Searching relief from tedium?

9 mins read

Nine months into the pandemic, with at least 6 months to go before things return to whatever normal might mean by then, and life might be feeling a tad tedious – that is, marked by monotony and tiresomeness that is seemingly beyond our control. Luckily, although we can’t really hurry this thing along, there is something we can do about our boredom.  

Carrying on from this last article, Boredom in the time of COVID, I have divided the inner or actual causes of boredom into (1) ignorance (2) lack of meaning, (3) poor attention span. The root of boredom is ignorance, which takes awhile to get rid of altogether; but #2 and #3 are recognizable causes that we can do something about straightaway. I found this article gives a very helpful summary of them: 

Scientists measure boredom by looking across two axes: your ability to find meaning in a task, and your ability to pay attention to it. For a person to function normally—i.e. not be bored—both of these abilities must be intact. It’s easy enough to see how this pandemic would disrupt the meaning axis: With some of us now spending all of our time at home, whatever we leaned on in the Before Times for meaning—our friends, our work, the for-here mugs at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf—has teetered out of reach. But it’s just as likely that pandemic anxiety has been messing with the other axis, by shortening our attention spans.

Buddhism can help with both.

# 2 cause of boredom: lack of meaning

First, a question: Does feeling bored come from a sense of meaninglessness or a sense of meaninglessness come from feeling bored?

We have to find fun and meaning in new things, and it could be right now that many of those things are going to have to be less external than before.

With schedules and social lives disrupted, almost none of the sources of fulfillment we relied on two months ago are easily accessible. While some have reacted by recommending books, challenges, or stream-able Broadway shows to counter the new reality, these are only Band-Aids.

Without meaning, we don’t really feel that we have much agency over our lives. It feels that way to a lot of people right now because the normal things we reach out to for meaning are not available to us – whether that is our job, our friendships, travel, a new relationship. These external sources of meaning do not show signs of completely recovering for a while for many people.

There are a billion people around the world still largely in more isolated circumstances at the moment, especially in parts of the world where the days are shortening and there is less opportunity to be together outside. People are being thrown on their own resources for meaning. With far fewer entertainments or distractions, everyone is having to become a lot more self-contained.

And this is not necessarily all bad given that externals are fleeting and incapable of providing lasting meaning or satisfaction, as mentioned here. Wouldn’t it be good if we used this time to develop our power in other more enduring ways?

A lot of people are being more active than ever this year in addressing social causes, such as poverty and inequality. I have spoken during public comment on the City  Council twice myself, and written letters, urging the mayor and council members to practice compassion toward our unhoused neighbors, to stop sweeping them from block to block like garbage (only difference being that garbage has somewhere to go), especially during a pandemic. This has not only added my voice to something that I have always found concerning — people in the wealthiest country in the world without a roof over their heads — but also helped me feel more meaning and connection during these difficult times. 

Reframing our current situation

One immediate thing we can also do is reframe this current situation. We can give it meaning by remembering that there is still a good reason for us all to be doing this social distancing, it is still very beneficial to be protecting ourself and everyone else.

Talking to an ICU nurse here the other day, a Buddhist, I was very much reminded of the need to keep being as careful as possible for quite a long time yet, to hold out patiently till the vaccines arrive, and to keep praying for our frontline heroes:

“Unfortunately, the medical community is failing nurses and doctors right now. Every provider I interact with is having symptoms of compassion fatigue and burnout. Some of this is due to the sheer number of people we have seen die recently (in many cases providers have seen more deaths in the past few months than they expected to see in their entire careers).  This is within the context of many providers being shunned in public as well as the resistance of many people to perform simple actions to prevent harming or infecting others, and the strong tendency of people to have wrong views regarding Covid. Hospital administrators are completely out of touch with the urgent needs of bedside clinicians.  In every hospital in the world there is a philosophy of “do more with less”.  To try and fix the budget crisis, nurses are asked to do our jobs with inadequate resources and reduced staff. The unfortunate side effect of this is that nurses experience greater burnout, compassion fatigue, and trauma; and we are witnessing worse outcomes and sentinal events resulting in patient deaths due to inadequate staffing. This leads to an ultimate feeling of hopelessness and helplessness within the frontline provider community.”

The American press doesn’t show many images of all the actual sickness and death, such as the thousands of unknown bodies buried in identical wooden boxes in Potter’s Graveyard in NYC; and when I saw some of these scary pictures this also reminded me of why we are being careful. As did the fact that someone tested positive in my house – luckily the rest of us tested negative despite being around each other, which could be testament to the power of masks. (She has recovered, I’m happy to say.)

To me, my mask reminds me of love. I am wearing it around other people to help keep all of us safer. There are so many people around the world who don’t have this luxury, and it reminds me to root for and pray for everyone who is in fear and danger, including all the frontline workers. We can reframe it to think that we are being careful because we care.

If we keep that concern for others in our heart, it will help us to find the meaning in this; and if we find the meaning we are immediately going to be less restless, bored, or unhappy.

