Detoxing our daily life

8 mins read.

Temple on Sept 25We talk a lot about toxic relationships, poisoned environments, and so on, but according to Buddha all outer poison comes from the three inner poisons of attachment, hatred (or aversion), and ignorance. I don’t think we have to look far to see the effects of actions fueled by unbridled greed, intolerance, indifference, and basic confusion. I could put a long list here, or you could just turn on the news.

Carrying on from this article on the three nons, which help us overcome our delusions on even our busiest day.

Meanwhile, when not overtaken by these delusions, people everywhere are also doing extraordinarily brave and unselfish things for others, sometimes at the cost of their own comfort or even lives, such as those trying to put out fires in the Amazon or rescue tortured animals. It restores hope in humanity, seeing these welcome glimmers of clarity, sanity, and kindness that arise from our pure Buddha nature. They are reminders that no one is inherently evil, that we are all good at heart; but that we fall tragically victim to our unpeaceful, uncontrolled thoughts and bad karma. It is the delusions that have to go.

Glimpsing a pure land

I got a good feeling for what it’s like for thousands of people to practice being peaceful and considerate for several days in a row at the recent epic opening of the fifth Kadampa world peace temple and the International Fall Festival. It was magical, to be honest. Deeply inspiring. A lot of fun. You see the goodness at the heart of all of us, and how it is perfectly possible to bring it out of each other if that is what we decide to do. We don’t need to stay petty, or selfish, or vindictive, or addicted to the drama of attachment, pride, and other delusions – we do have a choice here. Back home, we can become examples for others rather than just join back in the fray.

Sometimes we can see the value of a state of mind by extrapolating it to include everyone – what would this world be like, for example, if we all tried to practice non-harmfulness, never deliberately causing pain to others? Where would be the wars, the pollution, the shootings, the inequitable distribution of resources, the starvation?

Even if that seems too much to hope for, knowing what a pure land this would create we can at least start by practicing non-harmfulness ourselves and sowing the karma for a kinder more peaceful world. This is not idealism – this is creating a new reality based on compassion and a wisdom that understands the power of our mind and takes Grand Canyon 3responsibility for our own thoughts, actions, and experiences. Rather than demonizing each other, thus remaining a victim of our own anger and frustration and very muchpart of the problem, it would help all of us a lot more to recognize the real demons that lurk within our own hearts — and turn this sorry situation around. That’s what Buddha basically said, anyway, and I agree.

Non-ignorance

(We’re on the third non, non-ignorance or wisdom.) Geshe Kelsang said in his 2000 Mahamudra teachings that all subject minds and object things arise simultaneously from karmic potentialities in the root mind, like waves from an ocean.

Mahamudra meditators therefore conclude that all the many appearances we perceive, such as the world, the environment, enjoyments, beings, our friends, and our bodies are all waves of the ocean of our consciousness. They do not exist from their own side at all. They exist as mere appearance to mind. This is very close to saying that they are mind, but they are not actual mind. They are not separate from mind. They are the nature of mind.

Everything appearing to you right now, including the words on this screen, is coming not from outside your mind but from inside. Truth! We know this if we take the time to do the analysis of looking for things with wisdom and get that insight into the mere absence of the things we normally perceive, the endless space-like emptiness of all that exists. Whatever it is we are currently grasping at, it’s not there! Grasping is as futile as trying to drink water from a mirage or grasp hold of a reflection.

This is one reason why objects of attachment such as handsome people keep slipping through our fingers; and the more we grasp the quicker that seems to happen.

temple in SeptemberIf things are not out there, yet they appear, then what else can they be other than mere aspects or appearance of our mind not other than their emptiness? As Venerable Geshe Kelsang says in his new book, The Mirror of Dharma:

When we see our body, in truth we see only the emptiness of our body because the real nature of our body is its emptiness. However, we do not understand this because of our ignorance.

Geshe Kelsang has said that “anything can appear due to karma”; and it seems that anything does appear! – our mind is constantly throwing up new appearances, day after day and life after life, like an ocean throwing up waves, some of it quite cool, most of it really crazy.

We manage to grasp at all of it, we are “deceived by grasping at things as they appear”, ie, they appear outside our mind, nothing to do with us. This means that if they’re attractive we want them (attachment) and if they’re not we want them gone (aversion). But if none of this exists outside our mind, these poisonous responses are a horrible and beginningless waste of time.

So much suffering we have had already since beginningless time, really way too much.

And so much more suffering awaits us all if we don’t stop doing this. I think it is good to keep remembering this every day until it sinks in and we commit to detoxifying our mind of the three poisons once and for all. These two verses from The Three Principal Aspects of the Path, transmitted to Je Tsonkghapa by the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri, provide a graphic and heart-wrenching contemplation of our existential predicament. Applied to oneself, this swiftly brings on renunciation, and applied to others, bodhichitta.

Swept along by the currents of the four powerful rivers [birth, ageing, sickness and death],
Tightly bound by the chains of karma, so hard to release,
Ensnared within the iron net of self-grasping,
Completely enveloped by the pitch-black darkness of ignorance,

Taking rebirth after rebirth in boundless samsara,
And unceasingly tormented by the three sufferings [painful feelings, changing suffering and pervasive suffering] –
Through contemplating the state of your mothers, all living beings, in conditions such as these,
Generate the supreme mind of bodhichitta.

