A guest article. A couple of friends have written to me in the last couple of days with their responses to the events in Atlanta, saying that I could share these with you.
The power of love ~ by Hannah Kim
Recently someone texted me about recent violence toward Asian Americans. Here is what seems to be coming out of me presently:
1. It seems to me that ignorance hurts everyone. 2. We can generate renunciation for ourselves and compassion for others in order to protect our minds. 3. And lastly we can remember that the best thing we can do right now is to practice loving kindness. It is the only appropriate response — loving kindness, compassion and wisdom. These are the only paths that will lead us out of the chaos, fear and darkness of our times.
This teaching comes from Gen-la Dekyong during the US Summer Festival 2020, which was concurrent with the George Floyd protests. She said that as American Kadampa Buddhists we need to practice loving kindness; and I believe this holds true right now as well.
Especially if you are not a Buddhist, or even if you are a Buddhist, sometimes it feels as if suggesting the practice of loving kindness can sound very simple minded or perfunctory. After all how can simply loving people stop violence and hatred when what I really want to do is break something or hit someone?! Or maybe as Buddhists we are just overly trying to be nice, or, worse, ‘virtuous’, or even high and mighty, idealistic.
But I’ve come to realize that Buddha is not saying practice loving kindness in some general, nebulous, though kind hearted way. He’s saying that in our moments of deepest pain, darkness, fear, or discouragement, we must generate affectionate love. True affectionate love will lift our hearts, minds and heads from the morass which is the pit of samsara. It functions as medicine to heal our own pain and the pain of others which can lead to such senseless and hurtful actions.
Geshe Kelsang once said:
Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys our enemies.
He means this in a very specific and literal way. Specific because this is what we are supposed to be doing right now, every day, for every heartache and pain. Literal because we can be nice to people even if others are not nice to us. Ha!
We need to become people who practice loving kindness, compassion and wisdom in order to alter the course of our collective fate, our collective karma.
Lastly, because no one says it better, from Meaningful to Behold:
Nowadays, with the world in turmoil, there is a particular need for Westerners to cultivate bodhichitta. If we are to make it through these perilous times, true Bodhisattvas must appear in the West.
The power of prayer ~ by Cai
This is my mom, Bây; she is Vietnamese. (I’m the baby in her arms.) We came to America when I was three years old. We endured racism in a small white town in Montana, where I spent most of my childhood. After all these years, I never thought I would again find myself concerned for my mom’s safety and well-being. I am heartbroken by the increasing violence against Asian Americans.
A few Asian American friends have asked me what I am doing to help as a Buddhist. Every day I wake up and make prayers for my mother and my AAPI elders, brothers, and sisters. I ask the divine to make my mother and others invisible to those who want to harm them. I also pray that those who wish to harm are blocked from having the opportunity to harm.
However, with loving-kindness I also pray for those who engage in acts of violence and who inspire violence through their hateful rhetoric. They are cruel and violent because they are profoundly ignorant and riddled with fear and insecurity, and often most likely possessed by or under the influence of demonic interferences. So every day I ask an assembly of wrathful compassionate Deities to remove interferences from the body, speech, and mind of those spewing hatred and engaging in acts of violence. I ask that ignorance be removed from their minds to create an opening in their hearts to be kinder, happier, and more peaceful. Peaceful people do not harm others.
I then finish my prayer by visualizing all those who would do harm experiencing a peaceful state of mind, causing them to see the truth that everyone is deserving of understanding, acceptance, and compassion.
I’m a white Australian/American and the video of George Floyd being murdered by a police officer, while other police officers watched, is not something I can ever “un-see”. While painful, as a Buddhist practitioner discomfort is something I am trying to learn to work through, not repress. I am no expert, but I would like to share my journey of looking deeper into this with you in case it’s of any help.
I have been studying and practicing Dharma for around 20 years now, and I am quite aware of the concept of reading/listening but not hearing, hearing but not knowing, knowing but not understanding, and understanding but not realizing. We can read about, listen to, and feel that we understand many things without it deeply touching our heart or moving us. Anyone who has ever had a Dharma insight will understand this point.
My profoundly kind Spiritual Guide has been giving me more or less the same words of wisdom for two decades, and I smile, enjoy the small progress I make, and don’t rise the next day with the fury of a Bodhisattva in my heart to decry all the simple and silly attachments and other delusions in my life in pursuit of protecting all living beings. I have access to the most complete and clear Buddhist path, I have faith in the teachings — and yet I hide in the so-called-comfort of my own samsaric existence — somewhat knowingly!
