Monday, August 5, 2013

The Truth About Blame

It’s Always My Own Fault - There is Never Anyone To Blame But Me
Slogan 12 of the Lojong

This is a great practice for ending suffering, ours and everyone else’s.

Faulting and blaming others is, as we all know, easy and convenient. But it is also seriously flawed as a way of life, and ultimately counterproductive.

When things in our society aren’t the way we think they should be, our first line of “reason” is to determine who is responsible, who’s to blame. With little or no evidence to support us, we simply blame or accuse another person or group for what we feel is wrong. At times it is the person or group who is accusing us of exactly the same wrong-doing, but no matter. After all, we’re right. Take religious or nationalistic conflicts–both sides feel they are right and  correct in blaming the other.

The flaw in this way of reasoning is the assumption that I am always right; it’s the flaw that assures me others are to blame. When we look closely, however, we observe that there is no right and wrong.

Similarly, when things in our personal lives aren’t the way we think they should be, the first thing we do is to look for someone to blame.

What makes this such a dangerous and maladaptive way of living is that it never works; blaming never solves the problem. Why? Because blaming others never gets at the cause. And the cause is never external–the cause of our suffering is always internal, always in the way we choose to narrate the event.

What mindfulness is suggesting is that, as we go about our lives the moment we sense fault or blame arising, we tell ourself to come to a screeching halt. We look inward instead of outward and we notice that our suffering is coming, not from what others are doing or the external situation, but from how we have chosen to write the narrative about those people and conditions.

The Practice: Commit to make a concerted effort to paying attention to how blaming arises and what patterns it takes.  See what happens when you shift it to the inward gaze of the Middle Path. Notice how your suffering weakens, and how other’s suffering disappears as you see need in others rather than suffering.

Two Renowned Tibetan Lamas on This Slogan

Chogyam Trungpa's Commentary: "Drive all blames into one means that all problems and the complications that exist around our practice, realization, and understanding are not somebody else's fault. All the blame always starts with ourselves….The intention of driving all blames into one is that otherwise you will not enter the bodhisattva path. Therefore, you do not want to lay any emotional, aggressive blame on anybody at all. So driving all blames into one begins with that attitude."

Jamgon Kongtrul's Commentary: Whether you are physically ill, troubled in your mind, insulted by others, or bothered by enemies and disputes, in short, whatever annoyance, major and minor, comes up in your life or affairs, do not lay the blame on anything else, thinking that such-and-such caused this or that problem. Rather, you should consider: This mind grasps at a self where there is no self. From time without beginning until now, it has, in following its own whims in samsara, perpetrated various nonvirtuous actions. All the sufferings I now experience are the results of those actions. No one else is to blame; this ego-cherishing attitude is to blame. I shall do whatever I can to subdue it."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

See Everything As A Dream, Part 1

See everything as a dream.

When we sit quietly and meditate by watching our thoughts, rather than concentrating on our breath, we see that everything appears very solid and substantive, real and permanent. But when we look closely, we notice that, as vivid as our mind seems to make things, it really is not so. Nothing is solid and happening, not in the way we perceive it. Everything is, in fact, more illusion than a reality.

Realizing this, we work to see everything as a dream.

Everything is always passing away. As soon as something appears, in that same moment, it disappears. Things certainly do appear to be here, but as we look more closely, it is less certain. The me that is here now may seem solid and substantive, but isn’t it really different from the me that was here ten years ago, or ten months ago, or ten weeks ago, or ten days ago, or ten hours ago, or ten minutes ago or ten second ago, or ten moment ago, or even the me of an instant ago? We think of ourselves as a permanent entity with changing characteristics–really; really.

The closer you look, the harder it seems to get to actually see what is happening.

When we think about it, the world and us in it really are more dreamlike than permanent. When we see things in this context, as an illusion, things become less concrete, we tend to attach less, and our suffering lightens. If we realize then that what we are seeing is more dream than reality, we experience and easing of our discomfort with things; we become less judgmental and we lighten up in the face of difficulties, not matter how big or tough they seem.

