Twenty rules of life (2)

6.5 mins read.

Meditation practice is not just about sitting on a cushion and concentrating, but practicing to stay positive and peaceful throughout the whole day. I like to think of it as happiness training.

anger 3

Yesterday a meditator of one year, who has just finished working 60 days straight, 16 hours a day, on hurricane rebuilding, told me, “I only lost my temper once during that whole time. I used to lose my temper every single day. My coworkers all noticed and want to know what’s happened to me. I realized that although I haven’t had time for a daily meditation session these past couple of months, the advice on how to stay peaceful and patient is baked into my mind. And I’m really happy about that.”

If he can do it, so can you and me.

So, whatever we are up to today, here are 10 more ideas for staying positive and peaceful. Carrying straight on from this article.

11. Keep your options open

Keeping our mind open is keeping our options open, I think. There are many ways to go about this, but none better than remembering emptiness – everything depends upon thought (including thought!) and so nothing at all is fixed. We can learn to think or label whatever we want and create whatever dream-like reality we want.

For whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible.

as the great sage Nagarjuna said.

12. Don’t be a slave to your surroundings

Hollywood Hills“Possessions and a luxurious home may seem important, but there are more important things to treasure in life.” Especially the happiness that comes from the inner peace of wisdom and love, which is good deal more certain than the happiness that comes from having some cool palm trees in our yard.

The real source of happiness is inner peace. If our mind is peaceful, we will be happy all the time, regardless of external conditions, but if it is disturbed or troubled in any way, we will never be happy, no matter how good our external conditions may be. ~ How to Transform Your Life

Talking of which, I was strolling in the Land of the One Percenters (aka the Hollywood Hills) a few days ago, wondering whether luxury made life easier for everyone up here. Of course it does in some ways, I was thinking, and I was glad for them because lord knows there are more than enough people suffering from abysmal poverty and homelessness in our world. I was also making a little prayer that some of their good karma might ripen on them in the form of spiritual realizations (like universal love and generosity to homeless charities, to name but two).

luxury living made easy

But then, even so, I came across this real estate sign, “Luxury living made easy.” Which seems to suggest that luxury living can be hard work. Someone in LA was also telling me that they have a beautiful garden, jacuzzi, and view, and yet still they sit there wondering why they cannot enjoy it more.

This rule reminds me of this line I’ve been thinking about a lot recently from the benefits of meditation section in How to Transform Your Life, how we are, “too closely involved in the external situation”. This can lead to attachment to outcome and the corresponding anxiety when things aren’t working out exactly as we desire – we are up and down like a blimmin’ yo yo. We don’t want to be enslaved by external appearances, by fleeting surroundings, like a yo yo or a puppet on a string. If we want to be satisfied and fulfilled, we need to master our minds instead.

13. Learn not to be gluttonous

“We as a society obsess over food and the pleasures of fine dining, or even just a good takeaway.” But as Buddha pointed out, contradictory desireswe are full of contradictory desires, which is one reason why our attachment doesn’t work out for us — we want rich food and zero body fat, for example, or loads of alcohol and no grogginess.

For me, recalling that I’ve given my body away in the service of the Buddhas and all living beings helps me look after it better in terms of enjoying exercise and not being quite so attached to eating unhealthy stuff. Eat to live, not live to eat, as the old saying goes. (Work in progress. I just had a packet of chips.)

14. Abandon possessions in favor of minimalism

Or “don’t hold onto things you don’t need any more.” The practice of giving can be very liberating because it helps us let go of grasping so tightly at Me, My, and Mine.

There is probably no optimum number of possessions; everyone is different. So I think it is not the number of possessions we have but the way we are viewing them that is conducive to happiness and fulfillment. However, our possessions would seem to derive the most meaning from being given away, or being used directly or indirectly for others’ sake. Click on these links for more practical stuff on overcoming miserliness and becoming more open-hearted and generous.

15. Do not believe something just because you’re told to

echo chamber“Don’t just follow the crowd and listen to others’ opinions.” Good advice for us in our modern echo chambers. Buddhism is all about this as a matter of fact — we are encouraged to check everything out carefully in our own experience to see if it is true for us before taking it on board. Buddha said we should not blindly believe him just because he is Buddha, but to test the teachings for their authenticity as if we were testing gold before committing to buying it.