Just before I start ….
From the different opinions I am hearing on the matter of racism against black Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement, I realize that what I am about to say might not resonate with all people, including all Buddhists. All I can reply is that I understand you and I hear you.
To those who say this conversation is necessarily political, I reply that I feel the lines between political and civil & human rights seem to be blurred. People are confused with the verbiage and politicians are also standing on platforms that are about humanity – making “taking sides” about humanitarian issues seem political. But the issues are humanitarian whether a politician agrees with them or not. And the deep solutions are not political but spiritual.
On this subject, I think a lot of people are mistaking being asked to “take a side” as being political. If this were the case then the whole of Buddhism is political. I think that the only thing being asked of people is for them to pick the side of the Bodhisattva. I am no expert at being a Bodhisattva, but in my experience of trying, the best way to arrive at the act of having compassion for “all living beings” is through specific living beings, in a targeted way. I believe that Venerable Geshe Kelsang says that at the end of almost all the Mahayana meditations on developing love and compassion — start with our karmic circle.*
What can I myself do?
With that out of the way, I will now talk about my own journey. Before my very recent insights, I was looking but not seeing. I believed that because I had heard of the racism against black Americans, I understood it. In the past I also believed I knew Dharma before I had any actual insights. Neither were the case. And I suspect I am at the very beginning of my journey. As Buddhists, this is our specialty — so my feeling is that we do not need be afraid or have self-judgement. Instead we can have plenty of joy that we are trying – trying to get in there and root out anything keeping us in samsara.
I have read about the disparity between white Americans and black Americans. I have seen it on the news, including the numbers of deaths during the coronavirus being disproportionately weighted towards black Americans. I have seen videos, and more than I would like to count, not just of abject racism, but of the police murder of black Americans. Captured on video! And yet, I have done little for the cause.
I support several charities regularly, one of them against animal abuse. I never open the mail they send because I can’t un-see those images, and they are horrific. Why is that? I know many gay women and men who have been abused, women who have been raped, and black people who have suffered deeply at the hands of racism. Again here, I am supportive and loving, but have not necessarily actively engaged in practical or maybe even specific spiritual solutions to these atrocities in the past. So why not?
Isn’t it good enough to be a good person? Isn’t it good enough to do good things when you can?
I am a Buddhist. I am a Bodhisattva-in-training. And, as such, I believe deeply in the merit of Buddhism as a solution to all of our actual or inner problems. Only once I am enlightened will I truly be able to help all living beings … all of the time. So, what of my journey to enlightenment? How should I spend my time on the way there? How should I prioritize the many demands pulling me in a multitude of directions? And how does my spiritual practice intersect with practical solutions in my daily life?
Being true to the tenet of Mahayana Buddhism, having compassion for all living beings without exception, a Bodhisattva finds the suffering of all living beings – which means any living being — unbearable. The caveat here is that the Bodhisattva actually “finds” the suffering. This would take not just looking, but actually hearing – or deeply understanding what that meant. That is when we find something unbearable. This is also the reason I don’t open my mail if I don’t want to look at what it is showing me because it is unbearable. It’s not that I don’t care, in fact, I care deeply; but I am making a number of fatal flaws as a human and especially as a Buddhist.
First, I am letting the discomfort of the “unbearable” feeling prevent me from really looking, from really knowing, from really seeing. I think this is where a lot of well-intentioned people fall short. We look, find it painful to see, briefly acknowledging how terrible that must be “for all involved,” and we look away, getting back to our busy daily lives.
This same feeling keeps me from even engaging in conversation about the topic or racism when it comes up for fear of saying something “wrong” that would lead to a feeling of hurt or embarrassment. I know this does not reflect well on my character, but it is true. I raised this issue with a black girlfriend recently, to which she said:
Can you bear a small moment of discomfort in pursuit of a solution to racism, for a lifetime and generations of deep suffering?
I hope this sentence never leaves my mind.
Second, on the basis of the fact that we “look away”, we deprioritize because we have not truly understood what the problem is. Today as I write this, it is a Saturday. My to-do list, like any other day, has more on it that I can possibly achieve in the time I have. I run a company, and between my work and home life, I seem to not have a moment to spare. And yet, if I looked up the street and saw several houses on fire, I would immediately abandon what I was doing and go help. Why? Because I can see it clearly. Lives are in danger. I couldn’t sit here finishing the financial reports for my company while simultaneously watching a house – with people in it – burn to the ground, all because I was too busy with other priorities.