Practicing with slogan two: In addition to practicing with a slogan as explained in the previous blog, try this: As people, places, things, thoughts, emotions, experiences “arise” and “cease,” see if you can notice the point when you appropriate them, the point at which you identify with them making them and you solid and apparently permanent. Notice the “ceasing” part to, how you let go of something as solid, autonomous and there.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Learning Buddhism Through Slogans

Practice with Slogans

Slogan are a great learning and teaching devise, especially in Tibetan Buddhism. The Lojong, Atisha's 12th century teaching, is a systematically ordered series of 59 aphorisms, or slogans, arranged under seven headings to show us how to transform our day-to-day difficulties into open, compassion, other-centered, peaceful and clear hearts and minds.

This blog is an exploration of the first slogan, “Train in the preliminaries,” which has four aspects, also known as the four reminders.

1.     Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of this life.
2.     Always remember that while the time of death is uncertain, death itself is certain for all of us.
3.     Know that whatever you do–with body, speech or mind–leaves a karmic imprint.
4.     Remember that judging everything good or bad and then wanting more of the stuff you like and less of the stuff you don’t like will never make you happy.

There are online commentaries galore on the Lojong. Popular now in book form are those by Pema Chodron. Also, there’s an interesting Japanese Soto Zen interpretation of these slogans by Norman Fischer. The aim of this blog and future blogs on the Lojong, is not to provide a commentary but rather to present a few of the slogans as practice tools. In this blog, we will explain why we start with these four and how to work with them. Also, we will be taking aim at the “Yeah, I get it” phenomenon.

Let’s start with the ‘Yeah, I get it” phenomenon. You’ve already read the first slogan. If you’re like many of my students, you’ve put a check mark next to it, said to yourself: “Yeah, I get it; life is precious” and then you dismissed it as done. In classes, when I ask students to explain why life is precious, I get blank stares or vague statements that really don’t address the question. When I pry, students often seem, to their surprise, dumbfounded.

If we are to become people of compassion, people in whom peacefulness arises naturally, we must start with a realization that this human life is precious. One very effective way to accomplish this is to practice with the slogan. How?

I suggest you start my making the slogan physically present all through your day. Put sticky notes on the dashboard of your car and the corner of your desk at the office, on the bathroom mirror and the refrigerator door. Wherever and everywhere. Make it your screen saver. Buy a composition book, there are 25-30 lines on each page. Write the slogan once on each line. Do a page a day until you finish the book.

Next, set an intention to contemplate the slogan everyday. Sit in a comfortable quiet place, gently watch a handful of breaths, allowing yourself to quiet, then begin thinking about the slogan.

Start with the broadest questions about its general meaning and work toward tighter and more detailed questions, more narrowly focused questions. Think hard and stay focused, but let you mind go wherever it needs in this contemplation, as long as you don’t stray from the slogan. Establish the slogan as the most important thing you could possibly consider in that moment; keep delving into it. Question every thought, every phrase, parse each word that arises. Also, ask yourself how you would explain this to a 10-year old, then rehearse (actually say it out loud so you can hear yourself!) explaining it to that youngster. Do the same with a peer who isn’t likely to understand it easily. Rehearse. Finally, rehearse how you might explain this is a dying parent. Each of these daily sessions should be only about 5 minutes, 10 at absolute max. Doing this daily will allow you to slowly delve deeper and deeper into its meaning.

Sometimes, and you can be anywhere, just have the slogan to flood over you. Encourage and allow it to arise from deep inside you when you are showering, dressing, eating, exercising, working, relaxing, getting ready for bed. Gently play with it whenever it arises, then let it drift off. Eventually, it will just become a part of you, resetting your default intention to a place from which compassion arises without hesitation and peacefulness ensues whatever the conditions.

The goal is to have these slogans as ingrained as the ones we grew up with, like “A diamond is forever” and “They’re Gr-r-r-eat” and “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” and “The best part of waking up, is….

Another view of how to practice with these slogan comes from Zen Roshi Norman Fischer:

The best way to develop a mind-training slogan is to work with it initially on your meditation cushion. The technique is simple enough: sitting calmly with breath and body awareness, simply repeat the slogan silently to yourself again and again, reflect lightly on it, breathe it in with the inhale, out with the exhale.

