Where can I find you?

patti-and-schoolchildren

patti-and-schoolchildrenPatti Joshua has “brought hope, freedom, and inner peace to minds that didn’t believe that hope and freedom were possible,” according to a Buddhist monk in South Africa. She helped supply clean water to many rural communities over many years, and in the last year alone created 280 meditation classes at 27 rural schools all around Zululand, holding 2,100 sessions with 225 educators and no fewer than 11,039 learners. I hope you have a few minutes to watch this powerful video.

 

This video has been shown to principals at other schools in South Africa and opened the door for the healing power of meditation to be also introduced at those schools. ~ Kadampa teacher in South Africa

Patti has inspired me since I first learned about her work. I want to become a Bodhisattva like her, I really want to be like her. A devoted disciple of Geshe Kelsang, she said of the book Transform Your Life, especially the chapter on Accepting Defeat and Offering the Victory:

I tried to practice it and it worked. Incredible patience, love and compassion came out of it.

She then “used these amazing teachings from Geshe-la on Transform Your Life” in schools, rural communities, prisons — discovering that even with those “very ill with HIV, they realized they can still be happy, happiness from within.”trumpet.JPG

According to the same Buddhist monk: “The results of the school project have been swift and encouraging, with teachers, students, headmasters, and district officials all deeply inspired by what they have learned from the precious Dharma appearing in their lives in the form of Mam Patti and the beautiful Kadam Dharma from Venerable Geshe Kelsang in Transform Your Life.”

After a teaching on the Life of Buddha miles from anywhere, one little boy put his hand up … and, wanting to know more, he asked urgently,

Where can I find you?

Can you imagine having a life of such meaning, where you bring so much hope to others that they want to know how they can find you again? Spectacles held together with a paper clip, Patti’s life has been yet infinitely rich.

And the thing is, I have the same Spiritual Guide and exactly the same teachings, and there is no reason why I cannot do what Patti has done. I believe the same is true for you.

In Meaningful to Behold, Geshe-la says:

Nowadays, with the world in turmoil, there is a particular need for westerners to cultivate bodhichitta. If we are to make it through these perilous times, true Bodhisattvas must appear in the West as well as in the East.


“My heart will grow and grow until it fills the whole world.” ~ Ntuthuko

On September 28th, Patti was killed in a tragic road accident on her way to Richards Bay.

Here is another powerful video showing just what we have lost. Like Tessa, however, another of Venerable Geshe-la’s incredible disciples taken from our world too soon, I believe that Patti will now always be a light for the path.

Pay it forward

At her transference of consciousness puja on Friday, a teacher in South Africa told beautiful stories of her life, and said:

patti-black-and-whitePatti is greatly admired, respected, and loved by so many people in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, and around the world. She was a kind mother, daughter, wife, grandmother, mentor, teacher and Sangha friend to thousands of people. Her passing away is a poignant reminder that we all have to die and have no idea about when our death will come. The best way to honour Patti’s life is to embody the principles of joyful and loving kindness that she lived by, and to keep in mind “I may die today.”

And, as her family put it:

Yesterday we lost our mom…. Our hope is that you take the love she shared with you and pay it forward.

I realized earlier that I have no idea how old Patti is, and I couldn’t care less. She is timeless. Age can neither defy nor define a Bodhisattva, any more than can the sufferings of sickness, death, or rebirth. For she or he is a hero at any age, always a son or daughter of the Buddhas in line for the throne of enlightenment.

A true Bodhisattva

Here is what one good friend of Patti told me:

Mama Patti Joshua, a true Bodhisattva Heroine, a beautiful example of the practice of Dharma, an unwavering dedicated friend to everyone, especially the communities in rural Zululand and beyond, her inspiration lives on in all the thousands of hearts she touched, nurtured and guided. 

Patti translating into Zulu.jpgAnyone who had the good fortune to meet Patti would understand from just a little time spent with this very special lady that she was there for others. Her kind, wise and compassionate ways had a depth that could pacify, heal, encourage; and in a just a few words, or a gentle look from her, there would be hope and strength in the hearts of those she was touching. Whenever we spoke of Patti in our Centres here in South Africa, our minds would turn to Mother Tara — swift, kind, selfless, a liberator from sorrow, Patti is all the above and we are all deeply inspired and our hearts touched by the actions of our own venerable lady. 

Patti worked tirelessly under the most uncertain of conditions with very little external resources, rural Africa is no playground for us spoilt urbanites, we would snap, turn to jelly. With her tremendous faith in Geshe-la and her teachers, and the power of Kadam Dharma, nothing was an obstacle for her. Her patient acceptance could absorb any situation, transforming it into a beautiful smile on her face, her eyes shining brightly through her glasses held together by a paper clip, she always had a plan. She had to, with hardly any money to pay for things, she depended on the kindness of others, such faith, and through her ocean of inner wealth she accomplished so much in her community and beyond. Quiet, yet everyone knew about her, gentle yet everyone appreciated her out-of-the-ordinarypower, loving and determined. When you were with Patti, you could feel she was focusing on your potential, drawing that out of you, gently, peacefully creating a vision together – you were always encouraged by her graceful presence.

She always had space in her heart for one more — one more community, one more person, one more class, one more child to hold, one more person to try to feed, one more person to encourage — her heart could take them all, almost naturally, without a huff or a puff, or a what about me, it wasn’t about her. Everyone was a part of her family.

We pray that this work may continue in some form, for Patti’s presence here is deeply missed. 