Third, and just as important as the other items, is that even if we do have the time, the money, or the inclination to act, we are not identified with the solution, and we don’t have the confidence that what we are doing is really helping. This discourages us from continuing to act. This in turn undermines anything ever changing.
A Bodhisattva not only finds the suffering of any other living being unbearable, but is, at the same time, identified with the solution, knowing that freedom from suffering is possible. They have a clear vision of the solution and result, and a path to get there. In this way, a Bodhisattva is always confident in their actions, never stops working for the sake of all living beings, and never feels discomfort. The mind of compassion is a peaceful happy mind.
We need to be very honest with ourselves when we check – is my compassion a happy mind or not? If not, why not? Or maybe we even need to check by asking – how can I feel happy when I see the suffering of other living beings? It is not that Bodhisattvas feel happy when they see suffering, rather that their mind is never moved from peaceful confidence in the solution; and, when they see suffering, moved by it, they act, knowing that what they do will be moving in the right direction.
Diving in …
And so, with all of this in mind, I went on a deep dive into racism against black Americans and its implications.
Seeing this, and knowing how little I had actively done in the past and considering my own opportunity or privilege, coming to this understanding about myself was actually a little bit of a shock. I had been resting on a belief that it was good enough to be a good person. It was good enough to consider all beings as equals. It was good enough to do the things I am already doing (of which there are some…). But the truth is, if we look (and we don’t have to look too far or deeply), the house is burning! And we must act now.
This is surely how a Bodhisattva would feel.
Going out of my way to help
And so what now? For me it is time to act personally, on both a spiritual and practical level, and it is time to use any platform I have to work against the disparity. The time to act is now!
Last week I got together with a group of Sangha friends with the explicit purpose of talking about this issue. We were there to be honest with one another so that we can change, and we were there to hold one another accountable to our wishes to change. We plan to continue these conversations regularly, and we are all committing to actions.
Last week I held a meeting with all my employees. In the meeting I read out some topline statistics about the differences between black lives and white lives in America. After this I stopped and I asked everyone to take a moment of silence to think about what this really meant. Because this is where we need to start. We need to notice how things actually are. We need to truly see, to move, to act.
After this, I showed pictures of many black Americans who had been shot by police in 2020. I read their names, their ages, their home cities, and for a few of them, I read their stories. After this I asked people to take a moment to mentally place the pictures of their own family members on these photos, in these stories and asked them to spend a few moments thinking about how they would feel if it were their child, parent, cousin, uncle, etc. Because if we contemplate this deeply, we will be unable to bear the suffering.
And finally, we talked about action.
For my company, this will mean making systemic and formal changes as to how we hire people, where we spend our money, and how we leverage our communication channels as platforms to bring about positive change. This will also mean that we will commit to keeping the conversation and the action going.
For a Buddhist, this means spiritual action, which incidentally will lead to practical action. We (me) need to uproot our own ignorance through looking honestly at our own mind, and our own racist tendencies, even if that is avoidance or concealment or denial. We need to examine those places we feel discomfort, and look at why we feel it and how to move past that. (If we find we are already completely free from discrimination, which some of you reading this may well be, then that is wonderful too, and there was no harm looking.) We need to develop authentic compassion, which is a peaceful, action-oriented mind. We need to understand the great and unnecessary tragedy that mistaken appearance and conception keep us trapped in this place. And we need to use all of this to develop a strong intention to become an actual Bodhisattva and a Buddha.
I want to finish this article with a quotation from Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:
Although there are many different parts of the body, such as the arms and legs,
We protect all these parts as equally as we protect the body itself.
In a similar way, although there are many different living beings,
I should cherish them all as equally as I cherish myself.
The suffering I experience
Does not harm others,
But I find it hard to bear
Because I cherish myself.
Likewise, the suffering of others
Does not harm me,
But, if I cherish others,
I shall find their suffering hard to bear.
Therefore, I should dispel others’ suffering
Simply because it is suffering, just like mine;
And I should bring happiness to others
Simply because they are living beings, just like me.