The point is not to sit and think about the slogan as much as to develop it as an almost physical object, a feeling in your belly or heart.

Doing this repeatedly will fix it in your mind at a level deeper than is possible with ordinary distracted thinking. After this initial fixing of the slogan in the mind, you can think about it more, journal about it, talk about it with friends, write it down, repeat it to yourself—maybe when you are walking or driving, or any time you remember to do it—committing yourself to holding it in your mind during the day as often as you can. You can post it on your refrigerator; float it across your computer screen.

When you suddenly notice you have forgotten it and your mind is muffled with anxiety or worried rumination, use the very moment of forgetting as a cue to remembering rather than as a chance for self-judgment. This is, after all, mind training. Of course you are going to forget! But noticing that you forgot is already remembering. Mind training requires commitment, repetition, and lots of patience.

If you practice with a slogan in this way, soon it will pop into your mind unbidden at various times during the day. Hundreds of times a day instances will arise that seem germane to the slogan you are working with. In this way, you can practice a slogan until it becomes part of your mind—your own thought, a theme for daily living. –

Fischer, Norman. Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

There isn’t one correct way to work with a slogan, but with a little practice and experimentation, you will find the ways that work for you to make the slogan yours. Just remember, it takes patience and commitment to make these slogans ours, to make them work for us.

The important thing about the preliminaries is that they nurture a very special attitude toward life, one which makes us realize the importance of being here and motivates us to act for the long term benefit of all beings. We start by realizing the preciousness and importance of each moment, it’s impermanence making it so valuable, and from there we move to resetting our intentions so that our karmic thrust leads us more and more toward the peacefulness that arises from helping others rather than being self-serving, which always leads to some level of discomfort. Finally, we conclude from this short sequence of practice that it is being of benefit to others that really makes us wholesome and happy, not acquiring more.

A few weeks, or months, or lifetimes on these four and we will be ready for the second slogan!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Two Truths

The Two Truth is on the short list of most important Buddhist concepts. This is material to chew on for a lifetime of practice, not something we get on a first or even second or third read through.

