate them, we hone in on them, we make them more real. And the reason we seized on their faults is because of our ignorance. With ignorance with have “subtle inappropriate attention,” which functions in our mind all the time and focuses on things being real. So there is someone behind that appearance of someone stealing our spot. They appear annoying, therefore they are annoying. There really is someone from their own side who is annoying, nothing to do with my mind. It’s because of this subtle inappropriate attention that we develop the gross inappropriate attention of anger, attachment, jealousy, fear, selfishness, you name it.

Do you want to go around relating to a world that doesn’t exist? I don’t.

For as Geshe Kelsang says in Modern Buddhism:

The truth is, although things appear to our senses to be truly or inherently existent, in reality all phenomena lack, or are empty of, true existence. This book, our body, our friends, we ourself and the whole universe are actually just appearances to mind, like things seen in a dream.

There is nothing there to grasp at. There is no one there to grasp at.

Next installment here. Meanwhile, your comments are welcome.

Tantra: Transforming enjoyments

pure potential

In this fifth article on Tantra, following on from this one, I’m going to describe a meditation I like to do on transforming my enjoyments into the spiritual path. This method is derived from Buddha’s Tantric principles rather than his Sutra teachings, but anyone can do it – you can do it, and you’re anyone. This is a simple exercise that can be practiced even without an empowerment, and that shows something both profound and liberating: we have the power within us to generate bliss. We don’t need another person, a physical act, or any external object to create it. pure potential

Why? Because our mind is naturally peaceful. It is only our delusions and distractions that prevent us from experiencing this. As it says in Introduction to Buddhism in the chapter What is Meditation:

When the turbulence of distracting thoughts subsides and our mind becomes still, a deep happiness and contentment naturally arise from within.

As our mind becomes subtler and less distracted, as dualistic appearances slowly subside, our mind becomes even more peaceful, nay blissful. The most blissful mind of all is our very subtle mind, our root mind — it is even called “the clear light of bliss”! It is our actual Buddha nature, our potential for enlightenment. We cannot access this properly without engaging in profound Highest Yoga Tantra practices, but we can get an idea of it straightaway and start to identify with it.

Once we know that bliss comes from within, we can start to transform attachment or uncontrolled desire into the path by considering, for example, that the enjoyment does not lie outside the mind. As Geshe Kelsang says in Clear Light of Bliss p. 4:

The bliss generated from attachment meditates on emptiness and thereby overcomes all the delusions, including attachment itself. This is similar to the way in which the fire produced from rubbing two pieces of wood together eventually consumes the wood from which it arose.

The meditation

We begin by simply sitting comfortably, getting into a good meditation position, keeping our back straight but not rigid, relaxing our shoulders, and resting our hands in our lap or wherever is comfortable. Our head is tilted a little forward and our eyes lightly closed or, if we prefer, slightly open to allow a little light through our eyelashes. Our mouth is closed, with our tongue resting on the roof of mouth.

We relax into this posture and forget about everything else. We come into the present moment, into the here and the now.

We drop from our head into our heart chakra, the center of our chest, our spiritual heart. We feel our awareness centered there, it is where our root mind is.

Already we are aware of a sense of spaciousness and peace, with less conceptual activity or thoughts.

To overcome our distractions we now think that everything outside our body melts into light and disappears.

Then, like a mist lifting, this light gradually dissolves toward our body into empty space, leaving nothing behind. Everything disappears, including the past and the future, what we did today or have planned for tomorrow.

All that remains is our body suspended in empty space.

Now to relax our body we briefly scan it from head to toes to become aware of any tension, tightness, or indeed pain that we are holding onto. We bring a gentle awareness to these parts.

We think, “I don’t need to hold onto any of this physical stress or tension, I can let it go.” We let all the heaviness fall away from our body, as if we were dropping heavy luggage that we have been carrying around too long.

Every muscle relaxes, our whole body melts into light, with just its merest outline remaining.

We think: “My body is hollow like a rainbow, light as a feather, and so comfortable that I am hardly even aware that it is there.” We enjoy this deep physical relaxation for a little while.

Now we remember that we are in our heart and become aware of the thoughts, sensations, and so on arising from our root mind. There is a constant stream of awareness arising as thoughts, feelings, ideas, images, physical sensations, and so on, and we watch these as they arise and disappear again into the clarity of the mind. We don’t have to follow them, think them, judge them, or react to them in any way — just let them come and go, rise and fall. We enjoy the space oceanbetween our thoughts, and finally feel the thoughts dissolving into the boundless clarity of our root mind, like waves dissolving into a boundless ocean.

We think: “This is my mind. This is where I am happy or sad, wise or confused. This is the source of creativity, the source of all thoughts and other mental activity. This is awareness. This is where everything happens, where everything begins and ends.”

Now we can change the energy of our mind by using our desire or attachment energy. We either remember or imagine the thing we’d most like to be doing right now, bring to mind the thing that would give us the most positive pleasure. This can be a sense pleasure or an internal meditative feeling, it’s up to us. (No one will ask you what it is afterwards :-)) It could be eating pizza, holding someone’s snow in Coloradohand, watching an exquisite sunset, skiing down a mountain, or something more X-rated. (As desire realm beings, we probably have plenty of things to choose from, so choose your favorite!) It could alternatively be a spiritual bliss we are familiar with, such as meditating on love or dissolving a Spiritual Guide or Buddha into our heart. Whatever we know gives us bliss, we remember or imagine it at this point

We notice how the energy of the mind completely changes… our mind is clearer and more relaxed, more alert and concentrated, more awake and blissful. Waves of bliss energy arise in our root mind at our heart.

We allow ourselves to bathe in this bliss energy in our heart.

Then we forget or let go of whatever it was we were imagining or remembering. We let it dissolve away, and focus entirely on the bliss waves, allowing ourselves to bathe in this ocean of bliss energy in our heart.

We feel that this bliss is our root mind at our heart.

If and when the bliss fades, we remember or imagine whatever stimulated it, and then when the bliss comes back we let it go. We can meditate like this for a few minutes.

Buddha Shakyamuni 1(Even if we do not think that we are experiencing much of anything, we still believe or imagine that we are going deeper within, absorbing into a blissful inner peace. Sometimes we just need to believe something for it to actually happen because this belief, if correct, creates the cause for the actual experience. Buddha described this as “bringing the future result into the present path.” Don’t under-estimate the power of conception; with our thoughts we create our world.)

We feel that we are absorbed into an ocean of bliss at our heart, the clear light of bliss. And with this blissful mind we can now understand something very important. This bliss is actually coming from within the mind, not from without. If we have concentration and mindfulness, we could keep this bliss going endlessly. Understanding this, we already have some wisdom.

The other thing we can understand now is that while our mind is blissful, everything appears blissful to it. Everything is a reflection of our mind.

So whatever understanding we have of this, we focus on it for the last few minutes of the meditation.

