The power of humility and emotional honesty

A guest article. 

Who we really are is love. This is the essential indestructible nature of our mind — love. And if we’re going to solve our personal problems and the problems of our nation and our world, we need never to lose sight of this.

make people feel loved todayIn How to Transform Your Life, Geshe Kelsang says:

All the problems of human society, such as war, crime, pollution, drug addiction, poverty, injustice, and disharmony within families, are the result of self-cherishing.

With self-cherishing, we lack love. All the problems of human society stem from a lack of love, and because we haven’t identified ourself as love.

Geshe-la continues:

If everyone were to practice cherishing others, many of the major problems of the world would be solved in a few years.

With Buddha’s teachings we are learning how to identify ourself and others correctly, and to act from that vantage point — with the kindness that is the pure expression of our nature. This is beautiful. We all have this nature of love and it is indestructible. This means that it will never leave us. We will never lose it. Eventually, we’re all going to identify ourself correctly as love.

Imaginary friend

How do we not get stuck or trapped by our powerful emotions, but instead creatively transform them? At the core of our strong feelings is the sense of ‘I’ — and of course, in terms of how we identify ourself and others, there’s ‘I.’ We’re always thinking ‘I. I. I’ “I want. I need.” We have an imaginary friend called ‘self’ and we are talking and listening to them all day long. We need to look clearly at how we create this self, this identity.

imaginary-friendI think Geshe Kelsang’s phrase “identifying ourself and others correctly” is very contemporary, speaking right to the moment. We identify or create ourself based on so many shifting variables: our personal history, our family history, our culture, our race, our sexuality, our religion, and so forth.

Pride in identity

Then, as Geshe-la says in How to Understand the Mind:

Since we regard our self or I as so very important, we exaggerate our own good qualities and develop an inflated view of ourself. Almost anything can serve as a basis for this arrogant mind, such as our looks, possessions, knowledge, experiences, or status.

This is hilarious. It’s a great caricature of the mind, but it’s our caricature. “I’m so clever. Look at me. I have so much information. I’m so worldly wise.” We develop a sense of I that’s important and very well-defined based on pretty much anything.

We also base our sense of self on the things we like. If we like cats, we think, “I’m a cat person” – and maybe we get a cat illustrated tote bag and stickers that we put all over our laptop. Maybe we go to a cat party with all our cat friends wearing our cat sweaters and hauling along our tote bag with a cat inside. However, maybe we don’t understand dogs, so we think, “I’m not a dog person” — now dog people are over there, and cat people are over here. We have developed pride based on some sense of identity, in turn based on something we like or are attached to. This is crazy. What are we doing?

racial-discriminationWe can create a self based on anything. Wine, beer, cats, dogs, sports. And yeah, it’s all in good fun, and so forth, but sometimes it’s not. When the mind and emotions get out of control, then fighting ensues – for example the soccer hooligans who deliberately cause brawls. This mistaken way of identifying ourself can be very toxic.

In How to Understand the Mind, Geshe-la gives an insightful and practical explanation of seven types of ordinary or deluded pride. We say that samsara is the cycle of harming and being harmed endlessly, in life after life after life. And all of this can be understood to have its origin in deluded pride. We must overcome this.

Humility in action

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is the most humble person I know. He’s an extraordinary being, an extraordinary monk and teacher. I think it’s really worth knowing a little bit about his life. He entered the monastery at the age of 8 – his mother sent him at his request, and also so he didn’t end up being a serf. Later, he had to flee from Tibet due to the invasion, when he became a refugee in India, experiencing Geshe-la in 1959immense poverty. After this, he emigrated to England, again not knowing the language or the customs. Still later, out of his fearlessness in wanting to preserve Kadampa Buddhism for the benefit of the modern world and break it away from feudal Tibetan politics, some of the institutions in which he was brought up in Tibet rejected him, tried to strip him of his degrees. He has experienced quite a lot of challenges, from a common understanding of his life.

Yet he loves all beings. And through his love for all beings, his extraordinary humility, and his conviction, he has brought ancient Kadampa Buddhism to the modern world.

