A beacon to light the future in South Africa

Guest article by Kadampa Buddhist monk, Gen Pagpa.

South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. The education system is in a dire state and there is 50% youth unemployment. However, in the midst of all this, COSAT High School shines out as a beacon of hope.

Pagpa and girls in Khayelitsha.jpg

COSAT is in Khayelitsha Township, Cape Town, South Africa — it stands for the Centre of Science and Technology, and its core subjects are maths and science. Khayelitsha is one of the largest townships in SA, home to more than half a million people.

The retreat and the teachings really help one towards good decision-making and a peaceful mind. In the township there are things that disturb one’s peace, such as gangsterism and other stuff. ~ Elethu, aged 15.

I arrived in South Africa in 2007 to help set up Tushita Kadampa Meditation Centre in Cape Town. On a visit to Kwa-Zulu Natal I witnessed the extraordinary efforts of Patti Joshua to bring the practical teachings of Kadampa Buddhism to the rural communities, as explained more in this article, “Where can I find you?”; and this deeply inspired me to try and share these teachings within the African communities in Cape Town as well. Pagpa and Patti

By connecting with a local hospice called St Luke’s, I have been able to give ongoing meditation sessions to cancer patients at the hospice in township locations. And it was through this that I met Sitheti, a local Anglican priest, who was acting as my interpreter for the IsiXhosa non-English speakers.

Developing a keen affinity with Dharma, Sitheti requested more teachings for other local people, which led to a seminal meeting between myself (a Kadampa Buddhist monk), Sitheti (an Anglican priest), and Phadiela, who is the Muslim principal of COSAT.

Ever since I joined the meditation group my life changed. I became a new person. I quit my old life and welcomed the new me because of meditation. I was not that peaceful from the first time but now I am able to forgive and forget. I was that harsh girl with anger but now I am no longer like that. ~ Mihle, aged 16.

PhadielaPhadiela was immediately receptive to the idea of introducing meditation classes as part of the weekly extramural activities, so I started going there the following week — initially in sessions tacked onto the end of their drama classes! This was towards the end of 2013, but when I returned in 2014 I was delighted to discover that Phadiela had allocated meditation as a stand-alone extramural activity.

It was really humbling to walk into the classroom for the first time to see twenty smiling and eager students ready to go! Fast-forward to 2018 and these classes have gone from strength to strength. There are currently thirty focused meditation students in attendance, most of whom started in 2016. Here is a 4-minute video about it.

Each meditation session lasts for an hour. We begin with breathing meditation, followed by practical advice on, for example, how to develop and maintain a good heart of loving-kindness. As part of the teaching I encourage them to share their own understanding with the group.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow I understand and know how to make myself happy. Meditation has been my boss over my emotions. Today I’m a peaceful, forgiving and loving Khanya, just like my name I bring light into the dark world, the problems of anger and pain. ~ Khanya, aged 16.

They always ask to sing the Liberating Prayer and Migtsema prayer, with trust and understanding that they have the freedom of choice to maintain their Christian faith. I also help them expand their English vocabulary and they, in turn, help me to learn their mother tongue IsiXhosa, which is a beautiful click language.

Testimonials

Here are some other testimonials from the students:

Cosat students groupIf we have inner peace then we realize that there are things we thought we couldn’t do because we did not discover our pure selves. Inner peace helps us to define ourselves and be a great example to others. ~ Alulutho, aged 15.

After the retreat last year I remember having a feeling that everything was ‘golden’. I felt a sense of love for everyone and everything in a way that I had never experienced before. ~ Aviwe, aged 15.

Meditation allows me to step outside the situation, see myself as the observer rather than the victim, and relaxes my body and mind. I turned to meditation as a means to enhance the process of healing and recovery in my breathing condition.

Ever since I started meditating I am less stressed, healthier, sleep better and have a positive outlook on life. It made me a happier person. ~ Lisakhanya, aged 16.

Pagpa and girlsSupport the girls

At the end of this year Tushita KMC will be holding the fourth annual COSAT away retreat for 30 learners at a local olive farm. If you would like to help with the retreat funding, please contact: info@meditateincapetown.org. If you are not able to contribute financially, please support us with your thoughts and prayers!

Judge not …

7.5 mins read

Our Buddha nature is likened to a golden nugget in filth for it can never perish, it is utterly indestructible. I find it pretty inspiring to think about that.

gold nugget in dirtNo matter how disgusting a person’s delusions may be, the real nature of their mind remains undefiled, like pure gold. In the heart of even the cruelest and most degenerate person exists the potential for limitless love, compassion and wisdom. Unlike the seeds of our delusions, which can be destroyed, this potential is utterly indestructible, and is the pure essential nature of every living being. ~ How to Transform Your Life

Nothing we ever think, say, or do, however heinous, could destroy the vajra-like purity of our own or others’ root minds, any more than clouds can destroy the space of the sky. We can dive into that reality every day because it is the truth, and it heals us.

