The gift that keeps on giving

Do you ever feel out of sorts? I saw this Onion article, “Woman Either Quits Job or Goes Home and Watches 4 Hours of Netflix” the other day, which seemed to sum up some of the malaise and hollowness of modern society.Onion woman

But, now we’re settled on the couch, before we start streaming House of Cards, we could do a lot worse than to spend a few minutes turning on the faucet of love. Eventually, we discover

… an inexhaustible fountain of happiness within our own mind — our love for others. ~ New Eight Steps to Happiness

Carrying on from this article.

One way to turn on the faucet of love is by remembering how much we need others in order to practice love, compassion, generosity, and everything else that can fulfill our deepest wish for lasting happiness. Others are the gift that keeps on giving.

What makes something precious or valuable? For example, if you were offered the choice of a diamond or a bone, which would you choose? Obvious, perhaps. But what would really get your dog’s tail wagging? This example shows that preciousness doesn’t giftexist from the side of the object but depends on our needs and wishes. So, as it says in New Eight Steps to Happiness:

For someone whose main wish is to achieve the spiritual realizations of love, compassion, bodhichitta, and great enlightenment, living beings are more precious than a universe filled with diamonds or even wish-granting jewels.

The first step in this love practice, therefore, is really wanting those spiritual realizations. And why would we want them? Because we want to be happy all the time. “This day after day of unadulterated bliss is driving me crazy”, said no one ever.

But, although we want ongoing or permanent happiness, for as long as we associate happiness with stuff outside ourselves we settle instead for little happiness hits. Bit of food here, bit of sleep there, watching, talking, jobbing, texting, vacationing, etc. Sometimes things can work out well, but even then there’s usually still some underlying tension and frustration because the cause of happiness is perceived as outside of us so we have to keep clinging onto it for dear life. Plus it always goes away sooner or later.

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In any event, for this love meditation to work, we can conclude that there is no guaranteed pure or lasting cause of happiness other than Dharma, ie, purifying and transforming our minds to increase our mental peace, preferably shooting for the supreme peace of enlightenment.

In the recent Kadampa Spring Festival, Gen-la Jampa taught the beautiful method to develop affectionate love that comes from Shantideva and also appears in the Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra, where you can read it. I thought I’d summarize the main steps. As you go through them you can ask yourself, “Do I agree? Is this true for me?”

  • We all want real, lasting happiness. See above.
  • We human beings now have the opportunity to gain this — the pure and everlasting happiness of enlightenment — because we have met the path to enlightenment.
  • This path is any spiritual realization motivated by compassion for all living beings. This can be anything, including giving, ethics, helping others, studying, meditating, etc.
  • The only gateway to this path is therefore universal compassion.
  • How are we going to get universal compassion? Only by relying on all living beings in the universe as the objects of our compassion.
  • Therefore, they are very kind. Without them, even if we met Buddha directly we would not have the opportunity to attain enlightenment. As Shantideva says, they are as kind as Buddhas. They are the same as Buddhas in the opportunity they give us for attaining enlightenment, and so are worthy of the same respect.
  • So we can conclude:

Each and every living being is supremely precious and kind for me because they give me the supreme happiness of enlightenment – the ultimate goal of human life.

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Thinking in this way we will generate a warm heart and a feeling of being close to all living beings without exception, and we can meditate on this affectionate love. Nice!

Competitors or invaluable?

If we want the pleasures of samsara, Gen-la Jampa said, it is hard to see others as kind because we are in competition with them. But if we want enlightenment, then each and every one of them is invaluable, more so than a universe of jewels, which in any case could never protect us from suffering or give us lasting happiness.

And we need them all, every single one. They are all equally beneficial, equally objects of love and compassion. And the objectionable ones are arguably the kindest or most beneficial, given that they are the causes of much needed patience.

