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.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Know Peacefulness by Becoming the Smallest Person in the Room

I vow to be he smallest person in the room.

Humility and modesty are two on the short list of wholesome mindstates observed by Asanga, the 1st century monk who watched his mind in meditation and then codified the workings into a book, the Abhidharma Samuccaya. Put another way, if you want to be peaceful, simply “make yourself the smallest person in the room,” as my teacher Master Ji Ru says.

This month, I will be blogging about three vows for the new year. “I vow to be the smallest person in the room” is the first vow; it is a vow to make humility and modesty our baseline. For a vow to be effective, we need to consider its implications intellectually, frequently chant it so it just comes to mind spontaneously to remind us of our intention to be this way, and to make a concerted effort to practice it, especially under difficult circumstances.

Let’s start with some basic definitions, then consider a few short exerpts about humility and modesty, and then let’s look at how to apply and practice these in our everyday lives. First, the definitions:

Humility is to depart from a position of gentle, non-assertiveness. It is a behavior or attitude or spirit that wholly lacks arrogance and conceit or any sense of self-centeredness or self-cherishing. It is being unassuming without being proud or feeling inferior. It applies to all that we do, say and think.

Modesty is to depart from a disinclination to call attention to ourself. Modesty involves observing proprieties, especially in speech, dress and comportment. It is avoid extremes through understatement in everything one has and does materially and spiritually.

Now some quotes:


Do not find fault with others. If they behave wrongly, there is no need to make yourself suffer.
–Ajahn Chah (20th-Century Thai monk)

Humility and Patience

I think that there is a very close connection between humility and patience. Humility involves having the capacity to take a more confrontational stance, having the capacity to retaliate if you wish, yet deliberately deciding not to do so. That is what I would call genuine humility.

I think that true patience has a component or element of self-discipline and restraint--the realization that you could have acted otherwise, you could have adopted a more aggressive approach, but decided not to do so.

On the other hand, being forced to adopt a certain passive response out of a feeling of helplessness or incapacitation--that I wouldn't call genuine humility. That may be a kind of meekness, but it isn't genuine patience or humility.

–His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Real Humility Is Genuineness

Humility, very simply, is the absence of arrogance. Where there is no arrogance, you relate with your world as an eye-level situation, without one-upmanship. Because of that, there can be a genuine interchange. Nobody is using their message to put anybody else down, and nobody has to come down or up to the other person’s level. Everything is eye-level.

Humility in the Shambala tradition also involves some kind of playfulness, which is a sense of hum…. In most religious traditions, you feel humble because of a fear of punishment, pain, and sin. In the Shambala world you feel full of it. You feel healthy and good. In fact, you feel proud. Therefore, you feel humility. That’s one of the Shambala contradictions or, we could say, dichotomies. Real humility is genuineness.
–Chogyam Trungpa

And finally, practicing with humility and modesty, practicing being the smallest person in the room, requires thinking about these wholesome mindstates and then acting from them.

·       Behave without arrogance, conceit and other self-centered tendencies such as jealousy, envy and an impulse to show off. Behave in ways that reduce one’s sense of self-importance and that give no-fear by their very nature. (The giving of no-fear is one of the most important practices of generosity.)

Remember and Watch Out for The Three Conceits: I am better than you; I am equal to you; I am less than you.

Conceit is prone to arise when one is praised for some particular work or mental quality, usually by others but sometimes by self. Within limits praise from a knowledgeable person can be encouraging without becoming a defilement. The trouble is that too much praise, particularly if it borders on flattery, makes us proud and arrogant. The ego sticks out its chest and feels two inches taller; it has a delicious feeling of security and believes itself to be invulnerable!

This is the nasty sort of pride that the ancient Greeks called hubris; it was looked upon as an insult to the gods, and when the Olympians found a man suffering from it they unloosed Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, who brought him to death or destruction. I am not suggesting we kill everyone who feels proud, but just that we watch ourselves carefully so we can stay humble and modest without pride overriding those wholesome mindstates, which is pride’s tendency.

·       Respect others by having a compassionate interest in them, without a desire to please or to impress. This allows us to do what is appropriate without distortion or suffering. It also allows us to see that right speech, which is grounded in compassion, often leads us to be silent.

·       Relate to others without the need to make your understandings and opinions right and heard, protected or defended. Listen without the need to express and without the need to assert or protect and defend your understandings or opinions. The point of listening is not to express what we already know; that’s conceit. Ultimately, humility and modesty are teaching us not to process everything from a position of I-me-my-mine.

Modesty and humility allow us to walk through life calmly and peacefully, doing what is needed, reasonable and appropriate with discomfort or stress.