An encounter on Frontier

With this understanding of what lies at the heart of every single one of us, it’s a good idea not to judge ourselves or others on the basis of the fleeting thoughts in our mind or indeed the words coming out of our mouths. These are not who any of us really are. We can totally disagree with people’s ideas and actions of course, but judging the person themselves on the basis of their ideas and actions is superficial, often uninformed, and unhelpful. I relearned this lesson on Frontier Airlines last night coming back from DC.

IMG_4733I was sitting by the window, and squished in the middle seat was a portly man in his seventies. He soon became very interested in my reading the unwieldy pages of The Washington Post on Sunday, which I had bought because, hey, I was in the nation’s capital.

And he started asking me, in an unplaceable foreign accent, about where I lived and who my senators were and so on and so forth, and it soon became apparent that we were not of the same political persuasion and that he was going to vote for someone I was not. Raised eyebrows on both sides, this segued into a conversation about equality – he arguing that someone who worked hard to get an education and look after his family was not equal to someone who never mowed his lawn or picked up his trash, citing as an example his two next-door neighbors. I said they were still equal because we are all equal, and that different backgrounds and baked-in circumstances led to different opportunities and it was not on us to judge. This devolved into whether or not a physician should earn more than a school teacher because they had trained longer, me arguing that money didn’t buy happiness or measure success, that healing people could be its own reward, and he arguing that of course it did, that I was only able to fly on this plane because of money. I suggested that happiness depended not on the money in the bank but the thoughts in our mind, and he at least paused to consider that. But I could tell it was going to be an uphill battle to get him to agree with me on pretty much anything!

In any event, we were getting quite animated, but I confess I was also getting a bit annoyed by his seemingly hardline views and insistence on arguing about every point; and I was also beginning to think that he was way too big for his seat and physically squishing me as well. So I escaped by feigning sleep and then actually falling asleep. This was me:

With self-cherishing we hold our opinions and interests very strongly and are not willing to see a situation from another point of view. As a consequence we easily get angry and wish to harm others verbally or even physically. ~ How to Transform Your Life, page 97

Just before I started ignoring him, though, he looked at me and said, “We are not arguing! No, not at all. We are only debating!” And he had the sweetest look in his big old watery eyes.

When I woke later and took a sideways glance at him, I saw that he had, as a matter of fact, a very kind face. And there was something poignant about him. This idea came to my mind:

Buddha natureWhenever we meet other people, rather than focusing on their delusions we should focus on the gold of their Buddha nature. This will not only enable us to regard them as special and unique, but also help to bring out their good qualities. ~ How to Transform Your Life

A twist in the tale

I decided I didn’t want to spend the rest of our 4-hour journey ignoring him because he had really been enjoying our conversation even if I hadn’t, so I asked him, Which country did you come from originally?

“Syria”, he replied. I got interested and asked him more. It turned out that he came over here in 1970 and then tried to live in Syria again later, but “I was forced to leave permanently a few years ago because I was in danger.”

“Why?”

“My brother was killed.”

Was his brother involved in politics? No, a quiet man, not political, only the wrong sect of Islam. Shot. And he told me that in a country of 21 million people, 1 million people have been killed, 7 million people have been forced to leave as refugees, and the children have not been at school for 7 going on 8 years, an entire generation lost. The country is bitterly divided. Nowhere is safe. He said all this very sadly. He has two elderly sisters still there who are alright only because, like a lot of people, they never dare go outside. He asked me what I thought could be done about Syria. He asked me several impossible questions on this plane journey, genuinely wanting to know what I thought.

It was sobering. I had never felt this close to Syria or its people before, realized in person how they were just like me. I don’t need to mention how much it put other problems into perspective.world peace

I had realized by now that I had (mis)judged him. I had not immediately related to his Buddha nature but to the words coming out of his mouth in our first conversation, even though they were based on just a few of his fleeting thoughts, thoughts I didn’t even remotely know the context for as it turned out, and thoughts that were not him. I could have saved myself all those slightly irked and uncharitable thoughts if I had related instead to his good heart from the get-go.

Then he added that he believed rich people had a duty to look after poor people. And that the only reason he was going to vote in the way he was going to vote is not because he believed in the person or politics at all, in fact he thought they were bad and … (here he twirled his finger around his temple), but because he believed that the only chance for Iran to be stopped from destroying his country was if their money dried up due to sanctions.

I have of course never given that geopolitical perspective a moment’s thought before. It made me wonder what other perspectives I had never bothered to entertain in this almost infinite complex web of causes and conditions that make up our globe, assuming the correctness of my own.

Can these problems ever be solved?

outer space shelleyAll we can each trust when it comes to the immensity of our outer problems, it seems to me, is doing our level best to do the right thing, the ethical thing, the wise thing, the compassionate thing. But how that shows up in practice is probably going to turn out different depending upon our positioning, amongst other things. Whether we live in Syria, or Iran, or America, for example, and whereabouts in those countries we live.

