7 questions to ask about animals and us (part two)

Click here for part one.

On page 43 of The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, our Call to Defend Them Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle says:

How we treat the world’s animals—whether coldly or compassionately, selfishly or justly—is a measure of who we are. It defines our character, our moral progress, and our ability to look beyond self-interest. There’s a reason why the decent treatment of animals commands ownership of the word humane.

“Animals have no opportunity to sue us!”

Buddhism agrees that if we are not decent to animals, our humanity is compromised. In his commentary to Vajrapani in 2008, Buddhist master Geshe Kelsang said:

We use animals, which is horrible. We take away their freedom. We use animals for our own purpose – for money, for meat, for our own activities. So in reality we human beings are very bad; but animals have no opportunity to sue us! For our temporary enjoyment alone, we go fishing. The animals are suffering, we know this from the blood coming out of them, but we are still laughing. This is dishonest. Then sometimes we play with cows, you know in bullfights – using animals to make money. We are just temporarily enjoying ourselves but they are suffering.

Just now I saw one lizard grab another by the throat. Nature red in tooth and claw — animals can be so cruel to each other, doesn’t that justify our being cruel to them too? No. Right now we have a choice. They don’t.

Geshe Kelsang says:

So we are nothing special and in some ways we are bad. But we have some qualities. If we actually use our human life for spiritual development – for the development of correct view, correct intention, and a good heart – then we have a very good opportunity. Our qualifications are much better than animals.

I have won the karmic lottery in this life. But, from a Buddhist perspective, if I am not working on my view and my intention I am fast throwing my winnings and my future away.

But surely human beings are so much smarter than animals that they deserve better treatment?

We may be at the top of the food chain, but are we smarter in every way?! That depends! In some ways our non-virtuous “intelligence” (namely ignorance) is far more stupidly dangerous than the confusion of animals. In the Prajnaparamita empowerment in 2008, Geshe Kelsang said:

We know that some animals are very intelligent at hunting and we human beings are very intelligent at creating things that destroy others’ lives. This kind of intelligence is not wisdom. We should never think these are wisdom. Actually we human beings are very intelligent at creating things that destroy human life, including nuclear bombs. These kinds of intelligence are not wisdom but part of ignorance.

If we are not taking advantage of our precious human life, and in particular if we are using it to create negativity (including harming animals), can we hand on heart say we are wiser than animals? In the Prajnaparamita empowerment Geshe Kelsang said:

We are ignorant beings but we do not know what ignorance is. From one point of view we human beings are so intelligent, but from another point of view we are so stupid. We have the books; we can understand these things through reading books and listening to teachings. Animals have no such opportunity. No matter how intelligent animals such as dogs and horses are, they have no opportunity to listen to teachings and no opportunity to read information in books. We human beings have this opportunity but still don’t know what ignorance is and how to abandon ignorance and so forth.

As the great Tibetan Master Shantideva (687-763) said, if having attained this rare precious human life we are now wasting it, there is no greater self-deception, there is no greater folly.

So animals may be confused insofar as they are powerless to break free but they do also possess some intelligence that is not so different to our own. Geshe Kelsang says they can be more intelligent than us at finding food and mates, building homes and warding off predators! Wayne Pacelle tells of Alex the parrot and other stories demonstrating animal intelligence that surpasses even that of five-year old human beings!! And I saw an article recently about Chaser, a border collie who, at 1,022 nouns, speaks a lot more English than I speak dog. Her enthusiasm for learning is tiring her poor trainer out:

“She still demands four to five hours a day,” Dr. Pilley said. “I’m 82, and I have to go to bed to get away from her.”

As for emotional intelligence, just look at this lion! And the story Pacelle tells of Binti Jua, a gorilla who saves a three-year old boy who fell into the gorilla enclosure, made headlines, and is also relayed in this book by a biologist: Wild Justice, The Moral Lives of Animals.

Besides, we know it is not correct to consider people inferior on the basis of their IQ or whether we decide they can or cannot do the things we can do. There is something immensely distasteful about that – think about the eugenic experiments and the killing or abandoning of disabled people that have taken place in the past. Even when animals do have a lower IQ, does that give us any good reason at all to disrespect them and use them to our own selfish ends? One could argue that the opposite is the case. Babies are pretty dumb but thankfully there are laws to protect them. I know mothers of severely disabled children who love them more fiercely than they have ever loved anyone, who understand their good qualities and heart, and who fight their entire lives for their rights.

We human beings have a moral compass, it is how we got this human rebirth. So, even if that compass is currently submerged, one part of us understands the moral imperative to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and certainly we abhor taking advantage of their powerlessness to abuse them for our own ends. Otherwise, these things would never make us uncomfortable but, if we check, they do, and so collectively we lock people away for taking advantage of other humans. Would it not be wonderful if we could now apply this same moral intuition to animals? Truly, is there any difference? (I’d be interested to hear what you think about this in the comments).

In the same Vajrapani teaching, Geshe Kelsang says:

If there was an opportunity, I could sue on behalf of animals against human beings but there is no law, there is no court. Some groups try to help animals; I know this is the case in many countries. There are very kind but they do not have enough power because the law mainly does not protect animals, it only protects human beings.

Part three (of three) is here, including more teachings from Geshe Kelsang and suggestions for some things we can do.

For Wayne Pacelle’s bookstore schedule over the next few weeks, click here.

Please raise awareness of Buddhist teachings on animals by sharing this article if you like it.

7 questions to ask about animals and us (part one)

Wayne Pacelle is smart, humble, personable and compassionate, the right CEO for the Humane Society of the Unites States I reckon. At the bookstore talk I attended last Saturday, promoting his new book The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, our Call to Defend Them, he was also refreshingly optimistic about human nature yet clearly clued up about the egregious cruelty that takes place every day everywhere when it comes to human treatment of animals. He walks the talk, working hard for 17 years to make life better for thousands and thousands of animals, and I for one am very appreciative that he and the HSUS are doing what they do.

I have since read the book, enjoyed it, and wanted to share some ideas on what Buddhists think about animals, and in particular some of contemporary Buddhist master Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s teachings on them. It is a huge subject! But I share Wayne Pacelle’s sentiment that it is a very important one and I told him I would write this to help raise a little more awareness. (He asked me convincingly to send it to him when I was done – see what I mean about humble?!)

