Guest article by Susan de la Vergne, native Angelino
5.5 mins read
One of our weekly Kadampa branch classes in the Los Angeles area is held in the foothill community of La Cañada at a YMCA — specifically in their chapel, which can hold 25 people who don’t mind sitting close together. There are two doors to the chapel, heavy wooden doors that swing open into the Y courtyard. The odd thing is that the doors don’t latch — it’s as if they’re unlocked and ready to swing wide whenever a chapel visit is needed.
Since weather is rarely an issue in this part of the world, it’s not really a problem that the doors don’t latch. It’s not like a blizzard is going to rip the doors open and fill the place with snow. But a couple of years ago we did have a blustery day — windy, rainy, cold (by LA standards) — and as we started the meditation, the wind blew at the chapel entrance, and the heavy unlatched doors trembled.
Nonetheless, we headed into the opening meditation with the wind howling and the doors shaking, and as we started to pay attention to the sensation of our breathing, I hoped the weather would let up, not really thinking that it would. And it didn’t. The wind continued, and about five minutes into the meditation the doors opened a few inches. Leaves blew in from the courtyard. Then the wind blew the doors shut with an audible thud. But they didn’t stay closed. Again, the wind pried open the heavy doors. More leaves. I was having a difficult time meditating through Mother Nature’s noise and interruptions.
When we rose from meditation, we all shifted in our seats and shared a laugh about the challenge of meditating in the midst of all that weather.
But one woman remarked, “That was great!” Many of us looked surprised. “No, really, that was amazing because it was so great for meditation! I really had to concentrate with all that going on. It made me focus so much better. I loved it!”
Which was, of course, a teaching in itself. To me, the banging doors and the blowing leaves were obstacles; to her, they were inspiration! Once again, things don’t exist independently of the mind perceiving them. It’s as true for banging doors and blowing leaves as it is for everything else.
The News of the World
I read the news of the world every morning. Things around the world appear to be heating up on many fronts. It’s easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed by accounts of rage and separatism, apparent lies that are becoming a new normal, predictions of imminent new wars, and leaders who used to speak to each other but won’t anymore. It’s hard not to feel swamped by the monumental problems of the world, especially as they appear to be intensifying.
But maybe they’re also an inspiration. Maybe the lies and the escalating hostilities are turning up the heat on our commitment to go inward so we can more skillfully go outward — to develop our capacity for love and compassion in the midst of what seems to be intensifying turmoil. Maybe they’re cranking up the urgency to practice, to make swifter than ever progress towards inner peace.
Just as the wind and the banging doors inspired the woman to hone her focus, so the news of the world can power our practice. When would virtuous minds be more needed than now?
Sometimes when I’m reading or watching the news, I find myself going for refuge to politicians who agree with me — “Yeah, that’s telling them!” I think or sometimes say aloud. I’m glad they get it, glad they have clout I don’t have, and hoping they use their clout and clarity to protect me from whatever craziness or violence I need protection from.
But they regularly disappoint me. They are politicians after all.
Better to take the latest world crisis to the Buddhas and to try to think about it as they might. For example: See the suffering! It’s samsara; what can we expect? Delusions of anger and self-grasping are behind all the violence, all the craziness. Think of the damage that’s being done to the mental continuums of all the people you’re blaming for the way things are. They’re facing far worse in their future, and they have no idea.
I’m not trying to put words in a Buddha’s mouth but adopting a perspective based on how they might view the things I’m angsting over. That’s a way for me to go for refuge and to develop compassion even for the people I don’t agree with. It’s also a way to bring to mind all the far-away, remote, “out there” people who happen to be suffering more acutely than I right now because of the anger, lying, resentment, conflict and a whole long list of deluded states of mind that are behind all our negative actions and their consequences.
When the news of the world knocks us down, we can go for refuge to Buddha and find answers to the question, “What can I do?”
In the aisle at Walmart
On Black Friday in November, two Walmart shoppers got into an argument that ended up in a mid-aisle fistfight. The two men brawled to the ground, surrounded by racks of Christmas wrap, while onlookers observed from a few feet away. A security guard broke up the fight, but not before one of the brawlers suffered a broken nose.
I wondered how isolated an incident this was. How many hostile shoppers glared at each other across the aisles this past holiday season? Maybe they didn’t deck each other, but they were impatient and annoyed, the same states of mind that led to the Walmart clash.
Rage always starts small.
It is easy to judge the battling men at Walmart. “Really, guys, can you not see how pointless this is?” Or to feel helpless in the face of such an incident. “The world is simply going down the drain!”
Or we can use the difficulties we see around us to ratchet up our own refuge practice. “Buddha, what can I do? How can I view this?”
We can decide to better master our own anger and irritations. We can request blessings for instigators of conflict. We can make dedications. We can practice taking and giving. There are all kinds of practices we can engage in; and thanks to Geshe Kelsang’s practical guidance and instructions we have the tools and techniques we need.
So it’s good to remember that we’re not helpless even when things around us seem very crazy — and that when things seem at their craziest, we can use this as extra inspiration for our practice.
Questions and comments for the guest author are invited below 🙂
6.5 mins read Happy Easter everybody! It’s a good time to slough off any stale self-limiting sense of self and arise as someone altogether more incredible. I hope this article helps with that. For starters, how much do you like yourself?! Someone told me she was dismayed recently to hear her 5-year old express self-doubt … Continue reading “Silencing the Inner Critic”
6.5 mins read
Happy Easter everybody! It’s a good time to slough off any stale self-limiting sense of self and arise as someone altogether more incredible. I hope this article helps with that.
For starters, how much do you like yourself?!
Someone told me she was dismayed recently to hear her 5-year old express self-doubt and self-loathing. She was trying to figure out how he came to feel that way given that she is always trying to encourage him; but we agreed that these days self-doubt is prevalent and can be picked up anywhere, including by kids.
This young mother went onto say that she herself suffers from low self-esteem so he may be picking it up from her.
Do you ever feel overly self-critical? Do we all feel like that sometimes? Most of us are not immune to identifying with a painful, limited sense of self and experiencing a resultant self-loathing.
Where does it come from?
I am going to come up with a few theories here, numbered a-d. Please feel free to add to these in the comments.
a. External conditions
Being overly self-critical can come from other people criticizing us a lot and us internalizing that feeling of unworthiness. It could have started in childhood with an influential adult in our life saying stuff like, “Shame on you! There’s something wrong with you! You’ll never amount to anything.” And, not knowing better, we then started to repeat those insults in the first person.
It could arise from cultural or societal put downs, such as racism, sexism, or homophobia, where again we internalize these harsh voices and repeat these narratives to ourselves.
Self-criticism can also come from life events we find hard to deal with — for example, if we are fired we might feel unworthy and useless, letting our job (or lack of it) define us. If we are rejected we can feel unlovable because the person we love doesn’t love us back and, internalizing this, we conclude it must be our fault.
