Dealing with negative thoughts and emotions

Delusions distort our world. With delusions, we project something from the side of our mind, and then we feel that the person or thing actually is like that from their own side, having nothing to do with our perceiving consciousness. All delusions do this, such as anger, which came up in this first article on delusions.

We give a disproportionate meaning to the things we are seeing, and misrepresent them to ourselves, and this leads to nothing but trouble. 

Pringles are good attachment to salt and vinegar Pringles

I really like Pringles. That, for me, has the same meaning as “Pringles ARE delicious.” Salt and vinegar flavored Pringles, to be more precise. Pringles are inherently tasty, unlike figs, the subject of my first recorded joke aged 6 ½: “I don’t like figs, that figures.” I might say to you, “Pringles are really good, try one.” We often say this instead of the more accurate: “I like Pringles, try one.”

When I have a craving to eat Pringles, the Pringles appear at that point to be intrinsically good and a true source of happiness. Again the neon sign is flashing: “I’m good, I’m delicious, eat me!” And it feels that it’s the Pringles that are doing all that. They are practically crying out to be eaten. This has nothing to do with my craving for Pringles, it’s just the Pringles, the Pringles made me eat them! negative emotion of attachment

Once I’ve eaten too many of them, though, I start to feel sick, and if I was forced to eat more than one of those tall tins, at some point I’d start begging for mercy. (I have never managed to get past three-quarters of a tin, personally, in one sitting, despite all my best intentions, so I think I know what I’m talking about.) Only a short time ago the neon sigh was flashing “Eat me, I’m good!”, now it’s flashing, “Keep off, your mouth is already dry and swollen, and I’m going to make you throw up!”

negative emotion of anger

There are no delicious or disgusting Pringles outside of my experience. I cannot find any desirable objects out there, anywhere, independent of my experience – whenever I refer to Pringles, for example, I am referring to the Pringles of my experience, the Pringles I know. For my mind of attachment they are desirable, whereas for my mind of aversion they are off-putting. This shows that in themselves Pringles are neither desirable nor undesirable, but they depend upon the mind. (If I add my recent discovery that Pringles are manufactured by a company that tests on animals, that also changes them for me.)

The mind and its object are dependent related. Without a dancer, there is no dance, as an old friend used to say.

Externalizing our happiness

We do seem to tend to externalize our happiness, believing that the causes of happiness are out there. Do we continually search for happiness in external objects, rearranging our lives to become happy? I think we do it all the time, don’t we, with people, movies, cappuccinos, carpets, careers, cats, jobs, etc?! (Just check where the bulk of your energy has gone since you woke up this morning.) That’s because of our attachment. We feel that the object is something we have to have, and that if we don’t have it we’re missing something.

Happiness in fact comes from inner peace — letting our mind rest free from delusions — and not from out there. But attachment is dumb and doesn’t understand that. Instead it projects a whole lot of pleasurable qualities on all the apparently attractive things out there, and then it relates to those objects as if they really did possess those qualities and were inherently pleasing: “If I get ahold of this and then I get ahold of that, and if I do that and then I do this, then I’ll be happy.” Attachment causes us to constantly rearrange the furniture of our lives, and for one hour perhaps we’re happy, or for about ten seconds, and then off we go shopping again.

headless chicken too busy doing nothing

Day by day, week by week, month by month, it is good to ask:

“Is it working? Am I becoming happier and happier? I am putting a lot of work into this, is it working?!”

If it’s not working, this may well be because attachment is functioning. It is making us miss the point.

WYSIWYG

All delusions are similar, projecting something that isn’t there and then believing it is there. We think, don’t we, even if we don’t always say it out loud: “It is like that. This is the way things are. The way I see the world is exactly the way the world is. What you see is what you get. WYSIWYG. I can’t help it if you don’t see it the same way, though I might try to make you because you’re clearly wrong and I’m clearly right.”

Delusions are painful and frustrating

In Modern Buddhism, (download your free copy here!), Geshe Kelsang says:

Delusions are wrong awarenesses whose function is to destroy mental peace, the source of happiness; they have no function other than to harm us. Delusions such as self-grasping abide at our heart and continually harm us day and night without rest by destroying our peace of mind.

All the tension, frustration, grasping and unpeacefulness in our mind come from our being under the control of the delusions. When they’re functioning, it can be agony. Pride makes us super-sensitive to even the slightest criticism. Jealousy is like a thorn in the heart. Self-cherishing can drive us to self-hatred and suicide.

delusions or negative emotions are painfulAnd no wonder. We are out of touch with reality and don’t even realize it. Sometimes our delusions are strong, sometimes they are relatively sneaky, but until we realize the ultimate nature of reality we’re going to be affected adversely by our delusions to a greater or lesser extent.

To the extent that our delusions diminish, to that extent our natural happiness comes to the surface. But right now it seems that we often feel an underlying tension or dissatisfaction even when our mind is relatively peaceful, and I think this is because we are still under the influence of our self-grasping ignorance, the root delusion that causes all the others. We continually think that things exist independent of our mind, that they are inherently existent, that they have nothing to do with us whatsoever. These are real Pringles. We set up a dualistic gap between our world and us, and this in turn creates a feeling of alienation and mental discomfort. Buddha explained that everything is actually a projection of our mind, even the same nature as our mind, but ignorance doesn’t get that at all. Our ignorance is currently functioning all the time and so:

It is as if we are continually chasing mirages, only to be disappointed when they do not give us the satisfaction we had hoped for. ~ Transform Your Life, pps 7-8

Delusions destroy our peace

monkey mind of negative emotions or delusionsAll our unpeaceful and unhappy minds are deluded minds. Whenever we are unpeaceful and unhappy, we have a delusion functioning, guaranteed! Our mind at that point is like a monkey scampering all over the place — grasping at things, throwing things. We have no control over it. For example, a negative thought arises about someone, focusing on their faults, and that’s it, we can’t do anything about it, we’re thinking it. We can be blissfully happy one minute, and then a fault-finding thought pops up and we become annoyed and our day is ruined.