The more we want worldly attainments, the more others will be the sources of our attachment or annoyance. The more we want spiritual attainments, the more valuable others will become for us. So, which is it to be?!IMG_0981

In our daily life, we can see what we actually want most by watching our minds to see how we are finding others — irritating or lovely. I will go first.

As I write this, there is a chubby little girl across the aisle from me on the supposedly Quiet carriage of this Virgin train, who is chattering loudly and singing songs about dinosaurs, despite her dad shushing her. She is also offering her dad ridiculous theories about fairies, and he, with his eyes closed and clearly trying to nap, is nodding his head absently. And I have the uncharitable thought, “What happened to that old adage about children should be seen but not heard?! After all, didn’t I deliberately choose the Quiet carriage so I could meditate on love & stuff uninterrupted?!!” But then her patient dad laughed at something she said, and she was delighted, and suddenly it was the sweetest scene. This is because he cherishes her and doesn’t find her at all annoying. So I don’t have to either, especially as I need her in order to get enlightened; and now I really quite like her.

Earlier, in a social setting I could not escape, I found myself landed with someone I’ve never had much in common with, who indeed has a diametrically opposed way of seeing the world. Was I bored and judgmental, or was I happy to have this opportunity to love and understand them?!

And even earlier, I was trying to give someone some really great advice, but they just kept talking and didn’t hear a word I was saying. Did I feel attachment to being heard, “They should be listening to me! Don’t they realize how much I know what I’m talking about here?!” Or was I happy to have the opportunity to just cherish them by listening?!

IMG_0984There was not enough rice left for everyone in the food caravan at the Festival, so as I watched someone in the line before me have the last scoop, was I jealous or happy for them?

Someone else was telling me about how much the National Health Service has deteriorated in Britain and how demoralized the doctors and nurses are. Did I get into self-preoccupation mode: “Oh no, who is going to look after my parents, and indeed even me if I ever want to come back to England for the free healthcare?” … or did I think about everyone concerned and increase my peaceful, compassionate wish to liberate all living beings from their sickness forever by becoming enlightened?

With these teachings fresh in my mind, dear reader, you’ll be relieved to hear that I was pretty much able to do the right thing on each of these occasions 😋

One useful question would really seem to be, “What am I most interested in? What do I want?” This seems to entirely determine whether I have a good time with others or see them as surplus to requirements or even an obstacle in my way.

So, encouraged by my experiments, I have decided that when I meet people I’m going to think — and from my heart not my head ‘cos it works — “I am going to get enlightened both thanks to you and for the sake of you.”

Over to you, comments welcome.

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Choose love

Loving-kindness is arguably the most important example we can show in our troubled world.

This was one of the many take-aways from the recent International Kadampa Spring Festival in the UK, where we received empowerment and teachings on Buddha Maitreya, the Buddha of loving-kindness, from Gen-la Jampa.

Another take-away: People need to know how to become happy through love.

Genla Jampa

Not much else seems to be making us happy these days. Not politics as usual, anyway. The silver lining of this, though, may be that more people are starting to explore other more spiritual ways to solve problems. At least that’s been my observation.

And through becoming familiar with the three aspects of love – affectionate, cherishing, and wishing love — we can really help others and solve our own problems. It’s a win win. And it works instantly.

How hard is it to love others? I would submit that it is not as hard as we may think. I think that for many people, including maybe you, love is the easiest positive mind to generate. And yet it has these huge, compelling benefits! So here goes, I will share some of these to encourage us all to get going …

We’ll always be happy

choose love 2The first type of love, affectionate love, is a warm heart and feeling close to others, rather like a mother feels toward her child, minus the attachment.* If we can learn to develop a warm, loving heart toward all beings all the time, we’ll finally fulfill our deepest life-long wish (indeed beginningless lives-long wish) to be happy all the time. This is what we really need. I know I must have learned a bunch of useful things at school, even if I can’t remember what they were. But however much I learned at school, I didn’t learn this.

In Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s teachings on developing love from 2009, which Gen-la Jampa referred to extensively, he said:

Probably we think: If I have money I will be happy all the time. If I have a good friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, I will be happy all the time. If I have a good reputation or a higher position, I will be happy all the time. This is wrong.

More on why “This is wrong” (ie, worldly enjoyments don’t make us happy all the time) is explained all over this blog, including here.

We will solve our problems

Love, as Buddha said, is the great Protector. As Geshe Kelsang said:

If everybody sincerely practices affectionate love, all problems between each other will be solved and never arise again. This is guaranteed; I will give my signature.

We need love in our hearts. Others need love in their hearts. This is the real solution. So, as Gen-la Jampa pointed out, people need to see our loving-kindness and that it works.

choose love 1We can understand this from the classic Buddhist explanation on inner and outer problems. For example, technology can solve some outer problems, but it doesn’t solve all of them; and in fact world peace is in more jeopardy than ever before with the easy ability to produce home-made bombs and so on, not to mention the WMD. And even when we get all the way to iPhone 500, we will still be suffering from the real problems of attachment, anger, jealousy, ignorance, and so on.

Talking of iPhones, possibly à propos nothing – I love mine. I sometimes feel quite pleased with myself when I pick it up and do cool things with it. But 2 nights ago I misplaced it. And I had no way of texting anyone to find out where it might have gotten to. I felt like I’d lost a limb. All these years of being the proud owner of an iPhone have clearly not diminished my attachment, for starters.

Technology and other external stuff can be useful but they are not the actual solutions to our real problems. Our real problems are our experience of unpleasant feelings, which are part of our mind and arise with our delusions. We can learn to solve these problems with loving kindness, to go for refuge to love. Love changes the flavor of our mind as sugar changes the flavor of tea, and the sour delusions cannot thrive in this sweet new environment.
Manjushri CentreYou can read a lot more about how love solves all our problems in New Eight Steps to Happiness. Buddha would always explain the benefits of various spiritual practices before teaching them because he knows how our minds work — how we like advertising to get us going 😉 Then we develop the wish to taste love.

And tasting love is then the best advertisement; I defy you not to want more!

We will attain enlightenment

Geshe Kelsang says:

Ultimately our practice of affectionate love leads us to the state of supreme happiness of enlightenment, which gives us the ability to directly benefit each and every living every day.

The sooner we can set our sights on enlightenment, the sooner we’ll get there. Maybe when we first hear about the goal of enlightenment we think “Hey steady on, what you talking about?! That sounds way too difficult, a super human attainment way beyond my capacity! Seeking enlightenment is setting myself up for spectacular failure — can’t I settle for something more manageable instead?!”

Enlightenment is reality

But it is vital to understand that attaining enlightenment is neither outside ourselves nor beyond our reach, not like climbing Mount Everest or winning a gold medal. Enlightenment is just reality. It is the inner light of wisdom that is completely free from all mistaken perceptions, pervaded by the bliss of universal love and compassion. We all 
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have the potential for this in our hearts already. We don’t need to go somewhere else – we just need to step away from the false perception of what reality is (vis a vis an objective world outside our mind) and into reality itself. This is entirely doable and we have to do it because what’s the alternative?

Taste love

So we need love. By thinking about these benefits we develop the wish to taste it, and as Geshe Kelsang says:

We make the determination to develop and maintain a warm heart feeling close to all living beings without exception. We do this again and again; we do this job…. There is no greater virtuous action than love.

What a nice job! Deeply thinking in this way for even one moment brings HUGE results. Mental actions, or intentions, such as this are more powerful than physical or verbal actions because their meaning depends entirely upon the intentions with which we do them. We don’t even need to do anything verbal or physical (though of course we can and naturally will) – we just need to move our mind. From such a good heart, good results will always arise. As Geshe Kelsang says:

In Precious Garland Nagarjuna listed eight benefits of love: The first is that meditating on love for just one moment is a greater virtuous action than giving food to all those who are hungry in the world three times a day…. When we simply give food to those who are hungry we are not giving real happiness, because the happiness that comes from eating food is not real happiness; it is just a reduction of their hunger problem, it is just changing suffering. But when we meditate on wishing love, we sincerely wish to give real happiness, the pure and everlasting happiness of enlightenment, to all living beings without exception.