Faith and experience go hand in hand. If we try something and it works, for example cherishing others, we can then have the confidence and faith to try something else, for example giving up selfishness.

16. Respect the gods, but do not rely solely on their guidance

I take this to mean that we need to rely on all Three Jewels — Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Our ultimate protection is Dharma Jewel, the Dharma wisdom we grow in our own minds as a result of listening to Buddhist teachings, contemplating, and meditating. We do most certainly need the inspiration and guidance of enlightened beings and fellow practitioners to steer us out of the ocean of samsara, and, as Geshe Kelsang explains in Great Treasury of Merit, we also need the inner teacher of our own wisdom.

17. Have no fear of dying

The only way we can pull this one off is if we come happily to terms with our death now rather than waiting till our deathbed when it’ll be a bit too late. An awareness of impermanence and death, “I may die today,” enables us to live our precious life to the full, go with the flow, and prepare for a peaceful death and good future lives.

18. Do not use weaponry unless it is necessary

Heruka Toussaint-1Ermm, what to say … I do agree with the author that we shouldn’t attack people, and I would include in that butchering defenseless animals. And Buddha Heruka has a lot of weapons that he uses all the time to overcome the enemy of the delusions, but never living beings.

19. Do not put pressure on retiring with riches

“Again, it was suggested we should live in the moment and not chase happiness in the form of possessions.” I guess the salient word is “pressure” — we can still make plans for retirement without attachment. If we see the importance of preparing for the future, we can also encourage ourselves to plan for our countless future lives, seeing as these are far more definite than retirement in this life (especially these days! LOL), and far more lengthy.

20. Always protect your honor

“Live life as honorably as you know how to” with, for example, the aid of sense of shame and consideration for others, being a reliable, non-hypocritical, kind, and trustworthy person.

Conclusion

Although these are 20 quite random bits of Dharma advice, which pretty much boil down to practicing wisdom and compassion, I enjoyed thinking about them; so thank you for reading. As mentioned at the end of the last article, if you like lists of practical advice for inspiring daily living, you can find some time-tested Kadampa “rules” in the books Universal Compassion (the precepts and commitments of training the mind) and The Bodhisattva Vow.

Comments welcome below.

Drop into your heart and breathe

meditating on rockThere are many breathing meditations, and one popular version involves breathing out our disturbing thoughts, distractions, problems etc. in the form of thick smoke and breathing into our heart happiness and blessings in the form of light.*

I find it can be very useful to target this breathing meditation against specific delusions or problems that I’m having, and to breathe in their opponent positive state of mind. It works for any delusion, eg, love vs hatred, renunciation vs attachment, rejoicing vs jealousy. I’ll explain one way I do below, here based on reducing our miserliness and increasing our generosity, its opposite … the meditation is guided below.

First I remind myself that delusions are just thoughts, they have no arms or legs as Shantideva points out, so only harm me insofar as I insist on thinking them, following them, buying into them.

All our thoughts arise from the blissful clarity of our own mental awareness, but some are based on inappropriate attention whereas others are more realistic and therefore conducive to mental health and happiness.

With some effort, the habitual miserly thoughts that cause us pain can change into other, more generous thoughts, which are their opponent — like light cancelling out darkness in so far as you cannot have a miserly thought about something and a generous thought about it at the same time.

Anyone who is reading this can do this because our minds can change completely — we can learn to think thoughts of our own choosing.

don't believe everything you thinkTo begin with, and here is where breathing meditation comes in handy, we sometimes just need the wisdom to know that we can first accept and then let go of our thoughts rather than perpetually having to fight or grapple with them.

Also, as always when training the mind, we must identify with our potential and not with being miserly – “Hey, I’m a stingy b****, but I’m trying to practice giving here”, as we offer someone the last slice of pizza – this feels unnatural, it doesn’t take.  The example of quitting smoking might be helpful here.

Meditation

(1) Relax, sit in a good posture with your back straight but not rigid, your shoulders level but relaxed, your mouth lightly closed, and your eyes either lightly closed or slightly open. My feeling is that these days we can just as well sit in chairs to meditate effectively because we grew up on chairs – so, if you find it difficult to get into a full lotus posture, don’t panic, you didn’t start out in life sitting this way at your mother’s knees (unlike Indians and Tibetans in the old days) and it is not essential for gaining realizations. (Geshe Kelsang has even said we can get enlightened in an armchair!) The main thing is to stay upright so as to stay alert. Focus on how you’re sitting, come into the present moment, forget about everything else.