Delusions make us mad

When our mind is free from delusions, it is like a clear, peaceful lake that accurately reflects what is going on around it, such as mountains and clouds. When a delusion arises, it’s like a sudden storm disturbing the tranquility of that lake such that everything reflected in it is distorted. There is a saying in the Kadampa tradition, “Always rely upon a happy mind alone,” because we cannot trust any unhappy mind. If we are angry or attached or proud or jealous, we know that we cannot trust that mind because it is reflecting something that is not there. We actually say things like, “You are making me mad!”, or “I’m mad about you!” and we ARE mad. Delusions make us mad. They make us stupid.

Delusions create all negativity

When our mind is under the influence of delusions, that’s when we do unkind, unskillful and negative actions — we hurt others, slander others, speak harshly to others, and even kill others. Greedy actions, including pollution, come from our attachment. Delusions don’t let us see the big picture and how interconnected we all are. If we check where all our own and the world’s negative actions actually come from, we’ll see they come from minds that are unpeaceful, distorted, and to a greater or lesser extent out of control.

Delusions destroy our physical health

Anger is linked to heart disease and other ailments. Chronically angry people, studies have found, are three times more likely to develop heart disease, and six times more likely to suffer a heart attack before the age of 55. As The Week magazine puts it:

Feeling that you’re constantly at war with idiots and villains gets your body stuck in the flight-or-fight gear; a flood of hormones and toxins raises blood pressure, narrows arteries, and eats away at your innards.

Meanwhile, attachment makes us indulge in things that are bad for our body, self-cherishing leads to physical stress and tension, and all the delusions affect our body adversely one way or another due to the relationship between our mind and body.

Our actual enemies

disturbed by delusions and negative emotions For all these reasons and more, our delusions are our inner enemies. They are arguably the only actual enemies of living beings because their sole function is to destroy our happiness and cause us to suffer. Unlike outer enemies, they can never be won around. They will never be trusted allies, whatever mask they wear. Therefore, if we really want inner peace, it looks like we have to learn to identify these inner enemies and see them for what they are. We have to see each one — anger, attachment, jealousy, pride, and so on—for what it is, see what it does to our mind, see how it makes us view the world, see what it makes us do. Understanding that, we can then start to overcome our delusions temporarily and then permanently, through various means. This is the practice of Buddhist meditation.

On one level we don’t need to be “introduced” to our delusions as we are intimately acquainted with them already, sorry to say. However, because they are currently so enmeshed in our minds, and we rely on them every day, we cannot always see the wood for the trees. Without some clear pointing out instructions I think it can be hard to distinguish our own destructive delusions from other, positive, constructive states of mind (see this article distinguishing between love and attachment for a case in point.) I find the clear Buddhist teachings on these common enemies mighty helpful and liberating. And you don’t have to be a Buddhist to apply this understanding in your life.

Try a meditation
freedom from delusions
Break free!

If you want to meditate on this, you can begin with a few minutes breathing meditation. Then you can think about some of the faults Buddha explained and ask yourself: “Does this apply to me? First off, do I have delusions, and second, what do these delusions do to me? For example, today — was I happy all day or disturbed, and why? Are delusions really my main enemy?” Hopefully, you will come to the conclusion that you do have delusions functioning (unless you don’t, in which case Congratulations!) and that they are your enemy, but they are not an intrinsic part of your mind and you can get rid of them. Based on that, you’ll be able to develop the determination to get rid of them. Bye bye delusions.

In the next article I do on delusions in general, I want to talk about the so-called six causes of delusion, as I find knowing about these is really helpful for ridding myself of delusions in daily life.

Your turn: do you agree or not that delusions are our only actual enemies? Are there any exceptions to this rule?

Disney’s movie Chimpanzee ~ “There is meaning in those eyes.”

I watched the movie Chimpanzee last night with my friends Anya and her two great kids, Zia (12) and Tom Tom (10). We wanted to see it before May 3rd as Disneynature are donating some of the profits this week to the Jane Goodall Institute.

(Spoiler alert: I knew the plot before I watched the movie and it made no difference, but you could always go see the movie first and then read this.)

Oscar and Isha in the movie ChimpanzeeOscar is Isha’s child, and the early part of the movie shows his first years growing up under her doting care, learning how to smash nuts with the right tools and goofing around with his friends while she tries vainly to sleep. (Anya related to all these early scenes.) He looks so human, they all do. (Or we look like chimps.) His chest and rib cage looks like a little hairy boy’s chest and rib cage. His hands are like our hands. And his face is expressive, by turns curious, amused, playful, soulful.

When the film-makers started the movie, they didn’t know that his mother would be killed. But she is injured by the patriarch Scar and his army of chimpanzee rivals from over the Ridge in the rainforests of the Ivory Coast, in a raid on their nut grove. Isha becomes separated from her family, and is picked off by a leopard (this being Disney, the gruesome scenes are only hinted at.)

Oscar on his own in the movie Chimpanzee

Tiny Oscar looks for her everywhere. As the days go by, he becomes thinner and thinner, and covered with ticks because no one is grooming him. He tries to stick his little arm into a bees’ hive, but it isn’t long enough to reach the honey, and he just gets stung. He tugs at all the other mothers, asking for help, but they have infants of their own and growl him away. Even his friends are not playing with him like they used to. Oscar is alone.

At this point, I had read beforehand, the film-makers thought their movie was over. But then something extraordinary happens. The only person Oscar has not approached, and with good reason, is Freddy, the enormous gruff alpha male. When Oscar does finally pluck up the courage to approach, Freddy surprisingly lets him sit near him, and Oscar starts to watch and learn.

Oscar follows Freddy everywhere, and from his side Freddy develops more and more interest in Oscar, until he is giving him the choice portions of the food he finds and prepares. And then one day Freddy lets him ride on his back, something that a male chimp never does, and certainly not the Big Boss who has a reputation to maintain.

Oscar and Freddy in the movie Chimpanzee

The movie shows that over the coming days and weeks Freddy becomes devoted to Oscar. He grooms him, something usually reserved for those higher in the hierarchy, not the weakest member of the group who has nothing to offer in return; and he even lets Oscar sleep in his arms. He adopts Oscar, and Oscar is saved. The movie has a happy ending, thanks to love.

