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Jan 03, 2012

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” George Orwell

Metaphors can be traps. We can end up taking them too literally. The point of a metaphor is to help us see things more clearly (“time slips through our hands like sand” helps us connect something intangible and abstract, like time, to a physical experience, like sand trickling through our fingers). But sometimes metaphors mislead, and make it harder to see things clearly. The image of the path is one of those metaphors that can potentially trap and mislead us.

The Buddha himself used the image of his teaching being a path. One of his key teachings is the Eightfold Path (aṭṭhaṅgika magga), and in a famous teaching he explained that he …

Jan 17, 2011

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” Martin Luther King Jr.

MLKKing intended these words as a comment on the Vietnam War specifically, and on war generally, but when I hear them I think of more day-to-day concerns, and of the way in which our ideals—the way we want to live our lives—become separated from how we actually live, moment by moment. We may want peace in our lives, but we more often end up with strife.

It seems every close relationship we enter is begun in the future hope of continued shared happiness, intimacy, and joy. And yet if we’re not careful we end up with distance, bitterness, and blame. We’d like to get from point A to point B, but end …

Dec 29, 2010

“Thought is gazing onto the face of life, and reading what can be read.”

buddha faceAt the climax of the 2001 movie Vanilla Sky, Tom Cruise’s character, playboy David Aames, comes to realize that he’s been in suspended animation for 150 years and is trapped in a dream. He makes this discovery on top of an improbably tall building, apparently miles high, with the guidance of Edmund Ventura, a “Support Technician” who is trying to guide him back to waking reality.

Before he entered suspended animation, David had made the decision to awaken from this dream by facing his fear of heights. In order to wake up, he must now leap from the top of the building. Also on the rooftop is someone who …

Nov 11, 2010

Paul Klee: “Everything vanishes around me, and works are born as if out of the void”

paul kleePaul Klee, the famous Swiss/German expressionist painter, may seem to be making an almost mystical claim here — that creativity comes from beyond the conscious mind. I think you’d be right in assuming that creative impulses come from unconscious parts of the mind, but not that this is an exclusively mystical state. In fact, all action ultimately has this quality of coming from “beyond,” but we simply fail to notice this most of the time, because we’re in the grip of the illusion that the conscious mind is “us,” that it owns our actions, and that it’s in control.

When I speak, I’m often aware that my words come …

Oct 20, 2010

“All the elements of nature are interwoven and united with each other.” Gospel of Mary Magdalene

four elementsIn this extract from his new book, Living as a River, Bodhipaksa discusses how we have mistaken views that limit our sense of who we are.

In 1911, a 32-year-old sportsman and daredevil called Calbraith Perry Rodgers, with a scant 60 hours of airtime in his logbook, set off to cross the United States from coast to coast in his specially modified Wright airplane—the first in private ownership. His dream was to win the $50,000 that tycoon publisher William Randolph Hearst was offering to the first person to fly across the continent within 30 days, but Rodgers, as much a canny businessman as an adventurous pioneer, had a financial …

Apr 19, 2010

Rainer Maria Rilke: “Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.”

CaveTo many people, the word “mindfulness” excludes the imagination, but, as Bodhipaksa explains, there are powerful insight practices that involve mindfully imagining our connection to the wider world.

For many years I’ve been practicing a meditation known as the Six Element Practice.

The Six Element Practice is an insight meditation involving reflection on our impermanence and interconnectedness.

For some practitioners of the most common form of “insight meditation” — that taught by S. N. Goenka, and by various teachers of the Insight Meditation Society — the notion of reflecting on our experience in the way that we do in the Six Element practice can seem odd, and even contradictory to what they understand of meditation …

Feb 23, 2010

P.G. Wodehouse: “If you come to think of it, what a queer thing Life is!”

PG WodehouseWe spend much of our time and energy trying to pretend impermanence isn’t real, but the strange thing is that when we embrace impermanence we become happier, Bodhipaksa argues.

Here’s a very “queer thing” about life: sometimes the things that we think will make us miserable actually make us happier. When Professor Eric D. Miller of Kent State University’s Department of Psychology asked people to imagine the death of their partner they reported that they felt more positive about their relationships and less troubled by their significant others’ annoying quirks.

We live in a world marked by constant change and impermanence. The things we love decay and perish. The people we love will pass …

Dec 29, 2009

Marcus Aurelius: “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself…”

Rock in ocean wavesWe can’t choose what happens to us in life, but we can choose how to respond to it. This piece of practical wisdom is found in the Buddhist tradition, but was also a cornerstone of Stoic philosophy. Bodhipaksa explains how we can untangle ourselves from the stories we tell ourselves about our experience.

Marcus Aurelius is my favorite Stoic philosopher. The Stoics, if you’re not familiar with them, were a school of philosophy who started about 300 BCE and who continued teaching until 529 CE, when the Christian emperor Justinian I banned pagan philosophies.

Although we use the word “stoicism” to mean something like to “grin and bear it” or to “suck …

Nov 30, 2009

Barbara Sher: “We are like violins. We can be used for doorstops, or we can make music.”

violinWe all want to be happy, but often we’re not. Bodhipaksa argues that this is because of the way we treat ourselves as a thing that lacks happiness, and happiness as a thing to be grasped.

In a parable in the Buddhist teachings, a king hears the sound of a lute for the first time and asks to see what produced such sweet music. A lute is produced, but the king is not satisfied. He wants to see the music. His ministers say,

“This lute, sire, is made of numerous components, a great many components. It’s through the activity of numerous components that it sounds: that is, in dependence on the body, the skin, the

Sep 21, 2009

John Dewey: “The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.”

John DeweyDewey’s saying echoes Buddhist notions of impermanence and not-self. Bodhipaksa points out that the Buddhist position is not merely descriptive of how things are. Rather it amounts to a technology of happiness — a set of perspectives and tools that allows us to create more deeply fulfilling lives.

One of the most crippling — and often unacknowledged — beliefs we can have in that the self is something fixed and unchanging. When we have the idea that our personalities are set like words carved in stone the possibility of change is closed off to us.

A mountaineering friend of mine once commented that when coming down a hill you were faced with innumerable choices about …