Wednesday, August 31, 2005
The Master said, "It is, alas, easier to travel than to stop."
The disciples demanded to know why.
"Because as long as you travel to a goal, you can hold on to a dream. When you stop, you face reality."
"How shall we ever change if we have no goals or dreams?" asked the mystified disciples.
"Change that is real is change that is not willed. Face reality and unwilled change will happen."
The master is talking about the mind poison of delusion, isn't he? That is what we need to stop. Remember that meditation - mindfulness - is knowing what's happening while it's happening no matter what it is. Delusion makes this impossible. What we need to stop is our compulsion to feed delusion. Let go of the need to live in a fantasy. Just stop.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Monday, August 29, 2005
The greatest support we can have is mindfulness, which means being totally present in each moment. If the mind remains centered, it cannot make up stories about the injustice of the world or one's friends, or about one's desires or sorrows. All these stories could fill many volumes, but when we are mindful such verbalizations stop. Being mindful means being fully absorbed in the moment, leaving no room for anything else. We are filled with the momentary happening, whatever it is--standing or sitting or lying down, feeling pleasure or pain--and we maintain a nonjudgmental awareness, a "just knowing."
Great suffering is often created by making up stories about injustice. If mindfulness will prevent this, then mindfulness will truly alleviate the suffering we cause ourselves. The decision not to indulge ourselves with such stories is a decision that will powerfully help us on our way to maturity in our meditative practice.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
There was once a man who was busy building a home for himself. He wanted it to be the nicest, cosiest home in the world.
Someone came to him to ask for help because the world was on fire. But it was his home he was interested in, not the world.
When he finally finished his home, he found he did not have a planet to put it on.
Care for yourself, care for other people, care for other animals, care for the planet. All are fitting and necessary for without such care we will not have a planet that will support our lives.
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Meditation is designed to help us move beyond the surface contents of the mind. Underneath the mind's surface activity - the vivid whitecaps of thought and emotion as well as the subtler flows of felt sensing - the ocean of awareness remains perfectly at rest, regardless of what is happening on its surface. As long as we are caught up in the waves of thought and feeling, they appear solid and overwhelming. But if we can find the presence of awareness within our thoughts and feelings, they lose their formal solidity and release their fixations. In the words of the Tibetan teacher Tarthang Tulku, "Stay in the thoughts. Just be there...You become the center of the thought. But there is not really any center... Yet at the same time, there is...complete openness.... If we can do this, any thought becomes meditation." In this way, meditation reveals the absolute stillness within both the mind's turbulence and its relative calm.
I find it very encouraging to realize that even when I'm not in formal meditation sitting, I can use whatever my mind needs to be thinking about as meditation if I simply stay in the thought and be there. Also please notice that we don't have to create the calm. It is there all the time. It is found within the "ocean of awareness" that we all have even if we're not awake to its reality. So, once again, the teaching is to wake up!
Friday, August 26, 2005
Plutarch tells the story of how Alexander the Great came upon Diogenes looking attentively at a heap of human bones.
"What are you looking for?" asked Alexander.
"Something I cannot find," said the philosopher.
"And what is that?"
"The difference between your father's bones and those of his slaves."
De Mello then makes this comment:
The following are just as indistinguishable: Catholic bones from Protestant bones, Hindu from Muslim bones, Arab bones from Israeli bones, Russian bones from American bones.
The enlightened fail to see the difference even when the bones are clothed in flesh.
I would add that there is no difference between American bones and Iraqi bones.
