Getting by with a little help from our (enlightened) friends

3 mins read.

Buddha Shakyamuni 1
Buddha Shakyamuni

This article is based on a short unofficial introduction to Tara I shared with someone the other day – someone who is not exactly a Buddhist but who wanted an effective method for dealing with recurrent anxiety. It takes, like, five minutes! (Longer if you want).

In general, all meditations help us to feel less anxious and more peaceful; but Buddha Tara is the Buddha of fearlessness who turns up as swiftly as the wind whenever people need and ask for her help. People have relied upon her for centuries, if not longer, to allay all their inner and outer fears. Therefore this article is for him and for anyone else who gets worried, who likes the idea of real comfort and protection.

Step One: Sit somewhere comfortable and undisturbed. When you’re ready, imagine you drop from your head into your heart. Do one or two minutes’ breathing meditation, focusing on your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils, letting your other thoughts float away. Feel you are peaceful in your heart.

Step Two: Believe that Buddha Shakyamuni and Buddha Tara are in front of you, surrounded by countless holy beings, however you imagine them. Feel you are actually in their company.

Buddha Tara
Buddha Tara

Step Three: Recite the following traditional prayers quietly or under your breath, contemplating their meaning:

Going for refuge

I and all sentient beings, until we achieve enlightenment,
Go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. (3x)

Generating bodhichitta

Through the virtues I collect by giving and other perfections,
May I become a Buddha for the benefit of all. (3x)

Four immeasurables

May everyone be happy.
May everyone be free from misery.
May no one ever be separated from their happiness.
May everyone have equanimity, free from hatred and attachment.

Buddha Tara’s mantra

Step Four: Ask Buddha Tara directly to remove whatever specific anxiety you are feeling, as well as all your own and others’ present and future fears and anxieties, by reciting her mantra 21 times or more:

OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA

Receiving blessings

Step Five: Imagine that from the hearts of Buddha Tara and all the holy beings, streams of light and nectar, the nature of their enlightened wisdom and compassion, flow down through the crown of your head and fill your body and mind.

These blessings purify all your worries, problems, and negative thoughts. They fill you with peace, happiness, kindness, and fearlessness. Feel that you are fully protected and don’t have a care in the world.i-get-by-with-a-little-help-from-my-friends-21

If you like, imagine that these blessings are also flowing into the people you love, purifying and inspiring them as well.

Take a few moments to really bathe in this enlightened peace in your heart, taking refuge in it, knowing that it is always there and you can come back to it whenever you like.

Dedication

Step Six: Make a prayer that through this practice all your own and others’ anxieties and fears will one day be permanently gone. May everyone be happy and may our world be peaceful.

Through the virtues I have collected
By giving and other perfections
May I become a Buddha
For the benefit of all.

The rest of the day

Step Seven: When you start feeling anxious about anything, before it takes over, remember that Buddha Tara is everywhere and ask her directly for help. You can use the mantra to do this if you like.

To find out more about Buddha Tara and her traditional practice (including verses composed by Buddha Shakyamuni), please click here: Liberation from Sorrow.

(I want to add too that Tara practice is done once a month at Kadampa Centers around the world. Click here to find a Center near you if you ever want to join in.)

Feel free to leave any comments or questions in the box below.

 

Music, meditation, & mental health

This is the seventh article from a guest writer, Kadampa Buddhist, and social worker. The others can be found here.

About 10 years ago when I was training as a social worker I studied and practiced the therapy of examining your past, culture, and values to understand yourself and others more; and became aware that music is quite an important aspect in my life. I had been brought up on classical music — unlike other members of my family I wasn’t that good at playing music, but I always loved to listen to it, even as a small child, and when I discovered pop & rock music in the late 1970’s & early 1980’s, that was it, I was hooked. ShaptavajraShawaddywaddy, Abba, Queen, then all the early 80’s Ska, and synth pop: Soft Cell, The Human League, ABC, Heaven 17, Ultravox, OMD, and New Order, leading onto indie rock like The Smiths, Echo and The Bunnyman, The The, and The Cure. I began to get into heavy metal rock a bit too, such as Iron Maiden and Whitesnake, and progressive rock such as Pink Floyd and Marillion. 

Going under

However, I know now that some of the music I used to listen to contributed to a build up of feelings of despondency, which culminated in a relatively serious few months of depression for me in the early 1990’s, when I was aged 21.  This peaked during my final year degree course, where I needed a couple of weeks’ break from the course.  Thankfully I received some excellent student counselling and I completed the degree course.  During the depression I suffered with insomnia, cold sweats, anxiety (being prescribed medication for anxiety), migraines, occasional panic attacks, apathy & overeating. There were other social factors too that contributed to the depression, such as too much alcohol & cannabis, peer pressure, the shock of my first attempts at working life, living away from home for the first time, & the pressures of the final year degree course; but I feel that a lot of the music I was listening to was a major contribution. I would enjoy the music, but then later feel heaviness and sadness in my heart. A lyric from one song comes to mind:

It was a bite of a night gone wrong and the effect of listening to negative songs.

Who sang this & what song, answers on a postcard please? Another song that springs to mind is called ‘Going Under’, a charming little song about alcoholism:

Can you understand it’s the way I choose to be.  Everything seems so easy this way but I’m going under fast. Slipping away. Am I so crazy???

Listen to the voice of Buddha

The anxiety I experienced made me want to find out how to deeply relax. I investigated yoga and Buddhist meditation, discovering that there is a direct correlation between your breath and your state of mind, and so by learning to breathe deeply you can completely dissipate and even eradicate any feelings of fear and anxiety.

In The New Meditation Handbook there is an explanation of how to experience inner peace and contentment just through breathing meditation:

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

Perhaps the mental health distress I was experiencing in the early 1990’s was awakening me to a potential higher level of consciousness. The interest in meditation led me to Buddhism. I became fascinated with Buddha’s teachings on impermanence, karma, & emptiness (the nature of reality), then later his teachings on love and compassion.

For a while I stopped listening to music. In 1995, I sold my whole record collection at Darlington Market for £5. I missed out on most of the Britpop of the 90’s, not listening to music until the early 00’s, re-discovering Madonna, U2, the Chilli Peppers, and one of my favourites, World Party.

The 7 years or so where I stopped listening to music was one of the happiest periods of my life. Partly I believe due to me not listening to any music, but also partly to do with my enthusiasm at the time for my meditation practice and me living in a community of likeminded people. The happiest times of my life have been when I’ve been living with others, whether friends or family, and the unhappiest times have been when I have been more isolated, with little social contact.

In time, I think I have matured, and now just take music for what it is; the music that I like being a simple pleasure to enjoy in the moment, which uplifts your spirits. There is a danger that any pleasure becomes meaningless or a big distraction, leading to strong minds of attachment to worldly pleasure; but I have found that with mindfulness and an uplifting of the mind, music is great! I have now realised the middle way between hedonism/pleasure and austerity/no pleasure. If it uplifts your mind and has no damaging side effects, then why not enjoy a little music to help you experience happiness from within.

This Strange Engine, called Marillion

I am grateful to have re-discovered Marillion, whose new singer Steve Hogarth put the soul back into rock music. Some of their songs are quite spiritual, with a whole album entitled ‘Happiness Is the Road’ mostly about staying happy in the moment. Then they have classic tracks such as ‘The Space’ and ‘This Strange Engine’, seemingly about the love and interconnectedness between our self and others. Their concept album ‘Brave’ is about a lady in mental health distress — suffering from epileptic seizures and contemplating suicide. That may sound heavy, but listening to it can be quite uplifting, perhaps cathartic, helping us release the negative emotions we can all get sometimes. Other songs include: ‘Gaza’ (about being a child caught up in a war torn country), ‘A Voice From The Past’ (about not having good sanitary conditions in the country where you live), and ‘El Dorado, (where there is empathy for people who have recently been caught up in the refugee crisis).

These songs have helped me increase my compassion, to move away from my own trivialities and selfish concerns, to be more aware of people in less fortunate situations than myself, and to do something about this. In the book Universal Compassion there is an explanation of how contemplating and meditating on compassion can help move our mind away from our own self-concern:

Instead of being concerned with our own problems, which serves only to make us depressed and unhappy, we should consider the difficulties of others. In this way, we will begin to feel sympathy for them. If we apply this to everyone we meet – friends, neighbours, strangers, rich or poor – we will find every ordinary being has problems.