This bliss at our heart, however slight, shows our potential for limitless bliss and happiness — it is our Buddha nature. When this subtle mind of bliss is mixed with emptiness, the ultimate nature of things, we quickly destroy our ignorance, and other delusions and obstructions. Through this we fully purify our mind and become a Buddha.

Just like Buddha Shakyamuni, whom we can now believe, if we want, is appearing right in front of us. And with a determination quickly to realize our potential for the lasting peace of enlightenment, and understanding too that everyone has this potential, we can, if we like, recite the Liberating Prayer.

More next time on why this meditation is so good.

Tantra and attachment

OK magazine

I am just overlooking my neighbor’s magazine, as once again I cross the Atlantic. (You can’t blame me; these US Airways flights don’t have video screens. OR power sources for our gadgets. Seriously! How are we supposed to stay stimulated non-stop for 8 hours?! OK magazineSurely they are not expecting us to rely on our own inner resources or read an old-fashioned book?) An article entitled “Kim and Dan turn up the heat” is followed by a possibly redundant explanation (given the scantily clad beach shots of them stuck together), “It is clear that they are both totally into each other.”  Turning the page (my neighbor, not me), I see this is followed by more articles on the same, “Jamie enjoys a night out with his new girl” and, ahhhh, Chris and Gwyn are reunited! This is OK magazine after all, and meanwhile my neighbor’s daughter is reading Hello magazine, Hello!, and I know they have a couple of other magazines stashed away to tide them over this long flight to Charlotte South Carolina, so this might even solve the lack of entertainment problem providing they don’t notice me. (Might be difficult, I spilt coffee on the mom earlier – she took it well and now we are co-travellers. She can look over my shoulder and read this once she’s exhausted her reading supply.)

this works moisturizer

(It doesn’t really …)

It’s everywhere! Attachment is everywhere! And along with it are the inevitable stories of heartbreak: “Dismayed Will after photo of ex’s kiss in nightclub”, “Is Dan cheating on Camilla?” (Don’t bother googling all this, I made up some names to protect the famous.) On a related subject, “Your anti-wrinkling solution” – we’re all gonna need some of that.  And the lesson never learned, “I’m open to dating again, I am not daunted.” That is, until next time.

Attachment is constant craving for objects we feel we need in order to experience pleasurable feelings. We have to learn to control our attachment or for sure it’ll control us. If we are not careful, we could end up with our whole life gone — spent scheming/fantasizing, indulging, and recovering with nothing to show for it.washing clothes

Buddha identified 3 root or principal delusions that afflict living beings: attachment, anger, and ignorance. He likened getting rid of anger and ignorance from our mind to washing dirt from cloth, and getting rid of attachment to washing oil from cloth because it is so deeply soaked into our minds (although it is still not part of our essential nature). No wonder Buddha also called us humans “desire realm beings” — we never forget our objects of desire.

Attachment therefore is a sticky delusion, and a deeply conditioned bad habit, so how are we going to get unstuck? Luckily Buddha Shakyamuni taught us a very special way to do this … Tantric practice.

In Guide to Dakini Land p 37, Geshe Kelsang says that in the practice of Secret Mantra, or Tantra:

We transform our enjoyment of desirable objects into the spiritual path. This transformation is one of the special attributes of Secret Mantra.

Ordinarily, with respect to objects of attachment we are like moths to flames. An object of attraction appears, then, Boom! We want it. Yet most times we can’t have it, or we don’t have it in the way we want it, or it doesn’t deliver the goods, so there’s an instant feeling of agitation in the mind. Ideally, in the world of moths, there’d be a flame education program… “Listen guys, when you next see that bright shiny thing, fly around it and not into it. Discover how to enjoy its warmth and beauty from a safe distance and you’ll be happier – trust me!” Similarly, with Tantric practice, we can learn how to enjoy the mere appearance of attractive things, and use the desire energy they arouse to create blissful satisfied feelings, rather than falling into the flames of attachment, craving, or addiction and experiencing a world of hurt. moths to flames

By indulging our objects of desire, instead of finding satisfaction we ironically stimulate dissatisfaction. Instead of quenching our thirst, we find ourselves ever thirstier. As it says in Joyful Path of Good Fortune:

We may think that if we keep travelling about, we shall eventually find what we want; but even if we were to travel to every place on the globe, and have a new lover in every place, we would still be seeking another place and another lover.

In Buddhist Tantra we discover a way to use our attachment energy to create satisfaction and even bliss. Tantric meditation is like surfing – mastering our desire energy to our best advantage, transforming our enjoyments into the spiritual path. If we do not learn to surf, we will be crushed by the huge ocean waves; but, if we become a skilled surfer, the energy of waves can become a source of bliss and liberation.

surfing life's waves 2In the next article, I’ll explain a straightforward method for transforming enjoyments that is derived from Buddha’s Tantric teachings but does not require an empowerment. This is not a difficult practice. All we’ll need to do is to remember (or imagine) a particularly happy or blissful moment. This can be anywhere or anything – enjoying an idyllic scene, listening to music, being together with a favorite person, or, alternatively, a feeling from a meditation, contemplation or prayer. Anything beautiful and inspiring that makes us happy will work. If we have faith in Buddha, we can dissolve Buddha into our heart and imagine our minds have mixed like water mixing with water, and meditate on the bliss that arises from this. People of other faiths can do something equivalent. Then we will do something interesting – but I won’t spoil the plot …

Till next time!

(This article is the fourth in a series on Tantra. The previous one can be found here.)

Why do I have no friends?

donkey-and-carrot

This article is part of a series on overcoming loneliness. Click here for part 1, part 2, and part 3.

I miss you!missing things

When did you last miss someone?

Missing people is of course related to loneliness. When we say we “miss” people, it seems like quite a good descriptor, because we are “missing” also in the sense of not getting it, missing the mark, not realizing that they are still in our hearts, that they haven’t really gone anywhere.

Attachment is a cover up of isolation that increases our isolation. It looks for love but blocks us as the object is outside ourself, unreachable – we’re like that donkey chasing the carrot. Futility and frustration are endemic in attachment for we’re looking for relationship while grasping at an independent, ie, unrelatable, self and other. We are holding ourself and others to be poles apart (||) as opposed to poles dependent (/\). This means we cannot be together, however hard we try.

donkey-and-carrot

Uncontrolled desire, or attachment, takes us out of the here and the now. Have you noticed how, when you are attached, you are always wanting to be someplace different or with someone else, never content or satisfied in the present moment with the people around you?

And do you not find it ironic that the less dependent we are on externals, the less needy–for example through open-hearted equanimity and love–the more others seem to enjoy sticking around?! With grasping, sooner or later we lose everything.

Try this thought experiment

We can use Chandrakirti’s verse as an object of contemplation, and see how our self-grasping ignorance sets us up for attachment, asking ourselves:

“What or who is that I or me who is lonely? How am I holding myself and the object of my ignorance and attachment apart, like the two poles (||), unable to bring them together?”