One of the most important awarenesses that I've had in my journey is that we are all more alike than we are different and that my job is to look for similarities, not differences. If I look hard enough, if I am willing enough, I see that each being's reality is somehow my reality as well. After all, all beings want to be happy and to be free from suffering. People do what they do because on some level they think what they do will make them happy. They may be very mistaken at times but that's the universal motivation. And since I, too, want to be happy, I have something profoundly in common with everyone.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
The continual activity of grasping onto an ego identity is essentially narcissistic, for it keeps us occupied with propping up an image of ourselves. Even Freud recognized the narcissism inherent in the ego when he wrote, "The development of the ego consists in a departure from primal narcissism and results in a vigorous attempt to recover it." So if we truly want to move beyond narcissistic self-involvement, we must work on overcoming our identification with whatever we imagine ourselves to be - any image of ourselves as something solid, separate, or defined. The less involved we are with images of who we are, the more we will be able to recognize our deep bond with all sentient beings, as different expressions of the mystery that also pervades our inmost nature.
Our true, deep nature is so much richer, so much more free than our ego can ever be! But if our objective is constantly that of propping up the ego, we will never access that inmost part of our reality.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
It's the action, not the fruit of the action,that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
There comes a time when the pain of continuing exceeds the pain of stopping. At that moment, a threshold is crossed. What seemed unthinkable becomes thinkable. Slowly, the realization emerges that the choice to continue what you have been doing is the choice to live in discomfort, and the choice to stop what you have been doing is the choice to breathe deeply and freely again. Once that realization has emerged, you can either honor it or ignore it, but you cannot forget it. What has become known can not become unknown again.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Many of us recognize that life is a continual process of moving forward, and that it's impossible to move gracefully through life unless we can let go of where we have already been. Though we may know this rationally, it is still hard to let go, and still painful when old structures collapse on their own, without consulting us first. The crumbling of our own identity right before our eyes is especially painful. Yet since life is continual flux, this means that we must be prepared to go through a series of identity crises. Especially in this era of advanced future shock, when the meanings holding people's lives together erode ever more rapidly, identity crises inevitably escalate at an ever-increasing rate.
Meditation is a way of learning to accept and welcome this, by letting go and falling apart gracefully. As we sit, we can see that most of our thoughts are about ourselves; in face, they are our way of trying to keep ourselves together from moment to moment. When we no longer reinforce these thoughts, the self we've been trying to hold together in a nice, neat package begins unraveling right before our eyes. As soon as we stop trying to glue it together, it quickly comes unglued. This allows us to see how we are constructing and maintaining it, and how that causes endless tension and stress.
I realize there is often a lot of fear associated with letting go of the constructed, held-together self. What I want to say by way of reassurance here is that it is completely safe. Nothing bad will happen. In fact, what you will experience is relief and freedom. Think how wonderful it would be if you didn't have to keep propping yourself up all the time. You don't have to. You can just let go and be the stream of consciousness that you are: happy, joyous and free.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
A King ran into a dervish, and in keeping with the custom of the East when a King met a subject, he said, "Ask for a favor."
The dervish replied, "It would be unseemly for me to ask a favor of one of my slaves."
"How dare you speak so disrespectfully to the King," said a guardsman. "Explain yourself or you shall die."
The dervish said, "I have a slave who is the master of your King."
"Fear," said the dervish.
Fearlessness is truly the greatest freedom. We can start by choosing to be unafraid of what we will find within when we do inner work. Regular meditation equips us for this work because we know what to do with any difficult material that comes up. We notice it, accept it without judgment, we let it go and we return to our meditative support. We can do this throughout our day by returning to the present moment and the task at hand. If we follow this practice, nothing can come up from within that will disturb us. Imprint this process on your consciousness: notice, accept, let go, return; notice, accept, let go return. Repeat it as a mantra and then apply it both in formal sitting and throughout your day. The resulting serenity is just amazing.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
The simplest of bridges, a promise
that you will go forward,
that you can come back.
So you cross over.
It says you can come back.
So you go forward.
But even if you come back
then you must go forward.
I am always either going back
or coming forward. There is always
something I have to carry,
something I leave behind.