While my empathy and compassion are increasing with this music, I am also reminded of ‘bliss’. As well as finding Marillion’s music meaningful, I find it blissful — the sounds of the guitar, the keyboards, the colourful lightshows during live gigs, all appearing to my mind and contributing to my bliss. The guitarist Steve Rothery plays many beautiful melodic guitar solos. and there are times when I just close my eyes, listen to the beauty of his music, and go into a small meditation, savouring each note that is being played.

There is a Buddhist practice of mentally offering beautiful things to your Spiritual Guide or Buddha, or of mentally giving away pleasant experiences, which has the effect of increasing and refining the enjoyment of bliss even more. Recalling a blissful experience in meditation can help you to concentrate in meditation. When not in meditation too, recalling a blissful experience can help you feel happy and focus on what you are doing.

Remember Stan ‘Your biggest fan’

Connecting with the singers and musicians can be a positive experience.  Fandom is an interesting concept. The whole set up at live gigs where the band are up on stage, at a higher level than you, and you can be singing and dancing, raising your arms up in the air etc, which can lead to us exaggerating our admiration of the singers and musicians we are enjoying, perhaps literally putting them on pedestals and idolising them. These days I either like to be at the very back of a live gig and observe everything that is taking place, or to stand a few rows from the front and take in and experience everything that is occurring. I see myself more of an observer of the music, taking a step back from it. I don’t totally immerse into the music and be one with it.

The singers and musicians themselves would probably say, don’t look up to me!? Mentioning no names, but many of the artists I mentioned at the beginning of this article have had issues with depression, drink & drug addiction, and relationship issues. Some of it I guess goes with the lifestyle, and some is just part of being human. Perhaps when I was younger there was a bit of transference taking place when listening to some of these people sing and play music in that there was a subconscious redirection of the feelings I had for the singer to feelings the singer has to the person they are singing about. Then, if they were unhappy feelings from the singer, I would subconsciously get unhappy. Today, I see pop & rock stars in a different light. They are very much human, like the rest of us; and some can be people that you can connect with and get to know. Despite similarities to us, they can have a very different lifestyle, the highs and lows of live shows and touring, the loneliness once back to normal life at home, fame & some fortune, big boosts to their egos, and clashes of personalities and disharmony when a band stagnate or split up. I now try and see musicians I like as fellow humans and encourage them to keep playing and performing, and to also try as much as possible to get on with each other, to keep on helping make their fans and themselves happy through the music they play. In the book Universal Compassion, it is said that:

If we sing a pleasant song to make others happy, so that they forget their worries even for a short time, this is also a virtuous verbal action.

In September 2018 I went to see Soft Cell play their farewell show, at The London O2. One song that surprised me was ‘Frustration’. It sounded as if they had stripped it down musically to its original version and added a few up to date topical lyrics:

I’m just an ordinary bloke, I wanna do so many things, I listen to my wife she’s nagging me, I listen to my kids they’re screaming. They want more things. They want iPads. They want mobile phones. I just can’t stand it anymore. I’m having a nervous breakdown.

It sounded so relevant to our lives and society today. I think Marc Almond identified at an early age how dissatisfied many of us can be in our normal, material, domestic lives. Such songs of suffering can raise awareness of the unsatisfactory nature of many aspects of our lives and contribute to dealing with the fear and stigma that still exists in our society towards mental health distress.

I have followed Marc Almond’s solo career a little over the years. Marc has been a ground breaker and pioneer in many ways. Having difficulties with a learning disability – autism I think — in his early life, receiving threats and beatings on stage at early Soft Cell gigs, and his example of being a confident gay man in our modern society has helped shape a better society. Those within the LGBT group, and vulnerable people such as those with learning disabilities and/or who have mental health difficulties, are more accepted and included in our society these days.

The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum

I work in social care with adults with learning disabilities and I have also worked in mental health services. I understand sociology a bit and that is why I am sharing this article — to contribute to a social change towards people who have mental health difficulties. I love watching old clips from the 1970’s and 1980’s of our society and the popular music back then. There were some top pop and rock bands with some quite apt and ground-breaking names. Madness, Soft Cell and Fun Boy Three with their song; ‘The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum.’ Mental health issues were just beginning to come to the forefront of societal view, and these bands and songs have played a part in raising awareness of the institutional care and abuse received by people with mental health problems. We now live in a slightly improved society in terms of both how we treat and view those with mental health distress, and hopefully this improvement will continue.

It’s great that today there is a societal shift towards people being more open about mental health difficulties. Fairly recent examples from the boxer Tyson Fury, Lady Gaga, and even Prince William and Prince Harry, about varying degrees of mental health distress they have experienced have been liberating for so many people. Maybe more and more people will also be able to find their ways toward meditation, mindfulness, and even Buddhism, which I think everyone can benefit from on some level.

I was in my early 20’s when I suffered with depression, and from documentaries I have recently seen about mental health it is not uncommon for the younger generation, say people in their 20’s, to go through some mental health difficulty. It is perhaps a phase many young people work through as they find their feet in life. However, mental ill health can happen to anyone! – young, old, male, female, rich, and poor. The mental health charity MIND says that:

Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.

I do believe that at least half the battle with mental ill health is sociological, in that as a society we need to acknowledge that we all have mental health distress e.g. stress, anger & grief, and that depression is very common. There does seem to be a more open attitude to mental health difficulties now.  Social media is playing a part in opening up these attitudes, with various support groups on Facebook and Twitter for people who suffer from specific mental health diagnoses.  Perhaps, though, there is a danger in getting stuck there, identifying with our mental health distress too much, and not looking for answers to help reduce and heal our distress?

clouds in skyI think half the battle is acknowledging that we can all get mental health distress, but I do believe we can all get better too! As stated, acknowledging our mental health distress is a first step, and eventually we can do this with every moment of our mind so that, as soon as any distress arises in our mind, we are mindful of it. When we do this, quite often the distress subsides. These are just thoughts. All thoughts and feelings are just temporary aspects of our mind. We can give our thoughts too much energy and, yes, some of them can be dark and scary; but they are just thoughts. My friend Marc in his recent live version of Soft Cell’s ‘Frustration’ sings about thoughts we may have towards our boss:

I could be a great dictator, Then I could, I could kill my boss, I have these thoughts, these dark thoughts, I wanna push them away, push them away.

This is the problem — we want to push our thoughts away, fight with them, suppress them, conceal them with something else, perhaps a sensory enjoyment, or some physical or verbal activity or distraction. In the book How to Understand the Mind it states that:

The true nature of our mind is clarity, which means it is something that is empty like space, always lacking form, shape and colour…. Our thoughts are only temporary minds, and very unstable. They suddenly arise and quickly disappear, like clouds in the sky.

If we could just learn to sit with our thoughts and feelings we would learn that they are just like clouds in a sky that come and go, and that underneath them is a clear mind, like the clear blue sky, the true nature of our mind, which is peace. Then if we learn to access this peace, which is inside all of us, we can learn how to stay happy & mentally strong all the time.

I find through observing my own mind that feelings of depression are like an inner anger inside us. Perhaps something we are annoyed about or unable to express, and therefore it stays inside us as we churn things over in our mind. It’s good to learn to express how we are feeling, and ‘get things off our chest’; but, also, meditation and mindfulness is another tool, and can help us become aware of any unhappy feelings in our mind, to try and let go of them and replace them with more positive feelings.

Nowhere Now?

Ward Thomas are two young sisters who mainly sing country songs, many of which they have written themselves. They’ve had a recent single called ‘No Filter’ which is about self-acceptance. They say themselves that it is about learning to accept who we are and to embrace every aspect of ourselves — in a world where we are tempted to cloak our lives in a filter online, with social media etc.

