Sickened by political division and conflict, a filmmaker travels across the US in search of a different story.A love letter to a troubled nation, one face at a time.
Sickened by political division and conflict, a filmmaker travels across the US in search of a different story.A love letter to a troubled nation, one face at a time.
8.5 mins read
When it comes to suicide, one of the best things we could probably do is reach out – those considering it and the rest of us too.
Carrying on from this article on suicide.
Clearly fame, money, and the rest of it is not enough to keep the demons at bay. If we are not in control of our thoughts, they will control us. Judging by the number of articles about them, the recent celebrity suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have been a bit of a wake-up call. Time magazine describes it as:
A one-two punch to our belief that there are some people who are living the perfect life.
The article describes their lives and achievements and then asks, “What more could a person want?”
Without inner peace, we have no real happiness OR safety, whoever or wherever we are. Fame, fortune, relationships, and everything else outside the mind are causes of changing suffering, not causes of real happiness. As Time magazine puts it:
Many lives are not as they appear. Happiness is not the end result of a sum of accomplishments. The people whose wealth/wardrobe/job/talent we wish we had have their own struggles.
Now, are you happy?!
Maybe, for a minute, until something upsets us, or we still feel we haven’t got it all, or we wonder why on earth this isn’t working. As Bourdain put it at the end of one show:
What do you do after your dreams come true?
According to this article in USA Today:
In an interview this year, the comedian and actor Jim Carrey talked about “getting to the place where you have everything everybody has ever desired and realizing you are still unhappy. And that you can still be unhappy is a shock when you have accomplished everything you ever dreamed of and more.”
As it says in How to Transform Your Life:
External conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful. We can understand this from our own experience. For instance, even if we are in the most beautiful surroundings and have everything we need, the moment we get angry any happiness we may have disappears. This is because anger has destroyed our inner peace.
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had everything many of us can only dream of:
Yet these two could not bear to live their lives any longer. ~ Time
A couple of friends lately have told me that during times when they felt very depressed, the darkness that took over seemed impossible. Even getting out of bed felt like having to climb a mountain. There was no chink of light. Feeling trapped in their own minds, by their own minds, they only didn’t take their own lives because they understood that death is not the end of suffering, that it simply brings new sufferings. They knew that they would still be trapped in their minds where all the pain was really coming from.
However, they also found that by not going that route, a chink of light did have an opportunity to emerge. Hope reappeared and the clouds gradually parted. Now their lives feel very meaningful and blessed. They are both beyond grateful that they didn’t kill themselves.
People need to find the refuge of inner peace and the refuge of love that overcomes loneliness, for nothing external can take away that ache, at least not for long. People need wisdom and compassion. People need some kind of Dharma.
If this master storyteller left us a lesson, it is this: You are not truly alone. People care about you more than you realize. Please don’t leave us. Reach out. ~ William Falk in The Week
People were astonished to hear that Anthony Bourdain, that great lover of life we thought he was, had taken his own life. He was not alone, everyone loved him, he apparently knew that in his wiser and happier moments. But not when under the influence of the deceptive demon of self-cherishing telling him that he was alone, that no one truly cared.
Bourdain once noted that although he had “the best job in the world,” he often woke up in hotels far from the people he loved. “The truth is,” he said, “I’m alone for most of that time.”
USA Today suggests “community and family bonds have broken down, as people work endless hours in pursuit of material success and numb their loneliness with drugs, alcohol, TV, and the internet. The shallow interactions of social media do not fulfill our yearning for connection.”
While I agree with this in general, I have had some deep conversations on Facebook and shallow conversations in person. We cannot blame the medium for our shallowness or lack of connection – I think it is more about where our interests lie and how deeply we are prepared to think.
“Who am I? Where do I come from? Where are we all headed? What happens to me when I die, which will be in a few hundred months, at most? What are the real causes of this suffering we are all experiencing, including all that outrageous ageing and sickness, and how can we get rid of it permanently, especially as politics as usual is never going to be enough? Etc.”
I know the value of small talk, especially if we are genuinely interested in the other person. But if all we ever talk about is the weather, or the job, or where we’re going on vacation, or who has to be voted off Love Island, etc, I confess to finding it a little frustrating and tiring, to be honest, because people are ignoring the elephant in the room and yet that elephant is trampling all over their lives. Finding ways to communicate more meaningfully and with less inhibition seems invaluable if we are to genuinely help ourselves and others. What do you think?
We need love. Love cures loneliness. And I am not talking about self-involved attachment for just one person or a few people, but open-hearted love for everyone we meet, a growing affection and concern for everyone we think about. This positive mind is based on reality and will keep us happy and free from danger.
This month I was walking down a pretty steep hill in Archway, London, when I saw an old woman, bent almost double, slowly walking the other way. She paused to pick up a piece of rubbish and carried it to the next bin. Then as we passed, she looked up and gave me what I can only describe as a radiant smile, accompanied by a cheery Good Morning! Then she carried on up the hill.
