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 over two decades, and it is my main practice.
On this page I am putting all my posts into one long writing as I write them.
There is a difference in studying and reading, and a difference in taking on a teaching as your practice. I read two lojong books before I decided this was going to be my practice. It sang to me. I was a bodhisattva with my foot on the path but other than sit meditation, had not formal practice, and so, stood on the sidelines gleaming what I could. I took to zen to develop a basic sanity, now I wanted to cultivate compassion.
As I have always done when learning anything, I took notes. I can’t really learn any other way, but the words coming through my hands onto the paper puts them into body, heart and mind. I used one of my red Okina journals and began, writing notes from the two books I had, Trungpa’s and Pema Chodron’s, Start Where You Are, a very good book for beginning steps. In place of meditation, I sat in silence and read and wrote and thought about each slogan or page, turning my desk (or the coffee shop) into a sacred place!
The first time through, going back and forth between the two books, was twenty-five+ years ago. The second time through I used only Trungpa. I had practiced tonglen for a few months, the sending and taking of breath, and his words became precious to me. I could relate. The practice became one I used when people around me were angry, when I was angry, when I was frightened, in traffic, in board meetings, when my former husband was having a heart attack. I added post-its all over the pages. The third time through I used Jamgon Kongtrul’s book, The Great Path of Awakening, which I had bought so many years before but could not comprehend. I inserted new pages, loose, for those notes, and for the other books from other teachers, always starting at the beginning.
Just when you think you have it all figured out, life throws curves. The last time it was the Great Recession (we are still experiencing it), and perhaps I am getting the hang of weathering it, though at great cost, because we work longer hours to make ends meet, less time for writing, artwork (and I give thanks for the work.) Now, in my fifties, years of that endless work has taken its toll: arthritis, a sore hip, aches and body pains, a changing diet, sleep deprivation. I battle the attachment to thinking that at our age we should be paid more and work fewer hours, because experience counts for something. That is how it was before 2009. I reconcile that this is our life, thank Spirit for work, and cope. Some days are just fine. At wits end (why does it always take pain to create change?) I embrace change, or perhaps fight it until I must succumb, and develop new practices:
- Unable to paint, my creative self suffered. I finally turned to learning watercolors so that I could paint in a small space. Beginning almost over again, my practice include making small art every day.
- Having exhausted the AMA options, a client brought us to a yoga therapist, and I now have a yoga practice that actually works for me, and is reducing my pain AND a side benefit is I sleep better. One huge change is working with Patti is that I have options to do yoga differently on the days when I am in spasm, so I can always do something.
- As of this writing, I can walk again, and so adding walking, for aerobics.
- I’ve taken to meditating regularly again for stress relief, not enlightenment. I sit and center and woosh, troubles are sent packing while I feel my body connect with the earth, just breath and body, peace and quiet — MOST DAYS. The other days I do mantra or music or eat chocolate!
- Finally, I am winding back through my favorite lojong, Trungpa’s, and this time will be in a new journal (I can’t think of a way to add to the old one with its bulging extra pages and weak spine), and I will, at least for now, work with the image of Weeping Buddha. Having drawn him several times late at night, he is a lovely study in lines and shapes. I’ll be getting to know intimately the statue that has been on my altar for two decades.
Thursdays I am posting this exploration in the lojong. We’ll see how it goes, as I’ve never shared my practice before ~ Namaste!
Lojong Practice: Ultimate and Relative Boddhichitta
I am starting again with the preliminaries,which I haven’t read in a long while. Preliminaries are important concepts or truths. I take notes from Trungpa, but I translate all this into my current understanding, such as it is in any given moment. It is all I can ever do, which is why I continue to study these teachings.
Boddhichitta translates as an awakened mind-heart.
I relate to having an open heart as having compassion for the pain and suffering of even and maybe especially my enemy. Worst case scenarios are good for testing your ability to have an open heart.
I may need to draw boundaries, and I also see that even my enemy is suffering, has desires, wishes, loved ones, a life, and has been hurt. It took me 20 years to come to understanding how to stand in one spot, grounded in this time and space, with the dichotomy of fear and aggression and boundaries or even having to close a door on a hurtful alcoholic family member, while also in the same moment being able to not shut down, to feel all the human feelings, and to send love to the one who is potentially dangerous in a very real way. During the course of getting sober I found that alcohol covered up so much anger and pain of my own. I believe many alcoholics drink not to feel the uncomfortable and painful feelings. So in this case, a good example and personal scenario, I can say that now I can feel the sadness for the path toward destruction, feel the hopelessness and fear of the alcoholic family member, know that I may need to say no or otherwise draw boundaries, and simply, to love them. Love them in the moment and with all my heart, while drawing safe boundaries as may be necessary. This is a huge leap from what I was raised with, and allows me to feel some of the spaciousness of which Trungpa speaks.
Relative boddhichitta is that spark of openness and urge toward compassion for everyone. It often becomes the commitment toward the Boddhisattva Vow, or committing to the path to awaken for the benefit of all beings. I had to awaken compassion for my own sorry path first. As I did this through sending and taking, compassion grew. I aspire for ultimate boddhichitta, and must work continually on emptying my monkey-mind! (Ssssh, can you hear it chattering!?!)
Alaya is a state of non-fear, openness, before there was the division of ego. I have only glimpsed that state in meditation, and so, it is a goal to experience, not one I can discuss well.
Lojong Practice: 3 Friendliness
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* (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.
*For great information on this and a wonderful book by an amazing teacher,
go to Gates to Buddhist Practice, by Chagdud Rinpoche, my teacher.