Whatever conditions encouraged it, self-criticism is negative self-talk that gets stronger with repetition.
In 2005, the National Science Foundation published research on the number of thoughts we have, concluding that the average human being has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. And, get this, they also concluded that about 80% of those thoughts are negative and 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before!
The person who pointed me to this statistic asked me whether training the mind in meditation meant that we switched out those 60,000 negative or uncontrolled thoughts with 60,000 positive thoughts. Pondering this, I would say that we don’t have that many thoughts once we start training in concentration and finding our happiness in peaceful, positive states of mind. For example, we can learn to stay focused on love all day. What do you think?
This as opposed to the young multitasker with the split-screen, thoughts flitting all over the place – “what number shall I put in this Sudoku box? Which email shall I reply to now? Do I even like this music? Who’s that texting me? Why did he say that to me? Will I ever get a job I like? I’m hungry” – amounting to surely tons of thoughts in even the short time I was covertly observing her. The number of thoughts we have, I would wager, is going up every year as our mind becomes more and more outward orientated, constantly seeking happiness in a multiple of things outside ourselves.
Buddha called an uncontrolled mind a “monkey mind” precisely because it’s jumping all over the place from one object to the next (as well as grabbing stuff or chucking it around). Our mind can only focus on one object at a time – so in multi-tasking the mind is simply moving rapidly from one object to the next and back again. Distractions and over-stimulations like these are literally the opposite of concentration, a single-pointedness in which we focus on one object at a time, eventually for as long as we like.
Add to all this the discovery that 9 out of 10 thoughts are reportedly out of our control and you can see why we have a problem on our hands. Is it any wonder that our uncontrolled, repetitive, negative, over-thinking monkey mind is causing us to feel bad, mad, or sad all day, and in life after life? Including all those repetitive self-bullying thoughts!
c. Anger directed inwards
Self-dislike or self-hatred is actually part of anger, anger directed inwards, which exaggerates our faults and edits out our good qualities. We are talking to ourselves about ourselves in ways and at a rate that we’d quite possibly never put up with from someone else. If someone was following us around all day telling us we were hopeless, we could at least lock ourselves in the bathroom for a few minutes respite. Not so much when we are doing it to ourselves.
Anger is a deluded mind that focuses on an animate or inanimate object, feels it to be unattractive, exaggerates its bad qualities, and wishes to harm it.
Then he explains how this works in terms of being directed toward someone else, giving the example of a partner; but I think it also works just as well with anger directed toward ourselves, so I’m going to use his words but switch out partner for ourself.
For example, when we are angry with ourself, at that moment we appear to us as unattractive or unpleasant. We then exaggerate our bad qualities by focusing only on those aspects that irritate us and ignoring all our good qualities and kindness, until we have built up a mental image of an intrinsically faulty person.
That self we are relating to is a mental image. That’s it. There is nothing actually there. There is nothing behind that image. It is a reflection of our thoughts. The sooner we realize we keep projecting mental images of a painful, limited self and believing they are solid, the sooner we will be free not just from self-anger but from all delusions and suffering.
We then wish to harm ourselves in some way, probably by criticizing or disparaging ourselves.
Naturally, if we have set our self up as the problem, the only way to get rid of our problem now is to somehow belittle or get rid of this dislikeable self. But how is that supposed to work?!
Self-dislike arises from inappropriate attention, which means that it is not relating to something or someone who actually exists, but to an hallucination, a projection. Anger edits out everything good about ourselves, leaving all redeemable qualities on the cutting room floor, because it can only sustain itself by focusing on faults. As Geshe Kelsang puts it:
Because it is based on an exaggeration, anger is an unrealistic mind – the intrinsically faulty person it focuses on does not in fact exist.
This is why we cannot solve the problem created by anger with anger itself. Anger only sees faults, so as soon as a solution or redeeming quality appears, “Oh, I’m not so bad! I’m quite nice really!”, anger starts to fade away.
We can see from this that at root, self-criticism, like all anger and other delusions, grows from ego-grasping — projecting and then believing in a distorted sense of self, believing it is inherently existent or real. In this case the distortion is a sense of an intrinsically unworthy or dislikeable self, whom we consequently dislike and put down. Luckily, thanks to Buddha’s deep and eminently practical psychological and spiritual insights, this is something we can remedy.
Update: A quick request to those of you who are leaving great comments on this article on Facebook — please leave your feedback here as well so I can address it or use it in the next 4 articles 😃 (Yep, 4, already in the pipeline.)
But even if we do understand the beginninglessness and endlessness of samsara’s sufferings, sort of, we are still like barnacles stuck to the bottom of a boat due to our attachment to samsaric pleasures. For it’s not so obvious to us how they’re deceptive. They make life bearable, surely – what’s wrong with a beer?! And what about the passion of romance? Or the R &R of a vacation?
Nothing, on one level, unless they are keeping us from spiritual progress (which, thanks to attachment, they often are.) We have been going after the places, enjoyments, and bodies of samsara for millennia X millennia, and just where has this gotten us?
The main problem with worldly pleasures is that they are “contaminated” by ignorance, ie, they appear falsely to exist from their own side and we assent to that appearance. Someone or something appears attractive due to our karma, and instead of just enjoying the mere appearance we must be like moths flying right into the flame by believing they are inherently attractive and then exaggerating their attractions until we simply cannot do without them.
Not having non-attachment is like a prisoner being attached to prison food and entertainment. Sure, the billiards are fun, and we enjoy the raisins on our gruel as a treat; but we’re still trapped in prison. Plus it is only a matter of time before we are dispatched back to the dungeons.
This mental asylum
Actually, I have been thinking recently that we are not just in a prison but more like a mental asylum, more like something out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. We are all rendered insane by our delusions — hallucinations are the order of the day.
We have been here since beginningless time. But perhaps we are ready to leave. And there is a Buddha emanation posing as a doctor who knows this and is encouraging us – “There is a whole world for you out there, free from insanity and any form of suffering!”
To begin with, we may be a bit like, “I don’t want to leave! I know it here. I like it here. Plus, I have a thing for that person in the corner over there – yeah, I know she drools and is cranky and is getting sicker and older like the rest of us, but still, she’s cute … And anyway, I like Bingo night. And how those meds make me feel nice and high and dopey. And the way the sun sometimes dapples its way through the murky glass of the windows.”
The doctor may continue to encourage us, “Not only can you help yourself, but you can help everyone else in here. Have you noticed how already some of them showing some interest in you because you seem a bit more free, kind, and insightful? If you get out, you’ll be able to get your friends out too, like we are doing. Everyone has the potential to break free. However mad they are, they never lose the potential to wake up.”
We might say, “But I can’t get out! I’m too stuck and ordinary! I belong here.”
And the doctor would reply, “That’s not true. We know different. You don’t belong here. No one does. Trust us.”
And we should.
What’s the alternative? What happens if we just stay in here?
We need to think that through.
