From division to unity

An article co-written by a friend and me. 

One of Buddha Shakyamuni’s qualities is that he has love and compassion without discrimination. Sometimes we fantasize about Buddha’s time, as if it was always peaceful and magical. But the truth is that Buddha went against the grain of his society and invited everyone into the spiritual community — men, women, kings, queens, those of the lowest caste, those shunned by society, even thieves and murderers. This speaks to the foundation of the teachings — that they are for everyone. These teachings, which provide freedom, provide this freedom for everyone. It was powerful then and it is powerful now.

Tibet was pretty feudal, not the most progressive society in the world by any means. Although there were spiritual masters and Yoginis of staggering power, Dharma teachings and teachers were largely confined to the monasteries; and for whatever reason society as a whole was static for centuries. We have a better opportunity than practitioners in Tibet to use Buddhist ideas to make a difference in our world because we are already democratic in theory and because of modern communications. The last time that Venerable Geshe Kelsang, originally from Tibet, visited the States, he praised Western countries:

I find in Western countries very good examples. For example, in Europe and in America, according to their constitutions, everyone is equal. They’ve even made it into law. There is equal education, equal rights, equal freedom for free speech, no discrimination between different races, no discrimination between different religions.

 On paper at least we are doing very well, and this is actually a wonderful achievement. The truth is that you cannot find one single person who is more important than everyone else, or even more important than anyone else. We are equal. We believe it in principle. However, as we know, we don’t always believe or live this truth in practice. Why? Geshe Kelsang explained:

It is so difficult to put this law into practice because we cannot help but discriminate naturally. Due to our self-cherishing mind thinking “I am important” and ignoring others’ happiness, even though the law says everyone is to be treated equally we are not doing this practically. The government constitutions saying “Everyone is equal” looks like a Mahayana Buddhist idea; but we can’t do it practically. 

When Gen-la Dekyong was talking about this in this year’s Summer Festival, she said we need to check inside our heart: “Am I discriminating that everyone is equal? When we think I, I, mine, mine, we naturally cherish that I, thinking it is most important, and neglect others.” As Geshe-la says:

We can’t practice equality if we have never trained in thinking ‘Self-cherishing is bad. It causes problems and suffering.’ Thus the constitution is the law and Mahayana Buddhism is the practice of this law.

As Buddha’s ideas spread into the modern world at large, where everything is connected, we now have a new and inspiring opportunity to use them to reshape our society and become truly democratic. Everyone can make use of these ideas, not just Buddhists, for they are in many ways just super-charged common sense.

Over to my co-writer again for some very helpful suggestions on how we can get started.

Equalizing self and others

If we want to move from division to unity, if we want true equality, one way is to practice equalizing self and others. We can contemplate this for example: 

Just as we value our own peace and happiness, so too should we value the peace and happiness of all living beings; and just as we work to free ourself from suffering and problems, so too should we work to free others. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness 

If we’re going to get to true or actual equality, equalizing is what we each need to practice. This is a very deep attitude, a deep spiritual conversion of our heart. Believing that other people’s happiness is equally or at least as important as our own, we will really help them and pray for them. 

If we all go deep into this, how would it affect the people around us? How would our world change as a result? I think our personal world would change immensely, and the immediate world of our family and community would also change. Our contribution, our influence, would be powerful.

We need to examine our own perceptions and attitudes through introspection or meditation; this is our responsibility. What about those who are not doing this though, who are careless with their self-cherishing, who don’t even know or care that they have it? 

The only appropriate response to those who are driven by their delusions to harm others is compassion. Sometimes it is necessary to force those who are behaving in very deluded ways to stop both for their own sake and to protect other people, but it is never appropriate to blame or become angry with them. ~ Eight Steps

Which means to hate them. We know this. To hate someone who is acting out of ignorance or hatred is no better. It is no solution. It is a deeper transformation of our mind to see that people are being harmed by their hatred as opposed to being their hatred. It takes the wisdom born from meditation to really see the difference between a delusion and a person. It’s not intellectual.  

We are all family

Right now, there’s a lot of division. Broadly speaking, we have friends, we have people we don’t like, and we have a huge group inbetween for whom we feel nothing at all. This is all mis-identification because, according to Buddha, we are all family. We have all been each others’ mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters a million times over. Through the countless rebirths we have had, we’ve changed our relationships repeatedly. We have taken a different rebirth now, but that doesn’t mean the connection we’ve had is gone — it does still exist. We are connected deeply. 

Along with this basic category of friends, enemies, and strangers, we further divide ourselves up in so many different ways: by culture, race, sexual preferences, politics, income, and more. So then what happens? We develop attachment for the people who seem to be like us or who agree with us. And we develop unpleasant feelings — maybe even hatred — for people who do not seem to be like us or who do not subscribe to our views. Doesn’t this sound like what we do!? We create division. We’re fractured.

Dualistic thinking

Just to get profound for a bit … on the deepest level, the origins of these classifications and divisions are what we call “dualistic appearance” and “dualistic grasping.” There’s the truth or reality of me, and there’s also what appears to be me. We see these two things to be separate when they are not

For example when you go to work there’s a professional you in your uniform, then when you go home there’s an at-home you in your old comfy jeans. The professional you is not different from the at-home you — they are just different aspects of what appears to be you. The truth of you is that you are undefined and unlimited in aspects. Gardening you, jogging you, angry you, happy you. There are so many aspects or appearances of you! All of these “you’s” are unified in your truth, which is what Buddha called your emptiness. 

One way to look at it is this — you are truly empty of definition. You are the unlimited possibility of emptiness. It’s a very positive liberating emptiness!  

Your emptiness, or lack of true definition, is how the many aspects or appearances of you are possible in the first place. For the sake of argument, if you really were just one of these aspects entirely, defined only in that one way, the other aspects of you would be impossible. However, how you live your varied life every day in all these aspects tells you what’s really going on. 

All of these modes of you, these ways of being, exist because of your lack of true definition. Your unlimited true nature (your emptiness) and your various aspects are unified.  However we normally perceive these two, our emptiness and our aspects, as two different things, which is called dualistic appearance or mistaken appearance. Out of deep habit we believe this difference or inner division to be true, which is called dualistic grasping. From The Mirror of Dharma:

When we see our body, in truth we see only the emptiness of our body because the real nature of our body is its emptiness. However, we do not understand this because of our ignorance. We normally see our body as something that exists from its own side. This is mistaken appearance. ~ The Mirror of Dharma

Whether talking about our body or our self, we are perceiving something that is true as well as something that is not true. We perceive our emptiness, because emptiness is our true way of being, yet we don’t apprehend or relate to it. Instead we see and relate to an ordinary limited self that is independent in its way of being. 

For example, we can think “I’m stuck,” and have this strong sense of a limited real self, yet not understand how that sense of self depends upon our way of thinking and is therefore empty of being stuck, not really stuck! Our mind is obscured by confusion, although the truth is already before us. 

Becoming whole

If our confused mind is creating division in ourself at a very deep level, you better believe it’s going to divide everyone and everything else up too. However, due to Buddha’s great and practical wisdom, we can remedy this situation. We can become whole — individually and collectively. 

If we believe that there is an independent me or self, then this means there’s an independent you or other too. We have divided ourselves into independent me and independent you. Or into real, or actual, self and other. 

Then come the many layers of classification and division that pile on from that ignorance. We believe in so many things that don’t exist from their own side! We put everything into separate boxes, not seeing their interconnection and 100 percent mutual dependence. Understanding the origin point of the mistake, we can address it or abandon it, as Buddha explains fully in the four noble truths

Uprooting systemic ignorance 

Samsara, from a Buddhist definition, is the cycle of impure life — a life that is created by this dualistic self-grasping ignorance along with the self-centeredness (Me first!) that goes with it. This world that we normally see is definitely impure life — created, controlled, and perpetuated by ignorance. It is not so hard to see this truth when it is pointed out. The root of samsara is deep, deep systemic ignorance, and it is therefore pervaded by systemic division and systemic inequality.

The inequality that we see in society is a manifestation of the deep levels of samsaric divisiveness. Because in the origin point of our thinking there is a false duality, everything else is a projection of this duality, this separation, this division. However, instead of believing in an objective or actual “self” and “other” — or an independent me divided from an independent you — we can learn to see ourselves as gathered together into one. Parts of a whole. Unified in truth.

Abolishing inequality

Going back to equalizing, we can see for a start that each one of us is interconnected in a dimensionless, huge, universal wish to be happy and free. We are unified or one in this wish. We can easily begin to overcome our mistaken divisiveness by seeing and feeling that we are all interconnected rather than independent. It’s so necessary, because this view of independence is literally killing us.

Geshe Kelsang says:

Loving others is principally an attitude of mind. The way in which we express it depends upon the needs, wishes, and situations of each individual as well as our karmic connection with them. We cannot physically care for everyone, but we can develop a caring attitude towards all beings. This is the main point of training the mind.

We can spend weeks, months, our whole life on deeply seeing others’ happiness and freedom as important as our own, and developing a caring attitude towards them. If we can do this, we will move beyond division. When we do this, we become someone who creates harmony, who creates peace, who can repair trouble. We become more and more fearless, an abolitionist of inequality. We have the methods. We’ve got such clear instruction that holds incredible power. We’ve got the wish and people are waiting.