Life in that world is not easy, and there are no final happy endings in samsara. The rival gang of hungry chimps, seen off once thanks to Freddy’s teamwork, will be back. The chimps still have to hunt other monkeys for food — monkeys intelligent enough to realize they’ve been ambushed and that there is no escape from being ripped limb from limb (also hinted at, not shown.) The photography and scenery in the movie is spectacular, including scenes set in slow and fast motion, but beneath that seemingly enchanting cloud-wrapped canopy of trees lies a very traumatic world, none of whose inhabitants ever feels truly safe.

Spending over an hour in the company of chimps in this movie helps us see how similar to us they are in many ways – in terms of their wishes and fears, their maternal love, their cleverness at using tools to prepare food, the importance of teamwork to survival, their cultivated social relationships, their rivalry and violence, and their bodies. And Freddy’s unexpected reaction to Oscar, in particular, shows a remarkable, selfless love. No one could argue that this love is merely instinctive, because it does Freddy’s standing in the group no good when, preoccupied with Oscar, he is unable to cultivate his allies or patrol his borders. It works out okay for him as it happens, but he didn’t know this when he fell for the small bundle of love.

This movie is a good testimony to how animals can share with us the same emotions, feelings, ability to learn, sociability, and even self-awareness. They are in a lower realm, and they don’t have the opportunity to develop spiritually in this lifetime, but they have minds, they think and feel, and their Buddha nature is no different to ours. They are not mere bodies with instincts, devoid of sentience or thought, as many people claim in justification for treating them badly or as less than people.

“There is meaning in those eyes”

Oscar's eyes in the movie ChimpanzeeI saw an interview with some of the film-makers, who spent up to three years in the jungle with the chimps, and here are some of their remarks:

People watching this movie “can understand that the chimps’ potential and relationships are as watchable as a human drama.”

“Why did Freddy adopt Oscar? It was pure altruism. It was selfless looking after the young orphan where he hasn’t got an agenda.”

“When those eyes look out at you from a massive screen, there is meaning in those eyes, and we as human beings connect to them.”

“The chimps are very endangered, the rain forest is being cut down, they are part of the bush meat trade, living in fragmented patches of forest, threatened with extinction.”

“[The audience are] going to see that we are not the only beings with personalities and minds capable of thought.” ~ Jane Goodall.

By the way, for the parents amongst you, I can report that Tom Tom turned to us in the middle and whispered loudly, “I LOVE this movie!” Both kids pretended to be chimps after the auditorium emptied, running and jumping through the aisles, and even their own mother said she could not see that much difference between them and Oscar… ; – )

In Buddhism, person, being, self, and I are synonyms. Human beings are just one type of person. That has always made sense to me.

And my question to anyone who watches this and sees Oscar’s eyes is:

Who can believe that he is not a person? 

Here are some interesting links to other chimpanzee and primate stories:

chimps taste freedom for the first time in 30 yearsIf only they could all be freed. Chimpanzees see sunlight for the first time in 30 years.

Are animals smarter than people?

Do monkeys wonder? BBC do monkeys wonder


Life is stranger than fiction

On a recent Saturday evening, I was invited to the birthday party of a dear old friend, a party filled with amiable characters from all parts of the world.

Among me and my friends were S the ebullient New Ager, J her elegant French mom, I the dear Danish healer, H the kind Texan host, A the Dutch retiree with a twinkle in her eye, P her mischievous ex-Nato husband, I the calm Floridian Braille teacher and observer, B the liberal Unity churchman, C the cheerful Puerto Rican grandmother, and L the British Buddhist. We ate lots of tasty food, conversed loudly, sang happy birthday twice, watched the space station go by outside in the sky 17,000 whole miles away, got tipsy on champagne or sugar, and laughed a lot. And only one person texted the whole evening, as far as I could tell, perhaps because the youngest person there was 43.

A few scene snippets: S is talking animatedly about her recent trip to the Philippines and her shock at returning to affluent white man’s land where people cannot distinguish between ‘needing’ and ‘wanting’. She makes a good point, and also adds that unfortunately the shock is fading fast. Elderly P asks her what she does, and S replies, “I cannot answer such an old world question. I can make up an answer if you like.” He volunteers that he also spent time in the Philippines and when I ask him “what did YOU do?” he replies straight-faced, “The usual. I was a hired killer.” I’ve only just met him; I have no idea if he is pulling my leg. Then his wife sings for us a Brazilian song in a strong Dutch accent, after which the conversation turns to chelation and why brown rice (the main thing I eat!) is now bad for you, and the differences between Europe and America (in Europe people have more acquaintances, in America more friends, but are they really the same thing?), and some safe conversation about grandchildren. Then we all went our separate ways home and the evening dissolved.

There, with these few words and labels I have given you a tiny bit of a handle on just one of countless Saturday night scenes, but we’ll never find anything behind those labels if we look!

What was really going on that evening?! Who there can say? We can each only describe our experience and these are all bound to be quite different to everyone else’s – we came to the house with our own karmic background, states of mind, discriminations and feelings, which entirely colored, nay, created, the whole evening. Yet we still thought WYSIWYG – what we each saw was what was actually there.

Life is fleeting and empty

However, like a dream, there was nothing really happening at that party. It was merely a dance of fleeting appearances projected by our minds – some appearances collective, e.g. we could all agree there was vegetarian sushi served – but probably most not. It was empty of being ‘real’ – it lacked objective existence. If we check, nothing in any situation exists ‘out there,’ or from its own side.

Everything is mere reflection of the mind, and its only depth is emptiness.

Thoughts about thoughts

While enjoying the party, and in general enjoying life, these thoughts crossed my mind:

(1) It is best not to take refuge in any of it, or believe it too strongly, as there is nothing there to grasp at or be attached to. Instead we can enjoy the mere appearance of it, like a butterfly flitting from one flower to another, and not get more sucked up in our ignorance believing all this to be true.  Toward the end of the evening, the elderly Dutch lady said to me: “I was watching you when you were over there laughing and smiling, and I wanted to come and join you.” Thinking about the dream-like nature of things makes us very happy.

(2) These appearances are pleasant enough right now, but can and will change on a dime. We need to scratch this random dream while we have some control over the projector of our mind, and project a meaningful, blissful world from wisdom and compassion.