He has often made jokes: “I don’t know how to use a computer. I don’t know how to do any of these things. You people helped me and together we have done this.” Humility is real power. Love is real power. We can see him as a great hero, as a role model, as an example. He’s been able to accomplish everything he’s accomplished in this world due to the purity of his intention. He said, “Whatever I’ve been able to accomplish, I’ve been able to accomplish because I respect everyone.” That’s a statement of truth and not a statement of deluded pride because he respects everyone.

With his humility, he has had the openness to understanding the ways of modern people. Through this beautiful display of love and humility, he’s actually transformed our world. He’s transformed my world. I think he’s transformed some of yours. Geshe-la at play

Pride in identity continued …

The fourth type of pride, pride in identity, is an inflated sense of self-importance based simply on our identity, such as being proud of being an English person, proud of being white, proud of being a man, or proud of being a Tantric meditator. ~ How to Understand the Mind

It’s very interesting what he points out here. And depending on who we think we are, we can say it other ways — proud of being an American person, proud of being Asian, proud of being a woman, proud of being a Christian. Or whatever. It goes all ways because, due to ignorance, we all do this.

This pride in identity is a real poison. This mistaken way of identifying ourself and therefore drawing distinctions between ourselves and others is a big problem. We do this within our mind.

Naming and labeling

There’s a very particular part of our mind called “discrimination.” And we know this word in general, right? We understand in general what it means to discriminate. We think, “I have fine discriminating taste because I’m a wine connoisseur and I can discern the tones of oak and cherry and chocolate,” or whatever. In How to Understand the Mind, we’re given a very interesting description:

The definition of discrimination is a mental factor (ie, part of our mind) that functions to apprehend the uncommon sign of an object.

The uncommon sign is what is seemingly unique to that object, that differentiates it from other objects.

The function of discrimination is to distinguish an object from other objects and to identify the object as this and not that. With this we impute, we name, we label.

Race Discrimination in the WorkplaceAgain, this is so contemporary. We all know about naming, labeling, and so forth because we know that, by labeling, an identity is created or imposed. However, who a person is depends entirely upon our mind, how we identify them; and who we are as a person depends entirely upon our mind. Therefore, for every different person who’s perceiving us, including ourself, there is a different person that is created, named, labeled, and imputed.

It’s not surprising how hard it is to communicate because we’re all in our own “self” bubbles, totally viewing different selves, based on our karma, based on all manner of factors. We think there’s me, and there’s you, and there’s this, and there’s that, and everything is so solid and objective — but everything is subjective. Everything depends upon the mind. Buddha gave us this teaching so that we can break out of the jail cells of our mistaken identifications.

Defined by our good heart

When I first met Kadam Dharma, I was maybe 21. I thought a lot about identity, being a mixed-race person growing up in the American South. When you are in high school, you have all kinds of questions about your sexual identity and so forth; but when I met Buddha’s teachings and learned about ultimate truth emptiness, I realized that we didn’t have to be defined by anything other than our good heart, our Buddha nature.

I found that incredibly liberating. That is a correct way of identifying ourself. This is a way that we can choose to correctly discriminate, and if we identify ourself like this, then we can do so with others.

hands claspingGeshe-la says that we have choice how we discriminate, it is up to us. For example, we can choose to see those who are challenging for us as objects of our spiritual growth, such as patience, wisdom, and compassion. This is not necessarily easy, but if we can understand that everything depends upon the mind we will see that it is nevertheless our choice, and we can become more and more familiar with making this correct choice, in meditation, out of meditation, when we’re having challenging conversations or reading difficult things in the news.

If we hold onto this correct way of thinking of ourself and others as defined by Buddha nature, but being temporarily controlled by the enemies of the delusions, we can have a deep level of respect and compassion for others while also still righting wrongs. Actually, we’d be able to right wrongs far more effectively.

Emotional honesty

Buddha identified discriminations and feelings as two of our main bases for self-identification.

There’s a phrase these days, “Don’t be in your feelings. Why you all in your feelings?” which is really quite Buddhist. Why are we trapped by our feelings? Feeling is really important and now, perhaps for many of us, individually, collectively, we can see that we have powerful emotions. These are not a problem. Perhaps if we are a Buddhist, we sometimes think that they are a problem because we see strong emotions as the opposite of inner peace. I’m sure there’s some validity to that, but we must never deny, suppress, ignore, or intellectualize our feelings. Why? Because then we are not practicing Dharma.

