Time to rebel!

There seems to be a fair bit of hubris around lately, like it’s catching or something, and some of it is quite dangerous. Deluded pride is more about bending the world to our own will, thinking we are already great and/or know it all. It never works out in the long term — as they say, pride always comes before a fall. And pride is not inspiring.manjushri

With wisdom, on the other hand, we see that WE need to change if we are to find lasting happiness and help others do the same. We need the confidence to change, and this needs to be based on something valid, ie, our spiritual potential and actual good qualities, not dumb stuff or selfish stuff or negative stuff.

Actual self-confidence — or non-deluded pride — is a humble mind, the very opposite of hubris. It is able to accept challenges without freaking out, learn from others, grow from mistakes, and keep us moving and improving. It is also catching because when we meet a truly humble, selfless person we are humbled by their guru-and-lineage-gurus-black-and-whitehumble nature. Their influence can be huge and their inspiration ring down the ages.

Even one strong delusion can be a powerful force for negativity in our world – delusions are weird and scary, and they can spread fast. But a strong, virtuous, sane mind like self-confident humility or compassion is just as powerful and contagious, maybe more so, and can oppose the delusions directly. So being the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi put it, is an effective response to our own and others’ delusions; and, unlike trying to master other people, mastering our own mind is guaranteed to bring about good results now and later.

Carrying on from this article.

Pride in thinking we can destroy our delusions

The second area in which we can increase our self-confidence is called “the pride in thinking we can destroy our delusions.” This is the thought:

I can conquer all my delusions; they will never conquer me. ~ How to Understand the Mind

We are thinking, “I don’t want to stay the same – I want to become unstuck by freeing my mind from the chains of my delusions.” In ordinary psychology, perhaps, we hardly dare imagine that we can change that much – getting rid of all our faults and limitations, as opposed to just some of them. But in Buddhist psychology, as explained a bit here, it is possible to develop a vision that understands we can.

It is impossible to destroy our spiritual potential because this is based on reality, but it is perfectly possible to destroy our delusions because these are based on wrong conceptions that can be righted:

A person under the influence of delusions is not in his right mind, because he is creating terrible suffering for himself and no one in his right mind would create suffering for himself. All delusions are based on a mistaken way of seeing things. When we see things as they really are, our delusions naturally disappear and virtuous minds naturally manifest. ~ How to Transform Your Life 

Bodhisattva warriors

warriorsTry thinking this: “I’m going to destroy, vanquish, and utterly eliminate from my mind every last trace of delusion.” Just try it out. Try the feel of it in your heart-mind. I am going to destroy my delusions. This is how Shantideva says it in his epic Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

 I will conquer all obstacles,
And none shall conquer me.

That is a big sense of self, right?! But it’s not the big, real, important self as in deluded pride (the self that doesn’t exist).

Thus I, who will become a Conqueror,
Will practice with self-confidence.

A real Conqueror is a Buddha, someone who has awakened from the sleep of mistaken conceptions and appearances, destroying all their delusions permanently.

We need this self-confidence so that when things go wrong, (as they do tend to do), we need never become panic-stricken or downcast.

You know that feeling – if our confidence is weak, then just some little thing crops up, like an annoying email, and we trip up and collapse. It’s like we’re setting out to practice patience and suddenly people are being doubly disagreeable. “Ohh, I can’t do it!” In truth, the opposite is the case. “I, who am going to become a Buddha, will destroy all my delusions.”

Shantideva illustrates how we can put ourselves into that space with the example of a warrior – saying that if a warrior in battle gets a flesh wound and sees their own blood, they are roused to greater acts of courage. Whereas if someone bloodies me with a sword … well, I don’t know what I’d do, but if my brief days of playing school sports are anything to go by, I’d probably slink off the battle field as soon as as I could without being noticed.manjushri-wisdom-sword

The Bodhisattva is like a warrior – they start experiencing obstacles, and they are like, “Great! Bring it on!” More reason to wield the sword of wisdom against the delusions, more reason to be self-confident. 

And in truth, why shouldn’t we be self-confident? We know where the obstacles are coming from = just our own mind. The intriguing thing about the obstacles, the delusions, is that that’s all they are – they’re just delusions. Meaning not only are they just thoughts, without arms or legs as Shantideva says (let alone swords), but they also don’t have truth on their side. They’re actually grounded in ignorance. They are founded on a misperception of reality. Whereas we can become a Buddha, that’s the truth. We can overcome our delusions, that’s the truth. Wisdom, love, compassion, generosity, patience, self-confidence and all the other virtuous minds are based on seeing reality correctly.