 Then, when I try to bridge that gap, ‘I need you to make me happy’, what is that sense of me?”

We can see how we yearn to be close and yet our attachment pushes us further away from others. Frustration is guaranteed. The gulf between self and other grows greater the harder we try to bridge it with attachment.

Does attachment work? It’s what we’re turning to!

We need to bridge the gap through love and wisdom instead, effectively. So we can make the determination to overcome ignorance and attachment and increase our love and wisdom – this can be the object of our meditation.

This mountain, that mountain

The title of this article is “Why do I have no friends?” But the point is, you DO have friends, lots of them.

If we understand we are poles dependent (/\), we know that we are ALREADY in relationship. We don’t have to create relationships that are already there. We can however improve our relationships enormously by recognizing them.

There are various ways to understand that we are already dependent on others, and therefore in relationship with them. One is by contemplating “this mountain, that mountain.”mountain 3

The stronger our grasping at self, the stronger our isolation. We can seek more and more lovers, drugs, extreme experiences; but we remain in a state of lack. The happiest moments are when we forget ourselves and dissolve the gap between self and others through wisdom and love.

When we feel alone, we can feel like the only point of consciousness in the universe, the one and only actual “me” surrounded by an alien sea of countless actual “you’s” or “them’s” (or on a good day “we’s”). However, whoever is me is also you, and whoever is you is also me.

Living in Colorado at the moment, I get to hike the Rockies and witness the truth of what Buddha says … that if I am standing on a mountain the West and looking at one to the East, the mountain I am standing on is “This mountain” and the one over there really seems to be “That mountain.” No two ways about it – it really feels like it, as if it is inherently or intrinsically this mountain. However, if I walk down the mountain in the west and up the mountain in the east, what happens!?

This shows that this mountain and that mountain are relative, depending entirely on our perspective, not absolute truths that have a reality unto themselves independent of perception. If this mountain was real, existing from its own side, it would remain this mountain even when I moved.

This is the same for self and other – they are relative truths, not real or absolute truths, not independent of the mind but entirely dependent on our perceptions. If I walk down the mountain of self and up the mountain of other, other becomes self and, looking back at my previous self, it now feels like other.

This is just one of many insights Buddha gave us to help us understand the relativity and interdependence of all things — an understanding that blows up the bedrock of our ignorance and self-absorption, setting us free.

 

Learning to let go

letting go 2

letting go 2A dear friend emailed me during my rather paltry adventure in Denver airport. She is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer at the moment, and this is what she said:

Struggles are spiritual adventures with a vision. That is how I am trying to see my whole journey through this cancer thing. It’s a spiritual adventure.

So, inspired by her, I’m continuing the subject of stopping grasping, finding real relief and refuge, and going places we have never been … all the time letting go and relaxing like we’ve never relaxed before.

1. Stop grasping at this life

The first helpful thing to remember is that this life is just one and very short, so why sweat it. It is not the be all and end all of existence, more like one stitch in the tapestry of time. Future lives are very many and long by comparison. This life is like one bead of a mala/rosary, other lives are like the other beads. Or, as I heard just yesterday in a Summer Festival teaching, they are like grains of rice in a mandala kit or bag of rice. And these are just analogies or visual aids, because past and future lives are countless. But even compared with 107 other beads, of what importance is just one? As Geshe Kelsang said last October in Portugal:

Tmala beadshe happiness and freedom of future lives are more important than those of this life because this present life is only one single life and if we die today it will end today, but our future lives are countless and endless. There is no doubt that our future lives are more important than this life.

(Geshe Kelsang went onto explain that we can understand the existence of future lives by understanding the nature and function of consciousness, and you can read about this in How to Understand the Mind.)

2. Stop grasping at samsara

We are attached to the places, enjoyments, and bodies (people) of samsara, which keeps us heavily stuck like an elephant in mud. But attachment, or uncontrolled desire, exaggerates the power of these things to make us happy. If something is a real cause of happiness, as attachment believes, then should it not always give rise to happiness? But it is not hard to see that the supposed causes of our happiness are also the causes of our problems.

For example, when you first fall for someone, they seem to be the source of great joy and happiness – from their own side, out there coming at you. But then you have your first argument and, before you know it, they are the source of your pain and problems. What happened!? How can they be a real cause of happiness if they are now causing you pain? In which case, how could they ever have been a real cause of happiness to begin with? elephant stuck in mud

So the mind of attachment is thoroughly deceptive, illogical, thinking that the source of happiness is out there; and its object is thoroughly deceptive too as it is simply not capable of delivering the goods. If we let go of grasping at the object of attachment as being a real source of pleasure, we will no longer be disappointed that they are now seemingly causing us so much pain. And we can also see that they are not the actual cause of that pain, our delusions are – our delusions give them the power to hurt us.

Thinking this through, we can let go of the pain of attachment and aversion, dismantling the habits that trap us in samsara. (We can also take it a step further — see them as helping us to do that by serving as a mirror, and thus transform them from an object of attachment/aversion into an object of gratitude and love! Eh voilà.)

3. Stop grasping at me

Then we can stop grasping at our own happiness as being more important than others’ happiness, when this is palpably untrue as there are sooooo many more of them. As Geshe Kelsang says in How to Solve Our Human Problems p.42, a few unpleasant feelings in the mind of one person are no great shakes:

perspectiveWe are just one person among countless living beings, and a few moments of unpleasant feeling arising in the mind of just one person is no great catastrophe.

So we don’t need to take our problems so seriously, we can let them go.

4. Stop grasping at real me and real everything else

We can also learn to stop grasping at ourself as real at all, and stop grasping at the past, the future, the 10 directions, what’s “really” going on, eg, where you live, your job, everything. This is profound letting go, profound relaxation. The Dharma of emptiness is the real refuge. All we see and think about is just labels, conceptual imputations, held by thought with no existence beyond that. Seeing no sense in grasping at hallucinations, we can start to let all these conceptual thoughts and their objects dissolve into the clarity of our root mind.

Here is one of my favorite quotes (Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life p. 180) just to whet the appetite for this extraordinary subject:

When examined in this way,
Who is living and who is it who will die?
What is the future and what is the past?
Who are our friends and who are our relatives?

5. Stop grasping at ordinariness

With the help of Tantra, we can stop grasping at being an ordinary person — particularly if that person is limited, and particularly if that person is melancholy or sad. We can identify with being peaceful and free, nay, with being blissful. We can stop agreeing with ourself that we are an unhappy person – I sometimes wish I had a dollar for every time someone said, “I’m not a super happy person”, or “I’m generally a sad person.” If we keep defaulting to that, it’s a really good idea to stop it. We can learn to default to happiness, to bliss, instead, seeing as that is our Buddha nature and who we actually are.

