Breaking free

As a further incentive to ditch the attachment and grow the love, as described in this article, I find the following analogy very helpful.

escape prison.jpg

Buddha likened samsara to a prison. Imagine you’ve been in a ghastly, sickening, sepulchral prison for as long as you can remember, but that there is finally and miraculously a way out – a helicopter is hovering in the clear sky above and letting down the escape ladder. And you have made it to the roof, you’re about to put your foot on the first rung ….

But … you look behind you instead, and fall for a fellow prisoner ….

And for a little while the prison seems more bearable, even pleasurable – you are wedged into a comfy sofa in a corner somewhere and — lulled or dulled into complacency, ignoring the need – you forget those plans you had to escape and bring the whole disgusting structure down.

Chained and bound to you

Buddha said we are in the prison of samsara due to our ignorance, but chained to its walls, unwilling or unable to escape, by our attachment. chains on walls.jpg

Then the relationship falls apart — maybe they fall for another prisoner, maybe they die/get transferred to another cell block, maybe our feelings just change. Standing there in our prison stripes, we now feel all forlorn.

Maybe at this point we remember the ladder on the roof again. Maybe we even put our foot on the first rung. After all, the ladder is still there, for now … But then we get all curious – we want to quickly nip back down again just to check what our ex and everyone else is up to, check their Facebook feeds, see what’s on the samsara channel, what annoying headlines we’ve been missing, or go buy a Kit Kat for the journey … and in we are sucked again. Maybe while we’re there we decide to settle a debt, tell someone what we really think of them. Or we are drawn into jealousy once more, or experience some prison-work-related stress.

You get the picture. We don’t need to go back, part of us may not even really want to, but we keep going back anyway. Meanwhile our Spiritual Guide, who is flying the helicopter, waits patiently for us to make up our minds.

With our precious human life, it is as if we have made it temporarily to the roof of samsara and the best shot at escaping we’ve ever had. We’ve been queuing up for this for aeons. We are probably amongst the 0.000000000001% luckiest people in samsara right now. We put in a lot of work to get to this place – do we really want to blow it?

A prisoner no longer

escapenowhuglater.gifThis is why we need the self-confidence mentioned in this article: “I will conquer my delusions of attachment, anger, and ignorance and destroy this prison – that is what I want and that is who I am. I will identify with being a prisoner no longer.”

We can change our idea or imputation of ourselves. And along with that it’s not hard then to change our imputation of everyone else too, including our objects of attachment. They, their friends, their families, all badly need rescuing, along with everyone else, and they can be rescued as they have the same potential for freedom as us. Being attached to them as they are, in their prison uniforms, just solidifies the status quo and doesn’t help them. We need to stop our attachment and DO something. We don’t need to get our sense of security from partners, friends, and family, but from refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, the way out. We need to “escape now, hug later” as Han Solo impresses on Finn and Rey (who are about to get disastrously distracted in The Force Awakens.)

Hey, hang on, are you saying “Relationships, why bother?!” then?!

No. I’m not. This doesn’t all mean that we shouldn’t have relationships, just that we need to keep our eye on the prize and not lose our heads. In fact, we are always and already in relationship with everyone! We are all interconnected, we only exist in dependence upon others; and sometimes, as well, strong karma with individuals ripens in close familial, or student-teacher, or romantic relationships. So, how to square this away — just a few thoughts while we are still here …sun rays

I think the happiness we derive from a partner or close friend, for example, comes from love, respect, and admiration, wishing for their success, happiness, and free agency, and not from trying to bend them or their behavior to our will. This love can be a doorway to sustained bliss, and to equal compassion and love for everyone, wide open like the sun. Attachment, on the other hand, leads automatically to expectations wanting more and more, which make us vulnerable to disappointment and then irritation and anger, just more samsara.

Knowing that happiness really comes from a peaceful mind, perhaps try this if you feel the craving or heart sickness or fear or tightness or confusion or powerlessness coming from uncontrolled desire. We need to allow the waves of attachment and anxiety to settle down through breathing meditation or something like that. We need to realign our mind, to go for refuge to love and wisdom and the restorative power of our own mental peace. We need to try loving everyone in our life and beyond. If we get back in control, the relationship will then take care of itself, whatever happens or indeed doesn’t happen.

To conclude …

My first thought of the day is not, therefore, how am I going to scritch scratch for happiness today in samsara, but how am I going to burn this whole thing down?!

Related articles

Happiness is here right now 

Tantra and attachment 

The age-old foes of our people 

Time to rebel!

There seems to be a fair bit of hubris around lately, like it’s catching or something, and some of it is quite dangerous. Deluded pride is more about bending the world to our own will, thinking we are already great and/or know it all. It never works out in the long term — as they say, pride always comes before a fall. And pride is not inspiring.manjushri

With wisdom, on the other hand, we see that WE need to change if we are to find lasting happiness and help others do the same. We need the confidence to change, and this needs to be based on something valid, ie, our spiritual potential and actual good qualities, not dumb stuff or selfish stuff or negative stuff.