Always space in her heart for one more

If we exchange our self with others, we will always have space in our heart for one more. patti-tribute-to-ven-geshe-laAnd we will get good things done. Compare this to self-cherishing, where we are consumed with one person, ourselves, and which has got us precisely nowhere since beginningless time. There is a beautiful verse in Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra, which Patti seemed to exemplify:

Since throughout beginningless time 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.

As another friend put it:

She always seemed to be doing everything for others all at once, and all of it effortlessly, without any drama or fuss.

The object of both our self-grasping ignorance and our self-cherishing is the same – the patti-with-small-groupself that I normally perceive. Self-grasping grasps it as existing, and self-cherishing thinks that it is most important. But that self does not exist! Which explains why self-grasping and self-cherishing are doomed to failure, every time. Far better, and far more sane, to follow Patti’s example instead.

So I made myself a promise today. Whenever I notice that I am starting to feel sorry for myself, for whatever reason, I am going to try to remember Patti and the thousands of people who loved her with good reason. That is one way to pay it forward. And then one day all of our epitaphs might also say:

Where can I find you?!

Funeral

Patti’s funeral was held on Saturday in Eshowe, and the obituary is now in the comments below. A website is going to be set up for tributes and I will link to it. Please feel free to write in the comments of this article too.

Acknowledgments

Thank you to the 2 close friends of Mam Patti in South Africa who co-wrote this article with me.

 

I choose everything

surreal

I’m on a roll with this monsters in the basement theme, so bear with me for one more article.

surrealOur delusions project problems “out there”, in all the directions they face. Work problems, relationship problems, political problems, weather problems, sickness problems, etc. … karma ripening as a myriad of hallucinations. Impure energy winds flow through the left and right channels giving rise to strange appearances and states of mind. Whichever way we want to look at it, stuff happens, and it doesn’t matter; it is weather that will pass.

Appearances can only make us feel bad if we give them permission to do so — if we don’t accept them without a struggle, and if we believe they are real or that they are us.

As explained in the mind-training teachings, we can use whatever appearance arises to remind us of renunciation, compassion, wisdom, and so on — essential qualities on the spiritual path to lasting freedom and helping everyone. If we get good at this through practice, there comes a time when we even think, “I need this!” when a suffering arises. At which point it is hard to say that it is a suffering any more.

We might even get to the point where our patience is so strong that we are happy with whatever arises. We might even think, “I choose this! I choose everything.” What a wonderful feeling to no longer be a victim, but to be in charge of our own life at last.

Out in the open

When a ghost next comes up the basement stairs, it is out in the open. We can think, “It is good that you have come up here, I can see you! You are out here in the sitting room where it is easy to accommodate you – in fact, please meet my friends Love and Patience, as well as all these enlightened beings; everyone is here!”break out of prison

In this context, delusions coming up can be so useful, reminding us what we need to do, as well as what everyone else is up against. Each time we work though our own stuff and come out triumphant, we become more skilled at helping others – “This is how I got rid of my jealousy, you can try it too.” It’s a bit like getting the demons out of our own cellar and then showing the neighbors how to do the same. We can all help each other for we are not each other’s enemies but in this together.

What if I don’t want to get over it?

I have come across people who are grieving who don’t WANT to get over it because it feels traitorous to the loved one and their memories. Or sometimes we don’t want to get over broken relationships because that means acknowledging that we are failures, or that the whole thing was a waste of time.

But letting go is never traitorous – love is the answer, we can still love them. Love is also the best healer.

moving onAnd we are not failures as relationships inevitably break up sooner or later, that is the nature of samsara. Also, there is no relationship from which we cannot learn something if we want to, meaning that it was not a total waste of time.

Even realizing that the attachment part was a bit of a waste of time is very helpful for avoiding it in the future, and for encouraging us to learn Buddha’s skillful methods for enjoying the honey while avoiding the razor!

Moving on and accepting the present means we can establish a saner and more positive relationship with that person, even if we never see them again in that form. The freedom to respond constructively comes from the acceptance of what is, not holding onto what is not and cannot be. With gratitude for what is making us stronger and wiser; with love and compassion; with pure view. After all, they don’t exist from their own side, so we have the freedom to view them however we choose.

Got meditation?

inner peace 1.jpgTo deal with our demons, we need to meditate. We don’t have much power to identify, reduce, and abandon our delusions without sitting down to meditate regularly. We need some introspection. As Geshe Kelsang says:

Unless we make some time every day to meditate, we shall find it very difficult to maintain peaceful and positive minds in our daily life, and our spiritual practice as a whole will suffer. ~ Transform Your Life

We need time out. We need, and can have, a daily vacation to get space and balance. Even the simplest breathing meditation can put us in touch with the natural peace and sanity of our own mind.

According to Buddhism, if we are so busy that we have no time to change our minds, we are wasting our time in laziness. It is a bit like being too busy to stop being too busy. Or like attempting to cut down a tree relentlessly for days with a blunt axe, when taking 15 minutes out to sharpen the axe would do the job so much more quickly and painlessly.

As Geshe-la says:

We need time alone to recover our strength, collect our thoughts, and see things in perspective.

Worldly activities are said to be like a man’s beard – though he shaves it off in the morning, it is back by the evening. Spending our whole lives trying to fix our problems outside our mind is exhausting and counter-productive. No wonder men in Denver don’t bother shaving any more.

Over to you, comments welcome.