Frodo, my BFF. Buddha emanating as a human being in a dog’s body.

From a Buddhist perspective, confronting the suffering of animals enables us to develop renunciation, compassion, and bodhichitta so that we are ever more strongly motivated to train in all the practices that will lead to lasting mental freedom (nirvana) and full enlightenment for all our sakes. I find this an entirely encouraging perspective–without it, focusing on the seemingly never-ending sufferings of all animals (and other living beings) feels sad and hopeless as there is nothing I can do to bring an end to it all. And I’m even complicit in it – in my walk just now, I know I squished some ants beneath my feet without meaning to.

In some ways I understand very well why many people turn a blind eye to the tremendous suffering of animals and others; they consciously or unconsciously don’t want to open the floodgates of grief from having to think about how awful it is without having a solution. But Buddha’s point is that we have to, and the sooner the better. The truth of suffering is the first of the four noble truths that, taken with the other three, will lead us, at last, to freedom from all suffering. And burying his head in the sand doesn’t stop the ostrich from being run over by the jeep.

Bunny: Sat next to me on my meditation cushion for a month.

However, just because a Buddhist is primarily training their mind doesn’t mean they should give up the effort to help animals as much as they can and always do the right thing. Things can change for the better. Slavery was abolished, women got the vote. The Humane Society is not going to solve samsara, but just because we can’t permanently solve problems doesn’t mean we don’t have to do anything at all. Bodhisattvas are committed to doing two things: train their minds and help others practically.

What are animals?

One reason I’ve always loved Buddhism is because of its view of animals. Not to mince words, ANIMALS ARE PEOPLE!!

In Geshe Kelsang’s commentary to Prajnaparamita in 2008, he said:

Self, person, and being are synonyms. They are called person, being, or self because they have mind, feeling, discrimination, understanding, and so forth. Other things, like trees, flowers, mountains, water, are not beings or persons because they have no mind, no feeling, no happiness. Animals, human beings, hell beings, demi-gods, gods – these are beings because they have feeling. We understand many things. We have discrimination.

For example, a fish is a being, a person, a self, because it has feelings, mind. Fish sometimes experience suffering, sometimes happiness. When people fish, the fish experience great suffering. Flowers are not beings. They are very different.

Over the last few years, moving around, I’ve made good friends with six dogs and cats in particular. I am introducing you to these six people in the pictures on this article. To me, the fact that animals and insects are all people has been clear my entire life. (My older brother tells me that as a toddler I flew into a rage and charged him because he was stomping on ants.) This is not unusual, many people just know that animals are people, it is common sense.

Luna: (how do you think i got my pen name?!)

Someone may not LIKE animals for some bad karmic reason, but they’d have to twist themselves in knots to argue that animals are just a bundle of unconscious “instincts” or soulless unfeeling automatons or worthless commodities no more valuable than a vegetable. They’d have to ignore all the evidence of their senses and the voices of their hearts.

But people have of course done just this, many times over, and arguably–with the blind eye much of society turns to factory farming–our ig-nore-ance is at an all-time high. Pacelle gives a chilling history of the wrong views about animals that have been held and, worse, propagated by philosophers (Descartes for example was no friend to animals) and even religious figures. (I wonder if the wrong views people hold about animals are all intellectually-formed (acquired from others and/or faulty reasoning) as opposed to innate (we’re born with them)?)

Habibi the Pig

Once you’ve made a mind-to-mind connection with one dog, recognizing his personhood, I think it is far easier to see other dogs as people too. You are far less likely to eat one or experiment on one. Once you’ve made a connection with one pig, like Habibi whom I met in Brazil last year, you also realize that it is unconscionable to cram intelligent sociable pigs into isolated crates for their entire lives. Once you’ve been licked by a cow, as I was during one summer in England at Manjushri Centre, it’s hard not to feel sick at the thought of a calf being kept alone in a dark veal crate or the dehumanizing atrocities of the kill floor. And those of you with intelligent parrots or friendly hens as members of your family, are you anything but horrified at the mass extermination of chicken “commodities” or the insane pigeon shoots where children are applauded for stomping on the pigeons wounded by their parents’ shotguns? (Look at this world clock, try and get the chicken counter to stand still for even a second). And so on. As Wayne Pacelle points out, there is no type of animal without its defenders. (Except we may collectively still have a way to go on insects, more later… if you have any good insect stories, let us know in the comments!)

We don’t just have connections with those who have patchy hair, two legs, two arms and opposable thumbs. We also know the heart of those who have a luxurious mane of fur, liquid eyes, and the ability to beat us up the stairs. Our love for an animal gives us eyes to see. People have felt a deep bond to animals of all shapes and anatomies – that is partly what Pacelle’s book is about. And from a Buddhist point of view, everyone has been our mother in past lives, so this kinship is not surprising.

Are animals conscious?
Bear: Abused for the first 5 years of his life, now well loved.

Ermm, yes. They think. They have emotions. They have personality. They are aware. I’m afraid I do actually have trouble understanding how anyone can think that, for example, a fish writhing around on a hook is not feeling any pain, or is feeling a pain that doesn’t count? Even an insect, like the beetle I rescued yesterday as it was being eaten alive by ants, was desperately trying to get away from this unimaginable ordeal with the last inches of its strength.

Geshe Kelsang says in Ocean of Nectar that if you put a finger in front of an ant, it will turn away due to its self-grasping. So animals have ignorance and all the other delusions just as we do! They also have all the virtuous minds – in a moving chapter called The Mismeasure of Animals, Pacelle tells some wonderful stories of the empathy, bravery, and self-sacrifice shown by animals who had nothing to gain from it. And videos abound on YouTube. (If you have any stories about your animals, please share them!)

People dismiss it, “Oh it’s just their instinct”, when animals do something nice or clever. But what is an instinct other than a tendency, and why do we tend to do things? Because we have repeated them so often in past lives; they are habits. We ourselves were born with plenty of “instincts” for both virtuous and non-virtuous tendencies.

