The courage to love

hate is easy“I’m ok, I suppose”, said the woman sitting opposite on the train into her phone a second ago, “but just reading about Manchester, it’s really sad. I can’t take much more of this.”

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.)

ManchesterBut 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 precious human lifeaway, 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.

So what’s holding us back?

love quoteOnce 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.

Dualism

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. self-cherishing me better than you

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.” ?

self-cherishing 2Or, 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.

Danger Level: Critical

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 Manchester 2wondering 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

sowing seeds of loveThis 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?

Related articles

Delusions are our real enemies  

Using a Lamrim meditation to make sense of the senseless 

The age-old foes of our people 

A Buddhist meditation for coping 

What can we do about tragedies?

 

 

A handy introduction to some common Buddhist terms

My parents asked me for working definitions of the following terms, “an introduction to Buddhism in the simplest terms possible for the uninformed, but possibly quite bright, newcomer or beginner.”

GlossarySo I gave it a go, and they replied with some great suggestions for simplifying the language further. I also asked a good friend with much Buddhist knowledge, who helped edit Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books, to give his input. This is therefore a collaborative work in progress, and you are invited to participate as well.

Meanwhile, the actual official Kadampa book glossary is accurate and useful.

And to find out more about all these terms, download this free Buddhist book, How to Transform Your Life.

What are delusions?

delusions

Delusions are distorted thoughts or emotions that destroy our mental peace and make us act in inappropriate ways; and so they are the cause of our suffering. Examples are anger, attachment, arrogance, and ignorance. They are distorted because the way they perceive their object does not correspond to reality – for example attachment exaggerates the pleasurable aspects of its object, in effect projecting things that are not there, whereas anger and hatred exaggerate the unpleasant aspects. If we get rid of our misperceptions, we get rid of our delusions and experience lasting happiness.

What is attachment?

Attachment, or “uncontrolled desire”, is a state of mind that believes happiness inheres or can be found in things outside the mind. Attachment is the “sticky desire” that is our normal response to anything or anyone we feel is a cause of pleasure, comfort, or security for us, that wants to keep it close or wants more, or that feels a painful sense of loss when it goes. The truth is, happiness is a state of mind that depends upon mental peace, and so its real causes lie within the mind, not without.

my precious.jpgAttachment exaggerates the power of its object to make us happy by focusing on its supposed good qualities while editing out all its faults, e.g., a pizza or a partner is perceived by attachment to be an inherent, or actual, source of pleasure when in fact they can be just as much a source of suffering.

Attachment is often confused with love but they are completely different. Love is other-centered and peaceful and focuses on the welfare of the other person, whereas attachment is self-centered and unpeaceful and wants the other person simply because we think they make us feel better.

What is self-cherishing?

Self-cherishing is a mind that wrongly believes we are more important than others, andself-cherishing that our happiness and freedom matter more. Self-grasping misconceives our I to be inherently existent, the only real me; and self-cherishing misconceives this I to be supremely important, the very center of our world. These two ego minds are the source of all samsaric problems.

What is Dharma?

Dharma refers to Buddhist teachings and especially the experiences we gain by putting these teachings into practice. It literally means “protection.” Since our suffering comes from our delusions, it is our inner experience of the opposite of these delusions that directly protects us from this suffering.

For example, the experience of pure love protects us from the suffering caused by our own anger and dislike, and the experience of emptiness protects us from the suffering caused by self-grasping ignorance.

What is samsara?

samsaraSamsara is the life experience of someone with a body and mind still polluted by delusions and the negative actions and their unpleasant consequences arising from these delusions. Sometimes known as “cyclic existence”, it is life characterized by repetitive suffering.

Samsara’s very nature is problematic. The mind is not physical and it continues after death, but, for as long as our mind is governed by delusions, what it experiences will be fundamentally unsatisfactory and generally painful.

But not all life is samsaric life – if we can free ourselves from delusions by realizing emptiness, we can end samsara and experience lasting peace and happiness.

