Buddhism

How to live without causing fear

We evolved to be afraid.

The ancient ancestors that were casual and blithely hopeful, underestimating the risks around them – predators, loss of food, aggression from others of their kind – did not pass on their genes. But the ones that were nervous were very successful – and we are their great-grandchildren, sitting atop the food chain.

Consequently, multiple hair-trigger systems in your brain continually scan for threats. At the least whiff of danger – which these days comes mainly in the form of social hazards like indifference, criticism, rejection, or disrespect – alarm bells start ringing. See a frown across a dinner table, hear a cold tone from a supervisor, get interrupted repeatedly, receive an indifferent shrug from a partner, watch your teenager turn her back and walk away . . . and your heart starts beating faster, stress hormones course through your veins, emotions well up, thoughts race, and the machinery of fighting, fleeing, freezing, or appeasing kicks into high gear.

The same thing happens in the other direction: when you send out any signal that others find even subtly threatening, their inner iguana gets going. That makes them suffer. Plus it prompts negative reactions from them, such as defensiveness, withdrawal, counter-attacks, grudges, dislike, or enlisting their allies against you.

Thus the kindness and the practical wisdom in the traditional saying, “Give no one cause to fear you.”

You can – and should – be direct, firm, and assertive. Without needing to fear you, others should expect that if they break their agreements with you or otherwise mistreat you, there will be consequences: you reserve the right to speak up, call a spade a spade, step back in the relationship if need be, take away the privileges of a misbehaving child or the job of a dishonest employee, and so on. But this is simply clarity. Rocks are hard; you don’t need to fear rocks to take their hardness into account: I know this as an aging rock climber!

Much of the time the fear – the anxiety, apprehension, unease – we trigger in others is mild, diffuse, in the background, maybe not even consciously experienced. But studies show that people can feel threatened by stimuli they’re not actually aware of. Think of the little bits of irritation, caustic tone, edginess, superiority, pushiness, nagging, argumentativeness, eye rolls, sighs, rapid fire talk, snarkiness, demands, high-handedness, righteousness, sharp questions, or put downs that can leak out of a person – and how these can affect others. Consider how few of these are necessary, if any at all – and the mounting costs of the fears we needlessly engender in others.

Think of the benefits to you and others of them feeling safer, calmer, and more at peace around you.

Assert yourself for the things that matter to you. If you are sticking up for yourself and getting your needs met, you won’t be as likely to get reactive with others.

Appreciate that the caveman or cavewoman brain inside the head of the person you’re talking with is automatically primed to fear you, no matter how respectful or loving you’ve been. So do little things to prevent needless fears, like starting an interaction by expressing whatever warmth, joining, and positive intentions are authentic for you. Be self-disclosing, straightforward, unguarded. Come with an open hand, weaponless.

As you can, stay calm in your body. Get revved up, and that signals others that something bad could be coming.

Slow down. Fast talk, rapid instructions or questions, and quick movements can rattle or overwhelm others. Sudden events in our ancient past were often the beginning of a potentially lethal attack.

Be careful with anger. Any whiff of anger makes others feel threatened. For example, a crowded and noisy restaurant will suddenly get quiet if an angry voice is heard, since anger within a band of primates or early humans was a major threat signal.

Consider your words and tone. For example, sometimes you’ll need to name possible consequences – but watch out, since it’s easy for others to hear a threat, veiled or explicit, and then quietly go to war with you in their mind.

Give the other person breathing room, space to talk freely, a chance to preserve his or her pride and dignity.

Be trustworthy yourself, so that others do not fear that you will let them down.

Be at peace. Know that you have done what you can to help prevent or reduce fears in others. Observe and take in the benefits to you – such as others who feel safer around you give you less cause to fear them.

Read More

Hug your inner monkey!

Monkey looking in a mirror

To simplify a complex process, your brain evolved in three stages:

  • Reptile – Brainstem, focused on avoiding harm
  • Mammal – Limbic system, focused on approaching rewards
  • Primate – Cortex, focused on attaching to “us”

This post is about weaving the sense of being included and loved into the primate cerebral cortex.

