Meditating for Gold

Pagpa and the Great Britain Men’s Hockey Team

The earliest recorded Olympic competition occurred in 776 B.C. Buddha Shakyamuni taught in 500 B.C. The ancient Greeks valued physical excellence, and that admiration has continued in the Olympics up to this day. The ancient Buddhists valued mental excellence, and this admiration too has continued amongst meditators to this day.

While in Cape Town on a local tour to play against South Africa and train for the 2012 London Olympics, the Great Britain Men’s Hockey team asked Pagpa at the Kadampa Center in Cape Town to come and teach them how to meditate. Taking a leaf out of the 2500 year-old Buddhist tradition, they are including meditation as part of their regimen for success. As a side effect, they are also reporting increased happiness and well-being 🙂

A calm, balanced, peaceful mind is likened to stable, shining gold in the Kadampa Buddhist Tradition – avoiding the extremes of over-excitement, like glittery diamonds, or dullness, like lead. We will see in October whether the UK hockey team bring home the Olympic gold again, but it seems they’re already making strides toward inner gold. Read on to see what their coach has to say:

“In football there is an old debate about whether or not it is possible to practise in preparation for the infamous penalty shoot-out. The England football team have lost on penalties at late stages of many major competitions. In the ruminations of the incident, football pundits generally agree that you can’t replicate the pressures of the penalty shoot-out, so at best any attempt to practise for it will be limited. It is true that you can’t replicate those pressures, but you can improve the ability to not be distracted by the pressures, to maintain a balanced and calm approach.

We in the Great Britain Men’s Hockey team are using meditation to try and develop this ability, and whilst in South Africa during a training camp we were privileged to be introduced to the power of meditation by our teacher Pagpa from the Tushita Buddhist Centre.

Many of the players reported how inspired they were by Pagpa’s introduction to meditation, and were amazed at the positive potential meditation has for their sporting performance and their general happiness and well-being.

We now integrate meditation time into our day and since doing so there has been a palpable improvement in the mood of the players, despite the increasing pressures they are experiencing as we get closer to the biggest sporting event of their lives; the 2012 London Olympics.

Irrespective of our performance at the Olympics, I am confident that the help Pagpa has given us in using the power of meditation will help us play to our best, whilst keeping a calm and balanced perspective.”

Jason Lee
Great Britain & England Senior Men’s Head Coach

Kadampa Buddhism in South Africa

Pagpa is an old friend. Here is a very quick potted history: Pagpa met Kadampa Buddhism many years ago at Madhyamaka Centre, while I was living there — he peeked his dreadlocked head around the door to Tharpa Publications, where I was working, and introduced himself as the son of two of my parents’ closest friends. He was attending horticultural college in the area, and then he moved into Madhyamaka Centre and became the laid-back gardener, until Geshe Kelsang scooped him out and asked him to be Director of NKT mother ship Manjushri Centre. From there he went to Malaysia to teach Buddhism for several years, until he was requested to teach in South Africa.

Pagpa and other religious leaders opening the World Cup Stadium 2011

Since he has been there, as well as teaching in Cape Town he has managed to open the World Cup stadium and help his fellow teacher and monk Sangdak bring Buddha’s teachings to Zululand. He and Sangdak are having way too much fun out there. I hope you enjoy the photos.

Sangdak in Zululand

Mirror, mirror, at the door

At 8am this morning, as I was peacefully absorbed in meditation, someone honked their horn very loudly. There was a pause, then they did it again. Another pause, and then a loud banging at my door.

I open it in my dressing gown, and a (watch this instant prejudice…) brash looking man in a shiny suit and slicked-back hair abruptly demands: “I’m here to pick up Yvonne.” I say I don’t know Yvonne. “She’s a laaaarge girl”, he offers, with (un)helpful hand gestures. My Simone de Beauvoir instincts kick in: “Do you mean a large girl or a large woman? In any event I don’t know any large or small women or girls by that name around here. And might I suggest that you don’t blow your horn so loudly…” (adding silently “…you’re not the only human being around here you know!”) and then “Oh, my cat has got out…” (adding silently “…because of you.”) 