Actual self-confidence — or non-deluded pride — is a humble mind, the very opposite of hubris. It is able to accept challenges without freaking out, learn from others, grow from mistakes, and keep us moving and improving. It is also catching because when we meet a truly humble, selfless person we are humbled by their guru-and-lineage-gurus-black-and-whitehumble nature. Their influence can be huge and their inspiration ring down the ages.

Even one strong delusion can be a powerful force for negativity in our world – delusions are weird and scary, and they can spread fast. But a strong, virtuous, sane mind like self-confident humility or compassion is just as powerful and contagious, maybe more so, and can oppose the delusions directly. So being the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi put it, is an effective response to our own and others’ delusions; and, unlike trying to master other people, mastering our own mind is guaranteed to bring about good results now and later.

Carrying on from this article.

Pride in thinking we can destroy our delusions

The second area in which we can increase our self-confidence is called “the pride in thinking we can destroy our delusions.” This is the thought:

I can conquer all my delusions; they will never conquer me. ~ How to Understand the Mind

We are thinking, “I don’t want to stay the same – I want to become unstuck by freeing my mind from the chains of my delusions.” In ordinary psychology, perhaps, we hardly dare imagine that we can change that much – getting rid of all our faults and limitations, as opposed to just some of them. But in Buddhist psychology, as explained a bit here, it is possible to develop a vision that understands we can.

It is impossible to destroy our spiritual potential because this is based on reality, but it is perfectly possible to destroy our delusions because these are based on wrong conceptions that can be righted:

A person under the influence of delusions is not in his right mind, because he is creating terrible suffering for himself and no one in his right mind would create suffering for himself. All delusions are based on a mistaken way of seeing things. When we see things as they really are, our delusions naturally disappear and virtuous minds naturally manifest. ~ How to Transform Your Life 

Bodhisattva warriors

warriorsTry thinking this: “I’m going to destroy, vanquish, and utterly eliminate from my mind every last trace of delusion.” Just try it out. Try the feel of it in your heart-mind. I am going to destroy my delusions. This is how Shantideva says it in his epic Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

 I will conquer all obstacles,
And none shall conquer me.

That is a big sense of self, right?! But it’s not the big, real, important self as in deluded pride (the self that doesn’t exist).

Thus I, who will become a Conqueror,
Will practice with self-confidence.

A real Conqueror is a Buddha, someone who has awakened from the sleep of mistaken conceptions and appearances, destroying all their delusions permanently.

We need this self-confidence so that when things go wrong, (as they do tend to do), we need never become panic-stricken or downcast.

You know that feeling – if our confidence is weak, then just some little thing crops up, like an annoying email, and we trip up and collapse. It’s like we’re setting out to practice patience and suddenly people are being doubly disagreeable. “Ohh, I can’t do it!” In truth, the opposite is the case. “I, who am going to become a Buddha, will destroy all my delusions.”

Shantideva illustrates how we can put ourselves into that space with the example of a warrior – saying that if a warrior in battle gets a flesh wound and sees their own blood, they are roused to greater acts of courage. Whereas if someone bloodies me with a sword … well, I don’t know what I’d do, but if my brief days of playing school sports are anything to go by, I’d probably slink off the battle field as soon as as I could without being noticed.manjushri-wisdom-sword

The Bodhisattva is like a warrior – they start experiencing obstacles, and they are like, “Great! Bring it on!” More reason to wield the sword of wisdom against the delusions, more reason to be self-confident. 

And in truth, why shouldn’t we be self-confident? We know where the obstacles are coming from = just our own mind. The intriguing thing about the obstacles, the delusions, is that that’s all they are – they’re just delusions. Meaning not only are they just thoughts, without arms or legs as Shantideva says (let alone swords), but they also don’t have truth on their side. They’re actually grounded in ignorance. They are founded on a misperception of reality. Whereas we can become a Buddha, that’s the truth. We can overcome our delusions, that’s the truth. Wisdom, love, compassion, generosity, patience, self-confidence and all the other virtuous minds are based on seeing reality correctly.

The real battle lines are drawn 

It’s not a fight between good versus evil where we are on the sidelines, on tenterhooks, “Who’s going to win the ultimate battle, the dark side, the light side?!” It’s not like that — especially if we are talking about living beings versus living beings because we are all mixed bags of delusions and virtues changing all the time, and from one life to the next, so who could ever possibly win a battle like that?!

The real battle lines are wisdom versus ignorance, and finally, in that war, ignorance doesn’t stand a chance. This is because it is ignorant! It is stupid. It is also stubborn and fairly persuasive while we remain under its influence, but as soon as we start to view it from the perspective of wisdom it doesn’t stand a chance.

curved-knife
By holding in her right hand a curved knife, Buddha Vajrayogini — the wisdom of all Buddhas  — shows her power to cut the continuum of the delusions and obstacles of her followers and of all living beings.

More on this second type of self-confidence in the next article — we are out of time as I know a lot of readers have things to do like march the streets today. That’s cool, I like that people are standing up for what they believe in. Maybe it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway, that our outward action is nurtured and given its meaning by our inner motivations. So even in these, for many people, difficult and scary times, and in the heat of battle, I am trying to remember that my real rebellion is against the delusions or wrong conceptions – never other living beings — and starting with my own.