In ancient times, membership in a band was critical to survival: exile was a death sentence in the Serengeti. Today, feeling understood, valued, and cherished – whether as a child or an adult, and with regard to another person or to a group – may not be a life and death matter (though studies do show that survival rates for cancer and other major illnesses are improved with social support), but it certainly affects one’s happiness and effectiveness.

Unfortunately, many of us have encountered significant shortfalls of incoming empathy, recognition, and nurturance – or experienced wounds of abandonment, rejection, abuse, dismissal, or shaming.

Therefore, both to satisfy an innate human need for connection and to remedy old pain, it’s important to “hug the monkey” (an admittedly goofy phrase) inside yourself and thus absorb in one form or another that most fundamental human sustenance: love.

How?
Try to routinely get a basic sense of feeling cared about. Basically, imagine being in the presence of someone you know wishes you well; it could be a human, pet, or spiritual being, and in your life today or from your past; the relationship doesn’t need to be perfect as long as you matter to this person in some way, such as liking, appreciating, or loving you. Then, based on the fact that this person does care about you, open to feeling cared about in your body, heart, and mind. Savor this experience and really take it in. Help it sink down into you, all the way down into young, tender layers of your psyche . . . and really far down into those ancient primate parts in you and everyone else that desperately need to feel bonded with others, included in the band, recognized, and valued.

Next, get a sense of your own caring nature. Think of someone you naturally care for, and explore what caring feels like in your body, emotions, thoughts, and inclinations toward action. In the same way, explore related experiences, such as being warm, friendly, affectionate, nurturing, encouraging, protective, acknowledging, or loving. Here too, really know and take in the sense of what it is like for you to “hug the monkey” in other people.

Now imagine a “caring committee” inside yourself that is involved with caring both for others – and for yourself. My own committee includes the plump fairy godmother in Sleeping Beauty, an internalized sense of my parents and others who’ve loved me, spiritual teachers, Gandalf, and tough-but-kind coaches on my journey through life.

Who (or what?!) is on your own committee? And how powerful is this committee in terms of caring for you compared to other forces inside your own mind? Since the brain is a giant network with many nodes, the psyche has many parts. These parts often coalesce into three well-known clusters: inner child, critical parent, nurturing parent. (Another way of describing these three clusters is: vulnerable self, attacker, protector.)

In most people, the inner nurturer-protector-encourager is much weaker than the inner critic-pusher-attacker. So we need to build up the caring committee by frequently taking in [link] experiences of feeling cared about – and then to call on and listen to this committee!

So – get a sense of parts within you that want to feel seen, included, appreciated, wanted, respected, liked, cherished, and loved. Everyone has these parts. They often feel young, soft, or vulnerable. As you open to hearing from them, notice any dismissal of them, or minimizing of their needs, or even disdain or shaming. Ask your caring committee to stick up for these parts, and to tell them their longings are normal and healthy.

Imagine your caring committee soothing very young parts of yourself … praising and delighting in older parts of you … offering perspective and wisdom about tough experiences you’ve had … reminding you of your truly good qualities … pulling for the expression of the best in you … hugging you, hugging those soft longing parts inside you, giving them what they need … and feeling down to the soft furry little sweet monkey inside you and every human being, holding and loving and hugging it.

And meanwhile, your young, yearning, vulnerable, or bruised parts – and even your inner monkey – can feel that they are receiving what they’ve always needed, what everyone needs: recognition, inclusion, respect, and love.

Read More

At a crossroads: Buddhism in America is facing a generation shift

Rachel Zoll: Crosses still adorn one wall of this former Roman Catholic monastery, but a 6-foot golden Buddha now anchors the main room. The meditation hall, also used as a meeting space, is where the luminaries of Buddhism in the West recently gathered to debate.

The issue they were facing had been percolating for years on blogs, in Buddhist magazines and on the sidelines of spiritual retreats. It often played out as a clash of elders versus young people, the preservers of spiritual depth versus the alleged purveyors of “Buddhism-lite.” Organizers of the Read the rest of this article…

Read More

Is meditation a religion?

With 100,000 people in Washington this week for a major meditative Buddhist ceremony, a question arises: Is meditation a religion?

As On Faith explored last week, millions in the West, including many Kalachakra participants, have adapted Buddhist practices such as mindfulness, meditation or study of the Dalai Lama’s teachings, without taking on the full trappings of orthodox Tibetan Buddhism.

