Being bound for freedom

 7.5 mins read

Who are you?

How we think about ourselves will bring that out of us.

Even if you have only meditated once in your entire life, would you do me a favor and try this thought out for size, for it is already in some ways true:

I am a meditator.

meditatorWhat do meditators do?! Yes, exactly, they meditate. Whether it goes well or not on any particular day, they do it anyway because that is who they are.

If instead we are thinking, “I am not a meditator, just vaguely attempting to do it ‘cos I can see that it could help, though it is unnatural to me and I’m basically useless at it,” what will happen? We’ll stay useless at it. There will be no energy behind it, zero enthusiasm.

Also, if we think of ourselves as a meditator, life becomes a fascinating journey — meditators use what comes up in their day to feed their meditations and insights instead of letting it drag them down.

Who we are depends a lot on who we think we are and can be. We need to stop identifying with a meaty body and sad, heavy, deluded mind, setting ourselves up for endless suffering and failure.

Truth is, every living being has such deep indestructible potential, and Buddhism has the methods to dig out from the mud of the delusions this gold nugget of endless compassion, wisdom, and happiness. The sooner we think of ourselves in the light of our potential, the sooner these methods will work for us.

This is the last of three articles on renunciation.

Boring party

Have you ever been to a party where you’re doing your darndest to enjoy yourself — drinking, eating, chatting, dancing, wandering around looking for people – but you’re actually feeling really bored?!

boring party

We’re supposed to be having fun so we don’t want to admit this. But after a while we think, “Okay, that’s enough … I’m outta here.”

We walk out the door to instant relief and fresh air.

This is like giving up on trying to make samsara work. We feel free because we no longer have to buy into something that’s not working. We don’t have to pretend any more. We have made the decision to leave this idiotic party. This constantly seeking happiness outside ourselves is not working. I want to be happy and free, but this samsara is not working — I am not getting happier and freer as the days and months go by. Year after year it’s the same. I can do better. I am going to do better.

In the context of renunciation, we identify with being someone on their way out already, feeling really happy. We are beings bound for freedom. We identify with this: “I am a being bound for freedom.” What do beings bound for freedom do?!

Existential context

Life is short, Buddha said, like a water bubble. I was wandering alongside Bear Creek last week, watching the water flow and the bubbles rise and subside. Each one of those bubbles is like one of my countless lives in the continuous river of samsara – fragile, fleeting, but in which I have invested everything as if that’s all there is, completely missing the existential context. Bear Creek

We need to take a step back to see our “real situation” as Geshe Kelsang puts it, or get an overview of where we’re actually at. We have had countless bubble-like lives already, and there are countless more waiting to rise up from the clear light continuum of our root mind once this one pops.

If we wake up to that truth we can use this life to become a Foe Destroyer (destroying ignorance and other delusions with wisdom), or a Bodhisattva, or at least in a position to carry on with our spiritual practice in our next life. This will only happen if we put our spiritual practice first in this life.

Dream-like nature of all things

Ever had a dream when you fell madly in love with someone, only to wake up and think, “Hmmm, what was that about?”

The point about falling for someone in our dreams is that (a) it can’t last! (b) we are making the whole thing up! They were never really there!

So what is the point of all that grasping and sadness? What’s it based on? Just illusions.

dream boy meets girlAs Buddha says in King of Concentration Sutra:

In a dream, a girl meets a boy and sees that he is dying.
She is happy to meet him but unhappy to see him dying.
We should understand that all phenomena are like this.

I find contemplating the dream-like nature of things – both their fleetingness and their emptiness — incredibly helpful for letting go of individual objects of attachment. It also works to develop the wish to let go generally of all the pointless suffering and sadness that comes from grasping onto something that isn’t even there.

For is it not so painful to grasp at something that is already slipping through our fingers and that doesn’t even exist from its own side to begin with? But that is what we are doing with attachment. Such relief arises from letting go. In samsara, all our dreams are broken in the end. It is about time we realized that and released our death grip on samsara so we can spring for liberation and enlightenment.

Meditation on renunciationrenunciation

Here is a practical way to do a meditation on renunciation based on the two parts I brought up in How to lighten up and And we have lift off!

We relax into our heart, maybe do some clarity of mind or breathing meditation, and feel the peace and freedom of a settled mind — the natural peace of our own mind when it is relatively free from delusions. There is plenty more of that where it came from; it is our Buddha nature.

We enjoy it and identify with it, thinking, “This is me. I am a being bound for liberation.” I don’t want samsara. I want the pure land and liberation. 

Part one: In the space of this concentration, we ask ourselves, “Am I a samsaric being at the moment?” Do I have a meaty body and a deluded mind, for example, and am I identifying with these, thinking this is who I actually am?

We can also take any problem we are having and go through the 7 sufferings to see if it belongs in that desperately monotonous samsaric pattern. If so, whatever problem we manage to get rid of, there will be another one waiting to take its place, guaranteed. And not just in this life but in countless future lives, just as it has been in our countless past lives — problems arising like waves from the ocean of our root mind, day after day and life after life.

Through a contemplation like this, we develop the wish to be free. This is renunciation. We can focus on it single-pointedly for a while, understanding that we CAN be free.

Part two: However, we cannot afford to keep following our attachment, or it will hold us back and down. We don’t want to be like a barnacle, or a bird with stones tied to its ankles, or attached to the prison porridge. Understanding the deceptive nature of worldly pleasures, and how our attachment causes most of our daily problems and prevents us from escaping even while we have the chance, we develop the wish to stop it.