A day later I was walking down the same hill at a different time. Once again this old lady hobbled past me, looked up, and said good morning. She was smiling not just from her mouth but from her eyes, and I felt the affection coming off her.
She must be in pain to be bent over like that, her arthritis not only hurting her back and shoulders but crushing her internal organs. Yet she seems happy to be alive, happy to smile at strangers. I don’t know her full story, of course, but it seems she has at least some ability to transform suffering through love.
Buddha calls love “the great Protector.” As Falk puts it, beautifully I find:
At the heart of human experience is a paradox: We are each trapped inside the boundaries of our flesh, alone with our histories, our wounds, our brokenness. Yet our isolation is an illusion — a constriction of perception. All the great spiritual traditions teach the same truth: We are connected in a fundamental way to everyone and to everything.
Someone who works with suicide victims wrote an interesting comment on the first article about suicide, and I quote a bit here:
While there are many people more qualified than me to discuss the determinants of suicide, a common thread I see seems to be a patient’s strong belief in their separateness; and so while I can’t necessarily help all beings yet, I can be kind. I can choose to extend myself a little further in my conversation with others to give them time and space to be heard. I can cultivate a genuine interest in their experience so that the possibility of connection can begin to outweigh that of separateness; so that the possibility of relationship can become more appealing than that of severance. I certainly pray for this.
Outward impressions of people’s lives are often wildly off-base. ~ Time
Back to my thoughts on Denis at the time …
Our friends in retrospect are saying “If only we could go back 24 hours and find him!” But we can’t. There are many things we want to say to him, but we can’t. We will do the Powa he requested, obviously, we would have done it even if he hadn’t requested — we will do our best to get him to the Pure Land, but his self-cherishing has not made it easy. It is lucky he has made friends in high places. Venerable Geshe-la said he was doing prayers and Powa for him. Denis did create a lot of good karma, so there is something there for the Buddhas to work with.
This may be what the Buddhas think about us — we will do our best to help you, but your self-cherishing does not make it easy. Still, they never give up and this has strengthened my determination to never give up as well. I really appreciate this precious human life right now, and what we can do with it, including the transcendence of all suffering. Right now, at least, I don’t want to waste another day.
One more article coming up about ways to cope with others’ suicides, including doing transference of consciousness (Powa).
Over to you. There were some great comments on the first article, and I value any more comments, stories, or other feedback that might be helpful to other readers. Thank you.
Do you ever feel out of sorts? I saw this Onion article, “Woman Either Quits Job or Goes Home and Watches 4 Hours of Netflix” the other day, which seemed to sum up some of the malaise and hollowness of modern society.
But, now we’re settled on the couch, before we start streaming House of Cards, we could do a lot worse than to spend a few minutes turning on the faucet of love. Eventually, we discover
… an inexhaustible fountain of happiness within our own mind — our love for others. ~ New Eight Steps to Happiness
Carrying on from this article.
One way to turn on the faucet of love is by remembering how much we need others in order to practice love, compassion, generosity, and everything else that can fulfill our deepest wish for lasting happiness. Others are the gift that keeps on giving.
What makes something precious or valuable? For example, if you were offered the choice of a diamond or a bone, which would you choose? Obvious, perhaps. But what would really get your dog’s tail wagging? This example shows that preciousness doesn’t exist from the side of the object but depends on our needs and wishes. So, as it says in New Eight Steps to Happiness:
For someone whose main wish is to achieve the spiritual realizations of love, compassion, bodhichitta, and great enlightenment, living beings are more precious than a universe filled with diamonds or even wish-granting jewels.
The first step in this love practice, therefore, is really wanting those spiritual realizations. And why would we want them? Because we want to be happy all the time. “This day after day of unadulterated bliss is driving me crazy”, said no one ever.
But, although we want ongoing or permanent happiness, for as long as we associate happiness with stuff outside ourselves we settle instead for little happiness hits. Bit of food here, bit of sleep there, watching, talking, jobbing, texting, vacationing, etc. Sometimes things can work out well, but even then there’s usually still some underlying tension and frustration because the cause of happiness is perceived as outside of us so we have to keep clinging onto it for dear life. Plus it always goes away sooner or later.
In any event, for this love meditation to work, we can conclude that there is no guaranteed pure or lasting cause of happiness other than Dharma, ie, purifying and transforming our minds to increase our mental peace, preferably shooting for the supreme peace of enlightenment.
In the recent Kadampa Spring Festival, Gen-la Jampa taught the beautiful method to develop affectionate love that comes from Shantideva and also appears in the Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra, where you can read it. I thought I’d summarize the main steps. As you go through them you can ask yourself, “Do I agree? Is this true for me?”
Each and every living being is supremely precious and kind for me because they give me the supreme happiness of enlightenment – the ultimate goal of human life.
Thinking in this way we will generate a warm heart and a feeling of being close to all living beings without exception, and we can meditate on this affectionate love. Nice!
If we want the pleasures of samsara, Gen-la Jampa said, it is hard to see others as kind because we are in competition with them. But if we want enlightenment, then each and every one of them is invaluable, more so than a universe of jewels, which in any case could never protect us from suffering or give us lasting happiness.
