Inner being

5 min read

Refuge is what we turn to to get rid of our suffering. We go for refuge because we need refuge, or protection, from our various problems, big or small. We arguably spend all day going for refuge, trying to get rid of one thing by turning to something else.

people walking in NYC.jpeg

Like, just now I was feeling a big sleepy, so went to grab a coffee from my local NYC coffee shop. (Passing waves of people on the street seemingly on their way somewhere, no doubt in pursuit of relief just like me.) If we are feeling unwell, we turn to medicine; if we’re lonely, maybe we turn to friends or Tinder; if we’re hungry, we eat something if we can; if we’re bored, maybe we go online; if we’re uncomfortable, we shift our body into another position. Etc. Those are relatively tame things to do – we also have a large variety of more suspect things we turn to, such as opioids or the pursuit of power, status, and extreme wealth (check out this video:)

Sped-up movies

You know those sped-up movies? Watching them, we can see how we’re always on the go — going here, doing this, going there, doing that. Getting up, sitting down, propping ourselves up, lying down, walking around, sitting down again. Each day is a constant pursuit of little relief hits from what are basically physical or mental aches and pains. And we’ve been doing this our entire life. In all our lives, since beginningless time.

But the interesting thing is that we have just as many problems to solve as ever, don’t you find? We have just as many physical aches and pains, quite possibly more given that this body doesn’t get more comfortable as it gets older. Not to mention the near-constant mental aches and pains. So, we’re turning for refuge to other things all the time, but they are clearly only providing some temporary relief at best.New york subway

This is not to say that we shouldn’t eat, drink coffee, get a job, surf the internet, etc. That’s not Buddha’s point. His point is, are we finding the lasting happiness and freedom that we all long for? Are these temporary refuges sufficient for us, or could we actually be doing more? Could we be getting rid of our aches and pains more effectively?

And so far we’re not even talking about those BIG problems — namely ageing, sickness, major loss, catastrophes, and death — just the run of the mill irritations and discomforts. Coffee, the internet, power/status, and hot dates don’t even touch the big problems.

Ultimate refuge

This is where we turn to the subject of refuge in Buddhism. This is a vast subject — all Buddha’s teachings are included within refuge one way or another, because basically Buddhist refuge means that instead of turning to worldly solutions, or sense pleasures, or indeed anything outside our mind, we turn inside to the practice of Buddhadharma.

The main object of refuge in Buddhism is our own efforts in practicing Dharma: such as increasing our inner peace, getting rid of our delusions (sometimes known, with good reason, as “afflictions”), practicing patience, love, compassion, and wisdom. We turn to Dharma experience because we appreciate that it is the effective and lasting protection from our problems.New York shrine

There would be no Dharma without Buddha Shakyamuni, he taught it in our world; and Buddhas also emanate as Spiritual Guides who can guide us and bless our minds. Without Buddhas, or enlightened beings, it would be impossible to practice Dharma. And we also turn to Sangha, such as our fellow Dharma practitioners – others who are also interested in solving their problems, if you like, from the inside, not always from the outside.

Buddhism

At the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, when he was walking around in a form that everyone could see, he never used the word “Buddhism.” The word “Buddhism” is a new invention. It is one of those Western “ism” words — we took Buddha and added ism to the end of it.

Buddha instead would apparently call his disciples “inner beings.” Nangpa cho, if you want to know the Tibetan and impress people at parties; which I believe, though correct me if I’m wrong, literally means inner Dharma. Those who practice the teachings, go for refuge to the Three Jewels, are inner beings, because instead of turning outwards for solutions to their problems they are trying to turn inwards to transform the mind.

new york freedom towerAnd the reason we practice Dharma is out of compassion, to free ourselves and others. To end suffering. To end suffering for everybody: humans, animals, insects, everybody. That’s the end goal in Buddhism — to ourselves become more and more of an object of refuge until eventually we ourselves are a Buddha.

Going for refuge to Dharma

Putting effort into practicing Dharma means that we take delight in it, really enjoy it. We see it as a real solution to everything that ails us and everybody else. We love it, we understand its benefits, we understand that it works. So we naturally turn to it with effort. Effort doesn’t mean straining and pushing, it means enjoyment — its full name is joyful effort. If we enjoy things, we do them, you’ve probably noticed.

Going for refuge to Buddha

We also put effort into receiving blessings and inspiration from Buddha. We can do this by just feeling close to enlightened beings, because from their side they’re already close to us, indeed one with us. By tuning into blessings, our minds experience huge amounts of power and inspiration.