We can learn to identify with our fully realized Buddha nature too, arising as a Tantric Buddha, and then spreading that love around. Others will gradually relate to us as happy and blissful, and we can think, as the prayer says (Meaningful to Behold, p. 121):

When others encounter me, may it always prove meaningful and beneficial for them. Whether a person has anger or faith towards me, may his wishes be fulfilled.

What will happen if we let go?

What I think is that once we have let go of it all, we can almost effortlessly enter Buddha’s mandala (or Pure Land) and stay there, for we are no longer grasping at being anywhere else. And then we can drop into the central channel and stay there.clear light 1

The Guru, Yidam, Dakinis, and Protector will make sure that we attain enlightenment — we just have to let go of this life, samsara, self-cherishing, self-grasping, and ordinariness. Nothing compares with getting the winds into the central channel and realizing the union of bliss and emptiness. Seriously, nothing. This seems to me the real meaning of the verse:

Having rejected the supreme joy of the sacred Dharma
That is an endless source of delight,
Why am I distracted by the causes of pain,
Why do I enjoy frivolous amusements and the like?

What is success?

I don’t think it matters so much what job etc. we do in our daily life or whether we are “successful” at it or not – real success comes from changing beginningless stale habits and becoming kinder, wiser, and a Buddha. From that, everything else falls into place.

And in the quest to stop grasping, suffering becomes a mirror, a test, so very helpful – we can be challenged every day by people’s bad behavior, the boredom of our job, not liking where we are living, loneliness, etc., and see where the problem is really coming from, ie, delusions and ordinary conceptions. We will become a strong person as a result, who is permanently free from attachment and grasping. Then we’ll feel very grateful to everyone who got us here, however seemingly badly behaved they were!

(Of course, I have barely touched on these subjects and they are a lifetime’s practice. But I do think it can be helpful to consider them in the light of letting go. You can find a vast treasury of teachings on each one in these books.)

Buddhism and the pursuit of happiness

broken printer

broken printerThe last article, based on the Spring Festival introduction, looked at how deceptive samsara’s enjoyments are. Of course its sufferings are no fun either. Now I have boarded my second plane, from San Francisco to Denver, to find it almost entirely empty. I asked the flight attendant why, and she told me that the machines printing boarding passes were not working and so the would-be passengers who do not have their passes on their mobile devices are not able to clear security! I asked if we were waiting for them, and she said we couldn’t. I asked if they’d have to pay for another flight themselves, and she said yes, they would. So that sucks for all the other people who are supposed to be on this airplane. Unless of course this plane crashes.

Samsara sucks. Samsara sucks for everyone. Luckily, samsara is not real.

Gen-la Dekyong told us that she saw a bluebottle fly trying to seek sustenance from the bell-like flowers on the shrine — it tried and tried to find nectar, but its search was fruitless, for the flowers were fake. This is just like us trying to find happiness in this and in that. Buddha has said that there is no happiness inhering in any of the things we chase after.  Real happiness is a life that is not Man smelling flowercontrolled by uncontrolled desire.  A life of compassion and wisdom will bring that happiness now and in the future. Of course, she pointed out, we do engage in normal activities; but if we remember that none of these activities in themselves can bring us happiness, we won’t be disappointed when they fail. Buddha is suggesting that we stop giving our energy to things that cannot give us happiness and instead give our energy to things that can. We can make ourself happy all the time. We need the pure happiness that comes from a pure or positive mind. And when we gain this happiness, we will be able to give others real happiness too.

Time to choose

Thinking about this, it seems clear we have to make a decision. It is hard and discouraging to have one foot on samsara’s path and the other on the path to liberation. Those paths are going in opposite directions, so we end up doing the splits. If we know and are convinced where happiness comes from, we can stay on the liberating path, regardless of where our daily life activities take us from month to month.

But a word of caution – it’s good to lighten up when we think about these things, not get all heavy. Attachment and disappointment and other delusions weigh us down – the decision to stay on the liberating path on the other hand is a light mind, free from the extremes of excitement and despondency. Have you ever been at a long, tedious party where you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself, but you’re actually not? And then you decide to leave, and how great it feels to stop pretending that it is all such good fun, and you step out lightly and with relief into the fresh air? Renunciation is a bit like that. We don’t need to take ourselves or our delusions too seriously as we work to overcome them, we don’t need to give them more power over us than they normally have. They are just clouds in the vast limitless sky-like space of our mind.boring party

Is it possible to have some happiness from the inside but also at least a little bit from the outside? That question needs thinking about. For one thing, we do need good human conditions, and Geshe Kelsang has said we need to avoid the extreme attitude of abandoning these. These days, in particular, we need a normal life — we generally can’t just run off and hide in a cave, no one would understand or support that. We also need the so-called “happiness of humans and gods”, for it is far easier to be happy in the human realm than in the lower realms. So it may be easier to frame the question in terms of where we feel happiness really comes from.

It’s easy to try to really look for it in both our mind and outer enjoyments – “Ooh, I’m all meditated and Buddhisted out, I need to relax and watch a movie!” There’s nothing wrong with a movie per se, it can teach us the truth of Dharma, help us develop empathy for others’ stories, for example; but there is something misleading in thinking that our happiness comes from the side of the movie as opposed to from our own states of mind. External things such as movies and dancing can make us happy if our mind is peaceful or blissful, but not if it is not. The endless frustration in samsara – such as failing to satisfy our desires and the other samsaric sufferings listed by Buddha — are all coming from uncontrolled desire, thinking that the holy grail of happiness is out there somewhere.

Who do you belong to?

As an example of trying to get happiness by following both a path motivated by delusions and a liberating path at the same time, I was thinking of the example of believing that our happiness comes from love AND from attachment. Lets say you’re an aspiring Bodhisattva, for example, who loves the idea of belonging to the world and making everyone happy, and who knows how great love always makes you feel. But at the same time you feel the need out of attachment or isolation arising from self-grasping to belong to just one person or a few people. This can cause a contradiction and a tension in the mind. This to-ing and fro-ing blocks us or slows us down — we digress, we get distracted, we take our eye off the ball, we don’t know where to put ourselves, we get discouraged in our ability to make ourselves and others happy.love breaks chains

Is it really possible to make both love and attachment work at the same time as real causes of our happiness? For one thing, is it possible to love unconditionally if we have fear in our heart? Yet uncontrolled desire makes us fearful, for example of losing. So it seems we have to choose – does happiness come from following the path of love OR the path of attachment? I think we need to make our life bigger, not reduce it to a poky life of attachment.

Not saying it is not a work in progress, we cannot abandon our delusions overnight obviously, that is not possible; but for one thing we don’t have to keep identifying with them, and for another we need to know from our own experience where happiness comes from if we are to make a firm decision to follow the blissful liberating path and generally stay on it.