What we are trying to get to is the realization of ultimate truth, but how are we going to get there if we don’t start with a realization of honesty? Being emotionally truthful. If we don’t start off from truth, we’re not going to get to truth. And this is where the hard work comes in of looking at our faults in the mirror of Dharma. I’m not equating faults with strong emotions, but just looking honestly in a spiritual mirror at how we feel.

This is why the Buddhist approach was founded in meditating because through meditating we watch our mind. Without the practice of meditating, we can’t watch our mind well. We can’t see what we’re thinking and believing in every action. Without going emptiness freedomdeep into the heart in meditation, we remain stuck in our intellectual realm. Thus, we need meditation to see what’s happening within our mind, to dislodge our mistaken discriminations, to be completely honest about how we feel. And then, to direct our mind along a positive path, not suppressing, denying, or ignoring, but honestly seeing.

The phrase that’s really helped me lately is ‘emotional honesty.’ Mental honesty. Looking in the mirror without judgment or criticism. And if we have strong and powerful emotions, just allowing them to be, to wash over us. They won’t remain. And maybe we cry. Maybe we feel rage, and so forth. Until we have really great mastery over our mind, we’re going to experience these things. And  that’s okay.

I think the measure of our Dharma practice is not about not experiencing these strong emotions, but how we practice with them.

For instance, we may have very strong anger, rage even. We want to blame. And within Buddha’s teachings, we say we can blame something. We can channel our anger. What can we blame? We can blame ignorance. We can blame delusion. But we never blame living beings. We never blame people, because people are not their delusions. People in some ways are already like enlightened beings. They are love. That is their nature, just as it is ours.

Over to you dear reader. Any comments for the guest writer are very welcome below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dislodging discrimination

Written by an African American Kadampa Buddhist.

8 mins read.

How do you feel about people who appear to be different to you? Someone with a different color skin. A different looking nose. Different looking hair. Someone from a different culture. Someone who likes different foods or music than you. Different sports. Someone who speaks a different language. Someone who wears different clothes. Someone in poverty. Someone with mental health issues. Someone who is angry. Someone who is visibly in pain. How do you feel?

Protestor

It’s complicated. It depends. Feelings are not solid but depend on so many things. Our upbringing and education, our friends and way of life, our karma from previous intentions and actions, our beliefs and values, and many more things besides. Our thoughts and feelings aren’t straightforward or easily categorized. Our mind changes like the wind, and we often feel differently on different days.

Why you all in your feelings?

How we feel is entirely subjective, but because we grasp at our feelings as solid and objective, they are deceiving us much of the time. Yet we are in our feelings so much. We allow ourselves to be in them, to dwell in them, to stew in them. We allow our feelings to control us and dictate our actions, which can and does cause so much suffering. Buddha himself highlights this fact, calling out our contaminated feelings as a main component of how we build our false sense of self or identity.

There’s a popular phrase these days “In your feelings.” Courtesy of Urban Dictionary:

  1. Kianna is over there pouting because Shaundra is trippin & snapped at Kianna for being in her way.

Kianna, why are you all in your feelings? You know how Shaundra be trippin.

  1. David is in a bad mood because his girl didn’t call him last night.

Bro, why you all in your feelings, you know you just met that girl last weekend.

I think Buddha would agree. Why you all in your feelings? It’s a great question to ask.Mirror

Our feelings often arise from ignorant causes and give rise to suffering results. Yet we feel so right to be in our feelings. Why? Because they are real! And because they are mine! (Turn on sad music. Or happy music.)

We often base our whole sense of self off of these fleeting insubstantial unfindable feelings. Happy feelings arise, we think “I am happy.” Disappointed feelings, “I am disappointed.” This goes for most of our ever-changing senses of self, totally identifying “Me” with whatever feelings happen to be arising in our mind. A happy self. A sad self. A conflicted me. An overwhelmed me. A romantic self. An angry self. The results of overly identifying with our feelings can be quite tragic – tragi-comic, melodramatic, or even full on Greek tragedy.