Lojong Practice 4: Dharmas as Dreams
2. Regard all dharmas as dreams.
The more you meditate, trying to quiet your monkey mind, the more you realize the ya-yah-yahing that goes on about things constantly that are no where near present in the meditation hall, and really are not even pressing events. We can weep at sadness in our minds, when the reality of what is happening around us is happy.
Ever heard several people be witnesses to an event, and how disparate the narration might be? Location, yes, might make a difference, but mostly it is filters.
Why does one family member have one memory of a Sunday night dinner while another has a totally different take on the energy of the gathering?
My favorite is when my husband and I have two different memories, which becomes most apparent if we are arguing. (He is wrong, of course and I am right, but other than that. . .) Thankfully we know our ground of being is we love each other, and so we suspend our solid perceptions and listen to how the other perceived a situation that was not happy. We talk about the difference in our perception with a sense of wonder, and usually are amazed that we can still see something so differently. (Then he admits I am right.)
This week I was glad to know that this reality is a dream, because it was a nightmare of ups and downs, clients changing everything, people not reading information pertinent to what needs to be done (so much repetitive discussion), clients standing up appointments (didn’t we confirm!?!), and lots and lots of hand-holding. Every so often I would remember that it is a dream and CAN change in a minute (one of those things Mitchell likes to remind me of a lot). Yes, like the Oregon weather, it does change, a LOT. Recognizing the nature of the dream (incompletion) led me to change my mindset and choose to move into areas where I COULD get work done (the other was just spinning wheels). I found a way for me to have some success in the midst of a bad dream, and to let go of the other, for which I had no control really. I am ending my week with everything up in the air, and I have to be okay with that.
Lojong Practice 5: Unborn Awareness
3: Examine the nature of unborn awareness.
One’s relationship with stress is a great example of who is doing the perceiving.
I’ve had several days, maybe a couple of weeks where I was overwhelmed with work.
Some of this was very very good news, good jobs to be had, which means a certain level
of long-term comfort in knowing bills will be paid, which is what small businesses
think about a LOT. Still, yesterday was a day where I barely had time to EAT.
(If you know me, I love food, and do not forget to eat.)
5:30 came and went, and Mitchell was saying, “Yoga. Now.”
I tried saying, “One more email I have not responded to for three days . . . ”
“NO. Yoga. Now.”
“Now you are part of my stress,” I tried. “It is all your fault!”
This is a long term game we play, along with “It is lost in Mitchell-land. . . ”
Omigoddess I got him to bite. “What do you need here?” he asked.
“I need three more days in this week. Seriously. I am so overwhelmed!”
I can’t take advantage of him, however, I simply can’t, and so I said,
“Yoga will be a good antidote for this craziness.
I will at least commit to sitting and the warm-up moves, they are so relaxing.”
On the mat, I settled into position physically but my mind didn’t.
I had just said to my brother that at least I could always settle into a quiet space.
I thought about this as my mind went crazy, and realized I had not said
“Kenahora!” to ward off the gods knowing I had it good.
A quiet mind might talk some, at a slow conversational pace,
“i’m hungry . . . breathe breathe breathe . . .
i can feel jai settling into my zafu . . . breathe breathe breathe . . .”
My mind last night was like this:
“YOU DIDN’T ACTUALLY RUN THE NUMBERS FOR THE TRAVEL JUST GUESSED DON’T FORGET TO RUN THE NUMBERS DON’T FORGET TO WRITE ORA THE MEETING IS SATURDAY MUST. LAY. OUT. FABRICS. NO CAN’T UNTIL THE OTHERS ARRIVE GADS I AM STARVING DIDN’T EAT OR DRINK MUCH WATER TODAY I NEED TO WRITE THIS DOWN STUPID STUPID STUPID. . . grab a breath . . .”
On a whim, I yelled loudly what was running in my head.
“I HAVE ACCOUNTING TO DO ORDER SUPPLIES AND I FORGOT TO PAY PATTI!”
Mitchell was startled and the cats scattered.
He calmly started to talk to me about meditating, the time of day,
and yoga was what we were doing NOW, my teacher-husband.
“IT ISN’T LIKE THAT I AM NOT CONCERNED WITH A SOFT PATTER BUT THIS IS WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE IN MY HEAD RIGHT NOW!!” and with that I began to laugh. Big belly laugh, laughing so hard tears were coming from my eyes and I LET GO.
I had exposed my inner Nazi boss and frankly, he sounded a bit loony,
because most of what I was obsessing about I could not do then anyway,
the lines are closed for that activity. My inner Nazi boss wants an A++++ student.
He has no ability to reflect on a full day of putting our fires, answering calls,
and working hard, in fact no ability to reflect at all.
He ALWAYS only cares about what didn’t get done, what is yet to do.
He keeps me up in the middle of the night unless I put New Girl on and laugh myself to sleep, or fall asleep in Mitchell’s lap. He cannot be in charge or I am miserable.
Another perspective would see a good day of work. Deep breath, sighing, oh that feels good. A different voice would be overjoyed at the possibility of good work, interesting work, and a road trip with Mitchell. Yay! Another voice would remember I started my day with a sketch, coffee in our Miracle Mugs (named for the miracle that they were found when the color Marigold was discontinued, and so impart miracles as we sip from them), and that we have a new project manager on a tough job and he is GREAT!
Mitchell has a yogi’s background and he likes to think about things like
“Do you remember a time whenever you were not?”
That is, of course, the crux of this slogan, “the nature of unborn awareness.”
But for me, that is too heady, and I like Trungpa’s take on it,
“Viewing things as they are in the ordinary sense, in your own simple mind.”
Next time you (or I) am having a nutty, it is time to see who is running the show.
Who in there is in charge when the nutty rules the day?
Give someone else a chance to have a say in reflecting on a situation.
(A special thanks to Hal and Sidra Stone for helping me find the voices within.