What is karma?

karma“Karma” is the Sanskrit word for “action”, referring to mental actions, or intentions. Karma generally speaking is the mental, internal law of cause and effect, which is as infallible as the physical, external law of cause and effect, such as oak trees arising from acorns and chickens arising from eggs. Every time we intentionally do something, we create the cause for something to ripen for us in the future, sowing a karmic “seed” in the “soil” of our mental continuum. Mental intentions are those seeds; experiences are their effects. Positive actions sow the seeds for positive experiences; negative actions sow the seeds for suffering experiences. Seeds take time to ripen, but what we put into the world is what, sooner or later, we get out of it.

What is self-grasping?

Self-grasping ignorance is the underlying source of all other delusions. It is a wrong awareness that apprehends people and things as existing inherently or independently. For example, when we think of a person called Tom, there seems to be a completely real Tom out there who in no way depends upon our perceptual and conceptual apparatus for his existence.

emptinessWhat is inherent existence?

Inherent existence means independent existence. An object would be inherently existent if it didn’t depend on anything at all for its existence, such as its causes, its parts, or the mind perceiving it. No object exists like this, so no object is inherently existent. Some synonyms for inherent existence are existing from the side of the object, existing from its own side, existing in and of itself, independently existent, or objectively existent. 

At the moment, we grasp at inherent existence; it is the object of self-grasping ignorance. The world seems to be made up of discrete, objective entities that do not depend upon an observer for their existence; but, in reality, all phenomena are inter-dependent, or “dependent relationships”, existing only in relationship with a multitude of causes, parts, contexts, imputations, and perceptions.

What is emptiness?

Emptiness is not nothingness but the lack of things existing inherently. Self-grasping ignorance misconceives things as having inherent or independent existence, and emptiness 1emptiness is the total absence of this mode of existence. Because everything depends entirely upon other things, everything is empty of inherent existence.

The things we normally see – inherently existent things — do not exist. Things do exist, but as mere appearances to mind, entirely dependent upon mind, and the nature of mind.

Realizing emptiness — lack of inherent existence — is the only way to destroy the object of self-grasping and free our mind permanently from all delusions.

What is Sangha?

Sangha refers to the spiritual community practicing Dharma. In general, our spiritual friends who give us spiritual advice, support, and inspiration are our Sangha; but more strictly a Sangha Jewel is someone who has realized emptiness directly, because only such a person sees things as they really are and can be relied upon completely.

wishfulfilling jewelWhat is a wishfulfillling jewel?

 A wishfulfilling jewel is an ancient legendary jewel similar to Aladdin’s lamp that supposedly had the power to grant all worldly wishes. It is often used as an analogy for spiritual accomplishments such as full enlightenment, which not only fulfill all our worldly and temporary wishes, but also our everlasting, ultimate wishes.

Postscript ~ parents’ verdict:

“We regret that we still find several definitions too difficult and sometimes too wordy, as if you are both trying too hard to cover every aspect.”almost there

So, as we are not there yet, I invite you all to give this a go as well! Please use the comments section below. My friend and I have found that attempting to sum up these profound subjects in a few sentences, if indeed such a thing is possible, has been a very useful exercise in checking our own understanding. As this list is very far from complete, please feel free to submit other Buddhist terms and working definitions too.

And check out the Kadampa glossary whenever in doubt.

Related articles

What is Buddhism? A short, simple guide

Karma

Delusions

Attachment 

Samsara

Self-cherishing 

Realizing emptiness and destroying self-grasping 

 

The age-old foes of our people

To get my news, I have taken to watching the late night comedians from time to time. It seems as reasonable as anything else in this post-facts world, and at least you get some laughs in.

umbrella jelly fish

It has always been strange times in samsara, however. Ask human beings all over the world.* Maybe for a lot of us, right now, it is just a bit more obviously strange.