Don’t believe everything your mind is saying

As it says in the Buddhist scriptures:

Appearances are deceptive and our own opinions are unreliable.

“What?!? Excuse me?” The BIG I does not like to hear that our opinions are not to be trusted and that what our mind perceives or appears is fooling us.

The real fool is our own ignorance. It is never to be trusted. When we are under the influence of ignorance, what is appearing to our mind is an hallucination created by ignorance. Our opinions and how we feel based on those appearances are unreliable. What we then do, how we act, is also contaminated by ignorance.

Our mind under the influence of ignorance is out of control, which means we are out of control; and when we are out of control our actions are not helping.

This is what we Buddhists call samsara  — the cycle of contaminated, impure life, a life controlled by ignorance and other delusions. It’s not a pretty picture; and nowadays it seems that it’s getting clearer and clearer how ignorance is polluting our minds and society.

stop in the name of loveHowever, it is nothing new – we have been under the influence of ignorance since beginningless time. It would be good if we could enter a rehab facility of wisdom to detox our ignorance. Otherwise it’s just going to get worse for us and everyone else around us.

A personal mental survey

We need to do the work. Each one of us. We need to do the hard work of looking in the mirror of Dharma and asking, “How do I feel about…” Someone who is challenging me. Someone who appears different from me. A fundamentalist Christian. A far-right or far-left or straight-in-the-middle politician. A racist.

It’s not enough to say, “Oh I’m a Buddhist so (by definition) I love everyone. I have equanimity,” while at the same time feeling viscerally afraid of someone with darker skin. Or assuming that someone of a different background than ours isn’t interested in Buddha’s teachings. Or holding a great variety of assumptions and biases towards people of color for example. That can be any color by the way, including white. What are our stereotypes of any “type” of person?

Seeing discrimination in the Dharma mirror

Geshe Kelsang says:

We tend to project the faults or qualities of the few onto the many, and then develop hatred or attachment on the basis of, for example, race, religion, or country.

magnifying glassHow do we think about someone who appears differently than us? What are the faults we are seeing in them? How are we discriminating against them? Buddha also called out discrimination as another main building block of how we identify ourself. Discrimination is a functionality of our mind and we can’t think without it. Simply, it serves to identify something as this versus that.

We have to do the hard but rewarding work of examining our minds, our biases, our feelings — being so honest with ourself that we feel a little pain our heart when we see the truth of our own faulty discrimination. It’s not a pain that lasts, more like a needle holding a medicine that will cure our illness. Or like removing a splinter from our toe – it hurts a little, but it’s humbling and quite quickly feels good to be on the way to being free from the pain.

Protestor 1The fourth type of pride, pride in identity, is an inflated sense of self-importance based simply on our identity, such as being proud of being an English person, proud of being white, proud of being a man, or proud of being a Tantric meditator. ~ How to Understand the Mind

So, how are we identifying ourself versus others? Of course our ignorance is always influencing the situation and so, if we’re honest, on some level or another we’re not identifying ourself and others correctly. For instance, we can discriminate cats as the most cute loveable animals, and on that basis create ourselves an identity as a cat-person. Raccoons? Hmmm. Not so much. Ooops. Just did it again. Mistakenly identifying ourself and others. It’s quite funny in some ways and then not so much in other ways.

This mistaken way of identifying ourself, and by extension others who seem inherently different to us, is the root of all suffering. So if we want to be free from suffering we have no choice but to do the real work. The honest work. The challenging work. The work of looking in the Dharma mirror at how we discriminate ourself and others, how we identify our self and others, how we feel about our self and others, and how ignorance is messing up this whole process of cognition. It’s messing with our reality. Right now it is not hard to see that it’s really, really messing things up.

The imprints of ignorance cause mistaken discriminations that apprehend an inherently existent self, even though such a self does not exist. Moreover, because of our familiarity with delusions we discriminate some people as our friends, some as enemies and some as strangers; but all these discriminations are mistaken. ~ How to Understand the Mind

mirror 1

For many of you reading this, I’m sure you could think of a number of ways in which Geshe Kelsang has explained how to correctly identify ourself and others. So it’s up to you (and me too) to do the work. To take the teachings deeper and try harder to get out of our hallucinatory discriminations and biased feelings by dislodging our deeply held grasping at both.