What a gift to be able to work with them, and I bow! I highly recommend
Embracing Ourselves, the beginning book on Voice Dialogue!)
Lojong Practice6: Nihilism and Intention
4. Self-liberate even the antidote.
This slogan always makes me think of the zennie saying, “Mountain, no mountain, mountain.” You have to open to the truth of everything being not solid, everything being an illusion, and sit with that until you are constantly reminded that whatever you are caring so much about is not real. But then, there is that nihilistic tendency where, even for a short time, you think, “What is the point, then?”
This is when Chagdud’s commentary* on absolute reality and relative reality became so important to me. As I pondered the two, knowing that in absolute reality there is NO separation between me and every object, I also had to wonder what the point to having the dream was — it had to be for a reason, right? Entertainment? Unlikely. . . . But I figured it had to do with some aspect of our consciousness. Thinking about the sending and taking aspects of the practice (not discussed yet for you who are new to this), whereby we send out the best we have as we breathe out, and take in all the pain and suffering as we breathe in, it became clear to me that the dream (my reality) was to allow me to play out my intentions, which appear to be important in some karmic sense. This squared with so many world religions, where the concept of sin is only present where you had intention to commit the sin.
So in self-liberating the antidote, I can see that while this reality may be an illusion, there is a reason to stay present, to not just assume that it doesn’t matter what I do. The reason is my intention in every moment. This led me back to another of Trungpa’s wonderful sayings, which is (paraphrasing) “only you know your own mind.”
I do, and mostly my intentions are good. There was a sigh of relief about that. And, I had to begin to allow myself compassion for some of my actions where I have no other choice and yet my actions are not what I might want. Even organic vegetarians participate in killing to eat. I pollute and I don’t want to (I am sure of it); I use our resources sometimes in opposition to what I want for the environment, and usually it is because I have no real choice at this time (we drive to job sites); and I kill even though I have no intention to kill, and will walk a beetle out of the building. Really we could go crazy thinking about our values versus reality, even in the best sense. Instead of getting all worked up, I learn to have compassion for myself and others who also want to do the right thing, and stay open to another answer arising.
This also throws out the need for a set of guidelines for living (think ten commandments or ten precepts). No rules keeps you present for what is so. It also stops cold the need to participate in zen-based debates. The answer is, “look at your intention or ground of being.”
Gossip is a good example, because most religions say gossiping is a no-no. Gossip can be harmful, but it can also be a positive part of a large family situation, if we consider intention. To share the news that someone is going through a rough time and needs some help? To share concern that someone is having a nutty so we all need to give a bit more energy to that person? Or, to share the news that someone is going through a rough time and it is their fault because they make stupid decisions? To separate and push away, or to offer the possibility of help and caring? In a tight-knit family, there may be “gossip” that is quite positive in intention and in outcome.
Taking responsibility for my intentions is actually not so hard, though at first I was overwhelmed and resisted that it was even possible. In the end it taught me another layer of compassion. And it gave me a good excuse to throw the rule books out the window. “Let your conscience be your guide,” said that enlightened character, the great Jiminy Cricket!
*For great information on this and a wonderful book by an amazing teacher,
go to Gates to Buddhist Practice, by Chagdud Rinpoche, my teacher.
Image of Jiminy Cricket is from a Disney Trailer and is in the public domain, Wikipedia.
Lojong Practice 7: Rest in Alaya
5. Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.
The Tibetans love lists: 10,000 of this or that. I come from a simpler path, the zen path, and so am always trying to simplify what they are saying to grok the point. In this slogan they are pointing to the parts that make our consciousness in this lifetime, including our senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) and our coordinating mind. They add another aspect to mind, which is Nuisance Mind, nyon-yi, or neurosis — which the zennies call monkey mind, always chattering, commenting, and basically causing trouble.
Alaya (not to be confused with alaya-vijnana) is underneath all that, the part of consciousness that is also called basic wakefulness, or clear mind. Alaya is non-discriminating, and can be present for the suchness of what is in this moment, free of monkey-mind. It is the place where one is likely to be free of the separations, of them and me, this and that, and where there is a simplicity of using the senses to see phenomena as a lovely play of life, and simply BE without grasping. If you are sad, you may cry. If you are moved to laughter, it will be a belly laugh. Either way, you don’t hang onto the moment, you experience it and let it pass.
This is where you want to rest in meditation and beyond, simply being with the suchness.
Personally, it is most difficult for me to rest in alaya post-meditation, however, I can hear the chatter in my head. As I write this, monkey-mind has kicked in loudly, like an overbearing critic.
‘be real, it is impossible for you’
After 35 years of meditation I can occasionally find alaya while sitting, which in meditation is very quiet and free from yammering.
It is restful, restorative. I feel a weighted sense to my body, not uncomfortable, like a grounding.
‘that sounds so stupid, new age mumbo jumbo”
When I am off the zafu, however, my monkey mind kicks in loudly more often than not.
‘it still is running
i am going to sound like a novice who knows nothing
well that is the point to take my readers along for this study’
At this point, I can only keep it from being in charge.
I can keep it from driving me insane with worry in that I know it is only chatter,
and can look at this place called the present and
see that things are not what the monkey mind is chattering on about.
‘i hope you have a check in the post box today, you have so many things to do.’
In this present place, I have the keyboard and this post, wonderful ginger coffee in my bright red mug, and a cool rainy day.
‘nice try describing the day is not going to shut me up.
cookies. fried chicken.
Oh gads it got me to engage with the fried chicken comment. I do love fried chicken!