Because, to the deluded mind, our own needs and wishes seem so often contradictory with others’, in an apparently zero sum game, how can we ever hope to solve all outer problems with only outer means? It makes me even more determined to solve all the inner problems of the delusions and hallucinations of inherent existence instead, for only then will the outer problems finally go away.

He also asked me about Buddhism and what we believed in because he didn’t know the first thing about it, though he had heard of meditation being good for relaxation. He said the world was created by a superpower, not a “being”; and we got a bit philosophical there for a while.inner problems outer problems

My new friend’s name is Osama, “as in Osama Bin Laden” he said slightly ruefully. We plan to talk again. He is the sweetest person. And, Dad, if you’re reading this, he reminded me ever so slightly of you.

I will leave you with a final insight brought home by this encounter with Osama, one that Geshe Kelsang has said would lead to world peace if we all adopted it:

It is because they distinguish between delusions and persons that Buddhas are able to see the fault of delusions without ever seeing a single fault in any sentient being. Consequently their love and compassion for sentient beings never diminish. Failing to make this distinction, we, on the other hand, are constantly finding fault with other people but do not recognize the faults of delusions, even those within our own mind.

Over to you. Comments welcome.

Related articles

A Buddhist way to world peace 

The age-old foes of our people

The difference between inner and outer problems

 

Yearning to breathe free

5 mins read

I got a tiny glimpse today of the pain that parents and children are experiencing at our borders, as they are forcibly separated, the kids put into the custody of the office of refugee resettlement, many in cages.

Tagger JuniorI took the three kittens for a routine vaccination, but Tagger Junior, who admittedly eats like there is no tomorrow, turned out to be big enough ahead of schedule for his operation and adoption.

“We are taking him now.” So instead of bringing home three kittens, I brought home two, and they were crying all the way.

I have had Tagger Jr. here since he weighed a pound. Kittens are famously heart-tugging and vulnerable, as any quick glance at the Internet will tell you; and he is no exception – a sweet-natured trusting little dude. He pawed at my face as I said goodbye. Then he was looking at me with those wide innocent eyes, like, “What is happening, where are you going?” as I was obliged to hand him over to a busy vet tech. He then stared after me through the glass door of the kitten room, confused. Hours later, I still miss him. I really hope he doesn’t miss me.

I was feeling a mixture of some sadness and helplessness, not knowing where he will end up now in this life let alone the next, wanting him to be okay, feeling bad about leaving him without me when he trusted me. This is what I mean about a glimpse.

border familyOf course, in this case we are (a) only talking about a cat, who will soon forget this trauma and me and (b) I know he will be taken good care of by the shelter. I also at least know where he is for the time being, safe, unlike the dad I read about who can get no information on where they’ve taken his four-year old. WTF. Where are these faceless officials taking all these children? They are being warehoused, apparently, literally where housed? (Such as in a decommissioned Walmart with blackened windows that no one can enter, later to be “put into foster care or whatever” according to one official.) Who is comforting these children? Who is loving them? Who is caring enough to ensure they’ll escape lifelong trauma?

I couldn’t have kept Tagger Jr; that wasn’t the point of me looking after him. But those parents wanted desperately to keep their children, obviously, and the cruelty of separating them is weighing on me. With their whole heart, they will miss their kids and their kids will miss them until they can see each other again – and when exactly will that be?

give me your tiredSuffering of uncertainty

Tagger’s life is risky, and his future full of samsaric pitfalls – this in itself is pretty scary and tragic if you think about it. Hopefully the Buddhas will answer my prayers that someone will now love Tagger until he dies, when he will get out of the lower realms. Fostering him and other kittens is a constant reminder for me to make these prayers for all animals.

And, for that matter, all human beings, as none of us knows where we are going next, not really. There are no guarantees while our minds and karma are out of control.

But I was wondering, what can these parents pray for their kids? They wanted to protect them with every atom of their being; it is why they took the risky journey all the way here. How do they deal with the sense of failure and guilt and betrayal and fear? Or live with that longing to see their children again, let alone the desperate hourly need to know that they are ok? It reminds me of one of the most chilling scenes I have ever seen in a movie, that one in Sophie’s Choice. It is mind-boggling. I don’t know the answers.

mother with childLike I said, I only got a tiny glimpse of the pain – but it has given me some empathy and incentive. I could blame increasingly draconian and legally suspect policies for the arbitrary power that is crushing people’s lives. I could … I do, actually. However, the deeper culprit is the delusions tyrannizing all of our minds, along with the underdevelopment of our wisdom and compassion. This is what needs addressing most urgently, for everyone’s sake.

Suffering of having no companionship

So please pray for all these families, and for everyone in samsara who is being torn away from their loved ones in life after life. As well as for those living beings creating or tasked with the horrible job of taking the kids away, trying somehow to sleep at night, all the while creating the karma for the same to happen to them.