The way forward

If it weren’t for Buddha’s radical wisdom, we wouldn’t be able to understand much of this. We probably wouldn’t be able to even think or speak these things. Without Buddha we would be trapped in this mixed-up reality, literally forever.

In their compassion Buddhas feel no difference between their most bitter opponents and their own sons; they feel compassionate concern for everyone without any discrimination. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune.

11-Turning-the-Wheel-of-Dharma

Buddha has shown us the great example of deep compassion without discrimination. He’s shown us the freeing reality of ultimate truth. Due to his guidance we have the incomprehensibly good fortune to see the way out. Especially due to our kind visionaryteachers such as Je Tsongkhapa and Venerable Geshe Kelsang, we have crystal clear and practical teachings that anyone can follow. These wise beings are giving us the opportunity to clean up the mess of ignorance and walk out the door of samsara, only to return again and again for everyone else.

Persistence

When a runner trains, they train in intervals. There are periods of slower runs and faster runs, shorter and longer distances. Sometimes they push a little, sometimes they rest. It’s the same when training our mind. Sometimes we’ve got to push a bit harder to achieve a goal. Sometimes we’ve got to dig a bit deeper to find extra power.

I think now’s the time to dig deeper, to push a little harder, to challenge ourselves to go to the next level of our spiritual training. With the world going in the way it appears to be going, we must do this. We must and we can find a better way forward.

Over to you. Please leave your comments for the guest writer below.

 

 

How are you feeling? Musings on karma continued…

(You may want to read this article first to get up to scratch. I’ve divided the article up into two parts to make it easier to read in a coffee break.)

Feelings

Going back to the discussion in the last article, as there are three types of object, there are three types of feeling that experience these objects – pleasant feelings, unpleasant feelings, and neutral feelings.

“It is impossible to cognize an object without experiencing it as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.” ~ Understanding the Mind

photo 3Feeling that things are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral is part and parcel of living beings’ subjective experience, whether we are a baby, an old person, an animal… Right now my cat is pursuing pleasant feelings by trying to get real comfy on the sofa next to me, with a choice view of the birds outside — birds who luckily are safe right now from experiencing unpleasant feelings to do with his murderous paws, the “same” paws that give me the warm fuzzies.

Again, if you check your own feelings or experiences, have you ever had a feeling that is not pleasant (or good), unpleasant (or bad) or neutral? Even during your dreams?!

So why, if my friend and I are both given a bowl of Haagen Daaz’s vanilla ice cream, does he experience it to be yummy whereas I would have preferred chips? It is mainly due to our karma. Understanding the Mind says:

The general function of feeling is to experience the effects of previous actions, or karma.

Karma gives rise to all our pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings. Feelings and experiences are the same. In other words, all our feelings or experiences come from karma, which are the intentions or mental actions we created in the past. Pleasant feelings come from positive actions, unpleasant feelings from negative actions, and neutral feelings from neutral actions. Pleasantness and unpleasantness do not exist from the side of the object, but depend entirely on our karma. Therefore, as it says in Understanding the Mind:

Two people might eat the same food and one find it delicious while the other thinks it is revolting. 

Milarepa

Have you heard of Milarepa? He was one of the most beloved Tibetan saints or yogis because he gained incredible, deep realizations, in fact actual enlightenment, and then sang beautiful songs of realization that became known and sung throughout Tibet. There were no CD players back then, let alone MP3s or Spotify, so these songs passed down orally through the ages and he became very famous. He lived many years ago (1452-1507).

Milarepa's caveMilarepa spent many years in retreat as an ascetic living in caves and isolated places. Wherever he went, it seemed there would be an abundance of nettles. (These are a green plant with stingy bits on their leaves, and there are, arguably, way too many of them in the English countryside.) One famous fact about Milarepa is that he ate these nettles. He was miles away from anywhere and so he’d have nettle soup, nettle tea, nettle sandwiches… (maybe not, no bread). For him, nettles utterly nourished his body and sustained his spiritual practice. He ate so many nettles that he turned green. But he was perfectly healthy.