‘the way to your mind is through food’
Meditation allows me to hear the chatter, the yah-yah-yahing in my head. The chatter can be exhausting. You don’t know it is running if you haven’t meditated (sitting still, trying to quiet your mind and count your breaths) so you have no idea how insanely crazy it is, causing anxiety while running just below your consciousness. Meditation doesn’t quiet it up — at least not in my experience — but allows you to hear it! After so many years of meditating you become familiar with your crazy running commentary; then you can hear it in your post-meditation experience. It offers you the choice to dance with the monkey or center and look about at the suchness of what is so in present time. (BTW, monkey mind is very quiet right now.)
In post-meditation, resting in alaya means reminding myself of the present, the suchness of right now. And now. And now.
‘aren’t you done with this yet
you have so many important things to do check your emails
see if silvina has answered you’
Okay, okay, today the monkey is right.
I DO have a lot of business to attend to and am running late!
‘be sure to tell them good luck getting rid of me . . . ‘
Lojong Practice 8: First Thought, Best Thought
I began with the slogan translated as, “In post-meditation, be a child of illusion.” I thought it was about staying awake, staying present. Rinpoche spoke of how we perceive our world through the lenses of our preconceptions, and I thought I needed to rid myself of my preconceptions in order to be present for what is so. I worked on this, and failed miserably. I had a lot of preconceptions, and frankly, I know of no one who lives in the present moment.
6. First thought, best thought.
Then I heard a different translation, “First thought, best thought.” At the time I was a year into sobriety, and was angry a LOT. I thought maybe the translator got it wrong. My knee-jerk reaction in so many situations was to be pissed, and that could not possibly be the best thought or response. I chewed on this slogan every time it came up on my altar as I rotated through the slogans daily. I let it stay for days without moving on to the next, and each time I thought there must be something wrong with the translation. I sent away for a few more books on the lojong. In most books, the translation was closer to “first thought, best thought.” Gads, how could that be?
Several years into my sobriety, I began to notice that I was hurt and sad, depressed even. These emotions were unwelcome, and my knee-jerk reaction was to defend the hurt vulnerable parts of me. Further, feeling the sadness was overwhelming. Alcohol had allowed me a pretty consistent armor, and I was just learning how the effects of alcohol last in your system, coloring your days. I had no way to deal with that amount of sadness, no inner resources. I had been raised by defended people, and learned well. But underneath the defenses was the vulnerability, the fear, the hurt, the open wound.
Tathagatagarbha is the seed of awakening present in yourself, or, the Buddha within. Mine dwelled in the woundings, which was covered up over many years of defenses and booze, and knee-jerk reactions. It was vulnerability, a soft spot, and in a world of defended angry people, it was hard to let that soft spot lead. I didn’t feel very safe when it was front and center. I could feel it with my animals, but not my former husband. He had to be far away from me in order for me to feel the immense love I had for him. I never felt it around my mother, even though I said, “I love you.” There was just too much danger of more hurt than I could withstand.
I stayed with it, trotting the vulnerability out into more and more situations. I could write a book about what I’ve learned by being open and present and vulnerable in situations where my old response would be, “Fuck You.” I can see into people much more clearly, and while it sometimes hurts immensely, I know I can stand up to the hurt. It won’t kill me. It passes.
I’ve been open in the face of my mother’s hatred, my brothers’ anger, death death death, and abandonment. It was never easy, and I didn’t always stay open. As I danced back and forth from vulnerability to defendedness, I learned compassion for myself. I can’t always do the right thing. I am flawed. They are flawed. They are hurt too, and do not have the gift of these teachings to open them up to a different response. Many are filled with hatred. Sometimes I do not understand what made them that way. I see my mother as trapped in a world so far away from love that she can’t see the simple way out, the path in the very dark forest. Does it hurt that, “She doesn’t love me?” Yes and no. She is so filled with neurosis she can’t love.
Continuing to walk through the world this way I am able to stand with foot in both worlds. Within me I can see in any given situation a million paths laid out ahead, and can stand open-handed toward any outcome. I can make my choice in any moment to be open in the face of anger and hatred and abandonment and war and poverty, to breathe in the negative and breath out the positive. There isn’t enough light within me to illuminate the path for others, but I can stand as a lighthouse in situations whenever possible.
Do I still hurt? You betcha. Do I still lash out in anger? Occasionally. I feel sorrow when I lash out, deep regret, and must then practice tonglen for myself, breathing in my own sorrow and letting go, letting go, letting go.
The practice is a long path. For me, the end is not in sight. What keeps me going is the change in scenery, a much clearer picture of my world.
Sending and taking, the practice of tonglen, is simple, like sit meditation is simple. And just as powerful. It is a Bodhisattva practice. Simply, whenever you are confronted with any kind of negativity, you breathe in the negative: fear, anger, hurt, sadness, hunger, homelessness, war, greed, destruction, all the awfulness, and breathe out or send into the situation the good you have to offer. Sometimes it is an antidote. You see war-torn and you send safety; you see sadness and you send joy.
When I am despondent and feel I have nothing to give,
I send sunflowers. I can always conjure a field of sunflowers, and since imagining their happy heads following sunshine and feeding critters lifts me up, I can feel the tiniest bit of joy to offer up.
Joy multiplies in sunflower fields.
When my former husband was in the hospital, he was scared and in pain with a heart attack. I was afraid he would die, and I was in fear. I began tonglen, and practiced when I was awake and not talking to anyone. I felt pains in my chest, and kept practicing. I thought about Trungpa, who I can almost hear teaching me, telling of practicing as a boy when he saw older boys throwing rocks at a puppy. He practiced with all of his might and felt the rocks on his body. Even in pain, he kept practicing, fearlessly. I felt fear and imagined his fear and pain, and breathed it all in, and offered all my safety and calmness to the man who was about to have surgery. A New Age friend came to visit and asked me what I was doing, and I told him. Terrified, he tried to stop me, saying I would bring on a heart attack. I practiced for his fears too. I developed a kind of fearlessness, even when I started having chest pains.