We identify with being someone on their way out already, feeling really happy. We have made the decision to leave this very bad party, we don’t have to pretend it works any more. We become accustomed to this feeling in placement meditation until it sticks.

To conclude …

In this way we start experiencing the deep peace of renunciation. Now, too, we have a firm foundation for the happiness of bodhichitta, the joy of wisdom, and the bliss of Tantra. Our life will never be the same again.

Which direction we go in and where we end up depends upon our motivation. The meaning of our actions depends upon our motivation. With renunciation, even brushing our teeth can be a cause of liberation. Without it, no amount of virtuous deeds can get us out of samsara.

heroesRenunciation is great. We no longer need to buy into samsara’s dreary, heavy, repetitive, ordinary identity with its endless chapters of suffering, but instead start to view ourselves as a hero or heroine bound for freedom. We can start really enjoying ourselves!

We are very motivated also to contemplate emptiness, the doorway out of here. Renunciation gives us the lift off we need. Without it we succumb easily to the laziness of discouragement and attachment to worldly pleasures because we have no sense of the alternative.

If you ever find that your mind is not moving in the direction you want it to, or seems to keep slipping backwards, check your attachment levels. Despondency, instability, boredom, frustration, and feeling stuck are all built into attachment to samsara.

Over to you: Thank you for your interest in these 3 articles on renunciation. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below.

Related articles

How’s samsara working out for you?!

The monotony of samsara 

Transforming worldly enjoyments into the spiritual path

 

 

And we have lift off!

6 mins read + video

But even if we do understand the beginninglessness and endlessness of samsara’s sufferings, sort of, we are still like barnacles stuck to the bottom of a boat due to our attachment to samsaric pleasures. For it’s not so obvious to us how they’re deceptive. They make life bearable, surely – what’s wrong with a beer?! And what about the passion of romance? Or the R &R of a vacation? flight

Carrying on from this article.

Nothing, on one level, unless they are keeping us from spiritual progress (which, thanks to attachment, they often are.) We have been going after the places, enjoyments, and bodies of samsara for millennia X millennia, and just where has this gotten us?

The main problem with worldly pleasures is that they are “contaminated” by ignorance, ie, they appear falsely to exist from their own side and we assent to that appearance. Someone or something appears attractive due to our karma, and instead of just enjoying moth flying into flamethe mere appearance we must be like moths flying right into the flame by believing they are inherently attractive and then exaggerating their attractions until we simply cannot do without them.

Not having non-attachment is like a prisoner being attached to prison food and entertainment. Sure, the billiards are fun, and we enjoy the raisins on our gruel as a treat; but we’re still trapped in prison. Plus it is only a matter of time before we are dispatched back to the dungeons.

This mental asylum

Actually, I have been thinking recently that we are not just in a prison but more like a mental asylum, more like something out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. We are all rendered insane by our delusions — hallucinations are the order of the day.

We have been here since beginningless time. But perhaps we are ready to leave. And there is a Buddha emanation posing as a doctor who knows this and is encouraging us – “There is a whole world for you out there, free from insanity and any form of suffering!”

To begin with, we may be a bit like, “I don’t want to leave! I know it here. I like it here. Plus, I have a thing for that person in the corner over there – yeah, I know she drools and is cranky and is getting sicker and older like the rest of us, but still, she’s cute … And anyway, I like Bingo night. And how those meds make me feel nice and high and dopey. And the way the sun sometimes dapples its way through the murky glass of the windows.”

The doctor may continue to encourage us, “Not only can you help yourself, but you can help everyone else in here. Have you noticed how already some of them showing some interest in you because you seem a bit more free, kind, and insightful? If you get out, you’ll be able to get your friends out too, like we are doing. Everyone has the potential to break free. However mad they are, they never lose the potential to wake up.”

We might say, “But I can’t get out! I’m too stuck and ordinary! I belong here.”one flew over the cuckoos nest

And the doctor would reply, “That’s not true. We know different. You don’t belong here. No one does. Trust us.”

And we should.

What’s the alternative? What happens if we just stay in here?

We need to think that through.

Samsara’s pleasures are deceptive

As explained in this article, samsaric enjoyments are deceptive because they do not make us happy — we are just scratching itches. But even all that scratching is not working because pursuing worldly pleasures actually seems to cause most of our annoyances, disappointments, and heartaches:

Most of the problems we experience come from our seeking satisfaction in the pleasures of samsara when no real satisfaction can be derived from them. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune

Attachment weighs us down — like a bird with stones tied to its legs. Even if we sort of know we are in prison, we are still too attached to the billiards or other inmates to bother making a serious attempt at escape. So we have no lift off. We can’t fly in the sky.

birdAttachment distracts us from love and equanimity. We have some of this, it feels so good when we do; but then someone we think is gorgeous comes along and it’s like, “Sorry caged shelter cats or elderly aunts or countless other living beings, no more attention from me, I’m a bit preoccupied … I’ll get back to you later.” Months or years later we remember them … so what was that about?! Attachment is fundamentally small-minded and selfish.

Also, without renunciation we are attached to the status quo – we are only wishing others freedom from the temporary sufferings of this life at most, not of samsara, because we are attached to things being basically the way they are, just sort of better. And we are not even wishing ourselves to be free from samsara, so we cannot extend that radical compassion to others.

Because attachment is so deceptive, we (me) need to be honest about its workings in our own life — asking ourselves, “Is this true?”

