Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Celebration of Emptiness

The Great Way Requires Great Commitment
Commit Now to a New Year of Practice with Emptiness

As Venerable Master Yin Shun points out in his book Investigations into Sunyata, for a meaningful practice, a practice in which we cultivate purity, we must develop an intimate understanding of emptiness. Getting to know emptiness is so important that Master Ji Ru says, “I only teach emptiness.”

This New Year, consider committing to a yearlong practice of investigating emptiness. If that sounds daunting, it really isn’t. And nothing will do more to bring you peace of mind and to end your suffering than to get a handle on emptiness. Here are three steps to get you on course for an empty new year.

1. A simple starting point would be to commit to making this bumper sticker slogan omnipresent in your life: Don’t believe anything your mind tells you. Since everything is empty, anything your mind tells you is, of course, false. Use it as a mantra; make it omnipresent in your thoughts. This will limit and weaken your attaching. It will ease you through your life rather than making you anxious and uneasy.

2. Next, consider committing to practicing with the two truths. This means we commit to acting from the premise that everything is a lie and so there’s no reason to believe it or attach to it. This is the enhanced version of the practice above.

The Two Truths, Plain and Simple

There are two truths and they teach us the real truth–that nothing is true. (“Dude, everything is a big lie!” as one of my students put it.)

The first truth is the everyday or relative truth. An example would be: This is a table, or this is a desk.

The second truth is the absolute truth. It tells us that the object we are discussing is, really, empty, that it has no inherent or permanent definition or value or meaning or weight.

The first truth says that what we call something is what it is. This is a common understanding: “This is a table.” Most people stop there. The problem is that, in truth, you and I can call it different things because it isn’t anything until we label it. And once we label it, we give it definition and meaning…and we are in trouble if we are not careful for we have created a false story and asserted it as true and substantive. In other words, we believe our lies and act on them.

If I can call it a table and you can call it a desk, then is one of us right and the other wrong? Obviously, we tend to believe we are right. We are, after all, attached to what we think. And that makes anyone who disagrees wrong, so we have to protect and defend our position. We do this without realizing that what we are protecting and defending is, at best, a false notion, at worst, a flagrant lie. In the political area, where the stakes are higher than arguing over whether something is a table or a desk, we see the depth of suffering caused by not practicing with the two truths, and how conflict and war results from believing our relative understanding of the world is true.

The two truths is telling us that we must realize both truths simultaneously, realize that they are just notions (stories) about things that are both there and not there simultaneously; true and not true simultaneously. So I can call it a table without attaching or really believing it is a table, so if you call it something else, I neither protect nor defend my position.

This is the core teaching of the Diamond Sutra, it is the heart of the teachings of great nuns and monks of medieval Christendom, it is fundamental to the long tradition of mystical Judaism, and it is a central tenet of Islam’s Sufism.

3. Study hard and take to heart the Four Marks of Existence (The Four Dharma Seals), the Five Aggregates (Five Skandhas), and the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination. By study hard, I mean learning the list in a functional, not academic, way. Start with a definition of how each element works in relation to the others in the list, and how it works in your life to create and to end your dukkha. Become comfortable enough with your understanding to be able to explain it to a 9-year-old. (You will be amazed at how easily a 9-year-old can grasp emptiness.) Study these three lists in the sequence listed here: the 4, the 5, and then the 12.

Next, contemplate them on the cushion. This can be done in two ways: one, sit for 5-10 minutes with your breath to calm body and mind, then do a thorough cognitive investigation of the teaching; and two, sit with the aim of observing them as they arise during meditation.

(1) Start by looking at the teaching in its broadest meaning: what is this list saying? What does it mean as a whole? How present is it in my life? Etc. Then narrow the meaning; examine each element: what does each mean in terms of my suffering, in terms of my liberation? Define each from your experience. Consider how each relates to the others in the list? Are the lists really linear or is that just a skillful means? Continue to take each element apart piece by piece. Limit your contemplative time on the cushion to 20 minutes at a time so you can stay very tightly focused on subject; the mind wanders too much after that. Repeat this frequently throughout the year, building on your previous understandings and conclusions.

(2) Watch the Marks or the Aggregates or the Links as they arise in your mind. See how one leads to the next: how each works in dependence to the others. If you understand them, you will be able to see them experientially on the cushion. If you are having difficulty finding them on the cushion, do some more reading and talking about them and then try again. Finally, when you know them experientially from the cushion, start watching for them in your everyday activities: see how a traffic light turning red can cause an aversion and its attendant story and note how telling yourself this “event” is empty can short-circuit the discomfort.

Email me if you have questions as you celebrate this new year with a focus on making emptiness, the ultimate teachings of the Buddha, central to you life.

4. Finally, consider some serious book study. These four books, I believe, will last you for a year of study, perhaps a lifetime. I suggest studying them in the sequence below.

1. Introduction to Emptiness by Guy Newland. This is a short, very clear and accessible examination of emptiness. 

2. How Thing Exist by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. This is another short book, also very clear, that is a profound examination of emptiness. 

3. Meditation on Emptiness by Jeffrey Hopkins. This is a serious examination of emptiness and the practices by which it can be realized. It is stimulating and extensive. 