Feedback from you: How do you stay confident enough to prioritize conquering your delusions, even when things are going badly wrong and the tendency to feel upset and lash out might be strong?

Next type of self-confidence can be found here.

Related articles

Think globally, act locally

What are delusions?

Overcoming discouragement

 

Think globally, act locally

who-wants-changeWe cannot change everyone. We cannot get everyone to behave. You may have noticed this. So being the change we want to see in the world — as Mahatma Gandhi put it in equally trying times — really needs to be our internal starting point. As Buddhist master Atisha says:

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

Thinking globally

But having said that, we can develop a global motivation that encompasses everyone, and the sooner we do that the quicker we will tame our own minds and be able to help others everywhere. Thinking big, aiming at bodhichitta motivation, we can learn slowly but surely to overcome our aversion, dislike, and fear of others locally, and hold them in our everything-begins-in-the-imaginationhearts.

Furthermore, with Tantra, generated as Buddha Heruka for example, we have huge vision that defies mistaken and ordinary appearances and conceptions and already sees ourselves, others, and the world as pure. This is the quickest, and frankly only way IMHO, to accomplish world peace. There is an incredibly profound, beautiful verse in Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

Through the wheel of sharp weapons of the exalted wisdom of bliss and emptiness
Circling throughout the space of the minds of sentient beings until the end of the aeon,
Cutting away the demon of self-grasping, the root of samsara,
May definitive Heruka be victorious. ~ p. 91

Just to get a bit deep for a moment … I like to view myself as a mere aspect of my Spiritual Guide’s mind of bliss and emptiness, and view everyone likewise as a mere aspect of my mind of bliss and emptiness. This is bringing the result into the path big time, and a way to “effortlessly” benefit others, training in meditation and trying to hold that view more and more the rest of the time.

ring the bells.jpgWe need to be in refuge. I was imagining, like I do, where I would want to be, mentally speaking, if a bomb dropped on my head today. I would want to be in my heart, in the refuge of my Spiritual Guide’s heart, full of love, compassion, and wisdom, and on my way to the Pure Land where I will then emanate bodies to help everyone.

So that makes me think that I have to get ever closer to that state as a priority because, even if it’s not a bomb, it’ll be something that turns up out of nowhere one of these days to dispatch me to my next life.

Acting locally

But locally, meanwhile, we can go to the assistance of people in need, turn things in the right direction. I had a nice little example of that yesterday.

As I was waiting for a flat white at Tucson airport, a monk dressed in orange robes was next in line holding his cashew nuts. When I offeredtucson to buy them for him, he beamed and said “What is your name? And where are you from?” I told him I was also a Buddhist and had lived in Sri Lanka as a child. He told me his name, I think I was supposed to have heard of it or something, for he paused before adding, “I have written lots of books.” Then he told me the name of his temple in Los Angeles and invited me to visit him there next week when I go. I googled him before boarding this flight, and, as it happens, he is currently the chief Sri Lankan monk in America and the advisor to the Sri Lankan president on international religious affairs.

(I have to say, this beat my standing in line next to Darryl Hannah a few weeks ago in Denver, where she apparently lives too … entertained as I was at the time ;-))

Small world, as several of my friends pointed out – and indeed our karma is what makes it a small world. We are all interconnected — all of our actions have effects not just now but way way into the future. Who knows when and how my and Bhante Walpola Piyananda’s paths will meet again, perhaps lifetimes hence or perhaps next week in LA; but it was worth creating some good karma together in our brief encounter.

Friend of the world

The Bodhisattva’s way of life is, I think, an incredibly skillful way of thinking globally and acting locally, and one that we can all aspire to, whatever our background.

The main thing a Bodhisattva promises to do, in the so-called Bodhisattva vow, is to attain enlightenment to benefit all living beings without exception. But there are no fewer than 46 secondary downfalls the Bodhisattva tries to avoid, and these include:

  • Doing little to benefit others
  • Not helping others to avoid negativity
  • Not going to the assistance of those in need
  • Not acting to dispel suffering
  • Not helping others to overcome their bad habits

leave-samsaraSo although, as Geshe Kelsang says,

Temporary liberation from particular sufferings is not good enough.

and we need liberation and enlightenment, this doesn’t preclude our doing other more immediate things with that motivation.

I have been reading some stories of hate crimes in the last week and, yes, they make one’s blood boil. But there is no point taking that out even mentally on the people perpetuating the crimes because they are being governed by their delusions, they are creating horrible karma, but inside they are okay, pure even, just like the rest of us. As Geshe Kelsang says in New Eight Steps to Happiness:

finger-up-cactus
Up yours, delusions

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.

As explained more here, one way to understand that our compassion and wisdom are indestructible is because they are based on reality, which is not going anywhere; whereas delusions are utterly destructible because they are based on ignorance, inappropriate attention to something that just isn’t there.