This different life doesn’t have to be so terrible if we understand it in the context of being all in it together. This pandemic is showing that we are all utterly and totally interconnected. This virus does not discriminate who it attacks, whether an unhoused neighbor or the most powerful man in the world. If someone has it somewhere, there is always going to be some risk of the rest of the us getting it. We all need to help and look out for one another – never has self-absorption been so pointless. 

We can remember how we are all cells in the same body of life, as I explained in this article, Better together. I am not an isolated separated out bored person but one cell in the body of life in which everyone is important and equally meaningful. We rise and fall together ultimately. The people we were cheering for are the essential workers –– the ones who will get the vaccination first because they after all, rather than the rich and famous, are the ones essential to our staying alive and well. We can develop a big heart of compassion for everyone who is sick and scared and in pain all over the world. Instead of thinking about our own boredom, we can let this situation feed our compassion, “I want to help all these other people. I want to be part of the solution.”

Benefits of solitude

How do you feel about quiet times? According to most if not all religions, times of solitude can bring us closer to the divine. Solitude can be our greatest treasure. A friend in NYC said he has realized how much time he has spent running around for the past 15 years, and this period of enforced isolation has been truly regenerating and eye-opening for him in terms of realizing the meaning of his life. I am sometimes reminded this year of the long period I spent in the 2010’s pretty much all on my own in retreat, voluntarily – they were in some respects the best years of my life.

Like anything, we can get used to more time with our own company and come to enjoy it more and more, especially if we are in the business of improving ourselves. Through this we can become more comfortable with uncertainty and far more self-contained — life lessons that will help us long after COVID-19 has finally gone away and left us alone.

Crisis of agency

Boredom is not just about not having enough to do. We can have too much to do and still feel bored if what we are doing is meaningless to us.

Studies have found that people who are working all the time and stressed are just as likely to experience boredom as those who don’t have enough to do. Under stimulation is not the problem.

We have to reframe our lives so that we feel we are someone who is always full of joy and possibilities, even enlightenment, whatever we are doing or not doing by way of external activities.

Telling a bored person to go read a book or watch a movie is like telling a drowning person to swim to shore. If they could, they would,” said John Eastwood, who heads the Boredom Lab at York University. “Boredom is a crisis of agency.

Boredom can be judged as a lack of imagination, but the truth is we don’t lack imagination, we just need the understanding, agency, and permission to employ our creative minds to our best ends, motivated by wisdom and compassion. We all have imagination – we are using it all the time to impute our reality.

When we are bored, we are allowing ourselves to be swept along by our own solidly boring universe, not taking the effort to see that it is not even there. We may not yet realize the huge part we play in creating our world and what extraordinary potential and opportunity we currently have, but when we do, we can take charge of our own narrative far more than we are doing at the moment. We need to take charge of our own narrative. We need agency in our lives, in our days.

Through meditation we start to change our sense of who we think we are from a fixed limited person at the mercy of every passing circumstance to the inspired architect of our own life and future. Our whole world is created by imagination. We create everything with our minds, including liberation and enlightenment themselves.

More coming up in the next article about the next culprit for feeling bored, poor attention span. Meanwhile, if this article got you thinking about anything, I’d love your comments in the box below!

Related articles

A Buddhist solution to boredom

Rewriting the story of my life

Better together

Looking back at this life

 

Boredom in the time of COVID

12 mins read.

Have you felt bored or restless lately?

If so, you’re not alone. Not surprisingly, there are reports of a rapid spread of boredom across the world – the hours are going really slowly while the days are flying past. Cooped up in their homes, wrestling with their own helplessness or mortality, forced to wait out a scary virus, people everywhere are complaining of feeling not just anxious but restless and stir-crazy.

For example, a survey conducted of close to 3,500 adults living under national quarantine in Italy found that “boredom” beat out “loneliness” and “lack of fresh air” and trailed only “lack of freedom” as a source of misery.

So I thought this would be a good time to share a bit more about what Buddhism might have to say about boredom and how to deal with it. 

What is boredom?

Boredom is defined as a psychological state marked by a general lack of interest, excitement, or motivation, and experiencing one’s current situation as monotonous, tedious, or irrelevant. Boredom is the opposite of fascination. As indicated by another definition for boredom, “the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest,” boredom is associated with finding things meaningless. We don’t feel fully alive. As one boredom expert put it:

Boredom is a completely natural reaction to not being meaningfully engaged in the world. 

Some friends told me that they are incredulous that people have time to be bored when there is so much to do both practically and spiritually, but although in theory they may be right, I don’t think boredom works like that. People can be busy and bored too. Even if something is vital, such as the work in front of us, we can still feel weary and unmotivated. 

(It’s a bit like saying you’re incredulous that people can get angry when everyone is our kind mother, lol, or attached when samsara is a prison not a pleasure garden. Delusions, in other words, never make sense, yet still we have them.)

Boredom is also associated with a lack of ability to focus or pay attention. Even if something is interesting, such as a classic novel or even a Buddhist masterpiece, for some reason it is not holding our attention. We still feel restless and get up to see what’s in the fridge.

Buddhism can help with both the lack of interest and the lack of attention, as you’ll see if you keep reading.