So Geshe Kelsang once asked how anyone living on nettles could be healthy? It would appear to be impossible. Frankly, even though, as mentioned, there are plenty of nettles in England, if I had to live on them I would not be healthy. I would be complaining vociferously; this would not be a 5-star hotel in my opinion. Milarepa was living in a 5-star hotel because everything he needed was in those nettles. Geshe Kelsang explained that this was the ripened karma of his practice of generosity, which meant that he had everything he needed to sustain his life and spiritual practice.

We can share a similar set of external conditions and yet have radically different experiences. Our karma does not ripen, therefore, as external conditions, so much as our experiences of those conditions. Whether those experiences are good or bad depends on whether our karma is good or bad. For Milarepa, eating nettles was good karma ripening – he was nourished by them and able to gain profound spiritual attainments, and even being green proved to be no problem. For me, having to eat nettles would be horrible karma ripening as I haven’t created that same karma of generosity. This is one example Geshe Kelsang uses to show how the quality of our experience doesn’t depend on the object but on our previous karma.

We can do something, everything, about causes, but once an effect is ripening it is too late to change it. Therefore, it is futile to run after pleasant feelings with attachment or to try to avoid unpleasant feelings through aversion. We need either to enjoy the pleasant feeling without attachment, or be patient with the unpleasant feeling. If we want to create the life we want, we have to pay more attention to improving the numerous intentions or karmic causes we are creating on a daily basis than to our ripened feelings.

(Funnily enough, just after writing that last paragraph I went to a nearby greengrocer to buy some fruit. On the way back I overheard a young man advise his girlfriend: “You should do the right thing, even if it seems a bit inconvenient and doesn’t immediately deliver you results.” Apropos, I thought.)

Back to the case in point, the blue bike …. 

karma paintingWas it F’s karma, as technically the bike had been given to him by N, or was it N’s karma? And if so, what kind of karma – good, bad, or neutral? My guess is that N won’t give a hoot, unless he gives into nostalgia for the fun in the sun he used to have with that bike when he lived here (and that in turn would depend on him finding out about his old bike, which may never happen). Some might argue that it was no longer even his bike, so all his karma related to that bike has gone. I don’t know if that is true or not. For example, if I give my cat away and then something happens to the cat, will I or will I not be experiencing the ripening of karma?

Also, F probably won’t give a hoot because (1) he never gives much of a hoot about anything; and (2) it is not directly affecting him as he has moved to New York. But any neutral feelings he may have are still the result of neutral karma ripening.

Was it my other friend’s karma, then, the person who always used the bike? He professed to feeling a “little disappointed” and, although he quickly got over it, one could argue that the unpleasant feeling was a result of some negative karma ripening, even if he didn’t own the bike. Or else, as he managed quickly to overcome his disappointment and be very positive again, was it good karma ripening overall?!

Or was it my karma, as the custodian and lender of the bikes? And if so, given my relative calm on discovering its theft, was it neutral, good, or bad karma ripening!? And what exactly did I or the others all do for this to happen? And did we do it at the same or at different times?!

As for the person who stole the bike, well, I can’t judge his karma because I have no idea of his intention, and karma depends entirely on intention. He might have needed the bike to go visit his mother on her deathbed, for all I know. We figured he probably needed it a lot more than we did, so we mentally gave it to him, which protected him from incurring the full karma of stealing and created good karma for more bikes to come our way later. In fact, the very next day we sold our old car for a couple hundred more dollars than we were expecting, and were able to go ahead and buy another bike!

See, karma is a curious thing! It is far from being fatalistic or simplistic but is a constantly changing, complex play of causes and effects. The immensely mind-boggling interdependence of all conventional appearances hinges on karma, individual and collective. Karma is the other side of the coin from ultimate truth, the emptiness (lack of inherent existence) of all phenomena.

Keep it simple

karma 5Still, however much fun we can have discussing whose karma and what kind of karma it all is, when it comes to actually observing the law of karma on a daily basis it helps to keep it simple. When I want to put good into the world, that’s what I’ll get out, one way or another. Same for my bad and neutral intentions. We can understand the general principles of karma (such as explained in Joyful Path) and leave most of the detailed, subtle stuff for once we’ve fully realized the union of conventional truth and ultimate truth. At that point we’ll be omniscient and can see exactly which actions lead to which effects while simultaneously seeing their emptiness.