(2)    Drop from your head to your heart. Immediately distractions will diminish and you’ll sense the spaciousness and peace of your Buddha nature. Just drop your awareness, your center of gravity. Don’t overthink it. We can do all our meditations from this vantage point and it makes them a lot better.

(3)    To overcome distractions focused outward, now think that that everything outside the room melts into light and disappears, including the past and the future  — what you did today and what you have planned for tomorrow. Then the walls of the room melt into light and disappear. Then everything inside the room, outside of your body, melts into light and disappears.

(4)    All that remains is your body, suspended in empty space. To relax and unwind your body, first become aware of any tension, tightness, pain, or heaviness starting at your crown and working your way down to your feet.  Are your shoulders tense, for example? Are your hands tense? (often a good indicator of whether the rest of you is). Think, “I don’t have to hold onto all this accumulated physical stress”, and drop it, like dropping heavy luggage. Every muscle relaxes, and your body melts into light so that just its merest outline remains.

(5) You think, “My body is hollow, made of light, as if I could pass my hand through it without obstruction. It is as weightless as a feather. It is so comfortable that I’m hardly even aware that it is there.” Enjoy this deep physical relaxation for a little while.body of light

(6)    Now you can relax and unwind the mind with breathing meditation. Remember you’re in your heart. Identify any miserly thoughts you’ve been having eg, ignoring the homeless guy, not wanting to share your possessions or your time or your friends, and remember some of the faults of hanging onto these thoughts (see this article.)

(7)    Let these take the form of thick heavy smoke and breathe them out through your nostrils. They vanish into space, never to return. With every outbreath you feel lighter and more peaceful. Do this for as long as you want with conviction and concentration.

(8)    Now imagine that all around the outline of your body is the most blissful sphere of light, the most beautiful light you can imagine. In aspect it is light, but its nature is all the peace, love and generosity from throughout the universe, including all the blessings and inspiration of all holy beings. Wherever it touches your body, you experience bliss.

(9)    Breathe this clear light into your heart, where it joins the inner light of your Buddha nature. Ride the light into your heart.

(10)    Focusing on the peace at your heart, think, “Whatever peace I am feeling, however slight, indicates my potential for lasting peace. Whatever generosity I am feeling is my potential to be totally open-hearted, like a Buddha. This is me.”

(11)   This light radiates like a sun shining inside. It spreads out until it dissolves my body. Then it spreads out further to reach the clear light in the hearts of those around me, whether physically close or mentally close as in my family, friends, pets, etc. It activates their Buddha nature and they become blissfully happy, generous, etc.

(12)   As an addition, I sometimes think that once I have fully realized this potential and ripened my Buddha nature, I will be a fully enlightened being, like Buddha, who is now sitting in front of me. Understanding that faith in Buddha necessitates faith in my own enlightened potential, and that we’ve always had this connection, I recite the Liberating Prayer as a request for more blessings.

(13)   Any feeling of peace we experience during this meditation and in general is the same as Buddha’s blessings, not separate. Check out this article to find out more.

*I personally don’t use the terms “black” smoke and “white” light as I feel in our modern culture that these can actually sound racist, whereas they were just colors back in Tibet. And as these are symbolic of our negative and positive thoughts, I think they perhaps could be any colored smoke or light. For me, thick heavy smoke and clear light (in fact the most beautiful light I can imagine) works better. But if black and white works for you, go for it.

Related articles

Good beginnings

New Year’s resolution to meditate

Doing meditation retreat

The relevance of inner peace

Awakening the Santa within

This is continued from this article for the holiday season. So, what’s wrong with miserliness. Well, for starters:

Due to miserliness we sometimes wish to hold onto our possessions forever, but since this is impossible we experience much suffering. If our possessions dwindle, or we are forced to give them away, we experience great pain. The more miserly we are, the more concerned we are about our possessions and the more worry and anxiety we suffer ~ Understanding the Mind

miserliness and generosity
dead weight

With miserliness, we are tied to externals. We are tied to our things. They become like dead weights — we’re worried about them, anxious about them, holding onto them tightly, weighing ourselves down. But possessions do not equal happiness. Wealth doesn’t equal happiness. Happiness comes from a peaceful, positive, happy mind. There is nothing actually out there that has the power from its own side to make us happy. They’re just things.