Thinking about the shortfalls of changing suffering helps us develop renunciation, the wish for freedom. As Geshe Kelsang says:

We need to reduce our attachment to worldly pleasures by realizing that they are deceptive and cannot give real satisfaction. ~ How to Transform Your Life

Attachment vs anger

It is more obvious perhaps that anger has nothing to recommend it and causes us suffering because it gives rise to unpleasant feelings whereas attachment can give rise to pleasant feelings (qv, the suffering of change.) Perhaps this is one reason why anger is said to be easier to wash out of the mind – it is likened to dirt in cloth as opposed to the oil of attachment soaked into cloth.

Water from a stone

With non-attachment itself we already feel peaceful, light, contented, and unburdened, and as a result can enjoy everything as a result. Trying to get true or lasting happiness, enjoyment, or bliss out of samsara is like trying to squeeze water from a stone – the harder we grasp, the more uncomfortable we become. Knowing this, we give up the squeezing, relax, and just enjoy the stone without attachment.

water from a stone

Better yet, know with wisdom that the stone is not really there to begin with, so what are we doing squeezing it?!

Renunciation is utterly unlike boredom. Then we have a stable basis for love and wisdom, which make us even more happy and fulfilled. And we also have a very good basis for transforming enjoyments with Tantra – learning how to have our cake and eat it. More on that important subject coming soon(ish), and have a look below in the comments for some very helpful conversation points from a reader.

Going round in circles?

This is an incredible spiritual path, an incredible journey. Without renunciation however, we’re not going anywhere. Imagine being in a boat trying to cross an ocean to dry land, to a transcendent destination. We row and we row and we row, but we get nowhere – just going round and round in circles. This is because attachment is an anchor wedging us firmly into the bedrock of samsara’s ocean, stopping us from traveling to liberation or enlightenment, let alone bringing anyone along with us.

Quick checklist

If you have strong attachment today, here is a checklist of things you could bring to mind: (1) Impermanence. This object and state of mind are going to go away, plus I might die today, so do I really want to spend my last day all hung up on it? (2) Emptiness — where is this attachment exactly? We can try pointing to it in our body, our mind, or anywhere else. It is nowhere to be found. (3) The faults of the mind of attachment as above, coming to enjoy the freedom and peace of non-attachment instead. (4) The faults of the worldly objects themselves, eg, the 32 impure substances, to rebalance the mind. (5) You’re not alone in suffering from attachment. (6) As mentioned, see the comments below for a Tantric approach to transforming attachment.

And if you need any further encouragement to meditate on renunciation, check out this other teaching by Gen Losang:

Over to you!

Related articles

Renunciation

How to lighten up

Itchy feet, itchy mind

 

 

 

How to lighten up

8 mins read + a video

meditator

Non-attachment, or renunciation, is a really light and happy mind. Sure, we have to contemplate unpopular subjects like death and misery to arrive at it, but this is bringing us into touch with reality and we are always more peaceful when we are less deluded.

We have to want to develop renunciation and, given that it does involve contemplations that may initially seem scary, it may not be obvious to us why. Surely this is just going to be ruining our fun?!

But it’s the opposite. Buddha is not saying don’t enjoy yourself – he is suggesting that we can enjoy ourselves a great deal more. I hope in this article to help persuade at least some of you that renunciation is not only kind of essential, but also a very inspiring mind to have. You’re gonna love it.

There are two parts to developing renunciation, it seems to me. One is contemplating the sufferings of samsara, including those of our countless past and future lives, so that we understand our true predicament and want out. Then to seal the deal we contemplate that samsara’s pleasures are really not worth sticking around for (as explained already here), so what do you think is keeping us here?!

What is renunciation, again?!

escape-from-prisonLike Buddha and all the other teachers before him, Geshe Kelsang is always saying that renunciation is not wanting to get away from family or our job, etc. That is more likely to be aversion! Nor are we going for the sackcloth and ashes.

Renunciation is not a wish to abandon our family, friends, home, job and so forth, and become like a beggar; rather, it is a mind that functions to stop attachment to worldly pleasures and that seeks liberation from contaminated rebirth. ~ How to Transform Your Life

Within this quote seems to be the 2-part contemplation I mention above – (1) seeking liberation from contaminated rebirth (the endless cycle of sufferings that come from misidentifying ourselves with a meaty body and deluded mind) and (2) stopping attachment to worldly pleasures.

So, first we need to understand our existential situation — how, if we are a samsaric being, we have no choice but to experience sickness, ageing, death, birth again, not getting what we want, getting what we don’t want, and general dissatisfaction.

Overpowered by attachment to a body?! Try this.

eye ballsThere is even one meditation, not for the faint-hearted, where we imagine the 32 impure substances that constitute our own and/or someone else’s body are separated out into piles (or buckets if that makes less mess 😁) — one for the intestines, one for the skin, one for the pus, one for the fingernails. Etc. etc. Then we can ask ourselves the question, as Bodhisattva Shantideva does:

What exactly is it that I am so attached to?

The purpose of this strong meditation (or medication!) is not to develop aversion for meaty bodies, as you may think, because aversion is a delusion. It is to balance out the exaggerated attachment we have for them so that we develop non-attachment or renunciation. For example, if we can’t stop fantasizing about someone’s incredible eyes:

Us: I love your eyes!
Them: Here, have one.

If we don’t have inappropriate attention obsessing on how gorgeous and desirable our own or others’ bodies are, and in fact are aware that they are true sufferings, we don’t need a corrective; but if you’re suffering from unmitigated attachment why not give it a go!