The real battle lines are drawn 

It’s not a fight between good versus evil where we are on the sidelines, on tenterhooks, “Who’s going to win the ultimate battle, the dark side, the light side?!” It’s not like that — especially if we are talking about living beings versus living beings because we are all mixed bags of delusions and virtues changing all the time, and from one life to the next, so who could ever possibly win a battle like that?!

The real battle lines are wisdom versus ignorance, and finally, in that war, ignorance doesn’t stand a chance. This is because it is ignorant! It is stupid. It is also stubborn and fairly persuasive while we remain under its influence, but as soon as we start to view it from the perspective of wisdom it doesn’t stand a chance.

curved-knife
By holding in her right hand a curved knife, Buddha Vajrayogini — the wisdom of all Buddhas  — shows her power to cut the continuum of the delusions and obstacles of her followers and of all living beings.

More on this second type of self-confidence in the next article — we are out of time as I know a lot of readers have things to do like march the streets today. That’s cool, I like that people are standing up for what they believe in. Maybe it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway, that our outward action is nurtured and given its meaning by our inner motivations. So even in these, for many people, difficult and scary times, and in the heat of battle, I am trying to remember that my real rebellion is against the delusions or wrong conceptions – never other living beings — and starting with my own.

Feedback from you: How do you stay confident enough to prioritize conquering your delusions, even when things are going badly wrong and the tendency to feel upset and lash out might be strong?

Next type of self-confidence can be found here.

Related articles

Think globally, act locally

What are delusions?

Overcoming discouragement

 

The year of living confidently

changing-sufferingIf we want 2019 to be better than 2018, we might want to cultivate some more self-confidence. I was thinking about how we cannot afford to become heavy-hearted or overwhelmed with all the things that will inevitably go wrong publicly and privately this year, or we will be of little use to anyone. The laziness of discouragement will kick in, wherein we will feel too dejected to help ourselves and everyone else bring an end to suffering and its causes. It is no fun to be like a dying snake, as in Shantideva’s illustration in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

If a snake lies dying on the ground,
Crows will act like brave eagles and attack it.
In the same way, if my self-confidence is weak,
Even the slightest adversity will be able to harm me.

According to Buddhism, there are four areas in which we need to cultivate self-confidence, and I thought it might be really helpful to set ourselves up with these for the new year. These will give us both courage and energy, regardless of what the day’s headlines are screaming.

Some things will go right in 2019, too, and, as you’ll see, we may need these special types of self-confidence then as well to stop ourselves getting side-tracked from our mission to save the world 😉

Tara’s story

But first I want to tell Tara’s story, as I said I would in this last article. This is because she is a perfect embodiment of self-confidence and fearlessness, and we could do a lot worse than (1) having her on our side and (2) learning to emulate her. It’s helpful to ask, “What would Tara tara-2do?” when we notice ourselves getting forlorn, desperate, or panic-stricken.

Whether you take the following account of where Tara came from as an allegory or a true story, I don’t think it really matters, for either way it shows how cool and courageous she is. In the Sutra of Praises to the Twenty-one Taras, Buddha Shakyamuni said:

Homage to Tara, the Swift One, the Heroine,
Whose eyes are like a flash of lightning,
Who arose from the opening of a lotus,
Born from the tears of the Protector of the Three Worlds.

Aeons and aeons ago, in another world system, Buddha Avalokiteshvara, who had already liberated countless living beings from suffering, thought he’d check, “How many are left?” Seeing that there were still a countless number, he was so moved that he began to cry.

The Buddha of Compassion’s tears were so great that they formed a pool.

And in response, swift as the wind, as a manifestation of the wind element of all the Buddhas, Tara arose from a lotus on the pool and said to him these words:

Don’t cry. I will help you. I will permanently liberate all remaining living beings from their suffering.

Tara is therefore compassion in action, action Buddha, superwoman. She doesn’t mess about and she never backs down. Gentle, ferocious, whatever it takes … she will do it to liberate living beings. An incredibly popular, iconic Buddha in India and in Tibet, and hopefully now increasingly amongst us in the modern world, there are many stories of people calling out to her at moments of danger, fear, and duress and immediately receiving her help.

And if we want to assist all the Buddhas, including our compassionate Spiritual Guide, in their mission to liberate everyone on this planet and elsewhere from their pain, we need to aim at Tara’s degree of self-assurance.

What is pride?

So, back to the four types of self-confidence. Judging by the number of self-help books on developing self-confidence, a lot of people like this topic – probably because our self-grasping and self-cherishing make us feel so insecure all the time.