Just as the moon’s reflection in a lake cannot be separated out from the reflecting lake, so nothing that appears to us can be separated out from our reflecting awareness. If there is nothing “out there”, what exactly are we grasping at? We have to stop. If not now, in this precious human life, then when?

Practice all three nons in this context

view from planeI think it’s helpful to practice all three nons in this context. When an attractive object appears, such as sweet potato fries or a beautiful Fall aspen tree or even the huge Rockies seen through the window of this airplane, I can understand that these are not out there, and enjoy them as a mere appearance or reflection. I can know that when I attain liberation by purifying my lake-like mind, I will be able to enjoy pure appearances forever, and infinitely better ones to boot! This is all non-attachment.

When an unattractive object appears, such as someone arguing with me about politics, I can accept it as simply a wave-like arising within my own mind, resulting from my own karma, and let it go, not getting caught up in it.

And whenever something feels even more solid, fixed, and real than usual, this appearance itself reminds me that it is not real at all — just as a moon appearing in a lake reminds me that it is just a reflection, not outside the lake. Change the lake-like mind, the reflection changes automatically.

Practicing this with Tantra

latest temple photoWe can practice the three nons within our Tantric practice too.

  1. Non-attachment: If I encounter an object of desire, instead of generating attachment I can remember the faults of attachment, as explained in this first article. I can remember that all samsaric enjoyments are changing suffering and paltry compared with the pure enjoyments of enlightenment. I can remember that my mind is mixed with Guru Heruka’s mind of bliss and emptiness, and is giving rise to the appearances of the four complete purities – the body, environments, enjoyments, and deeds of Buddha Heruka or Vajrayogini, like reflections in a completely pure lake. Since this Grand Canyon or handsome fellow etc is in fact the same nature as the bliss and emptiness of my mind, he/she/it gives rise to even more bliss. In other words, I can have my cake and eat it. (As opposed to the frustration of trying to hold onto it with attachment, wherein I can neither have my cake nor eat it.

2. Non-hatred: If I encounter an unpleasant person, I can remember that this person is not their delusions, in fact they are a future Buddha, in fact they ARE a Buddha. And, just as important, I want them to be a Buddha. Ideally right now. This is the highest form of love and compassion, and will remind and inspire me to be Buddha Heruka.

3. Non-ignorance: When things get too real, I can remember that this is showing me that things are NOT real, just like that reflection of the moon. Everything is mere name, a manifestation not just of emptiness but of the extraordinary non-dualistic clear light bliss of my mind; and I am more inspired to be Buddha Heruka.

You can read more about the three nons in Universal Compassion and How to Understand the Mind.

Over to you: I’d love to hear more from you in the Comments below on how you practice this instruction. It is such a vast and beneficial practice, given that it covers our three main delusions and all our waking hours! And there are so many different ways to go about it.

Related articles

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Reflections in a clear lake 

 

Quick fix meditation on emptiness

7.5 mins read

While we continue to harbor the 2 ego-centered minds of self-grasping ignorance and self-cherishing, our lives can quickly take a sinister turn. Everything that was working out for usinisters can so quickly go wrong when our own and others’ delusions such as anger, attachment, pride, and jealousy wreck everything – work, supreme court nominations, families, marriages, these can all implode and leave us finding everything and everyone so weird and distasteful, even the people we thought we understood.

Do you ever have thoughts like this: “I don’t like this! I want to escape! I want to get away from all these annoying and/or demanding people and crushing responsibilities/anxieties/stressors! I want to get away and forget about it all — the worrying family, the depressive exes, the needy friends, the daily grind, the constant pressure of the endless to-do list, the boring commute, the insane politics, the scary climate change, the racist system, the cruelty everywhere I look, the sickness and ageing and death ….” And that’s just for starters.

Maybe we save up all year to go on vacation to get away from it all, but before long we want to get away from the airport queues, the sunburn, the sand in our teeth, the vacationcredit card debt, and the bad memories and anxieties we accidentally brought along in our luggage.

The thing is, regardless of our circumstances, and wherever we find ourselves in samsara, the only way we are going to finally get away from our suffering is if we learn how to increase our inner peace and, above all, learn how to dissolve all suffering into (bliss and) emptiness. We need to take time to do this every single day. Even taking ourselves off to a deserted cave in the middle of nowhere to do a long solitary retreat is not going to crack it otherwise.

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has explained over and over again in all his books on Sutra and Tantra exactly how we can do this. I find this too incredible for words. Because these methods work every single time. No matter how busy or over-scheduled I become, giving myself a little time to meditate on emptiness is to find the way out of the feelings of being overwhelmed, the tight crowded thoughts that make everything seem unmanageable.

And the more we have to do, and the more people who need our attention, the more we need to apply this wisdom, as I talk about in this article, “Going wide means going deep.”

Moreover, quite the opposite of being irresponsible, Geshe Kelsang explains in his mind-boggling new commentary on Avalokiteshvara practice how cultivating the recognition of all forms, sounds, and thoughts as mere name not other than emptiness is the only way to quickly release all six classes of being from suffering. Please read this latest book, The Mirror of Dharma, when you get a chance; it feels very blessed to me.