4. For Chinese speakers, Venerable Master Yin Shun’s heady Investigations into Sunyata is available in Chinese, both in print and online, I believe. I have a very rough translation of it into English; email me if you’d like me to send you the 300-page pdf.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Let’s Not Be Thankful, Not Today or Any Day
Let’s Be Contemplative
In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared a three-day late autumn feast to celebrate the success of the harvest. They had prayed for a good harvest and when they got what they wanted, they celebrated. In 1863 Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, institutionalizing the idea that getting what we want is cause for celebration. 
This was a very Puritan religious idea: seeking happiness from externals It is not a very Buddhist idea. In fact, Buddhism posits exactly the opposite idea. It sees greed, the unrelenting desire for more, as one of the three poisons (anger and delusion are the other two), not as a cause for celebration. Being thankful for getting what we want misses the whole point of our practice, which is to be selfless, present, caring and generous, which is to do our best in each moment and to allow our happiness, our Buddhanature, to arise from within.
So today, rather than giving thanks, consider spending some time reflecting on the Five Contemplations which have, for thousands of years, been recited by followers of the Buddha before meals. 
The Five Contemplations
  1. I contemplate how much positive potential I have accumulated in order to receive this food.
  2. I contemplate my own practice (of generosity, moral rectitude, compassion, patience), constantly trying to improve it.
  3. I contemplate my mind, cautiously guarding it from wrongdoing, greed, and other defilements.
  4. I contemplate this food, treating it as wondrous medicine to nourish my body.
  5. I contemplate the aim of our practice, accepting and consuming this food in order to accomplish it.
Getting Started with a Contemplative of The Five Contemplations
Sit in the traditional meditation posture and follow your breathe for 5 to 10 minutes, then start thinking about each of the key phrases in the Five Contemplations. After about half an hour of contemplate, go back to your breathe for another 5 to 10 minutes. Here are some notes to get you started.
Positive potential: Consider how mindful and morally disciplined you have been; consider what “mindful” and “morally disciplined” each mean and their relationship to each other.
My own practice: Consider what generosity, discipline, compassion and patience mean to you in the context of your practice, how much of each you exhibit in your daily life, and if you apply these with a sense of equanimity.
My mind: Contemplate mindfulness of mind, one of the four foundations of mindfulness, in relation to guarding against wrongdoings, and also how right effort applies here.
This food: Consider the interconnectedness of all phenomena that can be seen in food and its sustenance, and the moral implications of interconnectedness for you and your family and ultimately the planet and universe.
Aim of our practice: Consider the point of a Buddhist practice, what your aim is in following the path, and its implications for the future.
After half an hour or so of contemplation, return to your breath and follow it for another 5 to 10 minutes.
Happy Holiday.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Patience in a Paragraph

Chew On This, Unpack It, Let It Settle In

Patience in a Paragraph

The alternatives to patience in the spiritual life form a spectrum of wasted energy from irritation and frustration to anger and all the way to fury and wrath. Such a waste. All the result of trying to force ourselves and others to change rather than allowing us and them to be. If we try to force change we prevent change from happening. Patience is needed if there is to be spiritual growth. Patience is neither passive nor submissive; it is finally being fully engaged, without our stories clouding our vision. Patient effort, enduring effort, persistent, consistent effort is needed for patience and peacefulness to replace the raucousness and violence of our greed, anger and delusion. In the end, patient, enduring effort is the pathway to a successful. This sort of effort, the effort that persists day after day, the effort that persists during good times and bad times, is an effort that understands and uses the law of karma. Actions have consequences. Skillful actions have beneficial consequences. Patient, enduring effort in skillfulness of body, speech and mind brings about spiritual growth and wisdom. Patient, persistent effort in ethics, meditation and study brings about spiritual growth and wisdom. Patience is a “perfection” (paramita) because it is natural aspect of reality, an aspect of wisdom. The nature of wisdom is expressed in the concept of the dependent origination. This law of conditionality states that everything arises in dependence on conditions. Spiritual progress too arises in dependence on conditions, and in the absence of those conditions it does not arise. We need to patiently and persistently create and put in place the conditions for spiritual growth to arise. This is in accordance with the world as it really is.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Being Patience, That's Our Practice