Over to you. Please leave your comments and questions for us in the comments so we can answer them.

Related reading 

The meditation on equalizing self and others 

What is self-cherishing and what is wrong with it?

What can we really know about anyone? 

Living beings are not their delusions 

Harnessing our spiritual power for change

Guest article by British Kadampa Julie Stewart — filmmaker, theatre practitioner and actor living in Harlem NYC. 

Julie portrait

To begin with, we can gently allow our focus to be on our breath — on the sensation of the breath going in and out of our nostrils. If any thoughts arise in the mind we simply don’t follow them, and if it wanders we can bring our awareness back to our breathing. We can recognize that when we focus on the sensation of our breath, our mind automatically becomes more peaceful. Now we can gently open our eyes.

Today is June 19,  Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the US. It’s also known as “Freedom Day.” I have been thinking a lot today about freedom and how we all want it in one form or another. We all like the idea of freedom. And I’ve also been thinking how fortunate it is we’re here today with the freedom to learn these teachings; that we even have access to these amazing Buddhist practices that have the power to change our minds. How many people in this world right now don’t have access to these teachings, don’t even know that they exist?

Then I was thinking about another kind of freedom, freedom of mind. Do we feel that we are the masters of our own minds? Do we have control over our thoughts, our feelings, our reactions to external situations?

We all tell ourselves a story about who we think we are – we all have this inner monologue, which may be characterized by mistakes, shortcomings, perceptions of what other people say and think about us, and what we can and cannot achieve. This inner monologue may be very limited but it also goes on and on. What is your inner monologue? What’s your story that you keep telling yourself, “Who do I think I am?”

I can probably guarantee that whoever you think you are, it’s a very limited version of who you actually are, because if I asked you, “Do you think you have the capability to love all living beings, to have universal compassion, to possess the deep wisdom that understands the nature of reality?, you’re probably going to reply “No.” We’re believing this limited inner monologue but it is not who we are.

Love on the streeetIt is not who Buddha thinks we are, knows we are. Buddha says that within each and every one of us there is a seed that can grow into the limitless minds of love, wisdom, and compassion.

Each and every living being has within them the seed or potential to become a Buddha, a fully enlightened being. This is our Buddha nature. ~ How to Transform Your Life

This is what we’re being told. Now we need to ask ourselves, “Am I willing to change my story? Am I going to add this to the inner monologue of my life?” Or are we thinking to ourselves, “That’s not true” or “That’s not possible for me. It might be possible for everyone else, but not for me!”?

If we don’t think it’s possible, why is it we don’t believe Buddha but do believe our own limited monologue, including others’ perceptions of us? Why would we listen to those voices and not Buddha’s voice?

Buddha was a master of his own mind. He was a mental scientist. He revolutionized how people thought about their own reality. He wasn’t just a passive figure sitting calmly meditating – within that meditating was activity, he was experimenting, exploring the contents of his mind, examining it. Through this he conquered all the delusions in his own mind and has been able to inspire other people to do the same. Including us, that’s what Buddha’s asking us to do. That’s what we do with Buddhist practice.

Improv your life

We’re so familiar with telling ourselves the same story over and over again, and Buddha is saying, actually, No. There’s a malleability. There’s a flexibility of self that we haven’t even begun to explore. He’s inviting us to take the opportunity to look within our own mind and question that inner monologue so that we can smash it to pieces. And he’s able to do that because he did it himself.

In Buddha’s teachings we have found the best method to ripen this seed or potential. What we need to do now is to put these teachings into practice. ~ How to Transform Your Life

These profound Buddhist teachings are not just an intellectual exercise — we have to allow them to move our heart because an intellectual understanding alone does not motivate spiritual action. We have to do the work. It’s a two-way conversation.

Where do our delusions come from?

The reason we don’t experience the vast sky of the mind, the potential that resides within us, which is there all the time, is because of delusions. Delusions are  mistaken ways of looking at reality, and every time we have an unpleasant feeling, that’s a delusion at work. Our problem is that we’re so familiar with these unpleasant feelings that we think that these are just who we are.

But what Buddha is telling us is that delusions are simply bad mental habits. We all have bad habits that we want to break, whether that’s eating too much, smoking, taking drugs, or not doing enough exercise, but they are not who we are.

Why is it that when I hear a song on the radio that I don’t even like that I keep on singing it?! It’s because I keep on hearing it. I keep hearing it and hearing it so I start singing it and then I catch myself and say, “I don’t even like that song. Stop it.” And that’s what it’s like. you know, listening to these delusions or other people’s perceptions of us. We listen and take them to heart, and then we use them to define ourselves. It’s really quite crazy.

And the thing is about delusions is how natural and familiar they can feel to us, such that we do not think we can get rid of them. Like anger. Or attachment, because we’re thinking, “That’s just who I am. I’ve got to base my happiness on wanting this thing. That’s what I always do.” But delusions are not who we are, they are just mental habits.

We should understand that although delusions are deeply ingrained, they are not an intrinsic part of our mind and so they can definitely be removed. ~ How to Transform Your Life

Life is shortWe can think about our own dominant delusion that we have – it could be anger, jealousy, pride. We can think about how it arises in certain situations – without us even having to think about it, it is just there in a finger snap.

What about anger?

What about anger, say? We can feel that it’s justified, but Buddha is saying that it’s a distorted way of viewing reality. And I know that this can be controversial because we think anger brings about change. We do. I’ve seen it. I’ve believed it. I’ve felt it, myself, in these last few weeks. Rage. Anger. And I’ve had to really examine that mind. I’ve had to ask myself a fundamental question that Buddha asks us to consider:

Is the anger coming from inside or outside of my mind?

In Buddhism we are always saying that happiness and suffering are states of mind. And what I have been experiencing a lot in these last challenging weeks is that we can’t be fifty/fifty. We either believe it or we don’t. There is no, “In this situation it applies, but in THIS situation it doesn’t.” We really have to examine this because what happens is we get confused. So, in these challenging times, and I’ll say it as a person of color: “Is the anger coming from inside or outside of my mind?”

Buddha is not giving me a “get out” clause, and he is not going to give you one either. So, your dominant delusion – is it coming from inside or outside of your mind?

We have to contemplate this deeply, so deeply. Because what happens when we have an angry mind – and I will just talk here about my own mind – is that it feels like energy. It is visceral – it feels like a fuel that will power me to communicate, to act. But the big question that I ask myself is “Could I have the same results with the mind of compassion? Better results, even?” Because we may not think that compassion has the same fuel, but it does. However, it is motivated by love, so then why not use compassion, because compassion is not a distorted mind. Compassion is based on reality. Why? Because it’s based on love and is the natural state of our mind. Anger isn’t.

The space of acceptance

The only magicWe have to experiment for ourself. If a mind of anger arises, that’s ok, Buddha said – we first just accept the delusion in terms of accepting that it is there. We don’t fight it – instead we welcome it wholeheartedly. Then we can transform it into a wisdom that can propel us into reality.

Once delusions have arisen in our mind, accepting them wholeheartedly means that we accept the fact they have arisen. We do this in the framework of asking ourself, “Is this coming from inside or outside of my mind?” Just by asking this question we are separating ourself from the delusion and can begin to examine how a delusion works instead of following it to its unfortunate conclusion.

For example when we get angry with our partner or our friend, how do we see them? We see them as intrinsically bad, don’t we? In that moment they seem to have no good qualities, and as a result we say some really horrible things. People get hurt; and then when the anger subsides we are full of regret and have to say things like, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I was really angry.”

So we don’t deny the delusion once it’s in our mind – we accept it and look at it from a place of space, knowing that it’s not an intrinsic part of our mind. It’s important to give ourself that space because we really don’t want to be repressing our anger – which means we are pretending not to feel the thing that we are feeling. That’s no good. It doesn’t help.

This anger is not who we are – it is just a mental habit arising in our mind and it cannot destroy our mind any more than a thunderstorm can destroy the sky. We don’t keep defining ourselves by our delusions, by saying, “I’m an angry person. I’m a depressed person. I’m a jealous person.” Let’s stop the inner monologue of limitations. Let’s just stop. It’s not helping us. It’s not helping us reach our full potential. We can learn to stop that limited monologue and replace it with  a limitless one.

What is true change?

A lot of people think that spiritual practice is passive, as if we’re not supposed to be doing anything to change things, that we are just sitting here – it can almost be used as an excuse not to do anything. But what would actually instigate change more than being in control of our own minds and using to instigate external change?

Buddhas says there are two types of problem — the internal problems of unpleasant feelings and the external problems such as what is going on in our world – and we get the two mixed up. What is going to govern the way we solve the external problem? The wisdom knowing that there’s an inner problem and an outer problem. With this, there is such flexibility – it’s a bit like Bruce Lee. If you’ve ever watched his films, he’s got like twenty people around him and he fights them all in a matter of minutes and then he’s done, finished, all his enemies down. How? Because he’s got flexibility of body – he knows where and how to move. We should have that same flexibility with our mind so that when delusions come for us we are not afraid – we are done, finished, we have defeated the real enemies.

We are governed by the flexible power of compassion — and there is huge power in compassion. There is power in love. There is power in wisdom. These are not passive states of mind.

