No arms, no legs, no worries!

This brave, funny and happy man is helping millions of people to change their attitude, seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty. He is inspiring because he is a dramatic, visible, irrefutable example of how life depends on how you look at it. It is hard to sustain self-pity or even self-doubt when watching this video. That might be why some people have watched it many, many times!

Where does happiness come from?

Nick Vujicic reminds me that we have all the tools we need to be happy — very happy, indeed very blissful — but we won’t get round to using them if we don’t sincerely believe that we possess the seeds of happiness within. If our starting point for meditation is: “I’m a real mess and happiness is alien to me, but I guess I should try this meditation thing”, or — identifying with the delusions — “I’m so deluded, I better get around to training my mind”, we are off to a very slow and possibly quite torturous beginning. To succeed in becoming happier, we first have to actively want to be happy and stop buying into our misery. (It may sound obvious, but this step is surprisingly often left out.) Then, with that, we can be confident that happiness is a given if we apply effort. Why? Because we are not adding anything that is not already there.

The root of the Western word “happiness” is apparently Scandinavian and means “luck”. Happiness is randomly assigned to lucky people in some cosmic lottery, sorry mate if you got the losing numbers. And a lot of people subscribe to a Western psychotherapy “set level of happiness” theory, where an individual is always moreorless at the same level of happiness – studies showed happiness spiking or dipping due to e.g. winning the lottery or getting cancer, but returning to the same level later. If we believe all this, there is not much point in training the mind to be happy.

However, the only reason these studies showed that people’s happiness doesn’t appear to change much during their lifetime is because people are generally not training in happiness – they are trying to find happiness in external sources. Buddhism 101 explains how happiness is a state of mind, so its real cause lies in the mind, not the external world. Change the mind, everything changes. Change the mind a lot, and everything changes a lot.

I’ve had a lot of external changes over the last few years, and some of them have looked rather alarming to my loved ones. Over the holidays, my aunt, whom I haven’t seen in a while, asked me: “But how are you really feeling? I know you are always happy, but what is really going on?” What do I answer, “I’m really feeling awful… but I’m happy!” No, it is one or the other.

Yesterday, a friend told me how in a teaching he compared training the mind to going to the gym, in that you wouldn’t get round to going to the gym if you didn’t know for sure that you already had muscles to exercise. My biceps may be rather puny at the moment, but they are there, so I am prepared to make the effort to bring out their potential (well, I”m not really, but I am prepared to continue the effort to meditate.)

And if someone without arms and legs can learn to be happy, what is stopping us? As one school kid’s comment put it:

“I shall always remember this when I think I’m having problems, be happy. ‘Cos if he can, anyone can.”

Precious human life

One way instantly to lift our spirits is to count our blessings rather than worrying about all the things we don’t have. As another comment put it:

“Before this video, I felt I was so unlucky and I’ll never be good at something. After watching, DAMN! I’m lucky!”

This video for me was a meditation on my precious human life. Precious human life meditation is placed at the very beginning of the stages of the path so that we actually get going on the other stages. If we don’t remember and feel glad every day about how lucky we are right now, we’ll never get round to using our good fortune. We’ll take this rare life for granted — count out our life in coffee spoons — even though Buddha compares a precious human life to a star in the midday sky.

Nick Vujicic is being described by many as “a hero”. He has gained a victory over his own mind by fighting the inner enemies of self-pity and self-doubt. His website is called “Attitude is Altitude”. Nick Vujicic may not be able-bodied, but he sure is able-minded.

"I LOVE LIFE!" ~ Nick Vucicic

A Buddhist take on factory farming

The book Eating Animals is brilliant. Jonathan Safran Foer has done the world a service. He is a best-selling novelist who has managed to write a book about factory farming that is readable — horrific, yes, but still readable. Even un-put-downable. He has looked at the question of eating animals from many angles — culture, community, history, politics, husbandry, morality, health etc. He has avoided black and white haranguing and reasonably discusses shades of gray so people can come to their own conclusions.