The Two Truths

Excerpted from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The theory of the two truths is the heart of the Buddha's philosophy. It serves as the mirror reflecting the core message of the Buddha's teachings and the massive philosophical literature it inspired. At the heart of the theory of the two truths is the Buddha's ever poignant existential (based on experience) and soteriological (salvation) concerns about the reality of things and of life. Nirvaṇa, ultimate freedom from the suffering conditioned by desires, is only ever achieved, according to the theory of the two truths, from a correct understanding of two truths. Knowledge of the conventional truth informs us how things are conventionally, and thus grounds our epistemic (the nature and scope of knowledge) practice in its proper linguistic and conceptual framework. 
Knowledge of the ultimate truth informs us of how things really are ultimately, and so takes our minds beyond the bounds of conceptual and linguistic conventions.
In India the theory of the two truths the Buddha had explained, of course without much elaboration, stimulated rich philosophical exchanges amongst the Buddhist philosophers and practitioners. The transformation of the two truths theory from a simple to a complex system of thought with highly sophisticated concepts is perhaps the most significant contribution resulting from the schisms the Buddhism experienced after the Buddha passed away (ca. 380 BCE). Various schools with varying interpretations of the Buddha's words soon appeared in Buddhism, which resulted in rich and vibrant philosophical and hermeutic (the way we study written texts) atmosphere.
After the Buddha the philosopher who broke new ground on the theory of the two truths in the Madhyamaka system is a South Indian monk, Nāgārjuna (ca. 100 BCE–100 CE). Nāgārjuna saw himself as propagating the dharma taught by the Buddha, which he says is precisely based on the theory of the two truths: a truth of mundane conventions and a truth of the ultimate. 
He saw the theory of the two truths as constituting the Buddha's core teaching and his philosophy. Nāgārjuna maintains that those who do not understand the distinction between these two truths would fail to understand the Buddha's teaching. This is so, for Nāgārjuna, because (1) without relying on the conventional truth, the meaning of the ultimate cannot be explained, and (2) without understanding the meaning of the ultimate, nirvāṇa is not achieved.
Nāgārjuna's theory of the two truths is fundamentally different from all theories of truth in other Indian philosophies. Hindu philosophers and other Buddhist sects all advocate a foundationalism of some kind according to which ultimate reality is taken to be the “substantive reality” or foundation upon which stands the entire edifice of the conventional ontological structures where the ultimate reality is posited as immutable, fixed, irreducible and independent of any interpretative conventions. That is so, even though the conventional structure that stands upon it constantly changes and transforms. [This, of course, contradicts the most fundamental teaching of the Buddha, that all things are impermanent, and is, obviously, illogical, as Nagarjuna repeatedly explains in his writings.]
Nāgārjuna's central argument to support his radical non-foundationalist theory of the two truths draws upon an understanding of conventional truth as tied to dependently arisen phenomena, and ultimate truth as tied to emptiness of the intrinsic nature.
Since the former and the latter are coconstitutive of each other, in that each entails the other, ultimate reality is tied to being conventionally real. Nāgārjuna advances important arguments justifying the correlation between the conventional truth vis-à-vis dependent arising, and emptiness vis-à-vis ultimate truth. These arguments bring home their epistemological and ontological correlations.
He argues that wherever applies emptiness as the ultimate truth, there applies the causal efficacy of the conventional truth and wherever emptiness does not apply as the ultimate truth, there does not apply the causal efficacy of the conventional truth.
According to Nāgārjuna, ultimate truth's being empty of any intrinsic reality affords conventional truth its causal efficacy since being ultimately empty is identical to being causally produced, conventionally. This must be so since, for Nāgārjuna, “there is no thing that is not dependently arisen; therefore, there is no such thing that is not empty.
Why is this so important? Because, only if we get it that things really aren’t what they appear to be, can we stop our grasping and clinging and attaching and end our suffering. 


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Stubbornness and Non-Stubborness

When Outcomes Aren’t Important

When winning isn’t important, when we no longer need to protect and defend our understandings and ideas and their rightness, when Self is weakened and we stop believing our fictions, non-stubbornness arises.

The Buddhist principle of non-stubbornness makes winning unimportant, makes getting our way unimportant, makes life about practice not outcomes. Greed loses its grip and process, not outcomes, becomes important.

The practice of non-stubbornness is transformational. It teaches us to avoid our self-centeredness and gives us the chance to build trusting, dependable, longterm spiritually based relationships. It moves us from silence or attack mode to reconciliation. It moves us from a stubborn preoccupation with the problem to communication aimed at resolution, without judging or defending, and without fist pounding or foot stomping. It moves us from focusing on the issue to focusing on learning and spiritual development.

Non-stubbornness resolves conflict by leading us to understand that, in any situation, both parties did their best. Perhaps not wisely, but they did, in that moment, with their karma, their understandings and the conditions as they saw them in that moment, they did the best they could. Non-stubbornness leads us to understand this deeply enough to shift our focus from getting our way, from winning, to a focus on empathy and compassion and patience.

Stubbornness is about greed and arrogance: What’s in it for me? When we practice with non-stubbornness can use the antidotes for these: generosity and humility and modesty. The outcome is not the issue. You do your best, and that is enough.

Stubbornness takes many forms. For example, there’s the stubbornness of an unrelenting 11-year old in combat with his mother over what he should eat for dinner. Herein we see stubbornness as a refusal to change one’s opinion or position. The more we challenge the child, the more dogged the insistence. “No I won’t, and you can’t make me” becomes the cry. As we grow the stubbornness become more subtle and complex, less obvious, but no less harmful.

What we see from this example is that, at its core, stubbornness is an entrenched resistance to change, even though it is maladaptive and we know it. Resisting change, resisting the basic nature of the universe, dooms us to a life of suffering. Fearing change, craving permanence, dooms us to unending dukkha.