What does it mean to be a generous person?

Happiness is a state of mind, so its real causes lie within the mind.  Buddha Shakyamuni said in one Sutra that if people only understood the incredible good results of not clinging so tightly to their things but instead sharing them with others, then even if they had only a few scraps of food left to eat they’d still want to share it. If they could find someone to share it with, they would.

Even though there is a recession on, we still actually have an awful lot of things, don’t we, compared to many people in our world? These great resources are due, karmically speaking, to generosity we’ve practiced in the past. One question is, are we holding tightly onto a lot of things that we don’t necessarily need?

No one is suggesting you rush out and sell your house (if you still have one) or empty your bank account, because being homeless would just cause a whole lot of problems for a lot of other people. When we talk about “giving” in Buddhism, we are really talking about just that wish to help others through our resources, that wish to share, the wish to give when the time is right, and so on. (There is actually a type of giving that’s called “keeping”, where we don’t rush off and give everything away but instead look after resources like a custodian so as to help people most effectively when the time is right. The great Tibetan Yogi Marpa practiced this type of giving, and you can read about it in Joyful Path of Good Fortune.)

When people who are very generous go into a situation, such as walking into a room, they think to themselves: “What can I contribute here? What can I do to help? What can I give — can I give my time, my enthusiasm, my love, my attention, my support, any of my possessions?” This is the practice of giving.

me v. others

With miserliness, if we walk into a room, it’s like: “What can I get out of this situation? Who here can help me get what I want?”

I think this kind of sums up the difference between miserliness and the spirit of generosity, which is what we’re actually talking about here, not actually giving away our last cent. I’m trying to make this clear because otherwise people can start getting nervous when they hear advice on giving! (Though at this time of year we at least are more predisposed to it, hence the timing of these articles ;-))

The one-year rule

So if we are really holding tightly onto things we don’t actually want to use, we might want to ask ourselves why that is the case. (I’m actually talking to myself here.) Perhaps we’re holding onto things that we feel might come in handy fifteen years down the road — a bunch of stuff we know we’re never going to use but still there’s a sense of, “Ooh! What if I give it away, I might need it one day!” I know people who subscribe to the “one year rule” – if they haven’t used something in a year, the chances are they’re not going to use it, so they give it away. (One good friend of mine is down to pretty much two suitcases! And it makes him feel very light on his feet, free and flexible). But with our miserliness we get anxious at the thought of even giving something small away. We think “Maybe I’ll have a two year rule. Or maybe a ten year rule. Or how about a death rule – I’ll give it away when I die.” (It is a bit late by then – as Milarepa pointed out, it is far better to give stuff away while we’ve still got the choice to do so, before it is ripped  from us.)

“Heck, why did I give that away?!”

Understanding the Mind continues:

Miserliness is the opposite of the mind of giving. Sometimes miserliness prevents us from giving at all, and at other times it causes us to develop a sense of loss or regret when we do give.

Have you ever had the experience of managing to give something away but then thinking: “Heck, what did I do that for?!”

Although miserliness might appear to be a prudent attitude that assures our material security in this life, from a long term point of view it is very foolish. By preventing the wish to practice giving from arising, miserliness causes poverty in future lives. ~ Understanding the Mind

From a Buddhist point of view, we talk about past and future lives and about karma, that all our actions have consequences. In the short term they have consequences, and in the long term they have consequences. Buddha Shakyamuni explained that from giving comes wealth whereas from miserliness comes poverty.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Even psychologically speaking, if we’re holding tightly onto our things and not giving them away, we can sense that we’re not really creating the cause to get things back, are we? But when we give, we’re creating the cause to receive.

If you have any observations or questions, please share these in the comments so I can try and address them.

And please do share this article for Christmas 🙂

(I wrote this last Christmas, but I think it still applies… 😉

First you, then me ~ the Bodhisattva’s attitude

I hope you’re having a happy holiday season. Just before Christmas I wrote a couple of articles about becoming more generous, and I have a few more things to say on the subject. We’ve no doubt bought and given all our presents by now, but we don’t have to wait a whole ‘nother year before we go crazy giving again! Generosity is the first “perfection” of a Bodhisattva, an essential part of their way of life leading to enlightenment. The more generous we become, the happier we’ll be.