So as you can see from my responses, an irritation had arisen. Great fodder for meditation! Excellent timing for my morning session! Mr. Honk only appears irritating to me due to karma I’ve created in the past and is a reflection of my own faults of thoughtlessness and self-cherishing. Not everyone who bangs on my door early morning or late at night irritates me after all – most, I’m happy to say, don’t, including Jehovah’s witnesses, tenants who have lost their keys again, and, the other night, a totally drunk homeless guy whom I offered a place to stay for a few hours to get him out of the cold. (Don’t worry, dear landlords, if you are reading this, I took his social security card off him first). Back in meditation I did not have to go back far, sadly, to see how I share Mr. Honk’s apparent faults — for example I yell for my cat to come in, “ROUSSEAU!!!”, (which may be why, come to think of it, everyone around here knows his name), and I shout out a question for someone instead of bothering to go find them, etc. Not only that, but Mr. Honk may have had all sorts of extenuating circumstances that could cause me to go easy on him, as they would cause me to go easy on me if I was in his position – like, for example,  Yvonne being in dire need of a blood transfusion.

Not focusing on others’ faults doesn’t mean that we never recognize they have delusions (uncontrolled, unpeaceful minds) or develop the wish to help them overcome these – our mistake is conflating the person with the delusions. As my teacher says:

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

“Very nice!”

There is clearly far more to Mr. Honk than his seeming thoughtlessness – for all I know he was going out of his way to help Yvonne, large as she is, and he is probably a VERY NICE MAN. At any rate, he is not his delusions, even if he has any, and my relating to him as such for those moments by the front door didn’t help either of us. I lost an opportunity to be helpful. He helped me though, as it turns out, by serving as a mirror. Thank you Mr. Honk, I owe you 🙂

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Falling in love (again) according to Buddhism

I’m continuing with the subject of love, desire and attachment started in this article.

Our attachment can be very strong. We’re in love with the idea of love in this society. It sometimes seems as if our whole society is focused on finding the right person — we need someone to complete us. We can’t be happy on our ownsome. “I need someone to give me that security, to hold my hand in the movies. That person is waiting. I know there’s happiness waiting somewhere for me. The credits will roll for me.” (Don’t you find it interesting how the credits roll just at that point when people have finally landed in each other’s arms – they have to be quick about it, too, before the story proceeds any further.)

As time goes on in our search for the ideal partner, we are often willing to settle for less. This is because when we are young, half an hour in front of the mirror can make us look like a million dollars, but as we get older we need that half an hour just to make ourselves look vaguely presentable. In an article about baby boomers not too long ago, the implication was that we are not allowed to get old or stop searching for the ideal partner. No, we are simply “seasoned”, like a well cooked leg of lamb or a rusty frying pan. Apparently there are umpteen books explaining how you can attract someone even into your sixties, seventies, eighties… It isn’t all on the outside, but it does help if you take care of your appearance and, if you can afford the nips and tucks, go ahead! It doesn’t ever stop! You’re not even allowed to relax when you’re seventy, much less when you’re under forty. According to this article, you’re not encouraged to recall that you’ve already had a partner (or five) and don’t want to go through all of that again.

What might Buddha say about this? Not that people should never partner up, or should be scared away from love. Perhaps that seeking happiness so desperately from outside in any form is a fool’s game as it is incapable of giving us real or lasting happiness. Especially if the other person is as neurotic as we are!  How are they going to give us security when they can’t even find it themselves?

Falling in love (again)

So let’s look at the kind of thing that happens when we fall in love. If our attachment comes on strong, it is like falling in a ditch — completely out of our control.

Let’s say we’re hanging out with good friends. We’re having a whale of a time, joking, affectionate, enjoying a great night out, until suddenly a really attractive person (to our eyes) walks into the restaurant. Suddenly our happiness is over there. We’re feeling a bit bereft. We’re fast forgetting about our friends because now it’s, “I’ve got to meet that person!” Then they walk out the door, taking our happiness with them!