Better to take it out on the delusions, as they can be destroyed, and that solves everything. And meanwhile:

Whenever we meet other people, rather than focusing on their delusions we should focus on the gold of their Buddha nature. ~ p. 83

This is how Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are able to keep it together when they see all us sentient beings acting crazy. They can help us tirelessly, enthusiastically, and without a trace of discouragement or depression because they have unwavering, unconditional love and respect. If we take them as our role models, we can become less and less childish and sign-americansmore and more like them.

That is seriously lame, dude

And blaming delusions while keeping our hearts in love doesn’t mean we don’t say or do anything else. I personally think that acting locally includes standing up for each other whenever the opportunity arises, not standing by and letting people be mistreated. There have been one or two heartening tales of this happening of late – some guy shoved another guy off the sidewalk with racist slurs, and some other guy came over to help him up while saying to the perpetrator:

“That is seriously lame, dude.”

Talking about childish, as a kid in Guyana, full disclosure, and to cut a long story short, my BFFs were a family of Indians called the Sookrajs. I was fiercely attached to them, we spent all our free time together, had a lot of adventures in Georgetown and inland up the Essequibo. There was a lot of racism in our neighborhood — pitting white trenchesagainst black against Indian with befuddling, to me, variations on that theme — and on a few occasions I literally rolled around fighting kids in the trenches that ran in front of the houses. I drafted my poor brothers in one time to defend my friends as well. I was really mad, angry with the stupid mainly white kids I fought and yelled at – and though I think my heart was partly in the right place, it was also very largely not. I even found myself starting to look out for trouble. And I know that my lack of equanimity and angry behavior as the ringleader did nothing to increase tolerance and harmony in the neighborhood (sorry everybody!) I had let myself forget these incidents, Did I dream it?!, until my friends turned up again in my life a few years ago and reminded me.

Therefore, I like that story above because he didn’t call the dude lame, but he did call out the stupidity of the dude’s behavior. If we all do that, call it where we see it, online and off, while keeping our cool, I think it could help. I’m going to try.

Over to you. We would probably all love to hear your comments on how you are tackling this troubled week.

Related articles 

Compassion: the quick path to enlightenment

Wanted dead or alive: our anger and other delusions

Hey, what’s going on?

Hey, what’s going on?!

A friend just told me that the Republicans are winning by 36,000 votes in this great state of Colorado. It gave me pause, again!, as so many times I have been wondering of late, hey, what’s going on?!

(Apologies to my subscribers for popping a second article into your inbox so soon after the last one, but I thought it a civic duty to put one out about the election today 😅  And it’ll still be relevant tomorrow, I’m betting.)

delusional unicorn.jpgYes, I’m writing this slap bang in the middle of election day 2016, November 8th, 3.56pm MST. It is also Tara Day, thank goodness. For everyone everywhere has the jitters, or almost everyone, ordinary beings at least – whereas Buddha Tara & co. of course do not. This is on account of their fully mastering their hearts and minds.

My hair stylist (yes, why not have a haircut on election day) just told me that the reason he thinks visits to doctors for anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, and the like have spiked by 25% during this election season is because the world is more complicated than ever before and people feel more and more like they are losing control, that they are powerless. And I agreed with him. I also told him I would be putting him in my blog, so here you go Jason, I am a woman of my word.

If there is anything this confounding reality show of an election is showing it is that everything depends on the mind. Problems or non-problems, happiness and suffering, and ugliness and attractiveness – these all depend on the mind.

Problem, no problem

That thing about outer and inner problems has never been demonstrably more true than today. I’m sorry to break this to you, if you haven’t heard, but we will never ever have full control over the outer problems in life — no one throughout history has ever accomplished this and we are not going to be the first. However, we can learn to control how we react and therefore avoid the inner problems. This is always going to be the case.

Where we feel helpless, also, it is helpful not to forget the power of prayer – one prayer suggested on 9/11 by Geshe Kelsang, and seemingly always applicable, is for our world leaders to have compassion and wisdom.

Happiness and suffering

delusions-godzilla-still-only-a-cloudHappiness and suffering depend on the mind – people with just the same amount to win or lose from the results of this election still vary in how happy or sad they are today, for example, depending on their state of mind and perceptions. Some people are feeling very depressed whereas others are figuring a way through it while remaining relatively peaceful. But we could all probably do with taking deeper and deeper refuge in the restorative power of our own mind and potential, as explained here, and the foolproof Dharma medicine, the methods for fulfilling this happiness within. This election has been showing me the need for more refuge, not more dependence on externals.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Ugliness and attractiveness also depend on the mind. And there is a lot of that going on right now – including incomprehension on both sides as to how anyone cannot see through the quite obvious undesirability of the other candidate. Yes, I have my preference and my own incomprehension, and I voted carefully on every point on the ballot; but from a spiritual point of view it doesn’t make much difference who wins this election, for tomorrow our main opponents are still going to be ignorance, attachment, and aversion. Our real work is still going to be cut out for us, either way.

Search for the hero inside yourself

remove-delusionsIt is wrong to hate Hilary. It is wrong to hate Trump. (Attachment for one would also appear to lead to more aversion toward the other, so best not to succumb to deceptive attachment either.) And it is also wrong to hate both of them! It is short-sighted, and it doesn’t come from any real compassion.