“I need some exercise!”

Those of you die-hard carnivores who don’t want to change your habits at all, don’t read any further, and don’t pick up this book. As 99% of USA meat is factory farmed, really knowing about factory farming forces you to change in some ways  — and you may not want to change! The facts in this book, if digested, will lead most people (a) to become vegetarian or vegan, (b) to eat less meat, or (c) to be far more careful about choosing meat from animals that have not been tortured their entire lives or stewed in their own filth and stuffed with antibiotics, hormones etc. (If this book gets people into the habit of asking the store and restaurant owners where their meat or eggs actually come from, this will in itself have the power to improve animal welfare and human health). The alternative from digesting this book (as opposed to dismissing it) is that you won’t change but you will feel guilty, and that is not a useful state of mind according to Buddhism.

“I *really* need some exercise.”

This article is more about me than about you. I can’t lecture anyone about vegetarianism (let alone veganism)  — until some years ago I was an imperfect vegetarian, eating meat when I went to visit my family for holidays for example, thinking erroneously it was the best way to blend in, plus secretly digging the excuse …  But I never felt that good about it. I love animals, and I could see that loving animals was somewhat contradictory to eating them! It sat uneasily with me. But hey, steak smelt so good, and I didn’t always have the will-power to ignore others tucking into it whilst I nibbled on the brussel sprouts.

Pigs are as intelligent as dogs. Who would push their dog in a closet and throw away the key?
“I can’t help it. I have to eat.”

Then I watched a nature program about animals in the Arctic. Like these programs always are, it was brutal. Kill or be killed. It dawned on me that — unlike every animal struggling every day in the wild — I have the choice, every day, not to eat meat. That is my good fortune. I don’t have to kill anyone in order to eat. And every time I exercise that choice, I create the karmic cause to have that choice again. Whereas if I deliberately allow animals to be killed for me so that I can eat them, am I not creating the cause to have less freedom to choose in the future? Every thought and action has consequences. Buddha said that with our thoughts we create our world. From a Buddhist understanding of rebirth (and depending on my motivation) could one even say that I might be creating the cause to be a powerless animal in future lives?

None of us likes being told what to do or having our lives controlled by others. Imagine what it is like, then, to be an animal.

Even by omission, by ignoring the facts, I personally felt like I was buying into samsara, the cycle of impure life.

This all got me thinking, and later I visited a friend who happened to have a copy of Eating Animals on the table. I read it avidly over the next two days and then could think or talk of little else but the horror of factory farms, driving everyone around me mad. I even fancied I caught a glimpse of what it felt like for the local Germans finally seeing the concentration camps that had been invisible in full sight all along.

“Let me out. I want to go outside!”

When Buddha Shakyamuni tried to help us improve our states of mind or our actions, he would explain the benefits of doing something positive and the faults of not. This way people could check these out for themselves, in their own experience, and come to a genuine intention that was all theirs. No one can force us to be good or kind or healthy. Everything depends upon our own intention.

So for myself I have a quick mental checklist of the benefits and faults of eating animals — a mixture of worldly and spiritual. Although my temptation to eat anyone with a face is now down to zero, this list has been helpful in helping me get here. Much of this is explained in the book Eating Animals, the rest in Buddha’s teachings on karma and rebirth.

Benefits of not eating animals

  • I am more conscious to avoid harming animals

    “Let us out. We *really* want to go outside.”
  • I avoid the hypocrisy of saying I love animals and then eating them
  • I’m healthier and slimmer
  • I’m helping the planet
  • I’m less likely to create the karmic causes to be tortured or eaten myself in the future
  • I am trying to purify the karmic causes of taking an animal rebirth where it is eat or be eaten in samsara
  • I’m increasing my empathy and compassion

Faults of eating animals

  • The opposite of the above
“Cute, aren’t we? … but where are you taking us …?”