A quick fix meditation

happy mind aloneI shared my thoughts on how to meditate on the emptiness of the self in this article. Once we have gotten a taste of that, we can try this quick-fix meditation – it is my main go-to when I’m feeling oversubscribed or worried about anything.

So, let’s say you’re feeling upset or overwhelmed. Soon as you can, take yourself off to a quiet place (even if that means letting the restroom live up to its name.) Sit down, breathe a little and get into your heart, and ask yourself:

Who is upset?

Answer: ME. I am.

Then ask yourself: Is my body upset? Is my mind upset?

Answer: No. I am upset. That I or Me seems to exist all on its own, from its own side, pretty darned solid and real and upset; and I seem to be grasping at it without question.

But now I will question it. So now look for this I or Me. Is it your body? No. That’s just flesh and bone. Is it your mind? No. That’s just formless awareness, just thoughts, no me embedded in them. I am not just a thought, I am ME.

So take away the body and mind, and the I or Me remains? No. Not at all. It’s gone.

When we have some experience of this searching and not finding, our strong sense of self disappears. There is empty-like space there, the absence of self, NO self — and big relief.

It is not the appearance of our I and other things existing in a certain fixed way, or external to the mind, but the belief in that appearance as being true that leads to our being upset. If we can let go of that belief that our I or me exists in a certain fixed way by observing how it dissolves into emptiness, this frees us up to name or impute or project our self, our world, and other people differently. We can arise within the space of that emptiness, inseparable from that emptiness, as a mere appearance who is very relaxed and happy, or a Bodhisattva, or a Buddha, or whoever we want.

“The Pure Land is closer than thought”, a friend just messaged me. Make of that what you will.

Getting some context

If we are confident in our path to liberation and enlightenment, and hold that as our main priority and job, we are less inclined to become “too closely involved in the external situation” as Geshe Kelsang puts it in How to Transform Your Life — like children building sandcastles, excited when it’s built and anxious when it’s swept away. Instead, it can be an enjoyable daily challenge to use the arising and subsiding of all fleeting, insubstantial cloud-like appearances as fuel for our renunciation, compassion, and wisdom. We have a big mind perspective, like the sky, and thus the space to play with the clouds.

leaving past behindA practical idea … instead of reaching for the Smartphone first thing in the morning (get another alarm clock!) and/or starting to itemize all the things to worry about that day and/or ruminating on everything that is going wrong with our life, thus cramming our mind with clouds before we’ve even got to the coffee, it is a really good idea to start the day by counting our blessings. We can do that by tuning into our precious human life and the kindness of others, for example, letting happiness wash over us.

We can also set ourselves in flight by remembering impermanence — laying down the heavy burden of the past (which is in fact no more substantial than the dream from which we have just awoken). Considering that this could be our last day on Earth, we may as well use it to be a Bodhisattva or Buddha.

Wanna be a wishfulfilling jewel?

wishfulfilling jewelFrom a Tantric point of view, as someone said the other day on Facebook, what’s stopping us from thinking of ourselves in this way, using the words from the Liberating Prayer:

Your body is a wishfulfilling jewel,
Your speech is supreme, purifying nectar,
And your mind is refuge for all living beings.

This is a description of Buddha Shakyamuni and, if we play our cards right, one day this will be a description of us. In Buddhism, faith in Buddha necessitates faith in our own enlightened potential. We may as well start practicing.

Maybe just give this thought a go and see what it feels like. What’s it like to think outside the box about ourselves? There is nothing to stop us arising from emptiness as a Buddha or, if we don’t feel ready for that yet, as a magic crystal:

It is said that there exists a magic crystal that has the power to purify any liquid in which it is placed. Those who cherish all living beings are like this crystal — by their very presence they remove negativity form the world and give back love and kindness. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

How are you?

Someone asked me how I was the other day, and for some reason I couldn’t find the words to reply. But it got me thinking that a more interesting question than “How are you?” might be “Who are you?” For who we think we are will be determining both how we feel and what we plan on doing, including the karma we create.  

Geshe-la 1-1I don’t suppose this question will take off 😄 But I find it useful because it reminds me of who I want to be and what I want to do, rather than just how I am feeling at that moment. “Who are you and what do you seek?” as it asks us in Heruka Tantra.

Atisha used to ask the people he met,

Do you have a good heart?

This question might not take off either, but I think it could help society if it did, putting the emphasis on what we are all intending rather than how we are all feeling.

Our intentions are more significant than our feelings or experiences as they are what create the causes or karma for our feelings and experiences – not much we can do about the ripening of our previous karma, but much we can do about the karma we are creating now. What do you think about that?

And who are you today?! 😄

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Yearning to breathe free

5 mins read

I got a tiny glimpse today of the pain that parents and children are experiencing at our borders, as they are forcibly separated, the kids put into the custody of the office of refugee resettlement, many in cages.

Tagger JuniorI took the three kittens for a routine vaccination, but Tagger Junior, who admittedly eats like there is no tomorrow, turned out to be big enough ahead of schedule for his operation and adoption.

“We are taking him now.” So instead of bringing home three kittens, I brought home two, and they were crying all the way.

I have had Tagger Jr. here since he weighed a pound. Kittens are famously heart-tugging and vulnerable, as any quick glance at the Internet will tell you; and he is no exception – a sweet-natured trusting little dude. He pawed at my face as I said goodbye. Then he was looking at me with those wide innocent eyes, like, “What is happening, where are you going?” as I was obliged to hand him over to a busy vet tech. He then stared after me through the glass door of the kitten room, confused. Hours later, I still miss him. I really hope he doesn’t miss me.