 

What would a Buddhist do?

change mind

change mindWhen asked to sum up his lifetime’s teachings, Buddha managed with his typical genius to condense all 84,000 of them into one short verse:

Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good,
Control the mind.
This is the teaching of Buddha. ~ Vinaya Sutras

In Transform Your Life, in the section “A Daily Practice”, Geshe Kelsang explains how we can do this with 6 daily practices, 2 of them being sense of shame and consideration for others, which are both characterized by a determination to refrain from negative actions. These enable us to live a kind, ethical life.

Raising our standards ~ sense of shame

Sense of shame helps us avoid negative actions by appealing to our Jiminy Cricket-type conscience, avoiding inappropriate actions for reasons that concern ourself, eg, because we’re a dad, a Buddhist, a Christian, a teacher, etc. You know that old saying: “What would a [fill in the gap] do?!”

So what kind of conscience we have depends on whom we are identifying ourselves with. If we feel pretty worthless, we won’t care much about our behavior, there won’t seem to be much point – and some studies on poor prison sense of shamebehavior bear this out. If we identify with being a spiritual practitioner, for example, or a teacher, an adult, a doctor, a social worker, or even just a decent human being, we will care that our actions are in keeping with that.

As we are not fixed, we can identify with being what is most beneficial (without grasping at it.)

Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander

I read a study somewhere once on behavior around the water cooler at the office, where apparently 90% of the conversation revolves around other’s moral failings 🙂 “Ooh, guess what so and so did … left the lights on all night, don’t they care about global warming! Didn’t pick up after their dog, so gross and selfish. Ran off with someone else’s partner, how could they!” etc.

These double standards are interesting and utterly in keeping with our tendency to externalize all faults, many of them in fact just projections of our own faults. Do we love rummaging around in the garbage cans of others’ faults or strolling in the sweet-smelling meadows of their good qualities?! Without sense of shame, we might agree with the principles of ethical behavior and be quite happy to have others abide by them, yet, when we are tempted by attachment, we might also leave the lights on all night and think it doesn’t matter because we are some kind of exception and the planet won’t mind. We might not pick up after our dog if we are in a hurry because we have better things to do. We might run off with other people’s partners because this is true love. We stonesmight not, in other words, remove the plank from our own eyes before attempting to remove the mote from the eyes of others. As Atisha says in a well-known Buddhist saying:

Since you cannot tame the minds of others until you have tamed your own, begin by taming your own mind.

The same goes for our behavior. Moral outrage is fine when we actually have a leg to stand on, so that is what we need to check — do we?! Why be judgmental, high and mighty, or goody two shoes? We need to be genuine and humble in our wish to be better. As it says in Advice from Atisha’s Heart (the whole text of which is available here!)

Do not look for the faults of others, but look for faults in yourself, and purge them like bad blood.

Do not contemplate your own good qualities, but contemplate the good qualities of others, and respect everyone as a servant would.

An ex’s father was fond of saying that he’d read a study which found that, when questioned, each member of a couple always said they did 70% of the housework. (And this is no different if you question anyone in any shared living arrangement, where people often complain that they are doing more than their fair share.) You gotta wonder why the math doesn’t add up — and the article said it is because we are keenly aware of all the work we do as we are with ourselves all the time, whereas we only see a fraction of what others are doing. Thinking of our own good qualities and others faults, perhaps, rather than the other way round …!?

Rationalizations, justifications …

moral ethicsWhen we are under the influence of delusions we rarely think we are wrong at the time — we can justify and rationalize almost any behavior. We almost always have the perfect excuse (even though no one else has any excuse.) This is why sense of shame comes in handy because all the time we are identified with being, for example, an adult, we’ll naturally not behave like a four-year old. While we are identified with being a doctor or social worker or a teacher — when that is our basis of imputation for our sense of self, when that is who we think we are — we’ll naturally avoid actions that seem out of keeping or inappropriate. While we are identified with being even just a decent human being, we are far less likely to do something un-decent, even if no one is watching us.

What goes around, comes around

MartyWith sense of shame, we also consider karma – we avoid a negative action because we don’t want to experience its negative result, a bad experience. If you are wondering what is with this mention of dog poop, I just looked after a big black Labrador called Marty for 3 weeks, and learned far more than I ever needed or wanted to know about dog poop on the streets of New York. So, for example, when  I’m about to leave the dog poop because it is inconvenient to wade through a foot of snow with the wrong shoes, and, besides, no one is looking, I can remember that I am creating the cause to tread in dog poop myself down the road. And because karma increases, if I don’t purify this action I could end up treading in dog poop, or worse, hundreds of times. So better just to pick up in the first place.

Next time, consideration for others.

Enemy or victim?

Winston 5

Yesterday J and F bought Winston for a visit. He has been scratching himself a lot recently, due to fleas, and J has been applying anti-histamine cream out of great concern for his discomfort. Apparently, I was informed, he no longer has fleas. But sitting at the dining table, stroking Winston, F looked up suddenly: “Oh, here’s a flea.” Then he added, perhaps somewhat in defense of his beloved pooch, “You must have fleas in the carpet!”

Winston 5 Now, not wanting to quibble, but I did feel the need to point out that I have thus far never had any fleas in my carpet, and Winston is the one who has been scratching like crazy, so I was coming to an entirely different conclusion… my carpet (and cat) were now at risk from Winston, not the other way around!