Is life on hold for you?

Is boredom a serious problem, or a #firstworldproblem? Should we be concerned about being bored? How important is it to avoid it or deal with it? Is boredom a waste of time or can it serve a useful purpose?

These are not new questions but they are perhaps more pressing at the moment, with much of humanity social distancing and many of our fun and leisure activities on hold for the foreseeable future. Sure, thanks to Netflix, cable news, et al we still have an endless choice of things to watch, and thanks to social media we can still devote a considerable amount of our newly spare time to snooping on our high school friends or finding out what our friend’s cat had for breakfast; but what about the rest of the day?

A quick glance at social media during this period of lockdown reveals some crazy (if sometimes humorous) stuff going on in the name of boredom avoidance.

(A slight detour down memory lane … when I was first writing this article, around May, I was interrupted in this precise sentence by the sound of people howling, followed by singing loudly along to the song “Stayin alive”. I don’t know, it made me chuckle every night at 8 p.m. With the virus raging at even greater rates this Winter, yet fatigue and politics ruling the day, those Spring evenings now feel like innocent times, when everyone cheered on our beleaguered healthcare workers and agreed to keep each other safe. Back then, this quote spoke to me, from an article called “What if the virus can teach us to change?”:

Suddenly time has a different complexion: it registers differently. Everything that once seemed so vital—the need to get the train on time, the need to get the essay done—seems insignificant. Only the truly significant is significant: the phone call to a loved one, the medicine that needs to be taken, the need to stay alive and of course the need to keep others alive too.

Let’s keep seeing the need for us all to stay alive for a few more months yet! The vaccines are on their way … )

Boredom can lead to more food and substance abuse. I have noticed a fair few people complaining about putting on weight during this lockdown. It can also lead to anxiety and depression.

Boredom can famously make people reckless and self-centered at the best of times. As lockdown lifts, it could lead to a whole new surge of virus activity if, desperate for something to do, we throw caution and masks to the winds. (Wrote that last sentence back in May lockdown also and, well, you see my point …)

I can’t help feeling that boredom is at least somewhat to blame for the over-thinking and over-talking this year about subjects that don’t bear that much thinking about, eg, conspiracy theories, endless political shenanigans, and the faults of others.

Therefore, it does seem important to try and find a cure for this boredom. Is there a simple way, for example, to turn our boredom into its opposite – fascination and being in the zone? Or into productive meaningful activities that can make us feel good both about ourselves and about this strange period in our lives?

What causes boredom?

I will delve first into various causes of boredom to see if Buddhism has anything to offer by way of solutions – dividing these into outer (or more circumstantial) conditions and inner (or actual) causes.

Outer conditions

Not having enough to do, or having to do things we don’t want to do, can bring on boredom at any stage in our life, not just now or if you are a teenager. If we are literally unable to do the usual things we find interesting, of course that’s going to be a challenge. As someone said on Facebook:

You try to stay strong, but there’s only so much bread you can make or Tiger King you can watch on Netflix or jigsaws you can master before your head swims with the repetition and tedium of it all. 

Not only that, but wasting more time twiddling our thumbs trying to wait this thing out just makes the restlessness worse. As someone else wrote to me the other day:

I know so much pressure is on all of us to waste time and to just trivialize it. There is so much pressure on us to try to overcome boredom by spending time on frivolities.

Pretty much every “What to do in Lockdown” list I’ve see on the media has left me yawning or even shuddering at the suggested time suck. Boredom is also quite contagious – hanging out with other bored people can lead to more boredom. Moreover, there is a connection between addiction (to our gadgets etc etc) and boredom, they reinforce each other – umpteen articles about that, Google it.

In general, the less acquainted we are with self-contained contentment and the more we are normally attached or even addicted to excitement and drama, the more we are going to feel bored when nothing seems to be happening.

Intensity and excitement can be a way of life – sometimes people in recovery, for example, complain of being bored even as they start to feel so much better in other ways. A mother was telling me how her whole family, complete with three teenagers with learning or eating issues, have been addicted to drama for years – when things quieten down, it is only a matter of minutes before they all look at each other and say, “I’m bored!”

Life in general appears unfair and sometimes people simply don’t have the opportunity or means to do the things that other people take for granted, to pursue certain dreams, to make the most of themselves in terms of worldly achievements. This can lead to an existential ennui with a seemingly blank future. Fortunately, becoming enlightened is available for everyone.

Those are some of the external reasons I can think of for why we get bored – but please feel free to leave others in the comments. And sometimes we can work on these outer causes, trying to change our circumstances or our daily routines in creative ways to alleviate boredom if the opportunity is there, which it may or may not be at the moment.

Fulfillment’s desolate attic

Just bear in mind that pursuing outer interests alone is also never going to cut it. In 1971, psychologists Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell went so far as to coin a term for the pointless quest for more, more, more: “The hedonic treadmill.” The term stuck. If we keep insisting on looking for pleasure in things outside of ourself, we end up on that treadmill, which is really boring if you think about it, going round and round like a hamster reaching nowhere. Speeding it up just gets us nowhere faster. The more we achieve, the more we require to sustain our new levels of satisfaction. Our gratification from the new is fleeting; we adapt in spite of ourselves. You may as well chase your afternoon shadow. When searching happiness without, it always looms ahead. As these psychologists put it:

There may be no way to permanently increase the total of one’s pleasure except by getting off the hedonic treadmill entirely.