Holding up a mirror to our minds

Buddha says that everything is created by mind and nothing exists outside of our minds. In these last few challenging weeks I have been recollecting:

This is all a mirror to my own mind because nothing exists outside of my mind.

What is that mirror reflecting? What is that mirror telling me? It is teaching us to look at our minds of anger, rage, or trauma, or other things that I’ve heard people say, “shame”, “denial”. It’s a mirror for us to look at the things that are being brought up from inside our own minds.

Make no mistake, I am not saying that we don’t do anything to change external situations. Looking at the unpleasant feelings that are arising through causes and conditions, I’m gonna welcome them all wholeheartedly because I need to, me, it’s MY responsibility to get rid of the unpleasant feelings in my mind. Then I can look at the outer problem and deal with it in a completely different way – I can challenge it with wisdom.

Buddha Shakyamuni disrupted the caste system in India because what he said was that it doesn’t matter whether someone is low, middle, or high caste – everyone has the same Buddha nature. He also allowed women into the Buddhist order at a time it was unheard of. He even advised kings and queens how to use their power in the most beneficial way. And he accomplished all of this outer change out of compassion.

What do you really want?

I think we have to think really spread the worddeeply about what it is that we want. Do we want to follow our delusions or do we want to conquer our delusions and encouraged by an inner monologue of our limitless potential? This is after all who we really are. Our naturally peaceful mind is like a golden nugget encased in dirt. We need to identify with this indestructible potential, not the dirt around it.

When we’re embarking on any meditation, we need the confidence that knows we have a resource of inner peace available to us at any time. When we do even a simple breathing meditation, we get rid of all the distracting conceptual thoughts that fill our mind because normally we can’t see the wood for the trees. Beneath all this busy chaotic thinking is actually a source of peace to which we have access at any time. This is also a place of wisdom from which we can start to make good decisions, and a place of clarity where we are no longer defining ourselves by our limitations, shortcomings, or mistakes.

Try this short meditation

We can breathe out whatever is on our mind, allow our mind to stop thinking, to become still but relaxed. We can think that our mind is like a stone, or inanimate object, not thinking or feeling anything. Then, where our mind was full of thoughts, with the absence of thoughts there is now space; and we allow our awareness to absorb into that space, to be pervaded by it. Like a stone descending to the bottom of a clear lake, we can allow our spacious awareness to descend to our heart. We recognize that this space is the nature of peace, and that this peace is our Buddha nature. It has clarity and is as vast at the sky. We allow ourself to recognize this and rejoice in this recognition. “This is my natural source of peace at my heart. It is the source of my limitless compassion, wisdom, and love.”

Thank you for reading this! If you like, we can dedicate all the positive energy we have just gathered through this reading and contemplation to all living beings:

May everyone be free from suffering. May everyone experience a peaceful and happy mind all the time.

Over to you. Please leave comments or questions for the guest writer in the box below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A practical paradigm shift

Someone just sent me this gif, saying she has been trying this out in her meditation sessions on retreat, lol. Blaze the fire of wisdom, and it can consume all our delusions and suffering.

In Buddhism we rely on the realistic minds of wisdom and compassion, starting with a confidence that we can grow these because we have Buddha seed or Buddha nature. Literally whenever we have this Dharma experience functioning in our minds, we are free from feeling anxious, free from feeling tight or hemmed in by the day’s worries, free from feeling overwhelmed.

Therefore, rather than using our delusions to solve all our problems outside the mind, in the “real world”– which in chapter after chapter of our life is turning out to be a rather exhausting and futile venture — I think the sooner we can shift into that Dharma perspective the better. It is a good idea to visit that refuge zone every single morning when we wake up (instead of the caveman mentality that immediately casts around for things to worry about); until one day we discover we never have to leave it.

This will not only help ourselves, but transform us into a source of refuge and courage for others. We can’t solve our own or others’ problems if we stay confused and unhappy. refuge zone“There are too many unhappy people already,” as Geshe Kelsang once put it. For a practical guided meditation to start feeling that refuge, check out this article

This is by way of preamble as to why I’m talking about the cool science shown in this quantum video, here. Also, a friend sent me a great book called The Order of Time by physicist Carlo Rovelli, excellent bedtime reading. One thing he says is:

If the world were made of things, what would these things be? The atoms, which we have discovered to be made up in turn of smaller particles? The elementary particles, which, as we have discovered, are nothing other than the ephemeral agitations of a field? The quantum fields, which we have found to be little more than codes of a language with which to speak of interactions and events? We cannot think of the physical world as if it were made of things, of entities. It simply doesn’t work.

What exactly am I grasping at?! However, it is one thing to impress people with this kind of fact at parties, and quite another to use this knowledge to intentionally change ourselves and the world around us. We take it in on a superficial, “Wow,” level — like a great Matrix or What the Bleep! type movie, and then continue about our seemingly solid lives as if they’re real.

what the bleepWhy? Maybe it is because we haven’t brought this information into our hearts. We don’t have the wisdom, yet, actually — we can’t bring this information into our hearts because we don’t have the wisdom, only a superficial intellectual head-based knowledge. It is someone else’s idea — we haven’t developed our own experience of it so it’s not affecting the way we view ourselves or other people.

These cosmic ideas are not making a dent in that persistent illusion, an illusion we are not combatting because either we don’t want to or we don’t know how to. Which is where Buddha’s teachings are so immensely useful because he laid out, step by step, how we could understand the true nature of everything, parts of which the quantum physicists are figuring out now. And, more importantly, he explained why we would want to — because gaining a deep experience of this will destroy all our ignorance and suffering.

The Matrix

While we’re on the subject of The Matrix, let me get something off my chest quickly. It’s a thought-provoking movie, and I sometimes think I’m in it as I wander the streets of New York, especially when I wear my cool black coat. But when Neo et al take the red pill and get unplugged, they don’t end up in bliss but in a “real” world — and it frankly isn’t that enticing! It has its moments (dance scene), but otherwise it seems to alternate between dull and scary, not unlike any other ordinary, impure, seemingly inherently existent world. Doesn’t really surprise me that Cypher chose the blue pill of ignorance.

Matrix black coatHowever, according to Buddha, what will actually happen when we unplug from the matrix of our beginningless hallucinations, purifying our mind with wisdom and compassion, is that we will end up not in the samsaric Zion but in the Pure Land of great bliss, a world that we are free to create and play with as we choose. As Geshe Kelsang says in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra (page 20):

There is no such thing as a Pure Land that exists from the side of the object; the  Pure Land is merely an appearance to a pure mind. Equally, there is no such thing as an impure world that exists from its own side; an impure world is merely an appearance to an impure mind.

And what about the mind?

From my very beginnery understanding of modern science, it seems that scientists are saying that everything is illusory, in that it doesn’t exist and appear in the same way; and yet we are buying into the illusion.

However, there is still that “hard problem of consciousness.” The Guardian science section published this article:

“Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness?” … For example, how could the 1.4 kg lump of moist, pinkish-beige tissue inside your skull give rise to something as mysterious as the experience of being that pinkish-beige lump, and the body to which it is attached?

Buddhism may differ from much of modern science in stressing the importance of consciousness. Buddha specialized in psychology whereas scientists seem to be suggesting that they have a ways to go in this area. For example Carlo Rovelli says:

We understand biology by studying how living beings evolve and live. We understand psychology (a little, not much) by studying how we interact with each other, how we think.

Buddha Shakyamuni (BC 500) has arguably gone further than anyone else in known history in unveiling reality because not only has he explained the nature of apparently external reality, but he has also shared his deep wisdom and direct experience of the nature and function of non-physical consciousness, which is what is doing all this perceiving and hallucinating. (Nor was he the first Buddha or “Awakened One” to do this, countless came before him in countless world systems. What on earth makes us think this is the only universe?! It’s like an ant thinking there’s only one anthill. Anyway, that’s just a random thought I just had, definitely formless.)

Is there a mind-body problem or not?

The article says:

Critics point out, if this non-physical mental stuff did exist, how could it cause physical things to happen – as when the feeling of pain causes me to jerk my fingers away from the saucepan’s edge?

easy-and-hard-problems-of-consciousness-lThe dichotomy long held onto in the materialist or reductionist world view seems to be both contrived and false, for why should there be a “mind-body problem” — formless mind and “physical” reality can and do get along just fine. We don’t need to do away with subjective consciousness to make sense of jerking our fingers away from pain or making sense of creation in general.

If we accept that there can be two primary realities, or arguably that mind is the primary reality producing “material” or at least perceived reality, we can not only make far more sense of our existence but learn to transform it by changing our perceptions. If we can change our existence by changing our thoughts, which we can and do, then this in itself makes a pretty compelling case for the existence of non-physical mind, wouldn’t you say?

Again, from that article:

Yes, it may be true that most of us, in our daily lives, think of consciousness as something over and above our physical being – as if your mind were “a chauffeur inside your own body”, to quote the spiritual author Alan Watts. But to accept this as a scientific principle would mean rewriting the laws of physics.