There is much at stake during this election season, no doubt — such as my ability to go to the doctor and, more ominously, the legitimization of fear and hate. Still, there is no justification for our own aversion because, as Buddha pointed out and we can discover for ourselves, living beings are not our enemies, they are our kind mothers. Only our delusions are our enemies. As Geshe Kelsang says:

We may think that our suffering is caused by other people, by poor material conditions, or by society, but in reality it all comes from our own deluded states of mind. ~ Introduction to Buddhism

And it is not as if Geshe-la has not put this to the test – he had to flee Tibet with just his robes, and before that he lived in a feudal dictatorship.

He has also suggested that we vote in order to keep creating the causes for living in a democracy.

We are the change we’ve been waiting for

So we can canvass and vote to try and stop the most dangerous delusions taking power, trying to solve the outer problem as best we can; I am all for this and, in fact, Bodhisattvas have a vow to “go to the assistance of those in need”. But let’s not kid ourselves that our real enemies are either of those two people, or any other politicians for that matter. Even if both of them were to vanish into thin air, the world will still be in a mess for as long as we are all enslaved by the master race of the delusions.

on-top-of-the-world-above-clouds-of-delusionI wonder why we have allowed delusions to ruin our lives since beginningless time and counting?! Why are we so wholly consumed by finding the threat to our happiness always outside ourselves? As Shantideva puts it:

The inner enemies of hatred, attachment, and so forth
Do not have arms and legs,
Nor do they have courage or skill;
So how have they made me their slave?

No other type of enemy
Can remain for as long a time
As can the enduring foes of my delusions,
For they have no beginning and no apparent end.

The only way to be free and stay free is to free the mind – by removing our delusions, and particularly by getting rid of self-grasping ignorance. I reckon that if I had put a fraction of my formidable energy and righteous indignation since beginningless time into rebelling against my own delusions, I’d probably be enlightened by now. And so would you. This election is reminding me of this, so for that at least I am thankful to all concerned.

Have a nice rest of election day, what’s left of it! See you later.

Update 10.55pm

Definition of red herring: Something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.

reflection of mind.jpg
“What we see is a reflection of our own mind.” ~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

My conclusion: This divisive and disappointing (was always going to be for half the country and now is for much of the world) election has shown, yet again and quite resoundingly in my opinion, that trying to make samsara work is a red herring. The arc of forward progression — of tolerance, human rights, international security, climate protection, and global connectivity for example — is not an inevitability. While we let the obstructionist delusions stay in our hearts, it is a pipe dream.

But there is also little point in panicking or scare mongering because, lets face it, we wouldn’t have known what was around the corner whoever was elected.

As Buddha said over 2500 years ago, the places, enjoyments, and bodies of samsara are deceptive. Nowhere on this planet is great to live, so let’s instead give up entirely on the hallucinations that come from our self-grasping and self-cherishing. It is about time, and it won’t be a minute too soon. And meantime, as we work on pulling the plug out on the ocean of samsaric suffering by abandoning its causes, let’s not underestimate the power of prayer, “our main job” as Geshe Kelsang once said.

Heruka’s mandala, the appearance of bliss and emptiness, awaits us all, is just a trick of the mind away. Get your Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments when you can.

Perhaps you might join me in trying even harder to rely on the armor of wisdom and compassion, becoming a true refuge for ourselves and others as soon as possible, while we still have health care … I mean this precious human life 😝

If you can, please add to the comments below any inspiring words or quotes that are helping you heal and deal with what is going on, and might help others. The more wisdom, the better. 

Related articles

Lost and (un)Found ~ includes Brexit musings

Looking back at this life

The end of collection is dispersion

 

A way out of this fine mess …

space-needle-1I have been at the Fall Festival in Toronto this week, which has been an incredible pleasure, one that could only have been improved upon if you had all been here as well. During one lunch with my old friend G from Florida and his charming new wife S, who is relatively new to Buddhism, she asked me how it is that living beings are experiencing suffering if that suffering is not “real”, or inherently existent – that is, if the suffering we normally see does not exist?

A similar question came up during the Tantric Q & A, to which Gen-la Jampa gave a beautiful reply. Only I didn’t take notes so you’ll have to wait for that. Unless someone feels like typing up their notes on that for us all in the comments section … ah, done, thank you, see below.

But I know that S has 3 crazy little mini-schnauzers, and so what I said to her was this.

Imagine that Murphy is sleeping on that huge big bed with you and G, and he is fine, all safe and cozy. But you see that he is whimpering and twitching, and you know he is having a nightmare. You know that he is not “really” space-needle-2suffering, but that is not how he is seeing it at the moment. He believes that the big dog is actually attacking him or the black squirrel has outwitted him yet again or that his family have really deserted him (etc, etc, whatever). But you know that all this is mere appearance to his dreaming mind, and so all you want to do is wake him up.

The Buddhas feel the same way about us. All the time.