(3) The only safe thing to rely on, apart from not getting drawn into appearances, is tolerance, compassion and love because these always work to bring about happiness, and they always create good karma for more pleasant appearances and experiences to manifest in the future. At some point old P says to young S: “You’re weird, and I’m a bit far out, and B is eccentric, and H is OCD, etc., but we still accept each other even if we don’t understand each other.”

S also said that when she doesn’t understand someone, she puts herself in their shoes, but this sometimes has the effect that she finds them totally weird. I reckoned that if she was actually succeeding in putting herself in their shoes she would not be thinking “I am weird” about herself… we rarely do. It is everyone else who is weird.  She agreed. The Tea Party find the liberals weird. The liberals find the Tea Party weird. Jocks find nerds weird. Nerds find jocks weird. Dogs find cats weird. Cats find dogs weird. You name it.

(4) Tread lightly, on our way out of samsara, with renunciation for mistaken appearances and the wish for a completely non-mistaken mind, the mind of bliss and emptiness, and the ability to bring every lovable person in the room and everywhere else to that state. Geshe Kelsang says:

Enlightenment is the inner light of wisdom that is permanently free from all mistaken appearance, and its function is to bestow mental peace on each and every living being every day. ~ Modern Buddhism, p. 26

To truly overcome ordinary mistaken appearances, our grosser levels of mind have to subside and we have to manifest the very subtle clear light mind by bringing our inner energy winds into our heart chakra (you can find out what all that means in Modern Buddhism if you like.) But even before we have that advanced realization we can feel more in the heart and less ‘all over the place,’ more centered and settled through the practice of decreasing the distractions of all our busy, manic conceptual thoughts and labels. How? All meditations have this as a side effect, and you can use breathing meditation or meditation on the clarity of the mind or OM AH HUM meditation to great effect. A clear, settled mind sees reality more clearly, and deep meanings can soak into it like butter soaking into hot toast.

Life is stranger than fiction

Life IS stranger than fiction because most fiction inevitably pins things down, labels things, creates a narrative from generally just one or a few perspectives. And anything we can imagine in fiction can and does happen in ‘real’ life – as my teacher Geshe Kelsang says, “We can appear anything due to karma.” If we can imagine it, it can appear, because our world begins in conceptual imputation.

You know that song Piano Man by Billy Joel? He sets a vivid scene. If you put any group of people together in a bar or anywhere else you are going to have a situation, a play, sometimes a drama. There is always going to be a story there. But it is important to know that there is nothing there to grasp at, the story is not just highly shifting and impermanent, but also entirely imputed, labeled or made up by all our minds. We can change the story once we understand this; write a better one for ourselves and others.

A tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

If you’ve ever made the mistake of sitting through an entire run of the series 24, as I have, you’ll know that it is a lot of sound and fury, as the bard would say, signifying nothing. A whole bunch of delusions are projecting all sorts of weirdness and violence, and the hero Jack Bauer is trying to make sense of it so he can sort it all out. The suspense kills you all the way through, and then it still ends in tears and on a cliff hanger, with most people dead.

I think samsaric life is rather like that – 24 may be a sped up version, but still… we’re addicted to drama, suspense, excitement, action, relief!! I would get up and stroke the cat in the most hairy moments (about every five minutes, the cat didn’t know what had gotten into me), and in the same way in life it is very helpful to settle our minds if we are to cope with all the drama. But that alone is not enough. The end of 24 left me deflated, nothing was resolved – no, and it never can be. Samsara is like that. How extraordinary it would be if we could switch off the projector of our deluded minds, absorb into the clear light of bliss and emptiness, and then project a whole new movie or dream, but one we are in control of this time.

Your comments are welcome! And please share this article if you like it.

Want peace of mind? Get rid of your delusions.

We already have within us our own source of peace and happiness, as Buddhist master Geshe Kelsang says in Transform Your Life. It is our birthright, our Buddha nature, who we actually are. Sometimes we know this, when the dark clouds of discontent disperse and the sun naturally shines through. So if we have the constant potential for happiness, and we work very hard at it in various ways, why, we may well ask ourselves, is it so hard to stay happy 24/7?!

delusion negative emotionThe answer is “delusions.” We hear this word all the time in Buddhism. I know I’ve mentioned delusions umpteen times on Kadampa Life, and we’ve looked a bit at some of the main ones (ignorance, anger, attachment, jealousy, self-cherishing). Since identifying and removing our delusions is, one could say, the bread and butter of a happy life, I’ve been meaning to write something about delusions in general for a while. (Also, you can find out everything you’ve ever needed to know about them in Joyful Path of Good Fortune and Understanding the Mind.)

What is a delusion?

According to Buddhism, any unpeaceful, uncontrolled state of mind  is a delusion. All delusions are unrealistic minds arising from so called “inappropriate attention”, or thinking about things in a false way. As Geshe Kelsang says:

Delusions are distorted ways of looking at ourselves, other people, and the world around us–like a distorted mirror, they reflect a distorted world. ~ Transform Your Life, p. 7

what is a delusion, negative emotionOur experience of the world is only distorted and messed up because it is reflected in the messed up mirror of our minds. Our delusions see things that aren’t really there. You know the House of Mirrors at fairgrounds, where we are all bendy, then nine feet wide, then suddenly fourteen feet tall? We know not to get taken in because we know the nature of mirrors. But we get taken in by our delusions, even though it’s the same thing – they are reflecting something that is not there and then believing that it IS there.

Distorting reality

The deluded mind of hatred, for example, views other people as intrinsically bad, but there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad person. ~ Transform Your Life, p.7

When we don’t like someone, they’re just bad, almost as if they had a neon sign above them flashing, “I’m BAD” (and not in a cool way …) Hatred apprehends other people to be bad from their own side, intrinsically bad, having nothing to do with the way we’re looking at them. But of course there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad person. If they were bad from their own side, then everybody would see that neon sign, but they don’t. Their mother comes along and for her the big neon sign says, “I’m cuddly”, doesn’t it?

A dying soldier

I once saw a picture of a woman cradling a wounded man. She was weeping. I looked more closely and didn’t know who this man was, and I wasn’t weeping. I read the caption — it was a mother with her dying son, who had been shot during some fighting. Someone had looked at that man and thought, “This man is my enemy. He is bad, so hateful in fact that I have to shoot him to death.”

