Sep 03, 2013
Given that I’m a meditation teacher and the author of a good number of books and audiobooks on meditation, you might think that meditation should be the central thing in my life. But — and this is something I only just realized — it’s not.
I’ve carried around, not very consciously, the idea that meditation should be the most important, the most central, thing in my life. And I suspect that this mostly unconscious idea has led to inner conflict and resistance. Certainly, when I realized just the other day that meditation wasn’t and shouldn’t be the central thing in my life, I felt unburdened. I felt lighter, freer, and clearer. The …
Jul 20, 2013
A little under two years ago I was on a retreat with other members of the Triratna Buddhist Order, which I’ve been a member of since 1993. We were discussing the visualization meditation practices we were each given at the time of our ordination.
At the time of my own ordination, the practice I had requested and was formally given — the visualization of Padmasambhava — was described as being my orientation toward enlightenment. The visualized form of Padmasambhava — a red-robed figure with a trident and skull cup overflowing with the nectar of immortality — embodied my personal connection with awakening.
“Enlightenment” can be a rather abstract concept. How can we …
Jun 26, 2013
I learned meditation from many people, the first of whom was a man called Susiddhi, another Scot, who was teaching at the Glasgow Buddhist Centre in Scotland. And now that I think about it, I am very grateful for what he taught me, and I’m grateful to the many other teachers I learned from, who often taught each other. This process of teachings being passed on isn’t a linear process of teacher to student. Teachers are also students of each other. …
Jun 25, 2013
The Buddha, in Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s translation at least, said, “A person of integrity is grateful and thankful.” This is one of those thoughts that I’m profoundly grateful for because I don’t think it would ever have occurred to me. Yet searching the web for the terms “gratitude” and “integrity” brought me to an interesting book, The Gratitude Factor: Enhancing Your Life Through Grateful Living, by Charles M. Shelton.
Shelton explores this theme of integrity and gratitude. He distinguishes between thankfulness (which involves being appreciative of some specific person or thing) and gratitude (which is a deeper and more pervasive attitude to life consisting of being grateful not just …
May 26, 2013
I’ve often written about how experiencing compassion for ourselves can naturally spill over to experiencing compassion for other people. When someone says something that you find hurtful, that hurt is a form of suffering. Often what we do is try to become angry, ultimately in an effort to rid of the “cause” of the suffering (the other person) and thus remove the hurt. This is a kind of double aversion, because not only are we experiencing aversion to the person whose words gave rise to the feeling of hurt, but we’re turning away from the hurt itself.
A compassionate approach to dealing with hurt, on the other hand, is to …
May 14, 2013
Chogyam Trungpa borrowed from Gurdjieff the very useful notion of “idiot compassion.” Gurdjieff, a rather fascinating spiritual teacher of the early to mid-20th century, had said that we are all idiots of one kind or another, and his extensive lists of the various types of idiots included “the compassionate idiot.”
Compassion is wishing that beings be free from suffering. Idiot compassion is avoiding conflict, letting people walk all over you, not giving people a hard time when actually they need to be given a hard time. It’s “being nice,” or “being good.”
It’s not compassion at all. It ends up causing us pain, and it ends up causing others …
May 09, 2013
I’ve had more people asking me about the “near enemy” of compassion. So here goes…
The “near enemy” is, by definition, something you might confuse with compassion. You might think you were cultivating compassion but were actually cultivating something else, in the same way that you might water and care for a weed, thinking it’s a useful plant. The “far enemy” is quite straightforward. It’s cruelty, or indifference to suffering, which is just the direct opposite of compassion. That’s easy to understand. But what is compassion’s “near enemy”?
People often use the word “pity” to describe the near enemy, but the traditional commentaries use the word “grief.” Compassion is also …
Apr 04, 2013
“No man chooses evil, because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.” Mary Wollstonecraft
Wollstonecraft’s words encapsulate perfectly something I’ve long held, which is that the Buddhist view of greed, hatred, and delusion — often called the Three Unwholesome Roots (akusala mūla) — is far removed from the western conception of sin.
Sin is “bad.” It’s “evil.” It’s a transgression against the Divine law.
When we encounter the Buddhist teaching of the Three Unwholesome Roots, it’s easy to slip it into the sin-shaped space that exists in our minds. But the Buddha’s understanding of these roots is wholly different from how sin is understood, and we need to disentangle the two sets of concepts in our own minds.
Here’s something that when you think about it is rather …
Mar 31, 2013
For at least a couple of weeks now I’ve felt that I’ve been “going through the motions” with my meditation practice. I’m still a rock-solid daily meditator. I still remind myself “I meditate every day; it’s just what I do; it’s part of who I am.” But sometimes my sits have been shorter and squeezed in at the end of the day.
It has, though, been a tough few weeks. My wife was sick, both kids have been repeatedly ill — one with pneumonia. That’s interrupted my sleep, so that I’m more tired than usual. Work’s been challenging as well. These things take a toll.
Sometimes I’ve …
Mar 28, 2013
The other day I posted some commentary on a study showing that mindfulness practice improved students’ working memory and boosted their grades by 16% in just two weeks.
Yay, for meditation! You’d think Buddhists would generally be happy to see that their practices can be shown to be effective. But not everyone’s happy about this. On one of the social media networks, someone criticized the study as “misuse of Dhamma” because meditation is being used for to “make people continue the usual [worldly] ways.”
Furthermore, I was told the “The Buddha even did not teach meditation to ordinary laymen.”
So there are two things here: the use of meditation for “worldly” ends (as …