What is a possession?

We have a strong sense of ownership, which if you check is a strong sense of mine. And where does a strong sense of mine come from? It actually comes from a strong sense of me — I in the possessive mode. Of me. The stronger our sense of mine, the stronger our sense of me. Our possessions are mine, which is like me in the possessive mode, me apostrophe s, me’s. It’s all about me. This shirt is my shirt, it is of me, get off it, you can’t borrow it! My shirt!

I had this experience, actually, I will confess. After the marathon we ran in Sacramento some years ago, we were given these fantastic red shirts with the logo: “Run for World Peace” and this great quote, “Without Inner Peace, Outer Peace is Impossible.” My shirt fitted me perfectly. And I loved it, and was so looking forward to just wearing it.

But then somebody said sadly, “Oh, I only got a large, I can’t wear a large, I’m a small,” and this thought came into my head, “Oh, crikey, I’m going to have to give them mine, aren’t I, show a good example?” So I did, I asked if they wanted to swap, and there was a pang – “Ugh. I’ve got a large shirt now, a large red shirt saying, “Without Inner Peace, Outer Peace is Impossible.”

It is so useful when things like this happen, you just see this childish, pathetic mind. I was happy to make her smile, truth be told, but at the same time I had attachment to this shirt, I had already labeled it “mine”, and as a result there was a bit of a pang. And then of course I had to give away the large shirt too as it didn’t fit.

So in reality this mind of holding onto things, it’s painful. Miserliness is a painful mind. It’s a tight mind, there’s no joy in it. That’s something we can check – “Do I derive any joy from holding tightly onto my things?” The part of me that did manage to give the shirt away and see the happiness she got from it felt great! It was such a better feeling!

Happiness is a state of mind, and we can’t find it in our shirts (especially when we already have a bunch of shirts!) There is no long-term security in any of our things, there’s not even any short-term security in them, for they cannot actually protect us from suffering, which is also a state of mind whose causes lie within.

Why do we feel so insecure that we have to bolster ourselves up with possessions, people, money, and so on? That insecurity is coming from our exaggerated sense of self, trying to protect that self, when in reality that’s counter-productive. The way to protect ourselves and find happiness is in loving others and letting go of that strong sense of self.

The weight of the world

Also, we are going to be dead within a few hundred months (but you knew that already, right?!) At that point, everything’s ripped away from us – our things provide us with literally no security whatsoever at the time of death.

In Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully, my Teacher says that if we’re very attached to our possessions throughout our life, then when the time of death comes we’ll be like a bird trying to fly with weights tied to its little feet. The bird cannot move, and, in the same way, if we die with miserliness still in place, we’re in big trouble when it comes to future lives. We’ll be weighed down in samsara, this cycle of impure life. From Buddha’s point of view, it is very dangerous to have strong self-cherishing and miserliness at the time of death. We definitely don’t want to be weighed down.

And miserliness already weighs us down now. It is such a heavy mind. Giving is such a light mind. It is such a free-ing and flexible mind.

SCHLURP

Self-cherishing is like a big black hole. It doesn’t matter what you throw into a black hole —  SCHLURP! It sucks it all up, doesn’t it? We have been throwing things at our self-cherishing our entire life, let’s face it. We’ve been trying to protect our precious selves, nurture ourselves, give ourselves things, help ourselves, humor ourselves, grasp at happiness non-stop throughout the entire course of our life, but have we in fact succeeded in giving ourselves that lasting happiness or freedom from problems, or has our self-cherishing simply sucked it all in so we just have to go feed it again the next day – SCHLURP?!!!

When we learn to cherish others, then we naturally want to protect them, nurture them, and so on. We want to give them things when it’s suitable. We want to give our time, our advice, our encouragement, our love, our protection — like a radiating sun. That’s the difference. Self-cherishing and miserliness are a big, black hole, whereas cherishing others and giving are like a sun shining, radiating blissful energy towards everybody. We ourselves are so happy, and the people we’re with are happy.

Letting go

We will experience happiness both now and in the future. In his Friendly Letter, the great Indian Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna says:

There is no better friend for the future
Than giving – bestowing gifts properly
On ordained people, Brahmins, the poor, and friends –
Knowing enjoyments to be transitory and essenceless.