Going for refuge to Sangha

love is the real nuclear bombAnd then we put effort into receiving help from Sangha, which means we allow ourselves to be encouraged and inspired by other people who are practicing Dharma. They’re all trying to gain the experiences of cherishing others and patience, for example, and all trying to get rid of their attachment and irritation. The fact that they haven’t managed it all yet doesn’t matter; we’re still motivated by them because they’re trying. They can be very good examples for us. And we can make an effort not just to receive help from Sangha but to help them too.

My feeling is that Sangha don’t have to be signed-up Buddhists – I find anyone who is relying on inner refuge, for example compassion in the face of adversity, can work as refuge and inspiration for me.

Over to you. Any thoughts to contribute on the subject of inner being?

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Freedom March

hamster-on-wheelMy Uber driver, Mohammed, aged mid-fifties at a guess, has been working Uber (in Manhattan) for only ten days, but already he is over it. Not that he has any choice as he has had no job for the past two years, but he is considering his options all the same. Minimum pay, long hours, he grumbled, though he was pretty cheerful considering. “Money doesn’t buy happiness, but I still need some.” He rubbed his hand over his belly and said, “You can feed this hell but it’ll never be enough. We carry our hell around with us.” “Yeah, and our heaven,” I agreed. “True, but people pay no attention to that, they are too busy feeding their hell.”

We looked out of the window at the crowds hurrying along 7th Avenue. “Look at everyone running around, all feeding their own hells,” he said. “Money, power, whatever, it is never enough.” new-york-walkers“It’s like a black hole,” I offered, “insatiable. But our heaven is like the sun, always radiating outward.” He liked that. “Where are you from?” I asked, and he said Mars. He pointed out that it was discriminatory to assume everyone from Mars was green with antennae as opposed to just like me, especially as I have never met a Martian before. And of course Martians can be called Mohammed.

But right now, Martian, Muslim, Buddhist, Republican, Democrat, rich, poor, male, female, everyone, we all have the choice to feed our heaven or to feed our hell.

Continuing from this article. This second type of self-confidence is the thought:

I can conquer all my delusions; they will never conquer me.

And if we internalize this, identify with this warrior mentality, then the more things go wrong the stronger that motivation becomes – as they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Moment or movement?

I was in NYC during the inauguration and aftermath, when large marches took place in Washington, Manhattan, and all over the world. And the day after the Women’s March, a CNN headline questioned:

“Moment or movement?”

Which got me thinking not just about whether these political activities were going to sustain themselves past the next few weeks to resolve the world into some lasting change, but more importantly whether our meditations were.

Have you ever had any nice moments in meditation? Positive insights and/or feelings of joy or peace or empowerment? Connection? Glimpses of the possible?

Are these moments quickly forgotten and just occasionally revisited, or are they part of progress, a forward movement in your mind?

protest
“Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys enemies.” ~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Probably your answer will depend on how consistent you are – there is no substitute for consistency. In all my decades in this Buddhist meditation tradition, I have observed, the people who seem to get the promised, deep results from meditation are — funnily enough — the ones who do it.

Consistency relies on effort or enthusiasm and, as Shantideva points out, effort includes self-confidence. At this time I think our self-confidence has to grow, a lot. Wisdom and empathy rise up! Destroy the delusions of selfishness, greed, intolerance, and ignorance.

News junkies

Someone told me, “I was so positive after that march! Everyone was so positive! But, just two days later, and this relentless news is depressing me so much. I feel powerless again.”

Are you addicted to the news? Do you approach it with a feeling of indignation, quite sure that you are going to find something maddening … and sure enough … Are you turning to the news to scratch an itch, or for some perverse stimulation? And the more you watch, the more anxious or disheartened you become, the more de-motivated and helpless you feel? It drives you crazy, yet still you can’t keep away from it?!

Too much news doesn’t energize us but makes us passive because we can’t control the world and so the daily or even hourly repetition of news about things we can’t do a whole lot about grinds us down. We can end up frustrated, pessimistic, and desensitized, not to mention hopelessly distracted — perhaps seeking comfort and reassurance by talking only to people who agree with us while tempted to shout everything and everyone else down.

There is a balance between staying informed and being a news junkie. My suggestion? If we are feeling helpless, we need to get control back. And that means control of our mind. So we could spend at least as my-desire-to-be-informedmuch time applying the solution (meditation) as we spend skimming over the problem (checking our news feeds).

As a friend put it, the news fuels his compassion but right now his gas tank is overflowing. We know there is a problem to solve. We know we have to do something creative. But nothing exists in a vacuum. We don’t need endless bitty demoralizing factoids – we need context, we need perspective, we need the big picture.

This would be the picture of samsara. Samsara sucks and always has sucked. And if we have delusions and contaminated karma we are as much part of samsara as anyone else — responsible for what appears to us, for what is happening. We are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

We need a life less ordinary.