It’s a fine mess we have gotten ourselves into …

In a surreal counterpoint to this sane, harmonious Pure Land of the Festival was the divisive second US presidential debate – Greek drama or tragedy, take your pick. Jaws worldwide were dropping. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Only we did, between us. Please by all means vote on November 8; I certainly am going to. However, I have also concluded that the only way to cure these weird appearances and resultant widespread discomfort and delusion is to focus on developing compassion for everyone concerned (including the Rocky Mountain Trump supporter sitting next to me on this flight, who is drinking lots of beer and trying to sleep the whole thing off). Not to take these politicpres-debates too seriously, if I even could, but to remember to purify it nonetheless, remembering that it is all dream-like karmic appearance. (Perhaps it is even better that it is now “out” rather than “in”, providing it encourages us to do something about it.) For the alternative to purifying it is buying into it and experiencing an increasingly tangled mess.

I was moved by the last question of the debate, when an earnest undecided voter asked the candidates to please name one thing that they actually respected about each other — and they did both come up with something. The atmosphere in the town hall immediately softened. There was some opening. Everyone could breathe a little more freely. You saw the possibility of sanity and kindness being restored one day. All in the space of a few minutes. I know the clouds rolled back in again almost straightaway, but there was a glimpse for a moment there of sky-like Buddha nature.

Centered in the solution

vajrayoginiWe think to cure suffering that we need to focus on the problem. But Buddhas never focus on the problem out of the context of being centered in the solution. How are we going to help others if we hold them to be inherently problematic? There is no space — there is no room to bring out their potential, their pure nature, their kindness or clarity or peace. All we can do is try and patch things up, shuffle things around, all the while in danger of being dragged further and further into the morass. There is no hope in a world of inherent existence. Borrowing the newly-minted Nobel Laureate to make this point:

Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Luckily the world is empty of inherent existence. As Gen-la Khyenrab explained in the Festival, emptiness is the true nature of phenomena. Emptiness is not nothingness; it is the opposite of nothingness. It is because of emptiness that everything can exist.

Because emptiness is possible, everything is possible. ~ Nagarjuna

So emptiness means that things can change completely and radically – that this otherwise intractably tangled mess of samsara can be unravelled by pulling on a single thread.

sky-in-torontoFrom enlightened beings’ point of view, we are already pure. Geshe Kelsang said in Portugal in 2009, for example, that he views us all as Heroines and Heroes, which is why he has so much respect for us. And this seems to be why he has never tired in liberating us, why he finds it effortless. Buddhas understand that we are not inherently pure, and that from our point of view we can feel far from pure. But that is just a point of view, and when we stop “awfulizing everything” with our inappropriate attention, as a friend put it the other day, and improve our imagination or imputation based on wisdom, we will see ourselves and others in a completely different way. No more “real” but infinitely more enjoyable.

Over to you, comments welcome.

Related articles:

Change our thoughts, liberate ourself

How to be a hero 

Tantra: Bringing the result into the path

Tired, yet, of living a cliché?

Buddha Shakyamuni

On the last day of the recent Kadampa Summer Festival, the life story of Buddha Shakyamuni was shown, as it always is, and well received.

Buddha’s story is a great story, and ours can be a great story too, if we stop thinking about ourselves in clichéd, samsaric ways. “Anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse,” as one dictionary definition of cliché has it.

Once upon a time, when I was experiencing a break-up from a fun and always interesting relationship that had lasted over half our lives, when my larger than life, handsome, previously devoted partner, like countless men before him, left for a baby with a younger woman, I turned for desperate comfort to my dear friend M. “What a cliché!” I wailed to him. “I don’t WANT to be a cliché.”

And M replied, “Everything in samsara is a cliché.”

This shook me out of self-pity. Point being, despite variations on a theme, despite any extenuating circumstances, we have been there, done that, countless times – no tee-shirt will ever be big enough to document it all. We even call the appearances of samsara “common appearances” or “ordinary appearances”. seen it all.jpg

We might think it is just us, we’re in a private world of forlorn hopes and dwindling dreams; but pretty much everyone I’ve ever talked to finds growing older distasteful at least from time to time. This is especially if they assumed that they would be an exception to the rule — that with the help of Botox or a great exercise routine or a good hairdresser or alternative healing or a lot of money or a predictable partner they could avoid life’s biggest clichés. But the end of collection is dispersion, as Buddha pointed out, the end of rising falling, the end of meeting parting. Everyone (who lives long enough) seems to feel at some point or another old or ill, or past it, overlooked, or useless, or unglamorous, haggard, or paunchy, or an object of increasing irrelevance or ridicule – and then basically ends up losing everything. Just in time to buy into the next series of clichés in our next life.

Samsara manages to be both unpredictable and banally predictable all at the same time. The details may be unpredictable, but the pattern is wearyingly monotonous.

The seven sufferings of samsara are all one gigantic cliché and we’re all going to be living this forever if we don’t decide to think outside the box, in fact until we realize there is no box. Like Buddha did.

I have been thinking a lot about Buddha Shakyamuni recently because I was very moved by Gen-la Dekyong‘s teachings at the US Kadampa Spring Festival 2016 and also by the fact that Geshe Kelsang loves watching the Life of Buddha, so much, for all its teachings. He Geshela life of Buddha.jpegsaid he is watching not actors but the actual life story and protagonists, and he said something similar after watching the Life of Atisha play. It is as if Geshe-la is watching the actual life story unfold in the present, which makes me think the story is eternally present really, the examples timelessly relevant.