And we need them all, every single one. They are all equally beneficial, equally objects of love and compassion. And the objectionable ones are arguably the kindest or most beneficial, given that they are the causes of much needed patience.
The more we want worldly attainments, the more others will be the sources of our attachment or annoyance. The more we want spiritual attainments, the more valuable others will become for us. So, which is it to be?!
In our daily life, we can see what we actually want most by watching our minds to see how we are finding others — irritating or lovely. I will go first.
As I write this, there is a chubby little girl across the aisle from me on the supposedly Quiet carriage of this Virgin train, who is chattering loudly and singing songs about dinosaurs, despite her dad shushing her. She is also offering her dad ridiculous theories about fairies, and he, with his eyes closed and clearly trying to nap, is nodding his head absently. And I have the uncharitable thought, “What happened to that old adage about children should be seen but not heard?! After all, didn’t I deliberately choose the Quiet carriage so I could meditate on love & stuff uninterrupted?!!” But then her patient dad laughed at something she said, and she was delighted, and suddenly it was the sweetest scene. This is because he cherishes her and doesn’t find her at all annoying. So I don’t have to either, especially as I need her in order to get enlightened; and now I really quite like her.
Earlier, in a social setting I could not escape, I found myself landed with someone I’ve never had much in common with, who indeed has a diametrically opposed way of seeing the world. Was I bored and judgmental, or was I happy to have this opportunity to love and understand them?!
And even earlier, I was trying to give someone some really great advice, but they just kept talking and didn’t hear a word I was saying. Did I feel attachment to being heard, “They should be listening to me! Don’t they realize how much I know what I’m talking about here?!” Or was I happy to have the opportunity to just cherish them by listening?!
Someone else was telling me about how much the National Health Service has deteriorated in Britain and how demoralized the doctors and nurses are. Did I get into self-preoccupation mode: “Oh no, who is going to look after my parents, and indeed even me if I ever want to come back to England for the free healthcare?” … or did I think about everyone concerned and increase my peaceful, compassionate wish to liberate all living beings from their sickness forever by becoming enlightened?
With these teachings fresh in my mind, dear reader, you’ll be relieved to hear that I was pretty much able to do the right thing on each of these occasions 😋
One useful question would really seem to be, “What am I most interested in? What do I want?” This seems to entirely determine whether I have a good time with others or see them as surplus to requirements or even an obstacle in my way.
So, encouraged by my experiments, I have decided that when I meet people I’m going to think — and from my heart not my head ‘cos it works — “I am going to get enlightened both thanks to you and for the sake of you.”
Over to you, comments welcome.
Loving-kindness is arguably the most important example we can show in our troubled world.
This was one of the many take-aways from the recent International Kadampa Spring Festival in the UK, where we received empowerment and teachings on Buddha Maitreya, the Buddha of loving-kindness, from Gen-la Jampa.
Another take-away: People need to know how to become happy through love.
Not much else seems to be making us happy these days. Not politics as usual, anyway. The silver lining of this, though, may be that more people are starting to explore other more spiritual ways to solve problems. At least that’s been my observation.
And through becoming familiar with the three aspects of love – affectionate, cherishing, and wishing love — we can really help others and solve our own problems. It’s a win win. And it works instantly.
How hard is it to love others? I would submit that it is not as hard as we may think. I think that for many people, including maybe you, love is the easiest positive mind to generate. And yet it has these huge, compelling benefits! So here goes, I will share some of these to encourage us all to get going …
The first type of love, affectionate love, is a warm heart and feeling close to others, rather like a mother feels toward her child, minus the attachment.* If we can learn to develop a warm, loving heart toward all beings all the time, we’ll finally fulfill our deepest life-long wish (indeed beginningless lives-long wish) to be happy all the time. This is what we really need. I know I must have learned a bunch of useful things at school, even if I can’t remember what they were. But however much I learned at school, I didn’t learn this.
In Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s teachings on developing love from 2009, which Gen-la Jampa referred to extensively, he said:
Probably we think: If I have money I will be happy all the time. If I have a good friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, I will be happy all the time. If I have a good reputation or a higher position, I will be happy all the time. This is wrong.
More on why “This is wrong” (ie, worldly enjoyments don’t make us happy all the time) is explained all over this blog, including here.
Love, as Buddha said, is the great Protector. As Geshe Kelsang said:
If everybody sincerely practices affectionate love, all problems between each other will be solved and never arise again. This is guaranteed; I will give my signature.
We need love in our hearts. Others need love in their hearts. This is the real solution. So, as Gen-la Jampa pointed out, people need to see our loving-kindness and that it works.
We can understand this from the classic Buddhist explanation on inner and outer problems. For example, technology can solve some outer problems, but it doesn’t solve all of them; and in fact world peace is in more jeopardy than ever before with the easy ability to produce home-made bombs and so on, not to mention the WMD. And even when we get all the way to iPhone 500, we will still be suffering from the real problems of attachment, anger, jealousy, ignorance, and so on.