They even have a subtle mind! Yes, just like us. So when they die the formless continuum of their mind will travel to their next life. In the commentary to Mahamudra Tantra in 2007, Geshe Kelsang said:

Even for animals, such as dogs, when their very subtle mind manifests during deep sleep, this mind is clear light and it perceives emptiness because it perceives the mere absence of the things that we normally see, like space…. Even an animal’s very subtle mind is located inside the indestructible drop at the heart.

Fluffer: What is it like to impute your I on a big ball of cuddly fur?!

This shows that they also have Buddha nature and always possess the potential for enlightenment; they simply cannot do the practices in this life as they don’t possess all the necessary conditions. But we can hardly hold that against them, especially if we’re not making an effort to engage in the practices leading to liberation and enlightenment ourselves! (We barely recognize the Buddha nature in ourselves half the time, so perhaps it is not surprising that we miss it in others!)

For all we know, and depending on our karma, we’ll be switching places with them next time around. (Lets pray they don’t hate us). Geshe-la tells the story in Modern Buddhism (p.33) about the fish and the people of Yamdroktso in Tibet, switching places life to life.

What’s the difference between me and an animal?
Mr Meow Meow: Such a dignified and patient fellow.

From a Buddhist point of view, the difference depends on what you can do with your life. We human beings can practice moral discipline and other spiritual practices and make our lives meaningful. We have some power. But we need to exercize our capacity to do good and refrain from evil. Otherwise, it seems that not only are we not much more fortunate than animals because we are not controlling our destiny, but we also possess no more wisdom!

As Pacelle puts it on page 53:

“Like all the best moral causes, in the end animal protection reminds us of what we know already—that to mistreat an animal is low, dishonorable, and an abuse of power that diminishes man and animal alike.”

In the teachings on How to Solve Our Human Problems in New York in 2006, Geshe Kelsang said:

The great yogi Milarepa said that moral discipline makes human beings different from animals. This means that we human beings have the opportunity to practice moral discipline. We can have consideration for others. To prevent our own future suffering and others future suffering, we can develop and maintain the determination not to perform any inappropriate actions. Through these actions we can transform the environment into a pure environment, ourselves into pure beings, and give other beings happiness. So this is a human being’s opportunity. Animals have no such opportunity. With regard to this, a human rebirth is higher than an animal rebirth….

…Anyway, Milarepa is very correct. From the point of view of moral discipline practice, human beings are higher, but, as Milarepa is saying indirectly, other than that we’re the same. There is no difference between human beings and animals in terms of finding conditions that we need, caring for our families and destroying enemies – both human beings and animals can do these things. Some animals are more intelligent than human beings you know! There is no difference. The only difference is from the discipline practice point of view. Then a human life is very precious. Moral discipline is the inner water through which we can clean ourself and make ourself become pure.

More questions and teachings from Geshe Kelsang in part two.

Please share these articles on Facebook or Twitter if you like it, and tell us your animals stories in the comments!

And for Wayne Pacelle’s bookstore schedule over the next few weeks, click here.

Mind-training and social work

This is the third article from a guest writer, Kadampa Buddhist and student social worker. For the first, see Meditation helps me be a better social worker and vice versa and for the second, see Where is a problem? 

Throughout my three years of training to become a social worker I have undertaken three long-term work placements.  The first was in a baby’s hospice caring for children with life-limiting illnesses.  They offer palliative and respite care for babies/infants from birth to five years old. I loved this job!  To be honest I have never felt so much unconditional love for others in one organisation, especially towards the ill children.  I have lived and visited many Kadampa Buddhist Centres in my time who show a brilliant example of tolerance and acceptance to people from all backgrounds without wanting anything in return, and the experience at the baby’s hospice was similar.

Exchanging self with others

At times it was quite a busy environment and twelve hour shifts too.  I try and always make time to do my meditation though, even if very tired I do my daily offerings and pujas (chanted prayers) to keep the blessings going (and me).  One of the main meditations to focus on when in a busy care environment is exchanging self with others (from the Lojong or mind-training tradition).

In the morning before work, I always try and include prayers in my meditation such as Prayers for Meditation (available here) or Heart Jewel and try to feel close to Buddha.

Before actual meditation I dissolve Buddha into my heart and imagine that I already have the spiritual realisation of exchanging self with others, imagining what it would be like to have this mind.

Then I contemplate Buddha’s teaching on exchanging self with others, feeling it is possible to change the object of my cherishing from myself to all others, and develop a heartfelt determination to develop this mind.  I find that this meditation is meditation on love — cherishing love, perceiving others as precious and important.

A playful social worker

If it is a good meditation then I can carry this feeling of love for a while at work– even when extremely busy, having staff, visitors and children wanting my attention.  At busy times like this I try and mentally repeat in my heart, that others matter and are more important than me, repeating this like a mantra.  It helps me become more self-aware and less stressed, actively listening to what others are saying and trying to fulfil their expressed needs.

It is perhaps easier with children.  In the children’s hospice it was never a large group and most activities were therapeutic and playful.  In a way you are becoming just like them (although still aware of your duties and health and safety).  You join in with all the activities they are doing such as messing about in a soft play area, arts and crafts, playing with toys, laughing and joking, and trying to get out onto the swings in the park.

This playfulness reminded me of how I should be with my meditation practice to overcome laziness, being playful and light with meditation.

Non-sectarianism

The hospice is on the grounds of a Catholic nunnery and although it is not a religious organisation there seems to be a Catholic religious background and culture to the premises and nearby organisations.  I think people found it quite cool me being a Buddhist and I was accepted into the work life (as a professional and at times as a volunteer) and also, the social life of the organisation and community.   I found that there was harmony and mutual respect between myself and those in the hospice that were religious.

Gen Pagpa and other religious teachers opening the world cup stadium in Cape Town

In Understanding the Mind Geshe Kelsang explains how mixing religions causes sectarianism but that if you practice your own tradition and respect all other traditions at the same time, this leads to harmony and tolerance. (Gyatso, 1997, p162).  I showed this example here well, as did the Christians I worked with.  At times I was asked to attend church services with the children and often with colleagues we shared spiritual or religious beliefs and respected the similarities and differences.

