Detaching by Debriefing: Life as a Part of Meditation…

Release through discernment begins by pondering various events and aspects of the world until the mind slowly comes to rest and, once it’s still, gives rise intuitively to liberating insight (vipassana-nana): clear and true understanding in terms of the four Noble Truths (ariya sacca). In release through stillness of mind, thought, there’s not much pondering involved. The mind is simply forced to be quiet until it attains the stage of fixed penetration. That’s where intuitive insight will arise, enabling it to see things for what they are. This is release through stillness of mind: Concentration comes first, discernment later. –Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo

I recently participated in a mediated discussion with a group of women. Some of the women were offended that other women in that group were, seemingly inexplicably, not speaking to others in that same group. Interestingly enough, the majority of the women who often don’t speak when spoken to, eventually synopsized the situation by claiming that the women who were offended by not being spoken to should “stop taking things so personally.” One “non-speaking offender” said, “My life is complicated; I have problems; and I don’t always feel like speaking. It’s nothing personal. You should just understand that I don’t  have  to speak to anyone when, or if, I don’t want to.” Yet, this same woman was upset that the people to whom she formerly refused to speak, simply because  she  was in a bad mood, later refused to speak to her once she felt like speaking!

Please, don’t apologize. Take a few moments to reread what you just read. I have ruthlessly edited for simplicity’s sake; yet, I, myself, still can’t understand, or believe, what I’ve just written…

Now, for the really freaky part: There were two group facilitators, and each of them agreed with this woman. They claimed, that they, too, often had bad days where they didn’t feel like speaking, and because of this, it made them more “compassionate” when they encountered others who were not speaking because, obviously, they were in a bad mood. And because of their ability to be understanding and compassionate, if someone who refused to speak to them yesterday speaks to them today, they speak – because they’re just that “big.”

I had a problem with that – and I said so. I think they’re driven not by compassion, but by self-indulgence or Self-ishness  (in the Buddhist sense of the word). It seems to me that the women who were upset, if they were truly “compassionate,” would have been much more understanding, rather than complaining about being treated as they treated others. They were offended that certain people no longer spoke to them after they had previously squashed those people’s sincere greetings, or inquiries as to their health, or worse, stared them down with utter hostility because of being in a “bad mood.” In other words, they want the right to be rude, simply because, like a toddler, they don’t “feewul gwood,” but once they feel better, they believe it is everybody else’s responsibility to make sure that their happy state of mind continues by indulging them – even though they are incapable of paying anyone else the same courtesy. Additionally, they lack the understanding that other people’s words, actions, prejudices, etc., should not ever be the foundation for our “happiness”…

Compassion is complex. It is much more than “feeling sorry for someone.” In fact, I believe that ‘compassion’ would be concerned for another’s feelings at all times, no matter how it was feeling that day. I also believe that compassion would not want to hurt someone in a way that it truly understands “hurt” can be conveyed. So, this experience got me thinking about the sinister power of emotion. What follows is my actual post for today, the one I would have liked to have written without this seemingly circuitous introduction. This is what I would have liked to have said had we not all had to simply agree to disagree and drop the topic…

I have worked in the retail industry for the past four years. If a customer walks up to me, needing either information, or just feeling like shooting the breeze, and I am in a bad mood, I don’t have the option of pouting and not speaking. I didn’t have that option when I taught in the classroom, or when working at a service desk, either. I believe that most people would agree with me, here, and say that obviously, the whole “not-speaking thing” doesn’t apply to professional situations. Consequently, my question is “So, we can only abuse the people we love, or with whom we live, or upon whom our financial security does not depend?” Please. Think about it.

Emotions (how we feel) are not “us.” They don‘t have to color our lives. We can observe, but yet not be or become, those emotions. Emotions are not inescapable or inevitable; yet, if we treat them as if they are, they become not only “habit,” but also our prison. And ironically enough, we, too, can become the prison of emotion. We “store” these emotions/feelings (particularly the destructive ones) in our backs, arthritic fingers, necks, shoulders, and even breathing capacities.