I am a figure in a logic problem,
standing on one shore
with the things I cannot leave,
looking across at what I cannot have.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Photo by Cynthia Burgess
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
The poignant truth about human suffering is that all our neurotic self-destructive patterns are twisted forms of basic goodness, which lies hidden within them. For example, a little girl with an alcoholic father sees his unhappiness and wants to make him happy so that she can experience unconditional love - the love of being - flowing between them. Unfortunately, out of her desire to please him, she also winds up bending herself out of shape, disregarding her own needs and blaming herself for failing to make him happy. As a result, she ends up with a harsh inner critic and repeatedly reenacts a neurotic victim role with the men in her life. Although her fixation on trying to please is misguided, it originally arose out of a spark of generosity and caring for her father.
Just as muddy water contains clear water within it when the dirt settles out, all our negative tendencies reveal a spark of basic goodness and intelligence at their core, which is usually obscured by our habitual tendencies. Within our anger, for instance, there may be an arrow-like straightforwardness that can be a real gift when communicated without attack or blame. Our passivity may contain a capacity for acceptance and letting things be. And our self-hatred often contains a desire to destroy those elements of our personality that oppress us and prevent us from being fully ourselves. Since every negative or self-defeating behavior is but a distorted form of our larger intelligence, we don't have to struggle against this dirt that muddies the water of our being.
So don't struggle. Accept without judgment. Let go. Bring the mind back to the present moment. Meditate on impermanence and know that because of impermanence we can change. We are skillful in our efforts to change when we practice unconditional friendliness toward ourselves.
Monday, August 15, 2005
Again and again, think of mental distortions as afflictions, contrary to nature. When someone is hot-tempered, narrow-minded, bigoted, selfish, or thoughtless, we think, "What a disgusting person!" But all these qualities are afflictions, and that person is the first to bear the initial brunt of suffering from them. The more repugnant a person is, the more likely that person is to be suffering from the mental distortions that render him or her repugnant to us.
Having engaged in... Mind Training, we can recognize that a person who has harmed us thereby kicks us out of our complacency and pushes us into practice. If we are surrounded by friends, our mental distortions may rarely be triggered and we can easily exaggerate our sense of the progress we have made in our practice. But when hostility triggers animosity, it is like a bucket full of cold water in the face, making it very clear that we have something here to work on.
My own meditation teacher used to say of any difficulty, "It's material; we can work with it." It is amazing how we can alleviate our own suffering by taking this approach -- by seeing challenges (no matter how negative or full of hostility) as material we can work with.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
The clock master was about to fix the pendulum of a clock when, to his surprise, he heard the pendulum speak.It is simply magical what living in the moment will do for us in terms of happiness and the alleviation of suffering. One moment at a time. That is all.
"Please, sir, leave me alone," the pendulum pleaded. "It will be an act of kindness on your part. Think of the number of times I will have to tick day and night. So many times each minute, sixty minutes an hour, twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. For year upon year... millions of ticks. I could never do it."
But the clock master answered wisely, "Don't think of the future. Just do one tick at a time and you will enjoy every tick for the rest of your life."
And that is exactly what the pendulum decided to do. It is still ticking merrily away.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
In meditation practice, you work directly with your confused mind-states, without waging crusades against any aspect of your experience. You let all your tendencies arise, without trying to screen anything out, manipulate experience in any way, or measure up to any ideal standard. Allowing yourself the space to be as you are - letting whatever arises arise, without fixation on it, and coming back to simple presence - this is perhaps the most loving and compassionate way you can treat yourself. It helps you make friends with the whole range of your experience.
As you simplify in this way, you start to feel your very presence as wholesome in and of itself. You don't have to prove that you are good. You discover a self-existing sanity that lies deeper than all thought or feeling. You appreciate the beauty of just being awake, responsive, and open to life. Appreciating this basic, underlying sense of goodness is the birth of maitri - unconditional friendliness toward yourself.
There is nothing more tragic than to be in an adversarial relationship with oneself and, sadly, this is true for many people. Cultivate "unconditional friendliness" toward yourself by practicing the spacious, open approach to meditation that Welwood describes. The benefit is, quite simply, the alleviation of suffering and the arising of true happiness.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Traveler: "What kind of weather are we going to have today?"