I learned a couple more interesting things from this bike situation, which I might as well share now.

No bike 

When we first came off the beach, we both saw it, a rather significant absence, a space where the bike had been. “No bike!” In the meditation on emptiness, we are also seeking a significant absence — lack of inherent existence. That absence is filled with rather cosmic meaning. It means that nothing exists from its own side, so nothing is fixed, and everything depends entirely on the mind. As the great Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna said:

For whom emptiness is possible, anything is possible.

Perspective = reality

While I was using the restroom before our long walk home, my friend happened upon a police aide and mentioned the theft of the bike. He was a jovial elderly Mid-Westerner with a moustache, who drove his blue and white cart up and down the beach all day, just waiting to help people like us, so he took it more seriously than we expected and called it in. Another police aide, his boss, a young friendly Latino turned up, and we chatted about all sorts of things while we waited the hour for the actual police officer to show.

Why didn’t they show sooner? Because they had things like murder and home break-ins to deal with – it seems fair enough. In fact, just as I was wondering whether I should perhaps be a bit more upset about the theft of this fine $700 bike, a crackling message came over the first police aide’s radio: “Woman distressed, male intruder in her house, over.” Yikes. Then this police aide told us that just the previous day his son, a police officer, had been called to a homicide – the victim had been shot in the back of the head for the $400 drug money he had just collected from the shooter.

The theft of our bike and the prospect of the long walk back home were becoming less and less significant the longer we hung out with our friends in blue, and indeed we were beginning to feel really rather lucky! If perspective can change in the light of other thoughts and/or events, it shows there is no “real” situation out there to begin with.

The kindness of strangers

Yet despite our trifling complaint, the police were still attentive and courteous to us, as if they had nothing better to do, and this in turn reminded me of the kindness of strangers and increased my love. So, all in all, a good day’s meditation work …

Postscript: I wrote this article months ago, and, apart from the Buddhism in it, pretty much all my personal circumstances have changed since then, showing the unpredictable nature of karma and how you never know what karma is going to ripen next.

Over to you: Have you been in any situations recently that particularly reminded you of karma and/or emptiness?

Karma and us

Some of you may remember the inappropriate attention I paid to the supposed theft of two bikes two summers ago… bikes that turned out not to be stolen at all.

clear sky cafeWell, some months ago, the big blue bike was stolen “for real”! Someone really wanted that bike. We’d locked them to a palm tree on a relatively busy pathway near the Clear Sky Café, and whoever it was must have pretended to be busily opening the lock whilst actually sawing through it. We figured he must have needed it for himself, rather than for sale, as he left the other bike standing there.

It is good I’d had the rehearsal earlier! And it would have been way too much of an indictment on my progress as a meditator if I had gone through all those mental acrobatics again… So this time, when we returned from two hours on the beach to the sight of no bike, I was prepared, and stayed totally calm. Imagine that!

(The cynical amongst you might say that I stayed calm because it wasn’t actually the bike that I ride that was stolen – my red bike was still next to the palm tree … Or you might ask who doesn’t feel relaxed after 2 hours on the beach?! You’d have a point. But I still claim a small victory.) stolen bike

A few conclusions from this latest bike saga:

Everything has a cause

As we started to walk with the remaining bike on the long journey back home by foot, we wondered whose karma it was and what kind of karma it was.

Everything has a cause. Nothing arises from nothing – a phenomenon arises from something that’s in the same substantial continuum. Physical things must arise from physical causes. The cause of an oak tree is an acorn seed, the cause of a flood is rain, and the cause of our human body is the union of our mother’s egg and father’s sperm.