Meditation facilitates our learning how to distance ourselves from emotion/feeling in a direct, purposeful way. I’m referring to detachment, not psychosis. Through the practice of meditation, we learn to conduct that same kind of observation in our daily flight; in the waking moments of a fitful sleep; and even as we are doing the seemingly most un-meditative things, like participating in an unfriendly discussion, or actually confronting, with scientific objectivity, our own pain, depression, fear, bitterness, or feeling of having been wronged. Oh, wait a minute, the latter is actually very “meditative!” It’s just not possible to do it in a detached manner until one first learns to meditate. And after benefitting from the discipline of meditation, when one feels wronged or hurt, they are less likely to want to hurt back, or to feel their hurt in a self-destructive way. Non-meditators call this type of observation or internal review “obsessing,” “brooding,” or “perseverating on the negative,” and rightly so, because in their case, that’s exactly what it is.

And then there’s the day, sometimes only after years of meditation, that you realize that the former “you,” when faced with a particularly trying situation, would have literally killed yourself, or most definitely “acted out” in ways that would have brought numerous and immense complications to your own life, as well as the lives of others, thus increasing your karmic debt load, exponentially…

Now, you are, at least, a little bit freer to be more compassionate; less judgmental, and poised on the precipice of promise…

Yep! That’s it for today! If it helps, I’m glad. If not, that’s understandable because as the Buddha said, each person must travel his or her own path. So, I’ve written this only to reach out and communicate the lessons in a personal experience, not “save” anyone — no one can do that no matter how hard they try. Liberation is a blossom of personal experience. Or so I have heard…

Namaste.

===============
Reference:

Dhammadharo, A. L. (1979). Keeping the breath in mind & Lessons in samadhi. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastery.

 

 

 

 

Election Seasoning…

Election years are probably my least favorite years, with the year prior to them ranking a close second. No! Actually, it is the year after election year that is my least favorite because it takes me that long, and then some to recover from the previous two years, and then it’s about time, again, for the same insidious cycle to commence, once again. Obviously, there’s a bit of clinging going on, here…

During election years, a type of lynch mob mentality suffuses the atmosphere, and we spend a good deal of time finger-pointing and harshly criticizing others for doing and saying things that even we, ourselves, do and say. Nonetheless, we often feel justified in our critiques because it is not we who are “public officials”…

But what good is having decent, ethical elected officials in office if we, ourselves, don’t religiously practice those same purportedly valued ethics? We want them to “be there” for us, but can we in our own, however unintended, hypocrisy, be there for them when their time of testing occurs? And knowing that they, too, are aware of this dilemma, can we blame them too harshly when they decide to play for keeps instead of standing for justice?

Like many people this election season, I have my causes and candidates — favored and least favored. What I hope will make a difference for me this year, as I walk the fine line between Engaged Buddhism and insidious, silent consent is this:

Though karma guarantees our just desserts, it is only self-reflection and compassion that can cleanse the palate of our shared, conditioned existence, thus preparing us for a next and better course…

Namaste.

Nothing Whatsoever Should Be Clung To…

There is nothing more self-centered, selfish, or needy than the human infant. It assumes that it is the center of the universe, and cares nothing for you, except for your ability to provide and cater to it. Supposedly, as we reach such human milestones as “toddler-hood,” puberty, and the ‘teen years,’ we gain more independence and maturity. Then, once we become adults we are to “put away childish things.” Yet, for many people, this never occurs. Instead of going from infancy to adulthood, we go from infancy to “enfantcy” (i.e., enfant terrible).

Instead of expressing maturity and independence, we simply grow older and, instead, remain just as needy but in different ways. Instead of a diaper change, a butt rub, a warm bottle or breast, or a pacifier while sitting on a shaking knee, we “need” other people’s admiration, agreement, acceptance, fear, friendship, fairness, or love. This state of “need” is called ‘craving’ or ‘clinging.’ Clinging is, in part, “all about *me,* and as stated by Ajahn Buddhadassa:

The spiritual disease of our time is the disease whose germ lies in the feeling of “we” and “ours,” “I” and “mine” that is regularly in the mind… So it follows that all unenlightened people must experience this feeling of egoism arising continually… It is the greatest danger of our time (from Essential Point of the Buddhist Teachings).