Worldly commitments, too, can be fragile and transient. Maybe less fragile and transient than the dopamine high of getting a paper published or falling in love. But fragile and transient nonetheless. Relationships end; jobs don’t work out. The bonds we often think of as ropes are really gossamer threads. It can be a very painful discovery to make, but nonetheless a useful one, leading us into a deeper exploration of what constitutes true creativity, satisfaction, and fascination.

Inner causes

So, if we only look at the outer or circumstantial causes of our boredom, we won’t really be able to figure out any lasting solutions to it. Given that, to solve the relentless inner problem of boredom, we need to look more at its actual causes. I will divide these into three, just because why not.

Number 1 cause of boredom: ignorance

As I mentioned in this previous article I wrote back in the day, the root of boredom is ignorance – and in the case of boredom this manifests as a lack of true understanding and engagement with our world:

Whether we can or cannot make innovative changes to our circumstances, given that the main cause of boredom is internal (ignorance), the main creative solution is also to be found within our own minds. If we dismiss this fact, we may soon enough find ourselves becoming bored by our new job, companions, trees, puzzles, or hobbies. After all, we’ve been trying to change the circumstances of our lives to solve our boredom since beginningless time, yet here we all are, still finding ourselves bored.

With ignorance, even though we are projecting the world with our own mind as in a dream, we still feel disconnected as if the world is outside our mind. Oblivious to our own act of creation, we feel a gap between me and the world — I am here and the world is out there. This is the crux of the matter for boredom and in fact every other delusion.

The world out there is no more findable than if we were walking around as an avatar in a virtual reality world. But we are so sucked in – first due to our confusion about its actual nature and then due to the ignorance grasping it as other than it is. The traditional analogy is stumbling across a snake at dusk, jumping back in fear, only to have our companion pick it up and tie a knot in it. Because it is dusk, we can’t make out the rope, and then we misinterpret it to be a snake, getting scared as a result.

Dusk symbolizes our confusion — we cannot see clearly the actual nature of things, their emptiness; and then our ignorance believes the things we are seeing are real. (You can read about these two types of ignorance in Joyful Path of Good Fortune.)

All delusions, fears, and sufferings come from this. Aversion sees those real things as inherently faulty and, believing what it sees, wants to push them away or destroy them. Attachment sees those real things as inherently desirable and wants to pull them towards us. With boredom, like I said, there is a sense of being disengaged. We are indifferent to these real things outside our mind, they are just sitting there being inherently uninteresting.

This can, sadly, include other living beings. The vast majority of living beings may be strangers to us right now, just “meh”, uninteresting and dull to us. (One antidote you can try out to boredom, therefore, if you are bored with the people around you, is the meditation on equanimity, where we head on tackle this indifference born of ignorance. More on that later.) 

With boredom there is a belief in an inherently boring world, one that exists outside the mind. Nothing and no one appears interesting to us, and we believe that appearance as if it were the truth. But we will never find an actually boring world or boring people if we go looking for them with wisdom. Quite the opposite. We can therefore dissolve the boring world away with the wisdom realizing emptiness and re-impute a fully alive and fascinating one, knowing it is the same nature as our mind. When I first discovered teachings on emptiness, I saw I no longer had a real excuse to be bored when my mind is creating my own reality in every moment of every day. Wisdom is the ultimate antidote to this delusion, as it is to all the other delusions.

I will look at the other two inner causes in the next article – already moreorless written, but I’m coming out with these four articles in installments so you don’t get bored … 

Over to you. I would love to hear what you think about all this and what you’ve been up to. I may be able to incorporate it into the next few articles too, which is helpful.

Related articles

A Buddhist solution to boredom 

Seven reasons to learn to mediate in a pandemic 

Equanimity 

How to keep a peaceful mind

 

9 mins read

This happens to be Article #500 on Kadampa Life! Thanks for sticking with me these last 10 years.

Although things are falling about around our ears, we nonetheless have the opportunity right now to discover deep peace. Although times are degenerating in general, for us individually this is said to be a golden age for spiritual practice because we have everything we need. Moreover, as Shantideva says:

Suffering has good qualities.

The more suffering we have, the more we have to practice with, and the stronger our mind becomes. Eventually it becomes like a blacksmith’s anvil that, no matter how hard it is hit, remains unaffected.

I know, I know, this is easier said than done. (We just got COVID in da house, here, for example, and the daily news headlines seem to get more and more dire with each passing week — in fact I’m wondering whether to just get my news from The Onion or the late night comedians so I can at least laugh grimly.) But we gotta do it because the option, to remain a hapless victim of samsara, is not feasible.

Carrying on from this article, Dealing with fears

Fact is, all of us want to be happy all the time. It is our driving force, along with the wish to avoid even the slightest suffering.