The scheming begins. How to get their number, set up a date, have their kids. There seem to be three stages to this kind of desire—scheming, indulging, and recovery. Scheming – they are going to complete me, this is it!  Maybe we’re lucky enough and we do get their phone number, their email. We wait by the phone – are people still waiting by the phone now?  Well, in the old days, before we were plugged 24/7 into the cloud, it went something like this: “I’ll just go buy some groceries, I’ll be away for an hour or so, then by the time I’ve got home they are bound to have called.” But no messages. No emails either. Nowadays, maybe no texts, or FB messages. This is painful. We get a call from our best friend, “No, I can’t talk just now, I can’t tie up the line”, then another from our mom, and we try not to sound too disappointed, “Yes, I know you gave birth to me but ….” Any addiction we had to email and Facebook is now really overpowering, but at the same time none of our messages is of the slightest interest.

Then maybe the right caller ID or a relevant email does show up, and, ecstatically relieved, we do manage to hook up. We take a thousand photos of our happiness on our Smart phone, from every angle. Everything about them is delicious and special – their perfume, their eating habits, the way they drive… They can do no wrong. The fact that others don’t get it, or even see faults in our angel, is just a sad indictment on their lack of discrimination.

This phase of romantic indulgence goes on, they tell us from studies, for about six months.

Then at some point we say to this person, “Honey, I really love you and want you to be happy.” And they reply, “I’m really glad to hear you say that because I’ve been taking ballroom dancing classes and I’ve fallen for Giovanna, she’s Italian.”  Suddenly everything goes pear-shaped. That wasn’t what we meant.  We say, “But I didn’t want you to be happy if you’re not giving me happiness!”

Now all the objects of happiness are causes of suffering. The same perfume is now unbearable, the same car is a horrible reminder. All the things that seemed causes of our happiness are now causes of our pain. Maybe we take all their stuff and throw it out of the window. “Take all of your stuff and get out!”  We think it’s all their fault, but really the scales have fallen from our eyes and we are realizing that they weren’t the source of our happiness to begin with.

With attachment, we are set up from the get go for disillusionment when that person inevitably cannot deliver the happiness we sought in them, when they cannot live up to our hype. We need time to recover because thwarted attachment is very, very painful. It can make people feel down for months. It can drive people to kill themselves. And it is very dangerous because when we’re in the indulging phase it can look so good that we forget its outcome and fall for it time and time again.

As mentioned, attachment is called “sticky desire” If you have hairy arms, you can try this experiment, if not you’ll just have to imagine it. Plaster a sticky band aid onto your arm, leave it for a bit, and then tear it off. How does that feel? At some point also we are separated one way or another from our object of attachment, and it hurts. Tears. We often want to lash out.

In Transform Your Life, Geshe Kelsang says:

“If we are skillful, friends can be like treasure chests, from whom we can gain the precious wealth of love, compassion, patience, and so forth. For our friends to function in this way, however, our love for them must be free from attachment. If our love for our friends is mixed with strong attachment, it will be conditional on their behaving in ways that please us, and as soon as they do something we disapprove of, our fondness for them may turn to anger.”

Honey on a razor’s edge

Buddha used an exquisite analogy for attachment: it is like licking honey from a razor’s edge. If we want just the honey, we need to get rid of the attachment. But we don’t need to get rid of the intimacy or closeness. We can have that closeness without attachment. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be close to others but there’s everything wrong with trying to be close to others through attachment. In fact, strong attachment actually makes us hungrier, we can never get enough.

It is only with love that the gap between people is bridged. In attachment, it’s all about a dualistic “me and you”; we’re not actually in union. Because the object of attachment is necessarily “out there”, and we are “in here”, we can never get close to it any more than a donkey can catch up to the carrot on the stick. True intimacy, true “us”, comes from love – affectionate, cherishing, and wishing love.

Your turn: what do you think about Buddha’s analysis of love and attachment from your own experience?

Love, attachment and desire according to Buddhism

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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

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

But, as I said, I like it. I’m with the card industry on this one. So Happy Valentine’s Day, Dad, and everyone else!

What is desirous attachment?

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

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

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

Here is a definition from Understanding the Mind:

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

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

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

Are you a spiritual person?!

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

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

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

How do we develop desirous attachment

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If you do not help us, we will be killed.” What can we do about large-scale sufferings?

Some time has elapsed since I wrote this article on Homs, Syria; but the question “What can we do?” seems just as relevant to what’s going on today — which at the time of writing (January 4 2016) includes the rise of ISIS, the flood of desperate refugees, the floods in the north of England, the crazy political discourse, and one mass shooting a day on average in the US. Amongst other things.