When the Buddha still walked the Earth, he was asked if it were possible for him to succinctly sum up the essence of all his teachings. He answered in the affirmative. His response was “Sabbe Dhamma Nalam Abhinivesaya.” This is the Pali for “Nothing whatsoever should be clung to.” The Buddha discovered that “clinging,” conditioned by “craving” was (and remains) the most deadly infectious disease known to humanity. And except for engaging in meditation, active mindfulness, and study, there’s no other method of “treatment.”

Now, for some examples of clinging:

To want some situation, or some person, to remain always the same is clinging. Conversely, to want some person, or some situation to change is also clinging, but to something or someone that does not presently exist but that you would prefer, or like to exist. And either way, we can never be “happy” because in the first situation, we will always have the nagging fear that our perfect situation/person will change; and in the second, we’re simply afraid that it/they will never change. The problem with both these perspectives is that everything always changes because of ‘impermanence.’ Impermanence is the “theory” (until we realize it for ourselves), that everything is ‘impermanent,’ and this is applicable even to ‘permanence.’

Subsequently, depression is clinging. Complete self-assurance is clinging. Resentment is clinging. Contentment is clinging. Arguing (to be ‘right,’ or to avoid the embarrassment of being ‘wrong’ is clinging). Happiness is clinging. Sadness is clinging. Anxiety is clinging. And anger is clinging — to name just a few examples.

Now, imagine how different life would ‘feel’ if we didn’t always need things or people to be a ‘certain way’ in order to support our self-centered, egoistic need to have things our way. Imagine if we took this a bit further, and looked at the Buddha’s statement that there is no “self” to defend, or be fearful for (yes, that’s another post), and we lived our lives in the dispassion that comes with  experiencing the Truth. If we can do this, it’s called nibbana (Pali), or as it’s more commonly known, nirvana. Many people think that Nirvana is some place, or something that happens after one dies. This is not the case. Nirvana is freedom from suffering in one’s present lifetime. No informed person has ever claimed that one had to “die” to attain nirvana.

Imagine how different we would feel if we weren’t so deeply offended by such insignificant events as someone walking in our “lane” on the sidewalk (making us have to walk around them, yes,us — can you imagine?). Or imagine how differently we would feel about everyday life if we didn’t become upset or offended that that “ingrate” didn’t say “thank you” after we held the door open for them because we’re such nice people. In truth, if we were that nice, holding the door open for someone would be its own reward — and we wouldn’t need their thanks to make us feel like good people… i.e., is it our actions, other people’s recognition of our actions, or the intentions of our actions that make us “good people?” The answer to these questions being quite obvious, let us now consider the chained, imprisoning effect of always wanting and needing approval, acceptance, and recognition from everyone, even complete strangers! And this is how we go from being self-centered infants to self-centered adults.

A doctor or midwife or police officer cuts our umbilical cord — and we spend the rest of our lives trying to find someone else to whom we may reattach it.

Please note that I am in no way saying that I am there, “all that,” or anywhere near being free of “clinging disease.” Far from it. I am simply one more pilgrim on the journey to, hopefully, enlightenment. In closing, the Buddha said,

I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering.

So, let us begin to end it…

Namaste.

Living the Dead Life: Vampires Who Don’t Totally Suck – A Buddhist Perspective On Knowing Versus Realization…

Have you ever felt that your life is like one of those stunningly spectacular traffic accidents where pedestrians and drivers, alike, literally stop in their tracks to gawk in horrid fascination? Of course, nothing restores normalcy and order like a police officer motioning and admonishing the stunned onlookers to “Move along, folks! Nothing to see, here!” Honestly, I’ve never heard a real police officer say this – only in the movies; but then, I’ve never stopped to gawk.

Whether or not police officers actually say this, I recently discovered the equivalent of a personal police officer, or better yet, bodyguard, to direct traffic in the sometimes-seeming collision of my own life. I’d like to share it with this caveat:

Depending on where you are, or are not, in your meditation practice, or if you don’t have a meditation practice, you may or may not find value in this offering. I know this because just three months ago, after reading what I’m about to share, I would have said, “What the hell?” Really.