Contrary to what we are often told, stubbornness is never admirable. Why? Because it makes the basic nature of things, which is change, into a personal problem. Stubbornnness, this overwhelming resistance to change that we all share, that prevents us from seeing clearly and living well, is at the heart of our problem with the universe.

With a concerted practice of non-stubbornness, we search for resolution to our fears and frustrations over change. We stop blocking the emergence of the next moment; instead, we settle comfortably into the newness in front of us. We stop trying to make the world into our image and respond to it as it genuinely is–every changing and impermanent. Seen in this context, the practice of non-stubbornness allows us to de-escalate our feelings and resistance; the practice of non-stubbornness allows us to see more clearly how to do our best.

The result: a world with which we are at ease–a world with which we cooperate and which cooperates with us to create a happy healthy life.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Reconciliation - The Buddhist Answer to Conflict

Reconciliation Notes

Internal Reconciliation

For those who want to live peaceful and happy lives, reconciliation, meditation suggests, is the answer. When we are reconciled to what really is happening, instead of fabricating stories about what we think should be happening, we act in ways that build peace and confidence instead of anxiety and anger.

Consider this:
·      It only takes one for reconciliation.

And consider this:
·      Every situation is reconcilable.

Many of the fundamental “truths” we learn from meditation, such as impermanence and not-self, can be hard to reconcile ourselves with. So hard, in fact, that we dream of things that are permanent and substantial in an attempt to escape the inescapable conditions of our life. But such imaginings pull us away from the basic facts of our condition: we are impermanent beings, predisposed to suffering, conditioned by the world in which we live.

This is why the idea of reconciliation is so powerful. Reconciliation isn’t about overcoming our basic nature; it is about reconciling us to the way the world really is.

Reconciliation is where I have come to see that yes, this is what is happening, that these are just the conditions of the world as I perceive it in this moment, and that if I reconcile, neither attaching nor running, then peace arises. Reconciliation is when I no longer pick or choose, as Sengcan writes, when I no longer give my amygdala control of my mind, allowing it to jerk me around emotionally with its primitive assignments of affinities and aversions to everything.

Sitting in meditation, sitting with the present moment, just as it is, we are reconciled and at home.

Reconciliation matters
because the consequence of not reconciling is unending suffering.

Reconciliation is an internal event, something that comes from within us. As such it is always available to us. And so is the peace and well-being that arises from it.

External Reconciliation

It is one thing to reconcile oneself to what is happening in one’s own life–that’s internal reconciliation. It is, as we all know, wholly another thing to reconcile one’s differences with another person, which is external reconciliation. When there are differences, we start by attempting to find a mutual reconciliation. (If that doesn’t work, we can, of course, do it alone.)

(1) Agreeing to disagree is not a solution. It moves nothing forward and entrenches us in the validity of our story. (2) Compromising, which is what nations do when they create treaties and accords, where we get as much of what we wanted as circumstances will allow after battling it out, is not a solution either, for it leaves us unsettled and unsatisfied and often in a worse place than we started. (3) Just capitulating to another’s demands isn’t a solution either, for it leaves us with frustration and residual anger and reinforces ignorance rather than wisdom.

So, if we don’t want to suffer, we need to learn to reconcile our differences with others. And this is complicated: the closer we are to the other person and to the issue, the more difficult it is to see clearly.

To reconcile our differences with another person, when there is a disagreement, we must both rewrite the story in a way that leaves us both in harmony, both peaceful with the conclusion, both feeling amicable and at ease. Reconciliation is never about winning. It is, however, about trust.

Genuine reconciliation cannot be based simply on the desire for harmony. Ideally, it requires a mutual understanding of what actions served to create the disharmony, and a promise to try to avoid those actions in the future. This in turn requires a clearly articulated agreement about–and commitment to–mutual standards of right and wrong. At its heart, reconciliation distinguishes, for both parties, between right and wrong ways of handling differences.

We need right and wrong, but we also need to be careful how we use them. We need not to be capricious in our use of them, nor hypocritical. The fact that all phenomena are empty doesn’t mean that there is no right and wrong. We don't want to use the rhetoric of non-duality and non-attachment to excuse genuinely harmful behavior–leaving victims hopelessly adrift, with no commonly accepted standards on which to base redress through reconciliation.