Samsara’s pleasures are deceptive
As explained in this article, samsaric enjoyments are deceptive because they do not make us happy — we are just scratching itches. But even all that scratching is not working because pursuing worldly pleasures actually seems to cause most of our annoyances, disappointments, and heartaches:
Most of the problems we experience come from our seeking satisfaction in the pleasures of samsara when no real satisfaction can be derived from them. ~Joyful Path of Good Fortune
Attachment weighs us down — like a bird with stones tied to its legs. Even if we sort of know we are in prison, we are still too attached to the billiards or other inmates to bother making a serious attempt at escape. So we have no lift off. We can’t fly in the sky.
Attachment distracts us from love and equanimity. We have some of this, it feels so good when we do; but then someone we think is gorgeous comes along and it’s like, “Sorry caged shelter cats or elderly aunts or countless other living beings, no more attention from me, I’m a bit preoccupied … I’ll get back to you later.” Months or years later we remember them … so what was that about?! Attachment is fundamentally small-minded and selfish.
Also, without renunciation we are attached to the status quo – we are only wishing others freedom from the temporary sufferings of this life at most, not of samsara, because we are attached to things being basically the way they are, just sort of better. And we are not even wishing ourselves to be free from samsara, so we cannot extend that radical compassion to others.
Because attachment is so deceptive, we (me) need to be honest about its workings in our own life — asking ourselves, “Is this true?”
Thinking about the shortfalls of changing suffering helps us develop renunciation, the wish for freedom. As Geshe Kelsang says:
We need to reduce our attachment to worldly pleasures by realizing that they are deceptive and cannot give real satisfaction. ~ How to Transform Your Life
Attachment vs anger
It is more obvious perhaps that anger has nothing to recommend it and causes us suffering because it gives rise to unpleasant feelings whereas attachment can give rise to pleasant feelings (qv, the suffering of change.) Perhaps this is one reason why anger is said to be easier to wash out of the mind – it is likened to dirt in cloth as opposed to the oil of attachment soaked into cloth.
Water from a stone
With non-attachment itself we already feel peaceful, light, contented, and unburdened, and as a result can enjoy everything as a result. Trying to get true or lasting happiness, enjoyment, or bliss out of samsara is like trying to squeeze water from a stone – the harder we grasp, the more uncomfortable we become. Knowing this, we give up the squeezing, relax, and just enjoy the stone without attachment.
Better yet, know with wisdom that the stone is not really there to begin with, so what are we doing squeezing it?!
Renunciation is utterly unlike boredom. Then we have a stable basis for love and wisdom, which make us even more happy and fulfilled. And we also have a very good basis for transforming enjoyments with Tantra – learning how to have our cake and eat it. More on that important subject coming soon(ish), and have a look below in the comments for some very helpful conversation points from a reader.
Going round in circles?
This is an incredible spiritual path, an incredible journey. Without renunciation however, we’re not going anywhere. Imagine being in a boat trying to cross an ocean to dry land, to a transcendent destination. We row and we row and we row, but we get nowhere – just going round and round in circles. This is because attachment is an anchor wedging us firmly into the bedrock of samsara’s ocean, stopping us from traveling to liberation or enlightenment, let alone bringing anyone along with us.
If you have strong attachment today, here is a checklist of things you could bring to mind: (1) Impermanence. This object and state of mind are going to go away, plus I might die today, so do I really want to spend my last day all hung up on it? (2) Emptiness — where is this attachment exactly? We can try pointing to it in our body, our mind, or anywhere else. It is nowhere to be found. (3) The faults of the mind of attachment as above, coming to enjoy the freedom and peace of non-attachment instead. (4) The faults of the worldly objects themselves, eg, the 32 impure substances, to rebalance the mind. (5) You’re not alone in suffering from attachment. (6) As mentioned, see the comments below for a Tantric approach to transforming attachment.
And if you need any further encouragement to meditate on renunciation, check out this other teaching by Gen Losang:
Wonder Woman’s goal is to “restore peace to the world”. Not sure that this world was ever that peaceful, but you get the point – we need world peace.
I got a lot out of the movie. It reinforced my understanding that this is not a good moment to be sitting around feeling hopeless and discouraged. There isn’t time; too many people need help. So Wonder Woman, just out on DVD, is timely because, if we are paying attention, it can remind us of a more hopeful way of looking at the world and at ourselves. If you bear with me, I am now going to attempt a Buddhist take on Wonder Woman’s life and works… And I am more than happy for you to chip in with comments.
Antiope, her aunt, the strongest Amazon warrior, said to Diana:
You keep doubting yourself, Diana. But you are stronger than you believe. You have greater power than you know.
It is the same for you reading this. This is not some corny throw-away movie line – we all have greater power inside us than we know. We all have a divine spark, akaBuddha nature. Each and every living being has both heroism and delusions within them – we are capable of becoming Wonder Woman/Wonder Man, or we can stay ordinary and weak, depending on what we choose to focus upon.
It’s worth reminding ourselves too that this Buddha nature is indestructible, but our delusions are totally destructible.We will all attain enlightenment one day, so we may as well do it now and cut out all the mooching around in the middle. We have already been in samsara for way way way too long.
Who will I be if I stay?
Diana Prince left her childhood paradise on a beaten up boat without a backward glance: “I can not stand by while innocent lives are lost!” she said to her mother. This is similar to Prince Siddhartha, Atisha, and many other great luminaries of the past, who left their exquisite comfortable surroundings out of renunciation for their meaningless lives of luxury and the burning compassion to help others.
Queen Hippolyta: You know that if you choose to leave, you may never return.
Diana: Who will I be if I stay?
Later when Steve Trevor said, “I will save the day but you will save the world,” she had to let him go, she had to accept the sacrifice of his loss. We don’t have much option to hide in a domestic bubble when the world is burning and we are drawn to service. It reminds me that I cannot put my own comfort above that of countless living beings, for then “Who will I be?”
The power of love
Wonder Woman’s strength is her love and compassion. Against this, Ares, the god of war, the world leader, had no chance – even though he was far bigger and seemingly more powerful than her, she was able to glance his lightning back at him. Love is stronger than hate because it is a response to reality whereas hate arises from misconception and distortion.
This is good to know at a time (2017-2018) when reason seems to be falling on granite, when regular people are up against a leviathan of self-interest and self-absorption in our world leaders. If we rely upon love and creativity, and above all don’t succumb to hopelessness, we will triumph.
It is love and compassion that ignited Diana’s super powers – she could have smitten Dr. Poison as she cowered beneath her, but instead she saw that Dr. Poison was not her delusions, and she let her go. It is love and compassion that will activate our Buddha nature too, our boundless potential for enlightenment.
By the way, Patty Jenkins directed this movie. Bring on more female directors, is what I say. Talking of why Diana Prince first becomes Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins says:
I say no to what you are all doing, how you are all living your life. I still love you. I’m still engaged with you. I still understand it’s complicated. But I say not to this. To shooting people from afar who you cannot see, I say no.