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This sign held by a child trying to reach the world was the first thing I saw about the slaughter taking place in Homs, Syria, a few days ago. Then a newspaper today had the headline: “Syrian siege of Homs is genocidal, say trapped residents.”

“We are seriously dying here. It is really war,” Waleed Farah told the Guardian, speaking via satellite phone. He said: “It isn’t war between two armies. It’s between the army and civilians. You hear the rockets and explosions. You feel you are at the front. The situation for civilians is pitiful.”

What, if anything, are we supposed to do, as individuals in a country far away?

This question comes up again and again and again. Daily. With your help, I looked at this subject at the time of the Japanese earthquake. We decided there is never nothing we can do.

This time I wanted to examine how hard it is not to look away when we hear news like this. How tempting it is to turn away, or even close our heart, thinking “It is too awful, it is too far away, it is not part of my life, and what can I do anyway?”

But this suffering is part of my life. It is part of my suffering world. It is appearing in my world. I turn away at my peril.

I often come across links to footage I’d really rather not see, such as starving humans and skinned cats. Where does my squeamishness come from though – does it come from compassion or is there something else at play? After all, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas never shy away from following Buddha’s advice to know suffering (the first noble truth). How can we know something without looking at it? Can we? How am I going to go about removing myself and others from hellish situations if I can’t or won’t look at them? What do you think? (I’m not advocating we all start watching horror movies, perhaps there is a balance to be had here; but I’m curious as to your thoughts on this.)

A lotus grows from mud

One thing I do know, I cannot conveniently box away all seemingly irrelevant or unworkable suffering without increasing my own dullness or carelessness.

Back to the case in point, what did I try and do to help today? Here is a quick summary of my meditation. This is not the only way to do it, of course, it is just the way I did it today (and I always like to begin and end with bliss and emptiness!) Meditation is very creative, and you can do whatever works best for you.

  • I invited all the holy beings into my heart and mixed my mind with theirs like water blending with water, experiencing bliss. I knew I wanted to start from a peaceful, blessed place, or I would have nothing to bring to others, and I definitely wouldn’t want to focus on their gruesome pain.
  • With my mind of bliss I dissolved me, them, and our whole world into its ultimate nature, emptiness. There is no inherently existent world, “out there”. There are not even any inherently existent suffering beings in Homs. (See this article for why this is not escapism but holds the solution.)
  • I meditated on how I’m deeply connected to all living beings in my world, including those in Homs – we are all waves rising from the same ocean, each wave containing elements of all the others, entirely dependent related.
  • In that context, from my heart, I invited the residents of Homs inside. I exchanged self with others.
  • Then I thought about what they are experiencing right now. Beheaded people lie in the street, there are no ambulances to take away the dead, and people are cowering in their houses waiting for bombs to drop on them. And “the problem is that no one can get out”, as one resident put it. I usually prefer to start with an individual, for example I imagined what it must have been like to be this mother before, during and after the militiamen broke in: “The shabbiha (Assad’s militiamen) broke into three houses overnight and slaughtered a family of five — the father, wife and their three children…” And where are they now?
  • I developed a wish for them to be safe and free.
  • I did some taking and giving and imagined that they were safe and free, now and always.
  • I prayed to all the holy beings to bring this about swiftly. It is impossible to overestimate the power of completely pure minds. We can act as a conduit for blessings to flow from holy to ordinary beings, transforming them. There are no inherently existent suffering beings – we would all be doomed if there were, and there really would be no point in thinking about their suffering.
  • I brought everyone in all six realms into my heart to stay with all the enlightened beings, in bliss and emptiness. I stayed here as long as possible.

That much I owe them at least. If I was in their position, I would want to know that the world was at least looking at me, that the world cared. If we are in a position to do anything practical, then we do it, just as it suggests in the Bodhisattva downfall:

Not going to the assistance of those in need.

We can call upon our own government, wherever we are, to step in on behalf of the civilians, or sign a petition. I just donated to Avaaz here. And mainly, unless we have a direct line to the Syrian government, we can develop compassion and we can pray, knowing that these actions do make a difference.