Reconciliation is not forgiveness. Forgiveness is about blame, makes me the ultimate judge; forgiveness is about winning. Forgiveness is just one part rewriting a story to get our own way.

The solution lies not in abandoning right and wrong, but in learning how to use them wisely. Here’s a checklist of questions for this:

Perceived Wrongdoings

When a perceived wrongdoing is involved, we need to ask ourselves before confronting the other person:

Am I seeing clearly what has happened?
Am I motivated by kindness and compassion to reconcile, rather than a self-centered or self-serving need?
Really, am I trying to reconcile or trying to win, to get my way?
Am I sincere and clear on our mutual standards?
Can my words be believed?

Ideally, we should be determined to speak only words that are true, timely, gentle, to the point, and prompted by kindness.

Our motivation should be compassion, consideration for the welfare of all parties involved, and the desire to see the wrongdoing end. There should be an overriding desire to hold to principles of propriety.

When there is conflict, we should employ right speech and engage in the honest, responsible self-reflection. In this way, standards of right and wrong behavior, instead of being oppressive or petty, engender deep and long-lasting trust. In addition to creating the external harmony, this process of reconciliation also becomes an opportunity for inner growth.

Our goal should be always be willing to exercise the honesty and restraint that reconciliation requires.

When there is a simple disagreement about an event, time or place, for example, reconciliation is generally clearer than when “wrong doing” is involved. Wrongdoing is a reflection of our very strong attachments to beliefs and values; on the other hand, disagreements are less weighty conflicting stories.

Because all stories are fictions, insisting on one’s story over another’s story is arrogance, and arrogance is a no-no.

However, this would become nihilistic if there were no evaluative criteria. That criterion is appropriateness (the neutral word for the fundamental understanding of right and wrong, good and bad, as it arises from meditation and interconnectedness). Appropriateness is obvious if one is mindful and aware; it is the response that arises from wisdom.

Haven’t realized wisdom yet–fake it!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Understanding Anger

These are part one of the Retreat Notes from our recent Anger and Reconciliation Retreat

Anger, from the Buddhist Perspective

Whatever my virtuous deeds may be,
Venerating Buddhas, generosity and so on,
Amassed over a thousands eons–
All are destroyed in a moment of anger.

Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Chapter Six

In this retreat we will

·       Examine how we create anger
·       Learn how to stop creating it
·       Practice burning off old habitual anger responses

In this retreat we will

·       Develop patience and a patient mind as the antidote to anger.
·       Explore and practice reconciliation as the primary methodology for living without anger

Mild Irritation-----------------------------------------Rage and Wrath

From mild irritation to rage and wrath, anger pervades our lives. Even when we are unaware of it, anger lurks in the background causing us to run the emotional gamut from unbalanced, unsettled, and uneasy to full-throttle fury.

Anger arises when irritation, annoyance, disapproval, and so forth suddenly burst into an action of body, speech and or mind in respond to that false and fictitious feeling.

There is no evil as harmful as anger,
No discipline as effective as patience,
Thus by all possible means I should
Cultivate patience with intensity
(In each and every single moment, with each and every single breath)

Most important, we will learn to reconcile ourselves to our lives, here now, as they are, so that we live patiently, calmly and with a warm open heart instead of angry minds. And we will learn to use reconciliation when we have differences with other or when a genuine wrong-doing occurs.

Key Buddhist Understandings:

Anger arises from the way an untrained mind works; responding spontaneously and without consideration to the assigned affinities and aversion of the second aggregate.

Nothing external, no one and nothing can make you angry. You make yourself angry but concocting an anger story in response to a sense contact.

There is a single source for all our anger: not getting what we want. And we are always trying to get more of what we like and want and think we should have, and get less of what we don’t like, want, or think we should have. And this is the origin of anger. Always wanting things to be other than what they are.