A liberating path

Back to what Gen-la said, if we wanted to get to Paris from here, we would need to know the correct path. It’s the same for happiness, what are the correct spiritual paths or spiritual trainings leading to happiness? Examples would be renunciation, universal compassion, and the wisdom realizing the way things really are, or emptiness. The reason these paths lead to happiness is because we learn to control our delusions, controlling our own anger and attachment, controlling our self-grasping ignorance. Our delusions function to disturb our inner peace, so we have to give up on them if we are to experience real happiness. We don’t need to give up our usual daily activities, we just need to give up our delusions.this way or that way

Have you noticed how problems are everywhere all the time? They may surprise us every day, seeming to come out of nowhere, as anomalies, causing us to shake our heads “Oh dear, how did THIS happen?!”; but in fact they pervade our lives. Wherever we turn, whoever we talk to, delusions and karma are causing people problems.

For example, I talked to one of my brothers yesterday, it had been a few months. He told me almost by way of small talk that his company was in liquidation this week, his father-in-law had just suffered from a heart attack, and a vulnerable elderly person we both knew was being taken advantage of financially. He was making the best of it, and looking on the bright side (“No more overheads! Only a small heart attack! She doesn’t care that she is being fleeced!”), as we do, especially when we are trying to be stoical. (And people are remarkably brave, I find.) But it showed me, yet again, for the billionth time, that we don’t have to scratch deep beneath the surface of samsara’s sometimes seeming okayness to see that, no matter what we do, samsara doesn’t work very well for us at all. It never has. It never will.

Samsara is not by nature benign with the occasional unexpected setback thrown in. Our karma and delusions are ALWAYS out to get us!

I observe that a lot of people feel as if something is missing in their life, they know that happiness doesn’t really come from external activities; and this is especially the case as we get older and the things we were turning to work less and less, including our own health and energy and even the simple ability to stay awake and chat. But sometimes people don’t know where else to look. This is one reason, as Gen-la Dekyong said, why Geshe Kelsang has established centers all over the world so that people can learn about renunciation, universal compassion, the wisdom realizing emptiness, and the bliss and creative power of Tantra, or the “unmistaken Dharma of Lamrim, Lojong, and Mahamudra.” Through the centers, teachings, books, festivals, all this knowledge can be ours. And if we apply this knowledge, our life itself can become the liberating path while we go about our normal daily activities.

Samsara’s pleasures are deceptive

Pringles 2

In the Spring Festival I just attended at the Kadampa World Peace temple in the Lake District in England (laid back, relaxed, good Dharma, lovely Sangha, blessings all over), Gen-la Dekyong gave a talk on Friday night about the deceptive nature of samsara’s pleasures. In general, people think they will find happiness in eating, drinking, sexual activity, or watching television, or in a good job or nice relationship, or in lots of money, or even more money, or in a good reputation. If I have all this, we think, I will be happy, so we put all our energy into it. But we can see that even people who have managed to get a lot or even all of these things together are still not happy.

Pringles 2So, maybe, she said, you know what is coming next.  The happiness that arises from these worldly activities–eating drinking etc–isn’t real happiness, because it changes into suffering. Geshe Kelsang calls this artificial happiness or contaminated happiness or happiness mixed with suffering. For example, a pleasant feeling may arise when we start eating, but if eating was a real cause of happiness, then the more we ate the happier we would become. Yet the opposite is the case – the more we eat, the more uncomfortable we become.

Thinking this through I have concluded, not for the first time, that the same does indeed apply to all the other things we grasp at for pleasure, without exception. We’ve tried it all enough times, in this life and in countless previous lives – trying to find happiness in things or people outside the mind. Every time we get excited, “Perhaps this is it! This is the ultimate café, town to live in, relationship, weather, job!!” But it never lasts, does it?

Pringles 1Don’t get me wrong – I like eating, drinking, hanging out in the sun, and the rest of it as much as anyone else, and am not suggesting that we stop all these enjoyments (as if we even could). But it is important to find a way to transform them into the spiritual path through wisdom, compassion, and bliss, and we will only bother doing that if we see that in themselves they are not the real causes of our happiness.

I think we have to check this point carefully, not in an abstract way but based on our own activities and experiences at the moment – where are we investing our happiness? For example, what did you do today? Did it deliver the goods? Or was it more reminiscent of the words of Venerable Atisha:

Friends, the things you desire give no more contentment than drinking saltwater.

Pringles 3Or eating Pringles. I have often tried to find contentment in eating Pringles, and “once you pop, you cannot stop”, as their jingle goes — but I just end up with a sore mouth and slight feeling of nausea.

(And we are not even talking here about the problems of samsara, just the pleasures!! Which can often end up, weirdly, amounting to the same thing.)

Okay, I’ll start. I was just contemplating this all a bit earlier on this plane when my vegetarian Asian dinner arrived, a delicious BA curry, so much tastier than the stodgy pasta and dead chickens that all those meat-eaters have to eat! Ravenous after several hours of packing, traveling, security, and powerlessly waiting around, I eagerly stopped what I was doing (actually writing this), put lime pickle all over it, and shoved it in my mouth, barely managing to remember that it was not an actual cause of happiness, even though I had just been thinking about this subject. The first few mouthfuls were fine and dandy, then, hunger pangs abating, it already got a bit boring, and I started to toy with it, roll it around on my fork, and wonder, “What exactly is this?”, and “What shall I eat next?” One mouthful of the lemon cake was more than enough. To eat the bread roll or not to eat it, that was the next question. I decided not, but I have hedged my bets by buttering it and photo 1 (1)secreting it away for a snack later, no doubt so I can find it in a few days’ time mouldy and festering in my rucksack, like the banana I “kept for later” on my last plane trip, or the year-old cookies found in a forgotten pocket. I am a very slow learner when it comes to figuring out how to make samsara work for me. But there again, aren’t we all? Perhaps it is why we are still here, we are still hedging our bets, “One day it’ll work out, surely?! I just need to try harder!” Then I needed a coffee to wash down my coca cola, and while I was at it I thought I should finish my earlier purchased Kit Kat before it melted completely. Now I’m on a sugar/caffeine high, of which you, dear reader, are bearing the brunt. I also am waiting again, this time for the flight attendant to take this annoying meal tray away. I’d also like to use the bathroom, but I am in the window seat, and trays and bodies are everywhere, in my way. Oh, and did I mention that I dropped the tray of leftovers from this once appetizing curry all over my lap?

But my search for happiness on this flight is not over yet. Nowhere near. I still have 7 hours and 47 minutes to go. (And that’s just the first leg, getting me from London to San Francisco just so I can get on a whole other flight backward eastward to Denver, don’t even ask … ) When I watch a movie later, it may moreorless entertain me and keep me awake, but by the time I crawl into bed 5am UK time, I won’t feel I have accomplished much, really — just gone from A to C and back to B, killing time. If on the other hand I used this time in the sky plane in sky who takes these photosactually flying, thinking about renunciation, universal compassion, and wisdom, for example, or generating bliss and using that to meditate on emptiness, that would be a day well spent, whether or not I watched the movie or enjoyed the curry or even spilt more stuff over myself. My journey would have meant something. Something would have changed forever for the better.