In other teachings, Geshe Kelsang refers to these types of self-confidence taught by Shantideva as “non-deluded pride.” In general, pride is deluded. Our mind is “puffed up” with an exaggerated sense of our own importance, as Geshe-la explains in the book How to Understand the Mind.

Pride refers to an inflated sense of self for slight reasons. For example, a new haircut. New shoes. Or you just got a promotion or a hot girlfriend or something like that. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. These things are never a reason to think that we’re better or superior to others, that we are somehow more special. But due to our ridiculous feelings of self-doubt, we’re constantly longing to feel special. Our self-cherishing makes us long to be affirmed in some way, any way. Yesterday a close friend I haven’t seen in a while said to me, as if he pridemeant it, “You’re looking really great!” and although I brushed it off modestly on the outside, inside I was like, “Yeah, you’re right, thank you.” We swell up like a balloon.

Or maybe someone tells us excitedly of a beautiful place they visited and we reply, ‘Oh, yes, I’ve been there.” Subtext is that we discovered it, we got there first, it is pervaded by our ego blessings, they should count themselves lucky to be part of that. According to our self-grasping and our self-cherishing, the world basically revolves around us; and deluded pride is just an inflation of those ego minds. The self held up by our self-grasping and self-cherishing doesn’t exist, so we need pride to bolster it! Perhaps this is why deluded pride is one of the six root delusions, meaning it is pretty common, even if we hate ourselves. Perhaps especially if we hate ourselves.

Ego trips (up)

Self-confidence is not the same as self-importance, it is quite the opposite. If we are caught up with grasping at inherently existent self and inherently existent others — which leads to cherishing our important self and neglecting the importance of others — we find ourselves constantly jockeying for position. This undermines our self-confidence as we are always comparing and contrasting ourselves with others instead of just getting mountain-peakson un-self-consciously with the job of improving ourselves and helping everyone else. We feel superior, or we feel inferior, or we feel competitive. We have to focus on our own good qualities and others’ faults just to stay on top. We have to praise ourselves and criticize others, whether out loud or internally, just to feel good about ourselves. It’s exhausting.

Anyway, that’s deluded pride. There are seven types as a matter of fact, and you can check these out in How to Understand the Mind – they have names like “pride in identity” and “pretentious pride”, and the descriptions are embarassing. This pride stops us improving. And pride comes before a fall, as they say. It makes us vulnerable and sets us up for suffering because it’s only a matter of time before we’re not being acknowledged in the way we want to be acknowledged, or people are ignoring us, or suddenly there’s a biting comment, and whoooosh, all the wind goes out of the balloon, just like that.

Feeling full of ourselves based on external stuff that doesn’t last is highly suspect – youth and good looks, for example, are neither a stable nor genuine basis for feeling cool. (Doesn’t mean we’re not appreciative to be young and good-looking, but we don’t need to be all conceited about it.) Pride also leads to disrespect and gets in the way of empathizing with others. On the subject of ordinary coolness:

For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder. ~ John Lennon

Buddha Vajrayogini often appears as an old hag to help her followers realize that youth and looks aren’t everything, aren’t much in fact. And of course there is Tara, who is totally cool, as is Geshe Kelsang, not because he is young or has movie star looks but because he is fully in control of his mind. In How to Understand the Mind, Geshe-la says:

At present we might be beautiful, fit, intelligent, and successful, but we have no power to remain like this. Eventually, without any choice, we will have to become old, decrepit, impoverished, disabled or senile. If we compare ourselves to realized beings who have perfect freedom and whose happiness cannot be destroyed by external conditions, we will soon lose our pride.

Non-deluded pride is completely different to deluded pride. Non-deluded pride is also a strong sense of self, but this self is not the inherently existent self, which doesn’t in fact exist, but a self that is identified with the truth, or imputed on something that does exist. These are the four types of non-deluded pride, or self-confidence:

  1. Pride with respect to our potential.
  2. Pride in thinking we can destroy our delusions.
  3. Pride in our actions.
  4. Divine pride, taught in Buddha’s Tantric teachings.

I’m out of space, so can come back to these in the next article.

Meantime, over to you. Comments very welcome! (To leave a comment, by the way, just scroll down to the bottom of this page.)

Related articles

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Saying bye bye to the painful, limited self

In praise of integrity 

Does time heal?

Letting Go 1“Time heals” because over time we forget. But why wait to forget?! Waiting passively for things to happen to us is not much fun, we don’t much like waiting in line for example. Some people take months or years to get over a broken heart, and it is agony. They are waiting to forget. They are waiting to think differently about things. They are waiting for the penny to drop, “It is all gone, it is really over”, so they can move on. But it has gone already, it was gone the moment it started; and by bringing that wisdom into our hearts we can move on far, far more quickly. (Carrying on from this article on subtle impermanence.)