Now we have so many daily terrors we see, and I feel them deeply. Homeless families, wars, and the destruction of our home, earth, and the eventual killing of animals and forests on this once beautiful place we share. I have to be completely honest: I practice tonglen in these overwhelming sorrows for me as much as for the others. I have no other way to cope with the sadness I feel in the face of incredible stupidity and greed. I can’t check out with booze or the television. I feel powerless, even though I do what I can in action and in voting. But it doesn’t seem to matter, the sorrows keep piling on. So even though I am supposed to do this selflessly, I also take on the suffering and send out the joy for myself as well as every sentient being.
I could teach you how to practice, but there are various levels to start with, and I think the practice should be taught face-to-face. I also have to admit that I was a long-time meditator when I jumped in with both feet in difficult situations instead of building up slowly as I was taught. If I am on my zafu, I center first through sit meditation. If I am driving, in the market, seeing stupid posts on Facebook, seeing homeless people, I simply jump right in. I feel what I am feeling for them or what I imagine they are feeling or experiencing — sadness, hunger, fear, revulsion — and breathe it in, sending out the antidote. Sometimes I keep it up for a long time. Sometimes it is simply a few breaths because I am with friends or Mitchell, and we are talking too. The more you practice in sit meditation, the more you do this in any given moment.
The practice is an amazing compassion-builder.
I also find it useful as a way to deal with uncomfortable emotions
that involve situations where I am helpless to fix or solve the
source of the discomfort for me or for others, bringing me more internal peace. I have used it in the face of family members who were on a destruction course, and whom I could not dissuade to a perhaps better path or toward reconciliation with a loved one. Perhaps the latter is not the point to the practice, but anytime I am more peaceful, I think it flows out in a calmer world
for others too, so I think practicing for yourself is a good thing.
Lojong Practice 10: Objects, Poisons, Virtues
Tibetans love to make lists: 10,000 of this, 7 of that, and I get a bit lost in all that.
Three objects are friends, enemies, and neutrals. We have those we love or like a whole lot, those who we see as enemies or at least we think they want to hurt us or have hurt us so we may want to hurt them or at least avoid them at all costs like the plague, and then there are those that we really don’t think much about one way or the other. You’d be surprised who you may have in each category.
Three poisons are passion, aggression and ignorance.
Passion in this sense is the grasping quality. We want it/them, and we really don’t want to share unless it is in order to show the world what we have.
Aggression is wanting to reject, harm, attack, or push away from. It is more than mere avoidance; think revulsion.
Ignorance in this case is akin to indifference and I also see a tendency toward slothfulness when it comes to this klesha, or poison.
The three seeds of virtue are the antidotes to the above kleshas. I found my way through them without outlining and dissecting — I practiced! Tonglen is the antidote.
How this relates to tonglen is in both meditation and the post meditation. When you begin to practice sending and taking of breath and mental activities, they advise you usually start with your friends or neutrals, so that you are not distracted in early stages by hatred of enemies and reluctance to get behind sending them good vibes. You work up to sending and taking with your “enemies.” I didn’t wait, and it paid off. (Warning: I had done a LOT of meditation.) I used this technique every time I had a fight or argument with family members (not enemies per se, but I was angry with them) and after a long time of doing this, I was forced to understand who they were and what they were going through in order to take on their burdens, and send them what they needed or even a good thought — hell, even a sunflower is hard when you are angry! It is an amazing way to learn compassion, and it assisted me in my difficult relationship with my mother.
The Buddhists speak of honoring your parents, but how do you honor them if they are actually wrong-doers. I could acknowledge that my mother kept me safe and gave me a good start in life, I could feel the love I had for her, especially as we had a good relationship when I was a kid. But when I became an adult everything changed and I became her enemy, for whatever reasons she has — and I am not saying I didn’t give her crapola to deal with. I’m no saint. On the other hand, there is a statute of limitations on stupidity and when it is up, loving people forgive and move on. Not my mom. No forgiving or forgetting. Other family members see this clearly also, so it is not just my delusional “stuff.”
Taking her to the zafu to practice tonglen consistently softened my edges of aggression to her for hurting me. It did not ever drop my need for strong boundaries — boundaries are necessary with those that might like to hurt you — but my aggressive nature inside was softened, and my holding on to the anger moved from long periods of anger to letting go very quickly to eventually not even feeling the anger but seeing her very clearly for who she was and not taking it so personally. I’m not saying that it didn’t hurt at all; I’m just saying that I saw her do it to so many people that it wasn’t about me, it was her own sad makyo, or monkey mind. Knowing that the snake in the grass might harm you allows you to be watchful and sidestep, but you don’t blame the snake for having snake nature. Holding onto fear and anger eats up your insides, and then you are never comfortable outdoors.
The meditation moved into my post-meditative states, so that I could take-and-send in the midst of her craziness. This is when the practice began to become a lifetime practice for me, as its benefits went beyond my most difficult relationship. I could do it anywhere, for anyone or anything.
Lojong Practice 11: Train with Slogans
“9: In all activities, train with slogans.”
Simply, this is a reminder that, like meditation, this is a practice.
As you move through the slogans you must do more than read them and move on to the next good Buddhist book — you must train with the slogan until they become so familiar to you that they arise in all situations, as does the practice of sending and taking.
I bought a packet of training cards, right,
but you could also make them yourself. They sit on our credenza in our studio so I see them every day. Sometimes
I work with one for several days, sometimes I flip them daily.
I keep it in my mind and think about it all day!
“10: Begin the practice of sending and taking with yourself.”*
Trungpa says: “First thought, best thought.”