I dunno, physics is evolving and being rewritten all the time, so I’m fine with that. Accepting our subjective experience is common sense. None of our internal thoughts, feelings, pleasure, pain, and so on are experienced as physical, yet we cannot deny that they are experienced – the author of that Guardian article uses the example of painfully stubbing his toe. I think we know full well what our states of mind feel like inside, even if we can’t see them, sit on them, or physically measure them. We are experiencing and using them non-stop, day and night. Our whole life is determined by them. And without conscious awareness, what, for example, are the scientists having their ideas about the non-existence of conscious awareness with?!

Inner scientists

Buddha and scienceFrom what I have read (admittedly not much), the “how’s” of existence are not explained yet in modern science, which hasn’t figured out what consciousness exactly is, nor the mechanisms by which it projects everything, nor its different levels; but they are explained in Buddhism in great detail and we can come to know what conscious awareness is in our own direct experience. In fact, Buddha Shakyamuni said:

If you realize your own mind you will become a Buddha; you should not seek Buddhahood elsewhere.

Buddha said we needed to become inner scientists, coming to know formless consciousness more and more deeply through observation with our formless consciousness. As soon as we even close our eyes, our conscious awareness is evident. Do check out this article if you like, for tips on how we can come to know it.

From that same Guardian article:

Why aren’t we just brilliant robots, capable of retaining information, of responding to noises and smells and hot saucepans, but dark inside, lacking an inner life?

I don’t know about you (well, I kinda do), but I am not a robot because I am a sentient being with, as it happens, an infinitely deep inner life. Just like you. We are conscious and that consciousness cannot be seen in the “material” world. The definition of mind is, simply, that which is clarity and cognizing. Buddha explains how our consciousness is an impermanent formless continuum that goes on forever. It cannot be detected by any of the five sense awarenesses nor their instruments, such as microscopes or particle accelerators, because it has no visual color or shape, sound, smell, taste, or tactile properties. It has zero atoms and molecules. But despite its lack of matter, it matters. Its function is to cognize, to experience, to perceive, to understand, and, in fact, to create.

Conscious awareness exists

Buddha explains in detail how our mind relates to a seemingly external reality beyond our thoughts. Although it created that physical world in the first place through conceptual imputation or naming, our self-grasping ignorance then believes it exists “out there”, independent of perception, as in a dream. It is not just in this life time – since beginningless time our conceptual mind has been over and again projecting an impure sensory and mental world that we then torturously try to live in as if it were real.

Not only that, but our formless mind itself is even not as real as it appears – it is also empty of existing from its own side.

How to Understand the MindIn his brilliantly intelligent but common-sensical way, Buddha explains the differences between the unpeaceful delusions that are based on that mistaken way of seeing things and the peaceful virtuous states of mind that are not; and how we can effectively train in overcoming the former and perfecting the latter, eventually attaining omniscient wisdom that knows how and when all phenomena exist.

Bottom line is that we can exist in the material world while also existing as spiritual beings, I don’t think there is any actual problem with that. If you want to find out a lot more about any of what I just mentioned, can I recommend you study How to Understand the Mind. It has it all.

What’s the point of all this?

Buddhism’s HUGE! IMHO it’s huger than anything yet discovered in quantum physics, and that’s saying something. Beginningless time, endless world systems, endless consciousness, countless sentient beings, infinite enlightened beings, universal compassion, omniscient wisdom — and all of it illusion-like and dream-like, completely empty of existing from its own side.

But who cares about gaining all this extraordinary understanding of reality if it’s not actually helping us to get rid of our unhappiness, bring us joy, or help people? That’s all any of us really want, deep down, isn’t it? Therefore, when Buddha gave his teachings, his whole motivation was to permanently end suffering – all of which comes directly and indirectly from grasping things as being real when they’re not. What our ignorance is doing is projecting things and people that are not there but also believing that they ARE there and then reacting to that; and this the core reason why all of us are suffering. So Buddha wanted to dispel that illusion to lead everyone, including you and me, to the lasting bliss of enlightenment – the inner light of wisdom that is permanently free from all mistaken appearances — which is mixed with and is reality. 

We can’t wake people up from a nightmare if we believe the nightmare is real.

liberation from sufferingIf we align with reality, like all the countless omniscient beings have done, there is no end to what we can do. The sky’s the limit, only there is no real sky. As it says in that sugar cube video:

There are no limits to your power when you align to a more truthful view of the world you live in. The love that you feel in your heart is an actual power that you have. It’s literally the most powerful force on earth. This is not a cliché — you’ve just been conditioned to believe that it has no real effect. But we’ve seen that its power is absolutely world-changing.

More coming up soon, including the power of our intentions to create our experiences.

 

Meantime, over to you, would love to hear your thoughts …

Related articles

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One of the world’s best-kept secrets 

 Solving problems on the inside

 

 

 

Injoyment

9 mins read.

You are unique. There is no one quite like you in this world. And as Fred Rogers would say:

I like you just the way you are.

But, as per this last article, it is helpful to contemplate that we are all also basically the same — unique but none more special — one reason being that our varieties of mind are the same. This includes both negative and positive minds, both unhappiness and happiness.

Tala 1In this human realm we have a lot more worldly pleasure aka changing suffering than beings in the hell and hungry spirit realms because living beings there are rarely, if ever, free from the painful feelings of manifest suffering. This is almost too ghastly to contemplate, thought contemplate it we must if we are to develop universal compassion.

But whenever we are experiencing changing suffering it feels the same as other people’s.

My African adventure took a new turn when we decided on the spur of the moment to go say hello to the animals at the Tala game reserve. I was not expecting to spend the day hanging out on the wide open plain with rhinos, zebras, ostriches, wildebeest, monkeys, and giraffes, but there you go, another reminder to always expect the unexpected. It was a bit like the opening scenes of the Lion King, which I seem to be watching on this final airplane lap back to America.

Ok, so here’s a question. We saw this giraffe, like some mesmeric prehistoric creature, lumbering across the road in front of our truck to nibble on the green leaves on the top of a new tree. She seemed happy, she probably was happy, why not. And what was that? Was it not changing suffering? The same kind of comparative pleasure we all experience from worldly pleasures?  

Tala 4Back in the Observatory where I was staying in Cape Town, a frail old woman was sleeping outside in the same spot every night because it has a makeshift tarpaulin roof; but Sangkyong discovered that in the rainy months she was pushed out of that prime spot by two youths, only allowed to return in the dry season. If someone finds a tarpaulin, there is happiness, just as if someone buys a mansion, there is happiness. How much subjective difference is there in those pleasant feelings?

From life in luxury to life on the edge, is there any qualitative difference in our happiness when we get something we want? The giraffe is happy to find his green leaves, a millionaire is happy to purchase some new novelty like a yacht, and a handout of 100 Rands might make the day of someone hustling to survive. It is all relative – the suffering of change is by nature relative, the crossover point between some manifest pain and its temporary relief. Scratching an itch, as it were. Like receiving the all clear from a doctor, which is a pleasurable relief, but only for someone who thought they might have cancer. Better than, “It’s not good news I’m afraid,” but still not good enough.

Wayne the local guardian
Wayne who watches over KMC Tushita

By the way, none of these types of relief holds a candle to the relief we experience when we are able to drop into our peaceful heart-mind and let go of our problems through breathing meditation, much less when we start grasping less at our self through the wisdom realizing there is no self.

What is happiness?

Happiness is a loaded word, of course, which may be why Geshe Kelsang explains two types, fake and real.

According to The Week, in the mid-17th century Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, cast the word “happiness” (which hitherto had meant “lucky”) as an unending process of accumulating objects of desire, redefining it as a subjective, shifting feeling, predicated on our desires:

The felicity of this life,” wrote Hobbes in 1651, “consisteth not in the repose of a mind satisfied. For there is no such finis ultimus (utmost aim) nor summum bonum (greatest good) as is spoken of in the books of the old moral philosophers.

He believed that happiness had a slippery and fleeting nature and must be continually sought after, which I think is a good description for the fake happiness of changing suffering. Or as Don Draper, the advertising exec, puts it in Mad Men:

What is happiness? It’s the moment before you need more happiness.

In some ways, the itch of fake happiness becomes more itchy the more stuff we acquire because luxuries become necessities and we find ourselves more and more distracted from the source of real happiness within. External wealth is nowhere near as meaningful or satisfying as internal wealth, not even close.

wealthOnce the basic necessities of food, clothing, medicine, and housing are met, more contentment would seem to bring more peace of mind. Trust me, I have thought about this, and I am not saying I’d prefer to be poverty stricken — day to day life is grueling with few resources and I’m way too accustomed to comfort and, basically, a wimp. But I think the feeling of pleasure we get from externals, once the basic needs are met, may not be that different.

I saw a lot of laughter in Alexandra, arguably more than in the neighboring Sandton with its fancy mansions behind electric fences. Jampel in Durban told me a story about visiting Eshowe in the Bodhisattva Patti days and seeing little boys playing with string and tin cans “squealing with joy, for hours on end” – a pleasure he reckoned was just as great as the pleasure of the little Sandton boy stuck into his video game, quick to boredom, maybe greater.

happiness

Therefore, as Buddha explains, the pleasure of temporary liberation from particular sufferings –although a great deal preferable to endless manifest pain — is nevertheless never going to be good enough for any of us, rich or poor – we all need permanent liberation from all suffering. This, then, is Buddha Shakyamuni’s intention– to free all living beings permanently from all their suffering. It is the reason he attained enlightenment and taught everyone else how to go about it.