I wish I could intervene directly to put a stop to all this. I have donated money, made prayers, joined in the outcry. And I am glad there is an increasingly widespread and bipartisan outcry, at least, as more facts of this “zero tolerance” or rather “zero humanity” come out each day; and I pray that the unpopular policy is reversed soon.

However, I feel I also have to go deeper. Since I cannot do much practically while I remain limited and no one is really listening to me, I need to step up my efforts to become a Bodhisattva and a Buddha asap, spreading blessings and emanations everywhere there are suffering beings.

I hope you become one soon too. How else are we going to stop this samsaric madness so that it stays stopped?

After all, 2 of the 8 sufferings of samsara described by Buddha, as explained in Joyful Path of Good Fortune, are the sufferings of uncertainty and having no companionship. In samsara, this means, they will go on forever.

As a friend pointed out, this has been going on in America for centuries already, let alone in all the other realms of samsara:

Native American indigenous children were taken away from their parents, their hair was cut and they were not allowed to speak their native language. (They died from the separation.) Of course African slave families were ripped apart & “sold separately” by their owners, not knowing where their children, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers or mothers were sent. Japanese Americans were stripped of all their property and possessions during WW2 and put in interment camps in CA not too long ago. (I have seen those camps.) T’was ever thus in the inevitable sphere of suffering. MUST PRACTICE — MUST GET OUT!

All three kittensPs, By the way, don’t let this put you off fostering … these kittens were rescued from being gassed to death at another shelter. And there is still time to adopt Tagger Jr. or his brothers …

Update: The separation of families is getting more and more out of control. Samsara grinds on. At least Tagger got a home, for now.

Update update (June 21): Since I wrote this, the public outcry on both sides of the aisle has been huge, thank goodness. The policy is being reversed. Samsara, however, still grinds on. We still need to get ourselves and others out of here permanently.

Related articles

Courage for our changing times

A vision of hope in our troubled times 

The imperative to become enlightened 

Practical precepts for a Bodhisattva wannabe

Given that we have to go to work and/or haconnectionng out and/or social media (verb yet?) with lots of other people, there are umpteen opportunities in our modern lives to observe the Bodhisattva’s vow, where we take personal responsibility to travel the path to enlightenment for the sake of others by practicing the six perfections.

Just to retrace our steps for a moment …

When we develop a compassion that wishes to free everyone permanently from their suffering, it doesn’t take much to figure out that we can’t actually do that while remaining limited, identifying “Me” on the basis of only this impure & ordinary body and mind.

I was just thinking today, for example — when someone was mildly complaining that they never saw me — that although I too would like to hang out with them all the time, there is just one of me. And how much handier it would be if there were more of me, so I could be in more than one place at a time.

IMG_2194-EFFECTS
I only live here at the moment.

So that got me to thinking, “Hmmm, how can I get around this problem and have more time and fun with everyone?! I mean, Skype and FaceTime have their uses, but still …

Wait, I have an idea! A Buddha can be everywhere all at once, and help and bless not just a small circle of friends, but each and every living being every day – that’s her job description! I’m going to use this life to become a Buddha.”

With that conclusion, we have generated bodhichitta. Then we engage practically in the six perfections with this big, beautiful motivation, working on different levels as mentioned in this last article.

Within that, I find it very encouraging to know that with the six perfections there is always something we can be doing to solve our own and others’ problems.

#2 Moral discipline 

This second perfection, that of moral discipline or ethical behavior, includes avoiding negativity and benefiting others. As a rule of thumb, we can ask ourselves before doing stuff:

IMG_2210

“Is this action going to help or harm others? If it will harm them, I won’t do it.”

This question can free us from hypocrisy, ie, saying one thing and doing another, and keep us real. We can become a shining light on the hill through the power of our genuine example.

#3 Patient acceptance

And we can be patient when things and people don’t work out; for example, when they ignore or cannot receive our help, and fall over into the swamp despite our best attempts to prevent this.

Avoiding the downfalls of the Bodhisattva vow

As well as training in the six perfections, the Bodhisattva vow also entails avoiding the 46 secondary and 18 root downfalls related to these six, many of which I find refreshingly appropriate to our modern society. I thought I’d share a fairly random selection, in the hopes you are inspired to find out all about them in the book The Bodhisattva Vow.

Enjoying ourselves more

One of the downfalls related to the perfection of giving, “Indulging in worldly pleasures out of attachment,” reminds me that it is not our work that is currently distracting us from making spiritual progress, helping other people, or even enjoying ourselves, but our attachment to externals! This doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy our lives, but that we can enjoy our lives with bodhichitta motivation.

A few weeks ago I was at the beautiful Echo Lake in Colorado with my friend and he said, “I would love to bring a busload of kids from the south side of Chicago up here.” We can mandala offeringalways invite others in, mentally, to our enjoyments — “May all beings enjoy such Pure Lands”, as we say in the mandala offering.