*Since I wrote the above, I have received some more feedback. In response to people saying things like (these are real questions), “Why don’t you feel it necessary to have these huge debates about the Syrians, the Palestinians, the Muslim Burmese? Are they not quite important enough? Where do we draw that line I wonder? Racism will not stop until delusions stop, it’s that simple. Why don’t you care equally for all the other minority groups and oppressed people around the world?”
Fair questions. One answer is that with regards to the Syrians, the Palestinians, and the Muslim Burmese, these people ALL MATTER. A child dies in the world every 10 seconds from hunger. More than a million (known) children are trafficked each year. Almost 30% of the world does not have access to safe drinking water. And I could go on… those trapped in refugee camps, victims of war, living in abject poverty, child marriages, the violence and abuse of animals….. These living beings ALL MATTER. All the time.
Drawing attention to one group is the only way we learn about it and can learn what it is that we can do to help. Don’t we want to help everyone? We can’t learn about gross injustices against “all living beings” at once. We are also not in a position to help everyone all at once either. But this happens to be an opportunity to speak up and do something about racism, which affects people all around me and right under my nose.
I think it is interesting to think about what it means that our job as Kadampas is to pray, and that the only way we will truly end racism is by ending self-cherishing and self-grasping. Until then, samsara will prevail over us. I agree full-heartedly with all of that. That being said, Geshe Kelsang tells us that modern Buddhism means to be “out there” in the modern world, the world we helped create, amongst people, helping them through example, through peaceful minds, through teaching, through giving advice, and, when able, through practical help too. Geshe-la would never say to NOT help someone if we see something practical that we could do. But do we see?
I’ve been thinking a lot about what activism means, and how it doesn’t mean going to demonstrations or even writing blog articles, but how it does mean living a life where we take every opportunity to protect the lives of human beings and animals we are intertwined with. I think if people have a platform – like a well read blog, or if they are a celebrity or a business owner or even a politician — then it is valuable to many people that they use their platform to speak up. Because this is what a black Kadampa said to me today:
The silence around racism is very loud
Touches us at the core of who we believe we are and who others are.
Over to you! Comments for the guest author are welcome below.
So says Buddha. Living beings are never our enemies, they are our kind mothers. Only delusions are our enemies.
I want to unpack that a bit because it has helped me stay sane, positive, calm, and with a big blissful heart, with room for everyone, even when I am in the very midst of arguing with people. (I do actually like a good argument, ahem debate — always have, as some of you may have noticed.) Like many of you, I have been discussing and debating Black Lives Matter* – coming from a place of wanting to be not just non-racist but also anti-racist, not just an ally but also an abolitionist. Why?
To be clear, this is not a political but humanitarian issue for me. I do not press political solutions, that is not my area. I do believe spiritual solutions are possible though.
I have felt pretty strongly about the stupidity and injustice of racism for years, maybe most of my life in unequal countries around the world; but there seems to be no better time than right now for us to do something about this 400-year-old US disaster. We seem to be in the middle of an historic outpouring of support that may actually make the difference, that is making a difference. I am not holding my breath for total equality, freedom, and justice just yet. This is samsara. But it would appear that a huge number of people are open to listening, learning, and seeing things they didn’t see before and, if this continues, it will show up in a fairer society.
What does racism have to do with Buddhism?
So what can Buddhism contribute? Or, more to the point, what can I as a Buddhist contribute? And what can I learn too? I was struck anew by this line from The Liberating Prayer a little earlier today:
You who love all beings without exception
It is so true, Buddha really does love all beings without exception, all the time! And how on earth does he manage to pull that off? How do Buddhas never ever lose their love and compassion for all living beings even when they don’t agree with a single word that they’re saying (which has got to be a lot of the time, right, given how much we are all hallucinating what’s going on?!) The answer is: because they never conflate living beings with their delusions.
It is because Buddhas distinguish between delusions and persons that they are able to see the faults of delusions without every seeing a single fault in any living being. Consequently their love and compassion for all living beings never diminish. We, on the other hand, fail to make this distinction, and so we are constantly finding fault with other people but do not recognize the faults of delusions, even those within our own mind. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness.
As we try to understand our own part in this world we have collectively created with others, and as we fight for not just temporary but permanent justice and equality for all beings, we can remember who our true enemies are. Is it not greed and hatred and ignorance that have kept racism alive for so long? These same three poisons that are responsible for every other atrocious thought, word, and deed that has ever occurred? Including cruelty all over the world every day, such as the rapidly growing sex slavery trade, or the mass incarceration, torture, and murder of millions of animals every single minute. Etc etc etc etc etc etc etc. These three poisons are responsible for all six realms of samsara, including the hell realms, for goodness sake, so of course they are responsible for injustice and racism. Systemic racism is but one room of the prison built on these delusions.