Wonder Woman emanates as an ordinary woman in Paris, which is where we see her in the opening scenes. Wonder Woman walked amongst the land of crusty men (including British politicians), and — muttering away — they had no clue who she was. Emanations of holy beings are everywhere, usually disguised in ordinary forms. As it says in The New Guide to Dakini Land:
As ordinary beings with ordinary appearance we cannot experience anything as totally pure and perfect. Even an emanation of Buddha appears to us to have faults. It is because we have ordinary appearance that we view ourselves and others as imperfect – subject to faults such as sickness or ageing. ~ page 23
We have to do something
Wonder Woman sees a suffering woman in the WW1 trenches, and decides to cross the battlefield to save her village.
Steve: This is no man’s land, Diana! It means no man can cross it, alright? This battalion has been here for nearly a year and they’ve barely gained an inch. All right? Because on the other side there are a bunch of Germans pointing machine guns at every square inch of this place. This is not something you can cross. It’s not possible.
Diana: So… what? So we do nothing?
Steve: No, we are doing something! We are! We just… we can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do.
Diana: No. But it’s what I’m going to do.
Then she runs onto the battlefield that no one has crossed. The German soldiers start to fire on her, but she deflects their bullets with her gauntlets, and uses her weapons and powers to free the town from suffering. And this encourages the rest of the group to risk their own lives to follow her.
It is a great example of compassion in action. Out of the intense wish to free living beings, Diana then engages in practical actions to fulfill this wish.
Diana: I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
We need the armor of patient acceptance that can handle the guns of ageing, sickness, death, and all the other daily stuff that comes up to frustrate us even when we are trying so hard to help others. Otherwise, the smallest bullet of suffering will knock us out. We need the sword of wisdom to cut down the delusions.
Our daily life is all about growing our super hero skills of the six perfections so that we can be of most benefit to others. And (see more below) we can grow all these a great deal faster through the practice of Buddhist Tantra, the quick path to enlightenment:
Vajrayogini’s body is in nature the perfection of wisdom of all the Buddhas. Her five mudra-ornaments of bone are the other five perfections of all the Buddhas. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 127
Wonder Woman’s motley crew are inspired by her example to live out their innate heroism too. As Steve Trevor put it:
My father told me once, he said, “If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something”. And I already tried nothing.
Living beings do deserve us
Ares told her: “They don’t deserve your protection!”
But in fact mankind does deserve her. All living beings deserve to be loved and helped by us. In the mind-training teachings of Buddhism we learn to see the kindness of all living beings as the very infrastructure of our life. They are also treasure chests of love, compassion, and all the other necessary qualities that we can only develop in dependence upon them:
Once we learn to value the inner wealth of patience, giving, love, and compassion above external conditions, we will come to regard each and every sentient being as supremely precious, no matter how they treat us. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness, page 77
Also, as Diana replies:
It’s not about deserve, it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.
This is also true. It is up to us to choose love over judgment and more delusion. We can choose to focus on others’ faults or others’ good qualities – depending on whether we want to believe in delusions or in love. And although it is true that we are all mixed bags, it is also true that living beings are not their delusions but the victims of their delusions, so it makes more sense to put our faith in their actual pure nature.
War and anger
I write this as Members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), while accepting this year’s Nobel Peace Prize during a ceremony in Oslo, said the planet’s destruction is “only one impulsive tantrum away.” And some military analysts are also predicting that we have a 50/50 chance of nuclear war with North Korea sometime in the next 3 months …
What the heck?!?! Wonder Woman is set in World War 1, the war that was supposedly “The War to End All Wars” but of course was not. This is because war is caused by anger and hatred, and these are still alive and well in the minds of living beings. Fear and anger and threatening Tweets lead to more of the same, until it spills out of control – we’ve all seen bar fights.
Steve: You don’t think I wish I could tell you that it was one bad guy to blame? It’s not! We’re all to blame!
That is why we need the heroism of compassion and wisdom. We need both to rely upon and become actual heroes and heroines, who take the fight where it really belongs, to the delusions. In the battle of good versus evil, it is not living being versus living being; it is all of us against the monsters in all our minds. We need to purify our minds.
It is generally accepted in both Sutra and Tantra that the world appears to our mind as faulty, imperfect and unsatisfactory because our mind is impure – polluted by the delusions and their imprints. In Ornament for Clear Realization, Buddha Maitreya says that when the minds of sentient beings become completely pure, their environment becomes a Buddha’s Pure Land. ~ Guide to Dakini Land, page 23
Wonder Women in Buddhism
Buddha Vajrayogini is the greatest Wonder Woman of them all. And the best thing about her is that she is the embodiment of the bliss and emptiness of a completely purified mind, so we can all become her — become a Wonder Woman or a Wonder Man — through practicing the union of Buddhist Sutra and Tantra.
Through studying the correct view of emptiness we can understand that everything is merely an appearance to the mind and, like a dream, merely imputed by conceptual thought. This understanding is extremely helpful for developing conviction in the existence of (pure beings and) Pure Lands. ~ The NewGuide to Dakini Land, page 25
There is so much to say about Vajrayogini, and if you are interested you can find out more by reading The New Guide to Dakini Land. We can practice these Tantric teachings in dependence upon some experience of renunciation, bodhichitta, and wisdom, as well as receiving a Tantric empowerment*.
Marvel’s Wonder Woman even looks a bit like Vajrayogini:
Her hair is black, symbolizing the unchangeable nature of her Truth Body. It falls freely down her back, symbolizing that she is free from the fetters of self-grasping.” ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 127
Vajrayogini holds a curved knife rather than a sword, “to show her power to cut the continuum of the delusions and obstacles of her followers and of all living beings.”
Vajrayogini stomps the three poisons under foot, in the aspect of worldly gods (not unlike Ares) – attachment, anger, and ignorance have no sway over her. When dealing with our own delusions, we’d be as well to remember that – we start on the right footing then, as it were, with the self-confidence, “I will conquer my delusions, they will never conquer me.”
The ultimate super hero, Vajrayogini possesses omniscient wisdom, the bliss and emptiness of her completely purified mind pervading all phenomena, including us:
Her three eyes symbolize her ability to see everything in the past, present and future.” ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 126
Self-generation as Vajrayogini enables us to hold it all together in the meditation break, aka most of our lives, when we are not absorbed in meditation. We cannot always be in single-pointed concentration on the source of everything, namely bliss and emptiness, because we have to get up and get practical. But Vajrayogini is the embodiment of bliss and emptiness, as well as of all Sutra and Tantra realizations, appearing in this dynamic form to help and bless others as we move through our day — a living, breathing Wonder Woman.
The practice of Vajrayogini quickly brings blessings, especially during this spiritually degenerate age. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 8
I have seen the worst of this world, and the best. Seen the terrible things men do to each other in the name of hatred, and the lengths they’ll go to for love. Now I know. Only love can save this world. So I stay. I fight, and I give… for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now. Forever.
