Posted in compassion

Handle With Care

“Gentleness indicates greater strength than harshness.”

-Han Shan Deqing

 I wonder if we can solve a lot of our problems by being nicer to each other.

 When I hear things like “People are too sensitive these days”

OR

“That guy got what he deserved” when someone experiences the consequences of bad decisions

 

I just wonder where the compassion is.

 Life is hard. It’s hard for everyone. All of us are facing many challenges throughout our lives. This can be a tough thing to remember. Suffering is the norm in human life. It’s fundamental. It’s not our fault we suffer. Some of our problems are self-inflicted, certainly. But many of them aren’t.

We judge each other harshly. We look down on people who have made different decisions than we made.

We could all soften our tone with each other. We can all be gentle and in this way make our world a slightly better place.

 When someone is terminally ill, you often see a manifestation of kindness. We are generally pretty nice when we know someone is about to die. We respond to them with gentleness and compassion.

 Can we try to apply that the rest of the time?

The world needs more kindness, more compassion, more love.

Can we handle people with care?

I’m interested in trying. Are you?

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Posted in compassion

Qualities of the Heart | Video

This is a video I recorded about the Yoga Sutra and the Four Immeasurables.

What if we center our lives in compassion and kindness?

 

I recorded a podcast on this subject that you can listen to  here:

Qualities of the Heart | Scharpening the Mind

Further Reading:

Four Immeasurable Minds

 

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Posted in compassion

Compassion! (video)

what is compassion?

Is there great compassion and regular compassion? What’s the difference?
Can we have compassion for people we don’t like?

 

Recommended Reading:

Compassion that is Boundless

Training In Compassion by Norman Fischer

click here for the audio version:

Compassion! Podcast

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Posted in meditation, questions

How Do I Avoid Being Aggressive in My Practice?

A reader says:

“I recognize a habitual pattern, not to be aggressive about eliminating it. But then the self aggression in “I should be more patient, kinder, better organized, etc…” can turn into “You/they should be more….” So I guess the question is where to interrupt that cycle?”

So, there’s this thing I always say when I lead meditations. I’ll say it even when I know the person I’m speaking to has been meditating for a long time. I’ll say it even when I know for certain I’ve said it to this person in particular before. I always say it because I think it’s very important. And also, I think it’s something we overlook sometimes when we’re practicing.

That is: “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Now, this can apply in our meditation practice and also in whatever other practices we’re doing. I’m going to focus on our meditation practice first. There are several things that are important to a successful meditation practice—one of them is consistency and another one is having a reasonably quiet place.

But another thing often gets overlooked. We need to have a passive attitude. If we think, “Man, I’m having a shitty meditation! I can’t still my mind at all!” that kind of takes us out of it, doesn’t it? We have so much trouble with this, of course. We expect to be good at meditation (whatever that means) and we expect those results. Expectation is a big problem for us. We’re always expecting things.

I love that fake Shakespeare (Fakespeare?) quote, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Man, that’s good stuff.

Once we start to think of ourselves as failures in our practice, then we start to suffer. The great thing about meditation is that there is no failure. Trying counts as doing. The only way to fail is to not try. And if you’re sitting on the cushion and just thinking about your cats or the plot of Spider-man: Homecoming or having a beer, that’s okay. Just cultivate awareness of these thoughts. And don’t be hard on yourself. Everyone is distracted all the time.

How’s this relate to other practices?

Well, it’s the same. We can beat ourselves up in our compassion practices too. “I could have been nicer. I could have been more helpful, etc.” We have a real tendency to tear ourselves down and think we’re not good enough, but the same thing applies. Have a passive attitude. Don’t attach so much importance to success. Just try your best. You’re not in competition with anyone (even yourself) and you are good enough. You are doing just fine, I promise. An aggressive attitude toward yourself doesn’t help, just try to be the best you can.

And the questioner also asked, “What about when this turns into an external aggression too?”

Being hard on others is also often harmful, of course. What can we do about it?

It’s the same, really. What we want to do is see others as equally important to us. We’re all just trying our best, that’s all we can do. It’s important to recognize that we’re all in this together. It would be hard for me to say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” while at the same time being hard on others.

A lot of our compassion/bodhisattva practices are based on helping us see others as equally important and I think that’s kind of what we’re talking about here. Once we learn how to stop being hard on ourselves, hopefully we can stop being hard on others too.

Life is a struggle for everyone and we’re all in it together.

 

I’m going to start taking questions. If you have something you want me to write about, write it in the comments.

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Posted in emptiness, Mahayana

Freedom in Emptiness

Once we realize the truth of emptiness and interconnectedness, we are free. The path is sometimes called ‘liberation’ and that is the reason why. There is freedom in the path. We can meet the world without such strong expectations. We can face the world without making enemies out of it all the time.

In this way we can stride through the universe, wild and free in our understanding of the way things really are. We can expose ourselves to the world with complete openness.

When we begin to realize that the nature of things is actually empty, then things don’t seem to be in our way anymore. There is nothing stopping us from expanding our love and compassion infinitely.