This makes our enjoyments instantly meaningful, good karma, and, in my experience, more blissful.

Plus, if we actually have some bodhichitta, we may find we have more energy to immerse into interesting Dharma books and classes, and less energy to waste on social media and TV 😉 Even changing that direction to go inward a little bit can help a lot, I have found.

Related to the perfection of giving, we also need to avoid “Not replying to others”, which basically means “we try to make others’ minds happy by giving suitable answers anIMG_2211d advice.” We don’t have to be appointed as a teacher or sit on a throne to share our experiences – we can talk about these ideas wherever we go, whenever we are with others who are receptive. For example, if someone at work is suffering from jealousy or anxiety, we can give them common-sense advice on rejoicing and finding some peace, without having to use any of the Buddhist terminology.

Avoiding time suck

Similarly, it is not engaging in the world that is sucking up all our precious time, it is our distractions. This is implied by the fact that Bodhisattvas “accept gifts” and “accept invitations” whenever they can! Related to the perfection of moral discipline, they also avoid “Doing little to benefit others” – not “needlessly shunning wealth, reputation, or involvement with other people.” With bodhichitta, we can increase our wealth and reputation provided we use it to help others.

Also related to moral discipline, Bodhisattvas promise to “help others avoid negativity,” “go to the assistance of those in need”, “take care of the sick”, “act to dispel suffering”, “help others to overcome their bad habits”, and so on. You can read about all of these if you get a moment. Lovely.

Universal CompassionAnd then, if you are still interested, do check out the vows and commitments of training the mind in the book Universal Compassion. These also give modern-day people like me a lot of practical advice on working on many levels to bring both temporary and ultimate help.

Crucially, perhaps — if we never lose sight of our main aim of attaining enlightenment for the benefit of every living being, then, regardless of how many things don’t work out or “go wrong”, nothing will be wasted. Every single day will be a step in the right direction.

Related articles

Developing a Bodhisattva’s confidence

Developing a Buddha’s omniscience 

Integrity and ethics 

More on patient acceptance 

A Bodhisattva’s way of life

Who around here couldn’t use some support? So I wanted to say a bit more about the different levels on which we can help others, following on from this article about the swamp of samsara.

Dharma in daily lifeThe way I see it is that we need to do stuff everyday, anyway, and — whatever it is we do — why not make it really count by doing it motivated by renunciation for the suffering yet unreal nature of samsara? (Our motivations determine the outcome of our actions, or karma.)

With renunciation like this, we won’t get heavy-hearted or anxious. Why? Because we have given up on our attachment to things working out in this swamp of samsara, and therefore each day we have nothing to lose. We just need to try, not worry. This swamp may have a shallow end, where people can stand, and a deep end, where people are drowning; but it is all basically swampish. Luckily, this swamp is also just mere imputation or label of mind, which means that when we transform our minds through wisdom, it will disappear, Poof!, like last night’s dream.

So, with renunciation on others’ behalf (aka compassion), we can help in whatever way we think of, on different levels. Nothing is too small or too trivial – any more than helping someone to tread an inch to the right, avoid the snapping teeth, or find a stepping stone is trivial if they are scared or drowning. It is not the final answer to this person’s problems, but it is still important to them and therefore to us. In the same way, we can give people the necessities of food, shelter, medicine, & protection, work toward a fairer and more humane society, and so on.

The six perfections

The Bodhisattva is the Mahayana Buddhist role model, and a better role model would be hard to find.

He or she trains in the so-called “six perfections” – giving, moral discipline, patience, joyful effort, concentration/meditation, and wisdom.

giving

These six practices are called “perfections” because they are motivated by the mind of enlightenment, aka bodhichitta, which is the wish to realize our potential for enlightenment so that we can lead all living beings without exception to that state of lasting happiness.

In other words, we want to wake ourselves up from the hallucinations of samsara, become an “Awakened One” aka “Buddha”, so that we can go about waking everyone else up too.

The Bodhisattva’s aim is therefore two-fold: (1) to help others as much as possible both practically and spiritually right now, and (2) to get daily closer to the inner light of omniscience, with its power to bless each and every being every day, so we can free them all for good.

The first three perfections, largely applicable to our daily actions, lend themselves to helping people navigate their way to safety, to the shallow end as it were; albeit still submerged for now in the swamp of samsara. All the while we can be motivated by the wish to get them onto the dry land of liberation, where they are forever safe from suffering.

Giving

giving is livingGiving (or, really, giving back) includes giving material things AND giving Dharma teachings or advice. We can help people at work — and with our work — in any way that seems suitable, sometimes with material help to improve individual or societal well being, and sometimes with non-judgmental skillful advice that people can use to transform their thoughts.