I read this the other day about the apparently greatly misunderstood Epicurus (also in The Week):

As Epicurus saw it, happiness is merely the lack of aponia—physical pain—and ataraxia—mental disturbance. It was not about the pursuit of material gain, or notching up gratifying experiences, but instead was a happiness that lent itself to a constant gratefulness.

Buddhism would agree that when our delusions have subsided, and/or when we experience gratitude or other positive minds, our mind is naturally peaceful and therewith happy; and would also add that we can exponentially deepen that peace and happiness through increasing our positive minds until they last forever.

I was thinking today about why get out of bed in the morning? Why do anything? Why slog away at work, feed the cat, put up the offerings, answer the texts, talk to the coworkers, sort out the paperwork, go for a walk, surf the internet, give away a dollar, go to the doctor, watch TV, water the flowers, etc etc. I know from the times I’ve tried it that if we can have the same intention as Buddha — that is, wanting ourself and all living beings to be free permanently from all sufferings — our whole day becomes extraordinary, even as practically speaking we work just temporarily to liberate ourself and others’ from particular sufferings. With practice, we can get better and better at doing both these at the same time.

Curating our life feeds

impermanenceWhat is true or real happiness? Nowadays a lot of people famously curate their Facebook or Instagram feeds to give the impression that their lives are perfect and to avoid appearing unhappy — just one peak experience after another, one exotically located selfie after another — leaving everyone else grimacing or with FOMO. This constant pretending takes a toll and probably, though I haven’t Googled this to check, undermines friendships rather than strengthens them. If our lives were actually perfect and we were always happy, we probably wouldn’t bother telling everyone. I haven’t seen Venerable Geshe-la post any selfies recently, for example. It’s hard to get him to talk about his own life or his achievements or his non-stop great bliss at all.

It is not just on social media that we are jostling for reputation and position like this, I think it just shows up there because we spend so much time on it. One of the social workers in Alex township, who has to deal with so much real crazy sh** every day, was nonetheless more preoccupied by a male friend who was so proud of his new car that he was making everyone around him “feel small”. Apparently there is a lot of jostling for status in the townships, that’s what they told me; and perhaps it’s not so surprising in a community that was kept down for so long.

Facebook fakeryWhen I brought up Shantideva’s analysis of how we categorize people into (1) those who are inferior to us in some way so we feel pride, (2) equal to us in some way so we feel competitive, or (3) superior to us in some way so we feel jealous, there was a vigorous nodding of heads. I was surprised one early morning to see the domestic, Ama, arrive at work where I was staying all dressed in her very finest togs as if she was going to a wedding or something. When I started looking, I could see that a lot of commuters were beautifully dressed on their way to and from work, apparently to keep up appearances in the communal taxi, and changing quickly into their scruffy clothes once no longer amongst their peers. Just Instagram in 3D.

Injoyment

That leads me to Buddha’s point about happiness coming from within — real happiness, that is, versus the fake happiness of changing suffering. The deepening pure unconditional happiness that arises from a growing inner peace, a pure intention, warm love, virtue, and wisdom. How does the pleasure from, say, eating some good food (however we construe that, from green leaves on top of a new tree to dining out on every continent) compare with the pleasure from say, developing the heartfelt wish for everyone to be unconditionally happy and permanently free from suffering?

pleasure from within

Happiness doesn’t come from working hard or pursuing and purchasing peak experiences. It is a natural by-product of peaceful and positive states of mind. Our first-world lifestyle and expectations can therefore backfire. To quote The Week again:

These days, we try to collect moments of happiness like shells at the beach, even as the waves wash them away. The pursuit is Sisyphean; it inevitably leads down a disappointing path.

Or, as Aldous Huxley wrote in 1956:

The right to the pursuit of happiness is nothing else than the right to disillusionment phrased in another way.

Also, in this kind of pursuit of happiness, we often think it also requires avoiding bad feelings at all cost — pretending they are not there and airbrushing them out of our feeds or daily commute, or distracting ourselves. But if we know how to be truly happy we are no longer scared of these thoughts and emotions because we know they are just weather in the mind with no power to do us harm, and not who we really are. (See these articles for more on that.)

And, like I said, we’re all the same

One last thing, just like our negative minds and our experiences of changing suffering described above, our virtuous minds also feel the same inside. We are not that original. Which turns out to be a good thing. For, if we are not so original or unique after all, it means the methods exist to fix us.

Thanks for sharing my adventures in South Africa. Over to you. Comments most welcome in the box below.

Related articles

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Getting by with a little help from our (enlightened) friends

3 mins read.

Buddha Shakyamuni 1
Buddha Shakyamuni

This article is based on a short unofficial introduction to Tara I shared with someone the other day – someone who is not a Buddhist practitioner but who asked for an effective method for dealing with recurrent anxiety. He says it’s helping. It takes, like, five minutes! (Longer if you want).

In general, all meditations help us to feel less anxious and more peaceful; but Buddha Tara is the Buddha of fearlessness who turns up as swiftly as the wind whenever people need and ask for her help. People have relied upon her for centuries, if not longer, to allay all their inner and outer fears. She helps anyone who asks. Therefore, this article is for my friend and for anyone else who gets worried, who likes the idea of real comfort and protection.

Step One: Sit somewhere comfortable and undisturbed. When you’re ready, imagine you drop from your head into your heart. Do one or two minutes’ breathing meditation, focusing on your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils, letting your other thoughts float away. Feel you are peaceful in your heart.

Step Two: Believe that Buddha Shakyamuni and Buddha Tara are in front of you, surrounded by countless holy beings, however you imagine them. Feel you are actually in their company.

Buddha Tara
Buddha Tara

Step Three: Recite the following traditional prayers out loud or mentally, contemplating their meaning:

Going for refuge

I and all sentient beings, until we achieve enlightenment,
Go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. (3x)

Generating bodhichitta

Through the virtues I collect by giving and other perfections,
May I become a Buddha for the benefit of all. (3x)

(The six perfections are giving, moral discipline, patience, joyful effort, concentration, and wisdom.)

Four immeasurables

May everyone be happy.
May everyone be free from misery.
May no one ever be separated from their happiness.
May everyone have equanimity, free from hatred and attachment.

Buddha Tara’s mantra

Step Four: Ask Buddha Tara directly to remove whatever specific anxiety you are feeling, as well as all your own and others’ present and future fears and anxieties, by reciting her mantra 21 times or more:

OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA

Receiving blessings

Step Five: Imagine that from the hearts of Buddha Tara and all the holy beings, streams of light and nectar, the nature of their enlightened wisdom and compassion, flow down through the crown of your head and fill your body and mind.

These blessings purify all your worries, problems, and negative thoughts. They fill you with peace, happiness, kindness, and fearlessness. Feel that you are fully protected and don’t have a care in the world.i-get-by-with-a-little-help-from-my-friends-21

If you like, imagine that these blessings are also flowing into the people you love, purifying and inspiring them as well.

Take a few moments to really bathe in this enlightened peace in your heart, taking refuge in it, knowing that it is always there and you can come back to it whenever you like.

Dedication

Step Six: Make a prayer that through this practice all your own and others’ anxieties and fears will one day be permanently gone. May everyone be happy and may our world be peaceful.

Through the virtues I have collected
By giving and other perfections
May I become a Buddha
For the benefit of all.

The rest of the day

Step Seven: When you start feeling anxious about anything, before it takes over, remember that Buddha Tara is everywhere and ask her directly for help. You can use the mantra to do this if you like.

To find out more about Buddha Tara and her traditional practice (including verses composed by Buddha Shakyamuni), please click here: Liberation from Sorrow.

I want to add too that Tara practice is done once a month at Kadampa Buddhist Centers around the world, and during COVID it is being done 6 times over a 24-hour period on the 8th day of each month. Here is a 6-minute video explaining more about her if  you have time:

Feel free to leave any comments or questions in the box below.

Giving up self-hatred once and for all

5.5 mins read.

Kadampa Buddha 4Call me biased, but I can’t help thinking that Buddha Shakyamuni is the best psychologist who ever walked the earth. Yet he is also transcendent, visionary. His vision is not just about us all feeling better, but about us all being our very best self, which just happens to be enlightened.

Following directly on from this article, How to stop being so down on ourselves.

A friend of mind recently went through the stuff of nightmares, a hellish trauma. This only happened in November, but she feels that with Dharma she should have “got over it by now,” and is upset with herself for feeling constant flashes of anger, fear, and sadness. Instead of accepting these unpleasant thoughts as entirely normal post-traumatic weather in a sky-like mind, she is buying into them and feeling they define her; and therefore she feels she is failing at being a “good Buddhist.” It will be hard for her to move beyond this horror if she keeps beating herself up, and her Buddhist practices and meditations will just be overlayed onto a sense of an inadequate self. I am glad we had a chance to talk yesterday because this is exactly the kind of problem we are dealing with here.

The last 4 articles have been about toxic self-criticism or self-hatred, what’s wrong with it, and where it comes from, including the relationship between our experience, sense of self, intentions, actions, and life. Now, with all this practical insight, we’re ready to give it up once and for all.