And I caught myself developing a split second of aversion toward this usually adorable fellow, “Oh, Winston, as if it’s not enough that you chase my cat, I wish you hadn’t bought fleas into my house”, as if the fleas were all his fault, and somehow part of him. But of course it was not his fault. He is a poor little dog plagued by flea bites, not an annoying flea-dog at one with his fleas.

This got me thinking some more. If I had the constant, unconditional love for Winston that J and F have, I would not assume for a moment that the fleas are somehow his fault, nor ever identify him with his fleas. I would distinguish between Winston and his fleas, seeing the faults of being bitten by fleas without seeing a single fault in Winston.*

You know how, if we encounter a co-worker with a huge head cold and then develop symptoms ourselves, we can easily think: “Oh it is their fault I feel so ill, they are the one who gave me this” (as if the head cold was part and parcel of them as opposed to something victimizing them.) Think about the panic, aversion and vilification that used to surround people with cancer, for example, or more recently AIDS, as people conflated the victims with the very enemy who was drawing the life out of them. They were not distinguishing between the person and their illness, and this caused hard-heartedness and even cruelty.

Yet when a mother sees her child with a head cold, she is not thinking about herself but about him, so she never identifies the child with the illness or develops aversion out of selfish concern for her own welfare. Instead she distinguishes between her child and his illness and tries her best to free him from this enemy, to make him feel better.

mother childThe common denominator here strikes me as being love. When we have love for someone, we seem to naturally focus on their pure nature and potential and don’t mistake them for their temporary faults, even if we see that they have them. We don’t think “Oh, all you are is a flea-carrying cur, get out of my house!” or “You are just one big head cold, get away from me!” We think “Oh, you poor thing, let me help you overcome your problems and feel better.”

This reminds me of that quote I mentioned here:

It is because they distinguish between delusions and persons that Buddhas are able to see the faults of delusions without ever seeing a single fault in any living being. Consequently, their love and compassion for living beings never diminish. ~ Transform Your Life, p 131

It strikes me that this goes both ways, in a virtuous cycle. If we don’t identify people with their delusions, we can keep loving them; and if we love them, we are far less likely to identify them with their delusions.

*By the way, I have nothing against fleas per se. They are sentient beings and as such are not enemies at all. But I won’t get into all that right now.

What do you think?

Postscript: I wrote this some time ago too. Winston has since moved to New York and I am about to move to a place with another carpet.

Wherever you go, there you are

Buddha happiness is within

Buddhism 101 explains how happiness and suffering are states of mind, and how external conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful. Even if we are in the most blissful surroundings and have everything we need — the one time we might reasonably expect to be deliriously happy — we’re still not if any agitation is arising in our mind for any reason.

Let’s say you’re having a particularly amazing experience. It’s your birthday party, your devoted friends have been planning it for months, and it is taking place on an exotic island. Every single one of your best friends since early childhood has been invited and can be there; it’s a miracle! The food is incredible and none of it has any calories. Wafting scented breezes, lapping waves, soft lighting, your favorite music, the perfect temperature…. It’s paradise, isn’t it? What’s the problem? There isn’t one!

paradise lost through angerBut then one of your childhood friends says something a bit off color, like “You’ve put on weight!” or “So you haven’t done much with your life, then…” And you immediately think, “That was cruel!” and maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, but it’s a little dagger in your heart. It could be anything, and it doesn’t have to be much. All that has to happen is for you to get a bit upset, a little irritated, and the happiness starts to seep out of the whole event.

“I wish I hadn’t invited you!” you think to yourself. This is followed by a spontaneous recall of all the mean things they’ve ever said to you, and suddenly you can’t let it go. All the magic and fun of the party has been sucked out, it’s gone. Your experience has changed because now you’re in a bad mood. Now you’re having an ordinary, boring day, just as if you were chained back at your desk.

You can run, but you can’t hide

As they say, you can run but you can’t hide. We’ve taken our same old states of mind to this paradise, so our happiness can be destroyed in a moment, just as the tranquility of an ocean can be destroyed by a sudden storm. As my teacher puts it:

Even if we are in the most beautiful surroundings and have everything we need, the moment we get angry any happiness we may have disappears. This is because anger has destroyed our inner peace. ~ Transform Your Life, p. 6

I bet all of us can think of examples like this – we were having the time of our life and then it just collapsed.

We can see from this that if we want true, lasting happiness we need to develop and maintain a special experience of inner peace. ~ Transform Your Life, p. 6

We need to find a way to keep a happy mind regardless of what happens because s*** happens. Even today I’ll wager that a bunch of annoying things have already happened? And that some of the things that you wanted to happen didn’t happen?

Did you have a problem today?

A long time ago I was doing a Post Graduate Certificate in Education in York, UK. Soon after we arrived, we were all asked to sit in a large circle, and I was sitting to the right of the moderator. Starting from her left, she went round each person in turn, asking solicitously: “What problems are you having?”

Now, weirdly, when she started, I had no problems. I was feeling very happy. I had been meditating for a few years already, so I also knew that problems were not as fixed as they had once appeared. But as she worked her way around the group, and everyone came up with their dreadful and seemingly intractable problems, I did start to feel nervous. “What the heck am I going to say when she asks me?!” I now had a problem, albeit a small one. I cast around wildly in my memories for something that had gone wrong that week, and think I gamely came up with something in the nick of time.

solving problems with meditationI found it quite interesting that every single one of these cool young people, however together and sorted they looked on the outside, had a major problem. It is something I remember when I have problems in order to gain perspective — I am by no means alone. I have tried out the same market research quite often since then in a shortened form, and by all means try it yourself if you like. If you ask a group of friends, “Did you have a problem today?”, I bet 99% will say yes (and then look at each other in surprised recognition).