Not so long ago I attended their Christmas party, hoping to be asked to be Santa, having been a Buddhist Santa in other care settings in the past. I missed out, but happily engaged in the fancy dress party (Cowboys and Indians), handing out Christmas presents to the children and making sure that they and their family had a good time – all part and parcel of trying to exchange self with others.

Wanted Dead or Alive!! (Our anger and other delusions…)

I wrote this some time ago, but it still seems particularly relevant in today’s climate.

____________

At 11.30pm last night I had just brought some friends home from the airport when we heard the news from President Obama that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Rejoicing broke out in streets all over the US.

I found myself starting to do a high five with one of my friends, but caught myself with hand in mid-air, wondering: “What am I actually high-fiving about?” Am I rejoicing here because a living being has been violently killed, and is that ever ok, even if a person is very deluded and has engaged in evil actions? Or am I relieved because I think the world is now a safer place? Or am I feeling satisfied because I think justice has been done? And are any of these points of view valid or not, and, if they are, are they still perhaps missing the point a bit? (Amazing what can go through your mind in just the few seconds it takes for an aborted high five!)

The brother of a 9.11 victim epressed this dilemma quite well when he thoughtfully said:

“Scenes of jubilation across the US should not be seen as people celebrating someone’s death but as a recognition that everyone feels that capturing or killing Bin Laden was something that needed to be done.”

Do you think killing is ever “needed to be done”? In Buddhism, if we take another’s life out of a deluded motivation such as anger, pride or attachment, then we create very bad karma. But there are times when killing can be done with a skillful motivation. For example, a story is told of Buddha Shakyamuni in one of his previous lifetimes as a Bodhisattva when he was the captain of a ship with 500 people onboard. With his clairvoyance he saw that one of the passengers planned on killing everyone, and to prevent this happening Buddha killed that terrorist – thus preventing the death of 499 people and saving the terrorist from creating some very terrible karma.

So, I hope that this is people’s motivation, to avert a threat to others and not to seek vengeance out of anger. Because, truthfully, the only real enemy of living beings is their delusions, especially their anger, of which vengeance is a part. At times like this it becomes clear to me whether I actually believe this or not. What happened on 9.11 was despicable and evil, and the suffering people experienced upon losing their loved ones all too terrible. Since then, others also have suffered grievously due to acts of terror and other violence. It is very easy to feel very angry about all of this. I can’t even imagine how hard it has been for those who have been directly affected and I will not pretend to speak for them. They have all my respect and deep sympathy. But from a Buddhist point of view, I want to know what is the best way to view all this, to deal with all this, so as to restore sanity and peace of mind?

Bin Laden’s body has been shot through the head, but have we killed his delusions, or ours? Have we destroyed his negative karma, or ours? If we have not, any respite will be temporary.

So what about the feeling of justice or closure, is that real? Also, what is the line here between justice and vengeance? Some people are saying they are experiencing some closure and healing today, and I am glad that they are experiencing any degree of relief from a painful ten years, they deserve it. But do the causes of complete and lasting closure and freedom lie deeper?

If the closure is based on vengeance, is that really closure? If it works, fine… but if it doesn’t? After people have been put to death in the electric chair, for example, you often read reports of the victims’ families saying it didn’t help as much as they thought it would and that they are still disappointed and angry. This is perhaps not surprising if we understand how anger functions — vengeance is part of anger and therefore can never bring peace of mind. Those who report having found peace and genuine closure, who are able to move on with their lives, are usually those who have managed to find forgiveness in their hearts for the killer of their loved ones, thinking for example “they know not what they do”. (This Christian teaching seems similar to me to Buddha’s teaching that people being victimized by their inner enemies of delusions and we cannot blame the victim for the fault of their enemy.) Forgiveness is part of love, and love is always a peaceful mind.

Buddhas never lose their love for anyone as they understand a very important thing about us: we are not our delusions. Geshe Kelsang says in Eight Steps to Happiness:

“Buddhas see that delusions have many faults but they never see people as faulty, because they distinguish between people and their delusions. If someone is angry we think, ‘He is a bad and angry person’, whereas Buddhas think, ‘He is a suffering being afflicted with the inner disease of anger.’….

It is because they distinguish between delusions and persons that Buddhas are able to see the faults of delusions without ever seeing a single fault in any sentient being. Consequently their love and compassion for sentient beings never diminish. Failing to make this distinction, we, on the other hand, are constantly finding fault with other people but do not recognize the faults of delusions, even those within our own mind.”

If I am ever in the incredibly difficult situation of having lost my loved ones to random, evil violence, I hope I will be able to remember this and forgive. I guess you don’t know until you experience it yourself.

As for “justice”, leaving aside the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have died since 9.11 in this pursuit of “justice”, how is justice actually served here, what is justice in fact? Is it eye for an eye, or turn the other cheek and love thy neighbor? The President of the Federal Law Enforcement, understandably upset, has drawn a line in the sand: “I would say ‘May God have mercy on his hideous soul’, but I don’t think he has one.” And, judging by news reports, even church leaders are conflicted about their reactions. One justified the killing:

“He who sheds man’s blood, by man his blood be shed.” (Genesis 9.6).

I have a question about this though: could this not be just as much talking about the law of karma rather than an injunction to kill?

Another said, “‘Turn the other cheek’ doesn’t apply here as it is to do with insult rather than self-defense.’ But isn’t there rather a blurry line between insult and self-defense when you’re being slapped on the cheek?!

Another said “terror attacks are not even in the category of forgiveness”; in which case what is?

To me, Buddha’s teachings on the delusions and karma make all this so much clearer. It doesn’t mean that choosing the right course of action is not agonizing (and who would want to be a politician in times like this?), but it seems to give some signposts such that we at least make sure we are motivated in the best possible way while we eliminate threats, and try not to be angrily blaming others for all our suffering.

I suppose what I’m thinking is that while it is of course a good idea to eliminate the threat of Bin Laden out of a desire to protect, we still should not be deceived into thinking that Bin Laden is the source of all our suffering and problems. Our actual enemies are the delusions. They are what I really want to capture dead or alive. Dead, ideally, but even if I capture them alive by recognizing them for what they are, I am also quarantining them.