I looked at that man and saw a stranger. The man who shot him looked at that man and saw a repugnant enemy. The mother looked at hatred versus love, mother's lovethat man and saw a child, a beautiful, loveable person now destroyed. One person. Who is right, me, the person who shot him, or his mother? Actually, all of us and none of us. It just depends. How that person appears to us depends entirely on how we’re looking at him.

The blinkered mind of hatred however does not see the other ways in which that person could be perceived; it just sees “enemy”. Our own minds of dislike just see disagreeable people, dislikable people, and so on. They project an enemy, and then think that the enemy is really there.

Ninja the Rat

We can see this from our own ever-changing experiences. When our feelings and perceptions change toward someone, they appear totally different, even to our sense awarenesses. They are different people for us. I was once friendly with a rat. Generally humans and rats don’t get along too well, and when I first met Ninja the pet rat, whom I was to look after for a few weeks, I confess that although I didn’t exactly dislike him, I didn’t want to get that close to him either. His tail looked a bit creepy, for a start. However, as I got to know him, I came to find him entirely adorable. He had a strokeable tummy, bright eyes, and sensitive whiskers, and he was intelligent, inquisitive, brave, and friendly. He hung out under my desk in San Francisco in one of those plastic balls and chewed through my trouser leg when I was absorbed in my work – I still look at the hole with affection.

cute pet rat, loveWhich view of this rat was correct? Ninja felt he was just Ninja throughout, but I had the experience of a completely different rat. There was no rat outside of my experience of the rat. That rat I first met didn’t exist outside of my experience, and nor did the sweet rat. If you had come to tea with me, for example, you might not have found him quite so sweet.

So there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad rat or bad human being. There is so much more to a person than the obnoxious person we are projecting, but when we’re angry we’re convinced that all they are is nasty.

Even if they are behaving in deluded ways, this is still not all there is to them – in fact they are not their delusions at all.

Our anger is a delusion because we are distorting reality — exaggerating their negative aspects, and then pouring mental superglue over them so they cannot change. While the mind of hatred or anger is functioning, it has no choice but to perceive an enemy. That delusion has to subside for the enemy to disappear. This is why Geshe Kelsang famously remarked during one teaching, to a rare round of applause:

Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys enemies.love is the nuclear bomb that destroys enemies

It is not just our anger — all our delusions are projecting and then believing something that is not there. In the next article on delusions, I’m going to look at this some more.

Your turn. Do you ever project things that are not there and then get taken in by them?

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The kindness of others — a pelican’s story

Here is a short tale involving one pelican and five human beings — an illustration of a world working properly.

pelican found injured on Clearwater causeway

My friend was walking over the Clearwater bridge at dusk when a drunken man on a bicycle stopped her, almost toppling off as he waved an arc with his arm: “There ish a shick pelican by zhat biiig tree. Can ya do shumthing?” He knew he wanted that pelican saved, but he needed all his concentration just to stay on his bike. He’d picked the right person — my friend is a regular Gerald Durrell who used to collect animals and insects from the wild as a child in the dubious belief that they would be better off under her care and protection – ants, tortoises, rivetingly exciting cocoons.

As she was observing the large flapping bird to figure out what to do, another friend texted her about something and, hearing about the pelican, said she was driving right over. Pelly was by now trying to commit hari kiri by waddling out onto the busy highway so they parked the car between him and the highway, at which point he ducked under the car and they were stuck. Now my friend is the sort of person who swerves on her bike to avoid ants, oblivious of her own death and the impending pile-up behind her, so here she was out on the busy highway trying to push Pelly back the way he had come so at least he wouldn’t get squashed.

By now another compassionate motorist had stopped to help, and the three of them had to conclude that this was the not the way to go about the rescue. So the friends went home and picked up a large cardboard box, thick gloves, a blanket, and a flashlight. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to pick up the closest thing we have to a pterodactyl when he doesn’t want to be picked up. The only advice they’d managed to garner from any animal welfare person on the phone was “Grab it by the beak”, which seemed a bit of a tall order. After an adventure in the darkening undergrowth, they did manage to throw the blanket over him, grab his beak, and put him in the box.

pelican at clearwater beach Kindness the MovieThey drove to the well-known sea bird sanctuary in Indian Shores where, despite the late hour, a competent bird person was waiting. She picked Pelly up by his wings and his beak, making it look rather simple considering, and took him in for rehabilitation. He had been starving, but she managed to fix him.

In this way, at least five human beings were involved in the rescue of one bird, and everyone felt better for their part in it. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this tale. There are countless small, unnoticed acts of kindness like this all over the world every single day, and also countless huge acts of heroism.

Kindness, the Movie

Kindness the Movie Eva Ilona Brzeski

When human beings are functioning correctly, they are kind. Don’t you love hearing about kindness? People are much happier being kind than being cruel, even if our delusions (uncontrolled states of mind, such as pride or anger) don’t always let us be kind. Sometimes no humans will help rescue even another human, but that is when the world is not working properly.

A documentary film-maker and friend of mine, Eva Ilona Brzeski, is making a movie called: Kindness the Movie.  She is searching for true stories of kindness to feature in the film. It is a really wonderful project because there is in fact a never-ending supply of stories about others’ kindness, if we look for them, and focusing on these increases our love and respect. Kindness helps not only the recipient but the donor, because it is in harmony with reality, the interconnection of all beings, and part of our pure Buddha nature.

If you would like to know more about the movie, click here.

Your turn: if you have any stories of kindness to share, please share them here, and/or send them to Eva.

What is Buddha’s enlightenment?

what is Buddha's enlightenmentHappy Buddha’s Enlightenment Day! April 15th is another big holy(i)day for Kadampa Buddhists, marking the anniversary of Buddha Shakyamuni demonstrating the attainment of enlightenment in 589 B.C.E. I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity to say something short and simple about what Buddha’s enlightenment means to me.

Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha

For sure, on Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, we remember the kindness of the historical Buddha, the one everyone has heard of, the one who started his life as Prince Siddhartha and became known as Buddha Shakyamuni. Without his appearing in our world to give teachings, there would be no Buddhism or Buddhist meditation in our lives today. You can read his inspiring life story in Introduction to Buddhism.