The purpose of talking about emptiness is to realize that if there’s no separation, then we are free.

 

 

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Posted in buddhism, lojong

Lojong Point 2: Training in Bodhicitta

This is where things really start.

The way of the Bodhisattva is the way of compassion and wisdom, of realizing your own boundless potential. It comes from realizing that Enlightenment is our true nature, that we have a basic goodness and wakefulness that is fundamental to our being.

Bodhicitta is what the diligence of the Bodhisattva is based on. Bodhicitta means the mind of awakening. It’s what helps us overcome the delusions that keep us from seeing our true nature. These delusions are things that we can overcome. They are impermanent like everything else. They may obscure our minds, but we can overcome them. Bodhicitta is our tool for doing this.

Bodhicitta combines emptiness, compassion, and wisdom. To engage wisdom we have to work out overcoming our attachment to ourselves. To engage compassion we have to work on overcoming our possessiveness and aggression. To engage emptiness we have to learn to relate to our basic goodness in a way that is direct and complete.

Bodhicitta is central to Mahayana Buddhist teachings. It is the basis of being awake and freeing our minds.

We don’t really cultivate the awakened state as something separate from ourselves or as something new. We are trying to realize that we already have this basic goodness as part of our being. It has always been there. Dwelling in Bodhicitta brings us greater vision and potential. It brings us to boundless compassion for ourselves and others.

When we engage Bodhicitta we stop being so afraid of and controlled by our suffering. We gain new levels of patience and diligence. We also develop a kind of bravery. We are like spiritual warriors, willing to see the suffering of the world and face it in order to save ourselves and others.

There are said to be two kinds of Bodhicitta, the transcendent and the ordinary.

Bodhicitta is based on cultivating the perfection of generosity. Generosity is a kind of openness, where we aren’t holding back anything. We are fully present and completely open. We are cultivating a state of mind where we aren’t swayed so completely by the egoic mind which says “I-Me-Mine” and is always making enemies of everything. We often think of generosity as the giving of material things and this kind of generosity is more than that. With this, we develop kindness.

Bodhicitta is also based on cultivating the perfection of virtue. It’s through virtue that we develop compassion. This comes from the basic awareness that we can have a tender and gentle heart at any time. If we can just let go and stop clinging to ourselves all the time, then we can experience virtue.

Bodhicitta is largely based on free love, that is love that doesn’t expect anything in return. When we let go of our attachment to separating things into “this” and “that”, then our love becomes boundless.

Whereas point one only had one mind training slogan, point two has nine of them. I’m starting with number two, since number one was in the first point.

2. See Everything As A Dream

This kind of vision is part of the Bodhisattva path. Regard all things as unreal. We are nothing but bubbles in a stream.

We can experience this quality of voidness in our sitting practice. When we are sitting and following the breath thoughts and ideas always rise in our minds. We get distracted. We get lost and forget all about the breath. But we can reflect on the fact that we are creating these thoughts and memories. We are like slaves to the daydream. We spend our entire lives trying to grasp at things that aren’t there.

When you train in this slogan, when you repeat it to yourself, you can start to see things differently. When we start to get upset or anxious or angry about something, we can bring this slogan to mind. “Why am I upset about this? It’s a dream.”

3. Examine The Nature Of Awareness

If we really try to examine ourselves we can come to realize that there’s nothing to hold onto. Just ask yourself, “Who is reading this?” What is your awareness when you don’t think of it in relation to other things? If we look deeply within ourselves we find nothing. When Buddhists say there’s no self what they’re really saying is that there’s nothing to hold onto. There’s nothing you can point to and say “This is me.” Not if you’re honest with yourself. If we deeply examine our awareness and try to find what it is beyond what we’re aware of, then we start to realize there’s nothing underneath, at least nothing we can put a label on.

4. Don’t Attach To The Cure

The cure is just the understanding that our awareness has no root, that there’s nothing behind it. The idea of the cure that some might get stuck on is a nihilistic view. We might come to see that our awareness has no root and suddenly decide that nothing in the world matters. We have occasional glimpses of the emptiness of things, but when we attach to it we experience what’s called the poison of emptiness. The slogans prior to this one might make life have a sort of dreamy quality for us. This one is designed to keep us down to earth at the same time. The truth is that things are empty and dreamlike, but this can be another source of attachment. We have to be careful.

5. Rest In The Openness Of Your Mind

The idea of this slogan is that we can rest. We can pull our minds back from everything we are perceiving and thinking about. We can rest in simplicity and non-discursive awareness. This is meditation practice. Not meditating on something, but trying to calm the mind.

Breathe in and breathe out and just follow the breath. We are looking inside ourselves for the peace that we need.

6. After Meditation, Be A Child Of Illusion

Being a child of illusion means that our experience isn’t shaped by our preconceptions and emotional baggage all the time. When we are a child of illusion we just see things as they are, not as we project on them. I think the reason the word child is used has another connotation. It’s about keeping our sense of wonder. Stop once in a while and just look out a window. Just see whatever you see because everything is amazing.