 

Buddhist contemplations on music

Music is everywhere, and is part of every culture, including Buddhist ones. There was one Buddhist meditation master in Tibet, called Milarepa, who used to sing all of his teachings. There is a story of Sadaprarudita told in The New Heart of Wisdom, and how his teacher Dharmodgata explained emptiness, the nature of reality, to him using sound as a basis. How is a musician able to produce their music? Where is it? Can you point to a part of the music, and say “there it is”? I love a good traditional rock band: singer, lead guitar, bass, drums, (& perhaps a keyboard) — and it takes all these parts and chemistry together to form the music of that band. There are many parts: the minds, intentions and memories of the individual members, the instruments they are using, and the collective chemistry and sounds coming from them as a whole. Not one of these individually is the music, and yet take even one of them away and the music of that band vanishes.

Where exactly can you say the sounds and music are? Where does each note come from? And where does each note go? What is that space between the notes? Where did one note end and the next begin? This is contemplation on the emptiness, or lack of inherent existence, of the music. The music is not ‘out there’ anywhere. There is no real coming or going. Each elaborate piece of music or song was imputed by our mind on a stream of sounds, each sound coming from nowhere and going nowhere in order for the next sound to arise, and our minds imputing some kind of continuum on that, to end up with the music we love.

The point is, we describe a ‘thing’ as if it were really out there being a thing, we try so hard to label it and itemise it and make it even more of a ‘thing’ — when in fact it came from nowhere and went nowhere, and is completely empty of existing out there or from its own side.

In the Buddhist story Dharmodgata asked Sadaprarudita:

Where does the sound of the lute come from and where does it go to? Does it come from the strings, from within the lute, from the fingers of the player, from his effort to play, or from elsewhere? And when the sound has stopped, where does it go?

Buddha in rainbowMusic depends on other things for its existence, which means it is empty of inherent, or independent, existence and is a mere imputation or projection of the mind. You cannot find it existing anywhere outside the mind, however hard you try. If you cannot find something existing outside the mind, or from its own side, you can know it doesn’t exist there. For example, we cannot find a dream existing outside the mind or from its own side, so we know it doesn’t exist there. So, where does a dream exist? Where does music exist? Where does anything exist? Everything depends upon the mind.

Although music is empty of inherent existence, it can still appear in dependence upon many causes and conditions and, when they cease, it can no longer appear. Therefore, there is nothing solid or objective about music – it is a manifestation of its emptiness, with no more concrete existence than a rainbow appearing from an empty sky.

Understanding this makes listening to music even more beautiful and blissful. And in general, the more blissful the mind, the more blissful the music becomes, proving again that the object depends on the mind. Test this out for yourself, please do an experiment if you can: next time you listen to music, see if you can find it, and report back. Any type of music, even heavy rock. Buddha would say: ‘it is all arising from empty like space.’

I love going to live gigs, but I always want the gig to last longer, maybe into the night. When it’s over, where has all that music gone? It’s finished, gone, now just a memory in our mind. So, when at a gig or when listening to music I try and savour every moment of the music, every note, relax and enjoy.

With a little help from my friends

Picture1.pngEverything in moderation. I’d recommend a good life outside of music too, good social contacts, loving relationships, a job, regular income, exercise, and especially spiritual meaning. Making music can be a way of offloading and expressing how you are feeling, but yes it can be quite negative for the listener if there is some transference of any negative feelings from the singer to the listener, and we can get really attached to music, it taking us to a completely different world where we can find ourselves too often, not dealing with the present people and challenges in our lives. Maybe though, through just accepting what music is, a simple enjoyable pleasure, and learning how to become mindful of every moment of our lives, we can enjoy music more, becoming mindful of every note and every sound.

I am grateful for all the music I have encountered in my life so far, even if some had a negative effect on me when I was younger. It’s brought me to where I am now, and I have learnt to listen to music in a different light. If I hadn’t gotten depressed when I was younger, I wouldn’t have found the answers to questions I was looking for, nor the techniques I have learnt to deal with and transform problems and difficulties.

Personally, I believe that whenever someone is having some mental health crisis in their lives, it’s almost like a spiritual or existential crisis. We are all very sensitive souls, and when we are getting way too sensitive to cope, this can be an indication that we need to try and get some help, talk with someone; and perhaps there could be a spiritual life of some sort available for you.

It’s great that people are now talking more about mental health in our society. Long may this continue! Please do seek help if your mental health distress is getting too much. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all have it. Find someone to talk to about it.

Over to you. Comments for the guest author and other readers are very welcome.

Detoxing our daily life

8 mins read.

Temple on Sept 25We talk a lot about toxic relationships, poisoned environments, and so on, but according to Buddha all outer poison comes from the three inner poisons of attachment, hatred (or aversion), and ignorance. I don’t think we have to look far to see the effects of actions fueled by unbridled greed, intolerance, indifference, and basic confusion. I could put a long list here, or you could just turn on the news.

Carrying on from this article on the three nons, which help us overcome our delusions on even our busiest day.

Meanwhile, when not overtaken by these delusions, people everywhere are also doing extraordinarily brave and unselfish things for others, sometimes at the cost of their own comfort or even lives, such as those trying to put out fires in the Amazon or rescue tortured animals. It restores hope in humanity, seeing these welcome glimmers of clarity, sanity, and kindness that arise from our pure Buddha nature. They are reminders that no one is inherently evil, that we are all good at heart; but that we fall tragically victim to our unpeaceful, uncontrolled thoughts and bad karma. It is the delusions that have to go.

Glimpsing a pure land

I got a good feeling for what it’s like for thousands of people to practice being peaceful and considerate for several days in a row at the recent epic opening of the fifth Kadampa world peace temple and the International Fall Festival. It was magical, to be honest. Deeply inspiring. A lot of fun. You see the goodness at the heart of all of us, and how it is perfectly possible to bring it out of each other if that is what we decide to do. We don’t need to stay petty, or selfish, or vindictive, or addicted to the drama of attachment, pride, and other delusions – we do have a choice here. Back home, we can become examples for others rather than just join back in the fray.

Sometimes we can see the value of a state of mind by extrapolating it to include everyone – what would this world be like, for example, if we all tried to practice non-harmfulness, never deliberately causing pain to others? Where would be the wars, the pollution, the shootings, the inequitable distribution of resources, the starvation?

Even if that seems too much to hope for, knowing what a pure land this would create we can at least start by practicing non-harmfulness ourselves and sowing the karma for a kinder more peaceful world. This is not idealism – this is creating a new reality based on compassion and a wisdom that understands the power of our mind and takes Grand Canyon 3responsibility for our own thoughts, actions, and experiences. Rather than demonizing each other, thus remaining a victim of our own anger and frustration and very muchpart of the problem, it would help all of us a lot more to recognize the real demons that lurk within our own hearts — and turn this sorry situation around. That’s what Buddha basically said, anyway, and I agree.

Non-ignorance

(We’re on the third non, non-ignorance or wisdom.) Geshe Kelsang said in his 2000 Mahamudra teachings that all subject minds and object things arise simultaneously from karmic potentialities in the root mind, like waves from an ocean.

Mahamudra meditators therefore conclude that all the many appearances we perceive, such as the world, the environment, enjoyments, beings, our friends, and our bodies are all waves of the ocean of our consciousness. They do not exist from their own side at all. They exist as mere appearance to mind. This is very close to saying that they are mind, but they are not actual mind. They are not separate from mind. They are the nature of mind.

Everything appearing to you right now, including the words on this screen, is coming not from outside your mind but from inside. Truth! We know this if we take the time to do the analysis of looking for things with wisdom and get that insight into the mere absence of the things we normally perceive, the endless space-like emptiness of all that exists. Whatever it is we are currently grasping at, it’s not there! Grasping is as futile as trying to drink water from a mirage or grasp hold of a reflection.

This is one reason why objects of attachment such as handsome people keep slipping through our fingers; and the more we grasp the quicker that seems to happen.

temple in SeptemberIf things are not out there, yet they appear, then what else can they be other than mere aspects or appearance of our mind not other than their emptiness? As Venerable Geshe Kelsang says in his new book, The Mirror of Dharma:

When we see our body, in truth we see only the emptiness of our body because the real nature of our body is its emptiness. However, we do not understand this because of our ignorance.