Gen-la Dekyong went onto quote the verse from Je Tsongkhapa’s Prayer of the Stages of the Path:

Samsara’s pleasures are deceptive
Give no contentment, only torment.

If we believed this from our own experience, we could reach a conclusion: “I don’t want artificial happiness. I want the real thing!” So what is the happiness we experience when we eat?  It is actually just a reduction in our previous suffering of hunger.  Buddha says that in this world no one has real happiness and their actions cause suffering.  But we keep looking; we are absolutely convinced that within this cycle of impure life we can find happiness.

I find it very helpful to consider how happiness could ever possibly come from outside the mind when there isn’t anything outside the mind to begin with?! Attachment is based on ignorance, grasping at (pleasant) things outside the mind, so no wonder it is futile.

We can remember the story of the thief rummaging around in Milarepa’s cave at night to find something to steal, only to hear Milarepa’s voice: “I cannot even find anything in here worth stealing in the daytime!” Buddhas in the light of their omniscient wisdom have searched and failed to find any real happiness in samsara, so what hope do we have in the darkness of our ignorance?

Over to you, do you think we can find happiness in objects and people outside the mind?

Enjoying life

photo 1 (4)

This continues from these articles on overcoming loneliness.

Samsara’s enjoyments 

photo 1 (4)Attachment to anything seems to aggravate our sense of isolation. Someone told me that they feel especially lonely when they’re looking for someone to share their samsaric enjoyments with, and not lonely while they’re enjoying Dharma. “I wish they were holding my hand in this movie” is a more likely craving than “I wish they were sitting next to me generating compassion and renunciation.” When I am meditating, for example, I never feel as if I am all on my ownsome, even if it may look like that from the outside.

The other day I was strolling in Denver Botanical Gardens, which just happens to be close to where I am living, very lucky me – and the flowers were breaking through after the winter splashing gorgeous color everywhere.* I was on my own, as is often the case, and I was loving being in the moment; but then I found myself wanting to show these exquisite flowers to my man friend and my parents all the way over in England, as if that would mean that they were there with me too. So I whipped out my handy Smartphone camera to endeavor to capture a paltry fraction of what was going on, and was about to send the photos over via Viber, when the following thought occurred: “This is so precarious and distracting – they are seven hours ahead, they are probably not online, plus the Martian for some reason cannot see the (to me, blindingly obvious) point of texting back and forth all day long, and my dear mother, smart as she is, is not the world’s most technically able individual and will likely send me back a blank email. This could end up being frustrating, and even exacerbate my sense of being alone!”photo 2 (4)

(As an aside, what about the wonders of modern technology! The distractions of modern technology!? The feeling that Smartphone gives us of being so close and yet paradoxically so far!?)

Pure enjoyments

So, instead, I decided to simply imagine that they were here with me already, part of my heart-mind, seeing all this; and imagined their delight. There is no real separation in time or space. You cannot find, or point to, time or space anywhere existing from their own side. Time is simply a characteristic of impermanent objects — not existing over and above them, or around them, or even before and after them! Space and distance, however seemingly vast, are likewise imputed, appearances to mind, as in a dream. The mind can be at the moon in an instant, as Geshe Kelsang explains in How to Understand the Mind. Buddhas are everywhere and with everyone all the time; and we can be too just by putting our minds there.

Contemplating this, I found myself offering up all these gardens, plus much more, to the kind holy beings who have taught me this, who also abide in my heart and pervade space and time; as well as to the lovable strangers passing me on the path. This took away any hint of the loneliness of trying to enjoy myself “on my own”; and in fact the gardens no longer felt like deceptive samsaric pleasures held by my self-grasping ignorance to exist “out there”, at a remove.photo 3 (4)

Instead, I felt very blissful, which is the opposite of attachment, I find. Attachment is like a black hole that can never be satiated whatever you throw at it; whereas bliss is like the sun — complete, present, all pervasive, and radiant. These kinds of experiences show me that it is possible to enjoy without attachment and clinging, and in genuine communion with others. This is good, as we are aiming at having uncontaminated pleasant feelings full-time!

Lonely as a cloud?

At this point, since I have mentioned my mother, and today indeed it is Mother’s Day, I feel like mentioning her favorite poem by the natural mystic Wordsworth, as I think she’ll find it relevant to what I am saying here:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils …

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Being in the here and the now

Talking about attachment, and about time and space, I grew up on the classic British Benson & Hedges line:

“Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet.”

The famous commercials used an excerpt from a jazz rendition of Bach’s Air on the G String. A distinguished fellow would find himself in a variety of awkward situations and remedy them by lighting a cigar and smiling. (I can’t say it worked for me — whenever I tried a puff of my dad’s cigars I just felt sick …)photo 4 (3)

The moment we externalize happiness, as we do with attachment or uncontrolled desire – whether in another person, a house, a career, a reputation, or a cigar – we have instantly distanced ourselves from it. We may think, “To be happy I need to be on a Caribbean beach with a beautiful person, sipping a pink martini,” in which case our happiness is literally miles away. Or we may think, “To be happy I need to win this promotion and be free from my money worries,” in which case we are always separated from our happiness by the gulf of time.

Truly though, happiness is here within us right now. Remove all distorted, delusional states of mind and happiness will spontaneously flood into every part of our being, day and night. This has been the true-life experience of countless people who have trained their minds.

*ps. Denver is odd. Today, May 11th, winter is back already — five inches of snow smothering those poor spring flowers. It’s lucky I took these photos ;-)

 

How to mend a broken heart according to Buddhism

long queue at airport

This continues on from Why do I feel so lonely?

So close and yet so far

I have recently been in New York City for a week. People often say they feel lonelier in the middle of a huge city surrounded by long queue at airportmillions of people than in a rural area with hardly anyone around. A friend of mine who used to live in London said he always felt somewhat alone there. Then one weekend he did a Buddhist meditation retreat “in a field with a bunch of hairy men” and “never felt happier or more connected.” There was no turning back!

I think this is because, when we are surrounded by others, we are holding even more tightly to our own sense of personal space, trying to protect ourselves from uncomfortable intrusion by strange “others”, increasing that gap. It can be useful though — as mentioned in this article, in huge cities like NYC we have microseconds to connect to the waves of humanity walking past us, and if we pull it off it can feel wonderful.