As the famous Buddhist teacher Shantideva (AD 687-763) says in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

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

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

I think its worth remembering that Osama Bin Laden may be temporarily incapacitated, but his mental continuum still exists and in future lives his negative karma and ours will continue to play out.

And in the meantime, while we all have uncontrolled minds and negative karma, how can we ever confidently say that we are safe from the horrors of terrorism? Al Qaeda may be weakened for now (though Bin Laden’s deputy Al-Zawahiri is ready to take over), but news reports say that “retaliation is expected” (wait for sad reports of more devastated families) and this is an “opportunity for other Islamic organizations to step up.”

I’m not trying to rain on everyone’s parade! But I have to say that I would prefer a more cosmic parade. Imagine if those scenes of rejoicing were celebrating the death of the real enemy of living beings, our delusions?! And the sense of  the country coming together – imagine if we understood that our real collective enemy was anger, attachment and ignorance, and we cheered every time someone somewhere succeeded in destroying these enemies?!

One 9.11 widow said: “My 12-year-old daughter will wake tomorrow to a safer world, hopefully a more peaceful world.” I hear her. This is what we all want for her child,  for everyone’s children. How wonderful it would be if we were moving faster in that direction by making effort to destroy the actual causes of danger and terror? As my teacher Geshe Kelsang says, anger is the real cause of the wars in which so many people have died.

If we don’t recognize the real enemies of living beings — the unpeaceful, uncontrolled states of mind that we call “delusions” — then we will make no effort to eliminate them. So by all means we should protect each other in practical ways as much as we can, with a good motivation, as Buddha did when he killed that terrorist; but not at the expense of ignoring the real enemies of all living beings. That is, if we are interested in a genuine or lasting peace and freedom, which we are.

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

The death of Osama Bin Laden has actually increased my resolve to help everyone, including all the victims of violence, by overcoming my delusions and becoming a powerful Bodhisattva ASAP. Shantideva can have the last word:

“Out of anger, worldly people who are filled with pride will not sleep
Until they have destroyed those who cause them even the slightest temporary harm.
In the same way, I will not abandon my efforts
Until this inner foe of mine is directly and definitely destroyed.”

What just happened?!

I was woken at 4am this morning by my mom in London: “Oh sorry darling, I didn’t mean to wake you.” (Funny how a loud ringing noise in your ear can do that). “It’s just that I was watching the royal wedding and I wished you were here.”

Today something is happening. No one can deny that. Two billion people have tuned into watch this happening, both live and recorded, and plenty more are trying to ignore it. But what is it exactly?!

In the last article I explained that when we wake from a dream it is clear to us that our dream objects do not exist independent of the mind… we don’t go searching for them as we know we will not find them. But it is the same when we are awake! Where was that wedding? What was it?! If it existed as it appeared to, out there, independent of our minds, then we should be able to find it, either within its parts or somewhere else. So was the wedding in the milling swarms of people? In Kate’s ring? In the vows? In the buildings of Westminster Cathedral or Buckingham Palace? No, none of those things were the wedding either individually or collectively – they were just parts of the wedding. But if we take the swarms, the ring, the vows, the buildings etc away, the wedding vanishes, proving it does not exist other than its parts. So it is not in its parts nor anywhere else, meaning we cannot find it anywhere, we cannot point to a “royal wedding”. It therefore does not exist as it appeared to, independent of our minds.

In dependence upon various parts appearing to our mind, we imputed or labeled “royal wedding”, and voila it existed for us. The royal wedding was therefore no more than mere label or mere name, imputed by our conceptual thought. [For a perfect explanation of all this, consult the teachings on emptiness given in Heart of Wisdom or Modern Buddhism.]

Due to our collective karma we experienced moreorless a similar appearance, and shared a conceptual label. We can say that from this point of view there was only one royal wedding – it took place in London, not Beijing for example, the main protagonists were Will and Kate, and the Queen wore a canary yellow dress. But we can also say that everyone experienced their own royal wedding — I reckon that if you were to interview every one of the two billion people they’d be telling different stories, let alone if you interviewed all those who boycotted it! And the stories they’d be telling would depend entirely upon their own individual karmic appearances and their minds. Yet they’d probably all agree that it really did happen, they really saw it or missed it.

I alone watched three royal weddings simultaneously – I don’t have a TV so I watched one on the YouTube Royal Channel to get some commentary, one on CNN to get it live (the Royal Channel was 20 seconds behind), and one on CNN mobile on my iphone as my computer kept crashing due to a virus, and in fact has now died altogether [that’s another story – I originally wrote this article on there and it was better, but its lost…You have only my word for it 😉 ] Which of the three was the real wedding?

I decided to write this article partly as I was wondering how Kate felt at having two billion people watching her every dimple. Did she feel like a fairytale princess arriving in Cinderella’s glass car and leaving in a horse-drawn carriage with her Prince Charming, with loads of black horses and marching men wearing black fuzzy hats all just for her?! Planes flying over, and her mouth could be seen saying “Perfect formation!”, and yes, all for her! People practically swooning in anticipation of that first blissful kiss, camping out all night for this?!

I know there are a lot of republicans reading this and I have no trouble respecting your point of view. Also, in a casual chit chat about the wedding, someone who shall remain nameless was heard to say “Who are Charles and Diana?”, proving conclusively I think that we live in parallel universes! But whether you’re a royalty lover, a royalty hater, or a couldn’t care lesser, there is no real wedding happening out there today. Our dreams show the power of our mind to create a whole world, with temporal and spatial coordinates all intact; and then to mistakenly believe that it has nothing to do with us. Due to our ignorance we project a wedding out there within its parts, which we believe is real, and feel annoyed, in love, or blasé about it. But to live in a pure world, and experience happiness, we need to purify our mind, whether republican or royalist. As Buddha Maitreya puts it:

Because living beings minds are impure, their worlds are impure.
When living beings purify their minds, they will inhabit a Pure Land.

To fully purify our mind we need to realize the part we are playing in creating everything so we can create something better. It is hard to over-emphasize how important this is.