(*Not to mention asking the 50,000 underwater beings I met yesterday at Vancouver Aquarium – “How strange is life for you, umbrella jelly fish?” for example. “What is it like to identify with that body and mind?”)

Continuing from this article on developing self-confidence.

Evolution

Everyone seems to be annoying everyone else these days, but in truth living beings are never our actual enemy – delusions are our only enemy. As a Buddhist verse says:

This fault I see is not the fault of the person
But the fault of delusion.
Realizing this, may I never view others’ faults,
But see all beings as supreme.

We can do a lot of things to help our world — complacency or opting out may not be the best options. But I think it’s important to consider that external action might be of limited use unless we’re remembering who is the real enslaving enemy here. If we want to know who is world hurtstruly unjust, cruel, narcissistic, and relentlessly unreasonable, causing the maximum damage to every single living being without caring even the tiniest bit, it is, and always has been, our delusions. Delusions lead to negative intentions and actions, or karma, and all its resulting unpleasant experiences, including sickness, ageing, not getting what we want, getting what we don’t want, dissatisfaction, death, and then all that all over again, rebirth, etc.

If everyone could just become a little less selfish, for example, or a little less angry, this world would improve overnight. That would be real evolution.

Right now, as humans we have a real shot at this. Our only shot. At Vancouver Aquarium yesterday I met fish who can do nothing but swim backwards and forwards day after relentless day, and anemones whose only activity is to suck their tentacles in and out, whose mouth and anus are one and the same.

This particular fish spent an age swimming Tekchen and fishup to my companion, a Buddhist monk, mouthing the words: “You have a chance to do something about samsara! I don’t. Help yourself. Help me!” At least that is what my friend heard his new fishy friend say.

To get rid of our real enemies, we need the self-confidence that believes:

I am the conqueror of my delusions; they will never conquer me!

Age-old foes

On the subject of solving external problems, I appreciate some (not all) of Avaaz‘s campaigns, especially on climate and animals. They have managed to right some wrongs, maybe because the founder, Ricken Patel, has his heart in the right place:

We need to be strong, and to challenge the forces of regress. But let’s not be twisted by the darkness and act from fear and anger. We are warriors for love and wisdom. We must act from that light. When we do come from love and wisdom, we can see that our ‘enemy’ is not so much any people, as it is unwisdom. Misplaced fear and anger. Lack of awareness and understanding.  These are age-old foes of our people. Our grandparents faced far worse with far less, and they won progress. We have every reason to hope, and no excuse for despair.

In general, it is a good deal more beneficial if our outward actions are nourished by renunciation for samsara, compassionate strength, and the wisdom realizing that all of this is the play of samsara, or drama inseparable from emptiness — nothing is really going on, as I was trying to explain in the last eight articles. We also need to grow our skill, which comes from compassion and wisdom, so we don’t make too many mistakes when trying to help others.

I reckon the best way we can help others right now is to show them that it is possible to remain peaceful, compassionate, and wise regardless of what we do on the outside – for the internal march toward lasting mental freedom and bliss is the one we must all take sooner or later.

Are you a prisoner?

Samsara is likened by Buddha to a prison. We need to remember that we don’t have to be in prison, at least not while we have a human life and the ability to change our deep-seated thoughts. We don’t have to feel part of the prison population; we can think out of the

don't be deceived by samsara's pleasure garden
Samsara’s pleasure garden

box. If we knew we had a way out, we’d focus on that, not wasting time with detailed gossip on the annoying and dreadful new prison guards – instead it’s “I’m outta here!” We’d be making plans to burn this thing down. There are no safe spaces in here, no real comfy corners, so we need to stop fiddling about in a samsaric pleasure garden of complacency and develop faith in the enlightened world, an enlightened society, outside the prison walls.

First thing we could usefully do is give up our useless or harmful self-image. We are whom we tell ourselves we are, whom we identify with. So we can close that gap between the ordinary prisoner we might think we are now and the liberator we really want to be, thinking, “I AM a conqueror of my delusions”, not the other way around.