Crammed like sardines on the Path train to New Jersey, trying to assert some sense of control over their environment, everyone was vigorously avoiding eye contact, even as we were forced to bump up against each other around every corner (the sense of powerlessness not helped by being diverted to Holboken where the doors wouldn’t open.) I found this a useful opportunity to connect to my fellow suffering commuters in my heart, the only place we can be in control of our experience and, ironically, feel we have enough space to relax.cherish others

Story of a broken heart

I am going to give an example now of an ill-fated romantic relationship; but problems, mental pain, and loneliness caused by self-grasping ignorance and attachment can arise in other relationships too, with friends, family, children, pets, etc.  And, as I said in the previous article, loneliness is not about whether or not we are in a relationship, or even about whether or not we find someone attractive; it is about whether or not we are controlling our ignorance and attachment. For any partnership, or friendship, to work, we need to reduce these, and increase our love. With a wise motivation and a heart full of love, it is possible to have strong, enjoyable, and helpful relationships.

Beginning:

Have you ever been having fun in a restaurant with friends when someone gorgeous walks in and, before you know it, your happiness dives out of your body, under the floorboards, and into them?! We were having a smooth, harmonious, warm time with our friends, not really fixating on ourselves, finding everyone interesting, feeling connected – and then what happened?! One minute we are enjoying everyone without grasping, the next minute we are clinging onto one person for dear life.

It is now up to them to make us happy and we have to get their name, phone number, lifelong devotion …

At the beginning of this love affair, we set ourselves up in need. We didn’t need them before, and they didn’t make us need them; that is all on us, or our mind of attachment. We are no longer the whole orange – we are half an orange and we need the other half to feel whole or complete. We give our power away – “There goes my happiness, it just walked out the restaurant door,” we give them the key.

give heart to you

“Oh, oh, you better be careful what you do with it!”

If we do manage to get it together with them, we then need to receive approximately 20 texts a day, (perhaps a few less if we’re from Mars), or we feel lonely. If happiness depends on a text or seeing them, then it’ll never be enough – there’s a brief relief if they call, and then the anxious waiting starts again.

We can check out our sense of self when we are thinking, “You make ME happy”. There is a strong sense of me, “What about me”, which is isolated, and therefore vulnerable to separation anxiety.

These Lifehouse lyrics seem to sum it up quite nicely, as do a million other song lyrics:

Every time I see your face
My heart takes off on a high speed chase.
Don’t be scared it’s only love
Baby that we’re falling in.

I can’t wait ’till tomorrow
This feeling has swallowed me whole
And I know that I’ve lost control…

Won’t be easy, have my doubts too,
But it’s over without you, I’m just lost, incomplete
Yeah you feel like home, home to me.

Herein follows a few weeks or months of bliss (or days or hours, depending) … there is a lot of attachment but it is seemingly in synch in that neither of us can get enough of the other, though if you check there is already tension in the mind. Sooner or later, one person starts to pull away. And whether that affair flames out or develops into a long-term meaningful relationship depends on genuine love and respect.

Middle:

Attachment puts our life on hold – if we are not in the other person’s physical presence, life is what is happening while we wander around missing them, feeling alienated from our environment, homesick, wanting to be somewhere else. Even when you’re with them, the other person can never do enough, can never reassure us enough. Meanwhile, you may notice if you look around — no one else is bored out of their mind watching the clock, waiting on tenterhooks for the weekend, sulking and/or playing emotional games, or tapping feverishly into their smartphone; they are just getting on with their day.

wiFIHave you ever been a waiting mode, wanting badly for someone to call you, email you, or return a text? Hours, perhaps days, go by and … nothing?! And you feel increasingly powerless? That is attachment at work. Every day brings new ways in which we can torture ourselves – in the old days, we could at least have some time out with the mental excuse that they might have missed us on the phone while we were shopping (or, even further back, the horse was taking a few weeks with the letter); but now we are glued to our smartphones and there are a hundred ways they could, and yet are NOT, contacting us.

Here’s a word of advice:

Never invest your happiness in something you cannot control.

This clearly includes other people’s behavior. We can hardly control our own behavior, let alone anyone else’s. Attachment, or uncontrolled desire, is based on an hallucination that happiness comes from OUT THERE. So we want power and control over our external environment and other people, but the only power or control we have any hope of gaining is over our own mind.

There’s nothing wrong with finding someone attractive, even incredibly attractive — the mistake we make is when we grasp at them as inherently attractive!

With uncontrolled desire, we often defer our happiness, “I’ll be happy when they finally get here!”; or else we try and get back to what once was, “We had such a great time then, why can’t we be like that now?!” Love is always in the present moment. Attachment ranges over the past and the future, missing out on the real bliss of being fully here, now, connecting to our pure and peaceful nature, real union. We can make plans and even have desired outcomes, but as soon as our happiness depends on those plans, we’ve lost control of it.

Attachment is conditional and therefore vulnerable – I once heard a song lyric, “For as long as we’re together, I’ll love you forever.” Love is unconditional, we just want them to be happy regardless; and we get to choose who we love, so love can last.

heart breakAttachment makes us act oddly, like a bumbling idiot desperately seeking attention. Someone told me the other day: “I was so cool at first as I could tell she loved me. Then she showed interest in other things, her own life and friends, and I felt excluded, and started to act oddly to get her attention. It didn’t feel like me, but I couldn’t help it.” Through his insecurity and loneliness, he said, she felt less and less close to him, and the relationship ended. Who cannot relate to that? Who hasn’t either heard or said things like: “I can’t give you what you seem to want from me! I feel cornered by you! You seem to expect my undivided attention!”

“Why don’t you love me anymore?” soon becomes “You selfish b****.” A vicious circle ensues of one person trying to get more attention and the other person feeling claustrophobic, closing off, and pulling away. And as the rose-tinted attachment specs come off and the feelings of aversion and betrayal begin, what was quirky, fascinating, original, or cool in our partner becomes strange, peculiar, weird, and distant.

A friend showed me a joke in the New Yorker, a man talking to a woman:

“When, exactly, did all the stuff you love about me become all the stuff you hate about me?”

There are endless self-help videos on how to get and, even harder, how to keep your man or woman. Some of them are pretty amusing, especially when it comes to the differences between Martians and Venusians; but they don’t seem to be addressing the root cause of the difficulty, which is the self-isolation of ignorance and exaggeration of attachment.

Of course, addressing these delusions completely doesn’t happen overnight, but as soon as we get started, the better our relationships with others are going to become.

End:

heart break 1If our love affair ends due to attachment, our heart literally aches. Attachment is “sticky desire”, it is like peeling sticking plaster off a hairy arm. We were already lonely when we were in the relationship, and we are still lonely now that it is over. We can’t live with someone, but we can’t live without them either.

Union

Seeking union and connection is part of our Buddha nature. We are just going the wrong way about it, projecting and externalizing the source of our happiness while holding tightly to a sense of a real self and other. We need to seek union through love and wisdom, bliss and emptiness, not ignorance and attachment.

More next time, in Part 3! Meantime, your insights into this subject are welcome in the comments.

 

Why do I feel so lonely?