And meditation is booming in this country. The National Institutes of Health’s most recent data shows 9.4 percent of Americans meditated in the last year. That’s up from 7.6 percent five years earlier.

One of the region’s biggest meditation groups, the Insight Meditation…

Read the rest of this article…

Read More

Why I call myself a Buddhist

Figure with weird bulging eyes, from a Tibetan thangka painting.

When I became a Mitra (friend) of the Triratna Buddhist Community earlier this year, I was surprised by the surprise of my non-Buddhist friends. They seemed aggrieved.

This was the general message:

‘We know you’ve benefited from meditation, and going on silent retreats. Although that’s not our idea of a holiday, we’re pleased for you. But why spoil everything by espousing a weird Eastern religion? Can’t you keep it secular? And if you have to be religious (though God knows why) can’t you stick to your own? OK, maybe not the Church. But what’s wrong with the Quakers? They sit in silence and meditate, don’t they?’

Fair enough questions. And I tried to answer them. I talked about the value of meditation, the common sense of the precepts. I talked about enjoying chanting, and finding ritual moving.

This was all true. But my explanation, even as I gave it, struck me as just so much hot air. After a lot of apologetic shrugs at dinner tables and in cafes, I realised that my decision to become a Mitra hadn’t been ‘thought through’ at all.

The commitments involved in becoming a Mitra – coming out as a Buddhist, promising to live by the precepts and choosing the Triratna Buddhist community as my spiritual home – didn’t feel like things I had ‘decided’ on.

Rather, all my experiences within the Triratna Buddhist Community had added up and reached a tipping point. I suddenly felt ‘at home’ with it all.

By experiences, I mean acts of kindness I’ve felt and witnessed. I mean the teachings of Order Members and the warmth or sometimes lacerating sharpness with which those teachings are delivered. I mean stuff I read in Buddhist books that speaks directly to personal problems I didn’t realise anyone else had. I mean the intimacy of joined voices reciting the seven-fold puja (one of the core rituals in the Triratna Buddhist Community) and the hypnotic beauty of the Heart Sutra, the poem at its core. I mean the pregnant sense of strangeness and mystery that often suffuses me when I sit in silence with myself or with others, at home, at Leeds Buddhist Centre, or on early morning meditations on retreat where you enter the shrine room in the dark, meditate while dawn gathers, and step out utterly and completely in the day.

I can no more justify or quantify this than I can tell you why somebody falls in love with one person – perhaps a person from a different background – and not another. My Mitra ceremony felt like a kind of marriage. Most marriages go through rocky patches, I know. I’m going through one even as I write this, not having meditated for a fortnight. But Buddhist practice gives me a home to come back to, a structure to see my struggles in the context of. That’s why I was happy to say ‘I do.’

Read More

Why do ancient Buddhist beliefs overlap so strongly with those of neuroscience?

Over the last few decades many Buddhists and quite a few neuroscientists have examined Buddhism and neuroscience, with both groups reporting overlap. I’m sorry to say I have been privately dismissive. One hears this sort of thing all the time, from any religion, and I was sure in this case it would break down upon closer scrutiny. When a scientific discovery seems to support any religious teaching, you can expect members of that religion to become strict empiricists, telling themselves and the world that their belief is grounded in reality. They are always less happy to accept scientific data they feel contradicts their preconceived beliefs. No surprise here; no human likes to be wrong.

But science isn’t supposed to care about preconceived notions. Science, at least good science, tells us about the world as it is, not as some wish it to be. Sometimes what science finds is consistent with a particular religion’s wishes. But usually not.

Despite my doubts, neurology and neuroscience do not appear to profoundly contradict Buddhist thought. Neuroscience tells us the thing we take as our unified mind is an illusion….

Read the rest of this article…

, that our mind is not unified and can barely be said to “exist” at all. Our feeling of unity and control is a post-hoc confabulation and is easily fractured into separate parts. As revealed by scientific inquiry, what we call a mind (or a self, or a soul) is actually something that changes so much and is so uncertain that our pre-scientific language struggles to find meaning.