The past is no more substantial than last night’s dream. How many dreams have we had in this life, let alone in countless previous lives? (And I refer here to dreams when we are sleeping and dreams while we are awake.) In samsara, all our dreams are broken in the end, as Geshe Kelsang says. We have forgotten the vast majority of them, and if we wait long enough we’ll forget whatever dreams we are holding onto now. But rather than just wait it out, why not cultivate an understanding of subtle impermanence and live by it? It will save us so much sorrow.

We can keep repeating that sentence to stop grasping:

I will stop grasping at past me, people, and situations because they do not exist.

Combining our wisdom with determination, our mind will begin to change and we will experience an enormous feeling of liberation and joy. We will let go of our emotional baggage. This is an amazing experience to have and it is possible for all of us, whatever our past. We don’t have to do anything unusual, we don’t have to change our external situation or our job or whatever; we just change the way we think, and remain natural while changing our aspiration, as the old Kadampa saying goes.

Meditation

Here is a little meditation to help us do this.

We sit comfortably with our back straight and relaxed, our eyes closed, and imagine that deep in our heart we feel quiet and peaceful.

And from that quiet and peaceful place we simply focus our attention single-pointedly on the sensation of our breath within the nostrils — the cool air as we inhale and the warm air as we exhale.

And as our mind begins to settle, we enjoy the feeling of clarity and peace that arises in our heart.

Now we can spend a bit of time reflecting upon subtle impermanence in general. We can think about the things in our own life and try to cultivate some insight and wisdom realizing that the past no longer exists. We can start big and then make the chunks of time smaller and smaller, eg, we can think “The person I was when I was a child no longer exists, and then the person I was a year ago no longer exists, and then the person I was a week ago no longer exists. The person who had coffee this morning no longer exists. The person who started this meditation no longer exists, is completely different from the person who is meditating now.” By taking examples like this in meditation we begin to cultivate some insight into this subject. We just reflect on it.

We can now move on in our meditation to bring to mind a situation where we are recreating the past in the present. It could be one that is related to people, either ourself or others. It could be one that is related to a particular situation or event that happened in the past. It could be one that is related to certain possessions we had in the past. And we say to ourself strongly:

I will stop grasping at past people, situations, and possessions because they no longer exist.

Thinking of this situation, we keep repeating this statement strongly, and imagine that we gradually begin to let go. We just enjoy the feeling of being a completely new person and meditate on this.

Then we arise from our meditation, keeping this special feeling in our heart.

No room for the past in the present

letting go 3In this way we can try to deepen our awareness of impermanence and the realization that the past, including the recent past, even just a few seconds ago, no longer exists; and then stop grasping at it because we can’t hold onto something that isn’t there. In this way we can stop recreating the past in the present moment. There is no room for both; one of them has to give.

We can lay down our heavy burdens. Stop feeling melancholy. I also find it helpful to ponder how we decide what to grasp at?! The past is endless! Which me, which person, which situation do we choose to have inappropriate attention about?! To grasp at the permanence of?! There is nothing and no one that we haven’t grasped at, and where has that got us since beginningless time?

The truth will set us free

In Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (page 20) Shantideva expresses this beautifully:

And yet my friends will become nothing
And others will also become nothing.
Even I shall become nothing;
Likewise, everything will become nothing.

Just like an experience in a dream,
Everything I now enjoy
Will become a mere recollection,
For what has passed cannot be seen again.

Yeah, you could read this when you are in the throes of attachment and find it a bit depressing or scary – but what is being said is not that we don’t enjoy ourselves and each other moment by moment, but that we stop clinging to things that no longer exist. We need in fact to stop clinging even right now to things that do not exist in the way that they appear to exist, outside our mind, or we will inevitably experience the suffering of separation and loss.

time lapse 1Living in accordance with the reality of impermanence, on the other hand, can bring us nothing but joy and freedom. The truth sets us free.

When he was on his deathbed, aged 100, having been hit by a car on one of his long walks, my grandpa said to my brother:

In the light of eternity I can see clearly now that there is no difference between one moment and one hundred years.

Not abandoning anyone

Someone wrote to me the other day to say that since the death a year ago of her young son she did not feel she had permission to move on as that would be traitorous to his memory; so she was still suffering a great deal. However, it is not very helpful to hold to a painful memory of someone who no longer exists. Embracing change does not mean we forget or abandon the people we loved who are now gone. In a way, it’s the opposite. This is because in fact they are not really gone, they are just somewhere else; so we love them strongly wherever they are, whoever they are, in the present.