Shepherd: "The kind of weather I like."
Traveler: "How do you know it will be the kind of weather you like?"
Shepherd: "Having found out, sir, I cannot always get what I like, I have learned always to like what I get. So I am quite sure we will have the kind of weather I like."
De Mello concludes this story with a comment of his own:
Happiness and unhappiness are in the way we meet events, not in the nature of those events themselves.
How very true. But the ability to like what we get requires training. This is where the meditative principles are so powerful. When we meditate we practice accepting without judgment over and over and over. This slowly but effectively trains us to accept the way things are. And that deep acceptance is the key to true happiness.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
A human being is a part of the whole that we call the universe, a part limited in time and space. And yet we experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical illusion of our consciousness. This illusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for only the few people nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living beings and all of nature.
We really are not separate. Einstein recognised that belief in separateness is a prison. When we realize that we then experience an awareness of our connection as liberation. We can be liberated at any moment by recognizing our connectedness with all beings - indeed with all things.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
The Dalai Lama and many other Tibetan teachers have spoken of their great surprise and shock at discovering just how much self-hatred Westerners carry around inside them. Such an intense degree of self-blame is not found in traditional Buddhist cultures, where there is an understanding that the heart-mind, also known as buddha-nature, is unconditionally open, compassionate, and wholesome. Since we are all embryonic buddhas, why would anyone want to hate themselves?What surprises me is the number of people I've encountered who actually believe it is somehow virtuous to hate themselves. Ironically this position usually results from the person having an idealized self-image which he or she is then unable to manifest perfectly. Letting go of that unrealistic ideal brings us into an appropriate humility and makes it then possible for us to accept ourselves unconditionally.
Chogyam Trungpa described the essence of our nature in terms of basic goodness. In using this term, he did not mean that people are only morally good - which would be naïve, considering all the evil that humans perpetrate in this world. Rather, basic goodness refers to our primordial nature, which is unconditionally wholesome because it is beyond conventional notions of good and bad. It lies much deeper than conditioned personality and behavior, which are always a mix of positive and negative tendencies. From this perspective, all the evil and destructive behavior that goes on in our world is the result of people failing to recognize the fundamental wholesomeness of their essential nature.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
A disciple fell asleep and dreamed that he had entered Paradise. To his astonishment he found his Master and the other disciples sitting there, absorbed in meditation.
"Is this the reward of Paradise?" he cried. "Why, this is exactly the sort of thing we did on earth!"
He heard a Voice exclaim, "Fool! You think those meditators are in Paradise? It is just the opposite - Paradise is in the meditators."
I love this story. It is the same teaching as the one Jesus conveyed when he said, "The kingdom of heaven is within you." Let go of grasping and look within. It is truly the way to happiness and peace.
Monday, August 08, 2005
"What is love?"
"The total absence of fear," said the Master
"What is it we fear?"
"Love," said the Master
Notice where you are afraid of love and what you substitute for it. Are you choosing control instead of love? Are you choosing to think of people as commodities rather than beings to relate to on the basis of genuine love? Are you choosing to seek to erase boundaries rather than loving another by honoring that person's boundaries? Are you choosing to try to merge with another, to possess another, rather than to accept another for what he or she truly is - in other words, to love that person for his or her own sake rather than how you can use that person?
Love does not cling or grasp. Love accepts the other, honors the other, respects the other. Most important of all is love for one's own self. This is not the same as gratification or indulgence. Rather it is about accepting who and what we really are without judgment and then making decisions that are truly in our own deep best interest. When we do that, we are able then to love others from that deep place within where we truly love and accept ourselves.
Sunday, August 07, 2005
"Calamities can bring growth and Enlightenment," said the Master.
And he explained it thus:
"Each day a bird would shelter in the withered branches of a tree that stood in the middle of a vast deserted plain. One day a whirlwind uprooted the tree, forcing the poor bird to fly a hundred miles in search of shelter - till it finally came to a forest of fruit-laden trees."
