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?!

Ever connected world

When an intern called Paul Butler mapped the connections between everyone using the Facebook social network, the results ended up being a detailed map of much of the world!

This is good news for Mark Zuckerberg’s bank account, but it is also a vivid illustration of how interconnected, and therefore mutually dependent, we are. None of us is an isolated individual, we are all part of the family of living beings. Our thoughts and actions directly or indirectly affect many other people, even when we are not aware of this. And everything we think, say, do or have is dependent upon others, even when we ignore this fact.

When we feel lonely, we feel disconnected from others, isolated, separate. This is actually an illusion that comes from our ego mind, grasping at ourself as independent of others. We feel we are the only real “I” in the universe, whereas everyone else is really  “other”, and less than I.

But looking at this map, how can we say that any of those pinpoints of light is more or less important than any of the other pinpoints? In truth, each pinpoint of light depends entirely on the other pinpoints to be illuminated at all. Self depends upon other, just as left depends upon right or up depends upon down. Therefore, I am not independent or separate. Nor are you. I am self, but so are you. You are other, but so am I.

There is a series of meditations taught in Kadampa Buddhism, called Lojong, or training the mind, that enable us to feel the truth of our equality and connection to others at deeper and deeper levels. (I mention the first of the series, equalizing self and others, in this article.) This series of meditations leads to a increasingly profound and satisfying sense of closeness, affection, empathy, and non-dual wisdom. They also lead  to kindness.

Just as I regard the hands and so forth
As limbs of my body,
So should I regard all living beings
As limbs of a living whole.

The great Lojong master Shantideva said this in the 8th century, and this map is a 21st century demonstration that no matter how many living beings are born in our world, we will always be connected as parts of a living whole.

Even if we are off the technological grid, we are still connected at every level to others at all times. The hand removes the thorn from the foot because they are both part of the same whole.  As Geshe Kelsang says in one of the Kadampa Lojong books, Eight Steps to Happiness:

Without others we are nothing. Our sense that we are an island, an independent self-sufficient individual, bears no relation to reality. It is closer to the truth to picture ourself as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings. We cannot exist without others, and they in turn are affected by everything we do. The idea that it is possible to secure our own welfare while neglecting the welfare of others, or even at the expense of others, is completely unrealistic.

When the mind wanders, happiness also strays

A recent article in the New York Times reports the findings of scientists at Harvard that people are happier when their minds do not wander from what they are doing.

Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.

This is the other side of the coin from the article, Mindfulness is as good as antidepressants.

If we are not able to stay in the here and now, we are naturally not able to enjoy it. And so we miss out on a lot. As John Lennon put it:

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

Mindfulness is the ability to remember what we are doing without forgetting. If you check, when you forget something, it is because you’ve remembered something else — these are called “distractions”, and the job of mindfulness is to overcome distractions.  Concentration is the ability to focus single-pointedly on what we are doing. These two qualities of mind enable  us to stay in the here and now, and enjoy it, as opposed to missing out on it. Meditation uses both mindfulness and concentration and improves them both very effectively.

Buddha said: “From concentration comes peace of mind.” If we are peaceful, we are happy. People who meditate regularly do so because it makes them happier.

Enjoying, interesting, valuable…

This scientific study shows that we concentrate well on things that we really enjoy. (It also works the other way around, we enjoy the things we concentrate on.) No surprises with sex, it is generally more pleasurable than anything else going on around us at the time, so we are easily able to stay focused on it. Billions of people enjoy TV shows and movies because they draw us in, engage us, please us, such that we resent the distractions (namely the ads). Sport, acting, playing an instrument, art… all these activities have the power to hold our attention if we enjoy doing them more than whatever else is going on.

We also concentrate easily on the things we find interesting or fascinating. A self-described computer geek told me recently that, at work, software problems can keep him absorbed while the hours fly by.

Also, if we perceive something to be valuable or important, we do not find it difficult to keep focused — for example, people in emergency rooms saving others’ lives. Wild horses will not tear them away.

How to meditate well

So to be a good meditator, we need to enjoy our object, find it interesting, and/or find it valuable. In particular, we need to find the object of meditation more enjoyable, interesting and valuable than all the other thoughts that are bound to arise, or those other thoughts will definitely steal our attention.

You know how if you’re engrossed in a conversation, even if you are in a room full of other people talking, although the sound of talking appears to your mind you do not notice it? Whereas if you’re a little bored by your talking companion, you start surreptitiously looking over their shoulder, eventually exclaiming, “Ah, excuse me, there is someone over there I need to talk to.” Its a bit like that.

Before teaching how to do any meditation, Buddha would commonly explain the benefits of doing it. Our breath, for example, may not be sufficiently gripping to hold our attention if we do not know ahead of time how peaceful, relaxed, clear-headed and contented we will become if we simply follow our breath. If we understand the value of what we are doing, we engage in it fully, and concentration comes far more easily.

So because we are more likely to be motivated to stay on our object and not follow distractions if we understand what we are doing and why we are doing it, at the beginning of any meditation it helps to spend a minute or two reminding ourselves.

(To begin a meditation practice, see this article: Meditation: simple, easy instructions for getting started.)

From the bowels of the earth to a tour of the world

Yesterday on my way to do Xmas shopping I heard a heart-warming* National Public Radio report on the Chilean miners who were trapped for more than two months underground, believing they were on the verge of death. Instead of dying, however, they were spectacularly rescued, and are now being feted all over the world.

Yesterday they had just been to see a Man United match and have photos  taken with the footballers. They were excited. They’ve been invited to the Greek islands, to travel with the Bolivian president, to a Real Madrid match in Spain, to Disneyland, to Hollywood… They have received lifetime passes to their favorite Chilean soccer team and gifts from prominent well wishers all over the world… They appeared on CNN Heroes, saluted with a standing ovation.