Geshe Kelsang has said that “anything can appear due to karma”; and it seems that anything does appear! – our mind is constantly throwing up new appearances, day after day and life after life, like an ocean throwing up waves, some of it quite cool, most of it really crazy.

We manage to grasp at all of it, we are “deceived by grasping at things as they appear”, ie, they appear outside our mind, nothing to do with us. This means that if they’re attractive we want them (attachment) and if they’re not we want them gone (aversion). But if none of this exists outside our mind, these poisonous responses are a horrible and beginningless waste of time.

So much suffering we have had already since beginningless time, really way too much.

And so much more suffering awaits us all if we don’t stop doing this. I think it is good to keep remembering this every day until it sinks in and we commit to detoxifying our mind of the three poisons once and for all. These two verses from The Three Principal Aspects of the Path, transmitted to Je Tsonkghapa by the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri, provide a graphic and heart-wrenching contemplation of our existential predicament. Applied to oneself, this swiftly brings on renunciation, and applied to others, bodhichitta.

Swept along by the currents of the four powerful rivers [birth, ageing, sickness and death],
Tightly bound by the chains of karma, so hard to release,
Ensnared within the iron net of self-grasping,
Completely enveloped by the pitch-black darkness of ignorance,

Taking rebirth after rebirth in boundless samsara,
And unceasingly tormented by the three sufferings [painful feelings, changing suffering and pervasive suffering] –
Through contemplating the state of your mothers, all living beings, in conditions such as these,
Generate the supreme mind of bodhichitta.

Just as the moon’s reflection in a lake cannot be separated out from the reflecting lake, so nothing that appears to us can be separated out from our reflecting awareness. If there is nothing “out there”, what exactly are we grasping at? We have to stop. If not now, in this precious human life, then when?

Practice all three nons in this context

view from planeI think it’s helpful to practice all three nons in this context. When an attractive object appears, such as sweet potato fries or a beautiful Fall aspen tree or even the huge Rockies seen through the window of this airplane, I can understand that these are not out there, and enjoy them as a mere appearance or reflection. I can know that when I attain liberation by purifying my lake-like mind, I will be able to enjoy pure appearances forever, and infinitely better ones to boot! This is all non-attachment.

When an unattractive object appears, such as someone arguing with me about politics, I can accept it as simply a wave-like arising within my own mind, resulting from my own karma, and let it go, not getting caught up in it.

And whenever something feels even more solid, fixed, and real than usual, this appearance itself reminds me that it is not real at all — just as a moon appearing in a lake reminds me that it is just a reflection, not outside the lake. Change the lake-like mind, the reflection changes automatically.

Practicing this with Tantra

latest temple photoWe can practice the three nons within our Tantric practice too.

  1. Non-attachment: If I encounter an object of desire, instead of generating attachment I can remember the faults of attachment, as explained in this first article. I can remember that all samsaric enjoyments are changing suffering and paltry compared with the pure enjoyments of enlightenment. I can remember that my mind is mixed with Guru Heruka’s mind of bliss and emptiness, and is giving rise to the appearances of the four complete purities – the body, environments, enjoyments, and deeds of Buddha Heruka or Vajrayogini, like reflections in a completely pure lake. Since this Grand Canyon or handsome fellow etc is in fact the same nature as the bliss and emptiness of my mind, he/she/it gives rise to even more bliss. In other words, I can have my cake and eat it. (As opposed to the frustration of trying to hold onto it with attachment, wherein I can neither have my cake nor eat it.

2. Non-hatred: If I encounter an unpleasant person, I can remember that this person is not their delusions, in fact they are a future Buddha, in fact they ARE a Buddha. And, just as important, I want them to be a Buddha. Ideally right now. This is the highest form of love and compassion, and will remind and inspire me to be Buddha Heruka.

3. Non-ignorance: When things get too real, I can remember that this is showing me that things are NOT real, just like that reflection of the moon. Everything is mere name, a manifestation not just of emptiness but of the extraordinary non-dualistic clear light bliss of my mind; and I am more inspired to be Buddha Heruka.

You can read more about the three nons in Universal Compassion and How to Understand the Mind.

Over to you: I’d love to hear more from you in the Comments below on how you practice this instruction. It is such a vast and beneficial practice, given that it covers our three main delusions and all our waking hours! And there are so many different ways to go about it.

Related articles

More on non-attachment

More on non-hatred

There is nothing out there, out there

Reflections in a clear lake 

 

How to have a productive day

6.5 mins read.

According to some surveys, the world is the angriest it’s ever been. We do seem to be non-hatredliving in a time of escalating tension, polarization, and discord; but at the same time people are still good at heart, and no one presumably is enjoying this? Recognizing we may have an anger problem is the first step to doing something about it, starting with ourselves. And the advice Buddha gave transcends all politics.

Carrying straight on from this article on the three objects, three poisons, and three virtuous roots.

Transforming objects of hatred into objects of non-hatred

Whenever we encounter undesirable situations or people, instead of getting angry or annoyed we can intensify our patience or compassion. This is called non-hatred. (By the way, hatred is quite a strong word, but it includes all variations of aversion from mild irritation to genocidal rage.)

Most of us probably have several opportunities to try this out most days! This may seem especially the case in a polarized world but, even if we were surrounded by perfect saints, provided we still had the habits of anger in our minds we would still be bumping into objects of anger. People will seem difficult and annoying wherever we go if we have a mind to be annoyed; that’s pretty much guaranteed.

Of course, not giving into our tendency to blame others is easier said than done; but what’s the alternative? If we keep becoming irritated and upset by even the smallest things, we spoil our lives. Buddha’s method works very well for staying calm, if we want it enough. It can help our world enormously. transforming anger

A friend of mine texted me 20 minutes ago to say that her jeep had been broken into and thieves took her keys, credit cards, health insurance, and social security card (not to mention her lucky green sweater).

And this was supposed to be my b’day outing 🤦🏻‍♀️

However, after a bit of time to think this through, she just texted again to say how this is karma and giving her the chance to practice patience, purification, and giving, and “that makes me happy actually 🙅🏻”; plus she also feels grateful to her bank for acting swiftly to cancel her cards. She has to sort out the boring practicalities of course, but she is laughing again: “🤣”

I was soooo grumpy before and now I feel better. 🙏🏼🙏🏼

When people don’t cooperate …

lake 1It’s not just when people don’t cooperate with our own wishes — non-hatred can also come in handy when the people we care about are not cooperating with our wishes to help them (or is that just me?!) Instead of getting annoyed or discouraged, we can use their recalcitrance to increase our humility and supreme good heart, motivating us to attain enlightenment even more quickly for their sake.

The three nons

These “three nons” — as I shall henceforth refer to non-attachment, non-hatred, and non-ignorance — are a huge practice. They are the direct antidote to our three principal delusions, the “three poisons”; and, as all delusions stem from these three, they are indirectly an antidote to all that ails us.

And this practice is very important because it means that no day, however impossible, need ever be wasted – in fact the more bombarded we are with distractions and/or upsetting people, the more opportunity we have to solve our actual inner problems. Every day brings us a sense of achievement.

Transforming objects of ignorance into objects of non-ignorance

lake 6Here with the third: whenever we encounter objects of ignorance, instead of assenting to the appearance of things as fixed, real, and outside our mind, we let these seemingly solid objects remind us that in fact everything is dreamlike or like a reflection in a lake, not outside our mind. This is called non-ignorance. How great it would be if we and everyone else could live in the deep mental peace that comes from wisdom!

Applying non-ignorance to our own fixed self-image

Just a quick example of how we can practice non-ignorance when it comes to self-loathing (because I was talking about that a lot recently.) We can learn to see every manifestation of an unlikeable self as an incentive to practice both patient acceptance with ourself as described in these articles AND to practice wisdom.

Whenever that painful limited fixed ME rears its ugly head, we can think, “Great! Now I’ve got you where I can see you. And that means I can see that you are a fake self, not me at all, and I am going to let you go.”

lake 4The other day someone accused me of not liking her. Considering I do like her very much, and 95% of the time she knows this, this said far more about her own self-image than about me. Moreover, as expected, as soon as her bad mood lifted we were friends again.