And he concluded: "If the withered tree had survived, nothing would have induced the bird to give up its security and fly."
This is why we need to train ourselves to let go of attachments. If we have practice in letting go, then, when the calamity comes, we will be able to adjust and change and move on. If we are not able to let go, we will be trapped. It doesn't matter whether the attachment is to something "good" or not. It's the ego-clinging itself that traps us.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease, and lightness. This state is then no longer dependent upon things being in a certain way, good or bad. It seems almost paradoxical, yet when your inner dependency on form is gone, the general conditions of your life, the outer forms, tend to improve greatly. Things, people, or conditions that you thought you needed for your happiness now come to you with no struggle or effort on your part, and you are free to enjoy and appreciate them - while they last. All those things, of course, will still pass away, cycles will come and go, but with dependency gone there is no fear of loss anymore. Life flows with ease.
I agree that it seems paradoxical that outward conditions tend to improve when we let go of our dependency on outward conditions being a certain way. I think this works because our energy is then not taken up with resisting what is and so we then naturally take the kind of actions that end up benefiting us.
Friday, August 05, 2005
"The trouble with the world," said the Master with a sigh, "is that human beings refuse to grow up."
"When can a person be said to have grown up?" asked a disciple.
"Oh the day he does not need to be lied to about anything."
Why don't we ask ourselves if we prefer to be lied to about anything. Is there any area of life in general or our personal life in particular about which we really don't want to know the truth? These are undoubtedly very beneficial questions for reflection.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
A very practical way to integrate the meditative practice with the post-meditative practice is to refresh this awareness, again and again, of how phenomena are dependent for their very existence upon mental designation. Take the example of a cart. None of its parts is the cart itself. No one thing can simultaneously be the axle and the wheel and the flat bottom. These are totally different entities with their own defining qualities such as flatness or roundness. The cart is not the wheel, nor is it the flat bottom, nor the axle. Nor is it all of the above because one thing cannot be all of the mutually exclusive parts of the cart. The cart is not identical with any one of its parts, nor is it equivalent to the sum of the parts. But if you take away each of the parts, then there is no cart remaining. What is a cart? It is something that is mentally designated upon the parts. Does the cart that is so designated perform the function of a cart? Yes: it carries hay and people; it travels; it is pulled by horses.
Likewise, I perform the functions of a person. I speak, I think, I act. Yet I am not the speech, the thought, or the deed. I am not the body or the mind. I am designated upon the body and mind, and my self depends for its very existence upon this mental designation. Like all phenomena, both subjective and objective, my self does not exist in its own right.
Okay. Why is this important? Well, it helps us see that what we call the "self" is not solid or fixed and that's good news! If we had a fixed, solid self then we couldn't change; we couldn't look forward to transformation. Letting go of the idea of a solid self is an experience of wonderful liberation! It doesn't mean that we don't exist. It means that we are not stuck.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
If there is no suffering, then there is no renunciation, no aspiration to emerge from mental distortions and a way of life pervaded by dissatisfaction. I do not believe that suffering matures us by itself. My knowledge of history and my own experience persuade me that it is patently untrue that a person who suffers a lot automatically becomes a better person. Suffering alone is not sufficient: an intelligent, insightful response to the suffering is needed. With these two together, [the wisdom teachings] and suffering, we can definitely grow through a wholesome transformation.
One of the great benefits of meditating on impermanence is the realization that transformation is indeed possible because without impermanence we would be unable to change. But because of impermanence we can, indeed, change and so transformation can be ours. We only need to be faithful to our meditative practice and our commitment to cultivating compassion.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Encircled with craving,
people hop 'round & around
like a rabbit caught in a snare.
Tied with fetters & bonds
they go on to suffering,
again & again, for long.
Encircled with craving,
people hop 'round & around
like a rabbit caught in a snare.
So a monk
should dispel craving,
should aspire to dispassion
This not only applies to monks, by the way! All of us will do well to "aspire to dispassion" - that is, non-attachment. This is truly the way to happiness.