So how do we? First it might be helpful to see how NOT to.

Option 1. Change my view of self?

pep talk in mirrorMaybe we think the first step to overcoming self-hatred is changing our sense of self by telling ourselves we are great?

But this doesn’t work, any more than it works for someone else to tell us we’re great if we’re not feeling it. Maybe we talk to ourselves in the mirror: “You’re wonderful! You can do anything!” But our experience tells us otherwise. Affirmations or pep talks in the mirror won’t work if we’re feeling crummy inside.

Option 2. Change my intentions?

So maybe I should change my intentions or wishes?

But that doesn’t work while we are holding onto a limited view of self because what we want depends on whom we think we are, our sense of identity. So, for example, if we feel we’re a really hopeless person, we cannot help but have underwhelming wishes that hold us back from realizing our potential. This in turn makes us feel even more hopeless.

Option 3. Change my actions?

Often we try to change our actions through sheer will power, for example by forcing ourselves to do things outside our comfort zone, things that are supposed to be good for us. However, this is a stretch and not sustainable because there is a gulf between our head and our heart. It generally winds up with us having to control or suppress our actual wishes, which can make us feel hypocritical or more conflicted. For example, if we feel we need to be on a diet but are identifying ourself as an overweight loser whose only comfort is food, we may lock the fridge door but then give in and stuff ourselves later.

To summarize, what we do depends upon what we want, which in turn depends upon who we think we are.

So what CAN I change?!

No-one-can-make-you-feel-inferior-withoutGiven this, what do we need to change in order to get rid of self-hatred and other delusions? We have to change our EXPERIENCE. And this starts by getting in touch with our peaceful, pure, and boundless nature. It is not a case of, “Whatever! I can’t do this, it’s not me!”, believing that our lack of peace and incompetence is our very nature. Look what that leads too! We need to know our real nature or potential versus doubting it.

In How to Transform Your Life (free here), Geshe Kelsang explains:

Buddha compared our Buddha nature to a gold nugget in dirt, for no matter how disgusting a person’s delusions may be, the real nature of their mind remains undefiled, like pure gold. In the heart of even the cruelest and most degenerate person exists the potential for limitless love, compassion, and wisdom.

We need to discover who we truly are. This can be as simple at first as doing a short breathing meditation and giving ourselves some moments to identify with the result. When we disconnect from the external world and the internal chatter, we discover an innate peace of mind and goodness. We have changed our experience to one of relative happiness and contentment. We start to get what Buddha means about our mind being like a limitless sky.

hero inside 2If we sit with this for long enough (as a guest writer explained beautifully here and I plan on exploring more in the next article), we come to realize we have developed a new view of ourself. We have changed our basis of imputation. And we can build upon this with many virtuous and wise states of mind, all the stages of the path of Sutra and Tantra if we so desire.

A conversation

 Just as I was writing all this, I overheard a conversation at the next table in this Denver café – a young woman was sharing with her friend how she hadn’t been invited to a social occasion: “I don’t like it; it makes me feel small. Who does she think she is?!” The other commiserated animatedly with some swear words and distasteful “facts” about the unfriendly person; and they both laughed.

To serve and protect our unworthy small self, to try and make ourselves feel bigger, one strategy is to be down on somebody else and ideally get other people to agree with us.

feeling small 2The dissing and laughter seems to have solved the problem temporarily! But, no, after a brief relief they are back on the subject – “What I want to say but can’t is ‘I’m tired of you being so b****.”

What her friend could usefully say to empower her is, “Look at the limited self you’re holding onto right now. It’s not actually you. It is a fake sense of self. Just let it go. You can be the master of your own moods.” But instead they are both now pinning all the frustration about the way she feels on the b**** friend who didn’t invite her; and that person of course is out of their control so there is no solution there.

As mentioned all over the place, there are two problems here. The inner problem can be solved by dissolving away the limited self by realizing it’s not actually there, and identifying with her natural self-contained happiness and boundless potential instead. On that basis, maybe she can find the courage to talk to her b**** friend, making an attempt to solve the outer problem, but in a calm way, without feeling on the defensive. If she does that, her friend is also more likely to listen.

The next installment is here.

Comments welcome!

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Quick fix meditation on emptiness

7.5 mins read

While we continue to harbor the 2 ego-centered minds of self-grasping ignorance and self-cherishing, our lives can quickly take a sinister turn. Everything that was working out for usinisters can so quickly go wrong when our own and others’ delusions such as anger, attachment, pride, and jealousy wreck everything – work, supreme court nominations, families, marriages, these can all implode and leave us finding everything and everyone so weird and distasteful, even the people we thought we understood.

Do you ever have thoughts like this: “I don’t like this! I want to escape! I want to get away from all these annoying and/or demanding people and crushing responsibilities/anxieties/stressors! I want to get away and forget about it all — the worrying family, the depressive exes, the needy friends, the daily grind, the constant pressure of the endless to-do list, the boring commute, the insane politics, the scary climate change, the racist system, the cruelty everywhere I look, the sickness and ageing and death ….” And that’s just for starters.

Maybe we save up all year to go on vacation to get away from it all, but before long we want to get away from the airport queues, the sunburn, the sand in our teeth, the vacationcredit card debt, and the bad memories and anxieties we accidentally brought along in our luggage.

The thing is, regardless of our circumstances, and wherever we find ourselves in samsara, the only way we are going to finally get away from our suffering is if we learn how to increase our inner peace and, above all, learn how to dissolve all suffering into (bliss and) emptiness. We need to take time to do this every single day. Even taking ourselves off to a deserted cave in the middle of nowhere to do a long solitary retreat is not going to crack it otherwise.

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has explained over and over again in all his books on Sutra and Tantra exactly how we can do this. I find this too incredible for words. Because these methods work every single time. No matter how busy or over-scheduled I become, giving myself a little time to meditate on emptiness is to find the way out of the feelings of being overwhelmed, the tight crowded thoughts that make everything seem unmanageable.

And the more we have to do, and the more people who need our attention, the more we need to apply this wisdom, as I talk about in this article, “Going wide means going deep.”

Moreover, quite the opposite of being irresponsible, Geshe Kelsang explains in his mind-boggling new commentary on Avalokiteshvara practice how cultivating the recognition of all forms, sounds, and thoughts as mere name not other than emptiness is the only way to quickly release all six classes of being from suffering. Please read this latest book, The Mirror of Dharma, when you get a chance; it feels very blessed to me.

A quick fix meditation

happy mind aloneI shared my thoughts on how to meditate on the emptiness of the self in this article. Once we have gotten a taste of that, we can try this quick-fix meditation – it is my main go-to when I’m feeling oversubscribed or worried about anything.

So, let’s say you’re feeling upset or overwhelmed. Soon as you can, take yourself off to a quiet place (even if that means letting the restroom live up to its name.) Sit down, breathe a little and get into your heart, and ask yourself:

Who is upset?

Answer: ME. I am.

Then ask yourself: Is my body upset? Is my mind upset?

Answer: No. I am upset. That I or Me seems to exist all on its own, from its own side, pretty darned solid and real and upset; and I seem to be grasping at it without question.

But now I will question it. So now look for this I or Me. Is it your body? No. That’s just flesh and bone. Is it your mind? No. That’s just formless awareness, just thoughts, no me embedded in them. I am not just a thought, I am ME.

So take away the body and mind, and the I or Me remains? No. Not at all. It’s gone.

When we have some experience of this searching and not finding, our strong sense of self disappears. There is empty-like space there, the absence of self, NO self — and big relief.

It is not the appearance of our I and other things existing in a certain fixed way, or external to the mind, but the belief in that appearance as being true that leads to our being upset. If we can let go of that belief that our I or me exists in a certain fixed way by observing how it dissolves into emptiness, this frees us up to name or impute or project our self, our world, and other people differently. We can arise within the space of that emptiness, inseparable from that emptiness, as a mere appearance who is very relaxed and happy, or a Bodhisattva, or a Buddha, or whoever we want.

“The Pure Land is closer than thought”, a friend just messaged me. Make of that what you will.

Getting some context

If we are confident in our path to liberation and enlightenment, and hold that as our main priority and job, we are less inclined to become “too closely involved in the external situation” as Geshe Kelsang puts it in How to Transform Your Life — like children building sandcastles, excited when it’s built and anxious when it’s swept away. Instead, it can be an enjoyable daily challenge to use the arising and subsiding of all fleeting, insubstantial cloud-like appearances as fuel for our renunciation, compassion, and wisdom. We have a big mind perspective, like the sky, and thus the space to play with the clouds.

leaving past behindA practical idea … instead of reaching for the Smartphone first thing in the morning (get another alarm clock!) and/or starting to itemize all the things to worry about that day and/or ruminating on everything that is going wrong with our life, thus cramming our mind with clouds before we’ve even got to the coffee, it is a really good idea to start the day by counting our blessings. We can do that by tuning into our precious human life and the kindness of others, for example, letting happiness wash over us.

We can also set ourselves in flight by remembering impermanence — laying down the heavy burden of the past (which is in fact no more substantial than the dream from which we have just awoken). Considering that this could be our last day on Earth, we may as well use it to be a Bodhisattva or Buddha.