Think outside the box

I love that Prince Siddhartha had everything a man could ever want, and certainly far more than I could hope for in this life; yet he still walked away from it because he saw that it was built on a deceptive illusion, the utterly shaky edifice of the sufferings of sickness, ageing, death, and uncontrolled rebirth.

I mean, who amongst you has all the things he had – such as exceptional good looks, the most beautiful spouse in the kingdom, a whole harem of other glamorous people eager to please you, a really nice palace, riches and worldly achievements beyond compare, crowds of adulating Prince Siddhartha.jpgvillagers bowing at your feet?! Are you set to become a king or queen anytime soon?!

Prince Siddhartha didn’t even know, technically, that he was going to find the solution, but he decided he had to do it anyway. So if he could do it, I reckon we can develop renunciation for our relatively paltry objects of attachment, especially as Buddha did figure out our escape for us. Not to say that we have to abandon anything external, for that is not in fact renunciation; but we can abandon our attachment and turn our attention to the solution for the existential predicament we find ourselves in. Vis a vis, realize that the things we normally see — those common appearances that we normally buy into as if they are the only pathetic choice we have — don’t even exist.

Calling the earth to witness

Buddha and marasThen there is that great scene when Buddha is sitting under the Bodhi Tree and is attacked by Maras — first appearing as enticing women and then as terrifying demons. And Buddha is entirely unbothered, he stays in undistracted concentration, he can see through the whole hallucination. He is infinitely more interested in blissful love and profound illumination. He is unbelievably cool.

Maybe we see that scene as something allegorical, and not even that relevant to us, just indicating Buddha’s extraordinary qualities as he showed the manner of attaining enlightenment.  But I think it shows us a powerful way to deal with our own delusions or maras when they arise. After all, sure, in the play we can think that those enchanting women are too abstract to be tempting; but if all the people we ever really lusted after were to appear in front of us and say, “It’s always been you I love! I’ve been an idiot! Come with me!” might we not be tempted?! But Buddha saw right through them.

And when those same maras then tried to scare him, again we might think that is something abstract; but what are those maras? All are appearances created by our own scary delusions of anger, attachment, jealousy, self-loathing, loneliness, fear, anxiety, or existential despair arising as if out there, in front of us, trying to attack us, to overwhelm us. Think of the scariest appearances to your mind, your most feared enemies, those who have the greatest power (you think) to upset you – a neglectful parent, an off the rails child, a sneering rival, a bullying abuser, a ruthless boss, a dismissive ex, or plain old sickness, ageing, wrinkles, and death. But they get nowhere because we, like Buddha, can see right through them.

And at no point did Buddha identify with these appearances. At no point was he overpowered by them. He understood they were maras with no function other than to harm him. He accepted they were appearing, but instead of fighting them he saw right through them. He saw they were mistaken appearances, saw they weren’t even there; and with his love, concentration, and wisdom he called the earth to witness that he had overcome them all.Buddha calling earth to witness

Buddha understood that none of these maras was outside his mind, so they all disappeared permanently the moment his final obstructions were lifted. In that moment, he became an omniscient being.

It’s kind of encouraging, don’t you think, that all this happened minutes before his enlightenment. No excuses, then, to think, “Bloody hell, I’ve been practicing Buddhism for six years already and I’m still being assailed by maras!” Looks like maras trying to scare or ensnare us might be the order of the day until the very last minute.

But, like Buddha, we can call the earth to witness that none of these phantoms has any hold over us whatsoever. We are waking up. We are learning to see everything as it is. We can finally do (and have) what we want because we realize that everything is created by our minds.

We can be like this. For hallucinations can only harm us if we buy into them, if we believe in them as being real, as existing independent of the mind. Ven Geshe-la says in How to Understand the Mind:

We mistakenly believe that our body that we normally see actually exists and, because of this, we experience sufferings of the body such as sickness as a hallucination, as a mistaken appearance, as like a dream. p. 311

beautiful heartHave you ever imagined what it would be like to not be hallucinating at all – not your self, not others, not your job, not your objects of desire, not anything? What will appear to you once common, banal appearances stop appearing? What will you choose to manifest or appear from the bliss and emptiness of your own mind, understanding the dreamlike nature of things?! This experience will be inexhaustibly joyful and meaningful, I think, and enable us to help everyone else in cosmically original, effortless, ways.

Over to you, comments welcome.

 

Ever had self-loathing?

Delusions are inner diseases. When our mind is uncomfortable or ill at ease, we can accept that we are experiencing mental dis-ease, some level of uneasiness, without thinking, “I am a disease.”

(By the way, Dad, the definition of delusion is “A mental factor (state of mind) that arises from inappropriate attention and functions to make the selfloathing 5mind unpeaceful and uncontrolled.”)