Loneliness 2

Can you remember the last time you felt lonely?

If you can, you are not alone!  Reminds me of that Billy Joel lyric from Piano Man:

They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it’s better than drinking alone.

We crave companionship, closeness, union, but the irony is that we are not actually alone in the first place. To appreciate this, we first need to understand the actual reasons we feel so lonely.

Loneliness 2

Lonely, or in seventh heaven?!

It is not because we are on our own that we suffer from loneliness. We can be sitting on the same sofa as someone, been married to them for years, and still feel totally isolated. We can be standing next to someone feeling half a world away. Or … we can be half a world away feeling like we are not separated at all. My teacher Geshe Kelsang Gyatso spent 16 years strictly on his own in the Himalayas on retreat and didn’t feel a moment’s loneliness – had his compassion and teacher not prised him out so he could come help us, he’d probably still be blissfully there. I even spent the larger part of 3 years moreorless on my own doing retreat, and have never felt more connected or peaceful. Some of the happiest and friendliest people I know are monks and nuns, who have renounced coupledom.

Some days we can feel that we have an abundance of supportive friends and family, other days we can feel that there is not a single life form on this planet that really gets us.

Loneliness says far more about our world view or outlook on life than about who is or who is not around us. Whether we are in a relationship or not, whether we have many friends or only a few, we all need to learn the same things. Looking at loneliness is quite profound as it can teach us a lot about our existential situation, and understanding the illusion or hallucination behind it can help us attain liberation not just from loneliness but other delusions too.

Understanding the illusion of loneliness

lonelinessOver the course of a few articles I thought it could be helpful to look at loneliness, starting with what causes the feeling of loneliness, namely self-grasping ignorance exacerbated by attachment. The feeling of being isolated is an illusion created by those delusions, especially as we are not in fact alone at all but entirely connected to everything and everyone. We don’t have to create relationships with others, those relationships are already there. Love and wisdom are a natural response to that recognition, and the very antidote to loneliness.

Some thought experiments

To help you go within and look at what’s going on, you can begin by sitting down to meditate — settling your mind with some kind of meditation on the breath or the clarity of the mind, and generating a good motivation wanting to get to the bottom of loneliness for your own and others’ sake.

Then you can do this:

(1)    Examine the last time you felt really lonely. What is loneliness? Who felt lonely? Answer: “Me”. Did you have a strong sense of self and other? Did you feel isolated, alienated? Did you feel like the only person in the universe, surrounded by other independent people all separate from you, going about their business? Did you feel you were over here and everyone else was over there, quite possibly having a whole lot of fun without you? Did you feel homesick, as if you were not in the place or with the people you wanted to be, as if your life was on some kind of hold? Did you feel a sense of lacking, of loss? Did you feel a yearning for connection to someone outside of yourself?

(2)    When did you experience this loneliness? Was it in a relationship or out of one? Or both?

(3)    What would it take to satisfy you so that you wouldn’t be lonely? When wouldn’t you be lonely?

All this is coming from a misconception of who we are and who others are, called “self-grasping ignorance”. We feel we are independent, existing solidly and from our own side, the only real me. Then other people feel really “other” and so apart from us — there is by necessity a gap between us. Then we develop attachment and craving to be close because we don’t want to be all alone in here.

In your meditation you can breathe out the ignorance, attachment, and loneliness, it is not who you are any more than clouds are the sky. Breathe in the blessings of wisdom and love understanding your profound and vast connectivity, riding these light rays into your heart where they join the inner light of your Buddha nature.

Based on this, perhaps some working description of loneliness might be: an unhappy feeling based on a feeling of isolation and a yearning to be with someone and/or elsewhere. 

Self-grasping ignorance

In Ocean of Nectar, a beautiful big book on the ultimate nature of things that is a commentary to Chandrakirti’s Guide to the Middle Way, there is a verse near the beginning:

I bow down to that compassion for living beings
Who from first conceiving “I” with respect to the self,
Then thinking ‘This is mine’ and generating attachment for things,
Are without self-control like the spinning of a well.

This is part of a motivational teaching on generating compassion for others – but we can also use it on ourselves because to have compassion for others we also need compassion for ourselves, namely renunciation, wishing for ourselves to be free from the actual root of suffering.

What is this root? Within our body and mind, yet also strangely independent of them, we apprehend an I that is us – solid, real, permanent — and we want the best for it. My possessions, my family, my views, my job etc are very important because they are MINE. I am the only real me – everyone else feels distinctly like “other”, regardless of what name they may call themselves. Who do you think of first when you wake up in the morning? And for the rest of the day?! This attention to self may seem just normal, but it is in fact it is entirely exaggerated and blinkered, and the cause of all our suffering.

i me mineDue to strong sense of I, me, and mine, we generate attachment to things we think can please us and aversion for the things that don’t.

A strong sense of self leads to a correspondingly strong sense of other, and we are immediately split off, isolated. Our nature is in truth whole, unified, blissful, in communion; but this feels ruptured by our self-grasping and attachment. These cause a black hole in our heart that nothing and no one can fill.

Attachment

We seek union, awakening and bliss, perhaps wanting to connect to the truth of our Buddha nature, and there is nothing wrong with this at all. What doesn’t work, however, is doing this with the mind of attachment, which, because it is based on real me and real you, can only reinforce our sense of a gap between us. Due to attachment we feel we are in opposition to others instead of in harmony and communication. We feel disconnected.

Society is a reflection of our attachment. Hollywood and match.com set us up to feel lonely as we believe that there is someone out there who will make us feel complete; therefore, loneliness is justified as Mr. or Ms. Right is waiting. There is no shortage of songs to support this view, eg, Neil Young’s “I am lonely but you can free me in the way you smile.” In NYC, London, Denver, and every other urban area, your soul mate is waiting — so we stay lonely as it is to do with finding someone.

Who is alone? I am. Attachment is a natural response to that and so it is not the root problem, though it aggravates it. We have to identify the self that is lonely — a limited, isolated self that is in a state of need. Attachment exaggerates that need by convincing us that happiness and togetherness really ARE to be found out there. It makes the situation far worse in the guise of trying to make it better.

Although Guide to the Middle Way is a profound philosophical treatise, there is nothing abstract or airy fairy about this verse or the commentary to it. Chandrakirti and Geshe Kelsang are describing the very building blocks of our suffering, saying “It is like this”; and, if you have ever felt really lonely, you’ll understand what they are talking about. You’ll know the truth of suffering and origins (the first two of  Buddha’s four noble truths).

If we understand these, we will also understand that there are many doorways to exit from suffering — paths leading to cessations (the second two noble truths). We will develop renunciation, or the wish for liberation, because we will understand our existential predicament as well as the way out of it. If we see what we are up against, we can then see how a real self and real other is a complete illusion.

Part 2 coming up soon :-)

Meantime, I would love to hear your comments.

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