One more point: although it is tempting to become angry at those who are attacking them, we can remember that the deluded and karmic causes of suffering go much deeper — the wheel of sharp weapons swirls round and round, perpetrators and victims continuously changing places. Michael said it this way in this article about his murdered brother-in-law:

“This next song is for Maynor, my brother in law. May we have compassion for those who killed him because it is quite clear that they could not have done such a thing if they were not themselves suffering and confused.”

Over to you: What are you doing about all these massive-scale tragedies? I look forward to your comments.

Giving ourselves permission to be happy

… doing what?

Sometimes our lives are so busy helping others that we get out of the habit of letting go and taking any time to recharge our batteries, and end up thinking it is too selfish to take “me-time” in any case. This ends up ironically, being the selfish choice if we’re not careful because it undermines our ability to help ourselves and others. And there is no excuse for it, such as the martyrish, “It doesn’t matter if I’m happy or not, so long as I’m helping others.” Because it does matter.

Do you love yourself?

We need to have the wish to be happy. Over the decades I was on study programs there was an almost annual debate over Shantideva’s words that all happiness comes from wishing others to be happy and all suffering comes from wishing oneself to be happy, ergo we shouldn’t love ourselves because love is the wish for someone to be happy.

Is this how we feel about ourselves?!

I’ve heard some people also object to the term “self-love” because they see it as a term favored by “new agers” and equate it with self-indulgence, putting ourselves first; and would prefer us to use words like “self-respect” or “self-confidence” instead. As someone put it on Facebook: “Self-love flirts rather dangerously with self-cherishing and is associated with self-indulgence.”

All this, ironically, can feed nicely into self-cherishing’s tendency to beat ourselves up on those occasions we find ourselves feeling good, thinking it must be some kind of mistake to be this happy. Self-cherishing doesn’t really give us permission to be happy, if you check. It doesn’t let us savor the moments of peace, as described in this article, because its existence is threatened by them. It rapidly comes up with pretexts as to why we should start feeling neurotic, deficient and graspy again. It’d prefer us to feel guilt rather than an uncomplicated, unquestioning joy. Self-cherishing is far more at home in an agitated mental territory.

The word “self-love” isn’t found in Tibetan Buddhism or explicitly in the New Kadampa Tradition books, and I’m personally not too bothered whether we use it or not. But at the same time I think it’s important not to assume that because we don’t talk about “self-love” all that much, this means we shouldn’t love ourselves, or that loving ourself (or even self-love) has to mean the same as self-cherishing. (“Cherishing”, of course, is a type of love, the love considering someone to be special or important; so that is another reason for the occasional confusion as to whether or not we should love ourselves.)

I think it makes no sense psychologically or rationally to say we shouldn’t love ourselves. Insofar as living beings always do want to be happy, and even Buddhas possess this wish, this cannot be what Shantideva is referring to. In that quote, he is referring to self-cherishing. This ignorant mind destroys our happiness because it is under the erroneous impression that our happiness is more important than others’, and it forces us to seek happiness in all the wrong ways that lead to suffering.

Renunciation and compassion

If we cannot wish ourselves happiness, and allow ourselves to taste it, then what are we wishing for ourselves? It seems we cannot develop renunciation even with that attitude, and without renunciation (the wish for true mental freedom and lasting happiness) our compassion for others is like a toothless tiger, as Je Tsongkhapa put it. (I wonder if he was the first person to use that expression ;-)) It is not rooted in anything. We need the wish for true happiness for ourselves in order to generate that wish for others. As Eileen Quinn put it: “We need to renounce false happiness and wish to escape to true happiness.” And: “If we don’t have a taste of real happiness/don’t know what it actually is, how can we wish for it for ourselves or anybody?”

We need to want to be happy, really happy. We need to savor the happiness we already have within us, and practice it so that every day it increases. As mentioned in this article, Buddhism is “happiness-training”. If we don’t have this wish to be happy, why are we practicing meditation, and how can it work? It may sound obvious, but sometimes trainee Mahayana Buddhists tie themselves in knots thinking that this wish is now self-cherishing, and they need to get rid of it; in extreme cases they deny themselves happiness. But that wish can be love, and love is always a good thing, even when directed at ourselves. I think it is important to start every meditation with the wish to be actually happy for once. We need to give ourselves permission to be happy.