Wanna be a wishfulfilling jewel?

wishfulfilling jewelFrom a Tantric point of view, as someone said the other day on Facebook, what’s stopping us from thinking of ourselves in this way, using the words from the Liberating Prayer:

Your body is a wishfulfilling jewel,
Your speech is supreme, purifying nectar,
And your mind is refuge for all living beings.

This is a description of Buddha Shakyamuni and, if we play our cards right, one day this will be a description of us. In Buddhism, faith in Buddha necessitates faith in our own enlightened potential. We may as well start practicing.

Maybe just give this thought a go and see what it feels like. What’s it like to think outside the box about ourselves? There is nothing to stop us arising from emptiness as a Buddha or, if we don’t feel ready for that yet, as a magic crystal:

It is said that there exists a magic crystal that has the power to purify any liquid in which it is placed. Those who cherish all living beings are like this crystal — by their very presence they remove negativity form the world and give back love and kindness. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

How are you?

Someone asked me how I was the other day, and for some reason I couldn’t find the words to reply. But it got me thinking that a more interesting question than “How are you?” might be “Who are you?” For who we think we are will be determining both how we feel and what we plan on doing, including the karma we create.  

Geshe-la 1-1I don’t suppose this question will take off 😄 But I find it useful because it reminds me of who I want to be and what I want to do, rather than just how I am feeling at that moment. “Who are you and what do you seek?” as it asks us in Heruka Tantra.

Atisha used to ask the people he met,

Do you have a good heart?

This question might not take off either, but I think it could help society if it did, putting the emphasis on what we are all intending rather than how we are all feeling.

Our intentions are more significant than our feelings or experiences as they are what create the causes or karma for our feelings and experiences – not much we can do about the ripening of our previous karma, but much we can do about the karma we are creating now. What do you think about that?

And who are you today?! 😄

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Finding a quick way to spiritual realizations

A guest article by a modern Buddhist practitioner who works full time as a manager of software engineer teams.

Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 10.46.40 AM4.5 mins read

Have you ever thought to yourself anything along these lines: “How am I supposed to develop a state of perfect concentration — I can only focus for a few seconds before my mind wanders away?!” In Buddha’s teachings we learn about attaining incredible spiritual realizations, such as universal love, single-pointed concentration, and omniscient wisdom, yet we might feel as if these are something completely impossible for us.

Luckily, this is not true. Spiritual attainments or realizations arise as a dependent relationship — they are not something we either have or do not have. It is more helpful to think of them as an inner evolution. If we keep creating the causes, then the results we are looking for will necessarily appear.

Increasing the potentials for spiritual realizations

Tharpa Publications just released Geshe Kelsang’s new book The Mirror of Dharma. The eBook of this is now available for download. In it, Geshe Kelsang says:

If we have within ourself a strong potential for spiritual realizations, then with this condition we will easily develop and maintain profound knowledge and spiritual realizations. We can accomplish this condition, a strong potential for spiritual realizations, within ourself by sincerely practicing the Guru yoga of the Wisdom Buddha Je Tsongkhapa.

buddha teaching

During the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, many people easily attained high spiritual realizations. This was due to the strong potentials for spiritual realizations already in their minds.

In these spiritually degenerate times, it seems far more rare to possess these strong potentials, such that making progress on the spiritual path can often feel rough and difficult. Nonetheless, due to our connection to the Wisdom Buddha Je Tsongkhapa, we can become exactly like the disciples of Buddha, making quick and easy progress on our path to enlightenment.

Imagine the unbelievable confidence we would possess if we received the teachings on the perfection of wisdom directly from Buddha Shakyamuni! Through the kindness of Je Tsongkhapa, who was predicted by Buddha Shakaymuni, we are able to develop this same confidence and experience these same results.

The easiest way to develop these potentials

Geshe Kelsang goes on to say:

Through this we will receive the powerful blessings of all the Buddhas through our Guru so that we will easily develop and maintain profound knowledge and spiritual realizations.

Je TsongkhapaIn general, we say that all spiritual realizations ripen through receiving Buddha’s blessings. In particular, as Kadampa Buddhists we rely upon the blessings of Buddha Je Tsongkhapa.

Je Tsongkhapa was a Tibetan Buddhist Master and scholar who founded the New Kadampa lineage. Buddha Shakyamuni predicted him in King of Instructions Sutra, explaining that he  would spread and clarify Buddha’s teachings of Sutra and Tantra and prevent people from following mistaken views. Believing this Wisdom Buddha is in the space before us or at our heart and holding a mind of faith in him creates potent conditions for easy spiritual attainments.

As with any relationship, we first need to discover who Je Tsongkhapa is and then get closer and closer to him. Over time we’ll come to see in our own experience that the skill of his methods and the power of his blessings are unequalled.

It is because of Je Tsongkhapa that we are now able to easily integrate all the practices of Lamrim (the stages of the path to enlightenment), Lojong (training the mind), and Tantric Mahamudra into our daily life. He compiled all 84,000 teachings of Buddha into one complete and straightforward path to enlightenment.

The fact that this path can be completed by even the busiest person is one of the miracle powers of Je Tsongkhapa. If we entrust ourselves to these methods and blessings, we will soon develop advanced spiritual attainments.

(There is more explanation about Je Tsongkhapa in the books Heart Jewel and Great Treasury of Merit.)

Identifying with these potentials

Practitioners such as Gyalwa Ensapa and his disciples and Je Sherab Senge and his disciples are witnesses to this. They attained the state of enlightenment within three years. This is magical. Through this we can understand how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to practice these instructions. ~ The Mirror of Dharma

When we hear about enlightenment, we may concede that it could be possible if we could give it a few lifetimes worth of training. Thinking like this underestimates both our potential and the power of our teacher’s blessings.

Pure minds create the experience of pure worlds and impure minds create the experience of impure worlds. This means that experiencing our own pure world is a change of mind away.

If we want to have magical results in our practice, we need to learn to stop identifying with our limitations and ordinary appearances, to see through them and past them. Our limitations are momentary appearances arising from potentials in our mind. If we quickly increase our spiritual potentials through Guru yoga practice, and identify with these every day, then what appears to our mind will soon start to be radically different. It is just a matter of time before we experience the same results as the practitioners who have come before us.

Make the future an enlightened one

just-shower-thoughts-0-when-people-talk-about-traveling-to-the-past-30585898In movies about time travel, characters are very cautious of changing even the slightest detail of the past because they fear how it might affect the future they came from. We can apply this notion to changing our mind.

Even the slightest positive imprint we place in our mind has the potential to create dramatic consequences for our future self. Every day we can create these spiritual potentials and receive blessings. Eventually, maybe even in a few years, we will find we have traveled to a future in which we are now enlightened and benefiting every living being!

Over to you, comments welcome.

Inner being

5 min read

Refuge is what we turn to to get rid of our suffering. We go for refuge because we need refuge, or protection, from our various problems, big or small. We arguably spend all day going for refuge, trying to get rid of one thing by turning to something else.

people walking in NYC.jpeg

Like, just now I was feeling a big sleepy, so went to grab a coffee from my local NYC coffee shop. (Passing waves of people on the street seemingly on their way somewhere, no doubt in pursuit of relief just like me.) If we are feeling unwell, we turn to medicine; if we’re lonely, maybe we turn to friends or Tinder; if we’re hungry, we eat something if we can; if we’re bored, maybe we go online; if we’re uncomfortable, we shift our body into another position. Etc. Those are relatively tame things to do – we also have a large variety of more suspect things we turn to, such as opioids or the pursuit of power, status, and extreme wealth (check out this video:)

Sped-up movies

You know those sped-up movies? Watching them, we can see how we’re always on the go — going here, doing this, going there, doing that. Getting up, sitting down, propping ourselves up, lying down, walking around, sitting down again. Each day is a constant pursuit of little relief hits from what are basically physical or mental aches and pains. And we’ve been doing this our entire life. In all our lives, since beginningless time.

But the interesting thing is that we have just as many problems to solve as ever, don’t you find? We have just as many physical aches and pains, quite possibly more given that this body doesn’t get more comfortable as it gets older. Not to mention the near-constant mental aches and pains. So, we’re turning for refuge to other things all the time, but they are clearly only providing some temporary relief at best.New york subway

This is not to say that we shouldn’t eat, drink coffee, get a job, surf the internet, etc. That’s not Buddha’s point. His point is, are we finding the lasting happiness and freedom that we all long for? Are these temporary refuges sufficient for us, or could we actually be doing more? Could we be getting rid of our aches and pains more effectively?

And so far we’re not even talking about those BIG problems — namely ageing, sickness, major loss, catastrophes, and death — just the run of the mill irritations and discomforts. Coffee, the internet, power/status, and hot dates don’t even touch the big problems.

Ultimate refuge

This is where we turn to the subject of refuge in Buddhism. This is a vast subject — all Buddha’s teachings are included within refuge one way or another, because basically Buddhist refuge means that instead of turning to worldly solutions, or sense pleasures, or indeed anything outside our mind, we turn inside to the practice of Buddhadharma.