Rebellion

Sometimes people pride themselves on their rebellious streak, stick it to the Man and all that – in my distant youth my own rebellious streak manifested in …. well, I wrote it down but have just thought better of publishing it! In any case, a lot of us don’t want to submit to the “establishment” or the “system”, whether worldly or religious, and hold ourselves at a distance.

After meeting Buddhism, I had an insight: I had been rebelling for years against the wrong things. It was kind of stupid. I had been throwing the baby out with the bath water. Although other people may boss me around and say what I can and cannot do, it is only my delusions who can truly yank my chains. Fact is, the only true and worthwhile rebellion is against samsara. Samsara is the rat race establishment that truly sucks, and self-grasping the callous, we can't solve problemscorrupt system that really needs overthrowing. As Geshe Kelsang says in The New Meditation Handbook, we have been slaves to our self-cherishing since beginningless time. We have to tear samsara down and build something new with fresh thinking. Not just thinking outside the box, but realizing there IS no box.

Samsara is the endless product of self-grasping and self-cherishing – so why not try now instead to produce a world out of compassion and wisdom, even bliss and emptiness? This may sound idealistic, like “How on earth are we all supposed do that?!” But, truth is, it is eminently realistic. Why? Because compassion and wisdom ARE reality.

Any other revolution is just gonna be another turning of the wheel of samsara.

Outward action nourished by a deeper understanding
Help fish
My friend’s fish

We can come up with new ideas for organizing ourselves that are less self-serving and more in tune with our mutual dependence – I applaud people who are doing this. A system that is based on integrity, including sense of shame — or conscience — and consideration for others. Standing up for what is right. I also think that good ideas can spread if we are practicing them ourselves and not afraid of sharing them as widely as we can.

Within this broader understanding of our existential predicament, we can help others overcome their bad habits and negativities as best we can, as per our Bodhisattva vow, and respectfully, seeing past their delusions to their Buddha nature. We can restrain others as need be, at the ballot box for example, as a doctor restrains a mental patient, without anger, understanding that people create negative actions because they are confused by the mental illness of the delusions and not because they are intrinsically bad people. Sometimes it is very necessary to take action – but it is never going to be enough on its own.

Next article on self-confidence here.

Over to you. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Related articles

Who are we!?

Freedom march

Unleashing our potential

Just love

This is going to be short and sweet, hopefully like Christmas.

lucy-dogThis morning I had a simple, heart-warming experience. Visiting my brother’s family, I was walking their dog, my namesake L, aged 7 months. She had spent the last hour tugging at the leash to meet everyone she could in the streets of St. Albans, jumping up on them with muddy paws if they so much as looked at her. She loves everyone. Not everyone was loving her back.

Until we got to Verulam House, Nursing and Residential Home. My sister-in-law and I dropped in to see her mother, Christine, where we found her in a big circle of old folks under the care of James, a youngish man who clearly takes a genuine interest in each one of them and was getting them all to chat.

And L jumped straight onto the lap of an unsuspecting old man, who almost spilled his sippy cup of lukewarm coffee. Luckily, he beamed. Other wavery voices then called out, “Let her come here!” So I took her around to each person in the room, and she lit them up. We had a party! So simple — just love — yet so effective. Everyone was in a good mood. It cost nothing.

James was very pleased to see everyone enjoying themselves, and I was thinking how much he deserves to be, as does every other under-paid, over-worked Bodhisattva care worker looking after the old, the lonely, the sick, and the homeless this Christmas and every other day of the year. And these unsung heroes and heroines will get what they deserve as a result of their kindness. They’ll get happiness.HTTYL-bookcovers.png

Get rid of self-cherishing, and everything works. Don’t get rid of it and nothing works. Self-grasping and self-cherishing are believing in and cherishing a real and important self that does not exist, as explained here, so they are doomed to fail every time.