To make these virtues, these positive mindstates, into our default setting so they arise naturally without us having to activate them in the face of pride or conceit, in the face of self-deprecation or self-aggrandizement, we need to flood our mind with a commitment to humility and modesty. The easiest way to initiate this is through recitation, or chanting.

Set a timer for 10 minutes. Sit quietly for a minute or two, relaxing your body and mindfully watching your breath. Take long slow deep breaths. Then repeat, over and over, either out loud to yourself:  In each and every moment, I vow to be the smallest person in the room.

Do this once or twice a day, for several weeks, until you sense that humility and modesty are arising naturally in you at times when you might otherwise have become angry or arrogant or wanting your way.

Then make this an occasional practice. Perhaps chant it in the car for a couple of minutes to keep it fresh in your mind, or when you’re showering or brushing your teeth; anytime you are alone and not doing anything that requires much attention, just recite “I vow to be the smallest person in the room” a few times.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Making It A Thankful New year

Think “Thank You”

This is the time of year when we traditionally think “Thank you.” Often, though not exclusively, these thank you’s are for the material things we have gained. But there is a traditional kindness chant that can extend our thank you’s in profound ways, extend our thank you’s so that we ourselves, those around us, and the world in which we live feel our thank you’s in each and every moment.

For this practice to be effective, we must first believe that the chant is true and then chant it often enough so that it arises spontaneously when unwholesome impulses and temptations arise as well as when wholesome and beneficial events and conditions arise.

If we chant it enough times, it will arise spontaneously and seemingly of its own accord. But first we need to develop an airtight logical explanation for the chant. Actually, several lines of reasoning is better.

Here’s the chant:

Each and every living being is supreme kind to me.

This will only work if you believe it. No exceptions. This isn’t about an act being kind or not, it is about our perspective on that act. If someone gives me something I want, I can see it as kind in that it gives me the opportunity to be grateful and generous in receiving it. If someone does something mean to me, I can see it as kind in that it gives me the opportunity to be patient and to see beyond the superficiality of the act to the underlying suffering that motivated the person to act in that way.

Contemplating this, we discover several lines of reasoning we can use. One, regardless of what someone does to me, I can consider it kind because it is an opportunity for me to strengthen my practice and grow spiritually. If someone does something nasty to me, for example, I can see it as kind because it gives me an opportunity to practice patience. If someone does something particularly nice to me, I can see it as a kindness because it gives me the opportunity to practice humility and modesty.

A second line of reasoning suggests that our basic nature, everything that we think, say and do, is an attempt to end some level of suffering we perceive in ourselves. Understanding that everything we do is about ending some level of discomfort or suffering in us, we soon come to realize that everything everyone does is an act to end their suffering–not necessarily wise or well-reasoned–but an attempt to end their suffering nonetheless.

If all that “they” are doing is attempting to end their suffering, why would I view this as anything but an opportunity for me to practice compassion toward them. Nothing else would seem reasonable. This doesn’t mean I necessarily condone the act, just that my perspective is to see that they are trying, even if unwisely, trying through what they have done to relieve suffering and so it is kind insofar as it allow me to be compassionate under duress.

On a deeply spiritual level, being everything is inherently empty of meaning and value from its own side, I get to decide whether something done to me is good or bad by the way I choose to perceive it. Therfore, if I get to define “duress” in my life, then why don’t I stopped defining things as stressful find another perspective that makes them all as kindnesses?

Believing this chant gives me an outlook that prevents me from getting anxious or angry, fearful or threatened. And that outlook is the framework that my mind can use to stay stable in the face of difficulties, even very great difficulties.

If I can know deeply and understand the chant Each and every living being is supreme kind to me, my intention in each moment will have me do the very best I can with the conditions in front of me. Knowing that I always do the very best I can with what’s happening, I can remain calm with any event or outcome. I can stay positive and without recrimination and guilt when the outcome is other than anticipated. If the outcomes aren’t appropriate, then I can course correct, finding better and new strategies for dealing with the same or similar situations in the future.

Realizing this, that I had, and do always do my best, I remain patient, compassionate and generous, to myself and others. My self-image stays clean and clear and positive without arrogance or conceit. Further, when I generalize this to all other beings, when I realize that no matter how unreasonable or terribly someone may act, they are doing the best they can, my intention will reset me to being kind, patient and compassionate and generous.

Assuming I believe this chant, then I will interpret and filter new information from my senses though intentional structures that lead me to positive wholesome thoughts, speech and action. In fact, they lead me to see the world as a kind place, supportive of me who is making his best effort. The more I practice, the more grateful I become, the more thankful I am for being here, now, connected to everyone and everything.

When I realize that each and every living being is supremely kind to me, I become one with the cooperative underpinnings of the universe. I have no regrets. I have nothing but thank you’s. And the world has nothing but thank you’s.

For all of your readership, practice, and support this year, a deep bow of gratitude and a thank you.