It also helps our love and compassion to know that people are having to wander around in these, and that they are thinking, “This is me”, when it actually isn’t; and is it any wonder that we all get sick and decay? The video in this article is a humorous look at that.

Our body is useful but unreliable

We need a human body to make spiritual progress, to house our human mind; but in itself it is a true suffering. We can use any minor shocks we may experience to bring home how treacherous our body is, how eventually it will let us down despite the decades of lavish care, feeding, and cleaning.

I’ll go first … talking of eyes, I was at the optician yesterday, and she took a routine photograph.

“Hmmm,”, she said, pointing out a couple of marks on the back of my eye on the photo. “Looks like you have a freckle here. Or it could be a melanoma.”

“A melaWHAT?” I silently screamed.

“You can come in again later for another test, or I can just do it now?”

“Ermm, now.”

So I had the test. What happens, I asked her, if I have a melanoma? Radiation straight into my eyeball, apparently.

She sent me off to choose some frames for the next twenty minutes while we waited for my eyes to dilate. I spent a ton of money because, hey, I was going to be dead soon. Excellent marketing.

Then she examined me, and said the sweetest words I have heard in a long time, “This all looks fine! It is just a freckle.”

human-life-stagesBut I have been thinking about this since, because that unpleasant feeling of anxiety or fear is common to all of us and I have had a chance to empathize. Even today some dear friends heard horrible news from their doctor. It is only a matter of time before something does go seriously wrong with these lumps of meat. We are all in this together and need to help each other get out.

It’s not just our body – our mind itches or hurts from the delusions as well.

Buddha explained other sufferings as well, such as uncertainty, no companionship, loss of status, and so on. Check out Joyful Path of Good Fortune. Whichever way we cut it, suffering pervades our samsara. That’s ok, providing we know it and are not futilely trying to make it work.

That’s not all folks …

These manifest sufferings are all bad enough in this life, but the truth is they have been going on for countless lives. We need to get our heads around that. Check out this teaching by Gen Losang to help you do just that:

 

As Geshe Kelsang says:

In every single life, I have experienced the sufferings of sickness, ageing, death, being separated from those I love and being unable to fulfil my wishes. If I do not attain permanent liberation from suffering now, I will have to experience these sufferings again and again in countless future lives. ~ How to Transform Your Life

We sort of have non-attachment already for manifest pain, at least that of this life. We may already think, like this author does, that in our current world craziness it is “time to unplug and escape this nightmare that we are living in” – only for him this means just unplugging Facebook and Twitter and moving to the countryside with a dog.

Tempting to join him, maybe, but we don’t know the extent of it, the beginninglessness and endlessness of it, so we assume we can muddle through or ignore it. We have forgotten all our countless dissatisfactory and painful previous lives, however important they felt at the time. We will be dead within a few hundred months or sooner, when this life will be no more than a forgotten dream as well.

elephant stuck in mud

So, Buddha first shakes us out of this complacency with all the talk on the suffering of all our lives until we agree, “Yes, I want out. I really want out.” We need that power in the mind, or else samsara will exert a constant gravitational pull — we’ll never get out. As Geshe Kelsang says:

Just as a bird cannot fly if it has stones tied to its legs, so we cannot make progress on the spiritual path if we are tightly tied down by the chains of attachment. ~ How to Transform Your Life

The very bearable lightness of being

The fact is that with relatively minimal effort compared with all the effort we have been putting into samsara since beginningless time, we can attain liberation.

It may seem counterintuitive, but we do ourselves a big favor and lead a lighter life if we can remember our precious human life and death every day. It also really helps us to lighten up by remembering that the past has gone … and to put a boundary around today.  

I sometimes find it helps to think that my past is being rubbed out by the second with a giant eraser that is following me around. All appearances or hallucinations are being erased pretty much the moment they arise. All that continues day to day, and life to life, is our very subtle mind and karmic potentials (which are also, however, changing moment by moment).

jump for joyAnd, as mentioned, we don’t need to worry that renunciation will be a scary or a sad mind. Quite the opposite is true. The peace and contentment of non-attachment or renunciation is not just a “non” mind, but a positive mind that opposes the stickiness of our attachment (attachment is translated from the Tibetan “do chag”, which literally means “sticky desire”). Non-attachment is light and happy, and enjoys everything, and even desires good things; but without all that heavy grasping. Being peaceful and non-graspy feels so great. The expectation, insecurity, anxiety, selfishness, small-mindedness, self-doubt, and disappointment have gone.

Renunciation or non-attachment also sets us up for the happiness of love and compassion. If we are bogged down in the swamp of samsara ourselves, like an elephant stuck in mud, how are we going to pull others out? But when we start to see through the illusion of samsara, we develop a strong desire to help others do the same.

It also sets us up for the joy of wisdom as we are no longer attached to hallucinations, to inherently existent things, to things mistakenly perceived to be outside of our mind.

And it sets us up for the bliss of Tantra, including the ability to transform our enjoyments into open-ended bliss. We still have non-sticky desire and we still have passion, but these are now delivering the goods.

Also, it is far more scary not to move our mind in this direction, for then we are trapped forever. And forever is a very long time.

What do I do with this renunciation once I’ve got it?

June 8 meaning of lifeOne thing it is worth knowing is that every action we do with renunciation, however seemingly insignificant, even if it is just brushing our teeth, is an actual path out of samsara. On the other hand, without renunciation, even our most hard-working virtuous actions just lead us to the contaminated pleasures of samsara.

Then we can do lots of things such as practicing moral discipline, concentration, and especially wisdom. Plus, we have now a stable foundation for our compassion – in fact we’re aiming for the mind that is a combination of renunciation and compassion.