Last week, Venerable Geshe Kelsang gave everyone a free book, called How to Transform Your Life, spreading warmth and light across the globe. Much of this book shows how self-cherishing has never worked, for what do we have to show for it? Just problems and grumpiness every single day, and ending up no closer to that lasting freedom and joy we all long for. But cherishing others always solves our problems and leads to all our temporary and ultimate happiness. When we finally figure this out, and then actually bother to remember it, we will be inspired to get rid of our self cherishing — all of it — and cherish others instead. Every day will then be a party.

happy-holidays
Contemplate these “four immeasurables” and a happy festive season is pretty much guaranteed.

And if, maybe, we think, “Hey, self-cherishing is not that bad! Look at my lovely life! I do have something to show for my selfishness!!” we can dig deeper to see that none of the good things in our life has come from self-cherishing. More despite our self-cherishing. We experience good friendships, loyalty, things going our way, happiness, resources, etc, because of our cherishing others now and in the past, not because of our self-cherishing.

And that’s it for today, folks! Wishing you and your loved ones and their loved ones and their loved ones and so on ad infinitum a very happy holiday.

What about ME?

golden gate in fogOne reason that compassion is our Buddha nature, I think, is because compassion is a natural response to reality. If we remove our wrong conceptions holding ourselves to be independent of others, and focus on our interdependence, which exists, our compassion will naturally grow and grow and grow until it becomes the universal compassion of a Buddha. By the same token, I think the reason why wisdom is part of our Buddha nature is because it is a natural response to the reality of emptiness. 

In the sunshine of wisdom and compassion, our delusions have no choice but to dissolve into our clear light mind like the San Francisco fog.

The ME mind

As mentioned, one reason we find our own painful thoughts so intolerable is because we are identifying with them. Another reason is that we are forgetting something quite significant, that we are one of countless people. So it is not really all about me. Therefore, that ME mind is the crux of our suffering, based as it is on an hallucination. We forget:

We are just one person among countless living beings, and a few moments of unpleasant feeling arising in the mind of just one person is no great catastrophe. ~ How to Solve our Human Problems

We grasp at our painful feelings as if they were a storm in a teacup instead of a tiny, passing storm in a vast global sky.

duck
What about him?!

This is true, no? No one else really gives a monkeys, this is our private affair. When we get a glimpse into others’ minds and see their storm in a teacup, we might easily judge: “Get over it! Can’t you just drop it, or him or her, it’s not such a big deal.” Or “You haven’t lost that much money, what are you so worried about?!” But we grapple with our own problems like a dog with a bone because we are so obsessed with ourselves. “What about ME?” Our self-grasping and self-cherishing are like a black hole sucking everything into it.

As soon as we can identify with others, give ourselves a break from poor old me, there is relief. The “What about me?” mind hurts, for example comparing and contrasting our own situation unfavorably with everyone else’s. But everyone has a hard life, and we can use our own pain to remind us of that and slowly but surely get over ourselves.

As a neurotic Tweeter put it the other day:

I’m a tiny speck in the infinite cosmos that feels fat. ~ Melissa Broder

Cruel world

famineThis ME mind blinds us to others’ suffering. Yesterday I was eating my supper while casually reading The Week’s page The World at a Glance:

Gabarone, Botswana: Up to 49 million people across Southern Africa are at risk of famine from the worst drought in three decades.

I had to read it again, surely I didn’t just read “49 MILLION PEOPLE”? But I did. How come I never knew this? Why isn’t it the headline on every news outlet? Why has it not occupied a single moment of my attention until now? Why is it just one short paragraph at the bottom of one page in a short-circulation magazine?

I don’t know. But I suspect our global self-cherishing has a lot to do with it. And it is awful.

No ME

Meanwhile, the truth is that the Me we are so desperate to serve and protect and freak out about doesn’t even exist.