We know that human beings want to be happy because we are one. But it’s not just us … the other day I saw hundreds of small fish in a lake, and all of them wanted to be happy too. When my shadow fell on the water, they swam away in fear. All they want is to eat and swim around with their friends and be safe, they don’t want to be eaten, chased, or impaled any more than we do.

Make a fish’s life meaningful …

There is nothing wrong at all with the wish to be happy all the time and avoid all pain and suffering; but if we want to fulfill these wishes we have to learn to master our minds. I don’t see any other way working, do you?

If we can learn gradually to prioritize a pure and peaceful mind over (or during) external striving, we can learn to stay happy even when bad things happen, and even when we are seriously ill and dying … imagine having that superpower! I have met and heard about plenty of people who can do this, including a number of practitioners who have died so far, such as Tessa and Mimi; and there are legions of inspiring stories in the scriptures.

Neither man nor woman …

I asked my eye doctor Dr. Kumara last week how I could stop my retina from getting thinner, and he replied that neither man nor woman has the power to stop ageing no matter how much they want to or how much kale they eat. He then explained the second law of thermodynamics. He is not a very ordinary dude.

Quick segue into divine synchronicities … My eye went wrong when I happened to be doing a one-week Dorje Shugden retreat, including requesting favorable conditions and the removal of obstacles, LOL. When my optometrist referred me to a specialist, the receptionist said: “Welcome to our five retina locations. It just so happens you will be seeing the principal.” (Dorje Shugden is the principal Buddha of five retinues for those of you wondering.) Upon meeting him, Dr. Kumara asked what I did, and then declared, “Meditation has never been more needed! You have never been more needed.” Just before he operated, he gave me a vajra instruction: “I need you to call upon the deepest reserves of your meditative experience while I do this operation on your eye.” His going home advice was, “I only want you to do one thing this week: meditate.” As you might imagine, the operation was a success. When I saw him again last week, he told me, “I was having a very good day when I fixed your eye.”

Sooner or later bodies and everything else entropies and falls apart because this is samsara, but if we learn to prioritize a peaceful mind in our daily lives it doesn’t matter nearly as much. In fact the more problems we have, the more opportunities we have to practice and the more quickly we make progress. The alternative, not to rely on a peaceful mind, is hopeless, leading to more suffering now and in the future.

How to have a happy life

Simply put, Geshe Kelsang advised in the Kadampa Festival in Brazil that (1) Everyone wants to be happy all the time. (2) If our mind is happy, we are happy, even if we are sick. (3) To have a happy mind all the time, we need a peaceful mind. (4) To develop and maintain a peaceful mind, we need two things: to tune into blessings and to practice Dharma. 

1. Got blessings?

So one of the two ways to get a peaceful mind, according to Geshe-la, is through blessings. Anyone can get these whenever they tune in with faith and prayer to any enlightened being they like, believing they are there and asking for their help and protection — for example, Buddha of fearlessness, Tara, or Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara, or Buddha Shakyamuni, or Medicine Buddha, or a holy being from another tradition such as Jesus if you’re not a Buddhist.

Enlightened beings are always beaming their blessings — their blessings actually pervade space – but we’re like someone in a heavy suit of self-grasping armor, feeling all alone and cut off. We need to learn to lift that visor a little bit, let the light in.

The fully developed minds of enlightened beings are universal love and omniscient wisdom mixed with the true nature of all things – so they are everywhere, we simply need to tune in. We can feel their blessings flow into us, the nature of deep protective love and peace, and our mind lifts, becomes happier, is transported to a better place. We see the light! We are in effect mixing our minds with their minds, as explained more in this good guest article on blessings, and it works very well, we often get instant relief. Our anxiety or unhappiness feels far more manageable and may even go away entirely.

Here’s a great habit to get into: as soon as we notice the grip of anxiety or dread starting to tighten around our heart, stop what we are doing and tune into enlightened minds before the anxiety takes over our mind (at which point we normally have little choice but to wait it out.) One quick and effective way to get blessings from Buddha, day or night, is to use the Liberating Prayer. We can also do this traditional refuge prayer:

I and all sentient beings, until we attain enlightenment,
Go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Here is a short simple way to rely on Buddha Tara. Or we can just talk to holy beings in our own words, they’re listening. Their nature is that they have no choice but to respond instantly and spontaneously to our requests. Our only real job is to be open to their help.

Faith grows over time as we focus on the good qualities of enlightened beings. If we experiment with tuning into blessings, we notice we feel better, so our faith grows. Then we get more blessings and feel even better, so our faith grows more.

2. Apply Dharma

The other way to get a peaceful mind is to apply Buddha’s teachings, called Dharma, which pacify our self-cherishing and other delusions and transform our thoughts into compassion, wisdom, and other positive peaceful states. As Venerable Geshe-la says:

The purpose of meditation is to make the mind calm and peaceful. If our mind is peaceful, we will be free from worries and mental discomfort, and so we will experience true happiness. ~ How to Transform Your Life

BTW, meditation doesn’t mean just sitting on our cushion or chair with our eyes closed, but familiarizing ourselves with these peaceful thoughts during all our daily activities, identifying with them more and more.