Anger is not stored, it cannot be vented. It must be created and recreated from moment to moment. Neuroscience tells us that the maximum we hold onto our anger is 3 minutes without rewriting and exaggerating the story. Usually it is only a fraction of a second.

To understand this process, we need to look at the 5 aggregates and the 12 links (below). As we see, anger arises from “feeling,” the affinities and aversions that cause us to want more in a way that cannot ever be satisfied, and from ignorance which leads to our stories, which cause us to consolidate new behaviors along old greedy and angry lines.

That’s the bad news: anger is pretty much always with us. See it, hear it, taste it, touch it, smell it, think it, and we’re, at least on some level, annoyed. But it is also the good news: knowing this, we can teach ourselves how not to be angry.

Bullets About Anger

·       False: There is nothing you can do about anger.
·       False: Anger is part of the human condition, without it there would be no happiness.
·       False: Anger is something we must learn to manage.
·       False: There is good anger and righteous anger, as the early.
·       False: Anger cannot be totally eradicated.

1.     Once we see that cooperation is the fundamental nature of the universe and everything it in, we see anger as an aberration.
2.     In Buddhism, anger is seen less as a painful emotion and more as an unwholesome mindstate, a vice.
3.     Anger arises from not seeing our connectedness to everything.
4.     Our biggest decision in life, according to Shantideva, is to realize that anger is my real and worst enemy.
5.     Once we see that anger always harms, its opposite needs to become our most important practice.
6.     When I eliminate not-wanting, I eliminate anger.
7.     Why do we prefer anger to patience, generosity, modest and humility?

Why be unhappy about something
If you can do something about it?
If nothing can be done,
What does being unhappy help?

It is much easier to suffer than to be happy, as the causes of suffering are much more plentiful, until you realize that they can all be converted into opportunities for patience and happiness! Ultimately, they will no longer be there, and will no longer be needed. Patience and happiness will arise from within, not from externals.

Moving from Anger to Patience and Peace, The Practices

1.     The absolute first step, from a Buddhist perspective, to addressing anger is to realize (not just learn or understand) that anger only begets anger; it is bad, wrong, fundamentally unwholesome in the worse of ways.
2.     Defilement to antidote: replace anger with patience, generosity will also work.
3.     Ask what was it about the situation that made you angry. The answer will always be: you didn’t get something you wanted. Then ask: “What was the something.” Look at your answer. Is it realistic or a bit silly? Being it will never be realistic or even sensible, then laugh at it and let it go.
4.     Look at the anger and say to yourself: “This is not me, this is not mine” exercise. Why, because when you don’t identify with the anger, it dissolves.
5.     Notice: “There is anger.” Observe it: watch how it starts, how it changes from mental to physical and back, and at each juncture in the observation, let go and look at the next aspect. This will melt away the anger.
6.     Deconstruct the anger:

·       Notice
·       Focus
·       Story
·       Exaggeration
·       Identification and Appropriation

7.     Do L-e-e-e-t-t G-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o ten times. It will send a mind body signal through the brain stem to the amygdala to reduce the intensity of the response.

8.     Chant the metta sutra (below)

9.     Realize that our inability to always get our way is the source of anger. Examine that thought. What is so wrong with my life and my family and the world that I am never satisfied, always demanding more/better?  Consider that here now, just as it is, is as perfect as it could possibly be.

10.  Exercise moral discipline–don’t act out on the anger when you notice it: don’t yell, don’t drive aggressively when you’re upset.

11.  Weak as they are, distraction and even suppression may help. Really furious, out of control, leave…go see a movie; even better, go buy your wife a big present.

12.  Read: Chapter Six, The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva (Padmakara Translation Group)

Metta Chant

May I be free from anger and hatred.
May I be free from greed and selfishness.
May I be free from fears and anxiety.
May I be free from pain and suffering.
May I be free from ignorance and delusion.
May I be free from negative states of mind.
May I be peaceful and happy.
May I experience peace and tranquility of body and mind.