Yet living beings are not their delusions. Delusions are our worst enemies, not us. Blaming people for their delusions is like blaming a victim for the fault of their attacker, as Geshe Kelsang explains. Living beings are our kind mothers. I and especially guest writers will be discussing more about how we can get rid of our own and others’ delusions around racism in upcoming articles, and do check out this last fantastic guest article, Dislodging discrimination, if you have not yet had a chance to do so. For now I want to look at this other part of the equation, how we can discriminate all beings as our mothers.
It would make a difference, would you agree? For although we may not always agree with our mother, and indeed sometimes find her to be totally annoying and ignorant, it doesn’t stop us from loving her. We may flounce out of the house muttering about how she knows nothing, but it is only a matter of time before we want to go home again; and if she was really suffering all our conflicts would be forgotten as we tried with all our heart to help her.
From a spiritual point of view, remembering that everyone is our kind mother opens our heart wide and leads to great compassion, such that we cannot bear their suffering and are impelled to attain enlightenment for their sake. But even from a practical daily getting along with and wanting to help people point of view, this way of seeing people is deeply helpful. When we discriminate all living beings as our mother, we instantly feel a deeper connection with them and responsibility for them.
I’ll say a bit about the traditional meditation based on an understanding of past and future lives, and then explain how we can hold this view even if we don’t subscribe to past and future lives.
Never judge a book by its cover
Buddha Shakyamuni said:
I have not seen a single living being who has not been the mother of all the rest.
To really understand what he means requires an understanding of rebirth, which in turn requires an understanding of our continuum of consciousness and how this current dream-like life is not our only life. As Buddha said:
This world is not our permanent home. We are just travellers passing through.
I explain a lot about the continuum of consciousness and rebirth in these articles. The quick jist of this meditation I will take now from the Introduction to Buddha Vajrapani Sadhana:
Normally we point to other people and say, ‘They are my enemies’, but this is a mistake. Living beings cannot be our enemies; they are our mothers. We must understand this. Since it is impossible to find a beginning to our mental continuum, it follows that we have taken countless rebirths in the past and, as we have had countless rebirths, we must have had countless mothers. Where are all of these mothers now? They are all the living beings alive today.
Normally we judge books by their covers and people by their covers too, including even ourselves a lot of the time. What do we see when we look at a stranger? Rarely our deep and close history with them. If we could look back at our mental continuum and their mental continnuums and see the interweaving of our minds and bodies going back through countless lives, we would see we have a profound connection with everyone. Maybe we think, “Surely I’d remember!” But I don’t even remember what I had for lunch last Wednesday, let alone all my previous lives.
Our thoughts are free, and, given that there is nothing actually behind them, we create our world with our imputations.
The defining characteristics of an object do not exist from the side of the object but are merely imputed by the mind that apprehends them. We can understand this by considering how different people view one object. ~ page 24
Here’s an example. Let’s say you want a family but cannot have biological children, so you decide to adopt. Maybe you fly half way across the world to see a child who is a total stranger to you – different parents, looking nothing like you, born into a hitherto alien culture, and so on. But you decide, “This is my child. I am going to love them forever.” And then you do love them forever.
Why? Through the force of your changed decision and changed discrimination. That’s it. From their side, they didn’t have to do anything – you just decided. And now you’re stuck with them through thick and thin, and that’s perfectly fine with you.
Or take your pet. Why do you love your pet so much that you would bust the bank to help them, but not all the other cats & dogs in shelters and wet meat markets around the world? Because at some point you decided to take them on, and then you bonded from there.
We don’t have to legally adopt anyone, let alone everyone, to decide that they are our mother and we’re going to love them forever. We can just adopt them in our thoughts. That decision and discrimination will function to bring about a deep feeling of connection and love, and if we do it for everyone, well you can see what a difference that would make.
One example — if someone we love is quite dumb or disagrees with us, it is not so hard to be patient, we don’t hold it against them – sometimes we can even find it endearing. Take your cat, for example.
There is no limit to our love when we decide to love. We each have the seed for universal love and compassion, and this is a powerful way to grow it.