Talking of iPhones, possibly à propos nothing – I love mine. I sometimes feel quite pleased with myself when I pick it up and do cool things with it. But 2 nights ago I misplaced it. And I had no way of texting anyone to find out where it might have gotten to. I felt like I’d lost a limb. All these years of being the proud owner of an iPhone have clearly not diminished my attachment, for starters.
Technology and other external stuff can be useful but they are not the actual solutions to our real problems. Our real problems are our experience of unpleasant feelings, which are part of our mind and arise with our delusions. We can learn to solve these problems with loving kindness, to go for refuge to love. Love changes the flavor of our mind as sugar changes the flavor of tea, and the sour delusions cannot thrive in this sweet new environment.
You can read a lot more about how love solves all our problems in New Eight Steps to Happiness. Buddha would always explain the benefits of various spiritual practices before teaching them because he knows how our minds work — how we like advertising to get us going 😉 Then we develop the wish to taste love.
And tasting love is then the best advertisement; I defy you not to want more!
Geshe Kelsang says:
Ultimately our practice of affectionate love leads us to the state of supreme happiness of enlightenment, which gives us the ability to directly benefit each and every living every day.
The sooner we can set our sights on enlightenment, the sooner we’ll get there. Maybe when we first hear about the goal of enlightenment we think “Hey steady on, what you talking about?! That sounds way too difficult, a super human attainment way beyond my capacity! Seeking enlightenment is setting myself up for spectacular failure — can’t I settle for something more manageable instead?!”
But it is vital to understand that attaining enlightenment is neither outside ourselves nor beyond our reach, not like climbing Mount Everest or winning a gold medal. Enlightenment is just reality. It is the inner light of wisdom that is completely free from all mistaken perceptions, pervaded by the bliss of universal love and compassion. We all
have the potential for this in our hearts already. We don’t need to go somewhere else – we just need to step away from the false perception of what reality is (vis a vis an objective world outside our mind) and into reality itself. This is entirely doable and we have to do it because what’s the alternative?
So we need love. By thinking about these benefits we develop the wish to taste it, and as Geshe Kelsang says:
We make the determination to develop and maintain a warm heart feeling close to all living beings without exception. We do this again and again; we do this job…. There is no greater virtuous action than love.
What a nice job! Deeply thinking in this way for even one moment brings HUGE results. Mental actions, or intentions, such as this are more powerful than physical or verbal actions because their meaning depends entirely upon the intentions with which we do them. We don’t even need to do anything verbal or physical (though of course we can and naturally will) – we just need to move our mind. From such a good heart, good results will always arise. As Geshe Kelsang says:
In Precious Garland Nagarjuna listed eight benefits of love: The first is that meditating on love for just one moment is a greater virtuous action than giving food to all those who are hungry in the world three times a day…. When we simply give food to those who are hungry we are not giving real happiness, because the happiness that comes from eating food is not real happiness; it is just a reduction of their hunger problem, it is just changing suffering. But when we meditate on wishing love, we sincerely wish to give real happiness, the pure and everlasting happiness of enlightenment, to all living beings without exception.
Of course we can do both — feed others with the intention, “May everyone have the permanent bliss of enlightenment.”
You can find the other eight benefits in Joyful Path of Good Fortune.
In these teachings on love in 2009, Geshe Kelsang introduced a quick note of caution about attachment:
We need to love each other continually but we don’t need attachment. Attachment causes problems.
And he went on to say that sometimes we start with pure love, but then it morphs into the selfish intention of attachment.
You know how that goes — when we first meet someone we might have some pure love, be really grateful to them and wish them to be happy; but as time goes on attachment creeps in with its expectations (or “premeditated resentments” as I’ve heard them called), and then the arguments start, and then it’s no longer nearly so much fun. We can keep the honeymoon period going longer by ditching the attachment and growing the love.
With attachment, our love wishing someone else to be happy is conditional, the other person has to behave. With this conditionality, this need, we are to a greater or lesser extent trapped and bound in all directions, confused and helpless, without agency, a puppet on a string dangled by what others do, think, or say.
Whereas with unconditional love we have the thought “I wish you freedom and happiness!” and this gives us freedom as well.
If we know the difference between the way love and attachment feel, we can choose love. We can get to the point where we genuinely feel, “Even if you walk out that door, I am okay as long as you’re happy, because that is what I actually want.” Our love and therefore our happiness stay the same.
Also, I have noticed that when I bring out my love for an object of attachment, letting the attachment go, it is not hard to then spread that love to everyone else – it is a way of opening the floodgates.
So we choose love because love is what will make us and everybody else happy.
(Next up: a special method for developing love, as taught in the Spring Festival.)
Over to you, do you agree? Do you have any examples?
Sometimes we are a little reluctant to keep our eyes open to the suffering of others — we can only do so much of it before we switch channels. You know that thing when some horrible disaster appears on the news and you think, “Oh, no, no, no! Wait a minute, let’s check my Instagram feed, that’s going to be more entertaining at this point.”