When you see pain, or there is a painful event, take on the pain immediately.
Breath in, accept that there is pain, no resistance. As you breath out, allow any beauty or well-being that may reside in you to be sent to the suffering. The reason this begins with you is that you need to let go of grasping for the good in your life.
This is a point where the nihilist** may step in.
Some practitioners will say there is no room for any pleasure in one’s life. Not so.
Buddhism is being present for whatever is here now.
If there is pleasure, there is no reason to turn away from it.
And, too often our grasping for pleasure results in many mind-poisons.
So the ice cream tastes good, and there comes a point where we stop eating it or
we will be sick. Ice cream for every meal is not a good diet. Where pleasure is appropriate and is offered, we enjoy it, and where pain is present, we do not turn away but instead, accept it all, breathe it in, and send an offering of comfort to the situation.
*This week I did two slogans; #9 was so easy to understand!
**I remind you to go back and review Lojong Practice: 6 Nihilism and Intention.
Lojong Practice 12: Evil into the Path of the Bodhi
There is a lot to say about this slogan. The first is that this is a path toward
clear seeing and compassion. How do you practice clear seeing and compassion when in fact you are reeling from whatever form of “evil” you encountered?
Many folks think when someone harms you, you should be quiet, and accept responsibility for being harmed. Others feel that blame is needed. Armed with this slogan, understand that first there is clear-seeing. If someone harms you, they harmed you. They hit you, they called you names, s/he committed adultery. This is real, it happened, and so it is acknowledged. Obviously, if you need to call authorities (it’s a crime) then do that.
Then, what do you DO about it? Mostly we steel ourselves and try to insulate, often we actually hold our breath, or we attack. Breathing is first step. Breathe the pain in, send healing on the out-breath. Breath in confusion, anger, blame, all the negative emotions, and send out their antidote: clarity, calm, acceptance. As you do this you may see the part you played in the action, or may have understanding of why the other did what they did. This will further your path as you resolve not to repeat the mistakes you may have made, without laying some heavy trip on yourself. Understand, see, resolve, and let go.
Let’s say someone hits your car while you are sitting at a stop sign (there is no further clarity on your part in the activity) then if nothing else, as you breathe in and out you begin to know how it is to be that confused that you could run into someone. Yes, it is their fault, they need to pay for the damage, AND, there is no anger. You know what that is like; this is compassion building. Without a lot of hullabaloo, they need to pay and you will take action, AND, you have been that confused that you made a big mistake. You understand. This makes you civilized about how you approach the situation, and gives you wisdom.
By the way, you can do this in the immediacy of the accident if you have trained!
Last night I heard Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche speak at the “Awake in the World” conference online. Paraphrasing, Rinpoche was asked about enlightenment. He said that when he was young he asked his father, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, what enlightenment was like. Trungpa said, “For you, painful.” While I may not be enlightened,
I know that being present is often painful, and I am present a lot.
I’ve been thinking about the synchronicity of Rinpoche’s story as it ties in with
this weeks slogan. We all make assumptions walking into a spiritual path.
Consciousness is supposed to make us feel better, help us chose better mates, make
better mates, have a better job, and to eventually solve problems so we don’t have so many issues. Unfortunately, because we live in a dualistic world, this is not usually the way it works. It does get better eventually, because, as I discussed in the first part of the post,
we move through painful issues with less resistance, which can make us feel
a bit better sometimes, but it won’t eliminate our problems.
This slogan is about welcoming the problems or irritating people when they show up.
It doesn’t mean you have to seek them out, but when pain arises in any form, we understand that it is part of life. We don’t treat it like an anomaly to be endured, because it is our path too! Maybe the best learning comes from this aspect of our path.
In his example, Trungpa Rinpoche spoke about poverty consciousness, or relating to your life on a level of pennies. He cautioned against fixating on loss or gain of a few cents or even a lot of money, but instead to free yourself of attachment altogether.
In our business I keep the books and do the banking. This means that I am one with ebb and flow of our monied life — I see it daily. I am reeling a bit this week, as we recently
had a great deal of work walk in the door, and then in a couple of days lost two projects after signatures on contracts and checks delivered. (Forget the legalities of all this,
it is not the point, or why they backed out, which had nothing to do with us.)
These constrictions cause me much more grief than Mitchell, partly because he is not keeping track of bills, but more than that, it is because of our personalities.
Mitchell sees us as being taken care of, glass half full, and while I can’t deny we are doing fine (we have enough each month, and have survived this incredible devastating economic downturn) I still see life as a crap shoot. My emotional response to a constriction is to pull in and curb spending (whether or not we have to) while his is much more even keel.
Unconsciously it feels like all the causes of the lack are evil politicians, crazy people, etc.
My work with this slogan is to breathe into the fears, the possibilities of lack, the stresses of constriction, and to send on the out-take calm, abundance, the clarity of past patterns, and the clarity of staying present for NOW. Now there is no lack, there is just enough. Staying present for now there is nothing to do but to chop wood and carry water, continue to do the work in front of me and even deal with the issues of lack as they arise — IF they arise. This is what I know to do as a small businessperson of over 30 years. This is what I must do in the face of the near misses, the checks arriving just in time, and living close to the edge as it has been during this depression, which many misname a recession.
I am a work in progress, and this is my path.
Not wanting to leave anyone out of the joke, Pema Chodron quoted this slogan in one of her talks, and went on for quite a while about driving all blames into one. Finally a person stood up and asked why Ani Pema was blaming Juan for everything. Peels of laughter!
So, now this slogan “Driving all blames into oneself!”
When I first started all this I was struggling with the idea of blaming myself for everything. My first notes in my tonglen journal under this slogan says “This feels off!”