There are a lot of deserving people we can give to – those who need help, those who’ve been very kind to us, those who are dedicating their lives to helping others, and so on. We can give, knowing that in any case our enjoyments are transitory and essenceless, so why hold onto them? They’re all utterly temporary. If we have some understanding of the dream-like nature of things, we also know that we cannot even find anything outside of our mind, so why would we want to hold onto it? It is about as satisfying as trying to grab ahold of objects in a dream.

At its deepest, the practice of generosity is very close to the practice of wisdom, because it is a profound sense of letting go of that sense of mine, which is so close to our sense of me. Giving up a sense of owning things is an amazing practice with profound results.

I would love to hear your own stories and observations on giving v. miserliness. Please give this Article #99 to anyone who might like it! And like Kadampa Life on Facebook if you want to discuss these kinds of things there as well.

Awakening our inner Santa

This is continued from this article for the holiday season. So, what’s wrong with miserliness. Well, for starters:

Due to miserliness we sometimes wish to hold onto our possessions forever, but since this is impossible we experience much suffering. If our possessions dwindle, or we are forced to give them away, we experience great pain. The more miserly we are, the more concerned we are about our possessions and the more worry and anxiety we suffer ~ Understanding the Mind

With miserliness, we are tied to externals. We are tied to our things. They become like dead weights — we’re worried about them, anxious about them, holding onto them tightly, weighing ourselves down. But possessions do not equal happiness. Wealth doesn’t equal happiness. Happiness comes from a peaceful, positive, happy mind. There is nothing actually out there that has the power from its own side to make us happy. They’re just things.

What does it mean to be a generous person?

Happiness is a state of mind, so its real causes lie within the mind.  Buddha Shakyamuni said in one Sutra that if people only understood the incredible good results of not clinging so tightly to their things but instead sharing them with others, then even if they had only a few scraps of food left to eat they’d still want to share it. If they could find someone to share it with, they would.

Even though there is a recession on, we still actually have an awful lot of things, don’t we, compared to many people in our world? These great resources are due, karmically speaking, to generosity we’ve practiced in the past. One question is, are we holding tightly onto a lot of things that we don’t necessarily need?

No one is suggesting you rush out and sell your house (if you still have one) or empty your bank account, because being homeless would just cause a whole lot of problems for a lot of other people. When we talk about “giving” in Buddhism, we are really talking about just that wish to help others through our resources, that wish to share, the wish to give when the time is right, and so on. (There is actually a type of giving that’s called “keeping”, where we don’t rush off and give everything away but instead look after resources like a custodian so as to help people most effectively when the time is right. The great Tibetan Yogi Marpa practiced this type of giving, and you can read about it in Joyful Path of Good Fortune.)

When people who are very generous go into a situation, such as walking into a room, they think to themselves: “What can I contribute here? What can I do to help? What can I give — can I give my time, my enthusiasm, my love, my attention, my support, any of my possessions?” This is the practice of giving.

me v. others

With miserliness, if we walk into a room, it’s like: “What can I get out of this situation? Who here can help me get what I want?”

I think this kind of sums up the difference between miserliness and the spirit of generosity, which is what we’re actually talking about here, not actually giving away our last cent. I’m trying to make this clear because otherwise people can start getting nervous when they hear advice on giving! (Though at this time of year we at least are more predisposed to it, hence the timing of these articles ;-))

The one-year rule

So if we are really holding tightly onto things we don’t actually want to use, we might want to ask ourselves why that is the case. (I’m actually talking to myself here.) Perhaps we’re holding onto things that we feel might come in handy fifteen years down the road — a bunch of stuff we know we’re never going to use but still there’s a sense of, “Ooh! What if I give it away, I might need it one day!” I know people who subscribe to the “one year rule” – if they haven’t used something in a year, the chances are they’re not going to use it, so they give it away. (One good friend of mine is down to pretty much two suitcases! And it makes him feel very light on his feet, free and flexible). But with our miserliness we get anxious at the thought of even giving something small away. We think “Maybe I’ll have a two year rule. Or maybe a ten year rule. Or how about a death rule – I’ll give it away when I die.” (It is a bit late by then – as Milarepa pointed out, it is far better to give stuff away while we’ve still got the choice to do so, before it is ripped  from us.)

“Heck, why did I give that away?!”