Things are always going to go wrong, one way or another, so if this throws us off balance we’re going to be unhappy — a lot. Therefore, we’ve got to find a way to be peaceful and positive no matter what’s going on.

Baby steps to nirvana

As Geshe Kelsang says:

The only way to do this is by training our mind through spiritual practice—gradually reducing and eliminating our negative, disturbed states of mind and replacing them with positive, peaceful states. Eventually, through continuing to improve our inner peace we will experience permanent inner peace, or nirvana. Once we have attained nirvana we will be happy throughout our life, and in life after life. ~ Transform Your Life, p. 6-7

Nirvana (a Sanskrit word) means liberation, permanent inner peace, or true mental freedom. But nirvana is not some pie in the sky thing. The way all the so-called Foe Destroyers (who have destroyed the inner foes of their delusions) and enlightened beings have come to experience this forever inner peace is through developing moments of inner peace and learning to connect them.

Buddha happiness is withinFor example, every once in a while we feel a state of deep well-being, a feeling of peace or connection—life is good! This usually lasts between a few seconds and half an hour ~ it doesn’t last that long, does it? But at these points we really get a glimpse of what our life could be about. Why don’t we just stay here, seeing as we like it so much? It’s because some negative thought interrupts as we’re not in control of our mind.

Buddha’s point is that those moments we get of joy, peace, and contentment, even bliss, are a manifestation of our own Buddha nature, our boundless potential for lasting peace, universal love and compassion, omniscient wisdom, endless joy and flexibility, incredible goodness. Buddha called it Buddha nature because we all, without exception, have the potential not just for liberation but to be a Buddha, a fully awakened person who has all good qualities to perfection.

baby steps to enlightenment

So how do we get there? Baby steps. We gradually train our mind so we can find and hold the positive, peaceful feelings, like love for others, for longer and longer periods of time, always identifying with them and giving ourselves permission to stay there. We gradually clear our minds of all obstructive, destructive thoughts that interrupt, letting the clouds disperse from the sky. We can do all this because we have the potential and we have the methods. And as soon as we’ve attained the true and lasting mental freedom of liberation we’ll be happy throughout our life, and in any future life.

Happiness now, happiness later

In Buddhism, we talk about how our mind and our body are different natures. Our body is like a guest house for our mind. There is no use pretending that this body is anything other than a piece of meat with a rapidly approaching expiration date. But we are not our body; we are so much more than our body. Our mind has limitless potential.

At the point when the body dies, our mind does not die because it is a formless continuum of awareness that never stops. Our gross waking minds do stop — they dissolve into our subtle mind, and this dissolves into our very subtle mind that travels onto our next life. Buddha’s understanding of life after life comes from the direct experience that mind is formless. Happiness will always depend upon the positive qualities in the formless continuum of our mind and not on externals, and that is not going to change. Wherever you go, there you are. Therefore, if we want to be peaceful and happy in this life and in any future lives, we need to develop and maintain these qualities as a matter of priority.

Over to you: do you agree that to be happy we need to train our minds? Or can we find lasting happiness in other ways?

Want peace of mind? Get rid of your delusions.

love is the nuclear bomb that destroys enemies

We already have within us our own source of peace and happiness, as Buddhist master Geshe Kelsang says in Transform Your Life. It is our birthright, our Buddha nature, who we actually are. Sometimes we know this, when the dark clouds of discontent disperse and the sun naturally shines through. So if we have the constant potential for happiness, and we work very hard at it in various ways, why, we may well ask ourselves, is it so hard to stay happy 24/7?!

delusion negative emotionThe answer is “delusions.” We hear this word all the time in Buddhism. I know I’ve mentioned delusions umpteen times on Kadampa Life, and we’ve looked a bit at some of the main ones (ignorance, anger, attachment, jealousy, self-cherishing). Since identifying and removing our delusions is, one could say, the bread and butter of a happy life, I’ve been meaning to write something about delusions in general for a while. (Also, you can find out everything you’ve ever needed to know about them in Joyful Path of Good Fortune and Understanding the Mind.)

What is a delusion?

According to Buddhism, any unpeaceful, uncontrolled state of mind  is a delusion. All delusions are unrealistic minds arising from so called “inappropriate attention”, or thinking about things in a false way. As Geshe Kelsang says:

Delusions are distorted ways of looking at ourselves, other people, and the world around us–like a distorted mirror, they reflect a distorted world. ~ Transform Your Life, p. 7

what is a delusion, negative emotionOur experience of the world is only distorted and messed up because it is reflected in the messed up mirror of our minds. Our delusions see things that aren’t really there. You know the House of Mirrors at fairgrounds, where we are all bendy, then nine feet wide, then suddenly fourteen feet tall? We know not to get taken in because we know the nature of mirrors. But we get taken in by our delusions, even though it’s the same thing – they are reflecting something that is not there and then believing that it IS there.

Distorting reality

The deluded mind of hatred, for example, views other people as intrinsically bad, but there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad person. ~ Transform Your Life, p.7

When we don’t like someone, they’re just bad, almost as if they had a neon sign above them flashing, “I’m BAD” (and not in a cool way …) Hatred apprehends other people to be bad from their own side, intrinsically bad, having nothing to do with the way we’re looking at them. But of course there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad person. If they were bad from their own side, then everybody would see that neon sign, but they don’t. Their mother comes along and for her the big neon sign says, “I’m cuddly”, doesn’t it?