Buddhists say pretty much the same thing. They believe in an impermanent and illusory self made of shifting parts. They’ve even come up with language to address the problem between perception and belief. Their word for self is anatta, which is usually translated as ‘non self.’ One might try to refer to the self, but the word cleverly reminds one’s self that there is no such thing.

When considering a Buddhist contemplating his soul, one is immediately struck by a disconnect between religious teaching and perception. While meditating in the temple, the self is an illusion. But when the Buddhist goes shopping he feels like we all do: unified, in control, and unchanged from moment to moment. The way things feel becomes suspect. And that’s pretty close to what neurologists deal with every day, like the case of Mr. Logosh.

Mr. Logosh was 37 years old when he suffered a stroke. It was a month after knee surgery and we never found a real reason other than trivially high cholesterol and smoking. Sometimes medicine is like that: bad things happen, seemingly without sufficient reasons. In the ER I found him aphasic, able to understand perfectly but unable to get a single word out, and with no movement of the right face, arm, and leg. We gave him the only treatment available for stroke, tissue plasminogen activator, but there was no improvement. He went to the ICU unchanged. A follow up CT scan showed that the dead brain tissue had filled up with blood. As the body digested the dead brain tissue, later scans showed a large hole in the left hemisphere.

Although I despaired, I comforted myself by looking at the overlying cortex. Here the damage was minimal and many neurons still survived. Still, I mostly despaired. It is a tragedy for an 80-year-old to spend life’s remainder as an aphasic hemiplegic. The tragedy grows when a young man looks towards decades of mute immobility. But you can never tell with early brain injuries to the young. I was yoked to optimism. After all, I’d treated him.

The next day Mr. Logosh woke up and started talking. Not much at first, just ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ Then ‘water,’ ‘thanks,’ ‘sure,’ and ‘me.’ We eventually sent him to rehab, barely able to speak, still able to understand.

One year later he came back to the office with an odd request. He was applying to become a driver and needed my clearance, which was a formality. He walked with only a slight limp, his right foot a bit unsure of itself. His voice had a slight hitch, as though he were choosing his words carefully.

When we consider our language, it seems unified and indivisible. We hear a word, attach meaning to it, and use other words to reply. It’s effortless. It seems part of the same unified language sphere. How easily we are tricked! Mr. Logosh shows us that unity of language is an illusion. The seeming unity of language is really the work of different parts of the brain, which shift and change over time, and which fracture into receptive and expressive parts.

Consider how easily Buddhism accepts what happened to Mr. Logosh. Anatta is not a unified, unchanging self. It is more like a concert, constantly changing emotions, perceptions, and thoughts. Our minds are fragmented and impermanent. A change occurred in the band, so it follows that one expects a change in the music.

Both Buddhism and neuroscience converge on a similar point of view: The way it feels isn’t how it is. There is no permanent, constant soul in the background. Even our language about ourselves is to be distrusted (requiring the tortured negation of anatta). In the broadest strokes then, neuroscience and Buddhism agree.

How did Buddhism get so much right? I speak here as an outsider, but it seems to me that Buddhism started with a bit of empiricism. Perhaps the founders of Buddhism were pre-scientific, but they did use empirical data. They noted the natural world: the sun sets, the wind blows into a field, one insect eats another. There is constant change, shifting parts, and impermanence. They called this impermanence anicca, and it forms a central dogma of Buddhism.

This seems appropriate as far as the natural world is concerned. Buddhists don’t apply this notion to mathematical truths or moral certainties, but sometimes, cleverly, apply it to their own dogmas. Buddhism has had millennia to work out seeming contradictions, and it is only someone who was not indoctrinated who finds any of it strange. (Or at least any stranger than, say, believing God literally breathed a soul into the first human.)

Early on, Buddhism grasped the nature of worldly change and divided parts, and then applied it to the human mind. The key step was overcoming egocentrism and recognizing the connection between the world and humans. We are part of the natural world; its processes apply themselves equally to rocks, trees, insects, and humans. Perhaps building on its heritage, early Buddhism simply did not allow room for human exceptionalism.

I should note my refusal to accept that they simply got this much right by accident, which I find improbable. Why would accident bring them to such a counterintuitive belief? Truth from subjective religious rapture is also highly suspect. Firstly, those who enter religious raptures tend to see what they already know. Secondly, if the self is an illusion, then aren’t subjective insights from meditation illusory as well?