Faith in our own potential

As a Buddhist, I have faith or confidence in the Founder of Buddhism, Buddha Shakyamuni — faith in his enlightened nature of universal compassion and omniscient wisdom, in his teachings, in his example. But effective faith in Buddha necessitates faith in our own enlightened potential. He only appeared in this world to teach us Buddhism because he knew we could all be just like him, that we already had within us the seeds of enlightenment. In fact, Buddha Shakyamuni is just one of countless Buddhas – those who have perfected their qualities until they cannot be perfected further, out of a compassion that yearns for the capacity to free every single living being from suffering.

The imperative to become enlightened

Buddha's enlightenmentAs I sit here with my dying cat Nelson, (whom I’ve had to join in the yard to write this as he wants to go outside in accordance with his feral upbringing,) there is an imperative to become enlightened for his sake. If every cat is as adorable as he is, which they are, if that is possible, which it is, then samsaric suffering is truly brutal, pervasive and heart-breaking. Nelson is only a year and a half old, but already has a tumor that is taking up half his small body. He hasn’t eaten in days, and each day drinks less, trundles around less, suffers more. Right now he is just lying here under the table, bravely and uncomplainingly accepting his fate, as animals seem to do so much better than us. He is still managing a faint purr when I reach down to stroke him.

What did Nelson do to deserve this? As a person, nothing. He is naturally pure, like all of us. His ignorance, his real enemy, drove him to engage in deluded actions that have led to this. He needs, like all of us, to purify his mind of suffering and all its causes (ignorance, delusions, and karma) so that he never has to take another samsaric rebirth again. How am I going to help him do that if I am just an ordinary person who cannot even speak the language of cats, or read his mind, or follow him from life to life? I love him and I want to protect him. I can perhaps give him some temporary love and protection for the days or weeks he remains with me here, but that is nowhere near enough. I cannot settle for that. I want to give him peace by blessing his mind all the time, and as soon as he is in a human body I want to show him how to end mistaken appearances and suffering once and for all. I want to set the example that Buddha Shakyamuni and many other great Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have set for me.Buddha peace

That is a lot for me to accomplish even for one small cat, so what about my other cat, also joining us here at the table for a spell, not in pain but still in a cat’s body? And what about the feral cat colony I discovered last month, one of whose members is the spitting image of Nelson and no doubt a relative, that live a mile down the road? And what about everybody else?!

Sadness won’t do it, although it can be an impetus. I need to attain enlightenment.

My teacher says in Modern Buddhism page 26:

Enlightenment is the inner light of wisdom that is permanently free from all mistaken appearance, and its function is to bestow mental peace on each and every living being every day.

That is what we need. And we need it fast.

That wish alone dissolves away my sadness and helplessness and leaves me blissful and energized. Compassion is bliss, according to Buddha’s Tantric teachings. One minute sad for Nelson, the next blissed out, that’s how it works. Nelson is purring in agreement. (I like to think of his purrs as him tuning into Buddha’s omniscient wisdom, enlightened mind, blessings.*) He would tell me, if he could, that he would far rather I be blissful than sad because I’m far better at helping him feel peaceful if I am feeling that way myself. Our mental states are catching. Blessings are contagious.

Is bodhichitta pie in the sky?

Someone commented on this article, How would you save this bear?, about a month ago:

“As much as I know intellectually that bodhichitta is more beneficial, I don’t really feel it in my heart. For me the idea of becoming a Buddha to benefit others seems very abstract, compared to directly helping beings now. Have any of you got any advice on how to increase my faith that developing bodhichitta is the best way to help others?”

I replied:

“For one thing, it is not an either/or, in the sense that if we are not trying to help any individuals now as well, it is hard to say we are working to help everyone!

The way I see it is that we already want to help others and we already want to improve ourselves (largely so we can be of more use to others.) If we increase both those wishes — wanting to help more and more people until we want to help everybody, and wanting to improve ourselves more and more until there is no further room for improvement – we have bodhichitta. So the seed is there, we just have to keep watering it.”

A couple of days later, I had Nelson in his usual spot on my/his meditation cushion, and decided to respond to this comment further:

bodhichitta mind of enlightenment “Hello again, your comment came into my mind this morning when I was meditating with my small cat Nelson purring next to me. He looks to me for protection, love and food, which I try my best to provide him, but I’d like to scoop him out of samsara altogether. To do that — and to help all my current nearest and dearest — I need to generate bodhichitta because I need to become a Buddha with the necessary power. To develop bodhichitta, I need love and compassion for all living beings at least equal to what I have for Nelson. He is an example showing me what I need. So even to help our nearest and dearest, we need bodhichitta, let alone to help everyone else.”

With our thoughts, we create our world

We can choose how we think. We may think our thoughts rule us, but that is only if we are not exerting control over our own mind. We can learn to think big, enlightened thoughts instead of small, selfish ones. We can ignore the inappropriate attention that leads to all our baseless, disturbing delusions, and choose to think realistic things that will liberate and enlighten us. With our thoughts, we create our world, to summarize what Buddha taught us. We are what we think. There is no Nelson outside my experience of Nelson. There is no world outside my experience of the world. So I am in the process of creating a better me, a better world, and a better Nelson, for his and everyone’s sake.

Buddha’s Enlightenment Day is a good time to remember all this and renew our intention to follow in kind Buddha Shakyamuni’s footsteps by developing compassion and wisdom.

*A short video of Nelson tuning into Buddha’s blessings on my/his meditation cushion:

Nelson the cat, Buddha's Enlightenment Day
Nelson’s grave

 

Update: Nelson died at 5:30am on Saturday April 14th, 2012, in my arms in front of my shrine, after spending the night lying on my chest. So many kind people have been praying for him, including Geshe Kelsang, for which I am very grateful, and I’m sure Nelson is too. May he and all animal beings, human beings, and others quickly be released permanently from suffering and mistaken appearances, and find enlightened bliss.

The New Kadampa Tradition ~ International Kadampa Buddhist Union celebrates NKT Day

I wrote this article a few years ago … the NKT has probably doubled in size and impact since then 🙂 I’ve added a couple of bits. There are lots of great comments on this article, and I’d love you to share your own.