A dying soldier

I once saw a picture of a woman cradling a wounded man. She was weeping. I looked more closely and didn’t know who this man was, and I wasn’t weeping. I read the caption — it was a mother with her dying son, who had been shot during some fighting. Someone had looked at that man and thought, “This man is my enemy. He is bad, so hateful in fact that I have to shoot him to death.”

I looked at that man and saw a stranger. The man who shot him looked at that man and saw a repugnant enemy. The mother looked at hatred versus love, mother's lovethat man and saw a child, a beautiful, loveable person now destroyed. One person. Who is right, me, the person who shot him, or his mother? Actually, all of us and none of us. It just depends. How that person appears to us depends entirely on how we’re looking at him.

The blinkered mind of hatred however does not see the other ways in which that person could be perceived; it just sees “enemy”. Our own minds of dislike just see disagreeable people, dislikable people, and so on. They project an enemy, and then think that the enemy is really there.

Ninja the Rat

We can see this from our own ever-changing experiences. When our feelings and perceptions change toward someone, they appear totally different, even to our sense awarenesses. They are different people for us. I was once friendly with a rat. Generally humans and rats don’t get along too well, and when I first met Ninja the pet rat, whom I was to look after for a few weeks, I confess that although I didn’t exactly dislike him, I didn’t want to get that close to him either. His tail looked a bit creepy, for a start. However, as I got to know him, I came to find him entirely adorable. He had a strokeable tummy, bright eyes, and sensitive whiskers, and he was intelligent, inquisitive, brave, and friendly. He hung out under my desk in San Francisco in one of those plastic balls and chewed through my trouser leg when I was absorbed in my work – I still look at the hole with affection.

cute pet rat, loveWhich view of this rat was correct? Ninja felt he was just Ninja throughout, but I had the experience of a completely different rat. There was no rat outside of my experience of the rat. That rat I first met didn’t exist outside of my experience, and nor did the sweet rat. If you had come to tea with me, for example, you might not have found him quite so sweet.

So there is no such thing as an intrinsically bad rat or bad human being. There is so much more to a person than the obnoxious person we are projecting, but when we’re angry we’re convinced that all they are is nasty.

Even if they are behaving in deluded ways, this is still not all there is to them – in fact they are not their delusions at all.

Our anger is a delusion because we are distorting reality — exaggerating their negative aspects, and then pouring mental superglue over them so they cannot change. While the mind of hatred or anger is functioning, it has no choice but to perceive an enemy. That delusion has to subside for the enemy to disappear. This is why Geshe Kelsang famously remarked during one teaching, to a rare round of applause:

Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys enemies.love is the nuclear bomb that destroys enemies

It is not just our anger — all our delusions are projecting and then believing something that is not there. In the next article on delusions, I’m going to look at this some more.

Your turn. Do you ever project things that are not there and then get taken in by them?

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Mirror, mirror, at the door

slicked back hair

At 8am this morning, as I was peacefully absorbed in meditation, someone honked their horn very loudly. There was a pause, then they did it again. Another pause, and then a loud banging at my door.

I open it in my dressing gown, and a (watch this instant prejudice…) brash looking man in a shiny suit and slicked-back hair abruptly demands: “I’m here to pick up Yvonne.” I say I don’t know Yvonne. “She’s a laaaarge girl”, he offers, with (un)helpful hand gestures. My Simone de Beauvoir instincts kick in: “Do you mean a large girl or a large woman? In any event I don’t know any large or small women or girls by that name around here. And might I suggest that you don’t blow your horn so loudly…” (adding silently “…you’re not the only human being around here you know!”) and then “Oh, my cat has got out…” (adding silently “…because of you.”) 

So as you can see from my responses, an irritation had arisen. Great fodder for meditation! Excellent timing for my morning session! Mr. Honk only appears irritating to me due to karma I’ve created in the past and is a reflection of my own faults of thoughtlessness and self-cherishing. Not everyone who bangs on my door early morning or late at night irritates me after all – most, I’m happy to say, don’t, including Jehovah’s witnesses, tenants who have lost their keys again, and, the other night, a totally drunk homeless guy whom I offered a place to stay for a few hours to get him out of the cold. (Don’t worry, dear landlords, if you are reading this, I took his social security card off him first). Back in meditation I did not have to go back far, sadly, to see how I share Mr. Honk’s apparent faults — for example I yell for my cat to come in, “ROUSSEAU!!!”, (which may be why, come to think of it, everyone around here knows his name), and I shout out a question for someone instead of bothering to go find them, etc. Not only that, but Mr. Honk may have had all sorts of extenuating circumstances that could cause me to go easy on him, as they would cause me to go easy on me if I was in his position – like, for example,  Yvonne being in dire need of a blood transfusion.

Not focusing on others’ faults doesn’t mean that we never recognize they have delusions (uncontrolled, unpeaceful minds) or develop the wish to help them overcome these – our mistake is conflating the person with the delusions. As my teacher says:

It is because they distinguish between delusions and persons that Buddhas are able to see the faults of delusions without ever seeing a single fault in any living being. Consequently, their love and compassion for living beings never diminish. ~ Transform Your Life, p 131

“Very nice!”