Patience, Antidote for Anger (and all our other evils)
Patience, the practice of patience, of wholeheartedly being present, is the antidote for faulty frustrated desires (the I-wants and shoulda-hads) and unwanted occurrences (the I-shouldn’ta gottens, shouldn’t bes). That being the case, we need to make the perfection of patience an omnipresent practice; not just a fallback position to use in difficult situations.
Patience is a mind that is able to be fully present with whatever occurs. It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things, that’s the tolerance/intolerance thing. Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are. It is founded in a trust of ourselves to do what is right, without preparation or discursive analysis, in any situation.
When patience is present in our mind it is impossible for anger to gain a foothold. As we know from the cushion, since we can only have one thought at a time, if there is patience there cannot be anger.
It is always possible to be patient; there is no situation so bad that it cannot be accepted patiently, with an open, accommodating, and peaceful heart.
We start training ourselves to be patient on the cushion when we teach ourselves how to be patient with our thoughts and feelings as they arise, especially when we sit without moving and learn to be able to let go of discomfort. Letting go of our imagined discomforts, after all, is patience. Next we take it off the cushion and practice patience by learning to accept the small everyday difficulties and hardships that arise. Gradually our patient mindstate increases and we remain peaceful in the face of our perceived adversities. There are many examples of people who have managed to practice patience even in the most extreme circumstances––Empty Cloud, for example, when he was being tortured. or those in the final stages of cancer, who, although their bodies are ravaged, maintain peaceful minds.
  • If we practice the patience of voluntarily accepting suffering (which is all imagined and unreal), we can maintain a peaceful mind even when experiencing “suffering and pain.”
  • If we maintain this peaceful and positive state of mind through the force of mindfulness, angry minds will have no opportunity to arise. (You’re always breathing, so you can always return to your breath, even when someone is screaming at you). On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to dwell in aversive or harmful thoughts there will be no way for us to prevent anger from arising.
  • By training our mind to look at frustrating situations in a more realistic manner, we can free ourselves from anger and a lot of other unnecessary mental suffering: If there is a way to remedy an unpleasant situation, what point is there in being angry or worried? On the other hand, if it is completely impossible to remedy the situation there is also no reason to get upset either. This line of reasoning is very useful, for it leads is to realize through mindfulness that a peaceful life is a call to action, not thought. 
Being patient doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do something to improve the situation. If it is possible to remedy the situation, then of course we should; but to do this we do not need to become worried or angry. Simple awareness is all we need.  
As long as we are alive, we cannot avoid seemingly unpleasant, difficult situations and a certain amount of physical discomfort, but by training our mind to look at frustrating, anger-producing situations in a more realistic manner, we can free ourselves from a lot of much if not most of our unnecessary suffering.
Instead of reacting blindly through the force of emotional habit (anger, worry, depression, etc.), we should examine the situation. We should not become angry just because things do not go our way. We must break that old habit of ours if we are to progress past anger and move meaningfully forward on the Path.
In reality all our problems are nothing more than a failure to accept things as they arein which case it is patience, rather than attempting to change externals, that is the solution. Lessening and managing the anger, in its full spectrum from irritation to wrath, is not the point on which we practice. The point is to patiently be with things as they are and to let go of all our fabrications about how they oughta be/shoulda been. Problems do not exist outside our mind, so when we stop seeing other people and things as problems they stop being problems
The Three Patiences
There are three kinds of situation in which we need to learn to be patient:
  • When we are experiencing suffering, hardship, or disappointment
  • When we are practicing Dharma
  • When we are harmed or criticized by others
Correspondingly, there are three types of patience:
  • The patience to deal with our perceived suffering in each moment – we do this when we realize that we are the source (it’s our stories based on our past actions) of all our suffering and that if we are patient with the suffering it will cease.
  • The patience required to practice the Dharma – this is using our understanding of emptiness and dependent arising to lessen attachment and increase patience though mindfulness, which guides us in eradicating our delusions and suffering.
  • The patience not to retaliate – we learn not to retaliate when we combine patience with compassion; and further when we realize we are the real source of the suffering is internal not external, so there is no reason for retaliation.
Reminder: Right Speech Produces Patience
Right speech leads to mindfulness, wisdom, and speaking calmly and with lovingkindness and compassion in our hearts. Those conditions tend to hold us stable in a patient mindstate. They also allay anger.
Only speak when it will improve the silence
1. Only speak when conditions suggest you should speak
2. Only speak when you have something to say that will be of benefit
3. Always speak in ways that can be heard
4 Only say it once
5. Never go on the battlefield; being of benefit isn’t about winning
Avoid wrong speech:
1. Avoid harsh, mean-spirited or angry words
2. Avoid falsehoods
3. Avoid gossip and small talk
4. Avoid belittling others to raise your own status
We use wrong speech when we feel an aversion. Wrong speech is uttered in anger and intended to cause the hearer pain. Such speech can assume different forms: 
1. Abusive speech: scolding, screaming, reviling, or demonizing with harsh, bitter words.
2. Insulting speech: hurling insults at someone for some perceived offensive quality or action that we don’t like or approve of. 
3. Sarcasm, snarkiness and the like: speaking to someone in a sharp or ironic way intended to annoy or outright hurt them.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

New Beginner's Class

Beginner’s Mindfulness Meditation Class
Every Tuesday from 6:30 – 8:00 pm
Deerpath Primary Care
1800 Hollister Drive, Suite 102
Libertville, IL 60048