In those instances, even if at that moment we feel so sure of something, it is still worth checking: What version of my self am I relating to right now? (Ans: An unlikeable one.) And does it even exist? (Ans: No.) We can dissolve that limited self away and identify with our potential. Only then can we say we are clear about what is going on.

Where are the reflections in a lake?

If things are empty and cannot be found when we search for them with wisdom (as described here for example), how do they exist? As mere appearance to mind, as the nature of mind, like things in a dream or reflections in a lake. As it says in the Mahamudra teachings:

All appearances are the nature of mind.

lake 2A lake doesn’t have to go out to its objects; and in truth there are no objects for our mind to go out to either. I was thinking about this just two days ago, while sitting on this bench next to this rather nice lake.

Just to go back to the definition of mind for a moment. Our mind is clarity, which means that it is something that is empty like space, can never possess form, and is the basis for perceiving objects. Our mind or awareness is like a medium that is clearer than the clearest thing ever, clear enough to know objects, to hold them. And an object is just that which is “known by mind”.

Do look at this lake for a moment … can you separate out the clouds from the lake? The clouds appear, and they have shape and color and so on; but lake 3they are just the nature of the lake. In the same way, objects appear with form and so on, but they are just the nature of formless awareness, clarity.

Two approaches to understanding reality

There are two ways to approach this understanding of the actual relationship between our awareness and its objects and to gain deep personal experience of it. One way is through meditating on our own mind, as explained so clearly for example in The Oral Instructions of the MahamudraAs Venerable Geshe Kelsang said in his Mahamudra teachings in 2000:

Using the root mind as our object of meditation — always trying to perceive the general image of our mind – means that we realize the subject mind very well, and understand the relationship between mind and its objects. The huge mistaken understanding that objects are there and the subject mind is here – that between them there is a large gap – will cease, and we will gain the correct understanding of how things really exist. If we clearly understand the real nature and function of mind, then we also understand how things really exist.

The second way is through searching with wisdom for objects outside the mind. This is a bit like looking for reflections outside of the lake — they cannot be found. Which brings us back to a deeper understanding that they must be the nature of the mind, mere appearances of mind.

I think that some people find their way into reality primarily through meditating on their mind, and some find their way into it primarily through meditating on emptiness – at least at first. However, we end up at the same place and using both methods – which are two sides of the same coin and constantly deepening one another.

International Fall Festival

templeThis week, people from all around the world will be converging on the brand new temple for world peace near the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Many are on their way as we speak — safe travels if you are one of them! One reason Kadampa Buddhist Festivals are really inspiring, I find, is because they are a living demonstration of what happens when thousands of people are practicing Buddha’s teachings both in and out of the meditation sessions. It’s hard to describe, actually, so I won’t. But perhaps I’ll see some of you there.

One more article on this subject of the three nons coming up soon. Meantime, over to you for your feedback, please, on how you like to practice them.

Related articles

Buddhism in daily life

Reflections in a clear lake 

Experience and reality 

Buddhism in daily life

8 mins read.

Sometimes I find the world’s problems so scary-messy that I puzzle where & how on earth well meaning people are supposed to start unravelling them!!? And how can one person without worldly power make a difference anyway? This kind of doubt can lead people (me) to discouragement and inaction, switching channels to watch a comedy instead. world peace puzzle

However, in the four noble truths Buddha explains how all inner and outer problems stem from a handful of delusions in the minds of living beings, along with the negative actions these spawn. That is why the book How to Solve our Human Problems only has about 100 pages! If we solved our delusion problem, and our actions were motivated by wisdom, compassion, skill, self-confidence, and other positive minds, all other problems would have no choice but to slink away. And as we start mastering our own minds, we’ll find we have more and more will and power to help others.

Along with study, contemplation, and meditation, there’s no reason not to do the actions we are already doing to attempt to solve the world’s problems – I just voted in the local elections, for example;* and people everywhere are coming up with visionary, creative, active ideas all the time. I love reading about some of these solutions, including new technology for combatting climate change; but I still feel that if we are not at the same time solving these uncontrolled negative states of mind and behaviors we won’t be able to escape their suffering results — regardless what outer measures we take.

(*Ah, well, since I wrote that the election results came back, showing that only one item I voted for got through, lol. See my point?! Some civic involvement may be useful but clearly not enough to get others to agree with us, let alone to transform our troubled world.)

Maybe I should just give up?

Watching what’s going on around the world, it can appear that the easy choice is to cave in to delusions such as greed, moral corruption, arrogance, and intolerance. People seem to be getting away with this left, right, and center whilst those who are trying to Don't give uplead a good life and help others are left high and dry. But — talking to myself here — it is not the easy choice because, regardless of any seeming short-term benefits, it leads not just other people but ourselves to more suffering and pain. Sometimes I think we just have to trust that if we are making our best effort to overcome our ignorance and selfishness and to be steadfastly kind, moral, and ethical in accordance with the law of karma, things will work out.

Transforming daily life

There’s a beautiful section in the mind-training (Tib. Lojong) teachings that shows how, instead of feeling sad and defeated, we can transform literally everything that happens to us into the journey to freedom and the growing ability to help everyone.

The three poisons, three objects, and three virtuous roots
Are the brief instruction for the subsequent attainment. ~ Universal Compassion

“Subsequent attainment” means the periods between meditation sessions, ie, our daily life, the vast majority of our time; so it’s kind of important.

This is the whole point about modern Buddhism or Kadampa Buddhism – bit by bit we take all Buddha’s teachings as personal advice and put them into practice in our lives, whatever we’re up to. It’s why it is proving so perfect for busy contemporary people with full lives, jobs, careers, kids, families, relationships, social engagements, who travel, etc etc. Whether our own and others’ conditions are good or bad, whether we’re all having a transform your life quote 5good time or are beset with difficulties, we learn that there is always something we can do to stay peaceful, positive, and helpful, to stay part of the solution.

It’s a work in progress, but eventually we find we are integrating our life into Dharma, rather than integrating Dharma into our life.

Transforming objects of attachment into objects of non-attachment

Whenever we encounter objects of desire, instead of responding with the poison of attachment, we intensify our wish (“virtuous root”) to experience the real happiness that comes from inner peace and eventually culminates in the bliss of permanent freedom. Then we can enjoy them (or lay them aside, either way) without exaggerating or getting sucked into them. This is called non-attachment.

just when i thought i was out.GIF
Trying to escape attachment

Seems to me as if practically everyone is running all day long after objects of attachment to get happy, or the “wrong objects” as Geshe Kelsang calls them. We can check what we are doing all day long to see if that includes us. Or for that matter talking about all day long, including even our most innocent conversations.  Just now I was listening to one woman sigh to another, “I prefer these pine trees to the ones we saw over there – I really wish they’d plant more of them.” (Yes, I’m in Colorado). And I was thinking, perhaps uncharitably, how no amount of pine trees would be capable of making this woman happy.

transform your life quote 3Ok, that’s a strangely mild example of attachment leading to mild frustration, and a first-world problem for sure; but we can extrapolate how, as attachment strengthens, so does frustration. No amount of relationships, money, drugs, TV, fame, sex, vacations, or pine trees can make us happy – finding real happiness in transient illusory objects outside of our mind is impossible. As Shantideva puts it, quite powerfully:

If we consider all the hardships we have endured since beginningless time
In pursuing meaningless worldly pleasures
We could have attained the state of a Buddha
For a fraction of the difficulty! ~ Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

Funny thing about attachment is how it promises pleasure but delivers bondage. The stronger our attachment, the more we chain and bind ourselves to objects, situations, people, places – believing they have the power to make us happy when only we have that power, and then becoming so sad and confused when things don’t “work out”. Our partner, for example, cannot make us happy. Check out this video by Will Smith, who says some wise things on this subject.

And if you know how to make yourself happy, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a relationship or not — either works.

Perhaps this seems counter-intuitive at first, but I have found out over the years that non-attachment or non-clinging is what actually allows me to enjoy everything and everyone a lot more. You feel so free. It is the crucial foundation for being able to transform all objects of enjoyment into the bliss of the spiritual path. It dissolves away huge amounts of distraction, confusion, and unsettled feelings, opening up the space in the mind needed to sustain stable love, compassion, concentration, faith, bliss, and wisdom. Without it, I can see clearly how I have one foot on the path to freedom and one foot on the hamster wheel of samsara, which not unsurprisingly encumbers my spiritual progress. As Geshe Kelsang puts it in Meaningful to Behold:

Although the objects  of our attachment are transitory, they nevertheless have the power to obstruct our path to freedom.