I was smack dab in the beginning of the New Age Movement with friends all around who gravitated to the idea of creating your own reality. I was not a convert, though being pragmatic (don’t diss it without exploring it), I tried affirmations and so forth. Fast forward many years later I understand the many levels of the psyche or how soul and ego interrelate and think that unless you can master complete enlightenment (and I’ve never met a fully enlightened person, only very very wise people), affirmations are a crap shoot.
I guess I just lost the New Agers.
I was also newly sober, knowing that I was the source of much unhappiness for myself and others. So, I worked with it anyway, trusting Buddhist teachers over many other sages, and being at that time a fan of Trungpa in particular.
I finally interpreted it as taking responsibility for whatever is on your plate. This attitude is helpful when you are looking at the parts you played in a disagreement, a fight, or losing a job for your firm. Was there anything you could have done differently to make the outcome change?
Most of us can learn a great deal just by looking at our part in things, and this may dispel a lot of the yah-yah-yahing “blame” in one’s head, or at least it helped me from grousing about so-and-so who done me wrong. I looked at how my smart-ass mouth had been part of many disagreements, or my hot temper, or my quick-to-judge-ness. I kept meditating and centered and settled my heat, and even worked with a great therapist, all about taking responsibility. I worked the fourth step and asked for forgiveness when I was able and they would hear me. Most would not, even those who were still friends. In my experience, most people don’t want to forgive, which frankly I still don’t understand.
All this taking responsibility gave me a lot of control, which by the way, we alcoholics like to have in our lives.
But there will still the crazy people and the crazy situations.
What about the times when you can’t see things you would have changed?
What about the times when it really appears “they” are to blame?
Do you simply blame yourself anyway? (That feels so wrong!)
This will be a several part series on this one slogan. Next week, part Two, Breathing Blames Into Oneself!
Lojong Practice 14: Blame, Breathing in on the Zafu
As the two quotes from Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness by Chogyam Trungpa attest above, taking responsibility for everything that happens to you will open you up and move you along the path of enlightenment. My mother was the ultimate test case for this slogan.
She’s crazy — seriously — and those close to her would all agree 100%. She makes trouble, stirs things up between people, and enjoys (my assumption) the chaos and sadness she causes because then she tries to control and sooth and be close. It’s a vicious cycle. After years of emotional arguments (me losing it, and her a bit gleeful about that), drawing boundaries (she overstepped them), and separations (mostly from her side, despite what she said), I wanted to step off. This slogan was key.
In my life I never held my tongue or turned the other cheek when it came to my mother.
I finally looked at her as a very old woman. We helped move her and survived, barely. After her heart surgery, when she had a stroke and needed to be in a safe environment while doing rehab, she stayed with us. It was a wild toad ride. I am here to tell you she tried very hard to cause problems between me and my doctor (hers too), my oldest brother and myself, between my oldest brother and my husband, between my husband and I, and as a fact, she was a gremlin! When she wasn’t doing that, she simply criticized all day long. I kid you not.
I had compassion for her in terms of understanding she has never been in pain,
and now she was experiencing it night and day. Pain was a shock to her each time she woke to it, where I am always pleasantly surprised when I have little pain! I long ago learned that it didn’t help me to talk about it much unless I couldn’t move. She focused only on her pain (and it is hard if you are not used to it) and was in much less pain that I am many days. In a classic case of glass half full / glass half empty, I saw a woman who has been blessed with 85 years of almost no pain, and now she had great pain as she worked rehab to pull herself back into shape after surgery. I thought about whether I would trade that for a life filled with a great deal of pain from a back injury when I was young. I thought so. . .
She was with us six months, working to get herself back to living alone. It was mostly hell with some fun interludes. In the end, this is what I learned from working this slogan daily:
- Observing someone who is always criticizing, always blaming woke me to how blaming others must feel in one’s body. Maybe I used to do that — I can hardly see who I was at 20 — but it is not like me now and so it is a startling thing. It is a terribly unhappy feeling. This revelation allowed me to develop compassion for her.
- I had the opportunity to drop the storyline of mother/daughter and feel during meditation what it is to want to blame another for everything, and how much hate there is behind that blame. I also saw clearly how much she hated me, and did so dispassionately on many occasions, with a degree of curiosity. I began to trace it to the woman who let her down, her mother, a woman she put on a pedestal. It is hard to hate a saint, a victim, a quiet person — which is what everyone thinks of my grandmother. So you bottle it up and fling it at one who reminds you of her.
- Holding grudges. Being around her every day (our office/studio was in our home) I heard the constant litany of who done her wrong. Because I often knew both sides of the stories, I began to understand that she never forgives, anyone, never forgetting even the littlest thing that was uncomfortable. She held onto millions of sad memories! It is no wonder she still holds me responsible for things I have apologized for, things that were said by me in my twenties. For me they are behind me, and I can apologize easily today about them and also know that that was then, and I have done my mea culpas. What is it like to never forgive?, I wondered. I realized it means you are always uncomfortable with the ones who wronged you, and that includes everyone, pretty much, so there is a lot of discomfort. Hard to go through a life with friends and relatives scot-free of disagreements. And there is an unconscious protection and loss of power too, knowing they can hurt you again. It leads to always protecting territories. WOW, that is my mother in a nutshell, never trusting anyone, and that protection leads to all the other craziness.