Meanwhile, as mentioned, we will feel peaceful and contented, and thus enjoy everything, whatever it is we are doing!

So, in developing renunciation we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Second half of this twofold meditation on renunciation here.

Comments welcome!

 

Itchy feet, itchy mind

I was just thinking about Puerto Rico earlier, much of which, almost 7 months on, is still without power. I have good friends there who have built a beautiful retreat center in the rainforest, you can visit there if you like, it is so conducive to going deep in meditation. I was sort of planning to go back last Christmas but Hurricane Maria had other ideas.casa-kadam

Carrying on from this article on refuge.

Anyway, I was thinking that if you’re in Puerto Rico right now, you probably really want a shower. And if you got in the shower, and got all clean and fresh and cooled down, it’d feel just great, wouldn’t it? So it’d be great if everyone in Puerto Rico could have a shower; if they could have everything they need right now.

Indeed, it would be wonderful if everyone could have whatever they need, whenever they need it, especially shelter, food, and medicines. These are necessities for human beings’ basic survival, and worth striving for.

But are they enough? No, not if we want real or lasting happiness and freedom. For we can also recognize that if the Puerto Rican was to stay in that shower for more than about an hour, he would start suffering again.

While we’re in the shower it can feel fantastic, can’t it?, especially if we haven’t showered for a while. So we assume that a shower is an actual source of happiness. But if it was an actual source of happiness, then the longer we stayed in the shower the happier we’d become. After 3 hours in the shower, we’d be so blissed out it’d be crazy. But as it is, even the person in PR just can’t wait to get out of that shower. It becomes like a torture, doesn’t it?

shower

If someone just came along and locked you in the sauna because you’re loving it so much, it would not be long before you were hammering at the door, “Have mercy, let me out!” I rest my case.

What are true causes of happiness?

The great Indian Buddhist master called Aryadeva says in Treatise of Four Hundred Verses:

Although it can be seen that the increase of happiness is destroyed by its cause, it can never be seen that the increase of suffering is destroyed by its cause.

This is only fair: If something is an actual cause of something, then it has to produce that effect every time. If someone hits us on the thumb with a hammer, we’re gonna say, “Ouch!” If they keep hitting us on the thumb with a hammer, that pain is only going to grow – it is not going to turn into happiness. This means that it is an actual cause of suffering.

However, when we increase the cause of any worldly happiness, instead of feeling better and better we instead start to feel pain (to experiment, try eating the whole can of Pringles or having sex for 24 hours straight).overreating

If we enjoy eating food, our pleasure may increase as we eat the first few mouthfuls, but if we continue to eat more and more, our pleasure will turn into pain. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune

That’s what happens with food, isn’t it? The first few mouthfuls of that doughnut are always the best, aren’t they? And at some point we push away the box and say, “No! No more.” If we had to keep eating them, if we had to eat 10 doughnuts, our pleasure would decidedly morph into pain. We pull faces when we see people in those overeating competitions, it’s almost frightening. This means that eating doughnuts or hot dogs is not a real cause of happiness because if it was it could not cause suffering.

Which pleasures are overrated?

The point about worldly or external pleasures is that they are all changing sufferings, meaning that sooner or later they ALL turn into pain, every single one of them. Every single worldly pleasure, every “temporary refuge” if you like, turns into pain unless we stop in time. Try and think of one that doesn’t.

This is like Buddha’s challenge to us – find something outside the mind that is always going to make us happy, and that the more we have of it the happier we’re going to get. If you can think of that thing, you’re going to get very rich. No one has invented it yet. It can’t be invented because this is not where happiness or refuge come from. fleeting pleasure

I read a survey recently on “Which pleasures are overrated?” The replies included the usual suspects – partying, drugs, sports, food, drinking beer, etc. Respondents also mentioned kids, spouses, jobs, and traveling. And one or two wise folks replied, “any fleeting pleasures”. But the fact is that all external enjoyments are overrated.

My neighbor has been playing Candy Crush saga since we got on this flight. (So now I know who is playing that game!) Her nosy neighbor (me) sees that she has reached level 274! That’s got to be good, right?! She doesn’t seem that ecstatic though. No resting on laurels here. A glancing smile, perhaps, before she’s off again, chasing level 275.

The world is wounded

plastic in oceanThe great Indian Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna says our mind is like an itchy wound. Worldly enjoyments only ever work when we need to scratch the itch. Doughnuts, for example, only work if we are hungry. They don’t work at all if we have just had a six-course Indian curry or have a cold and can’t taste anything. If we’re lonely, company feels fantastic, sometimes, and so on.

If we have a big itch, we want to scratch it — it feels great, scratching itches. But we all know what happens if we keep doing it — itches turn back into pain. Buddha is saying that these kinds of temporary refuges or changing sufferings are like scratching an itch – there is some temporary relief, and then it turns back to pain.

Sometimes more pain than we started with, in fact. The things that we turn to for solutions to our problems are also, ironically — or samsarically — the sources of our problems. Our problems come from our food, they come from our doctors, they come from the police, they come from our medicines, they come from our relationships, they come from our living quarters, etc. All the things we turn to for protection or refuge are just as capable of giving us problems.

Our whole planet is being polluted and the oceans turned into plastic by all of us trying to derive refuge from this, that, and the other, jostling to get as comfortable as we can while treading on other people’s needs and future in the process.