The following quotation is from the book  Meditation On Perception: Ten Healing Practices to Cultivate Mindfulness  by Bhante Gunaratana. I’ve never met this man, but I love him, and I love his work. And I was amused to learn that he is commonly and affectionately referred to as Bhante G, which seems like the Dharma equivalent of such celebrity names as Sheila E., Kenny G., or Heavy D. And mind you, I mean this with all metta and respect. So, let’s get to business. The following quotation is from the book chapter titled, “Perception of Non-Delight in the Whole World”:

As we discover, the mind purified of greed, hatred, and delusion is naturally free from excitement when perceiving anything in the world. There is nothing special in the entire world for such a mind to delight in. Nor is there anything to be disappointed by. Nothing is extraordinary. The same problems of impermanence, suffering, and selflessness exist everywhere. Recognizing this truth, the mind becomes relaxed, peaceful, and calm (pp. 81-82).

Waitress! I’ll have one of what he’s having! Can you imagine what a deep realization of this ‘truth’ (as opposed to knowledge about, or agreement with) could accomplish? First, it calls us to task regarding the alleviation of our own delusions; then, it causes us to question whether or not we are alone, extraordinarily, or otherwise, in our sufferings. Of course, we are not; but it often feels this way. Finally, it calls into question our core values or beliefs regarding that which is important, singular, or even remarkable about what might be happening to us – if anything. It’s about detachment (as opposed to indifference). And in a strange and tragic sense, people who resort to watching television 22 hours a day (which Buddhism considers an intoxicant, or form of ‘intoxication’), or abusing substances to numb the pain actually sort of “get it,” but their methodology is unhealthy and rooted firmly in ignorance. There’s another way! Another caveat, here, could be that this ‘other way’ could take years.

If it’s true, as the Buddha said in his Four Noble Truths (the very foundation of Buddhism), then it is only our ignorance of what constitutes “reality” that makes us suffer. The Second Noble Truth reveals that it is ignorance that is the cause of our suffering – not that someone might actually be racist, sexist, stupid, unfair, or __________ (fill in the blank). Isn’t it funny that when we invest in stocks, we want something stable but profitable, but when we invest our hearts in people, or situations, entities that are often not stable, and never un-changing, we wonder why we aren’t getting our money’s worth… We also learn, eventually, that we are usually our own worst enemy in the worst of situations, not to mention the best…

Finally, we learn that there is a way to “suck it up,” all up, without faking it, or becoming a closet addict, or having a nervous breakdown, and we can do it with discernment, objectivity, and uncommon sense, as well. But, it ain’t easy. It never is. As the First Noble Truth says, ‘Where there is life, there is suffering…”

Namaste.
=====================
Related Reading:

Gunaratana, B. (2014). Meditation on Perception: Ten Healing Practices to Cultivate Mindfulness. Wisdom Publications: Boston, MA.

 

 

 

Of Doormats and Compassionate Beings…

We’ve all had the experience of someone simply looking at us and hating us. We, too, have experienced immediate repulsion upon meeting someone “new.” The reason for this repulsion could be as obscure as a kalpas-long karmic connection (or dis-connection), or it could be a reason rooted in ignorance. Mind you, here, that the denotation for the term ‘ignorant,’ does not mean “stupid,” but rather and simply, ‘uninformed.’ Most of us are not all-knowing – even if we don’t realize it.

One of my favorite verses of the Dhammapada (17:227) says:

“O Atula! Indeed, this is an ancient practice, not one only of today: they blame those who remain silent, they blame those who speak much, they blame those who speak in moderation. There is none in the world who is not blamed.” –The Dhammapada: Chapter 17, Anger

So, we really don’t have to do anything to offend someone. Just being there, and alive, is enough for some folks. An example of this is when someone is offended by everything we say, then offended when we give up and stop talking to them (because then, we’re “stuck-up”). These are the instances when we “can’t win for losing.”

Currently, I’m deeply considering how to deal with someone who has repeatedly inconvenienced me. I honestly don’t think she intentionally means me harm, but rather that she’s simply self-absorbed, inconsiderate, and lacking in compassion. A few months ago, she asked me to do her a favor which required my getting up at 6:30 AM and going somewhere to meet her. I agreed. The next morning, upon arriving at our agreed-upon designation, she wasn’t there. The next time I saw her, I said, “Where were you? I waited for some time!” She said, “Something came up.” End of explanation. Recently, she did the same thing, again. Her excuse: “It was only a little favor. What’s the big deal?” Again, there was no apology for the repeated rudeness and inconvenience. Admittedly, and for reasons I haven’t space to discuss, I, alone, put myself in the position to have her do this to me again.