I was wondering however why people the world over do like adulating other people? It is not just the royals – just think of the magazines devoted to movie stars, or have you been to rock concert or a football match recently?! And do you remember President Obama’s inauguration?! He wasn’t just waved to his oval-shaped office and told to get on with it. We love all that pomp and circumstance, don’t we, even republicans, come on admit it, even just a little?! The question is why?

I don’t really know! But I will hazard a guess. We like to worship something we consider bigger than ourselves, larger than life, to get out of ourselves. (The sermon seemed to be somewhat about that, about cultivating a love and devotion that is bigger than ourselves and bigger than just the two of them/us as a way of transcending self and becoming a better human being.) Focusing on others in this all-absorbing way gives us a temporary respite from being stuck in self.

And it is interesting how in Buddha’s teachings (and other religions) a lot of worshipful royal symbolism is used – today is also Protector Day, for example, and I recited a prayer to Manjushri “Your princely body is…” Dorje Shugden is the “Great King”.

And what, I was also musing, are the statistical chances of a “commoner”, like Kate, marrying into a royal family in a rare ceremony that only takes place once or twice in most people’s lifetimes? (My mother has reminded me more than once that Kate and I went to the same high school – though at somewhat different times!) By developing bodhichitta we become a son or daughter of the Conquerors, a princely or princessly Bodhisattva. This is rare. And the odds of a “commoner” or ordinary being encountering the Tantric empowerments and entering the mandala palace are even rarer.

Kate and Will could have gotten married in a small church followed by fish ‘n’ chips, and still be just as married. But two billion people wanted to buy into this elegant ceremony and feel the noble tradition and lineage of the ages, even if time also is imputed by mind. People were happy to feel part of this BIG thing. Perhaps this is a promising sign that we seek transcendence? And it doesn’t have to be escapist, especially if we understand our role in creating this reality.

After all, who knows who anyone is really?! In Tantra we train in pure view, trying to see everyone as a pure holy being. Even in Sutra we try to focus on the pure potential of others, and their kind natures rather than their faults. Why?! One main reason is that mind and its objects are dependent related. If we train in viewing pure objects, our mind becomes pure by relation because our mind depends upon its objects. And as our mind becomes purer, objects appear more purely to it, because objects likewise depend upon our mind – like clear reflections will appear in a pristine mountain lake. And on it goes. According to Buddhism, this is the spiritual path leading to liberation and enlightenment.

I want to tell a short story that has a lot of meaning… I don’t even pretend to understand its full meaning, but it has made me think over these years about the nature of reality, of pure view, of what things are really. It has helped me loosen up. Things are clearly not as fixed or ordinary as they appear! Buddhas have delusion-free and obstruction-free minds so they see pure worlds full of pure beings – and this is not to discount our suffering (or they wouldn’t be trying to help us of course), but also not to buy into it so that we are forever stuck. Only our delusions deserve the name “enemy” for they deceive us grievously into thinking that what we see is what we get, that we live in a concrete and impure world independent of our mind: Enter Stage Left! Suffer a Bit or a Lot. Exit Stage Right! We don’t though. And as Geshe Kelsang has often said, “Anything can appear to mind.”

When my teacher Geshe Kelsang gave a course in London back in the early nineties, he invited the students and teachers of the new London and Bath centres for tea.

I am sitting next to Geshe-la on his left, all of us in a circle daintily sipping tea. Geshe-la suddenly asks out of the blue: “Why is London so important?” He looks at me for the answer and I think, “Well, that’s an easy one!”, and reply “Because it is the capital of England, Geshe-la.” Not the answer he wants at all. So I try again, a bit more tentatively: “Because it is one of the financial centres of the world?” Again, he shakes his head. Me, more desperately: “Because it has so many people?” Now he is looking almost disappointed. Pause. Then Geshe-la says something that I don’t think anyone was expecting:

“London is important because it was emanated for the Queen.”

“Ah” we all nod knowingly. Another pause. What?!!

“The Queen is not an ordinary woman” he continues and, casting his eyes heavenward, “She comes from higher realms.”

I’ll leave you to ponder the levels of meaning Geshe-la was trying to teach us in that moment. I will just say that it was no ordinary tea party.

What do you think about all this? Is all the hype best ignored? Or is it possible to transform even a royal wedding into the spiritual path?!

Was it in fact Disney who imagined the Royal Wedding into existence?!

Am I dreaming?

Wisdom Buddha Manjushri (who was on Geshe Kelsang’s retreat in Tharpaland)

For years I have been using my dreams to gain a deeper understanding of the ultimate nature of reality. I’ve trained myself to remember my dreams first thing in the morning and compare them to my waking world in order to see for myself the truth of Buddha’s teachings that everything is like a dream.

Why do I want to do that? Because I find life is a lot more fun when I am not grasping at it in a crunchy real way, and can instead dissolve away appearances and have choice over how to impute and perceive my world. Our own dreams show how everything depends upon our mind – if our mind changes, our world changes, and if our mind ceases, the object ceases. As my teacher Geshe Kelsang says in How to Understand the Mind:

Just as all the things experienced in a dream are mere appearances to mind, so all beings, their environments, their enjoyments, and all other phenomena are mere appearances to mind. This is not easy to understand at first, but we can develop some understanding by contemplating as follows. When we are awake many different things exist, but when we fall asleep they cease because the mind to which they appear ceases. During our dreams we become a dreamer, and at that time the only things that appear are dream objects. Later, when we wake, these dream objects cease because the mind to which they appear ceases. Other than this there is no specific reason why they should cease.

So, can you all remember a dream you had recently, a vivid dream? Some people dream every night and remember it. Some people don’t dream every night, but all of you can probably remember at least one vivid dream.

Let’s say you dreamed of an elephant last night. Geshe Kelsang always uses elephants, I don’t know why. He’s got a sense of humor. This elephant in your dream had big flappy ears, a long trunk, and appeared fully and all at once in all its detail. You could see it, you could hear it, you could smell it, you could stroke it if it let you – all this is appearing vividly to your dream senses.

I actually did dream of an elephant once. He was waiting in line to use the restroom with me. He was a huge gray elephant and he was very friendly, but he accidentally trod on my toe, and I said, “Owww!” (as you might imagine), to which the elephant immediately apologized in a posh English accent, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry.” I talked with this elephant for quite some time, and only when I woke up did I realize what a fool I had been, by which point I was quite fond of my elephant and was half-wondering where he would be, where I could find him.