This can be our mission, too – is there any reason why not? A lot of things these days seem to be making my superior intention kick in whether I like it or not – whether the sadness in people’s expressions, tragedies in my own family, the endless bad news for humans, animals, and our planet, or just the sound of passing sirens. Everyone is suffering. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang has said, we only need to “open our eyes” to see that.
What we need right now is armies of Bodhisattva, armies of heroes and heroines. Let’s just do it! As Venerable Geshe Kelsang once said at a Festival:
Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys enemies.
I love to think of the activities of my fellow Sangha and all those heroes and heroines everywhere who seem to be striving more than ever to change the world’s direction. Together, I know we can make all the difference. Let’s not waste too much more time giving into our selfishness, attachment, self-pity, aversions, or other delusions, except when we really have to! Let’s make our lives epic in the service of others instead.
Our world is in trouble but the situation is not hopeless. We need to inspire each other to hope and courage as they did in the movie – that bedraggled, disparate and, to begin with, self-centered group did amazing things once they were inspired. They saved the day. Despair, complacency, or personal escapism is not an option. We need to remember that we are battling not each other but the ignorance, hatred, and attachment in all our minds – it is a battle for hearts and minds, as they say, and that battle will be won with the weapons of Dharma.
By a guest writer, SG, who, amongst other things, uses art to bring about change in prisons and among vulnerable populations.
We are living in unparalleled times; it seems that extreme ideologies are gathering momentum. The increase of terrorist atrocities, sensationalised by a media pursuing a fear-based narrative, is causing bewilderment and anxiety.
As our economic structures fragment, poverty and a surge towards the politics of divide and rule inevitably escalate. Meanwhile, demagogic leaders are arising at the same time as fascism in Europe and America is rearing its ugly head.
These world events trickle down and affect ordinary people: In the UK, hate crimes have increased 41 percent since the Brexit vote. Since the elections in the US, the latest FBI statistics show hate crimes against Muslims have risen by 67 percent.
What to do?
What is a meaningful Buddhist response? What are we to do?
Firstly, it seems vital we work to reduce any divide between self and other. When facing those who hold extreme opposite viewpoints to ourselves, it is important not to ‘other-ize’ them. We can be mindful that people act in harmful ways only because of their delusions. When delusions are manifest, there is no control over the mind.
If we begin to ‘Monster’ others, we are externalising evil, which is a recipe for more insidious discord.
The current rise of racism and fascism is a symptom of fear, that fear is arising (conventionally) from a societal system collapsing. This collapse is due in large part to a resolute belief in external sources being able to secure a means to happiness. This view invariably leads to conflict and suffering. As Geshe Kelsang says:
If we consider why nations go to war we shall find that the basic reason is very simple. Human beings cannot be content with their own wealth and resources but must appropriate more and more. Millions of people have died as a result of humankind’s collective discontent.
Wrath vs anger
Recently, I have been thinking about wrath. In Buddhism, there is a vast difference between wrath and anger. It is possible to be wrathful without being angry. When we see images of wrathful protector Buddhas such as Dorje Shugden or Vajrapani, they are not angry. Motivated solely by compassion, they exist only to relieve the suffering of others. Afraid of nothing and no one, they display the aspect of anger toward the delusions while simultaneously being completely free from anger toward living beings.
Imagine being able to harness that energy, having the confidence and wisdom to know that we were always responding in the best manner, with the best set of actions.
When large crowds of people take to the streets espousing violence and hatred, imagine being a fearless opponent, able to perform wrathful actions while never straying from wisdom and compassion. Surely this would be most welcome? Could this be a way to think about challenging oppressive hate-fuelled actions while still practising modern Buddhism purely?
I think before we begin thinking about performing wrathful actions, however, we first have to spend time nurturing our compassion and wisdom. Otherwise, our “wrathful” actions could just be more anger, and end up causing more harm than good!
In the past I have tried engaging in wrathful actions — it didn’t work out well. I just ended up angry and frustrated. If we are to be wrathful, we need to be completely free of delusions such as anger and pride. We have to be free of the idea that before us stands an enemy and understand that the person in front of us is a suffering being, unable to fulfill or even express their unmet needs.
The importance of understanding
Can we try to enter into the frames of reference of those who engage in extreme hateful actions? To understand is not to condone. Many causes and conditions lead people to the views they hold.
Imagine being brought up with those very same causes and conditions, imagine having that very same karma — it becomes easier to see how we might then go on to develop those views. If we can do this, then we can learn to separate the person from their delusions and actions. Then we no longer see a monster, and instead become someone capable of developing genuine love and compassion.
With love, compassion, and wisdom in our hearts, we can find innovative and creative ways to respond to age-old problems.
No man is an island
We can also strengthen our faith in the power of virtuous actions. Last month, I attended the Summer Festival at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre, where Kadam Morten led the second week’s retreat. He read an excerpt from Geshe Kelsang’s How to Transform Your Life:
In short, we need others for our physical, emotional and spiritual well being. 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.
I have heard these lines many times before, but this time something was different. One of the most beautiful things about Dharma is that it always holds the potential to surprise you, to completely change your world view, to transform your life.
Everything we do …
Three words rang out, ‘Everything we do.’ Every single thing we do affects others.
I was reminded of a podcast I listened to last year, when the interviewee (a famous and respected counsellor) recalled a story his father told him. Years ago, his father was involved in the Spanish Civil war, during which time a village into which he had ventured was surrounded by fascists belonging to General Franco, and there seemed to be no escape. For days, the father remained in the village, hiding. There was no food in the village — all he had was a piece of stale bread, which he nibbled on each day. Then one day he encountered an ill, starving, old man and, without thinking, he gave him his last piece of bread.
Years later, the father returned to the village with his son to show him where the siege had taken place. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a woman came running out and hugged him. The old man’s daughter, she had never forgotten this stranger’s kindness, telling them that it had always been an act of great importance both to her father and to her.
The son went on to say that watching this tale unfold was instrumental in him becoming a counsellor. He also mentioned that he had told this story to many people, many times, and he believed that they too had gone on to repeat it to inspire others.
This story is now being read by hundreds of you, too!
If a simple act of giving a piece of stale bread to one person can become a catalyst for positive change for thousands of people, what power does an action hold if it is motivated by bodhichitta — the wish to become enlightened for the lasting happiness of all living beings? Imagine if we had faith or trust in the often hidden consequences of our developing such a mind? What encouragement it would give us, what strength. How much faster we could move towards developing the wisdom and compassion needed to engage in actions that can bring about genuine world peace, actual nirvana (liberation) in the minds of all living beings?
Even the smallest of our actions performed with a big beneficial intention, therefore, can be a cause of ridding this world of even the most violent and destructive actions. As Geshe Kelsang says:
Everything is dream-like. Anything that appears to be more than dreamlike is an inherently existent thing. And our delusion of ignorance that grasps at inherently existent things is dominating our lives at the moment, causing us to experience all our other delusions with all their pain and suffering.