This woman is not ignorant regarding what it feels like to be mistreated, as evidenced by her constant complaints about how others have “screwed [her] over.” Nonetheless, she’s completely incapable of acknowledging that when she “screws someone over,” they might feel the same way she feels. In fact, part of her excuse for acting the way she does is, “Well, everyone treats other people badly.” Additionally, she has no concept of the laws of karma, even though one of her favorite expressions is, “What goes around comes around.” Of course, this applies to everyone but her.

This last time, I told her, “I won’t give you the opportunity to do this to me again.” I don’t believe that being a “good person,” or a “good Christian,” or a “Good Buddhist,” or simply “good,” requires being a doormat or an idiot. I won’t refuse to help her if she falls down and needs help getting back to her feet, but I’m not going to go out of my way to do her any personal favors anymore, particularly if it means doing any kind of traveling when she won’t even bother to show up.

When I was a little girl, my mother taught me the following prayer to say each night, as I knelt by my bed before going to sleep:

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,

Look upon this little child,

Pity my simplicity,

Suffer me to come to thee.

Amen.

As an elementary school-aged child, I didn’t understand this prayer. Once I reached adulthood, I reconsidered it and wondered at how anyone could think of Jesus as “meek and mild.” He was bold, engaged, outspoken, dynamic, and though not fearless (as evidenced by his “Father, if you can take this cup away from me” prayer), obviously impervious to that fear. Surely this big, strapping carpenter’s son was not some sniveling, 100-pound weakling-at-the-beach. But this is the image that domineering, manipulative people like to call to mind when you won’t let them walk all over you; and it’s also why many folks tend to eschew “turning the other cheek” in this “dog-eat-dog” world.

As I work to develop compassion, I’ve found that it’s crucial to understand the role of ignorance in the human equation. About a year ago, I was appalled to discover my own ignorance regarding a relationship with a family member some 30 years ago. This understanding has tempered how I view others who try to harm me, especially because the biggest difference between us might be that between the two of us, I, alone, am aware of the disease of ignorance. Perception is everything. My awareness does not make me better than that person – only more fortunate. Often, people don’t realize that the way they treat, or have treated, others has something to do with why their own lives aren’t quite what they’d wish. And I am ever mindful, as so many Buddhas have stated, that “it is a fortunate thing to be born a human.” Just as the Christian Bible reminds us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), so many Buddhas have advised us to do the same.

In his book, Meditation on Perception (2014), Bhante Gunaratana says:

“Under the control of ignorance, our cognitive faculties filter the world in such a way that things that are really impermanent, deficient, empty of self, and repulsive appear to us as their exact opposites: as permanent, as enjoyable, as our true self, and as desirable….Thus we not only conceive things in a distorted manner, but we even perceive the world around us, and most intimately, our own being, as testimony to these flawed notions of permanence, enjoyment, selfhood, and sensual beauty.”

Admittedly, I have problems sending  metta  (lovingkindeness) to some folks. So, all I can do in the present is keep reminding myself that I cannot judge someone for not yet realizing what it took me a good hard 40 years to realize, myself. And this realization requires me first, to have compassion on myself so that I can then extend that same compassion to others. A prime motivation for this is so that I don’t continue a (bad) karmic connection with someone, or create a “new” one (if there’s anything “new” under the sun).

==========================
Related Readings:

The Dhammapada, Chapter 17:227 from Buddha.net

Gunaratana, B. (2014). Meditation on perception: Ten healing practices to cultivate mindfulness. Wisdom Publications: Boston, MA.

 

Knowing Vs. Realization, Or, Am I Enlightened, Yet?

“Man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything.”
— Mr. Miyagi,  The Karate Kid
============================

Recently, after months of reading, meditating, and re-reading, I came to, as I would have articulated it, “realize” something.  Strangely, it didn’t feel all that great. I “realized” that I’d arrived at a point where I had grasped, in a shallow fashion, the  mechanics  of a concept, but somehow, not the  soul  of it. For months, I’d been wondering just why a Buddhist practitioner would seek “extinction,” on the one hand, or want to be a Bodhisattva, on the other.