I was feeling a mixture of some sadness and helplessness, not knowing where he will end up now in this life let alone the next, wanting him to be okay, feeling bad about leaving him without me when he trusted me. This is what I mean about a glimpse.

border familyOf course, in this case we are (a) only talking about a cat, who will soon forget this trauma and me and (b) I know he will be taken good care of by the shelter. I also at least know where he is for the time being, safe, unlike the dad I read about who can get no information on where they’ve taken his four-year old. WTF. Where are these faceless officials taking all these children? They are being warehoused, apparently, literally where housed? (Such as in a decommissioned Walmart with blackened windows that no one can enter, later to be “put into foster care or whatever” according to one official.) Who is comforting these children? Who is loving them? Who is caring enough to ensure they’ll escape lifelong trauma?

I couldn’t have kept Tagger Jr; that wasn’t the point of me looking after him. But those parents wanted desperately to keep their children, obviously, and the cruelty of separating them is weighing on me. With their whole heart, they will miss their kids and their kids will miss them until they can see each other again – and when exactly will that be?

give me your tiredSuffering of uncertainty

Tagger’s life is risky, and his future full of samsaric pitfalls – this in itself is pretty scary and tragic if you think about it. Hopefully the Buddhas will answer my prayers that someone will now love Tagger until he dies, when he will get out of the lower realms. Fostering him and other kittens is a constant reminder for me to make these prayers for all animals.

And, for that matter, all human beings, as none of us knows where we are going next, not really. There are no guarantees while our minds and karma are out of control.

But I was wondering, what can these parents pray for their kids? They wanted to protect them with every atom of their being; it is why they took the risky journey all the way here. How do they deal with the sense of failure and guilt and betrayal and fear? Or live with that longing to see their children again, let alone the desperate hourly need to know that they are ok? It reminds me of one of the most chilling scenes I have ever seen in a movie, that one in Sophie’s Choice. It is mind-boggling. I don’t know the answers.

mother with childLike I said, I only got a tiny glimpse of the pain – but it has given me some empathy and incentive. I could blame increasingly draconian and legally suspect policies for the arbitrary power that is crushing people’s lives. I could … I do, actually. However, the deeper culprit is the delusions tyrannizing all of our minds, along with the underdevelopment of our wisdom and compassion. This is what needs addressing most urgently, for everyone’s sake.

Suffering of having no companionship

So please pray for all these families, and for everyone in samsara who is being torn away from their loved ones in life after life. As well as for those living beings creating or tasked with the horrible job of taking the kids away, trying somehow to sleep at night, all the while creating the karma for the same to happen to them.

I wish I could intervene directly to put a stop to all this. I have donated money, made prayers, joined in the outcry. And I am glad there is an increasingly widespread and bipartisan outcry, at least, as more facts of this “zero tolerance” or rather “zero humanity” come out each day; and I pray that the unpopular policy is reversed soon.

However, I feel I also have to go deeper. Since I cannot do much practically while I remain limited and no one is really listening to me, I need to step up my efforts to become a Bodhisattva and a Buddha asap, spreading blessings and emanations everywhere there are suffering beings.

I hope you become one soon too. How else are we going to stop this samsaric madness so that it stays stopped?

After all, 2 of the 8 sufferings of samsara described by Buddha, as explained in Joyful Path of Good Fortune, are the sufferings of uncertainty and having no companionship. In samsara, this means, they will go on forever.

As a friend pointed out, this has been going on in America for centuries already, let alone in all the other realms of samsara:

Native American indigenous children were taken away from their parents, their hair was cut and they were not allowed to speak their native language. (They died from the separation.) Of course African slave families were ripped apart & “sold separately” by their owners, not knowing where their children, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers or mothers were sent. Japanese Americans were stripped of all their property and possessions during WW2 and put in interment camps in CA not too long ago. (I have seen those camps.) T’was ever thus in the inevitable sphere of suffering. MUST PRACTICE — MUST GET OUT!

All three kittensPs, By the way, don’t let this put you off fostering … these kittens were rescued from being gassed to death at another shelter. And there is still time to adopt Tagger Jr. or his brothers …

Update 2019: The immigration pain is getting more and more out of control. Samsara grinds on. At least Tagger got a home, for now.

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Get Up to Speed and Out the Door

6.5 mins read

Where on earth is there no suffering?world peace

From just a cursory look at CNN’s daily Five things you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door, which drops into my inbox each morning: The recent bombings of children in Syria, where “words are no longer sufficient to describe the horror, terror, and suffering.” The leader of the free world calling to congratulate a “dictator on winning a sham election.” The 17-year old who tried to murder his classmates, now numbingly routine. The vigil for those crushed under a Miami bridge. The abysmal life of pigs who are kept in cruel iron cages no bigger than their bodies. And the “good” news that some of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram have been released. (However, most have not; and what kind of shape are these girls in now?) And so on. These all help my renunciation and compassion – I like to call it Five things you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out of Samsara.