Delusions are our enemies

We need to say this to ourselves over and over again ~ “Delusions are the real enemies of all living beings”!!

We could be the most powerful and wealthy person on the planet and still feel insecure and slighted, still feel tense and miserable, still feel dissatisfied. Greed and narcissism are insatiable black holes. Dislike, pride, and intolerance will find enemies, detractors, and inferiors wherever they turn. This is just as true for us as for anyone else.how-to-transform-your-life

Delusions can be very powerful – the self-cherishing of just one person, for example, can help demean a nation and create dangerous disharmony and distrust — this has happened many times the world over. Dharma is meant to be used as a mirror, though, not a magnifying glass. If we resent shows of narcissism and power-hunger, for example, we can separate the delusions out from the person and use this appearance to increase our own humility and contentment. We are then becoming part of the solution, not remaining part of the problem.

And virtuous minds can be even more powerful than delusions. Just look at the legacies of Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King. Just look at what great holy beings have pulled off in all traditions. Just look at what Geshe Kelsang is pulling off as we speak – I have seen with my own eyes over the past 35 years how he has helped and is still helping hundreds of thousands of people every day. We need the confidence that as soon as we control our delusions and master ourselves we will straightaway be helping both ourselves and the Geshe-la.JPGpeople around us and indeed our whole world, both directly and indirectly. What an incredible, hopeful example we could be!

We need to change if we are to be lastingly happy. We can’t stay with self-grasping, self-cherishing, and negative actions and expect a good life. Living with delusions life after life has always been horrible, and as soon as we get rid of one problem there is always another waiting to take its place.

There is no point in judging others – it just leads to anger and pride upon pride, “I am so much better than him/her!” We can instead spend at least some of our discrimination focused not on the faults of others but judging our own faults, which will result in a peaceful mind intent on real liberation.

So my feeling is that we can campaign, canvass, sign all the petitions that drop into our inbox, attend demonstrations, call our representatives, stand up for fairness and tolerance – and all that can be well and good, probably we need this, to exercise our freedom of speech and uphold our democratic values as we each see fit. There are outer problems and inner problems, after all, which need fixing in different ways.

But the only march that will lead to actual freedom is the march against our delusions.

Over to you: comments are invited from Martians, Muslims, Buddhists, Republicans, Democrats, rich, poor, male, female, everyone.

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Do you ever feel discouraged?

Happy Easter in Buddhism Happy Easter Everyone! I thought today would be a good day to start a series of articles on how to become unstuck – overcoming the long winter of our discouragement to arise anew. Sloughing off our sense of a limited, fixed, deluded self — a self that doesn’t in any case even exist — and arising and identifying ourselves as a wise, peaceful, positive, loving, happy, blissful, free person instead.

Easter and Spring both seem to me occasions to celebrate the ripening of deep potential and fertility. Isn’t that what Jesus was showing when he arose from the dead on what is, according to Christian friends, the most uplifting day of the Christian calendar? Isn’t that also what eggs and bunnies are about? And, when the daffodils do finally manage to get their little yellow heads up above the snow, isn’t that what daffodils are about too?

Self-effacement or self-sabotage?

don't believe everything you thinkAt my day job last week I was asked to fill in an incredibly long and complicated (to me) application form in a very short period of time, and I was protesting inwardly and a little bit outwardly too: “Don’t make me do this! It’s way above my pay grade, someone else could do it so much better, there’s so much at stake, I’m going to blow it!”

Later that day I overheard someone talking about the impossibility of their realizing emptiness in almost exactly the same terms!

I realized we were both under the influence of discouragement, and therefore setting ourselves up for failure. Only when I got going and realized I probably could do this after all, (with a little encouragement), did I start enjoying myself; and I did a perfectly okay job of it. Likewise, only when we get going and get rid of the notion that we can’t do emptiness, (with a little encouragement and inspiration), can we start enjoying ourselves and get the job done.

Laziness in disguise

Discouragement is rampant in our times, and when it is applied to our spiritual practice it becomes a dangerous type of laziness, called the laziness of discouragement. Over the last year or so, quite a number of people have asked me to write something about it. Now that I’m back in the land of self-deprecation bordering on self-sabotage, I thought it would be a good time to start.

We have enormous spiritual potential. And everything depends upon our mind, our thoughts; including our sense of self. Holding onto the thought of a fixed, limited self is preventing us from changing and realizing our potential.