7. Practice Sending And Taking

Tonglen is called the practice of sending and taking. It’s a sitting practice. You sit and visualize inhaling the suffering of others as a black smoke and exhaling a clear blue light. We are imagining that we are taking their suffering into ourselves and returning love and compassion. This helps us to both develop compassion for others and also to loosen our attachment to ourselves.

8. Practice With Three Objects And Three Poisons

This is an elaboration on number 7. We want to expand this tonglen practice. The three objects are three kinds of people. They are described as friends, enemies, and neutrals. The three poisons are attachment, aversion, and ignorance.

Attachment is wanting to own or control things all the time. Aversion is wanting to reject or attack things. Ignorance is when we can’t be bothered or we aren’t interested. So, the three objects inspire the three poisons in us. When one of these poisons arises in our awareness, we can do the tonglen practice. By sending and taking, we can let go of our strong feelings for these things.

9. In All Activities, Train With The Slogans

This reminds us to be as aware as we can, not just during meditation, but all the time. It’s easy to do tonglen practice on the cushion. It’s a little harder to do when we’re out in the world.

10. Begin Practicing With Yourself

This is a reminder that the tonglen practice begins with sending. Sending is often the hardest part. We are wishing for our well being to flow into others.

Posted in lojong

What is Lojong?

Lojong is a set of techniques for training the mind. These techniques are designed to open our hearts and awaken our minds. There are fifty nine slogans and they offer us a lot of help in transcending our egotism and putting down the baggage we are carrying.

The fifty nine slogans have been used by Tibetan Buddhists for centuries in order to help Buddhist practitioners focus on what’s important in our efforts to train and tame our minds. Sometimes on the Buddhist path we can tend to forget why we’re doing this and what’s important.

The important thing about these teachings is that they help us to meet ordinary situations in life with a Bodhisattva state of mind. Lojong really involves making our views more expansive,  cultivating a compassion that includes everyone.

These teachings have been handed down for 8 centuries. Lojong is considered a Mahayana teaching. Vajrayana Buddhism has been so influential on the Buddhism of Tibet that Mahayana teachings sometimes get overlooked. As a practitioner of Mahayana Buddhism, I love delving into teachings like these.

Lojong practice helps me to transform all of the aspects of my life into the path of Enlightenment. It reminds me that there is no separation between the sacred life and ordinary life, between the spiritual and the worldly. It helps me to be less pulled around by my egotism. When we practice lojong even really difficult circumstances can become more workable.

Lojong practice is one of my teachers.

The Lojong slogans are said to come from the great Indian Buddhist teacher Atisha, who received extensive training in bodhicitta and mind training. A Tibetan student of Atisha’s founded the Kadam lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Now Lojong practice is found in all of the major branches of Tibetan Buddhism.

Lojong is a list of 59 slogans that summarize the view and application of Mahayana Buddhism. They provide a way to train our minds through both meditation practice and daily life. The foundation,  as with most Buddhist teachings, is on developing mindfulness and awareness.

With this practice we become more aware of how self-centered our worldview is. We practice to reverse that and have a broader vision, a vision of gentleness and fearless compassion. This way we begin to think of ourselves as part of the world, rather than making enemies of everything all the time. We want to prevent our actions and motivations from being quite so motivated by projections and expectations.

Our practice in ordinary life is based on learning these slogans and being able to remember them when we need them. If we study them diligently, we will find them coming into our minds when we need them.

Lojong teachings can inspire us to live with more gentleness and compassion. They inspire us to transcend the self.

Lojong practice can serve as our basic training on the path of the Bodhisattva.

The Lojong slogans are divided into seven categories. I’ve written about each one as a series here:

Train in the Preliminaries

Training in Bodhicitta

Bad Circumstances are the Path

Make Practice Your Life

Evaluation

Disciplines

Guidelines

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Posted in buddhism, Mahayana

Great Compassion

When we come to see things as they really are, we naturally start to be more compassionate. We begin to develop what’s referred to as Great Compassion. The Bodhisattva Path is sometimes referred to as “Emptiness with a heart of compassion.” Our way of seeing the world, when we begin to understand the true nature of things, becomes rooted in compassion. Once we see things as empty, we stop making enemies out of everything all the time. This makes us feel free, like we can finally be real. We can come to experience a natural state of peacefulness and stability.

 

Posted in bodhisattva

The Bodhisattva

The Bodhisattva is willing to be authentic, willing to get hurt and be sensitive and have a fully exposed heart. A Bodhisattva cooperates with the world instead of making enemies with everything all the time. Bodhisattvas are sometimes called spiritual warriors, described as daring and fearless. On the Bodhisattva path you have to let go of the lies that you tell yourself all the time. You have to put all of your egocentric bullshit aside and face things as they really are. That’s why it’s fearless. When we put that aside we are free to be more genuine and authentic. This path isn’t so much about manifesting Enlightenment as it is about expanding our openness, gentleness, and compassion. But, I suppose when you get down to it that, in itself, is Enlightenment.