Contaminated identity

Abuse victims often report to feeling guilty or unworthy, even dirty; and this is because they have internalized the faults of their attackers. I read a terrifying book last summer, Escape from Camp 14, about someone who quite recently escaped from a North Korean prison camp, where he had been imprisoned since birth due to the “crimes” of his relatives, and where humans are still right now, as we speak, being treated even worse than animals, if that is possible. Amongst many other rules Shin In Geun had to memorize and live by from a very young age, if he didn’t want to be shot, here is one example:

Anyone who harbors ill will toward or fails to demonstrate total compliance with a guard’s instructions will be shot immediately.

(I find this book quite useful whenever I feel like complaining about anyone … )

Shin “saw himself through the eyes of the guards in the camp,” even after he had escaped to America by a series of miracles, pretty much the only person who ever has managed it, and with every right to feel pleased with himself. Concentration camp survivors the world over apparently move through life with what Harvard psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman calls a “contaminated identity.”

They suffer not only from a classic post-traumatic syndrome but also from profound alterations in their relations with God, with other people, and with themselves. Most survivors are preoccupied with shame, self-loathing, and a sense of failure.

 selfloathing 1We may not have found ourselves in such extreme circumstances as Shin, in this life at least, but it seems most of us are still not immune to identifying with a contaminated identity and at least occasional self-loathing. For example, if we are fired we might feel unworthy and useless, letting our job (or lack of it) define us. If we are rejected we can feel unlovable because we are internalizing that the person we love doesn’t love us back, making it our fault. I was struck by these Alanis Morissette lyrics recently in a song about being dumped:

I can feel so unsexy for someone so beautiful
So unloved for someone so fine
I can feel so boring for someone so interesting
So ignorant for someone of sound mind  ~ So UnSexy

Who is the real enemy?

selfloathing 4Dharma helps us get past the bad habit of feeling no good. When recurrent delusions attack us, rather than feeling bad about ourselves, guaranteeing more anxiety and heaviness, we can remember that these are our enemies, not us. As Geshe Kelsang says, why blame a victim for the faults of their attacker? We are full of potential to love deeply and unconditionally, which is an endless source of feeling good about ourselves; and we in turn are deeply loved by holy beings and sustained by the kindness of others. We can drop our burdens, we don’t need the sack cloth and ashes.

It is odd, don’t you think, that whenever we feel the slightest bit unpeaceful we automatically try to pin it on something outside us – “I am feeling this way because this and that has happened.” A friend of mine is dealing with jealousy of an ex-lover who had almost instantaneously started dating someone else. Yes, as he pointed out, her parading her new love interest in front of him may have been a condition for his jealousy and self-doubt to arise, but this is not the main cause or reason – beginningless familiarity with jealousy is the main reason. And if it wasn’t this, therefore, it would be that. Until we get rid of the delusion, the outer problems will just keep arising in some form or another. There will always be the potential to feel this way, ie, jealous or inadequate, about something.

It’s gonna happen anyway

Same for anger, irritation, discouragement, insecurity, attachment, you name it. So we can say, as we do, “Oh if only this hadn’t happened and so and so hadn’t run off with so and so”, but it wouldn’t actually have made the blindest bit of difference if they hadn’t, at least not in the overall scheme of things, because if we have the delusion (and the karma) it’s gonna happen anyway, one way or another, sooner or later.

selfloathing 3We can instead allow our unpleasant feelings to remind us not that we hate our boss, or our ex and her creepy new boyfriend, but that we hate our delusions and would like never to feel this way again about anyone ever. Considering the faults of jealousy, in other words, rather than the faults of the external situation.

Then we will be motivated to purify and overcome our delusions and feel happy all the time, so even if our lover runs off with our best friend, both jeering at us as they do so (or whatever our worst nightmare might be), we won’t care a whit, they could get married and have ten children for all we care, and we will genuinely wish them well on their way. Free at last.

It’s probably a good idea to practice this now, in this precious human life, before we find ourselves in the extreme, overwhelming circumstances of a North Korean labor camp.

Ocean of samsara

If we don’t, if we instead keep blaming our problems on something or someone else, we will just stay trapped. I hope Gen Rabten doesn’t mind me quoting verbatim a bit of his awesome introduction to the Kadampa Summer Festival a couple of weeks ago:

Every moment in our life there’s something wrong and it’s common that we feel “I’ve just got to get through this – this week, this illness, this divorce, this deadline.” And the subtext of that is “I’ve just got to get through this and then it’ll be alright.” Which is why all our energy goes just into getting through that. But Buddha tells us samsara is like an ocean and suffering is like waves. So there’s a wave crashing down right now. We think we can hold our breath and come out the other side, “Great, I got through that!” And we open our eyes and what do we see? Another wave. And the waves of samsara never stop. And Buddha is on the shore with a loud hailer yelling, “Get out of the ocean!” Mostly we can’t hear him because the waves are crashing down so loud. Sometimes we do hear him, and we think, “Nah, I like it here. This is alright.”

It’s helpful to check, “What is happening in my mind?” and “What is going to happen?” Is that thought getting us out of the ocean, or keeping us in? We can look and know, “Am I getting out of the ocean or am I being sucked in? Because if I stay in the ocean, the waves don’t stop.”

Over to you. Comments welcome.

PS, thank you for letting me share some photos from the Summer Exhibition at the RA 🙂