I am using Weeping Buddha and the lojong sayings and commentary from Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness by Chogyam Trungpa as a study, together.
I’ve been practicing tonglen for almost three decades, and it is my main practice.
This is the eighth weekly installment. To start at the beginning go here.
Then in my early thirties I bought Trungpa at the Bodhi Tree when his book literally fell on my head. I read it pretty quickly (I read most things quickly), yellow marker in hand. I thought it was great, but could not relate. Next. “Where was I going to find the book to fix me?” I bought ten more books, and read them all quickly, not quite fixing me. (And for those of you who say we are all perfect, trust me, I was NOT.)
Then I cultivated a desire to learn true compassion. I had thought I had compassion. I was raised Catholic, and heard teachings about compassion growing up. After a while I realized I only had it for those I cared about, and possibly I was confusing it with love. A big step was working through the twelve step program, and having compassion for myself about uncomfortable alcoholic issues. I remembered the lojong information somewhat but could not remember which book it was in — I had so many books! I remembered you had to have compassion for everyone, because you sent good stuff to those you hated, and regretted having read the book quickly. I found a different book on the lojong, and delved deeper, and thus began my study, which became my practice. I learned taking and sending on my own.
Enemies. Why talk about enemies? Because I grew up with quite a bit of treachery in my immediate family, and was a pretty angry person. And I have a few “enemies” today, people who for their own reasons would like to see me undermined in some manner. And some see me as the enemy, which makes them treacherous. Then of course there is the whole political arena, which has become pretty volatile. So yes, enemies must be a topic.
As I devoured all of Chogyam Trungpa’s and Pema Chodron’s works, read books on physics, and worked with other teachers, I realized that literally or karmically, the other, including the enemy, is some aspect of myself, disowned, possibly, but part of me nonetheless. No separation in the great cosmic sense because our world is an illusion, even if there looks to be a great divide of you and me. (Have I lost you yet? Suspend your preconceptions and come along if this is news to you, get the book below I recommend if this is something you want to know more about.) In fact, any time I was pointing fingers at another, if I looked, there were fingers pointing back at me. How to make peace with THAT?
(“One way is to point less,” my smart-ass voice says.)
Today I focus on a quote from Trungpa, “we develop a friendliness to everything.” I hear it so differently now, two decades later. YES! My enemies, or let’s say all those annoying folks that make me crazy, are showing me the difficult aspects that I either have disowned or need to learn to work with, possibly because of past karmas or some other personality quirk that needs to be exercised. In fact, it doesn’t really matter “why” it is there, just that it is:
- the scatterbrained stressed-out receptionist on the phone (own it own it own it),
- the person rushing through to do their job and not doing it well sometimes (own it, I’d rather be painting or writing)
- the way my husband may be wasting time (he isn’t, my projection totally, and even if he is, and I own that judgement about myself)
- the dogmatic assholes all around us (oh gads I grew up with the game of black and white)
- a loved one who isn’t taking care of themselves properly and may die as a result (I have ignored for various reasons the body I am in and now must change my ways. I am.)
It is especially important this very week, when a Jewish friend has decided that I am anti-Semitic because I question aspects of what we are hearing on the news about Israel. It is the sources I may not trust, and want to know more. No amount of discussion is possible with her. As she herself has said, she takes this war very personally, despite the fact that she has no loved ones in the region and is in no danger herself. She has called out anyone who disagrees with her even a little bit to be her enemy, a person who does not care for Jews. She has indeed made this war personal, because the war is in her.
Whew. Okay, diving in, I can see the dogmatic twenty-something I was, and according to her, all her Jewish 30-ish friends are, as they all agree with her. This liberal woman has taken on Bushisms, “You’re either with us or against us.” (Agree with Israel’s every move or be a Jew-hater.”) But that was me then in the game of black and white; what about now? Okay, I can ferret out one low-life scumbag who would love to hurt our business and has no contextual reason to do so, and so I see her as my enemy. And those that know the situation have to either agree with us (most do, for she is pretty despicable) or I throw them in with her, even if I am more diplomatic about it. Her boss doesn’t act quickly enough to fire her, and I question her friendship in my head sometimes. I wonder how can she continue to give her the opportunity to do what she does? Maybe she is not really my friend.
Okay okay okay, I get it. Yuch and no thank you is my initial response, like taking bad medicine. But as I sit with it, I see that I need to do my tonglen practice with her, my enemy. How can I keep this situation from living in my own heart? From growing like a cancer?
This is where relative reality* and ultimate reality* (or absolute reality) really come into play. Understanding there is no real separation between me and others in this illusionary place we call our lives, doesn’t help me in this place I find very real. In this relative reality that you and I share, which you find possibly as the only reality (though some of my readers believe in heaven which is another type of reality from what they are used to), I need to take some action. I need to draw boundaries to protect my business in this reality, and so, she is no longer part of our business lives. I do not go after her, and frankly have very little to do with her, but I keep my antenna up in those situations where I now know she may be found, in order not to get caught unawares.
Then in absolute reality I make friends with her in my practice. Sitting on my zafu, I imagine her in my mind’s eye and walk a mile in her shoes. I drop the story line of our situation and only in my practice, I open up to her “evil-doing!” I soften and see her differently. I look to understand her ways, her life. When I come back from my practice, from doing this type of work on an enemy, I am less likely to participate in those hate-building kinds of discussions with even my best friends — you know, the little gossipy things you say to show that you are different from the other? I do not participate or play in my own heart with more hatred. This creates an even friendlier environment, less stressful for me at least, and I like to think that it may ripple out.
Doing this kind of work has made me able to move through most angry situations to a calmer place very quickly now. I see the situations where anger erupted before clearly much faster, own my karmic (if nothing else) part of it much faster, and even have some real-live wins where I can diffuse a difficult situation before it gets out of hand. Every situation is a teaching for me, and so, at least in retrospect, even my enemies and perhaps especially my enemies have a great deal to offer in my life.
Has she changed? Perhaps. She is no longer part of my monkey-mind.
Sangha. Used to mean the tribe of Buddhists who were spiritual friends. Now I see sangha as the people who are teaching me and leading me to places I need to go to learn about my life, sometimes providing uncomfortable mirrors, helping me clear out binding attachments. In this way, I make friends with my enemies, at least in my practice, for they too are part of my sangha.
What action will I take about my Jewish friend? I don’t know. I have compassion for her anger and what that is doing inside her, as well as what it is doing when she spews it toward her friends. It is sad, that anger. I may let her go, gently, especially if she keeps up the war in herself. It is not my war, it is her war, and I can see the parts of her that are within me. I’m not up for a fight in which I have no stake, ultimately.
In this weekly commentary on the lojong, I am not open to the feed becoming
a debate for people to nitpick Buddhism or my interpretations of Buddhist concepts.
(There are lots of places for debates.) I am more interested in hearing about
YOUR life or how it affected you or your practice awakening in some manner.
For more info about why, go here.
*For great information on this and a wonderful book by an amazing teacher,
go to Gates to Buddhist Practice, by Chagdud Rinpoche, my teacher.