There is clearly far more to Mr. Honk than his seeming thoughtlessness – for all I know he was going out of his way to help Yvonne, large as she is, and he is probably a VERY NICE MAN. At any rate, he is not his delusions, even if he has any, and my relating to him as such for those moments by the front door didn’t help either of us. I lost an opportunity to be helpful. He helped me though, as it turns out, by serving as a mirror. Thank you Mr. Honk, I owe you 🙂

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Why am I so sad? Removing the two ego minds at the source of our pain.

ugly tree

In a recent article I tried to explain how self-grasping and self-cherishing, and the delusions they spawn, entirely undermine our happiness. Luckily, nothing is fixed – if we can understand these two ego-centered states of mind at the source of our pain and dissatisfaction, that’s the first step to removing them. We don’t need them to survive, to live. The actual nature of our mind is purity – all our delusions are temporary defilements like clouds obscuring a clear sky. 

Who comes first?

Not only are we not more important than anybody else, we’re certainly not more important than everybody else, which is what self-cherishing actually thinks. “My happiness comes first.” What does that mean?  My happiness comes first means it comes before the happiness of everybody else. That’s what “first” means, doesn’t it? There are millions of beings in the area around us alone, and our self-cherishing still manages to hold onto the thought, “I’m more important than all of them.” We may not admit that in polite company, it’s way too embarrassing to say it out loud at a dinner party; but if we check what motivates our thoughts and actions day and night, we are trying to serve and protect this sense of me or I, holding it to be the most important me in the world.

Stepping into others’ shoes

When our mind is less ignorant and deluded — for instance when we manage out of love to step out of our shoes and into somebody else’s — then what happens to our sense of self at that time, and our sense of other? It is less polarized, isn’t it? It evens out somewhat. Others feel more like “us” and we feel closer to them. When we do the meditation on equalizing self and others for example, we’re equalizing our sense of self and our sense of other so that we no longer have the sense that our self is like this incredibly important weighty thing and others are neither here nor there. When there is love, empathy, consideration, and so on, our sense of self is far, far less exaggerated and we see no real difference between our self and others.

Big fat ME

But when a delusion such as attachment, anger, jealousy or miserliness is arising, there’s a big fat sense of ME. Why do we cling tightly to our possessions, for example, or our time? Why do we not share ourselves with others, and instead hold ourselves back?  Because we’re trying to defend this isolated castle of me against the hordes of other. On the other hand, when we’re feeling really open and generous, that sense of me is greatly reduced.

Referring to cherishing others on the one hand, and the self-cherishing that thinks our happiness matters most on the other, Shantideva says:

All the happiness there is in the world
Arises from wishing others to be happy,
And all the suffering there is in this world
Arises from wishing ourself to be happy.

Destruction

I sometimes get the New York Times on Sunday. The cashier in Publix the other day wanted to know, “What’s in that paper that’s worth the six bucks?!” And, apart from using it to develop renunciation and compassion, I’m not sure why I do pay good money to torment myself with it for, as they say, no news is good news. Where does this seemingly endless array of disasters around our world actually come from? I think it’s easy to see how much suffering comes from negative, destructive actions — actions motivated by attachment and greed such as pollution and theft, actions motivated by hatred and anger, such as war and murder. When people’s minds are peaceful, calm, and loving, they don’t engage in negative actions (and generally they don’t make the news…)

According to Buddhism, our negativity all comes from our negative minds. This negativity gives rise to suffering, both in the short term, and, from a karmic point of view, in the long term. So these negative actions are all coming from our delusions, these delusions are all coming from our self-cherishing, and our self-cherishing is coming from our self-grasping ignorance.

As my teacher Geshe Kelsang says in Transform Your Life:

All negative actions are motivated by delusions, which in turn arise from self-cherishing.  First we develop the thought,    “I am important,” and because of this we feel that the fulfillment our wishes is of paramount importance. Then we desire for ourself that which appears attractive and develop attachment, we feel aversion for that which appears unattractive and develop anger, and we feel indifference toward that which appears neutral and develop ignorance. From these three delusions, all other delusions arise. Self-grasping and self-cherishing are the roots of the tree of suffering, delusions such as anger and attachment are its trunk, negative actions are its branches, and the miseries and pains of samsara are its bitter fruit.

Samsara refers to a life seeded by and poisoned by delusions and suffering, the world described for example in the New York Times. Those who live free from delusions are not in samsara; they are called Foe Destroyers as they have destroyed the foe of delusions (and presumably have their own rather more cheerful newspaper.)

So, who does come first?

The fact is that we’re not the most important person. We’ll never get anyone to agree with us that we are, except possibly our mother (sometimes). We have this strong sense of self-importance, but everybody is exactly the same in that they’re seeking happiness and trying to avoid suffering. Everyone is equal in that respect, and their happiness and their suffering are just as significant as ours. When our mind is in a balanced non-deluded state, we understand this.

Everybody is me or I. We pay lip service to equality – it is even in the American constitution!

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…

It would be wonderful if we could really feel that everybody was equal. It would instantly solve so many problems arising from self-cherishing and other delusions.

The Mahayana Buddhist path involves reducing our delusions, especially self-cherishing and self-grasping, and increasing all our positive minds that are the opponents to those delusions, especially compassion and wisdom.

Conclusion

Which direction, samsara or liberation?

As I said at the beginning of this short series of articles, Buddha’s synopsis of the human condition is very encouraging because we are not evil, much less doomed. It is possible for all of us to overcome all our suffering if we simply overcome our ignorance. When we finally cut the root of delusions and suffering through realizing selflessness, delusions and suffering cannot survive. For a full understanding of this, check out the Ultimate Truth chapter in Modern Buddhism, which you can download entirely for free!!