Buddha’s teachings are divided into wisdom teachings, which are basically his teachings on emptiness, and method teachings, which are basically everything else. We can start using both to help others.

Method teachings

For example, with Buddha’s advice on interdependence, we can show how we could all better navigate this swamp by mending our fractured society of small, selfish, isolated Me’s by joining up in caring, cooperative, connected teams of We instead.

Or we could explain how not to mistake other people for their delusions, but see them as victims of their confusion and anger etc., just as we are, and so stay loving and patient.

connectionWe could also encourage people to witness and take refuge in their own and others’ good hearts and pure, peaceful minds. Knowing that we all have immense spiritual depth and potential, we can help others identify with that rather than their false, limited, suffering sense of self.

We can demonstrate with our own example how changing direction to go inwards for peace is not a selfish escape, but paradoxically connecting us more more and more deeply with everyone else “out there”.

Wisdom teachings

It seems to me as though the method teachings are the way to get people to the shallow end of samsara’s vast swamp, where they at least have their heads above water. But the only way to lift them out of the swamp altogether is with Buddha’s wisdom teachings. As Buddha Maitreya puts it:

Because living beings’ minds are impure, their worlds are impure.

All the time we are practicing giving and the other perfections, we know in our heart that we are trying to get people to a place where they can realize it is all just the impure dream of an impure mind. This way, they can wake up and create a world of their own choosing out of the bliss and emptiness of their Buddhism in society 2own purified mind. And then they can pull everyone out onto dry land as well.

By the way, we don’t have to sit on a throne to give good advice. We don’t have to be a Dharma millionaire yet, either, as Geshe Kelsang once put it – we just need a few spare dollars in our pocket. Any Dharma we have, we can give, and we will never run out. We don’t have to use Dharma terminology, of course. We can use the language that works for whoever we are talking to. We can use the language of the heart.

We can also give fearlessness, time, attention, and love. Even — or sometimes especially — our practice of meditation is giving others fearlessness and love, holding the space for them. There is a beautiful video that seems to demonstrate this … check out the brief footage of our Kadampa nun in Mexico 😊

And I think we can do all this giving without judgment, as explained for example in this article about giving unconditionally to homeless people, though that might be a subject for another day.

We are really learning to give of ourselves, to let go of keeping ourselves to ourselves, staying small and poky. Giving is a big beautiful shining open-hearted practice that brings real joy to our own and others’ lives.

More on the other perfections and related practical advice in the next article …

Related articles

The gift that keeps on giving

First you, then me ~ the Bodhisattva’s attitude

To the rescue!

Just passin’ through

To the rescue!

While working on an article filled with your ideas on how Buddhists can (and need to) help in the current world turmoil, someone sent me this:

In a recent retreat, after teaching on emptiness and how the appearances in this life are like dreams, Gen Losang went on to say that a compassionate way to help people is to skilfully reduce the importance of what is appearing to them, rather than increasing it. He meant skilfully, not shutting them down with, “Oh, it’s all emptiness.” 

wisdom

What do you think about this? It reminded me of this analogy (below) for helping people on different levels and in accordance with their needs that I hope you might also find helpful.

To help anyone, we need compassion. And true compassion, or deep compassion, arises from renunciation – we develop renunciation for ourselves and for everyone else.

Renunciation is when we stop buying into samsara, hoping that things in samsara will one day work themselves out – they will not. We cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, as they say. For as long as our minds are impure, our worlds will be impure.

“Reducing the importance of what is appearing to them, rather than increasing it” depends on the degree of suffering and crazy appearances the person is experiencing.

If we are helping someone who has a little space in their lives, and who is suffering, for example, from a relationship problem – yes, this advice can really help.

For someone whose home and country have just been washed away or burned to the ground, maybe not so much. (Unless they already have experience of this deep spiritual truth and just want reminding.)

The swamp

Imagine living beings are trying to navigate a huge, deep swamp that happens to be full of alligators and other monsters with very big teeth and hungry bellies. It is dusky — hard to see clearly or far. There are stepping stones, but it’s challenging to see how to tread safely. Here and there are small patches of dry land where people can catch a bit of a breather, and some of those patches even seem relatively pretty or interesting.

alligator in swampImagine that we are also in that swamp, but that we know, at least intellectually, something profound – this swamp is false, merely an appearance to mind, like a dream or a movie.

The need for renunciation

In that scenario, we need renunciation ourselves, wishing to get out of this swamp of samsara entirely and forever rather than remaining intrigued by it. We need to know that for as long as we have delusions, we’re going to keep projecting monsters wherever we look.

dystopia

Speaking for myself, I know that the times I feel anxious, overwhelmed, heavy, or graspy is when I have forgotten my renunciation, which is a light, joyful, and confident wish for liberation. My compassion then is far less effective. I have thoughts like, “There are so many people, including animals, needing help! So many people demanding the attention that I’m not giving them – it’s coming from all sides. How am I going to save them all from the alligators?! Especially when I’m feeling trapped or overwhelmed myself?” I feel like going back to bed and pulling the covers over my head. Or distracting myself with Netflix. It also doesn’t help if we are bound to our own selfish attachments needing things or people to go our way.