(This is carrying on from this article.) For example, if something appears to us as attractive and we latch onto it as real, then what happens? We exaggerate its good qualities or power from its own side to make us happy, believing that any of its apparent good qualities are within it, intrinsic to it. If the object is real, its good qualities are real. So attachment arises.
If something is out there that is real and inherently attractive, we naturally want it – we mentally or physically try to go out to it and pull it toward us. I want this. I need it. I must have it. It’s going to make me happy from its own side. Nothing to do with the way I’m looking at it. It just is absolutely essential to my well-being. I just have to eat this pizza right now. Or I just have to get this person’s phone number right now. Or I have to climb the career ladder right now. Or whatever it is. The holy grail of happiness is always out there. I’m always going to go after it; it’s always going to feel real. And I’m going to go after it, and after it, and after it until I feel happy. Because that’s what happiness it. It’s out there.
While we remain with ignorance, there will always be items of attachment appearing to our mind. As soon as anything appears nice to us, which happens because of our karma, then we want it. And we’re not happy without it. And if we lose it we suffer. So we are continually like some sort of shark circling around, never resting, trying to absorb that next juicy morsel — something, anything, that will make us happy.
I read recently about a dating site called Tinder, where people are stacked up like virtual cards – you swipe the ones you like to the right and the ones you don’t like to the left. It’s apparently addictive — you can never settle on any person because you think the next person just might be better. People get together socially and play with their Tinder app! Even if the first person is gorgeous, if you don’t swipe them to the left you’ll never know what you are missing. There is always someone better one swipe away.
I found Tinder a good example (or analogy?) for modern society having so much on demand these days – overwhelming choice means that there is always something better out there than what we are looking at at the moment. It used to take five minutes browsing the TV guide to choose what channel to watch at what time, and then you would just have to settle down to watch it! Now, thanks to Netflix etc., it takes half the evening to choose what to watch, and then we’re still a little bit unsettled, “Meh, that other movie might have been better.” We’re constantly searching to find the next best thing. This is what we are like with attachment. There is always something better around the corner, so the mind is in a constant state of overstimulation, trying to find happiness out there. And why do we have attachment? Because we have ignorance. We think that everything is attractive from its own side. It has nothing to do with the way we are looking at it.
Also, from the delusion of ignorance, aversion is born. Due to our karma, something can appear unpleasant or unattractive, and because it appears that way we mistake its appearance for reality, thinking it really is that way. Things are really unpleasant. Instead of recognizing that that person who just took my parking spot right in front of me is just appearing unpleasant to my mind due to some bad karma ripening, and letting it go, the inappropriate attention of anger begins to dwell on all the faults of that incredibly annoying spot-stealing person in the car: “They must do this all the time! They think the world is created just for them. They have no idea that I have to go shopping!” The exaggeration just digs in and, before we know it, we have full-blown irritation, aversion, annoyance. We think that they exist as they appear, and they appear annoying.
This is why with anger, attachment, and all the delusions we try to get in there before we start exaggerating. In this instance, for example, we can think, “Maybe this person has a massively important doctor’s appointment or maybe they have to catch their dying mother.” We just put our mind in a different direction so we don’t see all these apparent faults that we have created and exaggerated – clearly exaggerated as we have never met this person in our life, have barely glimpsed them through the car window, and we now have a list as long as our arm about how horrific they are.
Where did that all come from? In the case of anger, we are paying inappropriate attention to all their apparent faults. We exaggerate them, we hone in on them, we make them more real. And the reason we seized on their faults is because of our ignorance. With ignorance with have “subtle inappropriate attention,” which functions in our mind all the time and focuses on things being real. So there is someone behind that appearance of someone stealing our spot. They appear annoying, therefore they are annoying. There really is someone from their own side who is annoying, nothing to do with my mind. It’s because of this subtle inappropriate attention that we develop the gross inappropriate attention of anger, attachment, jealousy, fear, selfishness, you name it.
Do you want to go around relating to a world that doesn’t exist? I don’t.
The truth is, although things appear to our senses to be truly or inherently existent, in reality all phenomena lack, or are empty of, true existence. This book, our body, our friends, we ourself and the whole universe are actually just appearances to mind, like things seen in a dream.
There is nothing there to grasp at. There is no one there to grasp at.
Next installment here. Meanwhile, your comments are welcome.
Delusions distort our world. With delusions, we project something from the side of our mind, and then we feel that the person or thing actually is like that from their own side, having nothing to do with our perceiving consciousness. All delusions do this, such as anger, which came up in this first article on delusions.
We give a disproportionate meaning to the things we are seeing, and misrepresent them to ourselves, and this leads to nothing but trouble.
Pringles are good
I really like Pringles. That, for me, has the same meaning as “Pringles ARE delicious.” Salt and vinegar flavored Pringles, to be more precise. Pringles are inherently tasty, unlike figs, the subject of my first recorded joke aged 6 ½: “I don’t like figs, that figures.” I might say to you, “Pringles are really good, try one.” We often say this instead of the more accurate: “I like Pringles, try one.”
When I have a craving to eat Pringles, the Pringles appear at that point to be intrinsically good and a true source of happiness. Again the neon sign is flashing: “I’m good, I’m delicious, eat me!” And it feels that it’s the Pringles that are doing all that. They are practically crying out to be eaten. This has nothing to do with my craving for Pringles, it’s just the Pringles, the Pringles made me eat them!
Once I’ve eaten too many of them, though, I start to feel sick, and if I was forced to eat more than one of those tall tins, at some point I’d start begging for mercy. (I have never managed to get past three-quarters of a tin, personally, in one sitting, despite all my best intentions, so I think I know what I’m talking about.) Only a short time ago the neon sigh was flashing “Eat me, I’m good!”, now it’s flashing, “Keep off, your mouth is already dry and swollen, and I’m going to make you throw up!”
There are no delicious or disgusting Pringles outside of my experience. I cannot find any desirable objects out there, anywhere, independent of my experience – whenever I refer to Pringles, for example, I am referring to the Pringles of my experience, the Pringles I know. For my mind of attachment they are desirable, whereas for my mind of aversion they are off-putting. This shows that in themselves Pringles are neither desirable nor undesirable, but they depend upon the mind. (If I add my recent discovery that Pringles are manufactured by a company that tests on animals, that also changes them for me.)
The mind and its object are dependent related. Without a dancer, there is no dance, as an old friend used to say.
Externalizing our happiness
We do seem to tend to externalize our happiness, believing that the causes of happiness are out there. Do we continually search for happiness in external objects, rearranging our lives to become happy? I think we do it all the time, don’t we, with people, movies, cappuccinos, carpets, careers, cats, jobs, etc?! (Just check where the bulk of your energy has gone since you woke up this morning.) That’s because of our attachment. We feel that the object is something we have to have, and that if we don’t have it we’re missing something.