Meditation can wipe away the day's stress, bring you a new sense calm in your daily activities, improve the quality of your family life and reduce your stress at work. If stress has you anxious, tense and worried, try mindfulness meditation.
According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, published by the American Psychiatric Association: A group mindfulness meditation program can effectively reduce symptoms of anxiety and panic and can help maintain these reductions. According to the National Institutes of Health: Mindfulness meditation is effective in decreasing stress symptoms in a wide variety of patients of all ages, genders, and educational backgrounds.The medical profession has been conducting studies on the efficacy of mindfulness and the impact of meditation on practitioners for over 30 years. Results show that people who meditate regularly experience significant wellness benefits decreased heart rates, respiration, blood pressure and oxygen consumption, all signs of improved wellness and physical health.
Mindfulness meditation is a simple and effective technique anyone can do anywhere to get themselves back in focus.  It doesn’t require any special equipment, or clothing, can be done at home, at work, inside or out and even – under certain conditions – while driving.  It’s a near perfect way to manage anxiety, control worry, lower tension and increase happiness.”
Although the roots of meditation go back thousands of years to the religious practices of ancient India, especially Buddhism, mindfulness meditation is a non-denominational, pan-sectarian practice.  All three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have a meditation practice.  It’s not something complicated or cultish - it’s simply sitting still, breathing mindfully and letting the mind quiet naturally.”
Join meditation teacher Carl Jerome of the North Shore Meditation and Dharma Center at DPC every Tuesday at 6:30 to learn how to meditate, to learn the insights that meditation offers, and to grow healthier and happier. 
Here’s the Simple How-To of Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness is when mind and body are wholly engaged with what is happening. No evaluating, no judging, no stories or notions about it. Just full engagement.
Mindfulness meditation is simply wholeheartedly observing our breath.
Mindfulness is the driving force of a clear, peaceful, calm, quiet and confident mind. Meditation is what charges our mindfulness battery.
What do we do? We just sit, still, without moving, and focus on our breath. No numbers, no words, no visualizations, no wondering about the breathing. Just noticing it go in and out: in the diaphragm, chest, or at the tip of the nostrils. When a thought, a sensation, a feeling, a sound, whatever, arises as a distraction and we notice that we are thinking or feeling of hearing, we let go of that distraction and mindfully return to observing our breath.
We don’t judge or evaluate our meditation. We just sit.
Meditation is about letting go, not attaining. How do we let go? We let go by focusing our attention on something else. For example, when we notice we are listening to a bird, we let go by simply (re)focusing on our breath.
We allow the breath to be natural. We don’t try to change it or control it. We simply breathe. Simply observe. We become calmer, healther, and more peaceful.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Buddhist Best Practices, Part 2

In our last blog, we looked at the first three of the six paramitas. Here we look at the last three.

4. Right Effort

We generally describe right effort as abandon and refrain the unwholesome, develop and maintain the wholesome. But a definition is not a plan.

Right Effort requires us to simplify our life and to restructure it in ways that conduce to the performance of our practice. We can, once we see how, create an environment in which our practice can thrive. After all, what we are doing now is creating an environment in which our practice is difficult. So it is more a shift in style than something new.

Right Effort keeps us on the Path. We shift our lives in order to lower our stress levels. By minimizing our interactions with others we minimize “selfing,” ego-energizing involvements and conflicts. By taking the conditions of our body and mind seriously, we eliminate deleterious habits, eliminations that can be ended easily, providing we grasp the power that meditation and practice. We do instead of thinking and talking. We meditate and we gain insight. We create an environment in which practice can flourish and in which the sense of well-being we derive from this induces us to further practice.

Five Right Efforts
Techniques for Ridding Ourselves of Defilements:

1. For every defilement there is an antidote (patience for anger; generosity for jealousy, etc). The first of these right efforts is to replace the defilement with the wholesome mindstate that is its opposite.

This is often described as abandon and refrain, develop and maintain.:



Wholesome Mindstates


2. The second of the five right efforts is to activate these positive mindstates: regret and distaste. Ordinarily in the West these are considered negative mindstates, but in Buddhism these are positive mental qualities that we can used to abandon an unwanted thought or action.

Here’s how: Reflect briefly, quietly and gently on an unwholesome action, seeing it harmful. Next consider its undesirable consequences until a very gentle distaste for it sets in. Then, as regret arises in us we use that regret to calmly push the thought away, shelving it until and similar situation arises again. Next time, though, when we look at what happened last time we were in this type of situation, the regret leads us to change strategies. No guilt, no wallowing, no ruminating.

3. In this third method, we confront the defilement directly, scrutinize and investigate its structure and the structure of each of its components. When this is done, the defilement quiets down and disappears on its own. This contemplative destructuring, which requires patience to learn, is a very powerful tools for evaporating everything from physical pain to depression. Note that this is not a therapeutic model; we are not looking for sources and origins, we are only looking at the mental paradigms and models with which the defilement is created.

These first three are very effective ways to reset our behavior, to help establish new and lasting habitual patterns, leading to ever-increasing wholesomeness in our thoughts and actions.

4. The fourth technique is to strongly divert our attention away from the defilement. When a powerful, unwholesome thought arises and demands to be noticed, instead of indulging it we forcefully redirect our attention to a mindful presence somewhere elsewhere. This has a limited value, though, as it is weak at resetting our habitual behavior and only works if the defilement is met with a diversion of equal or greater strength.

5. The fifth right effort, to be used only as a last resort, is suppression–to vigorously wrestle the defilement to the ground and keep it pinned there until it can safely get up and redirect our attention to something better for us. Like four, this too has limited value and limited effectiveness, because it has little resetting strength.