Therefore, although we are turning to these kinds of temporary refuges to get rid of our problems, to get comfortable, to get happy, at best they are only palliative, scratching an itch. And if we keep going, they give rise to further pains. And this is because we’re in samsara, whose very nature is suffering. scratching itch

In Joyful Path, Geshe Kelsang also gives the very helpful example of sitting and standing:

If we sit in the same position for a long time, and then stand up, it will seem that standing is a cause of happiness, but …

… if we remain standing for a few hours, we’re desperate to sit down again. Then lie down. And then prop ourselves up. And then move around. The amount we have to move these bodies around in the average day just to keep them comfortable!! — sitting up and lying down and moving around over and over again, all day long, just one mini-relief after another, or mini happiness hits. Meaning that neither sitting nor standing are real causes of happiness because both of them are causes of changing suffering. And the same goes for all our worldly pleasures.

Thought experiment

Here is a thought experiment to help us see this. It might even save you loads of time and money!!!

Close your eyes and imagine you have already got everything you have ever wanted or worked for – enough money, career, relationship, house, vacation, well behaved kids, fast car, no body fat, equitable society. Whatever it is – you can imagine having all the material things and/or worldly pleasures you have ever wanted or worked for. Right now. Already. You did it! Congratulations!

(Impossible of course to get all our ducks in a row, let alone keep them there; but imagine it anyway.)

You have got everything you want! Are you happy? Finally … are you happy?!

donkey and carrotHmmm. Maybe for a few minutes. Until we want something else as well. Or until someone annoys us and our mind starts hurting again.

Has that preempted years, maybe lifetimes, of throwing time and money after dreams that can never come true?! I’m half-kidding. But half not.

Point is, we can still go to work, build a career, etc., of course, and we need to gather necessary conditions; but we need be under no illusion that these are actual or lasting sources of refuge or happiness. The pressure is off. The false expectations are dropped. We can relax. Maybe spend some of that money and time on making other people happy instead – just a side thought. Right now the global divide between rich and poor is getting so crazy and it is helping no one.

In our countless lives since beginningless time we have actually had everything. There is no tee-shirt large enough to list all the places, enjoyments, and bodies (our own and others) we have had. Nonetheless we have lost them all. Indeed we have forgotten them all. We have forgotten everybody and everything.

So what are we supposed to do?

teeshirtDoes this mean lasting refuge or happiness is impossible? Of course not. But Buddha’s point in explaining this second type of suffering, changing suffering, is that we need to stop selling ourselves short, just muddling through life trying to make it bearable; and instead discover actual comfort, satisfaction, joy, happiness, and deep bliss by seeking refuge in a different source. This will help us not just now but in all our future lives as well. With non-attachment to worldly pleasures, we will also discover a lot more energy and patience for helping others.

We are not starting from scratch, either, of course. We already have a taste of the potentially limitless joy inside us whenever we experience any contentment, love, faith, wisdom, and so on. When we have these states of mind going on inside, we can also enjoy everything going on outside, not least because we’re in a great mood. So it’s a question of what we want to emphasize.

Here concludes what I have to say on changing suffering, as part of a series on refuge. More on the third type of suffering, pervasive suffering, in a future article.

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Get Up to Speed and Out the Door

6.5 mins read

Where on earth is there no suffering?world peace

From just a cursory look at CNN’s daily Five things you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door, which drops into my inbox each morning: The recent bombings of children in Syria, where “words are no longer sufficient to describe the horror, terror, and suffering.” The leader of the free world calling to congratulate a “dictator on winning a sham election.” The 17-year old who tried to murder his classmates, now numbingly routine. The vigil for those crushed under a Miami bridge. The abysmal life of pigs who are kept in cruel iron cages no bigger than their bodies. And the “good” news that some of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram have been released. (However, most have not; and what kind of shape are these girls in now?) And so on. These all help my renunciation and compassion – I like to call it Five things you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out of Samsara.

Manifest suffering

There are three types of suffering that we want to get rid of by being in refuge, which include all the sufferings endemic to samsara. The first is the suffering of manifest pain. We know this one all too well – it refers to any unpleasant bodily or mental feeling. Toothache, heartache, CNN’s five things, etc. This manifest pain is what we normally think of as suffering — we think suffering refers to when something hurts.

Carrying on from this article.

Manifest suffering is obviously horrible. It is the easiest-to-understand suffering. We don’t need to be taught about the suffering of manifest pain – we’re all well aware of what it is, how much we dislike it, and how we’d like to find refuge from it and help others do the same. We try hard day and night to get rid of our own manifest pain, and many people try hard day and night to help others get rid of theirs.

And it’s not just five things of course – there are countless painful reasons to Get Up to Speed and Out of Samsara. It’s not just me — everyone around me is experiencing some variety of discomfort at any given moment.CNN five things

A random example: As I was walking to my seat just now, on this evening flight to Chicago, I wondered in passing why a woman was hiding behind huge dark glasses.

Turns out she is in the seat in front of me, 25F, and I can hear her talking into her phone before take-off:

“Oh, honey I’m a wreck. I could pass as the twin of the Terminator. I can’t take these glasses off. And, honey, if you could see my arms and legs — I am covered with hives!”

She is doing her best, as many of us are:

“Anyway, I love you. See you soon.”

But whatever improvements we are able to make in our own and others’ lives, that is not the end of the story. There are two other types of suffering in samsara, which underpin and cause this manifest pain; and we need more wisdom to identify these. If we don’t identify changing suffering and pervasive suffering, we cannot bring an end to all suffering. We will have to carry on experiencing both physical and mental pain endlessly, however much and often we try to patch it up.

