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.

Come, Let Us Reason Together…

We often think of ‘renunciates,’ i.e., those living lives of “ascetic self-denial,” as holy people who have given everything away for the purpose of living lives of poverty and contemplation. Yet, even after giving away all of our material possessions, we can still be encumbered by immaterial ‘possessions’ such as anger, greed, and delusion. And lately, it seems to me that if we could free ourselves of our delusions, we’d be done with anger and greed.

If we cannot stop clinging to our delusions, we might as well keep our money, fine clothes, big houses, or just the hard-earned pittances of the grueling 9-5 minimum-wage existence because nothing will change, and as the old saying goes, it’s easier to be miserable with money than without it. Nothing will change until we ‘let go’ and stop clinging to our puffed up sense of ‘self’; our delight in others’ misfortune; our need for others’ approval; and our “right” to revenge. I know this because I’ve lived “with” and “without,” and additionally, despite being aware of some of my delusions, my actions often tell me, at the most disheartening times, that I am still  under the influence of those delusions.

In the  Dhammapada, the book to which I like to refer to as the “Buddhist Bible,” the final verse of chapter 7 says:

Delightful to the worthy
are the places where others
find no joy.
Being free of the pull of passions,
the worthy rejoice anywhere
precisely because
they seek no delight.

That verse means something to me because I’ve read it about a million times. And it was, perhaps, the 999,998th time that it really started to mean something to me. It is now a quite common experience for me to reread something in the Buddhist canon that I’ve already reread, maybe hundreds of times, only to discover that it had either completely gone over my head or hadn’t even entered it before.

I keep mentioning my deficits, not because I want people to think how “humble” I am, but rather because it’s so scary to write about these topics because I am not a monastic, monastic scholar, or initiate. Also, as someone who has always loved words, and was an English major in college, I’ve learned, through my studies, and as a result of my meditation practice, that words are all but useless. The Buddha told his followers NOT to believe what he said because he said it, but rather to believe it because they’d EXPERIENCED it. Now,  that’s  humility. But it’s also true. We will not attain nibbana (nirvana) by reading “just the right book,” and even the Buddha, himself, if he still walked this Earth, could  not  grant or give us nibbana (nirvana) with a magical wave of his hand. As he directed us, we must be our own saviors:

“Monks, be islands unto yourselves,[1] be your own refuge, having no other; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves… should investigate to the very heart of things:[2] ‘What is the source of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair? How do they arise?’ [What is their origin?] — from the Attadiipaa Sutta: An Island to Oneself. translated from the Pali by Maurice O’Connell Walshe

I must say, here, that I am so fascinated by this directive to be islands unto ourselves. Prior to this, as any good English major, I’d always quoted the great poet, John Donne:

“No man is an island…”

Mr. Donne was very right — and very wrong…

It’s very different “knowing” something because someone (even a reputable someone) has told us something, and knowing it because we’ve experienced  it. This is why someone could tell us the ultimate “secret to happiness,” but their words might mean nothing to us because we are either not ready to “hear” or “see” it, or simply because they are simply not the right words for us.

“Eureka moments” are usually quite personal and uniquely fashioned.

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.