Happiness in fact comes from inner peace — letting our mind rest free from delusions — and not from out there. But attachment is dumb and doesn’t understand that. Instead it projects a whole lot of pleasurable qualities on all the apparently attractive things out there, and then it relates to those objects as if they really did possess those qualities and were inherently pleasing: “If I get ahold of this and then I get ahold of that, and if I do that and then I do this, then I’ll be happy.” Attachment causes us to constantly rearrange the furniture of our lives, and for one hour perhaps we’re happy, or for about ten seconds, and then off we go shopping again.
Day by day, week by week, month by month, it is good to ask:
“Is it working? Am I becoming happier and happier? I am putting a lot of work into this, is it working?!”
If it’s not working, this may well be because attachment is functioning. It is making us miss the point.
All delusions are similar, projecting something that isn’t there and then believing it is there. We think, don’t we, even if we don’t always say it out loud: “It is like that. This is the way things are. The way I see the world is exactly the way the world is. What you see is what you get. WYSIWYG. I can’t help it if you don’t see it the same way, though I might try to make you because you’re clearly wrong and I’m clearly right.”
Delusions are painful and frustrating
In Modern Buddhism, (download your free copy here!), Geshe Kelsang says:
Delusions are wrong awarenesses whose function is to destroy mental peace, the source of happiness; they have no function other than to harm us. Delusions such as self-grasping abide at our heart and continually harm us day and night without rest by destroying our peace of mind.
All the tension, frustration, grasping and unpeacefulness in our mind come from our being under the control of the delusions. When they’re functioning, it can be agony. Pride makes us super-sensitive to even the slightest criticism. Jealousy is like a thorn in the heart. Self-cherishing can drive us to self-hatred and suicide.
And no wonder. We are out of touch with reality and don’t even realize it. Sometimes our delusions are strong, sometimes they are relatively sneaky, but until we realize the ultimate nature of reality we’re going to be affected adversely by our delusions to a greater or lesser extent.
To the extent that our delusions diminish, to that extent our natural happiness comes to the surface. But right now it seems that we often feel an underlying tension or dissatisfaction even when our mind is relatively peaceful, and I think this is because we are still under the influence of our self-grasping ignorance, the root delusion that causes all the others. We continually think that things exist independent of our mind, that they are inherently existent, that they have nothing to do with us whatsoever. These are real Pringles. We set up a dualistic gap between our world and us, and this in turn creates a feeling of alienation and mental discomfort. Buddha explained that everything is actually a projection of our mind, even the same nature as our mind, but ignorance doesn’t get that at all. Our ignorance is currently functioning all the time and so:
It is as if we are continually chasing mirages, only to be disappointed when they do not give us the satisfaction we had hoped for. ~ Transform Your Life, pps 7-8
Delusions destroy our peace
All our unpeaceful and unhappy minds are deluded minds. Whenever we are unpeaceful and unhappy, we have a delusion functioning, guaranteed! Our mind at that point is like a monkey scampering all over the place — grasping at things, throwing things. We have no control over it. For example, a negative thought arises about someone, focusing on their faults, and that’s it, we can’t do anything about it, we’re thinking it. We can be blissfully happy one minute, and then a fault-finding thought pops up and we become annoyed and our day is ruined.
Delusions make us mad
When our mind is free from delusions, it is like a clear, peaceful lake that accurately reflects what is going on around it, such as mountains and clouds. When a delusion arises, it’s like a sudden storm disturbing the tranquility of that lake such that everything reflected in it is distorted. There is a saying in the Kadampa tradition, “Always rely upon a happy mind alone,” because we cannot trust any unhappy mind. If we are angry or attached or proud or jealous, we know that we cannot trust that mind because it is reflecting something that is not there. We actually say things like, “You are making me mad!”, or “I’m mad about you!” and we ARE mad. Delusions make us mad. They make us stupid.
Delusions create all negativity
When our mind is under the influence of delusions, that’s when we do unkind, unskillful and negative actions — we hurt others, slander others, speak harshly to others, and even kill others. Greedy actions, including pollution, come from our attachment. Delusions don’t let us see the big picture and how interconnected we all are. If we check where all our own and the world’s negative actions actually come from, we’ll see they come from minds that are unpeaceful, distorted, and to a greater or lesser extent out of control.
Delusions destroy our physical health
Anger is linked to heart disease and other ailments.Chronically angry people, studies have found, are three times more likely to develop heart disease, and six times more likely to suffer a heart attack before the age of 55. As The Week magazine puts it:
Feeling that you’re constantly at war with idiots and villains gets your body stuck in the flight-or-fight gear; a flood of hormones and toxins raises blood pressure, narrows arteries, and eats away at your innards.
Meanwhile, attachment makes us indulge in things that are bad for our body, self-cherishing leads to physical stress and tension, and all the delusions affect our body adversely one way or another due to the relationship between our mind and body.
Our actual enemies
For all these reasons and more, our delusions are our inner enemies. They are arguably the only actual enemies of living beings because their sole function is to destroy our happiness and cause us to suffer. Unlike outer enemies, they can never be won around. They will never be trusted allies, whatever mask they wear. Therefore, if we really want inner peace, it looks like we have to learn to identify these inner enemies and see them for what they are. We have to see each one — anger, attachment, jealousy, pride, and so on—for what it is, see what it does to our mind, see how it makes us view the world, see what it makes us do. Understanding that, we can then start to overcome our delusions temporarily and then permanently, through various means. This is the practice of Buddhist meditation.
On one level we don’t need to be “introduced” to our delusions as we are intimately acquainted with them already, sorry to say. However, because they are currently so enmeshed in our minds, and we rely on them every day, we cannot always see the wood for the trees. Without some clear pointing out instructions I think it can be hard to distinguish our own destructive delusions from other, positive, constructive states of mind (see this article distinguishing between love and attachment for a case in point.) I find the clear Buddhist teachings on these common enemies mighty helpful and liberating. And you don’t have to be a Buddhist to apply this understanding in your life.
Try a meditation
If you want to meditate on this, you can begin with a few minutes breathing meditation. Then you can think about some of the faults Buddha explained and ask yourself: “Does this apply to me? First off, do I have delusions, and second, what do these delusions do to me? For example, today — was I happy all day or disturbed, and why? Are delusions really my main enemy?” Hopefully, you will come to the conclusion that you do have delusions functioning (unless you don’t, in which case Congratulations!) and that they are your enemy, but they are not an intrinsic part of your mind and you can get rid of them. Based on that, you’ll be able to develop the determination to get rid of them. Bye bye delusions.
In the next article I do on delusions in general, I want to talk about the so-called six causes of delusion, as I find knowing about these is really helpful for ridding myself of delusions in daily life.
Your turn: do you agree or not that delusions are our only actual enemies? Are there any exceptions to this rule?
I am sitting on the beach hearing a Russian couple arguing.