This, or any similar checklist of your own, might work for reducing your factory farmed intake, one way or another. Ignorance is not bliss according to Buddhism. In fact, it is the complete opposite of bliss (which is indivisible with the wisdom realizing emptiness, more another time). So my feeling is that if we’re going to eat factory-farmed animals, we should at least do so with full possession of the facts. I don’t think we need to harangue others (sorry if I am haranguing you!) — in Buddhism we try to identify and get rid of our own faults, rather than dwell on the faults of others. But nor do we need to, as it says in one of my long-time favorite quotations from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (who doesn’t eat meat):

“Act as if we are sleepwalking or let our habits dominate our behavior.”

Find out more.

Preparing for something?!

Recently two of my old friends lost their beloved husbands to unexpected death. One was a suicide and the other a murder.

These were both very loving partnerships, lasting decades. Both these women have responded to violent loss by seeking refuge in their spiritual practice.

While on retreat, J called her husband at about 2pm each day. This day he didn’t pick up. After 20 minutes of redialing: “I had a hunch that something was dreadfully wrong.”  Driving to his store, she was crying all the way. She found him unconscious, and two days later his life support was turned off. Her husband was a wonderful person, always giving things away in his store, always a kind word for everyone. One of his customers recalled on TV:

“He was just one of the sweetest guys you ever want to meet.  He didn’t deserve this.”

J said to me:

“I collapse on the floor with the pain sometimes. However, if it wasn’t for Dharma, I would have to be hospitalized for grief.”

Interviews of her on local TV show her deeply sad but full of grace, unwilling to condemn the attacker despite the reporter’s leading questions. (The 33-year-old attacker battered J’s husband in a robbery of his antique store, enraged that he had sold his pawned silver coins. The cell phone that J’s husband never picked up was found discarded, along with his wallet, on the road). J said on TV that she was overwhelmed by the kindness that her community had shown her and her family, and felt immense gratitude to friends and strangers.  She told me that she surprised herself by feeling no anger toward the attacker due to her practice of compassion, and for this she was also very grateful. She is taking refuge in her spiritual community and in her meditations, and intends to spend the rest of her life seeking deeper spiritual meanings.

S understands impermanence and the opportunity she now has to increase her empathy and love for everyone, but missing her partner of 46 years hurts like hell:

“In Geshe-la’s books, where do you think I could find some words to help me with my attachment to M……… wanting him back on earth….. I just cannot believe I will not see him again.”

“I have been trying to get a grip on this experience of a broken heart as a gift towards greater compassion. But, you know L,………I just miss M… The younger generation is independent and know how to live their lives self sufficiently……I had been with M for 46 years……I have been part of a team! This is very challenging for me…….”

These women are having strident wake up calls. Not ones anyone would choose, naturally, but we rarely choose our wake up calls; that is why they have the power to wake us up. Hitting the snooze button doesn’t work when we’re in so much pain; we simply cannot distract ourselves with meaningless things as we typically do when we have problems. We have to face the big questions in life because they are staring us in the face. But by facing them and by finding answers, we can gain acceptance, understanding and a growing peace of mind. In this way, we live our fullest lives.

Every day is a challenge for S and J right now, but they are strong. S said this week:

“Spending at least part of the day reading & meditating about this life of ours. Forgiveness is what I am working on a lot………for M & for myself …………just knowing this was his path and had nothing to do with me……is a relief……. Realizing there is nothing permanent here ………… so many things I have learned over the years are now being tested for real……. and I am getting through it all pretty well………  I am working on being happy in this situation because this is what is right now……..”

Please pray for S, J, their husbands and their children.

So often a close encounter with death leads to transformation. At the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, there was a young woman called Kisigotami. She lived a regular life pursuing ordinary ambitions, not particularly interested in spiritual practice. She had a baby, but the baby fell ill and died before its first birthday.