I don’t mean to dismiss or gloss over the areas where Buddhism and neuroscience diverge. Some Buddhist dogmas deviate from what we know about the brain. Buddhism posits an immaterial thing that survives the brain’s death and is reincarnated. After a person’s death, the consciousness reincarnates. If you buy into the idea of a constantly changing immaterial soul, this isn’t as tricky and insane as it seems to the non-indoctrinated. During life, consciousness changes as mental states replace one another, so each moment can be considered a reincarnation from the moment before. The waves lap, the sand shifts. If you’re good, they might one day lap upon a nicer beach, a higher plane of existence. If you’re not, well, someone’s waves need to supply the baseline awareness of insects, worms, and other creepy-crawlies.

The problem is that there’s no evidence for an immaterial thing that gets reincarnated after death. In fact, there’s even evidence against it. Reincarnation would require an entity (even the vague, impermanent one called anatta) to exist independently of brain function. But brain function has been so closely tied to every mental function (every bit of consciousness, perception, emotion, everything self and non-self about you) that there appears to be no remainder. Reincarnation is not a trivial part of most forms of Buddhism. For example, the Dalai Lama’s followers chose him because they believe him to be the living reincarnation of a long line of respected teachers.

Why have the dominant Western religious traditions gotten their permanent, independent souls so wrong? Taking note of change was not limited to Buddhism. The same sort of thinking pops up in Western thought as well. The pre-Socratic Heraclitus said, “Nothing endures but change.” But that observation didn’t really go anywhere. It wasn’t adopted by monotheistic religions or held up as a central natural truth. Instead, pure Platonic ideals won out, perhaps because they seemed more divine.

Western thought is hardly monolithic or simple, but monotheistic religions made a simple misstep when they didn’t apply naturalism to themselves and their notions of their souls. Time and again, their prominent scholars and philosophers rendered the human soul exceptional and otherworldly, falsely elevating our species above and beyond nature. We see the effects today. When Judeo-Christian belief conflicts with science, it nearly always concerns science removing humans from a putative pedestal, a central place in creation. Yet science has shown us that we reside on the fringes of our galaxy, which itself doesn’t seem to hold a particularly precious location in the universe. Our species came from common ape-like ancestors, many of which in all likelihood possessed brains capable of experiencing and manifesting some of our most precious “human” sentiments and traits. Our own brains produce the thing we call a mind, which is not a soul. Human exceptionalism increasingly seems a vain fantasy. In its modest rejection of that vanity, Buddhism exhibits less error and less original sin, this one of pride.

How well will any religion apply the lessons of neuroscience to the soul? Mr. Logosh, like every person who’s brain lesion changes their mind, challenges the Western religions. An immaterial soul cannot easily account for even a stroke associated with aphasia. Will monotheistic religions change their idea of the soul to accommodate data? Will they even try? It is doubtful. The rigid human exceptionalism is cemented firmly into dogma.

Will Buddhists allow neuroscience to render their idea of reincarnation obsolete? This is akin to asking if the Dalai Lama and his followers will decide he’s only the symbolic reincarnation of past teachers. This is also doubtful, but Buddhism’s first steps at least made it possible. Unrelated to neuroscience and neurology, in 1969 the Dalai Lama said his “office was an institution created to benefit others. It is possible that it will soon have outlived its usefulness.” Impermanence and shifting parts entail constant change, so perhaps it is no surprise that he’s lately said he may choose the next office holder before his death.

Buddhism’s success was to apply the world’s impermanence to humans and their souls. The results have carried this religion from ancient antiquity into modernity, an impressive distance. With no fear of impermanent beliefs or constant change, how far will they go?

Read More

“Rebel Buddha” giveaway

We have a copy of Ponlop Rinpoche’s Rebel Buddha to give away! All you have to do is to comment below, telling us which article in Wildmind you most appreciate, and why. (Please do supply a link to, or at least the title of, the article you’re nominating).

The competition is open to anyone, world-wide, and the winner will be chosen at random on December 12.

Rebel Buddha is an exploration of what it means to be free and how it is that we can become free.