At Denver airport en route to London last night, the news of the bombing of young concert goers in Manchester Arena was just breaking. I saw it in the newsagents buying my water, where a pundit (or knucklehead, depending on your perspective) on Fox News was also mysteriously commentating: “It is lucky that we have Mr Trump as our President!” I paused to take heed, then like everyone else I shook my head and thought, “What is the world coming to?” And sooner or later we switch off, don’t we? (Or self-medicate. The young and seemingly underage guy next to me on the plane drank gin and tonics chased by wine, and then passed out. I don’t know his reasons, but I’m sure he was not the only one drinking himself into a stupor last night.)
But there is nothing to fear and everything to gain from extending our love and compassion even and maybe especially in the face of danger — wishing other beings to be happy and free from suffering more and more until no one is left out. We may have no alternative if we wish to be safe. As a friend just posted on Facebook:
So tragic and frightening. So unnecessary and senseless. What can be done – feels so hopeless. Yet a quiet voice calls from the heart, “Now is the time to love – fully, deeply, and fearlessly.” May all beings abide in peace, free from suffering and fear.
At heart all of us have a good nature, as Buddha explained, all of us are in fact pure and very kind; but through trepidation we can hold ourselves back from feeling it: “If I think about everybody’s suffering, I am just going to be overwhelmed and discouraged and depressed, and I already have enough suffering of my own, thank you very much, so I just need to focus on that, and maybe my family, and if I have any time or space in my mind left over then perhaps I can focus on a few other people.” The young woman selling me my Sim card at Heathrow just now said that everyone in England is in a state of melancholy today, and that her father in Northern Ireland wants her to come home right away, London is too dangerous, working in an airport is too dangerous. But she and I agreed that it is not true that we have to batten down the hatches. We have to live.
And what does it mean to really be alive, I thought? We all have the potential to love everybody, wishing every single being to be happy all the time, and to wish for all living beings, including animals, to be free from all their suffering and its causes. This needn’t overwhelm us, and indeed compassion and love are the “great protector”, Buddha said, protecting us from the discouragement and fear. These minds are incredibly beautiful, even blissful, states of mind that will help us as well as everybody else, eventually leading us to enlightenment, the main meaning of this precious human life.
Once we have heard that we have this potential, what is holding us back? Why might we develop reluctance or fear or apathy about going there? According to Buddhism, it is due to two ego minds. One of those is just basic ignorance, confusion, holding onto a real, solid, absolute sense of self or me. Our world revolves to a large extent, maybe entirely, around Me, Me.
And which me? This me sitting here. The real me, which would be me. Not your me. I don’t even see your me.
And, weirdly enough, you don’t see me when you look at me. You see you or her. Which has got to make us wonder — if no one else at all ever sees this me that is the known center of the universe, where on earth is it?
We are all called me, but when we look around we just see other. We all have our own sense of me, and we feel that this me is the real one. Do we not? If I was to say “Hey, all you reading this, stand up the real me! ” — we would all have to stand up. Because that’s how we see it. Do any of you here reading this think you are not really me? We all naturally think we are really me, do we not? The other me’s are a little bit pretending because I can’t even see them — to me they appear as other and I buy into that appearance wholesale.
“But what’s wrong with that?!”, we may be thinking, “What’s wrong with thinking I am me?” The problem is not with thinking we are me but thinking we are the real me, which means that everyone else is necessarily not me. For example, if left is absolutely left, then right must be right, right?!, not left. And that is generally at the moment how we dichotomize self and others, without even having to try. We don’t see a room full of Me’s, we see a whole room full of Others. We see a whole room full of Them, You’s, He’s, She’s, and, on a good day, maybe We’s.
Generally, our strong grasping at self, which is called self-grasping ignorance in Buddhism, immediately throws us into a “them and us” situation. Or a “them and me” or a “me and you” or a “self and other”. It immediately throws us into a dualism – there is me over here and everybody else over there.
And because we feel that this me is the real me, what happens next? The other ego mind is the self-cherishing that believes that this me is the most important me in the universe. We naturally put it first because we naturally believe that real self is more important than real other. This means that we play along with the assumption that “My happiness and suffering matter far more than yours, than anyone’s.”
Which is pretty wild, if you think about it. For on which planet is it actually true that I am more important than all of you?
I may not fess up to this at a polite dinner party, “Hey guys, did you know I am more important than all of you?” But if we are honest about what we are thinking, are we not generally thinking, ” I am more important than them, my happiness matters more, my feelings matter more, my interests matter more, I am generally more interesting, etc.” ?
Or, on the flip side of that, “I am the worst, most boring person on the planet.” Either way, as long as it is about us, we love thinking about ourselves. Actually we hate it, but we love/hate thinking about ourselves. Point is, we can’t help thinking about ourselves at the moment because we keep gravitating towards this me. Why? Because of the habit of ignorance. Our thoughts have been circling around this sense of me, from a Buddhist point of view, since beginningless time. And this is a major, major problem. This is our own biggest problem, and the biggest problem facing humankind. Luckily, it is a problem that can be solved.