Understanding the Mind continues:

Miserliness is the opposite of the mind of giving. Sometimes miserliness prevents us from giving at all, and at other times it causes us to develop a sense of loss or regret when we do give.

Have you ever had the experience of managing to give something away but then thinking: “Heck, what did I do that for?!”

Although miserliness might appear to be a prudent attitude that assures our material security in this life, from a long term point of view it is very foolish. By preventing the wish to practice giving from arising, miserliness causes poverty in future lives. ~ Understanding the Mind

From a Buddhist point of view, we talk about past and future lives and about karma, that all our actions have consequences. In the short term they have consequences, and in the long term they have consequences. Buddha Shakyamuni explained that from giving comes wealth whereas from miserliness comes poverty.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Even psychologically speaking, if we’re holding tightly onto our things and not giving them away, we can sense that we’re not really creating the cause to get things back, are we? But when we give, we’re creating the cause to receive.

If you have any observations or questions, please share these in the comments so I can try and address them.

And please do share this article # 98 for Christmas 🙂

Watching out for the Scrooge within

The holiday season is upon us, and it seems as good a time as any to think about miserliness and generosity.

Ebenezer Scrooge: What reason have you got to be merry? You’re poor enough.
Fred: What reason have you got to be miserable? You’re rich enough.
Ebenezer Scrooge: There is no such thing as rich enough; only poor enough.

Self-cherishing is depressing

We’ve looked at how so many problems come from self-cherishing – negative actions, suffering, anxiety, prejudice, disharmony, inequality, an inability to reach out to others with love or compassion, etc. Self-cherishing has so many faults and makes us so miserable. In a chapter called Exchanging Self with Others in Transform Your Life, you can read pages and pages about what self-cherishing is and what’s wrong with it. For example, my teacher Geshe Kelsang says:

With self-cherishing we hold our opinions and interests very strongly and are not willing to see a situation from another point of view. As a consequence we easily get angry and wish to harm others verbally or even physically. Self-cherishing makes us feel depressed whenever our wishes are not fulfilled, we fail in our ambitions, or our life does not turn out the way we planned. If we examine all the times we have been miserable…

We can do this, you know, check in our own experience all the times we’ve been miserable and ask, “Who was I thinking about at that time?” We will probably discover that these times are indeed:

…characterized by an excessive concern for our own welfare. If we lose our job, our home, our reputation, or our friends we feel sad, but only because we are so attached to these things. We are not nearly so concerned when other people lose their jobs or are parted from their friends.

Pretty small package

The poet John Donne said:

When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.

One clear example of self-cherishing holding sway is when we feel miserly. With miserliness, we are really wrapped up in ourselves, just trying to hold onto our stuff. And not just material things or people, but our time, our energy, our love. As Scrooge says:

I wish to be left alone, sir! That is what I wish!

We are just holding on, bolstering our sense of self, we don’t want to let go. We don’t want people intruding on us, let alone asking things of us. When we have a miserly mind, we don’t want to share, we just want to hold on with tight fists and a tight mind. Tight-fisted is a great word for it because I think we do physically clench up when we’re miserly.

Yesterday the cat Rousseau had the delusion of miserliness. We have new tenants upstairs and one of them, Pete, was giving Rousseau some of his very favorite salmon treats. Little Nelson shyly tried to join in, but Rousseau growled – translated into English he was warning: “It’s mine, go away, go away!” When Nelson did not immediately leave, Rousseau chased him around the garden and under the house. (This happens rather too often.)

We try to teach our kids (and even our cats) how nice it is to share: “Look how much happier that child is because they’re sharing! Look, little Johnny, why don’t you share? Look how nice it is!” Because it is, isn’t it? Cats who share their treats and kids who share their toys are happier – that’s why we encourage them to do it. Cats and kids who play generously with other cats and kids obviously have a lot more fun.

I was thinking I could learn from Rousseau’s behavior, take a big leaf out of that book. Why do I hold tightly onto things? It’s exactly the same childish mentality, isn’t it? “I want this to myself. If I keep it to myself, I’ll have a great time, but if I give it to someone else, I’ve lost something.”

This is miserliness – the feeling that giving or even sharing something will mean losing out. We don’t lose out at all, the opposite is the case. We gain, but we feel we lose out, so why is that?  The reason we feel erroneously that we are losing out is because we are under the sway of our ignorant self-cherishing.