Buddha was a scientist of the mind who penetrated the actual causes of our mental experiences. He observed that if an action is motivated by a good intention, such as compassion, an experience or feeling of happiness results; but if an action is motivated by delusion, such as anger, it is the actual substantial cause of a suffering experience. Also, there are neutral actions that give rise to neutral experiences. Buddha talked in detail about actions that cause negative effects and those that cause positive effects. He helpfully listed ten negative actions to avoid: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, hurtful speech, idle chatter, ill will, covetousness and wrong view. By abstaining from these, we avoid having to experience their painful results. By practicing positive actions, such as generosity, kindness, patience, cherishing, love, compassion and wisdom, we create the causes for happiness. In this way, we can gain control over the experiences of our life and make it successful.

Bill Meyer put it this way:

Every thought is a seed.  If you plant crab apples, don’t count on harvesting Golden Delicious.

Purification and accepting what is

VajrasattvaIt is worth remembering the teachings on karma often, and especially when we are really suffering deeply– that way we can assume some responsibility and feel less like a hopeless, hard-done-by victim. We can start getting the control back over our lives by purifying all the crud causing this kind of suffering since beginningless time so we don’t have to go through it ever again. Vajrasattva purification is immensely helpful for this, makes you feel lighter again inside, optimistic for the future. The complete blissful purity of all enlightened beings appearing as Buddha Vajrasattva obliterates the heavy karmic load we are bearing, which has been weighing us down year after year and life after life without our even realizing it. If we let our suffering remind us to purify what is actually causing it, this suffering itself leads us straightaway to far less suffering now and in the future! Therefore, suffering is not inherently bad and we can accept it.

We can also accept patiently if we understand this is all karmic appearance to mind — deceptive appearances with no existence from their own side. Our unbearable situation is the reflection of our own delusions and the karma they spawn, no one else’s fault, which means, very fortunately, that to be happy again we don’t actually have to wait helplessly in the (often futile) hope that others might improve. A good friend once said:

“Leave the object alone. Change the mind.”

Real deep, inner refuge and peace comes from doing this, rather than from struggling with the external situation that seems so inherently painful but in fact is not.

Whatever we think and feel depends on our karma

In this very useful manual explaining everything you need to know about your mind and how it works, it says:  

The general function of feeling is to experience the effects of previous actions, or karma. ~ How to Understand the Mind

Feeling is defined as a mental factor (or state of mind) that functions to experience pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral objects. Feeling accompanies every fleeting moment of mind – there is never a time when we are not feeling or experiencing something.

Have you ever come across an object that doesn’t feel pleasant (or good), unpleasant (or bad), or neutral? I can’t think of any; if you can, please let me know in the comments.

In truth, objects are not good, bad, or neutral from their own side – what they are depends on our minds apprehending them, and specifically on the mental factors of feeling and discrimination. Discrimination distinguishes one object from another and, when associated with conceptual minds, functions to impute, label, or name objects. As Geshe Kelsang says:

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.

How we discriminate and experience things depends entirely on our states of mind and our karma. This is rather a significant observation by Buddha.

What are your thoughts on ice cream?
Ice cream makes you happy
Nice try, Wall’s!

Do you like ice cream? And don’t you think it’s funny how if we like something we assume it is nice from its own side? We project or label niceness onto the object and then think that niceness inheres in it. We do this all the time. “Ice cream is great!” you may say, really believing that. However, if ice cream was really great, everyone would think so, yet I for one am more likely to say “Ice cream is okay, sometimes,” which is a fair enough comment from my point of view, and some Eastern cultures just as validly (from their point of view) say “Ice cream is disgusting, it is like eating snot.”

If the people who think ice cream is inherently great just because they like it insist that everyone else thinks that too, then we are in for trouble. And we do this kind of thing all the time, getting into conflict by assuming that the world is WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) and therefore people must have a screw loose not to feel good about the things and the ideas we like, such as our politics, our religion, our country, our friends, and so on.

The same goes of course for thinking things are bad just because we personally discriminate them as such.

Buddha’s observation that everything depends on how we are discriminating and feeling it, both of which are states of mind, might seem obvious once it is pointed out, but we would behave quite differently if we were to live by it. We over-trust our highly subjective and fleeting discriminatory labels and feelings, believing that they are telling us the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the way things actually are. Then we generalize the way we think and feel out to everyone else, often with disastrous consequences.

More on the bikes in part 2 later … meantime, do you believe in karma? Have you got any karma stories you’d like to share?