It is true that everyone has been everything to us, but we focus on everyone as our mother because our Mom has been the kindest person for us – whatever her delusions, without her we would not be here. George Floyd called out to his Mama in his time of need, even though she was no longer alive, in a poignant cry recognized around the world. Most of us would. Our mother is a very important person in our life.
Years ago I was explaining this meditation to someone in Florida and he was really quizzical because he didn’t buy into past and future lives. But he apparently went away and thought about it because he liked the idea – and I know this because months later he came back and, somewhat to my surprise, told everyone in the group how his life had changed utterly for the better. Holding that view of others, even though he didn’t embrace the idea of past and future lives, meant that day and night he was feeling more warm, connected, and respectful to everyone he met and thought about.
Changing our perspective changes everything about how we experience our world and other people. Dharma is practiced in accordance with our wishes — we can check whether a teaching might work for us, and, if it does, we can choose to practice it. The reason enlightenment is possible is that we can change our thoughts if we decide to – we can learn to think bigger better thoughts of wisdom and compassion.
I don’t want to be a mean and heartless child (or dog)
There is a powerful verse in The Lord of all Lineages:
All mother living beings who care for me with such kindness
Are drowning in the fearful ocean of samsara.
If I give no thought to their pitiful suffering
I am like a mean and heartless child.
If it is mean and heartless to simply give no thought to all these beings who have taken care of us with such kindness, how mean and heartless is it to actually hate them?! We need to hate their delusions and love them. We can do this.
I read a story a couple of weeks ago about a 55lb dog called Blue who tragically mauled his very loving human mother to death. No one knows why. But what an hallucination he must have been experiencing. This poor woman died despite her love for her four-legged babies, and he was put down because he is unsafe. Where is he now without her protection and love? What has happened not just to her but to him, all because for a few dreadful minutes he recognized her not as his kind mother but as some sort of threat.
All living beings possess the seed of enlightenment, but animals cannot grow that seed while in an animal body. However, we human beings can choose to change our discriminations and grow our hearts. If we train in this view, not only will we find ourselves striding towards the perfect liberation of enlightenment, but we will also be far more skillful in our ability to support others practically now. We could help change our existing society, a society we after all helped build in the first place through our own karma and other actions.
The party to beat all parties
Later in The Liberating Prayer it says:
Please nourish me with your goodness
That I in turn may nourish all beings
With an unceasing banquet of delight.
Personally I can’t wait for this blissful celebration at the end of my samsara, the most inclusive party in all of time and space, to which every single mother being without exception is invited forever.
Over to you. Would love to hear your comments.
(*By the way, if you object to my using the phrase Black Lives Matter, can I point out that I still also feel strongly about removing everyone’s suffering. To be clear, saying Black Lives Matter is not saying other lives’ don’t matter. For example, saying Rainforests Matter is not saying that other forests don’t also matter. They all do, but sometimes there is a burning need, or an opportunity presented, or some karma ripening to help, or something. And also if black lives don’t matter, or matter less, which has often been the case, then we clearly can’t say that all lives matter.)
I watched 13th recently. And “I Am Not Your Negro”. (You can get them on Netflix and Amazon, respectively.) They are both such well observed and eye-popping documentaries that I now want everyone to watch them – well, especially if you are anything like me and have been living in a bubble of privilege, uncomprehending and shocked as to why the USA “suddenly” seems to be so racist and mean, suddenly seems to be going “backwards” (when perhaps it was never progressing quite as forwardly as some of us thought.)
The questions stirring my mind these days are how I, as a modern Buddhist, can help bring an end to racism and all other forms of discrimination, selfishness, and intolerance – and not just in some distant, delayed Pure Land, but here and now in this world, given that we are all in this together. I know Buddhism has the ideas. I know some of these ideas, such as love and fairness, are of course shared by other traditions too. My questions are how to share these ideas wider, most effectively and appropriately.
It is a work in progress and I welcome your comments on how you are doing it – some of you have already shared some useful observations on the last two articles. For me, I will contribute by chatting on this blog and to anyone else who may be interested. I have been listening most recently to people, both lay and ordained, who have brought Buddha’s insights into prisons, to great effect, and into the favelas in Rio and townships in Cape Town, and into film-making, and into brave new visions for renewing our broken social systems.