Your turn. Where do you think all pain comes from?! Please share your experiences in the comments and or on the Facebook page, and also give this article to others if it’s useful.

Previous articles in this series:
What is the root of all evil according to Buddha?

Must we all suffer?
Why can’t I be happy?

New Year’s resolution to meditate more?!

100

Did you happen to make a New Year’s resolution to meditate more?! If so, here is a little encouragement to hopefully help you keep to it.

Happy New Year Everyone!!

Over the past 35 years I’ve noticed that meditation classes in January are always packed because people have made the New Year’s resolution to learn to meditate, or to step up their existing practice. (January is also retreat season at Kadampa Buddhist centers around the world, the traditional time to focus on meditation practice.)  Meditation means familiarizing our mind with positivity, so we can do it anywhere all day long — I am talking here about so-called “meditation sessions”, where we sit down and close our eyes etc.

If you do want to devote some more time and energy to meditation, there are now quite a few tips and tricks on Kadampa Life to help keep you going — and with any luck even longer than January 😉 Sometime ago I talked about a simple breathing meditation taught by Geshe Kelsang, which anyone can learn to do. You can find a series of articles on meditation, including improving your mindfulness and concentration, here.

Off we go!

If you are new to meditation, to begin with it can feel quite difficult because your mind doesn’t seem to be following the instructions. Perhaps you have attended a meditation class where the teacher says, “Merge your mind with your breath”, in a really special meditator’s voice, and you think, “Well, that sounds nice and peaceful, I’m going to do that. And then afterwards I’m going to watch some TV. Oh, what about that thing I did earlier?” And we’re gone. We just go — our mind zooms off into the far reaches of the universe in an instant. It doesn’t really want to behave. In fact it sometimes seems perverse, intentionally insisting: “I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to meditate on the breath. I’m going to think about this boring old thing again instead.”

The more you practice, especially if you are sometimes able to practice together with others, the more you’ll find that you are beginning to really enjoy meditating. After a while, you’re going to really want to meditate, and before too long you’ll find you can’t do without meditating. To begin with it’s like, “Oh I meditated today!”, as if that’s a really special thing, but eventually it will become like, “I haven’t meditated today, no wonder I’m so wacky.” This is because we start developing our own sense of centering our awareness and experiencing inner peace. We see for ourselves the deep healing effect it has on our body and our mind, and as a result how much better our relationships are with others. Everything improves when we get a bit of control over our mind, when our mind starts to get a bit peaceful.

Why is meditation difficult to begin with?

But meditation is quite difficult to begin with. Which, when you think about it, is a bit puzzling. Why should meditation be difficult? Why should placing our mind upon our breath be difficult? Fixing our computer, that’s difficult. Fixing our car, that’s difficult. Twisting our body into some upside-downward dog yoga posture, that’s difficult. But keeping our mind on our breath, surely that should be simple?! That should be like child’s play. What could be a simpler instruction?

And our breath is already here, we don’t have to invent it, we already have the first step. When we meditate on more contemplative objects of meditation, like love or compassion, we first have to spend some time seeking in order to awaken those states of mind, and then we meditate on those. We mix our mind with those to gain a deep pervasive experience of love and compassion. But that’s quite subtle. We have to cultivate love, we have to cultivate compassion. But we don’t have to cultivate our breath. It is already there. All we need to do is put our mind on it and leave it there, like parking the car. I find parking the car to be really quite easy – I just park it and leave it. But try and do the same thing with our minds, and they don’t behave, do they?! Our mind doesn’t stay parked, it trundles away.

In fact, to begin with, the meditator’s main task is to keep bringing the mind back to the breath. Our main task is not so much staying on the breath but reminding ourselves, “Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to be meditating. I forgot.” And then we bring the mind back. We do this over and over again. (Luckily, this is training in mindfulness and concentration.)

Heel!

It is like training a dog. We rein the dog in. The dog goes trotting off. We rein him in again. “Heel!” The mind keeps trotting off. Why? Habit. It is just a question of (bad) habit. That is why meditation is difficult. Our untrained puppy-like mind is used to being undisciplined and, when we begin to meditate, there is a sense in which we are beginning to exercise discipline over the mind. We are beginning to direct the mind.

Meditating on the breath is the beginning of learning to direct our mind to gain some concentration and control, and then we can learn to direct our mind in directions that are positive. Our meditations on love, compassion and so on will take us where we want to go and fulfill all our wishes.

Everything in our life hinges upon the mind. What we see is that, as we begin to gain control over our mind, we begin to gain control over our life. If we can transform our mind from negative to positive, we can and will transform our life.

Talking of transforming our lives, if you are new to meditation and would like to find out more, here is a FANTASTIC FREE BOOK for you! Just click on this link: How to Transform Your Life ~ A Blissful Journey.

Learning to meditate, and gradually getting better and better at it, is a really blissful journey in fact, especially if you stick at it for longer than the first week of January!

If you want to join in a meditation retreat near you, or attend meditation classes, you can find out where your nearest center is through Kadampa.org.

Your turn: Let me know if you want to add something to this, or if you have any questions. And please share this article with family and friends who might be curious about learning to meditate.

Watching out for the Scrooge within

generosity

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

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

Self-cherishing is depressing

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

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

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

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

Pretty small package

The poet John Donne said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As my teacher says:

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

Defining miserliness

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

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

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

generosity

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

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

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

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