Changing suffering

The second type of suffering is called “changing suffering”. In the big yellow book called Joyful Path of Good Fortune — which contains all of Buddha’s teachings if you get a chance to read it, sort of like the Buddhist bible — there’s a section on how the three sufferings of samsara pervade our experience, including our worldly pleasures:

For samsaric beings, every experience of happiness or pleasure that arises from samsara’s enjoyments is called changing suffering.

beer drinking

This experience of pleasure is called “changing” suffering (or “suffering of change”) because it’s a kind of changeover or switchover point between manifest pain and more manifest pain. It is those brief feelings of relief.

Now, a few weeks later, I am on the tube from Heathrow to North London, my journey colliding with the morning commute. And the expression on many people’s faces, or rather the studied lack of expression, brings to my mind the word “heaviness”. People seem weighed down. One bloke ten years younger than me I reckon, but with heavy creases in his brow, speaks into his phone, “Hey, mate, just got in, you alright?” A pause, then, louder, “What? he did what? That’s just what I told him not to do! Idiot.” He stared dejectedly at the ground. “Look, mate, let’s meet up in about an hour. I need a pint.”

People’s lives are difficult everywhere. And over the course of a lifetime, many people are struggling to muddle through their lives without things going too badly wrong, catching excitement, release, and pints of beer wherever we can.

Changing suffering is pleasant feelings. It feels like a kind of happiness. Buddha called it changing suffering not because it feels like suffering, but because it is not real happiness, it is just relief. This experience is contaminated by delusions and ignorance, and actually has the nature of suffering. Geshe Kelsang also calls it “artificial happiness”.

We may sense that things are not quite right even when they are going well, but we need to know exactly why this is in order to fix it. And we need not fear that this knowledge will depress us further, for it is this knowledge that in fact will finally set us free.

In Joyful Path it says:

We need to meditate repeatedly on this point because it’s not obvious to us that our worldly pleasures are worldly suffering. We can gain a better understanding by considering the following analogy. If we have a very painful illness and our doctor prescribes painkillers we take these and for a while we stop feeling the pain. At that time we actually experience a feeling that is merely the reduction of pain, but because the strong painful feeling has gone we feel happy and experience pleasure. This pleasant feeling is changing suffering.

Selling ourselves short

I’ll just point out that Buddha is not saying don’t go to the doctor or take painkillers. This is subtle, trying to understand what Buddha is saying here. It’s not that we don’t enjoy or take care of things, but that we understand what’s going on. Then we don’t sell ourselves short.

sell yourself short

Because, extraordinarily enough, every person on that tube goes unfathomably deep. Everyone I saw racing along the pavements in the unusual spring snow-freeze and darting in and out of the crazy London traffic goes unfathomably deep. We are seeing a tiny fraction of who people are — a fleeting appearance, their body of this life, of this day, just a reflection or imputation of thought. Their real body and mind are indestructible and full of the potential for lasting mental freedom and bliss. As it says in The New Heart of Wisdom:

Each and every living being has their own body and mind, which are their subtle body and mind. These are called the “continuously residing body and mind,” and are his or her Buddha nature, the lineage of a future Buddha. Because they have this, when living beings meets Buddhadharma they will all finally attain the state of an enlightened Buddha.

However, at the moment impure appearances seem so real to us that we are perpetually overpowered and sucked into the daily drama of samsara. Most people of course don’t even know what they have inside them, nor the future that could be. We have been through countless lives already without finding this out.

(Not only are we selling ourselves short by not knowing who we really are and of what we are capable, we are also not even enjoying life’s pleasures a fraction as much as we could be. When we know about changing suffering and the dangers of its usual corollary, attachment, we have the impetus to transform these enjoyments into the spiritual path and make super speedy spiritual progress! But this can be the subject of other articles, such as this one.)

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Who wants an existential wake-up call?!

8 min read 

past-life-signsLast night I dreamt that my spiritual teacher showed me all my lifetimes so far. These were not at all vivid, but I got a sense of the non-stop and varied installments in this interminable story of my samsara; and this was powerful. I cannot get it out of my mind – and nor do I want to.

It made me realize that if I don’t get my spiritual act together in this short life I am set to experience infinitely more chapters in this cycle of existence. Why am I at all interested, still, in buying into all these dramas, especially now that I have tasted the alternative of wisdom?

Then I woke to a foster kitten jumping onto my bed, and the recognition that this purring creature now kneading me with his paws was in yet another installment of his own beginningless story as well. This time, a cat book, filled with cat chapters. And right now our story is overlapping for a few paragraphs, but we will soon be moving on. Forced to move on. And I felt very sad for him because he has no way of understanding what all this means or what is in store for him, much less any way of escaping. And his confusion and suffering have already been going on for far too long.

Loved and lost

And then I thought of some of the humans I have loved and lost in this life alone, and realized that our endless stories had also intersected for just a few pages. At the time, it seemed that those relationships were deeply significant, and maybe in some ways they were. But they were never permanent – just a few shared paragraphs in the never-ending tomes of samsara.

Talk about getting things into perspective …! I am sorry to sound existentially terrifying, but a more realistic perspective brings us some measure of peace, and this has.

23622102_10155844260527442_2370081359763870875_nNo difference between those loved & lost humans and this kitten, really – at least, the only difference being a very small matter of time. As the equanimity meditation shows, I have been as close to this kitten in the past as I ever was to them. And it is this kitten, not them, who is currently appearing directly to my senses in this latest story line, and who is the one I can show love to directly.