Of course it feels right now like it exists, but in truth it is nothing more than the non-existent object of an unrealistic painful idea of ourselves.

deerIn the course of one day we tell stories to ourselves about ourselves, one day it’s I’m fabulous, other days it’s “I’m such a wreck, can’t keep anything together.” We have wildly different ideas about ourselves. We might say kind things to ourselves “You’re ok, you’re good”, and we get on with our lives, but then when we get angry, for example, there is the person we are angry with, whom we are holding in an exaggerated way as the source of our harm, and there is the Me we are holding onto in also in an exaggeratedly limited way, eg, “I am a hurt person, that’s who I am.” Then we have to do something to protect that poor hurt person from that really mean person, as described here.

As for the allegedly harmful person, we can go from zero to a hundred miles per hour with anger by exaggerating their faults and thinking about nothing else, leaving the nice bits about them conveniently on the cutting room floor. While we remain angry we give them no wriggle room — nothing they say or do makes much difference as anger has covered Mister Mean with superglue.

A few days ago I was invited to coffee just to have someone insult me in a myriad of quite creative (I thought) ways. But in the same conversation she was telling me about her dying mother, who insists on continuing to work through her painful illness because she wants to claim a $9,000 tax credit in April to give to her child. Wow, I thought. Stand up the real person, the one who is appearing unjust and weird to me, or the beautiful one loved beyond pain by her mother?pagoda

Choose freedom

In this article I explained how we have the chance to identify with our potential rather than with our painful limited self, and in this way come to our own conclusion that we want liberation. So why do we identify with pain? If we believed we had choice, would we not choose to identify with freedom, space, happiness? Ignorance removes our choice because it is convincing us that we are not creating the painful self and other, that these are independent of our mind; so then we have no choice but to go along with it all.

If we dream of a monster and run away from it, is it because the monster is actually there? Or is it because we are misapprehending the monster’s mode of existence? Ignorance is causing this misapprehension. In the same way, we are not in pain because a real self or bay area treesother is actually there, but because ignorance is causing us to apprehend both self and other as independent of the mind.

Realizing this about ourselves gives us renunciation. Realizing this about others gives us compassion.

More coming soon! Meanwhile, please share your experiences on this subject in the comments below.

(And thank you for giving me an excuse to share some San Francisco photos I took this week 😉 Kadampa Meditation Center SF was the first Kadampa Center in America. I have been visiting this beautiful, lovable center and community for their 25 Year Anniversary Celebrations.)

Have no fear

People’s hearts are good, but ignorance is our greatest enemy and destroys our happiness every single day.

bench in botanical gardens
He’d just left when I took this photo.

Earlier today in the Denver Botanical Gardens I saw an old Air Force veteran sitting all on his own looking sad, and then I saw him later near my pond. He dug into his canvas bag I thought for a sandwich, and indeed it was, but instead of eating it himself he proceeded to break it up and feed it to the fish, peering at them through the water as he did so. I thought, “May he and all those fish never experience another moment’s hunger or loneliness between now and when they attain enlightenment.” For none of them deserves to suffer, ever. None of us do. It is only our ignorance that has got us into this existential predicament.

Carrying on from this article.

Four noble truths

We talk about the “four noble truths” in Buddhism. In the first noble truth, Buddha showed that there is suffering, an endless cycle of suffering, and everyone still in samsara experiences it. In the second noble truth he identified the causes of suffering as lying within our minds – external conditions are only conditions for suffering if we have the actual causes in our mind, delusions and karma.

These delusions tend to cluster around a strong sense of self-importance, me me me, I’m the center of the universe, my happiness and suffering matter more than yours. In this article I tried to explain how we identify with a limited, painful sense of self, one that doesn’t even exist except as the object held by a wrong idea (self-grasping ignorance). Then we cherish that I, do everything we can to serve and protect it (self-cherishing).

That I — the seemingly real or inherently existent I, the I that we normally perceive — is like a puff of air blown into a balloon. The balloon is locked in a box. The box is secured in a vault. The vault is put in the bank. The bank is protected by guards.  The guards are employed by the government. And there we have it – a vast impressive bureaucracy of ego to administer and defend a big empty nothing.balloon in box

And everyone is doing it! Therefore, we suffer. And the stronger our sense of self, the stronger our sense of other. As it says in this article on some benefits of compassion that I quoted previously:

There is no-one who has not, will not, or does not suffer. By trying to identify common traits which you share it starts breaking down this barrier of defining someone as an ‘other’.