As it says in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:
Since throughout my beginningless lives until now, the root of all my suffering has been my self-cherishing mind,
I must expel it from my heart, cast it afar, and cherish only other living beings.
It is of course easier to keep perspective when the tragedy hasn’t yet reached your own doorstep … I don’t really know how I would feel if I had a little girl wearing kitten ears who had just been killed or maimed, whether in Manchester or in Syria — I don’t know if my grief would overwhelm my love, I would hope not but who knows. I was also wondering whom I would want to blame and hate — the deranged suicide bomber? the people who brainwashed him? the whole terrorist network? the enabling governments? those who voted for them? Where do you start and where do you end the blame game? Is everyone who has delusions at fault?
It still makes the most sense to blame the enemy of the delusions themselves. The danger level in the UK has been raised to critical, indicating more attacks on their way — but the real danger is the one still lurking in our own mental continuum. I also think this Facebook comment makes an important point:
If this kind of atrocity leads to hate and fear growing in your mind then their mission is accomplished, they win. Do not put everyone in the same group based on the actions of an individual, this is the very epitome of prejudice. Treat every person as an individual, judge them on their own actions. There is far more that unites us than divides us.
Right this moment, seemingly at leisure in the heat-drenched Norfolk countryside, I do have a choice to make when looking in the mirror of these tragic appearances – to give in to danger or to work to overcome it at its core. If I let the self-grasping Them and Us mentality stick around in my mental continuum, there is no guarantee of my safety:
In the cycle of impure life, samsara,
There is no real protection from suffering.
Wherever I am born, either as a lower or higher being,
I will have to experience only suffering. ~ Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra
This was an extreme deranged manifestation of “me vs them” displayed by the suicide bomber, who in all likelihood is going straight to a hell realm hallucinated by his own self-appeasing hatred and negative actions. However, none of us is safe in samsara from committing negativity while we remain with delusion and an endless history of negative karma in our minds. So, do we give in to these bad habits or keep trying to fly in the face of fear? Loving and praying for each other more, not less, starting perhaps with those in today’s firing line and working together wisely, creatively, and consistently to create purer minds and purer worlds?
Comments are welcome — what do you think about all this?
In brief, attachment is that “sticky desire” that seeks happiness outside of ourselves and wants YOU to make ME happy. Love is an open-hearted wish for you to be happy, no strings attached. A lot of ordinary relationships and friendships are a mixture of the two — we alternate, sometimes quickly, between love and attachment – so they may seem all mushed up to to someone who doesn’t know the difference. However, they have no common denominator, and they do not coexist. They are very different thoughts.
And by the way, in Buddhism, learning to get along with people is not just more fun and fulfilling on a daily basis, but also the path to enlightenment. We need to increase our love and compassion and reduce our attachment and dislike – so every time someone gives us this opportunity, we see them as our spiritual practice, not in the way of it. No one can make us grow our love, we alone are responsible for applying that effort; but the people around us are the very kind objects of our love, without whom it is impossible, so we can appreciate them. In a beautiful section in How to Transform Your Life, Geshe Kelsang says:
If we are skillful, friends can be like treasure chests, from whom we can obtain the precious wealth of love, compassion, patience, and so forth. For our friends to function in this way, however, our love for them must be free from attachment. ~ page 177
Attachment is also called “uncontrolled desire” – and I like to think of this in two ways. (1) For as long as we have attachment, we are moreorless out of control, and (2) we cannot control the object of that sticky desire because they tend to have their own ideas and feelings about everything.
Talking of uncontrolled thoughts, I spent a lot of time on the New York subway recently – and at weekends the trains had a weird habit of not going where they said they were going and ending up in places I didn’t want to be. Our thoughts can be like that. We have to go along with them if we have no control over them, no space between us and them, or no notion that we are not our thoughts and don’t have to think them. And that means wherever they take us, even if that is on an express train to Brooklyn when you wanted to end up at 23rd street.
Or else our thoughts end up going nowhere – like being stuck at 50th street because there is an obstruction at 42nd street, at which point it seems easier to give up and go back to bed. Attachment, as with all delusions, renders us powerless and discouraged – our thoughts go round and round in boring circles, or they end up somewhere horrible and we have to find a way to come all the way back again to where we started, weeks, months, or even years later. If we check all our previous attachments, they can follow a similar loop regardless of the person we are attached to – the only difference is some details.
On the halted train at 50th street, I noticed that the savvy New Yorkers didn’t wait around for more than a couple of minutes – they started leaving the carriage at the first incoherent mumble on the tannoy of “obstruction ahead …”, clearly flexible enough to make alternate travel plans. Me, on the other hand … after fifteen minutes of vainly expecting things to get better on their own, I finally decided that enough was enough if I was to make it on time. I needed to be proactive, take control over my own destiny; so I too left the station and started to run. Then, around Times Square, realizing that running alone would not be quick enough, I jumped in a yellow cab. And I made it. Point being, once we are savvy at mastering our minds, we can get off the train more quickly, be far more flexible, not bother thinking those thoughts we don’t want to think, find alternative ones that work better at getting us where we want to be.