Manifest suffering

There are three types of suffering that we want to get rid of by being in refuge, which include all the sufferings endemic to samsara. The first is the suffering of manifest pain. We know this one all too well – it refers to any unpleasant bodily or mental feeling. Toothache, heartache, CNN’s five things, etc. This manifest pain is what we normally think of as suffering — we think suffering refers to when something hurts.

Carrying on from this article.

Manifest suffering is obviously horrible. It is the easiest-to-understand suffering. We don’t need to be taught about the suffering of manifest pain – we’re all well aware of what it is, how much we dislike it, and how we’d like to find refuge from it and help others do the same. We try hard day and night to get rid of our own manifest pain, and many people try hard day and night to help others get rid of theirs.

And it’s not just five things of course – there are countless painful reasons to Get Up to Speed and Out of Samsara. It’s not just me — everyone around me is experiencing some variety of discomfort at any given moment.CNN five things

A random example: As I was walking to my seat just now, on this evening flight to Chicago, I wondered in passing why a woman was hiding behind huge dark glasses.

Turns out she is in the seat in front of me, 25F, and I can hear her talking into her phone before take-off:

“Oh, honey I’m a wreck. I could pass as the twin of the Terminator. I can’t take these glasses off. And, honey, if you could see my arms and legs — I am covered with hives!”

She is doing her best, as many of us are:

“Anyway, I love you. See you soon.”

But whatever improvements we are able to make in our own and others’ lives, that is not the end of the story. There are two other types of suffering in samsara, which underpin and cause this manifest pain; and we need more wisdom to identify these. If we don’t identify changing suffering and pervasive suffering, we cannot bring an end to all suffering. We will have to carry on experiencing both physical and mental pain endlessly, however much and often we try to patch it up.

Changing suffering

The second type of suffering is called “changing suffering”. In the big yellow book called Joyful Path of Good Fortune — which contains all of Buddha’s teachings if you get a chance to read it, sort of like the Buddhist bible — there’s a section on how the three sufferings of samsara pervade our experience, including our worldly pleasures:

For samsaric beings, every experience of happiness or pleasure that arises from samsara’s enjoyments is called changing suffering.

beer drinking

This experience of pleasure is called “changing” suffering (or “suffering of change”) because it’s a kind of changeover or switchover point between manifest pain and more manifest pain. It is those brief feelings of relief.

Now, a few weeks later, I am on the tube from Heathrow to North London, my journey colliding with the morning commute. And the expression on many people’s faces, or rather the studied lack of expression, brings to my mind the word “heaviness”. People seem weighed down. One bloke ten years younger than me I reckon, but with heavy creases in his brow, speaks into his phone, “Hey, mate, just got in, you alright?” A pause, then, louder, “What? he did what? That’s just what I told him not to do! Idiot.” He stared dejectedly at the ground. “Look, mate, let’s meet up in about an hour. I need a pint.”

People’s lives are difficult everywhere. And over the course of a lifetime, many people are struggling to muddle through their lives without things going too badly wrong, catching excitement, release, and pints of beer wherever we can.

Changing suffering is pleasant feelings. It feels like a kind of happiness. Buddha called it changing suffering not because it feels like suffering, but because it is not real happiness, it is just relief. This experience is contaminated by delusions and ignorance, and actually has the nature of suffering. Geshe Kelsang also calls it “artificial happiness”.

We may sense that things are not quite right even when they are going well, but we need to know exactly why this is in order to fix it. And we need not fear that this knowledge will depress us further, for it is this knowledge that in fact will finally set us free.

In Joyful Path it says:

We need to meditate repeatedly on this point because it’s not obvious to us that our worldly pleasures are worldly suffering. We can gain a better understanding by considering the following analogy. If we have a very painful illness and our doctor prescribes painkillers we take these and for a while we stop feeling the pain. At that time we actually experience a feeling that is merely the reduction of pain, but because the strong painful feeling has gone we feel happy and experience pleasure. This pleasant feeling is changing suffering.

Selling ourselves short

I’ll just point out that Buddha is not saying don’t go to the doctor or take painkillers. This is subtle, trying to understand what Buddha is saying here. It’s not that we don’t enjoy or take care of things, but that we understand what’s going on. Then we don’t sell ourselves short.

sell yourself short

Because, extraordinarily enough, every person on that tube goes unfathomably deep. Everyone I saw racing along the pavements in the unusual spring snow-freeze and darting in and out of the crazy London traffic goes unfathomably deep. We are seeing a tiny fraction of who people are — a fleeting appearance, their body of this life, of this day, just a reflection or imputation of thought. Their real body and mind are indestructible and full of the potential for lasting mental freedom and bliss. As it says in The New Heart of Wisdom:

Each and every living being has their own body and mind, which are their subtle body and mind. These are called the “continuously residing body and mind,” and are his or her Buddha nature, the lineage of a future Buddha. Because they have this, when living beings meets Buddhadharma they will all finally attain the state of an enlightened Buddha.

However, at the moment impure appearances seem so real to us that we are perpetually overpowered and sucked into the daily drama of samsara. Most people of course don’t even know what they have inside them, nor the future that could be. We have been through countless lives already without finding this out.

(Not only are we selling ourselves short by not knowing who we really are and of what we are capable, we are also not even enjoying life’s pleasures a fraction as much as we could be. When we know about changing suffering and the dangers of its usual corollary, attachment, we have the impetus to transform these enjoyments into the spiritual path and make super speedy spiritual progress! But this can be the subject of other articles, such as this one.)