Today I asked the question on Facebook “What, if anything, does NKT day mean to you?”

The New Kadampa Tradition International Kadampa Buddhist Union NKTA lot of you reading this have never heard of NKT Day, so it means absolutely nothing to you 😉 If the rest of you are anything like me, you might give it no thought until the actual day is upon us, unless you’re in charge of organizing events around it. But it is a day that people who like Kadampa Buddhism celebrate on the first Saturday of every April, and is in its own way as important as Easter or Christmas is to Christians. I like celebrating holy days, even those in other traditions (the more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned – “holiday” after all means “vacation” in British English.) So I thought it might be good to do a short article* on what it is people are actually celebrating this Saturday, with input from Facebook friends and others.

In brief, NKT day commemorates the founding of the New Kadampa Tradition ~ International Kadampa Buddhist Union by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in 1991. Kadampa Centers worldwide hold all sorts of enjoyable celebratory events.

The centers, the 22 genius books, and so on all originate from the kindness and skill of this physically tiny but spiritually gargantuan man who arrived in the West 35 years ago with nothing except his robes, his rosary, and two texts.

Through his inner experiences of Buddha’s teachings, his powerful wish to help, and the blessing and permission of his teacher, Trijang Rinpoche, Geshe-la has created something truly epic. The Kadampa Buddhist tradition was close to extinction in Tibet and through his (and others’) efforts there are now over a thousand centers in the West, and some thriving monasteries in the east.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's booksWhy is it that these books are so effective? Why has Modern Buddhism been downloaded over 150,000 times in the last 10 months, for example? Why have millions of people now read his books? Here are just a few of my ideas on that.

These teachings come from someone who, you quickly figure out, has complete experience of what he’s talking about. All of them are based on a 2500 year old tradition that has been tried and tested by many generations of meditators, including him. They are not just someone’s new idea.

Geshe Kelsang is an expert. He has consistently been discovering better and better ways to introduce the entire teachings of Buddha to a worldwide audience without diluting them down, and I think it is fair to say that it has never been done on this scale before. (The NKT is supposedly the fastest growing Buddhist organization.) I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time so I could help prepare a lot of these books, so I’ve read them all many times. But I still find new and spine-tingling insights in them whenever I pick them up to read them again.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso happyGeshe Kelsang is happy. I think it is very rare to find someone so happy, or to find a book written by someone who’s always happy. Other books can do a lot for us, but not necessarily make us so happy.

The books cover the entire array of Buddhist teachings and practices, from A to Z. Some of them are like thick text books, containing extremely detailed investigations on, say, Buddha’s teachings on ultimate truth or the profound creative practices contained within the Highest Yoga Tantra teachings. Geshe Kelsang has explained absolutely everything with a clarity, skill and practicality that I can barely fathom. And he has done this all in our own language(s).

Geshe Kelsang has managed to explain vast and profound topics in increasingly accessible books, the latest being Modern Buddhism. This manages to contain every single meaning of Sutra and Tantra within its 400+ pages without it becoming incomprehensible, in fact quite the opposite. It is so rich, and yet so simple at the same time. No one could pull this off unless they had direct experience of all the subject matter combined with a skill formidable enough to be able to relate it to a new audience. And Geshe-la is offering this book for free to everyone in this world who wants it.

I could go on and on about the books. Don’t get me started. In truth, I cannot imagine my life without them.

NKT study and meditation programs

NKT study and meditation programsBased on the books, Geshe Kelsang has arranged three study and meditation programs that are proving to be a very effective way for people to take Buddha’s teachings to heart and make continual, steady progress. He has laid the foundations for modern-day Buddhist practice on whichever level people choose to participate, and without contradicting their culture or politics — from northern Europe to Kwa-Zulu Natal. Based on these programs, the NKT has been able to establish thousands upon thousands of centers and groups worldwide in response to demand.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso on retreat in India

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s background

Just the briefest potted history for now… Geshe Kelsang was born in 1931, auspiciously or suspiciously enough on Dharmachakra Day, or Buddha’s Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day. He entered the monastery aged 8 and, according to accounts by his classmates, was a very kind child who also spent a lot of time meditating on Lamrim, even meditating through the night on many occasions. He studied and meditated on all Buddha’s teachings.

In 1959 the Chinese invaded Tibet and he fled to India with nothing but his robes and a couple of texts, but he apparently stayed happy, transforming adverse conditions into the spiritual path. He entered deep meditative retreat for 18 years until his teacher, the great Trijang Rinpoche, asked him to teach in the West. So he came to Manjushri Institute in 1977.

When he was flying over the sprawl of greater London he asked his translator: “How many people are down there?!” When the answer came back “about ten million,” he replied in surprise, “There are only five million people in Tibet!” And it looks like he is trying to help them all and more — I and many others are a product of that.

Geshe Kelsang has helped bring Buddhism into the modern world stripped of its cultural overlay and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso at Madhyamaka Centreseparated from politics. He learnt English as quickly as he could, discreetly got British citizenship so he was free to do what he wanted, and started to help people through his teachings, books, example, and personal advice. To begin with, his audience was small – we could all fit comfortably in the so-called North Wing gompa of Manjushri Centre. Now, of course, it is rather large. In Portugal next year, I have no idea how everyone is going to fit. (Update: Over 7,000 received teachings and empowerments in Portugal, many saying that it was the most magical time of their lives.)

Geshe Kelsang from Day One has trained equally four types of teacher – lay, ordained, male, female – in a radical departure from the male- and monk-centric way things were done in Tibet. As you may know, the current General Spiritual Director of the NKT is a nun. So, in fact, is the Deputy Spiritual Director! The tradition is run by women! Generations of monks are turning in their graves…

When I got interested in the early 1980s, I thought it was a bit of a stretch when Geshe-la asked me to begin teaching a branch in Bath, South England, considering we were based in Yorkshire (and was foolish enough to tell him so) – but luckily my own complete lack of vision did not make a jot of difference. Down to Bath I went each week, and branches were started all over England in response to requests. Nowadays Geshe Kelsang is bringing Buddhism to the entire world – the corpus of all Buddha’s teachings are being translated into many different languages, and, because Geshe Kelsang has emphasized the training of qualified modern teachers, this looks set to continue. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

As someone (whose name I have misplaced) put it a few years ago:

“The real genius is for someone steeped in the Buddhist tradition that arose in a completely different culture and time to be able to translate that perfectly so that it is accessible to those raised in a completely different culture, a modern culture. And to do this without in any way diluting it or losing its profundity and lineage. That’s the genius. And I think we can say that Geshe-la has pulled it off rather masterfully.”

