You are me

So, first off, we have this ignorant mind called self-grasping, where we grasp at a real self — the self that is the center of the universe, the self that is inherently me, the self that is really me. And even though logically we may know that everyone is a me and that from their point of view I am an other, still our mind of ignorance sees a real me and believes show me who you arewhat it sees.

But there is no real me. We are seeing and believing something that is NOT THERE.

Carrying on from this article.

Bit strange

Having that strong sense of me is a little bit strange, don’t you think, considering that no one else on the planet sees it? Other than you. Not one single other person shares your assumption that you are the real me. I hate to break it to you, I really do. Not even the person who loves you the most on this planet, whoever that is, whether that is your mom or someone else, even they do not see Me when they look at you. That Me you assume is so real and solid is a private idea or imputation that you have all to yourself.*

We are all doing this. “Me, me, me me …”, we go around all day thinking, “Me, my, mine, me, myself, I.” Do we not? No one else is seeing that. No one else can see that. Have you ever thought about how strange that might be?

Well, anyway, Buddha thought it was very strange and explained how it was the source of all our other mistaken notions, our other exaggerated and myopic ideas, our other — what we call in Buddhism — “delusions”.

How so?

DenverIn dependence on that ignorance, which projects or hallucinates a real me and then grasps at it, we develop self-cherishing because we naturally assume that Me is more important than Other. So we naturally put ourselves first — I want this, I need this, I don’t need this. It’s all revolving around a sense of protecting this real me, or serving this real me. And because of those two ego minds, all our other delusions arise.

A delusion has got a definition — an unpeaceful, uncontrolled state of mind that arises from inappropriate attention. And our delusions are states of mind like anger. If I don’t get my own way, what happens? If someone seems to be getting in the way of my happiness, or just in my way on the sidewalk, what am I going to do? I am going to develop irritation, anger, annoyance.

This happened to me yesterday, as a matter of fact. A group of drunken men in downtown Denver hogged the entire sidewalk, leaving me and my friend to walk on the road. But I decided to walk back onto the sidewalk and directly into their path, making them get out of the way, because they were basically being racist and I confess I felt like challenging them. But my friend later told me that if he was to respond to the numerous micro aggressions he experiences every day with irritation, he’d never be peaceful and flowershe wouldn’t be able to sustain his work to change things for the better. And that’s the truth. He has had to learn to think bigger and better both about them and about himself.

Where does most of our anxiety come from?

If I am thinking about me all the time I am also going to get stressed out and worried and anxious. I am always going to be cultivating the inappropriate attention, “What about me, what about me, what about me?!”– building up anxious thoughts projecting forward into the future, “What if this happens to me, what if that happens to me?!”, chewing over all the things that could go wrong for poor old me, and meanwhile not giving a monkeys for the far greater sufferings of gazillions of other people. Not, in other words, having any reasonable perspective at all.

Four dead boars

One snapshot of us versus them, greed, callousness, and suffering stood out on my recent trip to San Francisco, particularly disappointing for a city that used to care a lot more. A friend, Michele, and I went into Four Barrels and were surprised to see four dead boar heads on the wall of this this yuppy coffee shop on Valencia, perhaps most surprised by the fact that no one else seemed to be noticing, let alone bothered.

Wfour boarse left to drink tea at Samovar instead, down the street, but then I was compelled to come back to ask “Why?” “It was a late night purchase on Ebay”, said the stressed out baristo by way of explanation, begging the question, “But why did someone buy them?” He was impatient with me, he didn’t know, and suggested it was good to embrace “others’ cultural norms”. But this was a coffee shop in gentle San Francisco, the once bastion of thoughtful values and compassion, not a hunting range in Redneck, Texas.

“Why would you ever want to stick people’s heads on a wall?” (I didn’t ask him, but could have.) “How would you like it if someone did that to you?”

The four boars seem to me to represent the desensitization that seems to be more prevalent now in this city and elsewhere: “Perhaps they’ll have four homeless people’s heads up there next time I visit,” I said to Michele.

An oasis in the city

temple 1I would like to qualify at this point that San Francisco still contains a lot of very compassionate people, even if they report to feeling somewhat more exercized these days. The Kadampa Buddhist temple I was visiting, for example, continues to be a bright guiding light, full of Bodhisattvas. I love that place. Please visit if you ever get a chance. It is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s first center in the United States, and has been a refuge for over 25 years.

Okay, I was going to keep going, but it’ll have to wait as your coffee break is probably over … more next time. Over to you for comments!

*With the possible exception of those who have exchanged self with others, such as Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, because they do see Me when they look at you, just not a real me.

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Us and Them in Buddhism

As I was saying the other day, there are two main obstacles standing in the way of our spiritual growth. The first is the ignorant feeling that I am the real me, therefore you are real and secondary other, somewhat less important. Self-grasping ignorance apprehends a gap between me and everybody else, which means that when it comes to stretching love and compassion to another person I can only do it for a certain length of time and, generally and ideally, they need to have done me a favor, or be likely to do me a favor down the road, or something.