But of course I knew the moment I woke up that I had just been dreaming, and that there was no point pining over my new elephant friend or buying an expensive airline ticket to Borneo to look for him in the jungles over there. I realized that he never existed from his own side. However at the time of meeting my large gray friend I could talk to him, relate to him, he could make me sad, he could make me happy. Objects in our dreams can do all of these things, can’t they?

This is amazing, if you think about it, seeing as we are just making it all up. When we wake up, we know this for sure. “Oh, that was just a dream!”

Where did the elephant go? Where did it come from? Where did it disappear to? It just came from our mind, didn’t it? Where else could it have come from? If it came from anywhere else and we woke up, the elephant should be sitting there at the end of our bed; but, as Geshe-la points out, big elephants generally don’t fit in our small bedrooms. So there’s no elephant outside the mind. Is there? Or did someone ship the elephant into my dream and then ship it out again at the end? I don’t think so.

How can something disappear if it’s real? How can something disappear if it’s more than just appearance to begin with? How can things just disappear? Where do our dream appearances go? How can they just vanish if they exist from their own side? If our entire dream world is independent of our mind as it appears to be, why does it all disappear when the mind perceiving it disappears?

That elephant felt so solid and real, as if it existed from its own side, just as real as an elephant would feel like if you visited one in a zoo. But when we wake up we realize we made the whole thing up — the elephant was just a projection of my mind, just an appearance to my mind. It was never out there like it appeared to be, and yet I was taken in by it, completely and entirely, hook, line, and sinker. Again. And how many dreams have we had?!

It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? How we get caught up and caught out by our dreams every single night? Yet when we wake up we assume we’re so much more sensible when we’re awake, and we think, “Things appear real when I’m awake, so they must be.” The experience of dreaming night after night for however many years we’ve been dreaming has not managed to convince us, once we fall asleep again, that we’re just dreaming. We still think it’s real. So why do we trust our waking perceptions to be any more valid?

Interesting thought, isn’t it? We do though, don’t we? We think the waking world is real, compared to the dream world. Guess what? It’s not.

In his new book, Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Venerable Geshe-la says:

All my appearances in dreams teach me
That all my appearances when awake do not exist;
Thus for me all my dream appearances
Are the supreme instructions of my Guru. ~ page 76

There are three points we can think about with respect to our dreams. The first one is that the elephant in our dream, say, is not our mind itself, because our mind itself is formless clarity and functions to cognize and so on, whereas the elephant is dream form, It is a big, gray, chunky thing, an appearance to the mind rather than the mind itself.

But, secondly, nor is it in any way independent of the mind. The dream elephant we see is entirely dependent upon our perception of elephant, we can’t separate it out from our perception of elephant, can we? If we could, we’d be able to find it outside the mind, for example in our room. But it is inseparable from the mind apprehending it. It cannot in any way exist independent of the mind, from its own side — not at all. There’s no part of that elephant that can exist in any way independent of our mind.

So then third point is that when our mind dreaming the elephant stops, or ceases, the elephant stops, or ceases.

The New Heart of WisdomGeshe Kelsang says in New Heart of Wisdom:

If we check carefully we shall realize that our waking world exists in a way that is similar to the way in which our dream world exists. Like the dream world, our waking world appears vividly to us and seems to have its own existence independent of our mind. Just as in the dream, we believe this appearance to be true and respond with desire, anger, fear and so on.

If you want a very helpful and profound daily reminder of the ultimate nature of reality, when you wake up from your dream in the morning you can immediately compare it to the waking reality of the day ahead using these three points. First of all, take an object in your dream for which you had strong feelings, and apply the three points to it until you know conclusively that, although it appeared utterly real, it was no more than a projection of your own mind — you owned it and could have controlled it. There is a sense of relief — you let it go because there was never anything there to grasp at in the first place.

Then you can think forward to your breakfast for example. You are going to be able to see it, smell it, touch it, taste it, feel it. It is going to feel very real, as if it exists “out there”, independent of your perceiving consciousness — you just stumbled into the kitchen and there it was waiting for you to perceive it. But in fact our breakfast shares the three points of similarity with our dream object: (1) It is not our mind, (2) it is not independent of our mind (we cannot find our breakfast out there if we look for it, for example in its parts), and (3) it only exists for as long as the mind apprehending it exists. Again, if you do this contemplation, you’ll have a sense of relief of letting go, there is nothing there to grasp at!

(In the logical meditation on emptiness, called “four essential points”, we look at the second point of similarity more closely by seeing if we can or cannot find things “out there”, or independent of our mind. For example, can you find the royal wedding!?)

In Modern Buddhism Geshe Kelsang says:

The only difference between them is that the dream world is an appearance to our subtle dreaming mind while the waking world is an appearance to our gross waking mind. The dream world exists only for as long as the dream awareness to which it appears exists, and the waking world exists only for as long as the waking awareness to which it appears exists. Buddha said:

“You should know that all phenomena are like dreams.”

When we die, our gross waking minds dissolve into our very subtle mind and the world we experienced when we were alive simply disappears. The world as others perceive it will continue, but our personal world will disappear as completely and irrevocably as the world of last night’s dream.

I’m out of space for now, but I’d like to continue this subject in a future article, particularly with reference to how a realization of the dreamlike nature of reality will free us from our problems once and for all.

How to avoid stress and burn-out at work

This is related to the article, Meditation in the Pursuit of Happiness.

Do you or any of your friends have any of the following symptoms of chronic stress or burn-out?

  1. Do you have to drag yourself to work and, when you get home, do you have no energy left to do much other than flop in front of some entertainment?
  2. Have you become irritable or impatient, critical or cynical?
  3. Do you feel emotionally or physically exhausted?
  4. Do you feel disillusioned, discouraged or dissatisfied with your job?
  5. Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?

In this article I’ll try and explore an effective solution based on Buddhist meditation practice. There are also external triggers for stress and burn-out that you can find solutions for elsewhere on the web.