Of course we can do both — feed others with the intention, “May everyone have the permanent bliss of enlightenment.”

You can find the other eight benefits in Joyful Path of Good Fortune.

*Love free from attachment

In these teachings on love in 2009, Geshe Kelsang introduced a quick note of caution about attachment:

We need to love each other continually but we don’t need attachment. Attachment causes problems.

And he went on to say that sometimes we start with pure love, but then it morphs into the selfish intention of attachment.
choose love 3

You know how that goes — when we first meet someone we might have some pure love, be really grateful to them and wish them to be happy; but as time goes on attachment creeps in with its expectations (or “premeditated resentments” as I’ve heard them called), and then the arguments start, and then it’s no longer nearly so much fun. We can keep the honeymoon period going longer by ditching the attachment and growing the love.

With attachment, our love wishing someone else to be happy is conditional, the other person has to behave. With this conditionality, this need, we are to a greater or lesser extent trapped and bound in all directions, confused and helpless, without agency, a puppet on a string dangled by what others do, think, or say.

Whereas with unconditional love we have the thought “I wish you freedom and happiness!” and this gives us freedom as well.

If we know the difference between the way love and attachment feel, we can choose love. We can get to the point where we genuinely feel, “Even if you walk out that door, I am okay as long as you’re happy, because that is what I actually want.” Our love and therefore our happiness stay the same.

Also, I have noticed that when I bring out my love for an object of attachment, letting the attachment go, it is not hard to then spread that love to everyone else – it is a way of opening the floodgates.

So we choose love because love is what will make us and everybody else happy.

(Next up: a special method for developing love, as taught in the Spring Festival.)

Over to you, do you agree? Do you have any examples?

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You are me

So, first off, we have this ignorant mind called self-grasping, where we grasp at a real self — the self that is the center of the universe, the self that is inherently me, the self that is really me. And even though logically we may know that everyone is a me and that from their point of view I am an other, still our mind of ignorance sees a real me and believes show me who you arewhat it sees.

But there is no real me. We are seeing and believing something that is NOT THERE.

Carrying on from this article.

Bit strange

Having that strong sense of me is a little bit strange, don’t you think, considering that no one else on the planet sees it? Other than you. Not one single other person shares your assumption that you are the real me. I hate to break it to you, I really do. Not even the person who loves you the most on this planet, whoever that is, whether that is your mom or someone else, even they do not see Me when they look at you. That Me you assume is so real and solid is a private idea or imputation that you have all to yourself.*

We are all doing this. “Me, me, me me …”, we go around all day thinking, “Me, my, mine, me, myself, I.” Do we not? No one else is seeing that. No one else can see that. Have you ever thought about how strange that might be?

Well, anyway, Buddha thought it was very strange and explained how it was the source of all our other mistaken notions, our other exaggerated and myopic ideas, our other — what we call in Buddhism — “delusions”.

How so?

DenverIn dependence on that ignorance, which projects or hallucinates a real me and then grasps at it, we develop self-cherishing because we naturally assume that Me is more important than Other. So we naturally put ourselves first — I want this, I need this, I don’t need this. It’s all revolving around a sense of protecting this real me, or serving this real me. And because of those two ego minds, all our other delusions arise.

A delusion has got a definition — an unpeaceful, uncontrolled state of mind that arises from inappropriate attention. And our delusions are states of mind like anger. If I don’t get my own way, what happens? If someone seems to be getting in the way of my happiness, or just in my way on the sidewalk, what am I going to do? I am going to develop irritation, anger, annoyance.