Bubbles

I was in Cheesman Park the other day, along with some fellow park-goers, enjoying a show of gigantic soap bubbles. When each big beautiful bubble burst, I didn’t hear anyone groan, “Awww! I was enjoying that! The bubble’s gone!” I didn’t hear anyone speculate, “I wonder what bubble she will create in ten minutes time?”, completely missing out on the bubble she was creating now. I also didn’t overhear anyone distractedly saying, “Do you remember that bubble she made a little while back, that was cool/ugly.” No, we were all just enjoying the bubbles in the present as they arose and almost immediately evaporated. Why? Because we know the nature of bubbles, and their beauty is not divorced from their impermanence. This can be the same for everything if we familiarize ourself with the momentary nature of all things.

When a bubble is burst, what is left? Is it the same basic bubble that transforms? No, the bubble has gone completely. Rousseau for Donna 4So we can spend our time dwelling on past bubbles we have blown, those lovely or traumatic soap bubbles I blew a couple of weeks ago; or worrying about the soap bubbles we might blow in the future — what if it is too small? what will my friends think of me? Or we can get with subtle impermanence and enjoy the bubble we are blowing now.

There’s a difference between me and a soap bubble, surely?!

However old we are, we are no more permanent than a soap bubble. We are just as fleeting. Some things seem to last longer than others — mountains and the sky for example — but they are still just as momentary, completely new. The 100,000 year-old rocks in the Science Museum may seem more permanent, but we are seeing them newly in each moment, and they are as fleeting/changing as anything else. It’s just that related to our life span they may seem to last longer. 100,000 year-old rocks can appear in dreams too, with a seemingly eternal past and rock solid future; but how long are dreams?

Continued here.

Over to you. Comments and feedback very welcome 🙂

Do you like change?

This continues from the article “Do you ever feel discouraged?

making the most of changeIf someone were to ask you: “Do you want to be exactly the same person, in the same situation, in the same moods, in 5 years’ time or even 10 years’ time?”, chances are you’d think, “Heck, no!”, especially if you understand your potential for happiness and think about the number of irritants you currently have in your life.

So one part of us wants to change.

The other part of us hates the idea. “You’ve got to move.” “No, I don’t want to move.” Our partner starts changing, or our kids start changing, or our job changes, and it makes us nervous, it unsettles us. Not to mention our fear of death, our own and that of others close to us.

We want things to change and remain the same. So this ambivalence about change – wanting it and dreading it — can be a problem! Change makes us anxious, yet at the same time we know we need to change. Why? Because we’re not happy where we are, we are always wishing things were different at some level. We are rarely free from some level of dissatisfaction; even when we’re having a good time there is still some sense that we could make it even nicer or better, or else worrying, “Oh no, this is really good, but it’s about to be over!”

can't get no satisfactionThere is always a shifting going on, a wanting things to be different to get away from the basic dissatisfaction in our heart, but we can’t get no satisfaction. Mick Jagger got that one right. And we try, and we try. It doesn’t matter how much we shift around our external circumstances, the basic dissatisfaction in our heart remains, and that’s why we want change.

That’s why we want it, yet at the same time we dread it. Better the devil you know. Big changes tend to make us very insecure, even if they are not bad ones, because at least we feel we have a sort of handle on the current situation even if it sucks – “The new job, city, apartment looks better, but I don’t know… it’s a bit unsettling all this.” 

Arriving late

Here’s an example of wanting to change and not wanting to change. I have a good friend who always arrives late at places – sometimes so late that he misses the entire event! He arrived halfway through his own birthday party recently. To hear him tell it, there’s nothing he can do about it. But, and he is not alone in this, if you are a perpetual late arriver it is not because you can’t tell the time — you know exactly when you need to leave to arrive on time. Usually something like this happens: “Ok, time to go… oh, hold on, let me just do this and that, put my laundry in the drier, nip into this shop on the way, get some gas … Oh, I’m late again!” That is an act of self-sabotage because you’re wishing to arrive on time to blow out your own candles with your invited guests, and yet arranging it in such a way that you are not going to be there on time. It may seem to just sort of happen, but if we check, we are making a choice, as a result of which we’re going to be late.white_rabbit_arriving_late

This is an example of how on the surface we want to change, but subconsciously in the realm of deeper habits we don’t want to. And so we’re at odds with ourselves, which is tiring and discouraging. If we check our habits in meditation, especially the ones we don’t like, we can see what it is we are doing to feed that habit. When we step back and look at it, it’s a choice we’re making. It might be a weighted choice coming with a lot of habit behind it, but still it’s a choice.