Why does everyone call him “Geshe-la”?

Kadampas regularly refer to Geshe Kelsang as “Geshe-la.” This is like an informal title, or a term of endearment. “Geshe” is short for the Tibetan Ge way shey nyen, which literally means “spiritual friend,” and “la” denotes affection or respect.

Buddha Shakyamuni
dorje shugden in Zululand
Kadampa Buddhist in South Africa

The Founder of Buddhism in our world, Buddha Shakyamuni, appeared at a time of upheaval in India (eg, a migration from the countryside into the cities), when he could bring in his radical ideas and they could take root. To my mind, Ven Geshe-la has appeared in our world at another time of upheaval, just in time to catch the wave of globalization (including the internet) so that he can spread modern Buddhism not just in India, not just in Tibet (as his predecessor Je Tsongkhapa did), but throughout the entire planet. There are now centers in over 40 countries and Temples for world peace going up everywhere, including Texas, and you can’t get much further West than that. Buddhism’s transcendent understanding of reality — its far-reaching, devastating, yet utterly do-able wisdom and compassion — is more needed than ever. Modern Buddhism is an idea whose time has come.

new york kadampas
Kadampa Buddhists in New  York
Meanwhile back East …

Since I first wrote this article, The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra in Tibetan was written in response to repeated requests over many years by Tibetan Lamas, who respect Geshe-la as the main holder of the Mahamudra lineage transmitted by Trijang Dorjechang (Ven Geshe-la’s Guru, and the Guru of all the greatest Lamas in Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition of the last century).

Shar Gaden Monastery
Shar Gaden Monastery, India

Hundreds of monasteries and centers in Je Tsongkhapa’s Kadampa Tradition are now flourishing because Geshe Kelsang stood up for these practitioners at their time of greatest need, empowering them to wrest themselves and their religion away from Tibetan politics. These Centers are not part of the New Kadampa Tradition as they follow Tibetan cultural traditions (though not politics), but they are our spiritual brothers and sisters. Geshe Kelsang is now revered in India, Nepal, and Tibet, his picture can be seen everywhere, his teachings studied widely.

The Oral Instructions are being translated into our own languages too 🙂 And will be transmitted at 2016’s Summer Festival in England.

What people are saying on Facebook so far in response to the question above

From my point of view, NKT is a representation of Geshe-la’s kindness to present Buddha’s teachings to our modern world. His teachings captivate the western audience and encourage us to finally put Buddha’s teachings into practice. ~ Geronimo Esparza-Dykstra

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso imageNKT is a buffet of small bites that allow me to fill my life to capacity with digestible portions of wisdom catered to the Western world. ~ Toby Tullis

Yes, a MUCH happier mind thanks to Geshe-la. Buddha was right, pass it on! ~ Sara Pitt

Well, NKT has meant to me a much calmer mind to allow me to be who I truly am. ~ Rita Marie Loy

It means balance. ~ Gail Dyson

The practice of universal love for all living beings (seen and unseen). ~ Brenda McI

NKT Day means a celebration of the path towards mental freedom and more compassion in the world, one heart at a time! ~ Ike Lichtenstein

To celebrate our good fortune of having such a wonderful tradition and web of kindness. Thanks Geshe-la! ~ Kelsang Chokyi

As time goes by the meaning goes deeper and is less easy to express in words. I’ve always liked the idea though… as I learn to relax and be natural, how more & more the warmth of my Guru’s blessings seep in, and slowly each one of the 1,000 petals of the lotus of my heart start to open. ~ Kelsang Lekpa

Wisdom and compassion. ~ Francesca Gallo

Appreciation for these wonderful teachings, teachers and Sangha… off and online. ~ Bill Purchase

NKT: giving Westerners a rare access point to the precious Buddhadharma since 1991. ~ Thomas Ythan Jones

I think NKT Day is like King Yeshe O day. It reminds me of the effort and sacrifice made by Geshe-la and many others to keep pure Buddhadharma alive in the world. ~ Sally Carter

Every day is NKT day for me. Every day I thank Geshe-la and request him to keep me in his service for as long as space exists. ~ Hank Ford

I didn’t have space to put everyone’s comments, but you can find them on the Facebook pages (including Luna Kadampa’s.)

What others have been saying elsewhere…

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso quotationsGeshe Kelsang’s life and deeds are a powerful example of how tremendous the effect even just one person’s pure practice can have.

I live in a small town in the UK that has very little culture or religious diversity. There is a beautiful New Kadampa Tradition centre in the town with 2 shrine rooms. Other than this there is no sign of Buddhism or Buddha’s teachings nearby, so I feel very grateful for Geshe Kelsang’s hard work in spreading Dharma in so many places in this modern world. Without his efforts there would be no Dharma in this area.

Geshe Kelsang must have gone through a lot of difficulties in the beginning when he first arrived in the western world. It was a completely different environment for him, the weather, the food, the culture, the language etc. Despite the difficulties he faced, he managed to spread the Dharma so far and wide.

NKT have grown from strength to strength and become so much of an inspiration for so many other centres around the world. My own Lama and center refers often to the works of Geshe-la and use his books as study materials. So it’s not just the people who are his direct students from NKT. I hope people know that it is also many other Buddhists around the world, like my own little Sangha, who are benefitting from his teachings and compassion.

Why Kadampa Buddhism is modern Buddhism, not Tibetan Buddhism Modern Buddhism

*Okay, I know, “short” is relative 🙂

There is plenty more where all this came from, and please add to the comments. And here is a recent tribute I found to Geshe Kelsang, a brief sketch of some of his life and deeds so far.

Your turn: What, if anything, does NKT Day mean to you?