Every Dharma mind is an effective antidote to some unpeaceful mind. For example, putting others first is an antidote to self-cherishing. Seeing everything as mere name, being less closely involved in the external situation, is an antidote to self-grasping. Renunciation with clear-sighted acceptance that we can’t expect everything to go our way all the time, at least not until we have permanent mental freedom, is an antidote to aversion and anxiety, and it makes our mind stable. Whatever Dharma we use, it has the effect of allowing our naturally peaceful mind to re-emerge and therefore stay happy.

As we get more and more used to turning to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, we find we go there naturally when we are feeling scared or sad. Receiving blessings and getting used to relying on Dharma minds, we get better and better at staying peaceful, whatever else is going on. This really is the essence of spiritual practice, fulfilling our wishes to be happy and free.

So, are we “relying upon a happy mind alone” as the great Kadampa saying goes, or are we panicking the moment something doesn’t go our way?! If we are training in keeping a pure and peaceful mind, we have no basis for worry. There are countless people who have pulled this off, and you are next in line. 

And talking of fish … It’s bad enough being a human being in the age of COVID, I was thinking, but being a fish has always sucked. And what chance do they have to keep a peaceful mind and/or get enlightened if I as a relatively free and fortunate human am not even making the effort?

To conclude … all of Buddhist spiritual practice is designed to fulfill our wishes to be happy and not suffer. And as we become stronger and more peaceful, we naturally want to help others to be the same, to share what we know. Knowing from our own experience that suffering sucks, we don’t want others to suffer either. One day we decide to strive for enlightenment so that we can bring blessings and peace to each and every living being every day. Then, whether we are healthy or sick, in this body or the next, that is our priority, our actual path, and our mind and life really start to go new places.

Over to you! Please share ways in which you have been able to keep a peaceful mind even when ill, it would be so helpful.

Related articles
 
 

Online Kadampa Spring Festival 2020

I’m doing something a bit unusual in this blog article, which is simply encouraging anyone who is reading it and who is interested in Buddhism to tune into the International Kadampa Spring Festival if you haven’t done so already and can make the time …

(Here is this article in Spanish.)

Vajrapani
Buddha Vajrapani, the Buddha of power, who destroys diseases and delusions

This is because I’ve been finding it to be incredibly profound, clear, uplifting, and relevant to what’s going on right now. From what I am gleaning, it is helping people beyond measure, and it is definitely a huge shot in the arm for our troubled world.

I think it would be very powerful for everyone if loads and loads of people could hear these really clear Buddhist teachings on developing compassion and wisdom, receive the empowering blessings of Buddha Vajrapani, and do the inspiring meditations and retreat with these three close and immensely kind disciples of Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

Tomorrow is technically the last day of the Festival — however, the links are available until June 3rd, which is still a week away. If you have not been able to listen in yet, or if you didn’t know this was happening, maybe you can think about registering today and making a plan to listen in over the next several days? Because you still have time. There are people all over the world who are still joining in, and I think a lot of people will in any case want to listen to a lot of the teachings and meditations twice before the links expire.

I would suggest starting with the first teaching and working your way systematically through the meditations, empowerment, teachings, and retreat in the order they are presented on the page, getting as far as you can according to what else you have going on over the next week! There is no need to join in for the Pujas at this point unless you have lots of time. Any questions, write them in the comments box below.

Here is the link to register: https://kadampabookings.org/frontend/?eventid=587

May all the inner and outer obstacles of all living beings swiftly be pacified.

 

How to broaden your horizons while stuck inside

10 mins read.

A news alert just popped up on this screen to say “Need a vacation!? Here are 8 gorgeously located movies to watch on Netflix.” And if we watch them, our mind will go to those places, albeit leaving our physical body on the sofa munching homemade popcorn.

Carrying directly on from this article, Living in a virtual world.

mirror worldIt seems like our mind can go anywhere, so let’s go somewhere uplifting. If I can go to the Caribbean or London from home, why can I not also visit the Pure Land from home? As I explain a bit in this article:

Just as our ordinary mind can go to the moon just by thinking about it, so our un-ordinary mind Vajrayogini can go to the Pure Land just by thinking about it.

Buddha Maitreya said in Ornament for Clear Realization that because living beings’ minds are impure, their worlds are impure; and when they purify their minds, they will inhabit Pure Lands. Even if I dream I am in a Pure Land, it is no different from being there, even if for just a little while.

Once we get rid of all the obstructions from our mind, our body will also go where our mind goes because for a Buddha their body and mind are the same nature, not different like ours. One way to understand this is to think of a dream – if my dream mind dreams that I am swimming in an ocean, my dream body is also swimming in an ocean.

Unfettered

Not only is our mind not in any way restricted by physical objects or time, but it has this amazing potential for deep bliss, for love encompassing all living beings, for wisdom that sees all objects of knowledge fully and simultaneously, for being everywhere all at once. It is because we have this formless mind, which is not in any way fixed, that we have the potential for enlightenment, our so-called Buddha seed. You have this. dark clouds

When we attain enlightenment, our mind is universal compassion and omniscient wisdom — everyone is appearing to our mind and in our mind, like reflections in an unobstructed  mirror. Not separated from them by the illusion of dualistic appearances and conceptions, we can now help everyone every day.