What we need to get rid of is the self-cherishing mind exaggerating our importance and seeking happiness in the wrong places. We don’t need to love the limited, neurotic self that is the object of self-cherishing, but we do need to love ourselves. We can understand self-love in those terms (so not necessarily in gooey or self-indulgent terms.) As Nicola Williams concisely puts it: “I think I love myself in ways that I shouldn’t and don’t love myself in ways that I should!”

With renunciation, we love ourselves properly for the first time, wishing actual happiness for ourselves through overcoming the delusions including self-cherishing. Self-cherishing wishes for the pretend happiness that Buddha called “changing suffering”, simply satisfying the desires of our ego-driven attachment as in scratching an itch instead of getting rid of it. Mark Thompson says: “I think self-love really means the mind of renunciation. If we understand our natural wish to be happy, and we understand that in samsara there is no true happiness and only suffering, we will develop the wish for liberation.”

universal love

And when we hear the Mahayana teachings, we come to understand that the best way to find daily and lasting happiness for ourselves is to love others even more than we love ourselves. No contradiction. We still love ourselves, we just love others even more. You could say that loving others is an advanced form of loving ourselves! It is a win win, as far as I can see.

Unhappy people cannot help others anyway. (If we try to, we often end up just spreading our own upset and anxiety.)  So for others’ sake we have to wish to be authentically happy and allow ourselves to be happy at every possible opportunity. That is love. Self-love even! So, though I don’t use that word often, I have no problem with it.

Facebook insights

Read on for insightful comments on the subject from Facebook friends:

Here is what Tim Larcombe said most clearly in response to the question “Do you love yourself?”:

Do I love myself? No, but I’m working on the first step – learning to like myself. Not liking yourself is the dirtiest trick of the self-cherishing mind. This mind says “you’re not good enough, you’re not worth much, you’re limited and stuck – but don’t worry, I’ll help you cover it up and get what you want anyway. Just trust me”. Then like a pusher with a junkie, we are held hostage by self-cherishing, thinking that we are not good enough and must obey its every word to survive with, and hide, our faults. Believing we have to trust self-cherishing leads to untold harm for ourself and everyone else.

Liking yourself on the other hand encourages you to identify with your pure nature and unlimited potential. It’s perfectly possible to fully accept yourself and recognise your faults without identifying with them. And if you know some Dharma then you can reduce and finally eliminate them – which is an act of self-love that benefits everyone. The degree to which you can accept and like yourself, is the degree to which you can accept and like others. I can’t see how it can be otherwise, no matter how good we become at covering up the fact that we don’t like ourselves.

Gradually self-liking can develop into self-love. Loving yourself is wanting yourself to be happy. As long as you don’t view your happiness as more important than others’ happiness (as self-cherishing tells you), there is nothing wrong with loving yourself. You CAN love yourself and cherish others at the same time. They are not contradictory. In fact, cherishing others IS self-love because all happiness comes from cherishing others….

… It’s also helpful to remember that our Spiritual Guide finds us worthy of his unconditional love. If we don’t love ourself, aren’t we saying that he’s mistaken? :-)”

I can’t put it any better than that! Thanks Tim.

Eileen Quinn makes some great points too:

“Strange how so many of us find it hard to accept happiness for ourselves.

And having a strong not liking oneself problem is ‘inverted ego’ anyway. Too much grasping/cherishing of self. That’s not a morally judgmental statement in any way because I know this from experience. I think some people are naturally blighted with this sort of thing and some people aren’t and don’t have to try so hard. (Black and white, there are probably shades of grey in between.) So in my better, more connected, moments, I try to turn to the Great Mother Prajnaparamita and use the emptiness mantra to attack this big black spider of self as that will solve all problems….

… ‘Self-love’ to me can even be a form of humility (our self is seen as the same as everyone else’s, no better, no worse, therefore no exaggeration of ego for want of a better way of putting it), far from being the same as self-cherishing.”

Over to you: Do you love yourself?! How many times a day do you give yourself permission to be totally, utterly happy?! Please go ahead and explain why you agree or disagree with all this in the comments, I love a good discussion.

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