Life of Buddha Play at KMC Manjushri 2009

Clutching the little body in her arms, she took to the streets, begging anyone she met to help bring her baby back to life. One passer-by eventually pointed her in the direction of Buddha.

Buddha told her that there was only one thing she could do to heal her pain, and that was to bring him back a mustard seed from a house in the village that had never known death.

She excitedly knocked on the first door. “I’m sorry. My brother died recently.” At the second door, “We have known many deaths in this family.” At the third, “We are no strangers to death in this house.”

And on it went. She was struck with the realization of death and impermanence, that no one lives forever, that death is part of life. She bid farewell to her child and returned to Buddha empty-handed.

“Did you bring me the mustard seed?” Buddha asked her. She shook her head, and explained how grief had blinded her to the fact that she was not alone in experiencing the reality of death, but that she was now ready to receive spiritual teachings. She wanted to know what death is, what happens at death, what happens after death. She went onto become a great spiritual adept.

No matter how much we deny death, like everyone else we will find ourselves staring it in the face soon enough. Others’ deaths, and our own. It is amazing how little we talk about death in any meaningful way in our modern society — it is taboo, it  is considered morbid, as if talking about it will somehow make it more likely. This leaves us searching for words and meaning when it happens to our friends and loved ones, and utterly unable to cope when we have to face it in ourselves.

Life and death are two ends of the same tunnel. They are parts of the same continuum. If we don’t accept this and learn to live our lives in accordance with this truth, we will experience fear, pain and confusion as the exit looms. If we do accept it, we find like Kisigotami, and so many spiritual practitioners since, that life takes on a deeper meaning. Therein lies a deeper humility, sense of purpose, love, transcendent wisdom and joy. This life is very precious. Others’ lives are precious. If we don’t feel that way, it is probably because we rarely think about how soon we all have to leave.

Death is not the end, it is the opening of a new chapter, one that we are writing today with our thoughts and actions. Every day we prepare for many things. We prepare to get out of bed, we prepare our breakfast, we prepare for school, we prepare for work, we prepare what we’ll do that evening, we prepare to pick up the kids, we prepare how we’ll proceed in our careers, we prepare to meet someone, we prepare ways to earn money, we prepare what to plant in our gardens, we prepare replies for those who’ve offended us, we prepare for our next vacation, we prepare for our retirement, we prepare for bed….

But how many minutes today have we spent preparing for the only future that is certain to occur?

Missing Life?

All that happens is here and now. If we are elsewhere, we are in fact missing out.

Or, as John Lennon put it:

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

We are told this a lot. But how do we come into the here and now? And, perhaps more to the point, how do we stay here and now?!

We have to pay attention. The best and perhaps easiest way to do this is to pay attention to the people around us. There are always people around us, including animals. Cherish them. Buddhists are aiming to love everyone, but we start with those right under our noses, thinking: “This person is important. This person’s happiness matters.”

As we develop this skill, our life develops an extraordinary richness and happiness.

As my Buddhist Teacher Geshe Kelsang says in Eight Steps to Happiness (page 56):

Whenever we are with other people we should be continuously mindful that their happiness and wishes are at least as important as our own. Of course, we cannot cherish all living beings right away, but by training our mind in this attitude, beginning with our family and friends, we can gradually extend the scope of our love until it embraces all living beings. When in this way we sincerely cherish all living beings, we are no longer an ordinary person but have become a great being, like a Bodhisattva.

Meditation helps me be a better social worker. And vice versa.

Here is the article I promised from the friend I quoted:

Being a social worker makes me a better Buddhist. Being a Buddhist makes me a better social worker.

Someone wrote me on Facebook to say they thought this was a good Kadampa motto. Replace “social worker” with your job title.