5. Meditation

Meditation is what charges our mindfulness battery, and mindfulness is the driving force of a clear, peaceful, calm, quiet and confident mind.

What do we just do? We just sit, still, without moving, and focus on our breath. No numbers, no words, no visualizations, no wondering about the breathing. Just noticing it go in and out: in the diaphragm, chest, or at the tip of the nostrils. When a thought, a sensation, a feeling, a sound, whatever, arises as a distraction and we notice that we are thinking or feeling of hearing, we let go of that distraction and mindfully return to observing our breath.

We don’t judge or evaluate our meditation. We just sit.

Meditation is about letting go, not attaining. How do we let go? We let go by focusing our attention on something else. For example, when we notice we are listening to a bird, we let go by simply (re)focusing on our breath.

Allow the breath to be natural. Don’t try to change it or control it. Simply breathe. Simply observe.

6. Wisdom

Wisdom, in the paramita context, can be considered as the understanding and intention that leads us to maintaining the practices of right effort, mindfulness and meditation. The right understanding, or view, is no view–just being mindfully present. The right intention is the intention to wholeheartedly and with utter diligence make it our life’s work to be generous, disciplined, patient, and mindful; plus be meditators.

Conceptually, Buddhist wisdom is often described as the four noble truths: there is suffering, its causes, that it is possible to end suffering, and the path to ending it. A level deeper of that concept are the five aggregates. And on the deepest level, wisdom is understanding and someday realizing the twelve links of dependent origination.

We will look at the aggregates and the links in upcoming blogs.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The First Three Buddhist "Best Practices"

Part One: The First Three Paramitas
1. Generosity
2. Morality (Moral Discipline)
3. Patience
4. Right Effort
5. Meditation
6. Wisdom

These are the key practices of a bodhisattva, and their perfection, meaning doing them purely regardless of the circumstances, is the way of a bodhisattva. So if we emulate the paramitas, even when they don’t arises quite so naturally as we would like, we will be moving ourselves along the path to peacefulness. They can be thought of as a shorthand version of the Noble Eightfold Path.

There is considerable variation in the scriptural lists of paramitas, values we need to cultivate to live more peaceful lives and to reduce and eliminate our suffering. There is this Chan list of six, but there are other lists of ten as well. In one list of ten, patience is replaced by renunciation, and honesty, determination, lovingkindness, and equanimity are added.

1. Generosity

 is the basic principle of enlightened living, giving without discrimination simply because there is a need. The implication, of course, is that there is no Self to get in the way.
2. Morality is leading a virtuous life (doing, saying, and acting appropriately), simply not doing what we know is wrong, meaning things that produce stress and anxiety for us, for those around us, and for the planet.
3. Patience

 is the antidote for anger in its various forms, ranging from irritation to hatred, and is the mindstate that arises when we stop asking everything to be other than what it is.
4. Right Effort is the paradigm we must maintain diligently to move meaningfully along the path.
5. Meditation is what gives us the single-pointedness that allows peace and clarity to arise
6. Wisdom is the foundation of all our actions; it is right view or understanding and right intention)

1. Generosity

How are we supposed to do to attain freedom from suffering, to reach the emptiness of emptiness, to walk stably on the middle path? According to the Diamond Sutra, just be generous. Generosity, dana in Sanskrit, is often used in the context of making monetary offerings. But in daily life, generosity is meant is a much larger context. Generosity is what arises when our own self-cherishing and self-centered needs give way to being of benefit to others.

As we practice with the paramitas, our attachments, especially to our self, weaken and disappear. This is, in essence, the actuation of the Three Pure Vows (to do no harm, to be of benefit, to save all beings).

Generosity involves the gift, the giver and the receiver. Ideally, the giver should give simply because there is a need, with no expectation of personal gain, reward, or benefit; and the gift should be given without consideration of the receiver, with complete disregard for the recipient’s character or qualities. Finally, the gift can be material, it can be money or things, or it can be spiritual, meaning the gift of the dharma. Both hold an important place in perfecting this paramita, though spiritual giving, giving the gift of the teachings, is considered a higher form of giving.

The practice of giving purifies our minds and relieves our suffering in three ways. First, when we decide to give something of our own to someone else, we reduce our attachment to the object; making this a habit weakens our craving and clinging, the main causes of our dukkha. Second, establishing the habit of being generous resets our karma so that in the future we produce less and less dukkha for ourselves. And third, and most important, when giving is practiced with pure intention, our generosity produces virtue and wisdom, which has the immediate effect of changing our karmic course and eliminating dukkha.

The highest for of giving, which is neither material nor spiritual, is the giving of No-Fear.

Ten Practices for the Giving of No-Fear

1.     The more peaceful we are, the more we give no-fear
2.     Understand no-self, when there is no self, there is the giving of no-fear
3.     Body – Slow gentle movement, no clumsiness, less eye-contact, humble stances
4.     Speech – Right speech, gentle language, slow speaking, mindful speech
5.     Mind -- Replacing defiled mind states with their antidotes
6.     Equanimity – Stop discriminating and differentiating, stop value-adding judgments
7.     Understanding that everyone acts only to relive their own suffering, never to cause us to dukkha
8.     Making compassion the central point of departure for everything we do and don’t do
9.     Become the smallest person in the room, allowing modesty and humility to guide our actions
10.  Never go on the battlefield
11.  Never say it more than once
12.  Conquer our own fear of fear
13.  Living with a heart filled with sympathetic joy
14.  Always offering as much support and comfort as possible
15.  Recognizing that we have intellectually, economically and spiritually a strong duty and responsibility to care for and protect the weak

The giving of no-fear is the giving of the gift of ultimate wisdom.