Although we may vote for the head of our government, marry for love, and worship the divine or mundane powers of our choice, most of us don’t really feel free in our day-to-day lives. When we talk about freedom, we’re also talking about its opposite — bondage, lack of independence, being subject to the control of something or someone outside ourselves. No one likes it, and when we find ourselves in that situation, we quickly start trying to figure out a way around it.

Any restriction on our “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” arouses fierce resistance. When our happiness and freedom are at stake, we become capable of transforming ourselves into rebels.

To get an idea of what the book’s like, check out these extracts, published here on Wildmind:

Meditation: Catch and release
Born to be free
Relationships: your emotional signature

Read More

“The Three Commitments: Walking the Path of Liberation,” by Pema Chödrön

The Three Commitments

It has taken me an age to write this, and I have only just realized why.

Pema delivers such ‘big’ ideas and concepts – and often all in the same breath! It has taken quite a few listens. Also, the opportunity to review The Three Commitments arrived when I was creating an event called ‘White Night – What is Enlightenment?’ for Brighton Buddhist Centre, tending to an allotment (community garden), and producing a BBC documentary series, as well as a short stint at Buddhafield. Listening to Pema became a multitasking affair – either while driving or whilst making decorations with my friends for White Night, while it really should have been a pen-and-paper, full-attention type of affair and is probably something I will revisit.

Title: The Three Commitments: Walking the Path of Liberation
Author: Pema Chödrön
Publisher: Sounds True
ISBN: 978-1-59179-775-3
Format: 7 CDs (7 hours, 45 minutes), 1 Study guide (14 pages)
Available from: Sounds True, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Pema Chödrön is an American born Tibetan Buddhist nun, who has authored several books including The Places That Scare You and The Wisdom of No Escape. She is resident teacher at Gampo Abbey monastery in Nova Scotia.

The Three Commitments consists of 7 CDs (7 hours, 45 minutes) and 1 Study guide (14 pages). With The Three Commitments, Pema Chödrön brings her unique blend of authentic insight with informal and accessible instruction to guide the listener through each of these vows.

  • The Pratimoksha vows–how we can find personal liberation through the inner work of letting go
  • The Bodhisattva vows–the way of genuine and compassionate service to others
  • The Tantric vows–how to accept impermanence with true equanimity and touch the underlying stillness from which all worldly forms arise

As Pema explains, suffering arises when we resist the law of impermanence—the fact that everything we know, including ourselves, will one day die. Here she provides teachings and practices for fully embracing life’s ephemeral nature using these three traditional monastic vows, or “commitments.”

She makes it all sound so easy, but in a good way! She talks from first hand experience; her authentic voice helps listeners discover how each of these sacred vows is not a burden or restriction but a guiding beacon on the path of liberation. The dharma can easily overwhelm me, but Pema keeps it real with humour and personal stories.

So what have I taken from listening to The Three Commitments and this search for ‘What is Enlightenment?’ Well, the question as to whether I ‘believe’ in “Enlightenment” plays on my mind, but I do want to ‘let go’ and accept that being human is ambiguous, uncertain and groundless and I know I will find peace. A starting point is, as Pema states “When you take a vow, it sows a seed in the mind and heart that never goes away.”

As much as this sounds quite simple, there is much work to do on this path, Pema says “It’s like someone played a joke on us, and programmed us the wrong way,” we have a huge task on our hands, but as Pema states “Life is dynamic and fresh…so enjoy it!”

Read More

Footballers’ wives, prime ministers, lawsuits, and spiritual meditation

Every so often a new celebrity turns to meditation in a time of crisis. It’s Cheryl Cole’s turn apparently, according to numerous news sources, who all appear to be recycling an interview in Vogue. Now Magazine, for example, quotes Cole as saying:

‘Recently I’ve been trying meditation,’ she tells Vogue, ‘but I can’t really seem to get it. My mother does it, and I really think that actually may be the way forward for me, but the thoughts keep coming in. Always. How do you stop them coming in?’

It’s a common problem.

Who is Cheryl Cole? Apparently she’s married to a football player and has been on TV. We’ve never heard of her, but wish her well, and hope she sticks at her practice in the same way Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has. He’s quoted as saying:

I started [meditation] about two, three years ago when Ng Kok Song, the Chief Investment Officer of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, I knew he was doing meditation. His wife had died but he was completely serene. So, I said, how do you achieve this? He said I meditate everyday and so did my wife and when she was dying of cancer, she was totally serene because she meditated everyday and he gave me a video of her in her last few weeks completely composed completely relaxed and she and him had been meditating for years. Well, I said to him, you teach me.