US-Them

Carrying on from this article.

Expiry date

The second obstacle is self-grasping’s inseparable mate self-cherishing, which wants to serve and protect our own self over others. We are not completely selfish, of course we are not, we have a lot of genuine compassion and love – these are our Buddha nature, who we really are. But our concern has an expiry date. We can love others, even unconditionally, for a while, until we get a headache or something else goes wrong in our life, when it’s like, “Uh, hang on, I will get back to you guys later.”

As is always pointed out, self-cherishing is not the same as liking ourselves, caring for ourselves, or even loving ourselves, ie, wanting to be happy. We need to do all these things – and indeed seeking liberation and enlightenment is the best way we can care for ourselves and fulfill our own purposes. No, self-cherishing is a mind that believes that this self, this me, is the real me and therefore its happiness comes first.

A day in San Francisco

SF airportThis “us and them” mentality is a horrible mind, responsible for all our callousness. I’m writing this in a shiny SFO, the flight to Denver delayed for an hour. San Francisco is as beautiful as ever on the surface, but its soul seems to have changed – the gulf between rich and poor, over-housed and homeless, being one of the largest in America now, which is saying something. And a widespread recognition that we are all in this together — fellow living beings who all want to be happy — seems to be sorely lacking.

A friend, JW, advocates for the homeless – he has been doing it for over a decade and told me today that there is nothing more important to him. He doesn’t get discouraged because his passion to tell their stories still motivates him; and he wants everyone to know that one of the worst problems these days is that the homeless population is rapidly ageing. It is bad enough being on the streets when you are relatively young and healthy, but there are now more seniors than ever before who are homeless for the first time, and they quickly age ten or twenty years. No one ever sees it coming, but seniors find themselves priced out or, along with low income populations, red-lined out of their neighborhoods by greedy developers putting up fancy apartments for people who have so much money they don’t know how to spend it all. homeless senior

As a local newspaper put it: “Most of San Francisco’s current homeless population is on the street not by choice, but because of skyrocketing rents. According to the city’s 2015 Homeless Count, 71 percent of SF’s homeless were city residents before they became homeless. Meanwhile, the number of homeless people having to stay outdoors has risen, from 28 percent in 2011 to 46 percent in 2017.”

(Pretty sure I read this somewhere …) Buddha said that although happiness depends on the mind, there are four basic things human beings need to be well: clothing, food, medicine, and shelter. Basic human well being starts with housing. As a senior, it is hard enough to get offered a job even if you are fit enough to work; but, at whatever age, there is only a slim chance of getting back on your feet if you are not housed. No job in this country = no money = insufficient food, medicine, and clothing.

Tekchog, a Buddhist monk, who has been working on Needle Exchange on Market Street for 15 years, concurred that if you cannot have a shower you’re not going to be aceing any job interviews. And that he has noticed that when someone comes to needle exchange who has been lucky enough to find housing, they look a hundred times healthier and happier. But although that Exchange has been there for decades, people who have just moved into one of the swanky new apartments routinely come over to complain that they object to having the needle exchange in THEIR neighborhood.

sit lie lawTents and tent cities rise up everywhere, but sooner or later the tents get “confiscated” and the tent inhabitants do not see it or any of their possessions again. How can it be viewed as any sort of civic virtue to rob from the destitute, to make them start all over again?

The sit/lie law meantime means that homeless people cannot sit or lie down in public places, despite the lack of anywhere else to seek shelter. What are you supposed to do if you are forced to keep moving, if you cannot sit or lay down your head, yet you are old, or tired, or sick? There is a scarcity of public toilets because they have shut them down at the Bart stations, and just lately they have dismantled the handles from the water faucets so that you can no longer even quench your thirst.

That is a huge amount of suffering. I often ponder whether I could last a week outdoors, let alone the rest of my life; and many senior homeless people had the same thought once upon a time. If we could use our imagination, see that every homeless person is just as much Me as I am, and mentally exchange places with them, would this suffering be allowed to go on?

Vision needed

San FranciscoThere is hope, there is always hope, because there is nothing fixed and we have everything we need inside us to create a better future for everyone, spiritually and practically.

Being in SF made me more determined to destroy samsara by destroying the self-grasping and self-cherishing that perpetuate it. And we can concurrently do stuff to help others practically, like JW and Tekchog for example, knowing that this is also taking us closer to our ultimate goal. There are good people everywhere who are working day and night to change things practically and socially, driven to end human suffering. Regardless of the immediate outcome, every single time we do something to try and alleviate the suffering of others — motivated by compassion, inspired by vision, seeing everyone as Me — we are creating the causes for our own and others’ well being.

Over to you, comments & ideas most welcome.

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