2. Morality (Moral Discipline)

Morality is acting in “right” ways. There are a number of lists that codify these behaviors. View them as guidelines, not absolutes; view them as rafts, not doctrines. Contemplate them anew each time conditions warrant their arising.

These can be used to guide our every decision:

1.     Do no harm, then if possible
2.     Be of benefit
3.     If you can’t be of benefit, do nothing
4.     Be morally disciplined and follow the rules
5.     Meditate
6.     Be wisdom-oriented

Use Right Speech
Only speak when it will improve the silence

1.     Only speak when conditions suggest you should speak
2.     Only speak when you have something to say that will be of benefit
3.     Always speak in ways that can be heard
4.     Only say it once
5.     Never go on the battlefield; being of benefit isn’t about winning
Wrong speech:
            Harsh, mean-spirited or angry words
            Gossip and small talk
            Belittling others to raise your own status

As Much As Possible, Maintain One of these Mind-States
1.     Generosity
2.     Compassion and Lovingkindness
3.     Patience
4.     Humility and Modesty
5.     Moral Restraint
6.     Equanimity
7.     Right Speech
8.     Truthfulness
9.     Dependability
10.  Regret (When we act appropriately but the outcome is not beneficial, then we use regret, very gently, to remind us to try another tactic next time.)
11.  Distaste (Develop a gentle aversion to all that is unwholesome in body, speech and mind.)

The Precepts

I asked a student to contemplate these and she emailed me the next day saying “I must be missing something, I don’t do any of these.” I told her to contemplate just “no killing.” She emailed me a few days later: “I could spend a whole lifetime just on ‘No killing,’ couldn’t I?”

Don’t be deceived by their brevity and simplicity, these are life practices.

1.     No killing
2.     No taking of things not given
3.     No sexual misconduct
4.     No falsifying
5.     No drugs


Patience is a mindstate that is able to accept fully whatever occurs. Patience is the antidote for faulty frustrated desires (greed, the I-wants and I shoulda-hads) and unwanted occurrences (negative greed: the I-shouldn’ta gottens and it shouldn’t bes), and for the anger that arises from not getting. We need to make the perfection of patience an omnipresent practice; not just a fallback position to use in desperation when screaming fails to accomplish our goal.

Being patient means being there wholeheartedly with whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are. It is always possible to be patient; there is no situation so bad that it cannot be accepted patiently, with an open, accommodating, and mindful practice.

When we practice the patience of voluntarily accepting suffering (which is all imagined and unreal, so why not?), we can maintain a peaceful mind even when experiencing difficulties.

If we maintain this peaceful and positive state of mind through mindfulness, angry minds will have no opportunity to arise. (You’re always breathing, so you can always return to your breath, even when someone is screaming at you). On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to dwell in aversive thoughts and/or affirmations there will be no way for us to prevent anger and ill-will from arising.

By training our mind to look at frustrating situations in a more realistic manner, we can free ourselves from anger and a lot of other unnecessary mental suffering: If there is a way to remedy an unpleasant situation, what point is there in being angry? On the other hand, if it is completely impossible to remedy the situation there is also no reason to get upset either. This line of reasoning is very useful, for we can apply it when we feel ourselves just becoming angry and thereby move to patience.

Being patient doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do something in response to “problematic” conditions. If it is possible to remedy the situation, then of course we should; but to do this we do not need to become angry. Simple awareness will do. And importantly, we need not to believe that things should be other than what they are.

In reality all of our problems are nothing more than a failure to accept things, as they are–in which case it is patient acceptance, rather than attempting to change externals, that is the solution. Lessening and managing the anger is not the point on which we practice. The point is to patiently accept things are they are and to let go of all our fabrications about how they oughta be/shoulda be.

Problems do not exist outside our mind, so when we stop seeing other people and things as problems they stop being problems. That’s patience.

Sitting perfectly still in meditation is one of the best training for a patient life.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gain Freedom From Fear

Freedom from Fear
Excerpted and edited from an article by Ajahn Geoff

The Buddhist idea about fear is complex. This is due partly to Buddhism's dual roots — both as a civilized and as a wilderness tradition — and also to the complexity of fear itself, even in its most primal forms. Think of a deer at night suddenly caught in a hunter's headlights. It's confused. Angry. It senses danger, and that it's weak in the face of the danger. It wants to escape. These five elements — confusion, aversion, a sense of danger, a sense of weakness, and a desire to escape — are present, to a greater or lesser extent, in every fear. The confusion and aversion are the unskillful elements. Even if the deer has many openings to escape from the hunter, its confusion and aversion might cause it to miss them. The same holds true for human beings. The mistakes and evils we commit when finding ourselves weak in the face of danger come from confusion and aversion.