The main object of refuge in Buddhism is our own efforts in practicing Dharma: such as increasing our inner peace, getting rid of our delusions (sometimes known, with good reason, as “afflictions”), practicing patience, love, compassion, and wisdom. We turn to Dharma experience because we appreciate that it is the effective and lasting protection from our problems.New York shrine

There would be no Dharma without Buddha Shakyamuni, he taught it in our world; and Buddhas also emanate as Spiritual Guides who can guide us and bless our minds. Without Buddhas, or enlightened beings, it would be impossible to practice Dharma. And we also turn to Sangha, such as our fellow Dharma practitioners – others who are also interested in solving their problems, if you like, from the inside, not always from the outside.

Buddhism

At the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, when he was walking around in a form that everyone could see, he never used the word “Buddhism.” The word “Buddhism” is a new invention. It is one of those Western “ism” words — we took Buddha and added ism to the end of it.

Buddha instead would apparently call his disciples “inner beings.” Nangpa cho, if you want to know the Tibetan and impress people at parties; which I believe, though correct me if I’m wrong, literally means inner Dharma. Those who practice the teachings, go for refuge to the Three Jewels, are inner beings, because instead of turning outwards for solutions to their problems they are trying to turn inwards to transform the mind.

new york freedom towerAnd the reason we practice Dharma is out of compassion, to free ourselves and others. To end suffering. To end suffering for everybody: humans, animals, insects, everybody. That’s the end goal in Buddhism — to ourselves become more and more of an object of refuge until eventually we ourselves are a Buddha.

Going for refuge to Dharma

Putting effort into practicing Dharma means that we take delight in it, really enjoy it. We see it as a real solution to everything that ails us and everybody else. We love it, we understand its benefits, we understand that it works. So we naturally turn to it with effort. Effort doesn’t mean straining and pushing, it means enjoyment — its full name is joyful effort. If we enjoy things, we do them, you’ve probably noticed.

Going for refuge to Buddha

We also put effort into receiving blessings and inspiration from Buddha. We can do this by just feeling close to enlightened beings, because from their side they’re already close to us, indeed one with us. By tuning into blessings, our minds experience huge amounts of power and inspiration.

Going for refuge to Sangha

love is the real nuclear bombAnd then we put effort into receiving help from Sangha, which means we allow ourselves to be encouraged and inspired by other people who are practicing Dharma. They’re all trying to gain the experiences of cherishing others and patience, for example, and all trying to get rid of their attachment and irritation. The fact that they haven’t managed it all yet doesn’t matter; we’re still motivated by them because they’re trying. They can be very good examples for us. And we can make an effort not just to receive help from Sangha but to help them too.

My feeling is that Sangha don’t have to be signed-up Buddhists – I find anyone who is relying on inner refuge, for example compassion in the face of adversity, can work as refuge and inspiration for me.

Over to you. Any thoughts to contribute on the subject of inner being?

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Building self-confidence with meditation

7 mins read

Scroll down for a ten-minute meditation to help you relax and build your confidence.

I got the chance over the holidays to house sit in the Rockies, taking care of 2 Dogs, 2 Cats, and an unspecified number of Fish. I took the time to do lots of meditation, in between animals jumping on me, that is, and hiking up snowy mountains.

25994971_10155953488152442_8915196409857787568_nNever since I was a child woken cheerily by my mom have I been so consistently warmly greeted in the mornings… What I learned from Charlie and Maverick is that it can be very cool waking up — to jump out of bed and wag your figurative tail and be practically ecstatic to see everyone … You can bounce delightedly around the yard (again, figuratively) and relish every tiny treat that comes your way, as if it was the Best Thing Ever.

This is not, I am sorry to say, how I normally wake up, which is slowly and requiring tea. But I figured this week that if dogs can be this enthusiastic about waking up and being alive each morning, then I certainly can too with my precious human life.

And so to help get our 2018 (Ed: and 2020, same still applies) off to a good start, I’m now going to outline a ten-minute meditation for developing some confidence in inner peace (as explained in the article Changing direction), as well as in ourselves. We can relax into our heart, contemplate a little, and decide to love our way out of our problems instead of relying upon the usual attachment or aversion.

downloadFirst a bit more background.

Has anyone not had a problem today?

Whenever I ask this, it is rare that people say yes. Truth is, everyone in the world has problems, except for those who have controlled their minds. And whatever problem we’ve got, the first thing we need to be able to do is relax and let it go. Stop holding onto it so tightly and — even if only for a short while — quit trying to solve that problem outside of ourselves.

Whatever problem we’re having at the moment, we can examine our customary methods of solving it. Do these involve attachment or aversion — trying to fix something, manipulate the object or person, change the situation? And is it working?

It’s not working, is it? That’s pretty wild. Why do we keep doing it? We don’t have to keep doing it, so at least there’s that.

f7f610fb4efcff233711ba54ea373a31Our inner peace is always there, latent, because it is the very nature of our mind. It is just that we are constantly shaking it up, like shaking up a glass of water for example. Left to its own devices, when not following attachment and aversion, our mind is as clear and pure and peaceful as a still glass of water. But when something attractive or unpleasant appears to us, it’s like we shake this water up and down and around and around. Our mind gets turbulent; it can go quite crazy quite quickly. And the peace and and the purity and the clarity – why, we forget it’s even there.

We feel so involved with the object outside our mind, and it’s so frustrating because there’s nothing we can do about so many of these things we try to do things about. Such as trying to change other people’s behavior.

How’s that going for you? Trying to get people to cooperate? Good luck. At best, we can get people to cooperate for a few days or a few minutes. Through force, or bribery … Or if it happens to coincide with their interests. We can’t even control our own thoughts at the moment, so what makes us think we can control other people or external situations? copo_agua

As I’ve said loads of times, this doesn’t mean we stop doing anything practical at all. But it does mean that we change our motivation and our understanding of where problems really come from and how to solve them for ourselves and others.

So here’s the meditation:

We can begin by simply relaxing into a good meditation posture, with a straight back. We relax our shoulders, relax our arms with our hands resting in our lap, and so on. We take a moment to focus on how we’re sitting and let everything else go. We don’t need it for this meditation.

We can feel contented for the duration of this meditation, thinking:

I have this opportunity to increase my compassion and wisdom, learning to use it to solve my own and others’ problems.

We feel too, that we’re already in our heart. We have dropped from our head into our heart, and all wave-like problematic thoughts have dissolved away into the clarity and peace of our ocean-like root mind. Just imagine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now to settle the mind some more, everything that’s on our mind, everything that needs to be solved outside, all those uncontrolled thoughts that keep trying to go outwards all the time … these all take the form of thick heavy smoke. And we recognize:

I don’t need to keep thinking these thoughts that constantly shake up my natural peace of mind. I can let them go.

Every time we exhale, we now breathe this thick smoke through our nostrils, and it completely disappears. We do this for a few minutes, feeling our mind becoming lighter and more free with every breath.

Now every time we inhale, feel that our breath is in the aspect of very blissful light, and breathe this deep into our heart. It is not just light, it is inner peace, it is blessings, it is the love, compassion, and wisdom of all enlightened beings. We feel this filling our heart with every in-breath, spiritual sunshine dispelling the darkness of ignorance. We do this for a few minutes with concentration and conviction.

Now we are in our heart, experiencing peace, warmth, light. It is true:

I don’t have a care in the world!

Our mind feels radiant and peaceful. We feel happy. (Even if we don’t feel totally happy just yet, we can still imagine we do – everything starts in the imagination, everything IS imagination or imputation.)

And we develop the confidence that we have everything we need inside us: 

I don’t need to keep going outside of myself to get happy and solve problems, I already got it going on inside.

So we relax into this peaceful feeling, thinking:

This is me. I can always feel this way. And I can deepen this.

Within this peaceful space, we can now take any problem that is coming up for us in our life and spend a couple of minutes seeing how we’re trying to solve it with attachment or aversion, how we are grappling with it like a dog with a bone.

And then we can examine in our own experience whether this is working for us, whether it has ever worked, and whether it is ever going to work.

If we check like this, we can see that we’re trying to solve our problems and get happy using the very same minds that are creating these problems and making us unhappy in the first place.

So we can contemplate this conclusion for a couple of minutes:

I am going to give up this useless way of solving problems — by dropping these delusions and using Dharma instead. The more I familiarize myself with wisdom and compassion, for example, the more genuinely peaceful and problem-free I will become.

Finally, we can observe how, instead of other people being the objects of our delusions, we can transform them into the objects of our love and compassion; at which point they cease being a problem for us.

And one day, with practice, we will have the love and compassion of a fully enlightened being, constantly radiating bliss into the hearts of all living beings, zapping and transforming them with blessings.th

We’ll be like Buddha Shakyamuni, who is now appearing in our life and in front of us as our Spiritual Guide, guiding and inspiring us through these teachings. He is surrounded by the countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas — those who have completed their mind-training — and we can think:

I want to and I will become part of this enlightened assembly.

With this intention we can, if we want to, do the Liberating Prayer.

Then, when we rise from this meditation, our mind is calmer and will remain so for as long as we stay mindful of our own inner peace. We will feel more confident that we have what we need inside us and, interestingly enough, as a result we’ll get a lot more done to help people.

Happy New Year! May we solve our own and others’ problems for real, and bring genuine peace and happiness into the world.

Last installment here.

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