So in general when we are very self-absorbed and so on we are neither peaceful nor fulfilled because we are not living in accordance with reality. Self-cherishing that positions ourselves as more important than others leads to anger when things don’t go our way, uncontrolled desire grasping at what we think will make me happy, jealousy, miserliness, fear, and so on. One way or another, our mind is agitated. Modern society — or as we might want to put it “degenerate times” — apparently does not help us much either:

Combined with the frenetic pace of modern life, it has led to a stressed out, individualized society with a reduced capacity for empathy. As we remain vigilant to perceived threats to our own small piece of turf, compassion is the casualty.

Geshe Kelsang did say this though, and I believe him:

Full enlightenment is not easy to achieve. In these spiritually degenerate times people’s delusions are so strong, and there are so many obstacles to making progress in spiritual practice. But if we sincerely practice Kadam Dharma [Kadampa Buddhism] with a pure motivation, pure view, and unchangeable faith, we can achieve the ultimate happiness of full enlightenment in three years without any difficulty. We can do this.

Empathy

In our little experiment in this article, did you find that there was a sense that, although you really felt for another’s suffering, your mind was peaceful? Or not? Was it a bit of both? In which case, which bit was which?
empathy

Real compassion is all about the other person, identifying with their feelings etc. We have exchanged places with them in a way. And to the extent that it is about them and not us, compassion is very pure and free from any kind of pain. Also during that time it is impossible to feel impatience, at least as soon as you do the compassion has gone. Maybe your mom knows how to push your buttons and irritate you, but maybe she is very ill in hospital and you are not irritated with her at all.

The second noble truth, the causes of suffering, refers to self-grasping, self-cherishing, and their backing band delusions. These have reduced while we are cherishing others, so we are experiencing some peace. Thus, we gain a little taste of the third noble truth, the cessation of suffering and its causes; we see how this could be possible. How? Through the fourth noble truth, true paths, spiritual paths. These are states of mind such as compassion and wisdom (understanding that the I we normally perceive doesn’t exist) that cancel out our delusions and lead to their cessation.

So in this experiment, hopefully we see in our own experience how a cessation of suffering is possible. This may only be a temporary cessation for now, but through spiritual training it’s possible to get rid of our suffering for good. This is amazing, and gives us the confidence to think, “I don’t need to fear suffering. If I know its causes, I can stop it, and also apply this understanding to others to help them stop theirs.”

Reality

Generally, however, unless we want to train in renunciation or compassion, we try to avoid looking at suffering through distraction etc, and when we can’t avoid it we get depressed. As TS Eliot puts it:

Human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

cow in factory farmIn that state, we don’t really want to explore suffering more deeply to see where it is coming from, let alone to look at others’ suffering. We’d much rather switch on Netflix or self-medicate. Again, in the words of TS Eliot, we spend much of our life “distracted from distraction by distraction.” But even if we were to spend 6 hours on Netflix and manage to forget about suffering for a while, does that get rid of it?

If all our efforts to get rid of suffering through distraction and diversion worked, we would be as happy as clams by this point; but instead we have the same old problems every single day of our life because we are not addressing their causes ie, the delusions and karma. For as long as we are not touching those, for as long as we are fiddling about with externals to solve our problems, we are not getting rid of the causes of suffering and experiencing cessations. The most we’re getting is some temporary relief, like scratching an itch – that is, if we’re lucky, and of course if we don’t keep scratching. Looking for freedom in external sources is a fool’s game. It has got us nowhere.

Training in compassion is not an optional extra, therefore, that might make our life a little better. It is a necessity, the actual path to happiness and fulfillment.

One more article on compassion here.