For those not quite familiar with the terms ‘extinction’ and ‘Bodhisattva,’ here are two definitions, which shall suffice, but upon which no one should base their own learning. ‘Extinction,’ also known as “nirvana without residue,” refers to “dying,” once and for all, without returning to the chain of suffering experienced in sequential, potentially never-ending lifetimes (samsara). ‘Bodhisattva’ refers to an individual who has, through meditation, arrived at a state in which they can choose not only to be ‘reborn,’ but the exact circumstances of that rebirth, so that they may fulfill their vow to not enter ‘nirvana without extinction’ until every last human being has been freed from the sufferings of samsara. So, there I was, wondering at the same time, why anyone would want to die, once and for all, as well as why anyone would want to stick around, forever, when they actually could die, once and for all, and not have to deal with all this crap anymore. I mean, haven’t we all had days when we thought, “Get me outta’ here!” Well, if you haven’t, I have. But then I’d remember that death is just a beginning — the beginning to one’s next life. Here’s a link to the post where I discuss the “realization” that helped me to understand that I am far from “realized.”

As karma would have it, I happened upon a discussion in the book, Momentary Buddhahood, Mindfulness and the Vajrayana Path, by Anyen Rinpoche. An acquaintance of mine, who is a yogi, told me that he doesn’t like Tibetan Buddhism, doesn’t like “the guy,” and would never read one of his books. I add this simply to emphasize that there are always, at least, two million sides to every story, as well as to point out that others’ recommendations, including my own, can mean everything or nothing. Unlike the yogi, I, for one, like “the guy.” This is one of the first books on mindfulness that I’ve read and not felt like a total idiot. Anyen Rinpoche’s words resonated with me, deeply. And here’s an excerpt, from Anyen Rinpoche’s book, in a section titled  Abide in the Experience of “No Self.” Please note how I use ellipses in this excerpt: three dots indicates the omission of words  within a sentence; four dots indicates the omission of one or more sentences in between one sentence and another. I mention this for both purposes of clarity and respect for copyright:

========================================================================================
“…a cursory analysis shows that the self is simply a concept….While this is somewhat helpful for developing a Buddhist foundation, ultimately, it will not take our practice to the next level….Merely knowing is not the same as experiencing and realizing.”

Rinpoche, A. (2009) Momentary buddhahood: Mindfulness and the Vajrayana path. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.
========================================================================================

This quotation from Anyen Rinpoche’s book stayed with me. I’ve read and reread it because short of ‘realization,’ I can, at least, try for internalization. But something happened, this morning, that made it even more “real” for me. Last night, I went to bed rather unhappily because of being repeatedly dive-bombed by a huge fly. Citing “reverence for life,” I did not try to swat it, and hoped that by morning, it would either go somewhere else, or die. No such luck. As I sat to begin my morning meditation, it repeatedly bounced off my head, literally got in my face, and even had the nerve to ‘buzz’ in an extremely loud, particularly distracting manner (I wonder if the Buddha had those sticky fly strips?). Finally, I grabbed a copy of a magazine I didn’t particularly like and “went” for it. Yep! You got it! I might not have been  mindful, but I sho’ nuff  minded! That was two hours ago, and I still didn’t manage to catch it. And that’s when I remembered a scene from  The Karate Kid  (1984). In this particular scene, Mr. Miyagi is sitting at his dinner table, trying to catch a fly with a pair of chopsticks. Daniel (Karate Kid) walks in, views this with some amusement, and asks if it wouldn’t be easier to use a fly swatter. Then, he asks if he can try. Mr. Miyagi smirks, and assents. After a couple tries, Daniel catches the pesky fly with his own pair of chopsticks, and the nonplussed Mr. Miyagi throws down his own chopsticks, leaves the table, and says, “You, beginner luck!” They then go outside and Daniel receives his first lesson in fence painting…

So, catching the fly is just the beginning. And I’m Daniel (if all goes well).

Here’s a link to that scene from The Karate Kid.

Namaste.