As my teacher says:

Controlling our self-cherishing is of great value, even temporarily. All worries, anxiety, and sadness are based on self-cherishing. The moment we let go of our obsessive concern for our own welfare, our mind naturally relaxes and becomes lighter.

Defining miserliness

Miserliness clearly obstructs our ability to be generous. Geshe Kelsang gives a definition of miserliness that comes from the teachings of Buddha, who was an extraordinary diagnostician of the mind with a clear understanding of which states of mind give rise to happiness or suffering. Buddha explained clear definitions, types and divisions for all types of mind — positive, negative and neutral — and explained how they arise, what faults or benefits they possess, and how to abandon or cultivate them. In a way, the whole practice of meditation is basically just this — learning to identify negative states of mind (called “delusions”) in order to get rid of them and learning to identify positive states of mind in order to cultivate them. Every single person reading this, if they want to, can reduce their miserliness and become more generous. There’s nothing fixed about us at all. If we use our wisdom and our determination, we can definitely change everything about ourselves to become totally, kinder, wiser, and more generous people.

So the definition of miserliness is a deluded mental factor (or state of mind) that, motivated principally by desirous attachment, holds onto things tightly and does not want to part with them.

Giving on the other hand is a virtuous determination to give, motivated for example by love — you want to give things, love, time, encouragement, advice, support and so on — all coming from the wish to help others.

generosity

So miserliness is the polar opposite of giving, isn’t it? It is motivated by attachment, which is the delusion that thinks happiness lies “out there” – it inheres in my things, for example, such as my salmon treats, or is to be found in my spare time, or in my best friends. Attachment grasps tightly at the causes of happiness being outside the mind. Motivated by it, we then hold onto things (and people) tightly and don’t want to part with them, which is the opposite of wanting to give them away or share them.

What’s wrong with miserliness? More in the next article… Also, if you have any observations or questions about this subject, please share these in the comments so I can have a go at addressing them!

And please feel free to give this article away to anyone who might like it 🙂

Letting go before we are swamped

One of my dearest friends is a hoarder. He is gentle, kind, thoughtful, funny, and very unable to let go of his junk. For him, of course, that is because it is not junk. We tried to do a yard sale of all his stuff earlier this year and after weeks of work involving a small army of his loved ones, we raised all of $300. This to my mind proved that his big house-load of stuff was junk, but that reasoning does not work on him. This is because for him it could all come in useful one day, either for himself or for someone who really needs a toy plastic truck or box of expired cereal.

And I know that feeling. I have also found it hard to let go of things that have no earthly value, let alone spiritual value. Last Christmas my boyfriend and I had to move out of our apartment in the space of a week as we were both jobless and suddenly rootless.

I was dreading packing up the house and finding homes for all our stuff. But he has always liked the idea of traveling light, preferably with just two suitcases, and found it liberating to just let it all go… That attitude was infectious and we had one of the nicest Christmas days choosing and packing up about 70 gifts for our friends from amongst our possessions.

Hoarders feel a sense of loss parting with insignificant possessions, such as old newspapers or deceptively glossy magazines. But it is a question of degree. I realized that a lot of my possessions are yesterday’s news too, I don’t really need them today, someone else could get a lot more out of them. Attachment is a mind that believes happiness inheres in external objects (or people). But one man’s treasure is another man’s junk. I would gladly pay someone to cart away my friend’s stuff so that he could actually move around in his house again (but dealing with strong attachment is clearly not as easy as that, as any hoarder or their family will tell you.)

Attachment and clinging are painful states of mind, but an effective way to counteract them is to practice giving things away. Just doing it, starting small as needs be. What I discovered about even some of my more “precious” objects is that once the object was given, any pain evaporated, partly as it is hard to miss something you were not using! It is sometimes more the idea of the object that enthralls us than the object itself. Get rid of the object, hopefully the idea quickly fades…

But attachment and clinging are strong habits, so unless we do give a little regularly to counteract these, we might find ourself with a little bit of a hoarder’s mentality ourself…

Still, as for my loyal friend, when I needed somewhere to stay for a few months, he accomplished the remarkable task of clearing out half his house for me to live in. His unselfish love overcame his hoarding instincts, and was an inspiration. Someone else needs a place to stay now, and he is in the process of clearing a space for him. The trick will be, I can see, to make sure there is always someone in his life who needs a place to stay!