We waste so much of our lives with attachment – if we “can’t wait” to see our lover at the weekend, for example, it’s excruciating to watch the clock tick-tock slowly from Monday to Friday, having to wait. For who likes waiting? We hate the powerlessness of queues or stopped trains. And while we wait, we are missing out on the present moment, the deep peace right here inside us and available 24/7.
If we want our relationships to last, we have to ditch the attachment and work on increasing the love. As Geshe Kelsang says in Buddhism in the Tibetan Tradition:
If we have no enduring love, our relationships with others will be unstable, like a married couple whose initial strong love soon subsides. Our love should be constant like a river that has always been present and will always remain.
Ever been in a relationship like two magnets – first fiercely attracted to each other — slam, stuck — and then repelled far apart?! Maybe there was a time when just one of the magnets started to turn around, and the second magnet got all confused because they couldn’t understand what was going on and why the first magnet didn’t like them any more. Maybe Magnet #2 fires off one text after another to try and connect again (just as we are advised by every agony aunt not to do) – and sure enough all those texts freefall into the dismissive void.
But sooner or later both magnets get all turned around, strong attachment replaced with strong dislike, maybe settling over time into strong indifference. And maybe one day the first magnet says to the second, just because they happen to be in the same neighborhood, “Hey, do you want a coffee and a catch up?” and the second thinks, “Ermm, how on earth could we ever catch up with each other?! Over one cup of coffee?! We are way too far apart for that now.”
Anyway, one thing I do know is that love is very different. Love is like the sun, endlessly radiating, warming both people and any other people around as well. Even in the midst of the attraction/repellence there can be moments of love and respect, a genuine wish for the other person to be happy. And regardless of what has gone before, or when, we can always build upon those.
Affectionate love is when we are delighted to see others and they appear pleasant to us. How is that different to attachment, you might ask. They appear pleasant not because of what they can do for us, such as assuage our loneliness, make us look cool, accompany us to the movies, or scratch our back. They appear pleasant just in their own right. We have a “tender regard” or “warm heart” as Geshe-la says in Joyful Path, regardless of what they look like or what they are doing for us.
I was thinking earlier today that it is a bit like looking at your old dog lying in front of the fireplace with her ears twitching – you don’t want anything from her, you just love her with all your heart, and on that basis you can easily cherish her as important and wish for her happiness (the other two types of love). You want her to be warm and comfortable and happy as can be, and have nothing bad ever happen to her.
Sure, you don’t want to date your dog – but the point is that, whether in a romantic relationship or not, we all need the good heart of love if we really want to be happy. It is never too late to start changing the balance of love and attachment in our current and past romantic relationships, and it is always worth remembering that the love part is guaranteed to help us:
Even if our love is mixed with attachment, it can still be beneficial. ~ Buddhism in the Tibetan Tradition
One way to tell whether attachment or love is functioning is to observe the energy of our thoughts to see if they are going outwards (in order to drag our object of desire back toward us) or staying centered inside, not having to go anywhere as the object of love is already there.
If our thoughts are going outward, trying to grasp happiness out there somewhere, that is attachment at work; and this always leads to a disconnect, a feeling of frustrated separation. This is because there is a strong sense of dualism, a sense of the real me over here and real other or you over there, as described more here. Whereas love feels non-dual, like its object is already inside the heart, which has room for everything and everyone – it is a feeling of connection, fulfillment, joy, completion, intimacy, oneness. All the things that attachment craves but doesn’t get.
Another way to tell the difference, if we check, is that attachment just doesn’t feel very good. It can feel excited, but never peaceful – in its 3 phases of scheming, indulging, and recovering, there is always something a bit missing, out of our hands, even in the midst of the most rewarding indulgence. It is always ready to flip over into disappointment and dislike. Whereas:
When our mind has the nature of love we naturally feel happy and peaceful. With such a state of mind it is impossible to become disturbed or depressed or to develop anger of jealousy. ~ Joyful Path
As Geshe Kelsang also says:
Sometimes we may observe a married couple who are materially very poor, yet somehow their lives seem to be happy. They have a deep understanding between them. When we consider the basis of their fulfilling relationship, we find that their happiness is based on the foundation of love. Even if a married couple have all the material comforts they desire, without the foundation of love for each other they will have dissatisfaction, poor communication, and much mental suffering. If they have no practice of love at all, many complications will develop.
When I look back and analyze my relationships, the happiest times have been the moments I really loved the other person and wanted them happy – I was happy to see them happy, with not much Me involvement. This has made me realize that I can feel that good all the time — as happy with everyone I meet, even as blissful. Which figures, given that happiness, bliss, connection, union, and even transcendence are states of our own mind, they don’t come from outside the mind. With love, we are already in the other’s place, there is no gap separating us to bridge, we are like one.