How lazy, or not, am I?!

One of the biggest obstacles to our spiritual practice is laziness, and there are 3 types, which, I don’t know about you, but in my experience form a vicious circle. The first type is the laziness of attachment, as just described. Then there is the laziness of procrastination – which of course is fairly inevitable if we have the first type, because why practice today what we could put off tomorrow, particularly when there is lazinessso much entertainment to be had?! Then, when we don’t experience any deepening inner peace because we’re not actually trying to, we develop the laziness of discouragement, “Man, I can’t do this!” or “This meditation stuff doesn’t work.” So we may as well just watch TV or drink beer instead, back to type 1.

The bliss of the yogis and yoginis

As it says in Meaningful to Behold:

Without a doubt yogis like Milarepa experience bliss that is a thousand times greater than anything we ever experience. Their unsurpassed happiness is due to their inner calm and their complete lack of attachment to external objects, while our suffering and dissatisfaction is due to our complete submersion in attitudes of attachment and aversion for external objects.

While I’m bringing up this wonderful book, have you read the Concentration chapter in Meaningful to Behold lately? I turn to that whenever I need an attachment corrective – whether that is attachment to people, places, fame, fortune, or whatever. It is powerful medicine, but not for the faint-hearted, lol. I have needed this chapter many times over the years and am seriously grateful it exists.

Bit of advice too for when we read these kinds of strong teachings by Shantideva and other Buddhist teachers who don’t mince their words: It is a good idea to start by feeling some peace inside (eg, through allowing your mind to settle in breathing meditation, clarity of mind, or absorption of cessation), identifying with your boundless depth, and remembering your sane wish for real freedom and bliss. Otherwise, if we are not feeling any alternative to attachment, reading about its faults can freak us out, even feel there is nothing worth living for.

Going back to the beginning of this article, what’s all this advice about non-attachment got to do with solving the world’s problems, you may be asking? A lot, as it turns out. Attachment is our biggest distraction to doing anything significant about other people’s suffering and its causes.

Okay, we seem to be out of time. I will carry on with this subject of transforming daily life soon.

Over to you …. I’d love to hear how you transform objects of attachment into objects of non-attachment.

Related articles

A closer look at attachment 

The heart wants what the heart wants

Stepping off the hedonic treadmill

 

Evil monkeys

Of course we homo sapiens are not inherently monkeys, much less evil monkeys; but there is some validity in saying we are hairless primates rather than some superior life form, and that as a species we have managed to couple our creative imaginations with increasing greed and selfishness to entrap, torture, and exterminate millions of fellow living beings (including previous varieties of human).

monkey 1.gif

Carrying on from this article, No Buddhism.

(I called this article “Evil monkeys” because it was quicker than “psychopathic narcissistic genocidal self-important monkeys”).

For me that narrative of evolutionary biology only tells part of a story, yet it has been helpful. I have been feeling keenly that despite my usual pride of being a human being as opposed to, say, a chimpanzee or a squirrel, there is really nothing exceptional about me (or other humans) — we are all part and parcel of samsara, trapped in flesh and blood just like all the other animals.

What is so different about me?! How can I expect a better outcome than anyone else around here? How can I expect that for any of the other hairless monkeys I know? That is scary, as there is visibly infinite suffering in our world; so it has been helping me to develop deeper renunciation and compassion.

Yet at the same time my mind need not be that of an animal for I now have a brief window of opportunity to use my mental power to overcome self-grasping — to see that none of this suffering is really happening, that it is like a dream or a mirage. As I heard Lenny Kravitz sing earlier:

Wake up world before it is too late.

monkey 2.gif(I’ll just remind us all while I’m here of the Buddhist understanding of our minds as formless continuums of awareness that have passed from body to body since beginningless time. Therefore, this body we have right now is just one of countless we have appropriated. Evolutionary biology doesn’t take that continuum of consciousness into account as far as I can tell so, like I say, it only tells part of a story.)

Evil monkeys or enlightened Buddhas – our choice

Buddha is deeply radical in saying that all the things we normally perceive do not exist, and proving it in multiple ways.

Dream things such as dream mountains and dream houses
And the horses and elephants that are created by magicians
Are all mere appearance to the mind –
They do not actually exist.
In the same way, all living beings from gods to hell beings
And all phenomena that we normally see or perceive
Are also mere appearances to the mind –
They do not actually exist.” ~ Norsang Gyatso, quoted in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra 

This truth can come to be experienced, giving us actual mental freedom and lasting bliss. Which is what we all want. And all the other teachings of Buddhism — such as renunciation and compassion and even faith — are designed not as something to believe in “out there,” but as mere devices to lead us to the truth of emptiness.

The exercise yard of a bigger prison

The author Harari theorizes that we only ever escape one imagined order by inventing another. He gives some good examples, and funnily enough I just stumbled upon one myself while reading The Week — capitalism will go away if we all believe in socialism instead:

For 40 years, the corporate world has reverently knelt before libertarian economist Milton Friedman and his famed doctrine: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business,” Friedman said, and that is to “engage in activities designed to increase its profits.”

However, at this point in history, for various reasons I won’t get into:

… capitalism is clearly headed for a reckoning …. Real-world experience has undermined free marketeers’ near-theological belief that the unfettered pursuit of self-interest invariably produces the best outcomes for society itself.

We might be headed for “pure and unadulterated socialism” instead.stuck to prison lego

Be that as it may, and whether you think that would be an improvement or not, Harari concludes that replacing one system with another cannot actually free us:

There is no way out of the imagined order. When we break down our prison walls and run towards freedom, we are in fact running into the more spacious exercise yard of a bigger prison.

Overall, I agree with him … BUT ONLY IF WE DON’T REALIZE EMPTINESS. This is the door through which we can finally escape the prison of samsara.

(Interestingly enough, and perhaps not surprisingly, Harari himself is a meditator.)

In the meantime we can still safely agree on some things

An understanding of emptiness allows for us to follow relative reality. We can all agree that this is a blog for example. We will neversapiens 5 find it anywhere if we look for it, so it is not an objective or absolute truth; but it still functions as a blog. That is conventional reality.

I explained here about how things like forests come into being – once the forest exists, insofar as we all agree there is a forest, it functions and we can burn it down and make lots of money.

But although things appear and perform a function, they never exist from their own side. They don’t have to exist from their own side to appear and function – in fact, if they did exist from their own side they could neither appear nor function.

Within that, some relative reality works very well, not least because it brings us inner peace and takes us in the direction of the wisdom realizing the way things are. Geshe-la calls this “beneficial believing”.

For example, developing love and compassion is beneficial believing because it gets us closer and closer to being able to benefit ourselves and others. It is also an expression of our pure, non-deluded nature. Identifying ourselves and others as our pure Buddha nature as opposed to our delusions is also beneficial believing.

Karma functions too. Virtuous actions that derive from a relatively realistic view of things, such as compassion, patience, or love, lead to good results; and actions that derive from delusions — non-virtuous actions (such as gouging out pigs’ eyes so they can’t run away) — lead to bad results. It’s not surprising really that this is the case.

There is relative truth. We want to be happy and free from suffering and some truths and states of mind, including faith, lead us closer toward that. As Voltaire said:

There is no God, but don’t tell that to my servant, lest he murder me at night.

No narrative created by self-grasping can work that great, but some do work better than others. How? Because some bring about some temporary happiness and freedom for ourselves and others, such as those rooted in decency, empathy, kindness, and unselfishness. Others just entrap us more and more deeply in a vicious cycle of selfishness, fear, and pain.

So what can we do for our troubled planet?

We watch the news at record rates; everyone is interested in politics these days it seems. And the more we watch, the more we are in danger of buying into the various narratives we are being fed, and the more we become immersed in our own echo chambers, believing more and more what we’re told. It’s a bit dangerous, frankly. Another maybe slightly relevant quote:

It is impossible to raise an army solely by coercion. At least some of the commanders and soldiers must truly believe in something, be it God, honor, motherland, manhood, or money.