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How’s samsara working out for you?

samsara7 mins read

One way we can understand the need for deeper refuge is by thinking about what ARE our problems, what are our sufferings, and whether our temporary sources of refuge are in fact good enough for us. If they are, fantastic. And if they’re not, then good to know, because we can then seek refuge in something more effective.

Carrying on from this refuge article.

If you’re suffering at all, chances are you’re in samsara. Samsara is what Buddha called this state of existence where we have delusions and (usually) meaty bodies. Basically, in samsara we’re suffering, one way or another. Even when we’re happy, we’re not as happy as we could be.

Samsara doesn’t come from the places and people outside us, our job or our politics, our weather or our entertainments. It is the creation and mirror of the delusions in our mind, especially our ignorance of self-grasping and self-cherishing. This is why we can run but we can’t hide.

Although there’s good bits in our mind, and nice experiences that we have, overall we’re trapped in a state of uncertainty, in a state of no satisfaction, in a state of suffering. We’re subject to physical illnesses, we’re subject to mental pain — every day, if we check. Perhaps every hour.

forsaleI’ve had a rotten cold these past 10 days for example, along with half of New York; and it’s been making me feel sad for the people I pass with no homes to go to. I find it painful even to walk for ten minutes to the subway in these frigid temperatures, the cold searing my lungs – but I have a cozy bed and warm tea to welcome me at the end of my journey, as opposed to cardboard and indifference.

There’s rarely a day goes by when a body doesn’t hurt in some way. Yours is probably already a little uncomfortable in some way as you sit reading this — you’re thinking it’s time to get up and move around. (Not that I want to put that idea in your head … hold on.)

The problem with these bodies

You could be sitting right now on a lovely comfy sofa – we try to make our body as comfortable as we can, but it is challenging given that it is a bag of bones with lots of nerve endings. Reminds me … I was so pleased with a new massage chair gifted to me that I bought a similar contraption for my father with the hope that it’d ease his aching muscles. What it actually did though was crunch his old bones and make him hurt for weeks.

A good friend of mine texted this morning from England, a yogi monk known as Rainbow to his oldest friends — been practicing Dharma as long as I have, and really meditating a lot. Anyway, he texted me this morning just to say, “How are you? I’m doing well considering I’m imputed on a bag of bones.” bodyworld

And that’s about as good as it gets in terms of physical comfort. Some days we’re relatively comfortable. Given that at the moment we identify so strongly with this bag of bones as “my body”, and even as me, it’s amazing we have any good days, really, because, and I don’t know if you have noticed?, these bodies are not set up for comfort. Everything in our body can hurt. Everything, except for maybe our hair. And even that, if someone pulls it …

There’s pretty much nothing about our bodies that can’t hurt, doesn’t hurt sooner or later. Like teeth. How many teeth do we have? 36? 2? 12? Anyway, it amazes me that every single tooth in our mouth is fine when it’s working, we don’t even think about it; but when it isn’t working, whoa, that hurts, that can ruin our day. And there’s 31 more where that came from.

And there’s nothing about our body that’s not potentially going to turn against us, either. We can get cancer all over our body, can’t we? (Maybe not in our fingernails.) And eventually the whole thing just gives out.

Incorrectly identifying ourselves

Samsara is basically when we impute ourselves on, or identify ourselves with, a meaty body and a deluded mind, thinking: “This is me, this is who I am, I’m this person, I’m a limited person. This is me, looking all ugly because of this cold. I’m capable of good things sometimes, but other times I hate myself. I’m inadequate, I’m unhappy, I’m irritated, I’m obsessed, I’m anxious, I’m sad, I’m sore, I’m hurting. Etc. etc.

pure potential

Whenever we think like that about ourselves, we’re identifying ourselves with our meaty body and/or impure states of mind. But the fact is that these are NOT who we are. We are not really (or inherently) anything. We could instead identify with our extraordinary pure potential, and, if we go for refuge to Dharma, we can completely transcend mental and physical suffering with this human life that we currently possess, traveling the entire path to liberation and enlightenment.

As Geshe Kelsang brilliantly points out in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra, since beginningless time our way of identifying our self has been mistaken:

What does taking rebirth in samsara mean? It means that in each of our lives due to ignorance we grasp our body or mind as our self, thinking, “I” “I”, where there is no I, or self. Through this we experience the sufferings of this life and countless future lives as hallucinations endlessly.

De-programming

So, when we turn for refuge, that’s what we really want — protection from all the sufferings that come up within our samsara, understanding that samsara is just the experience of a deluded mind and a meaty body, wherever they may be. According to Buddhism we’ve had countless lives in these kinds of bodies. Often far worse bodies than the one we have now, and far more polluted or negative minds.

We’ve caught a bit of a break, according to Buddha, at the moment, in this precious human life. We have a little window to practice Dharma — our sufferings are not so crushing that there’s nothing we can do about them, but they’re enough to motivate us to do something about them. We can develop the ability to get to their root, to kind of deprogram or decommission our samsara, as it were.

robotDelusions remind me a little bit of preprograms that run in our minds. Maybe I’ve been thinking too much about artificial intelligence recently. It’s kind of like when robots run around all preprogrammed, our delusions are a bit like that. We’ve arrived with this horrible software from previous lives, and are being run around by it. So we need to reconfigure our software. In fact, we need to ditch it altogether, be free!