I can’t really begin to describe what a perfect day it is today, but I can say that it is the best time of year with clear blue sky, turquoise sea, white sand, soft breezes, pelicans, a vast bathtub to swim in with the dolphins, etc… you know the kind of thing. The kind of thing you see on billboards in the subway torturing New Yorkers in the middle of winter.
But this couple is missing all the fun. I noticed their tension the moment they came and stood, for some strange reason, a few feet away from me. Their argument started sotte voce, and then started to get a little louder, and then a little louder. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying as my Russian is not that good (though I do know the word for “cat”), but I still used a quick dip in the ocean as an excuse to leave them to it. Now having got back and snuck farther away, their voices sound even louder than before. And they are now standing with both feet solidly on the sand, hands on hips, not even wanting to look at each other.
Like I said, I have no idea what they are arguing about, and it doesn’t actually matter as it is probably the type of domestic dispute being played out all over the world and I certainly have not been immune to such squabbling myself. But it strikes me that at these times we are making ourselves miss out on all the fun, as DhiDakini suggests in her comment:
Doesn’t it seem strange and so interesting… that we sit in a pleasant moment and worry about things that AREN’T happening right now…?
Nothing but their delusion of anger is currently ruining these two people’s day, perhaps even their entire hard-earned vacation. They might have spent a lot of money to come here and feel miserable.
My teacher Geshe Kelsang says in Introduction to Buddhism:
If our mind is peaceful we will be free from worries and mental discomfort, and so we will experience true happiness; but if our mind is not peaceful we will find it very difficult to be happy, even if we are living in the very best conditions.
If we ponder on simple staring-us-in-the-face illustrations like this how anger ruins our fun, this is one of its most obvious faults, and might give us the incentive to overcome our own anger next time we’re about to ruin the moment with a stupid argument. Some of the other faults of anger may not be quite as obvious — such as the destruction of our good karma and creating the cause to be ugly in future lives — but this one is.
Right now the man is spreadeagled flat on his back, the woman having stormed off back to their (rather nice) hotel. World War III is on hold. I hope he is staring into the space of the sky and calming down, and that he can count his blessings and enjoy his rather spectacular surroundings before it is time to go back to work.
May we all swiftly be freed from the crippling delusion of anger.
Your comments welcome, as always. And please share this article if you like it.
The smallest thing can fill our mind if we have no control over our thoughts.
Someone on Facebook fessed up that they had been engaging in an “internal tantrum and imaginary arguments”, and I thought to myself, “Now ain’t that the way our delusions go!”
It is so easy to get irritated if we let ourselves due to our unchecked habit of inappropriate attention. Normally I live in a pretty peaceful place with lots of space — just cats, dogs, possums, and huge parking spots for one’s air-conditioned car — I’m not rubbing shoulders with a mass of annoying humanity as I try to get around. But I also travel to NYC from time to time, partly so as to get my fair share of shoulder-rubbing, to keep it real 🙂
On the plane recently a young man sat next to me and, despite his good health, looks and fortune, I could tell he was already feeling slightly edgy. He got out his Blackberry and engaged in some very fast texting with his two thumbs. I nosily eyed what he’d written and to my surprise the last text said “This fat b**** next to me is so large that I cannot put down my armrest.” I could tell this was the tale-end of a moan about the person sitting next to him, and I noticed to my alarm that the armrest between us was firmly up. But I’m not that big so I glanced hopefully to the other side of him just in case, and it did appear that a large lady was occupying that seat.
Relieved as I was that he wasn’t texting about me, I felt a little sorry for her, oblivious as she was to his annoyance at having to spend the next 2 hours and 48 minutes wedged next to her, thinking how mortified she’d have been if she had been as nosy as me and looked at his Blackberry. Perhaps she’d in any case sense his dislike and spend a few less than happy, confident hours as a result. Even hurtful thoughts are hurtful; they are mental actions that do leave some impression on our mind and our world. In the teachings on karma, Buddha says that no action is ever wasted.
Just as I was musing on this, he suddenly thrust his Blackberry under my nose, gesturing me to read his latest message, which just happened to be addressed to me. It said: “Don’t get weirded out if I sit closer to you, but the woman next to me is sitting half on my seat.” She wasn’t actually, and he was now sitting on my seat, but I thought I’d try and cheer him up a bit by smiling that it was no problem, sure, I don’t mind being squashed into half a seat even if he does, its not inherently bad after all… (I doubt he got all my silent messages, but I thought them anyway). The rest of the journey passed without incident, he entered his own sullen headphoned world — hopefully he cheered up later.
A tiny example of a minor irritation blown out of proportion, but these can waste every day of our whole precious life if we let them.
What do you make of all these riots sweeping across England right now? People are getting hurt.
They are reminding me of two things:
(1) The uncontrollable nature of anger
(2) How influenced we are by others
In the newspaper I was reading online, a commentator tries to figure out what exact grievances are leading to the riots, e.g. poor housing, drugs, sink schools, gangs. But he concludes:
“While these phenomena may explain many forms of crime, my attendance at some of these occasions made me aware of the sheer momentum of a mob sensing a licence for an orgy of destructive mischief.”
A good friend of mine in Manchester just emailed me to say moreorless the same thing, which got me thinking. And what I am thinking is: “This sounds just like my mind of anger!” Anger starts with some pretext and then dwells on perceived grievances with inappropriate attention and the next thing you know the mind is on fire. It is far easier to put out a match than a forest fire. If no effort is made in anger’s early stages to control it, it rapidly spins us out of control. And it often thinks that it’s enjoying itself at the time, and that it’s valid, especially while we are still surrounded by other like-minded, over-excited “friends”. It’s only later, when the inappropriate attention has died down, that any remorse kicks in and we realize what destructive idiots we’ve been. There were other ways to do this, whatever it is.
Inappropriate attention is #6 of the six causes of delusion identified in Buddha’s teachings. Take anger for example. Cause #1 is the seed – we all have the seed of anger within us until we have abandoned our delusions by means of the wisdom realizing emptiness, and meantime we can prevent it ripening by stopping the other five causes. #2 is the object – we need some pretext for our anger, great or small. Nothing is inherently irritating but if we’re not careful anything can set us off, especially if we are prone to anger through familiarity with it – and #5 is familiarity. Bad habits, #4, don’t help, such as generally doing lots of stealing, drugs, arguing, watching violent movies and so on. Which leaves us with # 3, distraction and being influenced by others, which really does seem to be a major factor in what is going on in the streets of England as we speak.
Our friendships have a powerful influence over us. Since we tend to imitate our friends, we need to associate with friends who admire spiritual training and who apply themselves to it with joy.
That is, of course, if we want to make spiritual progress as opposed to get off with as many stolen video games as we can cram into our stolen shopping carts, have a good laugh at others’ expense, and possibly end up behind bars. Compare the riots to people’s uplifting accounts of the friendships made at the recent NKT Summer Festival, for example!
Anyway, a sad but useful reminder that until we uproot the six causes of our delusions, no one is safe, not even on the usually calm suburban streets of Croydon or in our own minds.