The last three elements of fear — the perception of weakness, the perception of danger, and the desire to escape it — are needed to avoid the evils coming from complacency. If stripped of confusion and aversion, these three elements become a positive quality, heedfulness — something so essential to the practice that the Buddha devoted his last words to it. The dangers of life are real. Our weaknesses are real. If we don't see them clearly, don't take them to heart, and don't try to find a way out, there's no way we can put an end to the causes of our fears. Just like the deer: if it's complacent about the hunter's headlights, it's going to end up strapped to the fender for sure.

So to genuinely free the mind from fear, we can't simply deny that there's any reason for fear. We have to overcome the cause of fear: the mind's weaknesses in the face of very real dangers. The elegance of the Buddha's approach to this problem, though, lies in his insight into the confusion — or to use the standard Buddhist term, the delusion — that makes fear unskillful. Despite the complexity of fear, delusion is the single factor that, in itself, is both the mind's prime weakness and its greatest danger. Thus the Buddha approaches the problem of fear by focusing on delusion, and he attacks delusion in two ways: getting us to think about its dangerous role in making fear unskillful, and getting us to develop inner strengths leading to the insights that free the mind from the delusions that make it weak. In this way we not only overcome the factor that makes fear unskillful. We ultimately put the mind in a position where it has no need for fear.

When we think about how delusion infects fear and incites us to do unskillful things, we see that it can act in two ways. First, the delusions surrounding our fears can cause us to misapprehend the dangers we face, seeing danger where there is none, and no danger where there is. If we obsess over non-existent or trivial dangers, we'll squander time and energy building up useless defenses, diverting our attention from genuine threats. If, on the other hand, we put the genuine dangers of aging, illness, and death out of our minds, we grow complacent in our actions. We let ourselves cling to things — our bodies, our loved ones, our possessions, our views — that leave us exposed to aging, illness, separation, and death in the first place. We allow our cravings to take charge of the mind, sometimes to the point of doing evil with impunity, thinking we're immune to the results of our evil, that those results will never return to harm us.

The more complacent we are about the genuine dangers lying in wait all around us, the more shocked and confused we become when they actually hit. This leads to the second way in which the delusions surrounding our fears promote unskillful actions: we react to genuine dangers in ways that, instead of ending the dangers, actually create new ones. We amass wealth to provide security, but wealth creates a high profile that excites jealousy in others. We build walls to keep out dangerous people, but those walls become our prisons. We stockpile weapons, but they can easily be turned against us.

The most unskillful response to fear is when, perceiving dangers to our own life or property, we believe that we can gain strength and security by destroying the lives and property of others. The delusion pervading our fear makes us lose perspective. If other people were to act in this way, we would know they were wrong. But somehow, when we feel threatened, our standards change, our perspective warps, so that wrong seems right as long as we're the ones doing it.

This is probably the most disconcerting human weakness of all: our inability to trust ourselves to do the right thing when the chips are down. If standards of right and wrong are meaningful only when we find them convenient, they have no real meaning at all.

Fortunately, though, the area of life posing the most danger and insecurity is the area where, through training, we can make the most changes and exercise the most control. Although aging, illness, and death follow inevitably on birth, delusion doesn't. It can be prevented. If, through thought and contemplation, we become heedful of the dangers it poses, we can feel motivated to overcome it. However, the insights coming from simple thought and contemplation aren't enough to fully understand and overthrow delusion. It's the same as with any revolution: no matter how much you may think about the matter, you don't really know the tricks and strengths of entrenched powers until you amass your own troops and do battle with them. And only when your own troops develop their own tricks and strengths can they come out on top. So it is with delusion: only when you develop mental strengths can you see through the delusions that give fear its power. Beyond that, these strengths can put you in a position where you are no longer exposed to dangers ever again.

The Canon lists these mental strengths at five: conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and discernment. It also emphasizes the role that heedfulness plays in developing each, for heedfulness is what enables each strength to counteract a particular delusion that makes fear unskillful, and the mind weak in the face of its fears. What this means is that none of these strengths are mere brute forces. Each contains an element of wisdom and discernment, which gets more penetrating as you progress along the list.

Of the five strengths, (1) conviction requires the longest explanation, both because it's one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated factors in the Buddhist path, and because of the multiple delusions it has to counteract.

The conviction here is conviction in the principle of karma: that the pleasure and pain we experience depends on the quality of the intentions on which we act. This conviction counteracts the delusion that "It's not in my best interest to stick to moral principles in the face of danger," and it attacks this delusion in three ways.

First, it insists on what might be called the "boomerang" or "spitting into the wind" principle of karmic cause and effect. If you act on harmful intentions, regardless of the situation, the harm will come back to you. Even if unskillful actions such as killing, stealing, or lying might bring short-term advantages, these are more than offset by the long-term harm to which they leave you exposed.

Conversely, this same principle can make us brave in doing good. If we're convinced that the results of skillful intentions will have to return to us even if death intervenes, we can more easily make the sacrifices demanded by long-term endeavors for our own good and that of others. Whether or not we live to see the results in this lifetime, we're convinced that the good we do is never lost. In this way, we develop the courage needed to build a store of skillful actions — generous and virtuous — that forms our first line of defense against dangers and fear.