We need to be free. Our delusions don’t let us be free. They constrict us in so many different ways, and they cause us suffering in life after life. So we need to deprogram our minds by getting rid of our delusions while we’ve got this opportunity to do so, while someone is actually saying to us, “Hey, you can do this, and this is how.” Someone who is not part of this program, and understands exactly how it is set up and how we can dismantle it.

A Buddha has appeared in our life, extraordinarily, and, as we go about our daily lives — running around trying to find happiness here, there, and everywhere — he’s kind of striding along next to us, saying, “Hey, slow down a minute, look within. You’re preprogrammed. Just ditch the entire software, stop trying to make this work, it can’t.”

(Is this analogy working for anyone other than me?!)

I have quoted this before as it is one of my favorite Shantideva sayings:

We should not let our habits dominate our behavior or act as if we were sleepwalking.

matrixI think that’s exactly what we do — we let our deluded habits dominate our behavior, we DO act as if we’re kind of sleepwalking, we’re not wide awake. We’re conditioned or pre-programmed to act in certain ways. Conditioned by what? By our delusions and karma. And with our delusions we create our messy society, and this in turn conditions us further. It is endless mirror reflections.

So we’re trapped in this kind of Matrix hallucination. And Buddha really wants to unplug us all. He wants us to log out of this preprogrammed endless horror show of samsara.

Life without suffering is possible. But not samsaric life.

More later. Meanwhile, what do you think about all this?

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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.

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Living fearlessly

You know the thing I like most about Buddha Tara? That she is fearless. That she never gives up. That she never backs down. That she will never give up on anyone until the very last living being is rescued from the prison of samsara.

Someone wrote this earlier today on Facebook, and I reckon some of you can relate to it:toddler-in-aleppo

I’m mourning for the people of Aleppo, as well as ALL victims of war and genocide. I feel paralyzed, unable to help. Even in the midst of financial uncertainty, my life is so very comfortable and blessed in comparison with theirs, and I wish I could give them some of my good circumstances. I’d happily do with less to allow them to have safety and shelter and food. But I don’t know how to help when I have no financial resources to share.

Yes, I offer prayers and dedications, and I try to spread awareness; but I want to be able to do something more concrete and immediate. I do use their suffering as a motivation to become enlightened in order to save them and all other living beings from suffering, but some days that seems like such a distant and ethereal goal.

I want to be able to swoop in like a superhero right now and save the people from their hell on earth, but I cannot. It breaks my heart.

Fearlessness

Buddha Tara is a superhero.tara

She does not get discouraged or overwhelmed. And this is a quality we need if we are to be able to grow our compassion until it reaches all living beings. Because there are a lot of people experiencing a lot of suffering, and this can be terrifying and hard to cope with when we open our eyes to look at it. Without fearlessness, we will shut our eyes again; I think this is only a matter of time.

Earthlings

Human suffering is bad enough. But I have now watched Earthlings, having put it off for a long time, which shows the monstrous (I don’t have the words) suffering inflicted by humans — us — on millions and millions of bewildered fellow beings every single day. Within a few miles of where you are sitting — wherever that is — no doubt there are animals who, although they want to be loved just as much as our dog or cat, or at least left alone, are being stabbed and tortured and murdered instead.

Earthlings was almost impossible to watch; I knew it would be. But it also got a lot of things into perspective and brought out a compassionate, if somewhat desperate, wish to do whatever I could to bring an end to the suffering. However, I need a powerful ally. There is no way I can do this on my own, of course; I don’t even know where to begin, hence the desperation. So I was thinking a lot about Guru Tara — how she would never flinch in going to the aid of all the animals and human beings involved. And how I want and need that kind of ally and that kind of courage. Or I am never going to follow through, I am just going to switch channels.

earthlingsReader discretion is advised

I don’t know if you ever intend to watch Earthlings, but I hope you don’t mind if I mention here some of the reactions I had to it. As the movie says at the outset, “viewer discretion is advised.” Which, before the first harrowing images even appeared, made me realize the privilege, the luxury, of being a mere spectator, able to turn off this unpleasantness whenever I felt like it – unlike those who were actually experiencing it.

I think we need context for watching something like Earthlings or it will just make us angry and depressed, or cause us to stick our head even further into the sand. Same with Aleppo. Same with all the intense tragedies and catastrophes all around the world all the time.

Might doesn’t mean right

The film makers are making the case for us not harming animals with our own actions directly or indirectly – in all five categories where animals are misused, namely (unwanted) pets, food, clothes, entertainment, experimentation.

Just because our species happens to be more powerful is no excuse for exploiting people in other species. Any mark of humanity is surely that the powerful are supposed to look after the vulnerable, not take advantage of them. We kind of get that for human beings, but not for some sad reason for animals. And this despite the overwhelming and increasing evidence that animals and fish are just as feeling of suffering as we are, they have nervous systems, pain receptors, and so on.stop-it-thats-horrible

I think it is not correct to turn the other way when animals are suffering within our own realm, within our own neighborhoods, hidden within plain sight. As Edmund Burke was quoted in the movie:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Very few people visit slaughterhouses. Many people hope and assume that the meat they eat has come from humanely killed animals. Generally, this is a pipe dream. We need to know what and who we are eating or wearing. Ignorance is not bliss, especially not for the animals. As it says in the movie:

They all die from pain.