Spiritual practice is all about change

So it seems we have an ambivalence – on the one hand we want change and on the other hand we are afraid of change and cling on to the same old things with attachment. And spiritual practice is all about change. It’s all about training our mind, letting go of attachment, moving our mind somewhere new. It’s all about identifying the internal causes of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, inner conflicts – the delusions – and getting rid of them. It is all about changing our lifelong habits of relating to others and to ourselves in unconstructive ways by increasing our positive minds such as love and wisdom. Meditation practice is a systemic process of transforming the mind. It requires effort. And effort requires aspiration – we have to WANT it. We have to therefore WANT to change our mind, deep down, without the ambivalence.

lotus 6

The four mental powers that help effort

The sign that we’re applying actual effort (as opposed to being lazy) is that we are changing. We’re becoming more peaceful, positive, flexible, kind-hearted, strong, free. Not necessarily day-by-day – monitoring it on a daily basis just sets us up for more grasping or impatience – but month by month, year by year. How do we apply effort in such a way that it is going to bring about these results? It has everything to do with our (1) deepest wishes and motivations, (2) steadfast confidence, (3) joyfulness, and (4) ability to relax and recharge. Shantideva teaches these 4 powers extensively in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (and further commentary is in Meaningful to Behold.)

These four powers are the way to increase our effort. It might be worth noting that effort is a state of mind, or so-called “mental factor”, unto itself, and it is by nature “virtuous”, ie, creating the cause of happiness. Therefore, the more we are enjoying any spiritual or virtuous practice, the more good karma we are creating! It seems to be a win win.

More here 

Over to you… comments welcome.

How blessings can help

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.” ~ Albus Dumbledore, Prisoner of Azkaban

Making spiritual progress
dry seeds

In terms of making progress in our meditations and training our mind, what a difference blessings make! Without the water of blessings, our potentials for realizations are said to be like dry seeds that cannot sprout nor grow into a crop of experience. We can push as much as we like at meditation and other spiritual practices, but results will be slow and, quite likely, torturous if we are relying only on our own unblessed minds.

Once upon a time there was an old man called Mr. Donn, who attended classes at Geshe Kelsang’s first Centre, Madhyamaka Centre, right from the beginning. He had been the principal of the art college there in York, and he told us this story one day to illustrate the need for blessings. He was scheduled to visit some student sculptors to survey their work, but when he arrived, a whole two weeks after they’d started, they were still trying to knead the clay into something malleable enough to sculpt! But it was tough and dry and, try as they might, they could get not joy from the task. “Did no one tell you to add this liquid?”, he asked them in surprise. When they shook their heads, he produced a bottle, poured it over the clay, and then magically kneaded it and sculpted it into a beautiful vase. I’ll always remember how Mr. Donn likened that magical liquid that enables us to create whatever we want from the (otherwise intractable) clay to blessings that enable us to create whatever we want from our (otherwise intractable) minds.

Downloading realizations

As mentioned, the traditional analogy for receiving blessings is watering dry seeds, without which they cannot grow, even in a fertilized ground (analogous to a mind rich in merit or good karma) that is free from stone-like obstructions (analogous to a purified mind). You can check out the preliminary practices section in Eight Steps to Happiness for more on creating merit and purifying the mind, now available as an eBook too.

In his Medicine Buddha teachings in 2004, Geshe Kelsang said:

“Just pushing in meditation or contemplation, reading books, understanding or studying, these things alone are not good enough because we need to receive blessings from enlightened beings.”

For a 21st century analogy, Kadampa dad likes to talk about “downloading realizations” from our Spiritual Guide! Why not do it if we can, it certainly makes our spiritual practice and path far more effortless and enjoyable. Maybe he can explain more in the comments. 

Everyone is blessed

Even when we don’t try, we receive blessings, because that is a Buddha’s function or job. In his Medicine Buddha teachings in 2004, my teacher said:

We always want to be peaceful and happy. We try to keep our mind peaceful, but it doesn’t work. Generally we say “I should be happy!”, but in reality just wanting to be happy is not enough, happiness is not coming! But sometimes, without any reason, our mind is naturally peaceful, calm, and happy. Where does this come from? Through receiving the blessings of enlightened beings. Even animals such as dogs have this experience. Even when sometimes we go to sleep in anger or unhappiness, in the morning we can wake up peaceful and calm — we’ve changed.

As Shantideva says in the beginning of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Buddha’s blessings are like lightning during a dark night, quickly illuminating the environment and so forth. Similarly, Buddha’s blessings suddenly illuminate our mind with positivity, peace, and calm. At that time we are happy.