Second, conviction insists on giving priority to your state of mind above all else, for that's what shapes your intentions. This counteracts the corollary to the first delusion: "What if sticking to my principles makes it easier for people to do me harm?" This question is based ultimately on the delusion that life is our most precious possession. If that were true, it would be a pretty miserable possession, for it heads inexorably to death. Conviction views our life as precious only to the extent that it's used to develop the mind, for the mind — when developed — is something that no one, not even death, can harm. "Quality of life" is measured by the quality and integrity of the intentions on which we act, just as "quality time" is time devoted to the practice. Or, in the Buddha's words:

Better than a hundred years
lived without virtue, uncentered, is
one day
lived by a virtuous person
absorbed in jhana.

Third, conviction insists that the need for integrity is unconditional. Even though other people may throw away their most valuable possession — their integrity — it's no excuse for us to throw away ours. The principle of karma isn't a traffic ordinance in effect only on certain hours of the day or certain days of the week. It's a law operating around the clock, around the cycles of the cosmos.

Some people have argued that, because the Buddha recognized the principle of conditionality, he would have no problem with the idea that our virtues should depend on conditions as well. This is a misunderstanding of the principle. To begin with, conditionality doesn't simply mean that everything is changeable and contingent. It's like the theory of relativity. Relativity doesn't mean that all things are relative. It simply replaces mass and time — which long were considered constants — with another, unexpected constant: the speed of light. Mass and time may be relative to a particular inertial frame, as the frame relates to the speed of light, but the laws of physics are constant for all inertial frames, regardless of speed.

In the same way, conditionality means that there are certain unchanging patterns to contingency and change — one of those patterns being that unskillful intentions, based on craving and delusion, invariably lead to unpleasant results.

If we learn to accept this pattern, rather than our feelings and opinions, as absolute, it requires us to become more ingenious in dealing with danger. Instead of following our unskillful knee-jerk reactions, we learn to think outside the box to find responses that best prevent harm of any kind. This gives our actions added precision and grace.

At the same time, we have to note that the Buddha didn't teach conditionality simply to encourage acceptance for the inevitability of change. He taught it to show how the patterns underlying change can be mastered to create an opening that leads beyond conditionality and change. If we want to reach the unconditioned — the truest security — our integrity has to be unconditional, a gift of temporal security not only to those who treat us well, but to everyone, without exception. As the texts say, when you abstain absolutely from doing harm, you give a great gift — freedom from danger to limitless beings — and you yourself find a share in that limitless freedom as well.

Conviction and integrity of this sort make great demands on us. Until we gain our first taste of the unconditioned, they can easily be shaken. This is why they have to be augmented with other mental strengths. The three middle strengths — persistence, mindfulness, and concentration — act in concert. Persistence, in the form of right effort, counteracts the delusion that we're no match for our fears, that once they arise we have to give into them. Right effort gives us practice in eliminating milder unskillful qualities and developing skillful ones in their place, so that when stronger unskillful qualities arise, we can use our skillful qualities as allies in fending them off. The strength of mindfulness assists this process in two ways. (1) It reminds us of the danger of giving in to fear. (2) It teaches us to focus our attention, not on the object of our fear, but on the fear in and of itself as a mental event, something we can watch from the outside rather jumping in and going along for a ride. The strength of concentration, in providing the mind with a still center of wellbeing, puts us in a solid position where we don't feel compelled to identify with fears as they come, and where the comings and goings of internal and external “dangers” are less and less threatening to the mind.

Even then, though, the mind can't reach ultimate security until it uproots the causes of these comings and goings, which is why the first four strengths require the strength of discernment to make them fully secure. Discernment is what sees that these comings and goings are ultimately rooted in our sense of "I" and "mine," and that "I" and "mine" are not built into experience. They come from the repeated processes of I-making and my-making, in which we impose these notions on experience and identify with things subject to aging, illness, and death. Furthermore, discernment sees through our inner traitors and weaknesses: the cravings that want us to make an "I" and "mine"; the delusions that make us believe in them once they're made. It realizes that this level of delusion is precisely the factor that makes aging, illness, and death dangerous to begin with. If we didn't identify with things that age, grow ill, and die, their aging, illness, and death wouldn't threaten the mind. Totally unthreatened, the mind would have no reason to do anything unskillful ever again.

When this level of discernment matures and bears the fruit of release, our greatest insecurity — our inability to trust ourselves — has been eliminated. Freed from the attachments of "I" and "mine," we find that the component factors of fear — both skillful and unskillful — are gone. There's no remaining confusion or aversion; the mind is no longer weak in the face of danger; and so there's nothing from which we need to escape.

We fear because we believe in "we." If we develop the strengths that allow us to cut through our cravings, delusions, and attachments, the entire complex — the "we," the fear, the beliefs, the attachments — dissolves away. The freedom remaining is the only true security there is. In trading away the hope for an impossible security, you gain the reality of a happiness totally independent and condition-free. Once you've made this trade, you know that the pay-off is more than worth the price.