If we don’t have the non-attachment of renunciation, we have only momentary relief when a plan pans out – but it is short lived, whereas the disappointments can seem to pile up effortlessly. This is because of attachment. It leads to the suffering of change, not to deep satisfaction or solutions.

The need for wisdom

We also need some wisdom understanding the illusory nature of the swamp or we will soon be joining in the collective panic, “Aarggh, I’m freaking out over here! We’re going to be swallowed whole.” We will be part of the problem, swept up in the drama, overwhelmed by appearances or the 24/7 news cycle.

Without wisdom, compassion fatigue sets in because it is exhausting to try and solve “real” problems — it is like wading through treacle with no end in sight. It can also make us feel guilty as we can never do enough.

With the compassion born of renunciation and wisdom, we won’t get discouraged. The context is different – we have set it up differently. We therefore can “try and not worry”, as Geshe Kelsang says. We are “only trying to help people”, he also says, “so why worry?”

Back to the analogy … Let’s say we are lucky enough to have a flashlight. The flashlight is the teachings illuminating the path — we don’t know how long we have this flashlight, but it is very effective. How strong it is depends on the strength of our experience. Perhaps we understand the dream-like nature of reality and — even though for now things may also still seem real to us — we know we have to get ourselves and others to the firm ground of wisdom.

Tread here!

swampWhat we need to do, if we care about the people around us, is to stop them being eaten by swamp monsters. The first thing we need to do is encourage them to get to the patches of dry land … tread here, avoid those jaws, hold my hand, look at the light. You’ll be ok, let me help.” Although there are no real dangers there, they are not necessarily ready to hear us say so: “Stop being an idiot! There are no swamp monsters! This is just a dream! It’s all empty!” We understand how it is all appearing to them as real, and so we give them the relevant advice for their situation. We empathize with their hopes and fears. We give them material help, “Here, have some water.” They need water.

Once they reach dry land, and have had a chance to rest up, we can then tell them:

“Believe it or not, this is all just a bad dream. You are in no real danger. And now let me explain how.”

We can explain how it is possible for them to stay on firm ground forever, and help get everyone else out as well.

IMG_2080

We may not be able to do this with everyone straightaway, of course — for example all I can do with these foster kittens is give them food, shelter, love, temporary safety, and entertainment. But we never give up trying until everyone is permanently safe and free. That is a Bodhisattva‘s mentality.

Calm the waters

I’ll finish by sharing what my friend wrote about Gen Losang’s advice:

The key for me here is genuine compassion. I say that because if we try to practice this without genuine compassion as a motivation then we just end up unskillfully minimising people’s feelings. It can be very hurtful to be feeling pain and have someone tell you, “It’s all emptiness.” Unless you have high realisations, that pain exists for you, just as a child’s fears exist even if the nightmare doesn’t.

Within that, I try not to draw attention to the awful things that are happening. Also, when people are sharing their worries with me, I try to reduce the drama rather than adding to it, whilst still being sympathetic. I point out possible alternative explanations for the actions they have witnessed, or suggest a better possible outcome. In a way I try to steer their dream in a more positive direction. If a mother comforts a child after a nightmare, she doesn’t do this by agreeing the monsters were just horrific and are probably still there …IMG_2085

If we are not careful, we can just spread the hype (and there is also no shortage of “fake news” out there). We can end up pointing out the monsters in their nightmares that they missed the first time, instead of shining the flashlight under the bed and saying, “Look, there is no one there!”

A parent comforts their children when they have been terrified or upset by a dream by sympathising with their pain but skilfully reducing the sense that what they experienced was the truth. Then, once they are comforted to some extent, they can move their attention to something that will soothe or comfort them, rather than harping on about their own horrific nightmares or asking them for more details. 

What I am working on now is responding in the way Losang suggested, calming the waters, not swirling them around. 

As always, your comments are welcome below.

Related articles

Renunciation 

Change your future by changing your mind

How to help on different levels

Developing confidence

 

Are we doing enough?

who wants changePeople everywhere are suffering. Mass murder in Las Vegas. Climate catastrophes. Rampant racism. Growing inequality. Sanctioned homophobia. The clear and present danger of nuclear war. Millions more animals butchered without conscience. Even bad so-called Buddhists in Myanmar. Oh, and let’s not forget what’s been going on in all the other realms of samsara.

And that’s just today.

When I read these things I wonder, as a Buddhist, am I practicing enough? Am I giving enough? Am I helping enough? Am I putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak? Or am I still allowing myself to get too distracted or too complacent, “I’m alright, Jack”, given that Buddhism, or Dharma, makes it increasingly easy to feel all peaceful and happy inside? Or discouraged and fatalist, “That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s nothing I can do about this mess of a world so there is no point even trying.”?