And ask: Does my meditation practice help my job and does my job fuel my meditation practice? (If yes, you’re all set, as you probably spend most of your waking hours at work… ) Here is how one person is doing it:

“For almost three years now I have been training to be a social worker.  It’s been difficult, challenging and very busy but I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

I feel I have been on quite a journey, developing as a person and as a social work practitioner.  Throughout my time Kadampa Buddhism has helped me cope, stay calm and transform difficult situations for myself and others.

My daily meditation practices have helped me keep a good motivation at the beginning of the day and allowed me to off load any stress at the end of day when I have got back from work or study.

I have found that the Buddhist values and way of life are not dissimilar to that of a social worker. Social workers have a code of ethics which include: human dignity and worth, social justice (e.g. equal treatment without prejudice or discrimination), service (e.g. enabling people to develop their potential), integrity and competence.

Compassion and love for others is an integral part of Kadampa Buddhism and of becoming a bodhisattva.  My kind teacher, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in Meaningful to Behold says a bodhisattva is someone who wishes to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings and that they are motivated by the desire to benefit all living beings (p95-96).

I aspire to be like this and find with practice it can become natural to want to help those who are around you whether that is at home or at work.

In one of my placements I helped people staying in a mental health hostel with their daily living.  I helped and advised them with their shopping and budgeting, encouraging them to go to social activities or work and engaging in therapeutic activities with them such as making pizzas, cookies and playing pool.  This work seemed natural for me from the intentions, minds and values I have discovered through Kadampa Buddhism.”

Part Two, Where is a problem?

Part Three, Mind-training and social work

Martin Luther King Showed the Power of Love

A Kadampa nun gave the annual Martin Luther King lecture at Montana State University last Monday, speaking to about 400 students, professors and community members.

King proved power of love, nonviolence, speaker says

Martin Luther King Jr. achieved incredible changes in American law and society, yet it all sprang from what was within his mind, a philosophy based on love, compassion and wisdom, a Buddhist nun told a Bozeman crowd Wednesday.

Gen Varahi spoke in Washington DC, a breath of fresh air in a city known at the moment mainly for its partisan bickering.

Democrat or Republican, the only way to make a lasting difference in our world is to have a good intention — beginning, middle and end. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says in Mahamudra Tantra (page 9):

Wherever we go and whatever we do depends upon our intention. No matter how powerful our body and speech may be, we shall never be able to do anything if we lack the intention to do it. If our intention is incorrect we shall naturally perform incorrect actions, which give rise to unpleasant results, but if our intention is correct the opposite will be true.

As Gen Varahi, a former medical doctor, points out:

King was a hero, who led a movement that took America out of a “very shameful” position to one we can be proud of”… “We can be like Martin Luther King if we train our minds to react with compassion and wisdom…. King’s use of the practical philosophy of nonviolent worked. It showed us the power of love.”

(Great article, hope you can read it all).

I read last Sunday’s papers yesterday and came to my usual conclusion that the world is a mess.

Africa — disaster
Arab world — disaster
Afghanistan — disaster
American job situation — disaster

And that is just the A’s.

And why? We can point the finger at any number of external causes and conditions, and usually do. In politics different people point fingers at different causes, and then spend most of the time arguing about what they’re pointing at.

But the real causes are the delusions — i.e. unpeaceful, uncontrolled minds — of everyone involved. Anger, greed, ignorance, pride, hubris, hypocrisy, selfishness, the eight worldly concerns… These are all states of mind, nothing external.

Imagine if  they were replaced by love, generosity, wisdom, humility, straightforwardness, honesty, unselfishness,  equanimity…?

“King realized that you cannot separate the ends and means”, Varahi said. “Over time, violent methods do not result in peace.”

(See the article for her reply on the efficacy non-violence in the face of violent dictators).

As my teacher Geshe Kelsang is fond of saying:

“Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible.”

Atisha, the original Kadampa Teacher, said:

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

It might sound obvious when we see it, so why do we keep pointing the finger elsewhere when things go wrong?After all, whenever we point a finger, there are four fingers pointing back at us.

Where are the Kadampas?