British self-effacement can be endearing and sometimes even humble, but as often as not it is a tight grasping at a limited sense of self that is holding us back from attempting or achieving anything that will help ourselves and others. The self-talk thoughts, “You’re useless”, “You’re too old”, “You can’t do this!”… these are not humility, these are aversion, and comments we would not want to put up with from other people. That we put up with and heed our own self-defeating thoughts is a big shame, considering we have a precious human life and Buddha nature and can do anything if we go for it. As one Facebook friend put it:

overcoming discouragement in Buddhism

“Discouragement is a problem for me – often there is no boundary between being self-effacing and being self-destructive in my mind. My teacher once very helpfully pointed out that the full name for discouragement is ‘the laziness of discouragement’, but we don’t often think of ourselves as lazy when we’re feeling discouraged.”

Which is true. We might be assuming that putting ourselves down is almost innocent. We don’t think of it as a delusion, but this laziness of discouragement IS a delusion. Perhaps it is even the most pernicious delusion, insofar as, under its influence, we let our life go by without changing ourselves, and it keeps us forever stuck in suffering if we let it.

We can understand the delusion of laziness better if we appreciate what is its opposite, positive mind, which is effort. So perhaps we can start here.

What is effort?

“Effort” can sound like a lot of effort! Joyful effort, its full name, is better, but still seems to require, well, effort. Is “energy” any better? Inspiration? Enjoyment?  I’m inspired to practice, I’m happy to practice, I love practicing, I enjoy practicing – these are all manifestations of effort, far more than “I need to put in the effort”, “I really ought to be practicing”…

amazing race to enlightenmentEffort can sound tense, can sound like we’re squeezing or pushing for results. Sometimes we are — as competitive westerners we can bring our competitive streak to our spiritual practice. We may be sitting next to someone thinking “I wonder how they’re concentrating? Oh no, they can meditate for far longer than me! Oh, their posture is so much better…” We tend to push a lot in our own culture, job, family, society and so forth – we push for results. And we can also feel under pressure to fake for results in order to look good.

Do you ever live your life as if people are looking over your shoulder and judging you? Perhaps feeling guilty when you don’t think you’re up to scratch as mothers, workers, partners, and even spiritual practitioners? Then we feel we need to push and try harder (or fake better!); but guilt is certainly no substitute for joy, and this is not effort. I love to practice Buddhism or Dharma as if no one is looking.

When I first went to America, I noticed that Americans are unafraid to tell you about their qualities, whereas you could never get a Brit to tell you about their qualities except under torture. Brits resort to understatement and self-deprecation: “I am perfectly useless at that… I can’t meditate for the life of me”, whereas Americans like to put their best foot forward at all times, which can be good, but which can also sometimes mean faking it a little – it’s a bit like a job interview culture. Perhaps some of us associate effort, then, with pushing, and not being entirely authentic – and basically not really experiencing any change. However, effort is all about changing.

If we can avoid the extremes of self-deprecation and insincerity, and have a joyful, confident, enthusiastic, and relaxed approach to our meditation practices, we are guaranteed to change a great deal for the better.

What is “virtue”?

Effort is defined in Buddhism as “a mind that delights in virtue”.

Virtue means the causes of happiness. Again, not what we always think when we think of the word virtue, which can sound a bit too, well, virtuous (goody two shoes = not what it means.)

So, effort delights in the causes of happiness. This doesn’t sound much like effort as we know it! But we can see that if we did have a mind that delighted in cultivating the causes of happiness, we’d end up being very happy, because we’d be joyfully creating joy! With effort our meditation becomes delightful, like a child playing his favorite video game, and how much effort does THAT take?! We are aiming at enjoying our practice so that it feels effortless – and that funnily enough IS what genuine effort feels like.Buddha's face in flower

We may not be there yet, but it is as well to know that this is what effort is. Not pushing. Not squeezing. Not clenching. Not forcing. Not grasping at results. Not feeling miserably as if I am over here TRYING so hard to practice, and the results are over there, years or even lifetimes away in the future, an unbridgeable chasm between us — setting ourselves up for failure. Not comparing and contrasting what everyone else is doing or fantasizing about what they think of us. Not putting ourselves down or believing all our own inner narrative about who we are. Effort is all about being in the present moment, enjoying virtue or the causes of happiness, identifying with being a happy person – enjoying, in other words, being positive, kind, wise, happy, and free.

A little tip: To begin with, if you have to, you can pretend you are enjoying your virtuous activities — or rather imagine that you are.  I remember when I first got into Buddhist that I used to do this with really long prayers, prostrations, fasting, and so on, as I didn’t always automatically enjoy these spiritual practices. So I would think: “I’m really enjoying this!” until I believed it. It is just thoughts, after all. It worked for me.

Next time, more on how we get stuck and how to get unstuck.

YOUR TURN: Please help me with my continued market research on the subject. Do you ever feel discouraged? How do you overcome it?