I find that because of Buddha’s skill in explaining the difference between attachment and love I have been able to keep and even grow the love for my various exes. This means that although we have “moved on” and our lives are different now, and on the surface of things we may not have much to talk about, there is still nothing I would not do if they needed anything — they need only ask. (Except for one of them*)
In fact, when I stop to think about it, I really want them quickly to become Bodhisattvas and attain enlightenment. And that goes for their families too.
So, given that we have dated everyone in our beginningless lives, just as everyone has been our mother, why not spread the affection around?!
Happy Valentine’s Day 😉 😘
(*only kidding 😄 )
We always think we know stuff about people — yeah he’s really annoying, yeah she’s boring, yeah he’s great, etc. Occasionally we find ourselves hopelessly confused, for example when a friend becomes an enemy or a stranger and we are not sure how that happened, “What happened?!” — but generally at any given moment we accept the appearances of friends, enemies, and strangers for what they are. Or, rather, what they seem to be.
Contemplating equanimity is fantastic for shaking us out of our grasping at both permanence and inherent existence.
And … it clears the space for a heartfelt understanding that, just like us, everyone else wants to be happy and free from pain.
For what else do we really know about them?!
Let me explain a bit more.
As described more here, we see how those categories of friends, enemies, and strangers into which we are constantly placing people are not remotely fixed – they are changing all the time due to impermanence, and also because whether someone is a friend, enemy, or stranger says far more about our own projections than what is actually going on. Indeed, nothing is really going on. As Geshe Kelsang explains in Meaningful to Behold:
It is extremely short-sighted and ultimately very mistaken to think that anyone is permanently or inherently our friend, enemy, or stranger. ~ page 24
So, given the facts of both impermanence and emptiness:
If these three positions are so temporary and variable – then who is the proper object of our attachment or hatred?
Not just in this lifetime — we have been around since beginningless time projecting stuff on people, everybody. Let me tell you a quick story.
Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged had immortality thrust upon him.
“Most of those who are born immortal instinctively know how to cope with it, but Wowbagger was not one of them. Indeed, he had come to hate them, the load of serene bastards.”
Anyway, Wowbagger decided during one long dark teatime of the soul, around 2.55 on a Sunday, to insult everyone in the universe — in alphabetical order.
On his spaceship, Wowbagger:
“gazed at the fantastic jewelry of the night, the billions of tiny diamond worlds that dusted the infinite darkness with light. Every one, every single one, was on his itinerary. Most of them he would be going to millions of times over.”
Point being, over infinitely prolonged beginningless time, we have been doing this too! We have insulted everyone in the universe. We have slept with them. We have both slept with and insulted them. We have done everything with everybody.
On this particular trip he was on his way to insult a small slug by calling it a “brainless prat”.
That’s one thing, impermanence. And there is also emptiness to consider.
If things are not fixed, and cannot be found outside the mind, you could argue that there are infinite versions of every situation and person. Even seemingly factual labels, such as “This is my husband or my boss or my President” have nothing real behind them. I saw a picture of the US President with his daughters the other day and I thought how he is a gazillion things – everyone is calling him something different. Stand up the one and true Barack Obama. Impossible.
Or sitting in nearby Cheesman Park writing this – for me, a pleasant leafy place with wafting breezes; for that dog with the Frisbee, a playground; for the person who just approached me to canvass for the democratic party, an opportunity to get out the vote; for the more than 5,000 or so unclaimed bodies still buried under the ground, I’m not quite sure what. That is just two blunt illustrations amongst countless subtle variations. (Pics of said park liberally scattered through this article.)
We all have our own labels or versions of the people in our lives, and what we may sometimes forget is that so does everyone else. We might get possessive of our version, thinking it’s the only real person or the only version that counts, “This is MY husband, that’s who he is” — but try telling that to his mom, his best friend, his cat? Not to mention all those who knew previous versions and will know future versions.
So, we project our own stuff on everybody we meet – creating friends, enemies, and strangers over and over again. And this destroys our peace, causes us a lot of trouble, and blocks us from really helping people. We yearn for our objects of attachment to come here and make us happy while wanting our objects of anger to shut up and go away. But projected people can’t do anything from their own side to help us further our wishes for happiness and freedom, any more than can an actor on a screen.
If people are not permanently nor inherently friends, enemies, and strangers, what ARE they? What DO we know about them, really?
Only that they want to be happy all the time and free from suffering. Just like us.
Yup. That we can know.
One of the most amazing things I find about this way of thinking is the amount of space and freedom it opens up to abide with the minds that help me, instead of wasting time and peace being sidetracked by the three poisons. As Geshe-la says in Joyful Path:
Equanimity reduces our attachment and hostility, but it does not reduce our liking and our love for others.
Quite the opposite. With equanimity understanding impermanence and projection, we now have the space to consider how others feel about things, rather than how we do, stepping into their shoes and walking through doorways to interesting new worlds based on appreciation, respect, affection, rejoicing, compassion, and empathy. Instead of staying confined to the claustrophobic spaceship of “me, me me”, our mental horizons are broadened on the way to the all-pervasive compassion and omniscient wisdom of a Buddha.
Over to you. Comments welcome.