I reckon we could all do with less feverish yet passive following of CNN, Fox news, or Twitter feeds, and spending more time proactively and responsibly working on transforming our own minds and actions.

monkey mindThe point is, we don’t really have much time left, whichever way you cut it. A year goes fast, and how many of those do we have before we die? A month goes even faster and how many of those do we have left – several hundred at most? What we choose to do with this remaining time is incredibly important because who knows whether we’ll have the freedom to choose what to do with our thoughts in our next life. Just ask the veal calf or one of the trillion tortured chickens.

Freedom from illusion

I found this passage from Sapiens somewhat thought-provoking, what do you think of it?

How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity*, democracy, or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined. You always insist that the order sustaining society is an objective reality created by the great gods or by the laws of nature. People are unequal, not because Hammurabi said so, but because Enlil and Marduk decreed it. Free markets are the best economic system, not because Adam Smith said so, but because these are the immutable laws of nature.

But the point I suppose I am trying to make is that Buddha totally did admit that his teachings are imagined – because everything is. But there is incorrect and correct imagination, and Buddha’s clear and practical teachings are designed specifically to lead us to the realization that everything is imagined, and thus finally to freedom from the illusion.

*I don’t feel comfortable singling out any religion as not revealing the truth of emptiness – it seems very likely to me that enlightened beings (Skt. Buddhas) would do their best to appear and teach in all traditions to reveal this truth one way or another. I have read profound things in Christianity, for example; and I also remember Venerable Geshe-la saying how surprised he was to discover how rich was the English language and therefore how easy to translate profound concepts from Tibetan Buddhism — how it had the deep words “manifestation” and “emanation” for example, which come from the early Christian tradition. I think it is also helpful that we have the words “illusion” versus “reality,” for example, indicating that these ideas are not new. Emptiness doesn’t belong to Buddhism, obviously; it is the only truth for everyone. But Buddha did emphasize and explain it very clearly.

The graying of America

old ageTalking of aging, dying, and getting a move on, I was just reading an article called “The graying of America”, which includes all the dismal statistics and prognoses you can imagine. But the article then suggested optimistically that we could “copy or learn” from other countries in their approach to the problem. That sounded good, for a moment, or at least better than nothing, as I read about hacks for incentivizing old people to keep exercising.

But the good ideas then abruptly dried up, because this is what came next: “Japanese companies such as Sony and Soft Bank are marketing a line of robot puppies and baby seals as a balm for elderly loneliness.”

Whaaa? That’s supposed to reassure me — that I can look forward to a robot baby seal for company?! Yes, apparently: “Just looking at it makes people smile.” Grimly, I would hope, unless they’ve totally lost their marbles. And that’s not all – at the Shintomi nursing home in Tokyo you can now join in a sing-along led by a 4-foot-tall android named Pepper.

Forget the chronic shortage of social security, pensions, and doctors, the decline in GDP, the resetting of crosswalk timers throughout the land, or the epidemic of loneliness as millions of people find themselves trapped in their once comfortable suburban houses unable to walk or drive to the shops. The idea of spending my golden years with a literally mindless robot seal who can neither give nor receive an iota of love, and apparently enjoying it, is what horrifies me the most.

And in my case we’re only really talking a matter of 10-20 years at this point: all the more reason to focus my efforts and for-now-functioning marbles on getting into my heart and out of samsara.

Here is a great poem a friend sent me the other day; she knew it’d be right up my street!:

The Parade

BY BILLY COLLINS

How exhilarating it was to march
along the great boulevards
in the sun flash of trumpets
and under all the waving flags— 

the flag of ambition, the flag of love.
So many of us streaming along—
all of humanity, really—
moving in perfect step,
yet each lost in the room of a private dream. 

How stimulating the scenery of the world,
the rows of roadside trees,
the huge curtain of the sky. 

How endless it seemed until we veered
off the broad turnpike
into a pasture of high grass,
headed toward the dizzying cliffs of mortality. 

Generation after generation,
we keep shouldering forward
until we step off the lip into space.

And I should not have to remind you
that little time is given here
to rest on a wayside bench,
to stop and bend to the wildflowers,
or to study a bird on a branch— 

not when the young
are always shoving from behind,
not when the old keep tugging us forward,
pulling on our arms with all their feeble strength.

Wake up world

The other day I dreamed I was miles from where I needed to be and already late, but instead of getting a move on I was sluggishly trying to figure out something suitable to wear.

Whatever this random dream amongst millions of dreams may mean, far more important is what I noticed upon waking, which is how we just get caught up in our narratives.

Within those nightly parameters we feel we have to figure everything out, whereas all we really need to do to solve everything and get where we need to be is to wake up. Blessed relief. It is all well and good being nice to the people around us in our dream, and accepting their help and kindness and so on, and it makes the dream far more pleasant than fighting and arguing; but, either way, nothing is really going on, and we simply need to wake up. As it says in Request to the Lord of all Lineages:

All my appearances in my dreams teach me
That all my appearances when awake do not exist;
Thus for me all my dream appearances
Are the supreme instructions of my Guru.

Percy in graveyard

Rather than blindly following the crowd or people at work, like a sheep, we have to figure out what narrative or world view we are following and whether or not it is working for us; and use our considerable human ingenuity and will power to escape.

Percy and Jenny

Talking of sheep, I once lived in a huge Buddhist Centre called Madhyamaka Centre, at Kilnwick Percy Hall, way out in the Yorkshire countryside. Two sheep, only two, kept escaping from the neighboring field and hanging out in our rose gardens. We kept returning them, and they kept escaping, we never quite figured out how.

One Tuesday the farmer came to collect his flock for slaughter, and sure enough the two sheep once again sought refuge on our land. When the farmer realized they were missing and came to find them, our Admin Director Nick Gillespie decided on the spot to buy them off him instead.

Percy, the ringleader, was a surprisingly intelligent and personable sheep – one could imagine him reading The Times when no one was looking. Jenny was pretty dumb, but she adored Percy and followed him everywhere, and that was her saving grace. Within a few months, the beloved Percy died of yew poisoning and we all did a transference of consciousness for him. Due to his refusal to follow the other sheep, we like to think that he escaped not just a beastly death but more lives in the lower realms and/or samsara. Jenny escaped relatively due to her good idea to follow Percy – she lived to a ripe old age, along with a couple more lambs to keep her company. Hopefully she followed him to the Pure Land.

Percy and JennyIt takes a special sheep to be that persistent. It takes a special human to be that persistent too, but here we are, and we have to find freedom before the farmer gets here.

Over to you, love your comments.

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No Buddhism

9 mins read.

We are making all of this up as we go along. Always have been. Always will be.  everything depends on mind

That’s the thing I admire the most about Buddhism – it explains so clearly that the only truth is that nothing is really true. Nothing exists inherently. We are creating everything with our thoughts — there is nothing out there existing from its own side. Yet, at the same time, right here right now we have not just the potential but also the option to realize this—and, if we do that, we are finally free. It’s epic.

The phenomena that I normally see or perceive
Are deceptive – created by mistaken minds.
If I search for the reality of what I see,
There is nothing there that exists – I perceive only empty like space. ~ Request to the Lord of all Lineages

The things we normally see — inherently existent things or things outside the mind — do not exist at all. This applies not just to mental constructs such as shared myths, but to our biological reality such as our body or our physical reality such as radioactivity. If we go looking for anything with wisdom, as explained for example in this article about the emptiness of the body, we will find nothing. Emptiness, or ultimate truth, is the mere absence of the things we normally see. As Buddha pointed out in the shortest Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, called the Heart Sutra:

There is no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, not tactile object, no phenomenon.

Not only that, but there is no inherently existent suffering being, no samsara, no Buddhas, no liberation, no enlightenment.

There is no ignorance and no exhaustion of ignorance and so forth up to no ageing and death and no exhaustion of ageing and death. Likewise, there is no suffering, origin, cessation, or path; no exalted awareness, no attainment, and also no non-attainment. ~ Heart Sutra

That means, does it not, that there is even no Buddhism?!

