Blaise Pascal: “All of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room”

October 25, 2008

Blaise Pascal Everyone is prey to distractedness, to seeing solace in activity as an escape from experiencing ourselves. In fact this is one of the major obstacles to a meaningful life. Bodhipaksa argues, however, that the force underlying our distractedness is a creative one, and that properly channeled it can take us all the way to enlightenment.

I’ve always been fond of this saying from Pascal’s Pensées, which reminds me that not being at peace with ourselves is a human condition rather than a uniquely modern one. All people at all times have suffered the pains of boredom, self-doubt, loneliness, irritability, restlessness, and anxiety that come from not being at peace with ourselves. I’ve experienced my … Read more »

Jules Petit-Senn: “It’s not what we have that constitutes our abundance, but what we appreciate.”

August 20, 2008

Jules Petit-SennThe words “abundance” and “spirituality” may not seem to go hand in hand but, Bodhipaksa argues, mindfulness, properly seen, is inherently enriching.

Once, on retreat, I was in a discussion group in which we were discussing the metaphors that encapsulated how we saw our spiritual practice. We all had very different ways of seeing what we were trying to do with our lives.

One person thought in terms of becoming a kinder person, shedding compassion like the sun sheds light; another in terms of really seeing how things are. One saw himself as a spiritual warrior; another as a tree taking root, aspiring to provide fruit and shade for other beings. I was impressed both … Read more »

Anaïs Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”

July 24, 2008

Anais NinI sometimes think that my life has proceeded by way of a series of breakdowns and reconstructions. Such episodes haven’t exactly been frequent in my life, but they have represented important turning points. There have been three times I can recall where I’ve hit emotional bottom, learned something important about myself, and found a release that led to significant growth taking place.

In each case there had been a long period of holding on to some pattern that had been causing me pain (usually unacknowledged). I’d been a tightly-closed bud. This was followed by a catalyzing event (in each case it involved being on retreat) in which I became fully aware of the pain I’d … Read more »

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “If one is estranged from oneself, then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others…”

June 23, 2008

Anne Morrow LindberghLindbergh’s comment reminds me that being fully aware of others involves awareness of oneself. There’s nothing particularly mystical about this — it’s just a question of psychology and neurophysiology. And without this awareness of oneself, friendship is simply impossible.

On a psychological level, next time you’re interacting with someone, pay attention to what’s happening on a gut level. You’ll notice that there are sensations in the body, mostly focused on the abdomen, that arise in response to the other person. In Buddhist terminology these are vedanas, which are often translated as “feelings.” Vedanas are not emotions, but are a basic response to perceptions. These responses are traditionally categorized as pleasurable, uncomfortable, or neutral.

Have … Read more »

Emo Philips: “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.”

May 19, 2008

Emo PhilipsGiven that it’s the mind that makes up the stories with which we try to make sense of the world, perhaps it’s not surprising that the mind tells us the story that it is the most important part of ourselves.

We think of ourselves as distinguished from other animals by our thinking. When we think about what makes us uniquely us (as opposed to another individual human being) we often point to our memories — another brain function. And that’s all, in some sense, true. Our thinking faculties are well-developed compared to other animals. But often we seem to over-privilege our thinking, and even lose touch with other aspects of ourselves. People often confuse, for … Read more »

Aldous Huxley: “Uncontrolled, the hunger and thirst after God may become an obstacle…”

April 10, 2008

Aldous HuxleyIf meditation practice leads to the cessation of desire, then how are we to pursue spiritual goals? Are there good and bad kinds of desire? Can desire be spiritually helpful? Bodhipaksa explores a saying by Aldous Huxley in an attempt to shed some light.

“Uncontrolled, the hunger and thirst after God may become an obstacle, cutting off the soul from what it desires. If a man would travel far along the mystic road, he must learn to desire God intensely but in stillness, passively and yet with all his heart and mind and strength.” – Aldous Huxley

When an American university asked me to give a talk on Buddhism and mysticism I was, well, mystified. … Read more »

Søren Kierkegaard: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

March 24, 2008

kierkegaardHow do we find inner peace? How do we learn to overcome inner conflict? What is the guiding principle of our lives? Bodhipaksa takes a saying by the 19th century Danish theologian and philosopher, Kierkegaard, and looks at the Buddhist perspective on “willing one thing.”

“Purity of heart is to will one thing.”
– Søren Kierkegaard

This saying by Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish theologian and philosopher, suggests that a mind divided is a mind unable to be at peace with itself. When we desire contradictory ends there is no chance for the mind to find harmony; always there is inner strife, conflict, and confusion. When the mind pulls in two directions at once we … Read more »

Antoine de Saint Exupéry: “No single event can awaken within us a stranger whose existence we had never suspected.”

February 22, 2008

A common misquotation of a saying by a famous French writer gives Bodhipaksa pause for thought: are both the misquotation and the original saying true, even if they’re saying opposite things?

“No single event can awaken within us a stranger whose existence we had never suspected. To live is to be slowly born.”
— Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1900-1944).

Antoine de Saint Exupéry was a famous French aviator and writer who most notably wrote the children’s fable, The Little Prince and who died when his plane crashed in the Mediterranean while on an Allied surveillance mission over France. His writings are deeply philosophical, poetic, and charming.

Interestingly, this quotation from his memoir, Pilote de GuerreRead more »

Muhammad Ali: “Children make you want to start life over.”

January 29, 2008

Muhammad Ali Probably all of us have looked at a child and wished we could start our lives over again. We can’t erase the past, but can we find a way to start over? Bodhipaksa, Buddhist practitioner of 25 years and a parent for one year, looks at the art of starting afresh.

I find something touching in the image of Ali, a giant of a man whose career involved a brutally physical sport, looking at a the joy and innocence of a child and wishing to start life over again.

I’m sure we’ve all had those thoughts — “Wouldn’t it be great if I could go back and erase that error? Wouldn’t it be great if … Read more »

Krishnamurti: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

December 28, 2007

krishnamurtiI once had a disturbed young man come to a meditation class I was teaching in Edinburgh. As we’d gathered and during the meditation instruction I’d noticed that he was unusually intense and that he had noticeably poor personal hygiene, but in most ways he seemed like a fairly typical young man.

In the discussion following, however, his conversation started to veer off into more bizarre areas. He’d had “cosmic” experiences during the meditation session — experiences whose details I no longer recall but which sounded very off-balance. His girlfriend was apparently an Iranian princess. He was being shadowed by various security forces. Later still, as we were winding up and preparing to leave, and … Read more »