A mirror with two cloths

Buddha gave his 84,000 teachings precisely because we have this potential – if we didn’t, there’d be literally no point in him explaining how to attain liberation and enlightenment.

Try wrapping your mind around this for a moment:

In Ornament for Clear Realization, Buddha Maitreya gives three reasons why Buddha’s mind knows all phenomena directly and simultaneously: (1) Buddhas directly realize the two truths of all phenomena because they have completed meditation on the two truths being one entity; (2) Buddhas have complete knowledge of all phenomena being of one taste in the state of emptiness; and (3) a Buddha’s mind is completely free from the two obstructions. ~ Ocean of Nectar page 379

Here is a hopefully helpful analogy to illustrate at least that third point. We can think of our mind as like a mirror that is capable of reflecting (or if you like, holding) every single object in the universe.

Right now, however, it is covered with two cloths – a thin veil just on top of it and a thick cloth on top of that.

mirror obstructedFrom our perspective we don’t know we are a mirror because all we see is darkness and confusion. We may get glimmers of light, but generally we blink out at a world narrowed by obscurations and, having no idea that we’re doing it, grasp onto this shrunken world as if it really existed. Like William Blake says in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.

Our deepest level of awareness, or root mind, can potentially be everywhere and love everyone all the time. However, we are normally confined to our small selfish ego capsules feeling ordinary, fixed, and limited. This self-grasping and our other delusions are like a thick cloth obscuring our vision and rendering us unaware of how extraordinary we can be. Through spiritual training we learn about these delusions — how they function, how they harm us, where they come from, and how to remove them both temporarily and ultimately.

One conclusion we can draw from this, as Geshe Kelsang teaches in How to Transform Your Life, is how it is possible to maintain kindness and respect for everyone (including ourselves) despite our delusions:

Just as we distinguish between a person and his or her ­delusions, so we should also remember that the delusions are only temporary, adventitious characteristics of that person’s mind and not its real nature. Delusions are distorted conceptual thoughts that arise within the mind, like waves on the ocean—just as it is possible for waves to die down without the ocean disappearing, so it is possible for our delusions to end without our mental continuum ceasing. It is because they distinguish between delusions and persons that Buddhas are able to see the faults of delusions without ever seeing a single fault in any sentient being.

When we remove the thick cloth of our delusions permanently through the wisdom realizing the true nature of things, already there is light and happiness and freedom shining through. However, our mind is not free from all obstructions yet – we are still like the mirror with a thin veil over it.

mirror unobstructed 2We are liberated from our own suffering once we remove the thick cloth of our delusion-obstructions, but we still need to do some more spiritual practice to remove the veil of obstructions to omniscience, which we do on the so-called “three pure grounds”. These cause things to appear to us as somewhat existing outside the mind, the so-called “mistaken appearance of true existence;” even though we no longer believe or buy into this. We know we’re dreaming now, we have control. Our own mind is pure and free, but with this dualistic appearance we are not able to  be everywhere all the time helping everyone.

A Bodhisattva on the eighth ground has abandoned all delusions and their seeds, but he still has the imprints of delusions in his mental continuum, rather as wet sand will retain a footprint even after the foot has moved on. These imprints of the delusions are obstructions to omniscience … Imprints of delusions are effects of delusions, but not causes of delusion. They are however, causes of mistaken appearance. ~ Ocean of Nectar page 431

On the final stage of our spiritual journey, wisdom pulls away the veil of mistaken appearance and reveals a Buddha’s omniscient mind, like a mirror that can reflect everything directly and simultaneously.

Only Buddhas are free from the imprints of delusions and the mistaken appearance of true existence to which they give rise.

A time of reckoning

Why am I telling you all this? Because when I look out of the window — as “stay at home” is morphing into “safe at home” here in Colorado — I can see that it is Spring; and Spring is all about new beginnings. We can become who we want to become, realize our fullest and most blissful potential. And this is a good time to do it, rather than sitting around feeling bored and powerless and sad. We have been projecting the causes of our pain outwards since beginningless time and look where that has gotten us. Now we could learn to do something different and really get rid of this pain once and for all.

quote about wisdomThis is a time of reckoning. I read a moving article the other day from a mother, here are some extracts:

The other night (or last night, or last month) I was putting my daughter to bed and she started to cry. “What’s wrong, baby?” I asked, and I meant it…. “What is all this even for?” she wailed. She didn’t mean the quarantine: “All of this, why are we even here? Why are we even alive?” I tried to put together a soothing platitude …

To her credit, she was having none of it. “I hate this, I hate everything that’s ever going to happen to me. Help me, Mama, please, please help me.” …..

Absent the scaffolding of the world as we know it, I’ve got nothing to say. So I did the only thing I could. I held her, and rocked her, and hoped my silence helped.