The meditation practice Lee Kuan Yew was taught is a form of Christian Mantra (maranatha).

With all this interest brewing, you’d think meditation would be welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately the Justice Department has had to file suit against the town of Walnut, California, because of the town’s six-year long obstruction of the building of a Zen Center over technicalities, while it simultaneously allowed other religious and secular groups to go ahead with building projects, overriding the same technicalities.

Meanwhile, Ed Halliwell in The Guardian gives a much-needed reminder that meditation is not just a “therapy” to help us deal with traumatic emotional events or to promote health. He notes that he has “become more content because meditation has enriched [his] life through opening [him] up to a sense of deepened meaning.” He doesn’t disparage the more secular applications of meditation. In fact he has written about them extensively, and he rightly sees them as a “way in” to a more spiritual perspective: “While some people may be drawn to practise through the scientific promise of betterment, they may end up finding that once they’ve got started, the path is far more interesting than that.”

Let’s ask Cheryl Cole in a few years…

Read More

A Slow, True Path

This beautiful post came into my e-mail recently. It’s a wonderfully simple and clear exposition of the Buddhist view of life. Or maybe it just happens to coincide with my own. In any case, I thought I’d share it in the hope that might resonate for some of you as well.


A Slow, True Path
Pamela White affirms the beliefs of a Buddhist.

THIS I BELIEVE: That phenomena do not have any kind of demonstrable, intrinsic existence. That anything that is the composite sum of other parts is, logically, impermanent. That suffering is a given in any form of existence where confusion and ignorance are present. That when confusion and ignorance have been definitively eliminated, and goodness, caring, and wisdom have entirely taken their place, that is true happiness.

These four beliefs define me as a Buddhist and are the ground on which other beliefs are based. For example, I believe the teachings when they point to ego, to self-cherishing, to always being on the lookout for recognition, approval, comfort, and pleasure, as being so many hammers that fatally pound in the barbed nails of suffering. And I believed my teacher, the late great Tibetan master Gendun Rinpoche, when he answered my mother’s question saying, “Yes, if you attain enlightenment you’ll know it. How? Because suffering will have come to an end.”

The Buddhist teachers and teachings I’ve been taken with have encouraged me to honestly investigate, question, and delve. And time after time, I’ve had to concur: Trying to build happiness on a foundation of ego is like trying to build a tower on quicksand. But letting go—oh, letting go—is the simplest, most direct path to what I’m always scrambling to achieve with the most ineffectual, hackneyed methods— like crowing about being right, or trying to get something for nothing, or choosing the shortest line, or getting the biggest peanut butter cookie. . .

What do I train in letting go of? Not enthusiasm, or humor, or creativity, or curiosity. I train in letting go of selfimportance and its infinite ramifications. Not that it’s easy. I am the most important thing in my universe—take me out of it, what’s left?

How do I train?

I try to remember that every living being is also the center of its personal universe—from mite to mackerel to monkey. You are also the epicenter of your universe.

I try to take myself less seriously. I try to remember that every seed that is sown will sprout and ripen one day.

I try to imagine myself in the skin of others. And to love them for their qualities, and for the enlightened spark that underlies confusion. It’s hard going, appreciating instead of judging, but every now and then it simply happens, and when it does, I’m happy.

Sometimes I train through meditation, learning over and over again that the fullness and goodness of the present can only be recognized when I’m ready to will my mind to let go of the past and the future.

And sometimes I train by remembering and accepting the inevitability of impermanence and death, making the wonder of the present moment even more luminous.

I try to remember how lucky I am, and to be helpful, and to expect less. I try to understand the teachings of the Buddha, of enlightenment, and to put my understanding into practice. It’s a slow path, rarely an easy path, but it is a true path.

From “A Slow, True Path to Goodness,” © 2008 by Pamela White. Reprinted with permission from This I Believe, Inc., © 2006–2008.

[via Tricycle Magazine]
Read More
Menu

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.

X