Fleeting narratives

So each lifetime is like a new book, and within each book, whether short or long, are the transient chapters of that life. Within the chapters are paragraphs, including sentences and words. These make up the narrative of our lives, and the narrative we have largely been telling ourselves all these eons. For there is nothing behind these tales, or even these characters, when we look. Everything is mere name.

The common denominator holding this narrative together life after life is grasping at ME. Even though that me is changing all the time, even day by day, we believe it it real, that it is there, not just a projection of our thoughts. And then our self-cherishing, attachment, aversion, and other delusions emanate from that grasping in life after life, like a spider weaving her web. As Geshe Kelsang says in How to Transform Your Life:

 We need to understand that the inherently existent I that we grasp at so firmly and continuously does not exist at all. It never has existed and never will. It is merely the fabrication of our self-grasping ignorance. ~ page 51.

Moreover, our stories with each other may have interwoven in extraordinary or mundane ways, but they have all been, thus far, entirely ephemeral. And pretty much entirely out of our control.

We don’t own others. We cannot begin to own them. We don’t even own ourselves.

Swept along

201306-orig-past-life-949x534Most of the time – maybe the whole of beginningless time — we have been swept along by each unfolding drama and its bardo interludes, believing in it as if was the be-all and end-all, as if there was something solid behind those mental projections. We have clung on for dear life to every appearance – trying to solve our problems and get happy through the use of ignorance, attachment, and aversion all trying to manipulate the objects outside our mind. We have not yet realized that all subject minds and object things co-arise and subside simultaneously, like waves from an infinitely deeper source, the ocean of our own root mind that goes from life to life.

You may have noticed — we cannot solve an attachment problem with the attachment that is in fact creating the problem in the first place. Same for aversion. We can’t force the objects of our attachment or aversion to behave better while at the same time allowing our attachment and aversion to stay put. We can’t solve any actual problems or unpleasant feelings outside of changing our thoughts. But we sure do try.

If we cannot gain control over our mind through wisdom, we will have no choice but to believe in and be carried along by its projections or mistaken appearances. As Je Tsongkhapa says, in a graphic depiction of our real predicament:

Swept along by the currents of the four powerful rivers,
Tightly bound by the chains of karma, so hard to release,
Ensnared within the iron net of self-grasping,
Completely enveloped by the pitch-black darkness of ignorance,

Taking rebirth after rebirth in boundless samsara,
And unceasingly tormented by the three sufferings —
Through contemplating the state of your mothers in conditions such as these,
Generate a supreme mind of bodhichitta. ~ The Three Principal Aspects of the Path  

The imperative to get enlightened

beyond-1157000_960_720How can we help others, really help them, if we are as helplessly carried along as they are, and incapable of staying with any of them for very long, much less forever? Even the people we love the dearest in this life, who have always been there for us, such as our parents – we cannot even hold onto them. My mom turns 80 in two short days, on December 24th. I have known her for over half a century, I think about her every single day, I feel like I have never not known her, but …

This all adds up to … we have to become enlightened. We need to be the clear light of omniscience itself, the wisdom of bliss and emptiness, and to allow all new books, chapters, paragraphs, and even commas to appear within that completely purified, transformed, and blissful mind.

Otherwise everything that appears to us (other than to our very subtle mind) is going to remain as the mistaken and often painful projection of self-grasping. We will keep trying to believe in it as the truth, but like any hallucination or mirage it will thus forever and always keep letting us down.

Buddha_sunBuddha is the “supreme unchanging friend”. Enlightened beings are brighter than the sun, constantly shining in our lives, in all our lives. They are more stable than the great earth. They are omniscient wisdom mixed with universal compassion that pervades all beings. They have pulled this off as they have directly realized the non-duality of subject and object. We are mere aspects of their completely purified mind already, even if we don’t realize it.

Through following Buddha’s teachings, eventually we too will attain the non-conceptual mind of great bliss. With this we have direct experience that there is only one truth – ultimate truth emptiness – and that all conventional truths, ie, all story lines without exception, are mere appearances not other than ultimate truth.

Start here

If we want to help other people a lot, we can’t keep losing them. We can’t settle with just throwing them temporary lifelines as they drift in and out of our range. And how can any lifeline be enough if we are floundering in the waves ourselves?

We need to have everyone in our story all the time — not outside our mind, nor we outside theirs — sharing our mandala now and for always.

Leonard CohenI know that this may sound a very long way off, but we can start straightaway. There is nothing to lose, and every step we take will make our existential situation better.

What is the first step? Trusting in our own inner peace. We can start with just one simple breath carrying us into our heart.

What’s step two? High-quality encounters day by day. Learning to love people unconditionally in the moment. If we hold and remember people with love, they will not feel wrenched from our mind even when appearances change. We need not feel separate from them. We are always losing people through attachment, let alone aversion, so we must learn to dissolve these deluded conceptual thoughts and their objects away. As William Blake said along these lines:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

We can practice day by day to increase our love and compassion within the understanding of impermanence and space-like emptiness, until, as a Buddha, we can hold everyone all the time.

This way we will become supreme unchanging friends for the people we already adore, and for everyone else we have forgotten we adored in the past.

This may not be the Christmassy article you were hoping for, sorry; but it’s what I’ve been thinking about since I woke up 😁 Blame my mother — I wouldn’t be typing this fast if she hadn’t forced me to do a typing course back in the day. Or if she hadn’t given me my fingers.

That said, please join me in wishing her the most pure and peaceful of birthdays and years ahead!

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  5. Everything we need is inside us 

 

 

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.

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