Kadampas everywhere, I think it is time you are heard.

Geshe Kelsang’s parting request at Festivals is to take the teachings we have heard and use them in our regular, everyday lives and family.

Here is where I am coming from. There are thousands of Kadampas out there. Many are not working directly for the New Kadampa Tradition ~ International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT~IKBU) Centers or may not even be attending Centers at the moment. (There are all sorts of reasons, but they are not relevant for the purposes of this argument).

What is relevant is that we are not hearing from any of these Kadampas — what they are up to, how they are using Kadampa Buddhism in creative ways to inspire and transform themselves and others at home, in jobs, or with family.

But is that not the meaning of  “Kadampa” (i.e. those who take Buddha’s teachings as personal advice and put them into practice in their daily lives)?

Google Kadampa or any variation on that theme and see what I mean — you’ll find (1) the official or corporate Center sites (all well and good, they do the job),  (2) a fair amount of criticism (some justified, most over the top), and (3) sites that address that criticism (they too do a good job). What you won’t find is (4) all the Kadampas.

The majority of Kadampas don’t seem to be represented on the Internet at all, yet this is where billions of people are hanging out these days.

We hear from each other at Festivals, and aren’t those Festivals amazing? I’m happy to spend money and time to go hear my Spiritual Guide — invaluable, but I also do it to meet up with you lot. I always find it inspiring and epic to hang out with old and new friends and hear what interesting stuff they’ve been up to. But then the Festival ends and we don’t hear another peep. The world at large, the one outside the Centers, could be forgiven for thinking these nice, creative, light-hearted, funny, down-to-earth, wise and warm Kadampas don’t exist.

One of my subscribers sent me some articles about how he uses Kadampa Buddhism in his job as a social worker. He said:

Becoming a social worker makes me a better Buddhist. Being a Buddhist makes me a better social worker.

I like this a lot. Isn’t that really the meaning of “Kadampa”? So I’m going to post the first of his articles soon. If any of you want to send me stuff, well why not, if I like it I’ll post that as well. Or post your own stuff on your own blog.

I hope my blog is just the beginning.

And … here they come!

Since I wrote the above,  Kadampa blogs are appearing. If you have one you would like linked here, please let me know.

Daily Lamrim

Kadampa Working Dad

This Mountain, That Mountain

Heart of Compassion

Keajralight

Transcultural Buddhism

Family Kadampa

Being Harmonious

Family Kadampa

Tottielimejuice

Aspiring Kadampa

Kadampa Poetry

The Happy Kadampa

Kadampa World

Happiness/Freedom

My Mala is Now a Teething Toy

Dave X Robb

One in Spanish:

Luna Creciente

One in French:

A Bodhisattva for you

And two in Portuguese:

Reflexoes de um kadampa 
Coracao de sabedoria

On Tumblr:

Dancing Dakini

Kadampa Life on Tumblr

Also, the New Kadampa Tradition is starting to appear all over Facebook (and Twitter), with official fan pages for Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, New Kadampa Tradition, and Modern Buddhism, as well as a growing number of individual NKT Centers (and not to mention thousands of individual Kadampas).

Some unofficial Facebook pages

I have probably missed some, let me know.

Kadampa Buddhist Prayer Request — very popular page, ask for prayers for anyone who needs it.

Students and Followers of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso — discussion and links page

New Kadampa Tradition — discussion and links page

Kadampa Rejoicing Group — things to feel happy about.

Bunny Bodhi — musings from a wise, reflective Kadampa rabbit

Kadampa Life — links ‘n stuff, goes with this blog!

Luna Kadampa — also goes with this blog!

Family Kadampa — goes with blog of the same name

Kadampa parents forum

Kadampa professionals forum

Kadampa poets

Kadampa perfection of giving — a forum to give and/or request help when needed

Universal Buddhism ~ The New Kadampa Tradition — for links and discussion

I think these are very welcome developments, don’t you?!