Heart SutraEven emptiness doesn’t exist inherently, from its own side, outside of thought. There are no absolute truths — not even emptiness, not even awareness, not even Buddhas, not even the path to liberation itself.

Which doesn’t leave us with much of a leg to stand upon. But this turns out to be a very good thing, actually the most extraordinary thing, for, as I like to say:

Samsara sucks
Samsara sucks for everyone
But luckily samsara is not real.

Imagined orders

The things we see do not exist, and yet things hang together due to collective agreement or convention. According to Buddhism, everything, whether a corporation or a chair, exists only as mere appearance, via convention or collective agreement.

So corporations and money etc can function because we collectively allow them too. And because of the huge power of human imagination, we have invented all sorts of useful and not so useful things that, for example, have allowed our societies to grow in size and complexity. As it says in the book Sapiens by the Israeli historian Yuval Harari that I mentioned in this last article:

Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths.

The book gives some excellent examples of imaginary constructs – companies such as Peugeot, various world views over the millennia, the American declaration of independence, money, empires, even evolutionary biology itself. People invented all these systems and then got enough people to believe and participate in them for them to moreorless work.

superior imaginationWhen the agricultural Revolution opened opportunities for the creation of crowded cities and mighty empires, people invented stories about great gods, motherlands, and joint stock companies to provide the needed social links …. The human imagination was building astounding networks of mass cooperation.

Everything from myth to religion to nations to moral codes to money are inter-subjective realities according to Harari. They have force for as long as people believe them, and cease to exist the moment people no longer believe them. This explains how people could cooperate in groups larger than 150, giving them a military and security advantage, and encouraging specialization which eventually gave them a technological advantage.

The term Harari uses is “inter-subjective;” and he distinguishes between “objective” and “inter-subjective”:

The inter-subjective is something that exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals … Inter-subjective phenomena are neither malevolent frauds nor insignificant charades. They exist in a different way from physical phenomena such as radioactivity, but their impact on the world may still be enormous. Many of history’s most important drivers are inter-subjective: law, money, gods, nations.

illusionHarari has a brilliant mind; but I don’t think he goes quite far enough. So I would just like to add, kinda crucially, that Buddha said nothing is objective. I think of the term “inter-subjective reality” as a synonym for existing by agreement or existing by convention. And everything is therefore inter-subjective, existing by convention, including radioactivity! But I agree with Harari on how things you cannot see or sit on have nonetheless had enormous impact on the world.

As it says in Lord of all Lineages:

When I search with my wisdom eye,
All the things that I normally see disappear
And only their mere name remains.

These numerous human narratives, myths, legends, religions, and evolutionary and scientific theories all tell a story, but only ever part of a story, and not an entirely true story. And whether a narrative succeeds in getting us all cooperating and communicating depends entirely on how many people can be persuaded to believe it and thus buy into it.

With this mere name I simply accept everything for the purpose of communicating with others.

Evil monkeys

sapiens 1Homo sapiens have been hands down the cruelest of species, entrapping and torturing and murdering vast numbers not just of other species but our own. We have used our extraordinary imaginations over millennia to become the dominant species on this planet, getting to the top of the food chain despite our relatively puny bodies, using ever more creative ways to indulge our self-cherishing and profit-driven attachment, even making virtues of them along the way.

But what has been our undoing — for example our own species now being on the verge of extinction on this planet — can also be our saving. Our imagination can be used for evil, but it can also be used to transcend.

Conspiracy theories are not helpful

I was talking to a conspiracy theorist the other day – for sure, these days everyone seems to be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, even me. These stories of victimhood and blame can be convincing and there may be some relative truth to them sometimes. However, these narratives often involve so much mental elaboration in pursuit of the deep perpetrator of all that ails us – and if not careful, far from becoming more free, people fall deeper and deeper down the rabbit holes of hallucination, paranoia, and blame.

we are all being played conspiracyThe only conspiracy a Buddhist really has to uncover and blame is that of our self-grasping, the one that underlies every other conspiracy there has ever been, that fabricates all deceptive appearances. If we had all the time in the world, maybe we could spend weeks and months contemplating other possible evil conspiracies as well. But we don’t have much time, so we need to focus. At least that is what I think, and probably some of you do too. Now we only need to persuade everyone else of that 😁

Until we rid our mind of self-grasping and other delusions, it remains impure. And it seems as if nothing we have created with our impure imaginations has ever had the power to make us happy, at least not for long – whether that be politics or technology or sports or even medicine. Something cannot be real happiness if its cause is not a real cause of happiness, can it? So because politics, science, medicine, and so on can also cause problems, they are not real causes of happiness, and therefore any happiness we derive from them is not real happiness.

Plus our grasping at all these things – including religions — as inherently existent (self-grasping ignorance) and as inherently existent sources of happiness (attachment) has led us to huge suffering. Real happiness comes only from real causes of happiness, inner peace and wisdom.

We have also been kept very busy at justifying our attachments. For example, as we domesticated more and more other species, it must have become convenient at some point to develop the belief that we were somehow of a different order of special (despite Sapiens 2our tail bone) and that animals were put on earth just for our benefit. Of course, therefore, we can treat them however we want.

The domestication of animals was founded on a series of brutal practices that only became crueler with the passing of the centuries.

To this day that exceptionalist world view lingers such that we feel our cruel treatment of animals is justified – but what reasonable justification do we have for this behavior, really?

It’s reasonable to assume, for example, that bulls prefer to spend their days wandering over open prairies in the company of other bulls and cows rather than pulling carts and ploughshares under the yoke of a whip-wielding ape.

And where has this subjugation of animals led us? To the burning of the Amazon and our own potential mass suicide, for one thing.

Not just another invention

Instead of inventing just another imagined order for us to believe in as if it really existed from its own side, outside of our minds, Buddha basically — right out of the door — said that this IS all imagination; that we are making it all up. Everything is emptiness, ie, the mere lack of inherent existence.

The whole methodology of the Buddhist faith is then designed to get us to that understanding so that we can walk through the door of emptiness to lasting freedom.

sapiens 3Everything in Buddhism starts with that — or sometimes with the other side of the same coin which is that everything depends upon thought. That is Buddhism 101. You’ll hear something along those lines the moment you walk in the door of a Buddhist Center. Geshe Kelsang for example has said that he has put emptiness teachings in all of his books in the hope that people will therefore find them; and that the main reason for his appearing in this world is to reveal emptiness to us.

Countless enlightened beings have appeared to say these things in countless world systems, leading countless people like you and me through that door to join them. There may be more enlightened beings than samsaric beings by now, for all we know.

As it says in The New Heart of Wisdom, a commentary to the Heart Sutra:

Although we need to strive to develop a new realization of emptiness, it is important to understand that emptiness itself is not a new development or creation. It is not a product of philosophical analysis or an invention of Buddha. Emptiness has been the actual nature of all phenomena from the very beginning. Our body, for example, has always been empty of inherent existence; there has never been a time when our body, or anything else, existed inherently. Although emptiness has always been the true nature of phenomena, we need to receive instructions to realize this; and for this reason Buddha taught the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.

If you are interested in emptiness, and haven’t had a chance to read The New Heart of Wisdom yet, I strongly recommend it! I wouldn’t have a clue what I am talking about without reading  that book for the first time decades ago, and many times since.

Summary

Sapiens 4

I do hope I’m not confusing anyone – please go now read The New Heart of Wisdom if I am! But I suppose what I am trying to chat about in this long article is how Buddha came along and blasted all imagined realities, including religions and other belief systems, out of the water by saying that nothing is actually out there, our minds are making the whole thing up – always have been and always will be. Some imagined realities work better than others — some lead us to hellish suffering and some to the bliss of enlightenment — but everything is equally unfindable and illusion-like. That is what we need to realize.

I am going to let Buddha have the last word. In the Heart Sutra, he says:

Therefore, Shariputra, because there is no attainment, Bodhisattvas rely upon and abide in the perfection of wisdom; their minds have no obstructions and no fear. Passing utterly beyond perversity, they attain the final nirvana.

Over to you. What do you think about all this?!

There is another installment here, called Evil monkeys.

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