This happened to me yesterday, as a matter of fact. A group of drunken men in downtown Denver hogged the entire sidewalk, leaving me and my friend to walk on the road. But I decided to walk back onto the sidewalk and directly into their path, making them get out of the way, because they were basically being racist and I confess I felt like challenging them. But my friend later told me that if he was to respond to the numerous micro aggressions he experiences every day with irritation, he’d never be peaceful and flowershe wouldn’t be able to sustain his work to change things for the better. And that’s the truth. He has had to learn to think bigger and better both about them and about himself.

Where does most of our anxiety come from?

If I am thinking about me all the time I am also going to get stressed out and worried and anxious. I am always going to be cultivating the inappropriate attention, “What about me, what about me, what about me?!”– building up anxious thoughts projecting forward into the future, “What if this happens to me, what if that happens to me?!”, chewing over all the things that could go wrong for poor old me, and meanwhile not giving a monkeys for the far greater sufferings of gazillions of other people. Not, in other words, having any reasonable perspective at all.

Four dead boars

One snapshot of us versus them, greed, callousness, and suffering stood out on my recent trip to San Francisco, particularly disappointing for a city that used to care a lot more. A friend, Michele, and I went into Four Barrels and were surprised to see four dead boar heads on the wall of this this yuppy coffee shop on Valencia, perhaps most surprised by the fact that no one else seemed to be noticing, let alone bothered.

Wfour boarse left to drink tea at Samovar instead, down the street, but then I was compelled to come back to ask “Why?” “It was a late night purchase on Ebay”, said the stressed out baristo by way of explanation, begging the question, “But why did someone buy them?” He was impatient with me, he didn’t know, and suggested it was good to embrace “others’ cultural norms”. But this was a coffee shop in gentle San Francisco, the once bastion of thoughtful values and compassion, not a hunting range in Redneck, Texas.

“Why would you ever want to stick people’s heads on a wall?” (I didn’t ask him, but could have.) “How would you like it if someone did that to you?”

The four boars seem to me to represent the desensitization that seems to be more prevalent now in this city and elsewhere: “Perhaps they’ll have four homeless people’s heads up there next time I visit,” I said to Michele.

An oasis in the city

temple 1I would like to qualify at this point that San Francisco still contains a lot of very compassionate people, even if they report to feeling somewhat more exercized these days. The Kadampa Buddhist temple I was visiting, for example, continues to be a bright guiding light, full of Bodhisattvas. I love that place. Please visit if you ever get a chance. It is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s first center in the United States, and has been a refuge for over 25 years.

Okay, I was going to keep going, but it’ll have to wait as your coffee break is probably over … more next time. Over to you for comments!

*With the possible exception of those who have exchanged self with others, such as Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, because they do see Me when they look at you, just not a real me.

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Us and Them in Buddhism

As I was saying the other day, there are two main obstacles standing in the way of our spiritual growth. The first is the ignorant feeling that I am the real me, therefore you are real and secondary other, somewhat less important. Self-grasping ignorance apprehends a gap between me and everybody else, which means that when it comes to stretching love and compassion to another person I can only do it for a certain length of time and, generally and ideally, they need to have done me a favor, or be likely to do me a favor down the road, or something.

US-Them

Carrying on from this article.

Expiry date

The second obstacle is self-grasping’s inseparable mate self-cherishing, which wants to serve and protect our own self over others. We are not completely selfish, of course we are not, we have a lot of genuine compassion and love – these are our Buddha nature, who we really are. But our concern has an expiry date. We can love others, even unconditionally, for a while, until we get a headache or something else goes wrong in our life, when it’s like, “Uh, hang on, I will get back to you guys later.”

As is always pointed out, self-cherishing is not the same as liking ourselves, caring for ourselves, or even loving ourselves, ie, wanting to be happy. We need to do all these things – and indeed seeking liberation and enlightenment is the best way we can care for ourselves and fulfill our own purposes. No, self-cherishing is a mind that believes that this self, this me, is the real me and therefore its happiness comes first.