We can always operate on two levels – inside and outside. Training our mind does not preclude being active to help our world. With a peaceful, grounded, and stable heart, above all practicing compassion and wisdom, we can also act externally to try and make a difference in whatever way seems appropriate, and according to how much time and skill we have.

What to do about Las Vegas?

sign-americansFor me, for example, I am using what happened on Sunday to remind myself that I have to address any hatred or even dislike in my own mind. If this is what uncontrolled aversion can do, I cannot afford to let this delusion feel at home in my heart.

And then I’m trying to figure what I can do to help counteract the culture of violence in the USA, partly by seeking to understand it more fully in the first place. I may not be able to do much, but I can contribute in some ways.

There need be no contradiction between practicing Buddhism on the inside and on the outside – when we try to protect others by, for example, campaigning for gun control with a good heart, this is a Bodhisattva perfection, giving fearlessness.

And we also have to practice patience with the outcome. We cannot be attached to the results of our actions in the near future because so many other factors are already in play. However, we can know that this giving and patience are creating good karma that will lead to good results.

And I accompany any actions with a prayer for the best possible outcome, for prayers are never wasted.

And North Korea?!

What about even more seemingly out of control situations such as climate change or the nuclear escalation between North Korea and the US? It is not beyond the realm of possibility that we’ll be faced with a “limited nuclear option” that would claim an impossible number of lives and throw this world into hell. So what do we do about that?

I don’t think we should pretend it is not happening. I don’t think we should pretend that we are not part of this world or that this world is not part of us. I don’t think this is a good time to be distracted by our own small problems and entertainments. I do think we need to be motivated by this to become Bodhisattvas and Buddhas as quickly as possible, so that we can use our wisdom to destroy our own and others’ samsara.

And as prayers do make all the difference, we need to direct our prayers toward world peace not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, but NOW.

It is not an either/or

Some Buddhists frame our activities as an either/or: either we are studying and meditating to attain enlightenment or we are helping others “externally”. But that’s a bit precious human lifeof a red herring because we can do both, and both can be leading us closer to enlightenment.

In any event, it is not as if many of us get to sit around in monasteries or their equivalent any more, studying and meditating all day long, like it was in Tibet. The chance would be a fine thing! Although I am of the opinion that most of us could indeed profitably spend more time studying and meditating, most of us will still have to go to work every day in any case to earn our keep, obliged to interact with a bunch of people, acting “externally”. So what are we DOING all day long at work? Most of us are probably in a position to love and help and influence at least a few people every day, to help transform their lives.

Fact is, too, that we never know how we are being received. We never know how far our influence might be spreading. An old friend of mine, Kathleen Dowling Singh, died on Tuesday. She was a wonderful woman, a fearless warrior for love. In mid-SeptemKathleen Dowling Singhber she had written to tell me she had just been diagnosed with cancer, requesting prayers and thanking me for “all you have given me.” Her heart was always deeply grateful to Geshe Kelsang and his teachings, some of which I was able to share with her when we both lived in Florida. And tributes are coming in from many people to say how much her series of “Grace” therapy books have helped them, books whose ideas come mainly from Buddhism.

You can’t keep a good idea down. So let’s share these ideas whenever possible.

Our Buddhist Centers

As I talked about in this last article, helping our Dharma Centers is always going to be an invaluable, even cosmic, use of our time — helping at the core of things. Even if you have no clue what to do about some of this other stuff, you can always volunteer practical help at a Center. Helping keep the doors open to people seeking refuge is increasingly vital and meaningful.

Can we up our game?

web of kindness

A friend sent me this article called Radical Buddhism and the Paradox of Acceptance. Someone on Facebook pointed out that this article may be a bit of a straw man misrepresentation of Slavoj Zizek’s apparently complex arguments, but I think that reading it could still serve a useful purpose because people do sometimes have these questions about the relevance of Buddhism.

In this tumultuous day and age — and as we seek to integrate Buddhism as a new development into our Western world — each of us probably needs to try answering these kinds of questions for ourselves individually. At least, I have found recently that in questioning myself, “Am I complicit in the status quo because I am personally alright, or am I doing enough to end world suffering?”, I have been inspired to up my spiritual game. So with that in mind I asked a question on Facebook:

How would you debate this misconception about Buddhism? Do you find Buddhism helps you escape or engage the world? Or both?!

Related to this, I also asked:

What can we as Buddhists do about (a) violent incidents like the one in Las Vegas (2) the real and present danger of nuclear strikes (3) the growing divisions and inequality in modern society (4) climate disasters. Answers on a postcard! No, seriously, what are we each doing individually and as a Sangha to end this kind of suffering?

Please give your own answer in the comments, if you have time! And I am going to share some of the excellent replies I have already received in the next article.

Related articles

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