As Robert Thomas suggests on Facebook (again rather beautifully): “I was thinking about the definition of a blessing being that which transforms the mind from a negative to a positive state and it occurred to me that blessings come in the guise of many forms. Of course there’s the classic invisible un-seen magical intervention, but often a blessing is felt or transmitted by our friends and family – it can be something they say or do, or just their constant love, perhaps a kind look in the eyes of a stranger, a sunset, a gentle breeze on a hot day. There are so many ways that Buddhas find to bestow their blessings – they come in many forms, in many ways and many places and pervade everything! Ha – i’d never thought of it like that before …”

If we do try, we can tune in and receive special blessings day and night. If “at that time we are happy”, then it follows we can be happy day and night! So, that’s another reason why making spiritual progress is accompanied by increasing happiness.

Other articles on blessings can be found here.

Your turn: please share your understanding or experience in the comments box below 🙂

Wanted Dead or Alive!! (Our anger and other delusions…)

I wrote this some time ago, but it still seems particularly relevant in today’s climate.

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At 11.30pm last night I had just brought some friends home from the airport when we heard the news from President Obama that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Rejoicing broke out in streets all over the US.

I found myself starting to do a high five with one of my friends, but caught myself with hand in mid-air, wondering: “What am I actually high-fiving about?” Am I rejoicing here because a living being has been violently killed, and is that ever ok, even if a person is very deluded and has engaged in evil actions? Or am I relieved because I think the world is now a safer place? Or am I feeling satisfied because I think justice has been done? And are any of these points of view valid or not, and, if they are, are they still perhaps missing the point a bit? (Amazing what can go through your mind in just the few seconds it takes for an aborted high five!)

The brother of a 9.11 victim epressed this dilemma quite well when he thoughtfully said:

“Scenes of jubilation across the US should not be seen as people celebrating someone’s death but as a recognition that everyone feels that capturing or killing Bin Laden was something that needed to be done.”

Do you think killing is ever “needed to be done”? In Buddhism, if we take another’s life out of a deluded motivation such as anger, pride or attachment, then we create very bad karma. But there are times when killing can be done with a skillful motivation. For example, a story is told of Buddha Shakyamuni in one of his previous lifetimes as a Bodhisattva when he was the captain of a ship with 500 people onboard. With his clairvoyance he saw that one of the passengers planned on killing everyone, and to prevent this happening Buddha killed that terrorist – thus preventing the death of 499 people and saving the terrorist from creating some very terrible karma.

So, I hope that this is people’s motivation, to avert a threat to others and not to seek vengeance out of anger. Because, truthfully, the only real enemy of living beings is their delusions, especially their anger, of which vengeance is a part. At times like this it becomes clear to me whether I actually believe this or not. What happened on 9.11 was despicable and evil, and the suffering people experienced upon losing their loved ones all too terrible. Since then, others also have suffered grievously due to acts of terror and other violence. It is very easy to feel very angry about all of this. I can’t even imagine how hard it has been for those who have been directly affected and I will not pretend to speak for them. They have all my respect and deep sympathy. But from a Buddhist point of view, I want to know what is the best way to view all this, to deal with all this, so as to restore sanity and peace of mind?

Bin Laden’s body has been shot through the head, but have we killed his delusions, or ours? Have we destroyed his negative karma, or ours? If we have not, any respite will be temporary.

So what about the feeling of justice or closure, is that real? Also, what is the line here between justice and vengeance? Some people are saying they are experiencing some closure and healing today, and I am glad that they are experiencing any degree of relief from a painful ten years, they deserve it. But do the causes of complete and lasting closure and freedom lie deeper?

If the closure is based on vengeance, is that really closure? If it works, fine… but if it doesn’t? After people have been put to death in the electric chair, for example, you often read reports of the victims’ families saying it didn’t help as much as they thought it would and that they are still disappointed and angry. This is perhaps not surprising if we understand how anger functions — vengeance is part of anger and therefore can never bring peace of mind. Those who report having found peace and genuine closure, who are able to move on with their lives, are usually those who have managed to find forgiveness in their hearts for the killer of their loved ones, thinking for example “they know not what they do”. (This Christian teaching seems similar to me to Buddha’s teaching that people being victimized by their inner enemies of delusions and we cannot blame the victim for the fault of their enemy.) Forgiveness is part of love, and love is always a peaceful mind.

Buddhas never lose their love for anyone as they understand a very important thing about us: we are not our delusions. Geshe Kelsang says in Eight Steps to Happiness:

“Buddhas see that delusions have many faults but they never see people as faulty, because they distinguish between people and their delusions. If someone is angry we think, ‘He is a bad and angry person’, whereas Buddhas think, ‘He is a suffering being afflicted with the inner disease of anger.’….