A day in San Francisco

SF airportThis “us and them” mentality is a horrible mind, responsible for all our callousness. I’m writing this in a shiny SFO, the flight to Denver delayed for an hour. San Francisco is as beautiful as ever on the surface, but its soul seems to have changed – the gulf between rich and poor, over-housed and homeless, being one of the largest in America now, which is saying something. And a widespread recognition that we are all in this together — fellow living beings who all want to be happy — seems to be sorely lacking.

A friend, JW, advocates for the homeless – he has been doing it for over a decade and told me today that there is nothing more important to him. He doesn’t get discouraged because his passion to tell their stories still motivates him; and he wants everyone to know that one of the worst problems these days is that the homeless population is rapidly ageing. It is bad enough being on the streets when you are relatively young and healthy, but there are now more seniors than ever before who are homeless for the first time, and they quickly age ten or twenty years. No one ever sees it coming, but seniors find themselves priced out or, along with low income populations, red-lined out of their neighborhoods by greedy developers putting up fancy apartments for people who have so much money they don’t know how to spend it all. homeless senior

As a local newspaper put it: “Most of San Francisco’s current homeless population is on the street not by choice, but because of skyrocketing rents. According to the city’s 2015 Homeless Count, 71 percent of SF’s homeless were city residents before they became homeless. Meanwhile, the number of homeless people having to stay outdoors has risen, from 28 percent in 2011 to 46 percent in 2017.”

(Pretty sure I read this somewhere …) Buddha said that although happiness depends on the mind, there are four basic things human beings need to be well: clothing, food, medicine, and shelter. Basic human well being starts with housing. As a senior, it is hard enough to get offered a job even if you are fit enough to work; but, at whatever age, there is only a slim chance of getting back on your feet if you are not housed. No job in this country = no money = insufficient food, medicine, and clothing.

Tekchog, a Buddhist monk, who has been working on Needle Exchange on Market Street for 15 years, concurred that if you cannot have a shower you’re not going to be aceing any job interviews. And that he has noticed that when someone comes to needle exchange who has been lucky enough to find housing, they look a hundred times healthier and happier. But although that Exchange has been there for decades, people who have just moved into one of the swanky new apartments routinely come over to complain that they object to having the needle exchange in THEIR neighborhood.

sit lie lawTents and tent cities rise up everywhere, but sooner or later the tents get “confiscated” and the tent inhabitants do not see it or any of their possessions again. How can it be viewed as any sort of civic virtue to rob from the destitute, to make them start all over again?

The sit/lie law meantime means that homeless people cannot sit or lie down in public places, despite the lack of anywhere else to seek shelter. What are you supposed to do if you are forced to keep moving, if you cannot sit or lay down your head, yet you are old, or tired, or sick? There is a scarcity of public toilets because they have shut them down at the Bart stations, and just lately they have dismantled the handles from the water faucets so that you can no longer even quench your thirst.

That is a huge amount of suffering. I often ponder whether I could last a week outdoors, let alone the rest of my life; and many senior homeless people had the same thought once upon a time. If we could use our imagination, see that every homeless person is just as much Me as I am, and mentally exchange places with them, would this suffering be allowed to go on?

Vision needed

San FranciscoThere is hope, there is always hope, because there is nothing fixed and we have everything we need inside us to create a better future for everyone, spiritually and practically.

Being in SF made me more determined to destroy samsara by destroying the self-grasping and self-cherishing that perpetuate it. And we can concurrently do stuff to help others practically, like JW and Tekchog for example, knowing that this is also taking us closer to our ultimate goal. There are good people everywhere who are working day and night to change things practically and socially, driven to end human suffering. Regardless of the immediate outcome, every single time we do something to try and alleviate the suffering of others — motivated by compassion, inspired by vision, seeing everyone as Me — we are creating the causes for our own and others’ well being.

Over to you, comments & ideas most welcome.

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