Chilean miners on CNN Heroes

Some of them expressed their disbelief at what was happening, and some said it was very dream-like, hard to see it as real. They also said that being rescued was “the end of a nightmare”.

Sometimes it is obvious, isn’t it, that life is completely changeable?! Not to mention that we have no clue what’s going to happen next. Everything is always changing, never lasting even a second moment. Nothing is fixed, even when it appears to be. Sometimes the change is not obvious, for example in settled parts of our lives, so we can get lured into complacency, grasping things as solid, permanent, fixed, real… Other times it is hard to hold onto that thought as things are moving so fast or in such strange, unexpected directions, in which case people say “This is like a dream!” or, when things suddenly turn from riches to rags, “This is like a nightmare!”

“All phenomena are like dreams”, said Buddha. Nothing is as real as it appears. At times when we are confronted with this in dramatic ways, like the miners, we can get natural glimpses of the dream-like nature of phenomena, even without having received philosophical teachings on this.

Since I wrote this article, I have now written an article on how all phenomena are like dreams: Am I dreaming?\

*Postscript: “Heartwarming” was then ~ “We were like rock stars. People climbed trees to see us,” said one of them. This is now, August 2011, and their dream has turned from riches back to rags:

“One year after the cave-in, however, most have been returned to poverty, and some are even worse off than before the disaster. Several are struggling with the psychological and physical trauma of their ordeal, and all are struggling with the mixed blessings brought by instant – and unsought – fame.”

Mindfulness is as good as antidepressants

“Mindfulness is as good as antidepressants, study says”:

what to do about depression“Mindfulness therapy is gaining headway in many areas of psychology, and now there’s more evidence to back up its effectiveness. A new study published the Archives of General Psychiatry finds that depression patients in remission who underwent mindfulness therapy did as well as those who took an antidepressant, and better than those who took a placebo. That means that mindfulness therapy was as effective as antidepressants in protecting against a relapse of depression. Mindfulness generally refers to the concept of being present and in the moment, and comes from the Buddhist meditation tradition.”

When I first started meditating over 3 decades ago in Northern England, it was almost unheard of. So I found myself having to explain myself again and again…  “What on earth is “meditation”?! And the question behind the question, “Are you weird or something?” My preferred option: I avoided bringing the subject up. But in the intervening years there has been a rapidly growing number of studies showing its benefits as attested to by science and medicine, and so the answers are easy; I can just point people in that direction. “Yeah, it is a bit different, but it works and you can do it too.”

breathing meditation instructions
Click on picture for breathing meditation instructions

One reason meditation works is because it helps us control our mind such that we don’t have to think the thoughts we don’t want to think.

Mindfulness overcomes distractions — which are all those thoughts we don’t want to think but can’t help thinking if we have a distracted mind. And having to think negative and depressed thoughts all day is clearly no fun.

Being able to meditate on an object is a bit like parking your car home in the driveway after you’ve been on a way too long car journey and it has been hell, full of traffic, wrong turnings, road rage, bad weather, stress, accidents, exhaustion, boredom… Once you find your meditation object — whether it is simply the breath or something that transforms your mind from negative to positive — you can stop everything and relax into it. Really relax. Smile inside. Chill. You’re home.

Dealing with distractions may seem to be hard, especially at first; but that is only if we are more interested in the distractions than in the meditation object. Thoughts are a natural function of the mind and, until we are a very good meditator, will continue to arise in the background even when we are concentrating on one object. However, we don’t need to follow those thoughts, and especially we don’t need to fight with them (they always win. Once we’ve engaged them, they’ve already won.)

what to do about depressionWe just let our thoughts go, one traditional analogy being focusing on the clear blue sky without dwelling on the clouds. If we are more interested in absorbing into the spacious blue sky than busily following the scudding clouds, the clouds will not disturb our concentration, even if they appear.

Another analogy for our thoughts is water bubbles. They naturally dissolve back into the water from which they arose without our having to do anything, and thoughts naturally dissolve back into the clarity of the mind without our having to make them do it.

That same article remarks:

“One drawback with mindfulness is that it can be a struggle to find time for it, Segal said. You have to carve out 30 to 40 minutes per day to do the meditations on your own, according to this particular regimen. But it can become part of a plan to take care of yourself, he said.”

In fact, even ten minutes can make an astonishingly big difference. And the interesting thing is how much time we waste at the moment thinking thoughts we don’t want to think, which makes our time at work and at home unnecessarily stressful and unproductive. If we can think the thoughts we want to think all day long, we will find an incredible amount of space and time opening up in our lives, well worth the investment of time in meditation.

To begin a meditation practice, see this article: Meditation: simple, easy instructions for getting started.

See also How to meditate for other meditation articles.

If you found this article helpful, please share it!

“Food is one part. Love is another part.”

I have just come across this inspiring example of equalizing self and others in action:

In the Kadampa Buddhist meditation called “equalizing self and others”, we deliberately cultivate a feeling of affection for others by remembering that they are no different to us. We may be unique but, in the ways that count, we are all exactly the same, like snowflakes.

Shantideva says in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

First, I should apply myself in meditation
On the equality of self and others.
Because we are all equal in wanting to experience happiness and avoid suffering,
I should cherish all beings as I do myself.

Narayanan Krishnan puts it this way:

“Everybody has got 5.5 liters of blood. I am just a human being. For me everybody the same.”

Because he has heartfelt genuine love arising from this experience of equalizing, he wishes to free others from their suffering:

“There are thousands and thousands and lots and lots of people suffering.”

And because he has this compassion, he has spontaneously given up working just for himself and instead gives food and love joyfully to many people:

“What is the ultimate purpose of life? Its to give. Start giving! See the joy of giving.”