What will be enough?

Not misusing others for our own purposes, as the film makers want viewers to conclude, is a very good start – probably an essential one if we are to claim any conscience at all — but it is not ever going to be enough. It is not ever going to be nearly enough.

This movie shows pretty conclusively in my opinion that, despite its occasional pleasant moments, samsara is not a pleasure garden and we are idiotic to be skipping around fecklessly as if it is, as if it cannot suddenly twist into something very very nasty.Geshe-la turtle.jpg

And it shows too that nothing less than waking these living beings up forever from the nightmarish hallucinations of the sleep of ignorance will ever be enough.

Snapshots of hell

An “earthling” is someone who inhabits the Earth – any sentient being sharing our planet.

Some searing moments among too many: a stray dog was thrown into the back of a garbage truck, and he stared out at the humans incomprehendingly before he was crushed along with all the other “trash”. Each week thousands of unwanted dogs and cats, just as lovable as yours or mine, are tossed into gas chambers like useless sacks, their bodies later pulled out and piled up, because the shelters cannot afford the cost of putting them down humanely with an injection.

Have you ever communed with a cow in a field? They are so curious, they’ll always come gather around you if you sit there long enough. I have sat meditating with cows in the English Lake District on more than one occasion, and I remember a particularly friendly cow once licked me all the way up the front of my dress. And these are the same kind of gentle big-brown-eyed beings with long eyelashes who are are branded on their faces and have their horns ripped out without anaesthetic; all this long before they get to the killing cows-on-hillroom. Where they can have their throats slit while still conscious because the steel bolt into the brain has been administered so carelessly, and where they can still be thrashing around on the assembly line. So much blood. It’s like watching a horror movie, only these are not special effects.

Intelligent sows are confined their entire lives in cages barely bigger than themselves – imagine someone chucking your dog in a closet filled with excrement and not letting her out her whole life. Piglets meanwhile squeal with agony as their baby ears are clipped, tails docked, teeth cut, and genitals removed. Ruptured flesh and abscesses make the rest of their lives wretched, not helped by being stomped on and yelled at, in insult upon injury, “Go you mother fucker, go, go!!! Come on, you bitch!” I had just been thinking, “Why don’t any of these workers ever want to try and let the pigs escape?”, when I saw a worker filmed laughing as he clubbed a pig to death.

I wonder how any human being can work at a slaughterhouse without becoming at least partly a hell being. The karma is hideous. The desensitization too common but necessary to do the job. The additional cruelty and harshness legion. There are hundreds of thousands of poor human beings being paid to maim and kill. Yeah, you can say it is a job like any other, you have to put food on the table, but still …. And reports like this one do show that even in this life it impairs people greatly …. Hard to watch this and deny the existence of hell realms, including the karmic experiences similar to the cause.

I don’t think you can stay hating the protagonists if you know Dharma; compassion for them is almost greater. For they are part of that same hell, and you know full well that if they remain oblivious of the reality they are creating for themselves, and don’t purify their harmful actions, it will soon be their turn on the killing room floor.cow-in-factory-farm

Earthlings is scary. Yet Earthlings shows just snapshots of the lower realms in terms of the amount of sentient beings in agony and the length of time they must suffer. Buddha taught that there are countless world systems in samsara, and countless living beings in pain. He also taught that we living beings have been suffering in samsara since beginningless time due to our delusions and bad karma.

I kept wishing for the animals I was watching to be able to die as quickly as possible and for the humans to stop, please stop, just clock off and go home – but the fact is that death may close that particular chapter, but the endless tale of suffering will continue in the next. This book of samsara is millions and millions of chapters long. Longer.

The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra says:

The flesh and bones of all the bodies I have previously taken if gathered together would be equal to Mount Meru,
And if the blood and bodily fluids were gathered they would be equal to the deepest ocean.
Although I have taken countless bodies as Brahma, Indra, chakravatin kings, gods and ordinary humans,
There has been no meaning from any of these, for still I continue to suffer.

If having been born in the hells drinking molten copper, as insects whose bodies turned into mud,
And as dogs, pigs and so forth who ate enough filth to cover the whole earth,
And if, as it is said, the tears I have shed from all this suffering are vaster than an ocean,
I still do not feel any sorrow or fear, do I have a mind made of iron?

Hang on Buddha, we may be thinking, it can’t be that bad. Watching Earthlings, it is not hard to see that it can. The whole of samsara is rotten to the core.

Time to wake upsuperheroes

Hence the need for Buddha Tara and her countless emanations, including us. “Buddha” means Awakened One. We can become an Awakened One ourselves. This need not be a “distant and ethereal goal”, not now when we have access to the wisdom realizing the dream-like nature of reality and the Awakened Ones’ help.

Once we have woken up from the sleep of samsara, and are abiding in the reality of bliss and emptiness — universal compassion and omniscient wisdom — we will be a position to wake everyone else up. What’s the alternative? What lies in store for us if we do not wake up?

I wanted to tell Tara’s story to show what I mean about her fearlessness and cheer you up a bit, but we are out of space. Coming up soon — here in fact! Meanwhile, comments as always are welcome.

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