May those whom I love, those whom I like, those who have angered or done harm to me be free from anger and hatred.
May those whom I love, those whom I like, those who have angered or done harm to me be free from greed and selfishness.
May those whom I love, those whom I like, those who have angered or done harm to me be free from fears and anxiety.
May those whom I love, those whom I like, those who have angered or done harm to me be free from pain and suffering.
May those whom I love, those whom I like, those who have angered or done harm to me be free from ignorance and delusion.
May those whom I love, those whom I like, those who have angered or done harm to me be free from negative states of mind.
May those whom I love, those whom I like, those who have angered or done harm to me be peaceful and happy.
May those whom I love, those whom I like, those who have angered or done harm to me experience peace and tranquility of body and mind.

May all beings be free from anger and hatred.
May all beings be free from greed and selfishness.
May all beings be free from fears and anxiety.
May all beings be free from all pain and suffering.
May all beings be free from ignorance and delusion.
May all beings be free from negative states of mind.
May all beings be peaceful and happy.
May all beings experience peace and tranquility of body and mind.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Using Intention to Center Ourselves

Centering Ourselves Through Recitation and Chanting

When we concoct stories* about what is happening, we take remembrances–pieces of previous meanings and value that we had assigned to stuff under similar circumstances–and form them into a story about what is happening now. This requires us to make what is happening now consistent with what we already know. Making the world consistent in this way means we create models, or modules, or contexts, that can be used to frame the story in a consistent way. These modules are the overarching intentions we have for viewing the world; they are our strongly help beliefs and values, norms and mores in sociological jargon.

If we want to move to the Middle Path, to live in peace and harmony with ourselves and our world, we need modules that point us in that direction. Metta prayers, chants and recitations are some of the most traditional and effective ways we have to do this.

Here’s a prayer, a short recitation, and a couple of chants that, when practiced regularly, will become the dominant perspective from which you see the world, burning off our old karmic leanings toward greed and anger and anxiety and establishing a mind of peacefulness and caring.

Shantideva's Prayer

May all beings everywhere

Plagued by sufferings of body and mind

Obtain an ocean of happiness and joy

By virtue of my merits.

May no living creature suffer,

Commit evil, or ever fall ill.

May no one be afraid or belittled,

With a mind weighed down by depression.

May the blind see forms

And the deaf hear sounds,

May those whose bodies are worn with toil

Be restored on finding repose.

May the naked find clothing,

The hungry find food;

May the thirsty find water

And delicious drinks.

May the poor find wealth,

Those weak with sorrow find joy;

May the forlorn find hope,

Constant happiness, and prosperity.

May there be timely rains

And bountiful harvests;

May all medicines be effective

And wholesome prayers bear fruit.

May all who are sick and ill

Quickly be freed from their ailments.

Whatever diseases there are in the world,

May they never occur again.

May the frightened cease to be afraid

And those bound be freed;

May the powerless find power,

And may people think of benefiting each other.

For as long as time and space remains,

For as long as sentient beings remain,

Until then may I too remain

To dispel the miseries of the world.

Reciting this as a part of one’s morning practice, several times a week if not every day, sets a clear and committed intention within us to reconceptualize the way we see the world from one of greed, anger and delusion to one of patience, compassion, and generosity. It sets a clear intention to reconsolidate our stories in ways that we move from a life of self-centeredness to a life of other-centeredness. It resets our intention to seek the well-being of others in everything we do, which lowers our blood pressure, coordinates our cardiac and respiratory systems, and makes us calm, clear-seeing loving people.

Short Recitation

A shorter prayer, which can be recited frequently during the day, whenever you feel any level of anguish from mild irritation to all-out anger, is the final verse of the prayer. Recited to yourself a five or ten times can quickly recenter you in altruism.

For as long as time and space remains,

For as long as sentient beings remain,

Until then may I too remain

To dispel the miseries of the world.


You can use either of the following chants as an overarching intention resetting tool, simply by chanting it over and over for 5 minutes a day once or twice a day, or for 10 or 15 seconds whenever angst arises:

I vow–with each and every act of body, speech and mind–to work solely for the benefit and well-being of others.

I vow to work tirelessly for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Much metta always!

* Concoctions, or stories, are the fourth of the five aggregates, often labeled volitional formations.