It is because they distinguish between delusions and persons that Buddhas are able to see the faults of delusions without ever seeing a single fault in any sentient being. Consequently their love and compassion for sentient beings never diminish. Failing to make this distinction, we, on the other hand, are constantly finding fault with other people but do not recognize the faults of delusions, even those within our own mind.”

If I am ever in the incredibly difficult situation of having lost my loved ones to random, evil violence, I hope I will be able to remember this and forgive. I guess you don’t know until you experience it yourself.

As for “justice”, leaving aside the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have died since 9.11 in this pursuit of “justice”, how is justice actually served here, what is justice in fact? Is it eye for an eye, or turn the other cheek and love thy neighbor? The President of the Federal Law Enforcement, understandably upset, has drawn a line in the sand: “I would say ‘May God have mercy on his hideous soul’, but I don’t think he has one.” And, judging by news reports, even church leaders are conflicted about their reactions. One justified the killing:

“He who sheds man’s blood, by man his blood be shed.” (Genesis 9.6).

I have a question about this though: could this not be just as much talking about the law of karma rather than an injunction to kill?

Another said, “‘Turn the other cheek’ doesn’t apply here as it is to do with insult rather than self-defense.’ But isn’t there rather a blurry line between insult and self-defense when you’re being slapped on the cheek?!

Another said “terror attacks are not even in the category of forgiveness”; in which case what is?

To me, Buddha’s teachings on the delusions and karma make all this so much clearer. It doesn’t mean that choosing the right course of action is not agonizing (and who would want to be a politician in times like this?), but it seems to give some signposts such that we at least make sure we are motivated in the best possible way while we eliminate threats, and try not to be angrily blaming others for all our suffering.

I suppose what I’m thinking is that while it is of course a good idea to eliminate the threat of Bin Laden out of a desire to protect, we still should not be deceived into thinking that Bin Laden is the source of all our suffering and problems. Our actual enemies are the delusions. They are what I really want to capture dead or alive. Dead, ideally, but even if I capture them alive by recognizing them for what they are, I am also quarantining them.

As the famous Buddhist teacher Shantideva (AD 687-763) says in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

“The inner enemies of hatred, attachment and so forth
Do not have arms and legs,
Nor do they have courage or skill;
So how have they made me their slave?

No other type of enemy
Can remain for as long a time
As can the enduring foes of my delusions,
For they have no beginning and no apparent end.”

I think its worth remembering that Osama Bin Laden may be temporarily incapacitated, but his mental continuum still exists and in future lives his negative karma and ours will continue to play out.

And in the meantime, while we all have uncontrolled minds and negative karma, how can we ever confidently say that we are safe from the horrors of terrorism? Al Qaeda may be weakened for now (though Bin Laden’s deputy Al-Zawahiri is ready to take over), but news reports say that “retaliation is expected” (wait for sad reports of more devastated families) and this is an “opportunity for other Islamic organizations to step up.”

I’m not trying to rain on everyone’s parade! But I have to say that I would prefer a more cosmic parade. Imagine if those scenes of rejoicing were celebrating the death of the real enemy of living beings, our delusions?! And the sense of  the country coming together – imagine if we understood that our real collective enemy was anger, attachment and ignorance, and we cheered every time someone somewhere succeeded in destroying these enemies?!

One 9.11 widow said: “My 12-year-old daughter will wake tomorrow to a safer world, hopefully a more peaceful world.” I hear her. This is what we all want for her child,  for everyone’s children. How wonderful it would be if we were moving faster in that direction by making effort to destroy the actual causes of danger and terror? As my teacher Geshe Kelsang says, anger is the real cause of the wars in which so many people have died.

If we don’t recognize the real enemies of living beings — the unpeaceful, uncontrolled states of mind that we call “delusions” — then we will make no effort to eliminate them. So by all means we should protect each other in practical ways as much as we can, with a good motivation, as Buddha did when he killed that terrorist; but not at the expense of ignoring the real enemies of all living beings. That is, if we are interested in a genuine or lasting peace and freedom, which we are.

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

The death of Osama Bin Laden has actually increased my resolve to help everyone, including all the victims of violence, by overcoming my delusions and becoming a powerful Bodhisattva ASAP. Shantideva can have the last word:

“Out of anger, worldly people who are filled with pride will not sleep
Until they have destroyed those who cause them even the slightest temporary harm.
In the same way, I will not abandon my efforts
Until this inner foe of mine is directly and definitely destroyed.”