Symptoms of stress and burnout

Everywhere, working people sometimes suffer from long-term stress and burn-outs. They push too much, overdo it, and find themselves running on empty. Some hallmarks are that they feel inefficient, unenergetic and useless — their sense of accomplishment and interest wasted — and they feel emotionally and physically exhausted. Sometimes people get ill, sometimes they have to quit for good, never is it a pleasurable experience. The results can last for years. And it can happen anywhere, in any job, even in a non-profit or Buddhist Center.

We can also become a less nice person when we are burning out. Our tolerance and flexibility diminishes — we want everyone to do things our way because we think that’ll make our life more manageable. Sometimes we hold others at a distance out of a misguided self-protection but then feel isolated, as if we are doing all the work and no one is stepping up to help us.

Snowball delegation

Not to get too sidetracked from the main point of this article, but this ties in with our (in)ability to delegate and empower others. When we are stressed it seems we tend to delegate less rather than more, trust others less rather than more; but we still might get heavy with them and make them feel guilty because we don’t think they’re doing enough. Overly controlling our job and the people helping with our job is a bit like trying to push a snowball all the way down the hill ourselves — not letting go of it or giving it a gentle push and letting it just roll for a while so it picks up momentum and snow on its own. A snowball doesn’t actually grow bigger that way.

Solving the problem

Luckily this counter-productive syndrome can be averted. If we are practicing Buddha’s advice, we can stay relaxed and centered even in the midst of the busiest or most responsible job. We can maintain joyous effort, the fuel we need for both the short and the long-haul, and bring out the best in others too.

My teacher Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is a perfect example of this. Even retired, aged 80, he still accomplishes more in any given minute than the rest of us accomplish in a day ;-), yet he is always entirely relaxed, blissful, and patient, and of course the master of instigation and delegation.

Over the decades of being in various positions and jobs, I and others have tried to observe how Geshe Kelsang does it so we can emulate him. In discussion with a good friend and successful long-term meditation teacher (who like me has had any number of “responsible” jobs and positions within the New Kadampa Tradition in the last 30 years), we have come up with the following suggestions.

Identify with your potential, always

The key is to feel centered and happy in the heart, and identified with our potential rather than our limitations.

This entails relying upon at least a little meditation practice, not neglecting it however busy or responsible we feel. Even ten to fifteen minutes sitting quietly before we start work is immensely helpful if we do it properly and take refuge in it. Even a few five-minute breaks through the day can be the difference between a joyful, balanced, creative day and a day that is just stressful and draining. (Make the restroom live up to its name if you need to, go meditate in there!) And even a ten-minute unwind and let-go meditation between work and settling in for the evening or weekend (or whatever little downtime you have) can help you disengage and relax such that you enjoy your time off from work and it rejuvenates you.

You can start with some breathing meditation, such as the simple meditation taught here. If you like, you can combine this meditation with visualization: examine your mind to see what stress, problems and limited self you’re holding onto and then breathe these out in the form of dark smoke, feeling that you’ve completely let them go. Breathe in the peaceful light of wisdom and compassion blessings into your spacious heart. Then spend a bit of time simply enjoying that peace with a still mind, however slight or relative it is. Give yourself permission to be happy.

This is the important part: We need to recognize that this peace is our Buddha nature, that this slightly peaceful mind represents our actual nature, our potential for vast peace and happiness; and that therefore we are not stuck in our unhappiness or frustration, but rather we can change. We identify with this.

Meditating skilfully

The main point here is that we don’t need to be great meditator to discover our potential. In truth, even if we are just able to stay with the breath for three consecutive rounds, our mind will become slightly more peaceful than it was. If we give ourselves permission and a few moments to abide with that slight peace, to savor it with a still mind, to enjoy it, we will discover that the actual nature of our mind is peaceful. It is only the delusions that produce agitation.

If we have time to go onto other meditations, the rest of our meditation, whatever it is, happens from that peaceful, happy place onwards. It is easy to develop any Lamrim mind when we are connected to our happiness and our potential. It is actually impossible to generate any Lamrim mind when we are identified with the self that we normally perceive, in other words when we are identifying with our limitations.

In fact when we “try” to generate a mind of renunciation, for example, while grasping at ourself as an inherently angry, unhappy or unlovable person, we end up relating to liberation dualistically, as something other than and outside of our own mind.

I am always here, freedom is always there, never the twain shall meet.

Consequently our meditation gives rise to tension or guilt, rather than an authentic and deeply joyful and relaxing peace.

We don’t need to give ourselves a hard time – our delusions do a very good job of that already, that’s why they’re called our “inner enemies”. Don’t let them. They are no match for our pure potential, any more than clouds are a match for the sky.

Try an experiment

To see if this is true, those of you who know the Lamrim cycle already, try this experiment. Meditate on your precious human life while not identifying with your potential but identifying with your limited, faulty self. What happens? Do you feel guilty for not doing enough, do you start giving yourself an even harder time? Meditate on your impending death with a mind of not identifying with your potential and what happens? Do you feel doomed?!

But meditate on your precious human life from the vantage point of being naturally pure, and what happens? You feel very joyful and lucky, your effort increases. Meditate on death from this vantage point and what happens? Your joyful effort increases even more, you know you can make the most of the time you have, everything falls into perspective and your worries and negative thoughts diminish. You can try this experiment with any of the Lamrim or Tantric meditations!

Back to work

When you rise from a meditation like this, I promise you’ll feel far more ready for what comes next, you are ready to be productive at work again. It is amazing how much burn-out will be averted if we actually experience the restorative powers of our own pure natures. And when we are happy, we naturally engage with the world, feel involved, and are efficient.

And when you start to stress out again later in the day, because it is a bad habit, take yourself off to rest in that room for five minutes! It is always going to be worth it.

Please let us know in the comments section if this method works for you and/or if you’ve had other successful ways of overcoming stress and burn-out.

Please like Kadampa Life on Facebook if you do!

Anyone can try!

(Anyone who is stressed out can learn to do five or ten minutes simple meditation a day and hopefully get something out of this article. I met someone in the ocean just yesterday who has never meditated and knows nothing about Buddhism, but he is experiencing stress at work due to new bossy middle management, so I gave him advice based on this article and he seemed very ready to try it out.)