Modern Buddhism is surely not about escapism; it cannot be about navel-gazing. I think we need to gain gradual experience of these teachings while sharing them in as many practical ways as we can. I know Buddhist software developers, social activists, doctors, healers, artists, directors, performers, prison officers, entrepreneurs, and so on, who are increasingly bringing these ideas into play to change their professions and their own and others’ lives, to change society, to reimagine our world.
This may sound obvious — that there are Buddhist practitioners appearing in all fields — but it was not always so. When I first got involved with the Kadampa Buddhist tradition 36 years ago, it had just come out of Tibet, not surprisingly dragging along the cultural accretions of a monastic-oriented and somewhat archaic values of a very static society. I hate to say this, but there was a view for a few years back in the day that if you were not a monk or a nun, you were not a full or proper Buddhist. If you were not living in a Buddhist center, you were not a proper Buddhist. If you had a regular day job, you were not a proper Buddhist. And if you had children, goodness me, you had pretty much thrown your precious human life away.
Those anachronistic basically Tibetan notions all went out of the window a very long time ago and surprisingly rapidly, thanks in large part to the vision, skill, and courage of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Working closely with his students, he has modernized the presentation of Buddhism in umpteen far-reaching and radical ways, all while managing to keep the meaning of the teachings intact and flourishing the lay and ordained community. This means that there is an ever increasing number of good examples of how to be a Buddhist, Bodhisattva, and Tantric Yogi.
As a result, this tradition has exploded in size and relevance. And I believe this modern Buddhism is still evolving to catch up with Geshe Kelsang’s vision!
Which of Buddha’s insights could be of benefit to help our modern world? If you ask me, all of them! They are all methods for purifying and transforming our minds and actions, and thereby purifying and transforming our actual world, including everyone in it. And they boil down to wisdom and compassion, as explained in this last excellent guest article. As Geshe Kelsang says:
Developing compassion and wisdom and helping those in need is the true meaning of life.
For example, wisdom can be seen to range from an understanding that happiness and suffering are states of mind whose main causes depend upon the mind, right through to an understanding that everything, even the tiniest atom, depends upon our minds. The things we normally see, vis a vis things outside the mind or independent of the mind, do not exist — everything is mere name, mere projection. Everything is dream-like, everything is illusion. Our ignorance veils the truth; we need to pull that veil aside. We need to help ourselves and everyone else overcome their ignorance on every level because ignorance is what keeps us trapped in systems that have never worked and never will.
Compassion ranges from an understanding that we are all equal and interconnected, breaking down the pernicious “us and them” mentality, through to a universal empathy that finds the suffering of all living beings more unbearable than our own and seeks to permanently dispel it.
All these ideas are rooted in the idea of our potential for change — our innate compassion and wisdom — a potential that is enormous, infinite, and that can start functioning right now if we let it. And if we add the transcendent vision of Tantra, we are able to bring about results very quickly indeed.
It also seems to me that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso — in many ways the modern Buddhist master for our time – has been pointing for a long time to the possibility of Buddha’s teachings bringing about actual world peace. In his Buddha Maitreya teachings of 2009, for example, he said, as I quoted earlier:
If everybody followed this view — sincerely believe there is no enemy other than our delusions — all our problems that come from fighting and war will be ceased permanently. Following this view is the best method to make world peace. Unfortunately, everybody denies or neglects Buddha’s view, his intention. So we want world peace, everybody says, “World peace, world peace!”; but no-one understands how to do this.
My feeling is that it is on us to help people understand, alongside gaining experience ourselves. How? Through our own practice, example, conversations, and social engagement. Through not hiding away these ideas or ourselves out of modesty or a fear of offending, but engaging our bodhichitta into the world around us, sharing any experience far and wide in as many contexts as we can.
Not trying to make everyone into a Buddhist either — most people will not become Buddhists but they are still welcome to apply these ideas.
To finish, here is some food for thought from a comment on this last article:
Compassion that is based in wisdom is the only effective way to change this dreamlike world. Geshe Kelsang explains why so eloquently at the end of the Great Compassion chapter in How to Transform Your Life. Changing our mind directly changes the experience of the world because there is no world outside of our experience of it! With wisdom and faith, we can experience that change directly and others will experience it through our example and influence. World peace is possible if we change our mind today.
More to come, including hopefully some of your comments and/or guest articles. Also, the Kadampa Summer Festival is about to start, meaning that thousands of lay and ordained practitioners from around the world will be sitting around chatting in cafes … maybe see you there.