During this confusing global pandemic, instead of feeling trapped we can really think about who we want to be and what we want out of this life – which will depend on what we think we can get out of it. Even when we brave our first tentative steps out of our houses, we’ll be finding that there are fewer distractions from all those full gatherings, a lot of our entertainments will have dried up, external life is basically looking like it is going to be pretty tedious and full of masks and endless hand-washing yet for a while. But instead of feeling hemmed in and frustrated and anxious, “hating everything that is ever going to happen to me”, maybe we can use Buddha’s teachings to find agency and become free instead.

My daughter is saying out loud the questions that everyday life helps us forget. This quarantine feels like a time of reckoning, forcing us to look at ourselves as we really are. Maybe whatever world we build after this is over will be more honest about that reality.

Like that young seeker, we can take stock: Who am I? Where on earth (or elsewhere) did I come from? Where am I going? Who do I want to be? Who can I be? What do I want out of this life? What kind of world do I want to live in? How can I find lasting happiness and freedom? And how can I be part of creating that for others too?

These are important questions. Do I want to go back to the same life and world I had in the “old days” or do I want something better? Is that old life even sustainable? Where and who do I want to be in five years’ time, for example? If we just go back to doing the same old things, we won’t change; and if we don’t change, our world won’t change.

At the very least, this pandemic has shown us that it doesn’t work to ignore and neglect others given that we are all caught up in the same web of mutual dependence. The heroes these days, the people we are applauding at 8:00 pm, are the healthcare and other essential workers – essential to our lives and well-being, that is — rather than the glitzy millionaires. Who knows, perhaps this is long overdue.

I suspect this is not our last pandemic. Why would it be? And even without pandemics there is plenty of other pain in our world, not least the swarms of locusts in East Africa causing hardship and starvation to millions of human beings while barely making the news, and the trapped animals who are being chillingly “depopulated” in their millions due to the interruptions in the human food supply chains. Meanwhile all over the world people are still thinking to solve their problems using angry violence or selfish greed, simply setting themselves up for more.

Sherma in lockdownBuddha’s point is that the suffering will never end on its own or by us just by dealing with external causes, which is at best putting on a band-aid. This world, our whole world, is clearly suffering a whole lot of problems right now; and we can’t ignore it so much now that it is reaching everyone’s doorstep. When we have delusions and do negative actions we have no choice but to inhabit a world of suffering – sooner or later our karma bounces back on us. This world is a reflection of our mind and our karma. If we don’t change these, our experiences won’t change, and our world will just stay impure, unhealthy, and painful. In fact, it will get worse.

Be the change

We follow the crowd. We tend to follow what everyone else is up to. Right now we don’t really know what everyone is up to as we are not seeing them – so maybe we can think more independently? Or maybe not, I don’t know.

We are often waiting for other people to change – for example for the politicians to start behaving. Good luck with that. Vote for who you need to, but basically waiting for others to change is massively demoralizing because we have no control over them nor guarantees their motivation or behavior will magically improve. Please don’t misconstrue me as saying we don’t do practical things as well, as I talk about here – but you know what I mean.

Venerable Atisha said:

Since you cannot tame the minds of others until you have tamed your own, begin by taming your own mind.

Sherma 2 in lockdownWe try to tame others’ minds, but that’s not how it works. If our mind is uncontrolled and polluted by delusions such as selfishness, we’re as much a part of the problem as anyone else; and there is no way we can control others’ minds or behavior.

I was wondering what would have happened if Buddha had waited for everyone else to change? Where would we be now? Prince Siddhartha figured samsara out when he left the palace and saw in turn a sick person, an old person, and a corpse. This is bad, he thought, I can see that this is bad. Life is based on a crumbling edifice of sickness, ageing, death, not getting what we want, getting what we don’t want, or feeling basically dissatisfied.

Rather than just putting his head back under his soft luxurious royal pillow or immersing himself in his palatial distractions, Prince Siddhartha decided to do something about this. He got rid of the two cloths from the mirror of his mind, and gave 84,000 teachings to show how we could do the same. The path to enlightenment is now all laid out for us in black and white.

It is not as if we don’t have the potential to follow this path, like countless people have done already:

Geshe-la prostrating to Buddha high resFrom this point of view sentient beings are like enlightened beings. Their root mind, their own mind, is completely pure. Their own mind is like a blue sky and their delusions and all other conceptions are like clouds that temporarily arise. From another point of view sentient beings mistakenly identify themselves and are harmed by delusions. They endlessly experience immense suffering as hallucinations. Therefore we need to develop compassion for them, and liberate them from their deep hallucination of mistaken appearance by showing them the real nature of things, which is the emptiness of all phenomena. ~ How to Transform Your Life

I don’t know what we are waiting for. We can complain as much as we like about other people, but it doesn’t help a single thing.

To conclude, we can use the creative role of our minds and actions to go beyond all suffering to the Pure Land of liberation and enlightenment, or we can ignore this potential and keep trying to stick band-aids on our gaping wounds, staying in the impure lands of samsara. It is our choice.

Okay, enough from me. Please leave comments.

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