- I began to be open-hearted and undefensive a good deal of the time with her. Not all. I am human and lost my temper with her or defended and stiffened around her. But I stopped resisting her true self and managed to feel the love I had for her and the sadness I had for her situation and mind-set. She will never change — she could, but she has no interest in changing. I’m a lousy liar to loved ones, and so I could never pull off that passive pretense that “nothing bothered me.” However, nothing changed, and everything changed, for me. She went through all the same antics, though the day finally came when she moved back into her home. She was strong enough to create a life for herself again. From an open-hearted place I could reflect on whether I was able to be centered and open and vulnerable and be there for her in a compassionate way, or if I needed to exit because I was not in a right-minded place. I could chose. I could often simply BE in the midst of her yah-yah-yahing incessantly about how everything is wrong, everything is their fault, I am a horrible person, and everyone is doing this or that to her. I could, often, feel the love I had for the woman who did a decent job of giving me a good start in life even with all her faults.
I am not even close to feeling completion with this one slogan. It offers a lifetime of lessons, because there is a world of crazy humans. This gives you a way into understanding what is underneath blaming, what is underneath negative actions, what causes resistance and defensiveness, and allows compassion and openheartedness to arise. There is a comfort in making sense of crazy and neurotic. When Ani Pema speaks of “dropping the storyline” I don’t hear that you should forget-about-it and be a victim. Again, if someone hits you, press charges. Then do this work. Get underneath whatever the emotions are that led to the abuse and anger and discomfort. Feel your hurt feelings without defensiveness, the pure hurt, the fear and sorrow while sitting on the zafu in a safe place.
Lojong Practice 15: Blame, Part Three, Finally!
Continuing from last week with slogan #12, “Drive all blames into one.”
I use tonglen’s breath-work when I am stuck, for my own well-being.
It is especially helpful when the actions of another person are unfathomable.
I bring whatever anger, fear, and hopelessness of the “other” to my zafu.
I breathe in all the foolishness, stubbornness, and abandonment that the world seems intent on, bring it right into my heart like a warrior. I open to whatever the Universe is offering to teach me, and because I have committed to the path of the Boddhisattva,
I hold the negative tension gently wrapped in maitri bhavana*, and wait.
Forever if that is the way.
*maitri bhavana: Maitri translates as loving-kindness;
Pema Chodron also speaks of it as friendliness.
Bhavana is Sanskrit for meditation.
Together they can refer to various forms of
loving-kindness contemplation and concentration.
In this case it refers to the practice of tonglen.
The Sanskrit word karma translates as “deed” or “action.”
(Nominative kárma कर्म from the root √kṛ कृ, means “to do,
make, perform, accomplish, cause, effect, prepare, undertake.”)
From Sanskrit karman ‘action, effect, fate.’
Let’s forget the added judgements of good/bad karma and everything that everyone lays on this word (“instant karma’s
gonna get you**”) and just look at the word itself.
It is impossible to exist without taking some action, even if the action is to do nothing. Most people would say that lying is taking negative action, but what about not telling the truth as a passive form of lying, especially when you are withholding an important truth? Not telling the an important truth is something that is thought about, then avoided, and so it is an action or deed. Most people think that voting or giving money to a political cause is action, but ignoring is something that you put energy into also. Ignoring issues is voting by abstinence. No action = action too. And withdrawing the projection that the other is to blame is an action. The simplest question might be, What is my part in this circumstance?
Noun: An act of giving up something valued for the
sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy:
we must all be prepared to make sacrifices.
Verb [with obj.]: To give up (something important
or valued) for the sake of other considerations.
Selfless good deeds or a short term loss in return for a greater gain;
it has also come to mean ‘doing without something’ or ‘giving something up.’
ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French, from Latin sacrificium;
related to sacrificus ‘sacrificial,’ from sacer ‘holy.’
From Lojong Practice 14, I quoted Trungpa: “You are willing to let somebody sacrifice his life for you.” I’ve thought about the causes we take on in our household, and the actions we take — or don’t take — all our choices. We choose to sacrifice so that another — the child in sweatshop labor, wild and domestic critters, our grandchildren — have a better life. We take action on those issues that we believe in, and this often means we sacrifice our momentary pleasure or ease for that cause. The reverse is true also, that those who have information about right action, especially those that can afford it and even believe it is so, and do not take right action are also creating karma. No action = action.
A personal example, and I warn you, a bit of a sermon: We buy organic at all costs. We want the environment of the earth to be healthy for our grandchildren and wildlife, believe that massive amounts of pesticides are hindering life on this planet, and believe that it also keeps us healthier. We take action. A lot of other people have the same information we have and yet they do not take action, though they can afford to do this. Their not-taking-action is really about taking another kind of action, or taking the easy way out. Let’s look at daily coffee at Starbucks: for the convenience, you get a helping of non-sustainable farming, poor labor practices, high fructose corn syrup, GMO’s high levels of pesticides and a host of chemicals***. In just this one instance, if everyone were to live by their a sustainable healthy beliefs, and chose another smaller barista who served organic or even non-chemical laden ingredients, Starbucks would lose a LOT of business, and eventually change their practices. Other companies might also notice and change their practices. Soon there would be no Monsanto/GMO fight, because they would have fewer businesses to whom they could sell their pesticide laden products. I know some people cannot afford organics, and certainly we have to give up items that we cannot afford to buy organically, but if those that can afford to did so each and every time, thereby matching their professed beliefs with appropriate action, hundreds of millions of political dollars might be going to feed children, create jobs — gads who knows — instead of fighting Monsanto. We do have the power, and it is a quiet power of taking responsibility for our own small part of all the issues.
Trungpa’s final words from the chapter (Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness) on “Drive all blames into one(self),” was such a surprise! I swear they were not there last time I read this text: “Creating an enlightened society requires general cultivation of this nature.” Exactly what I was thinking! If only our current political environment took responsibility! And so: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Jill Jackson and Sy Miller, 1955
Lojong Practice 16: Be Grateful to Everyone
This follows on the heels of “driving all blames into oneself” and is interrelated.
The idea is that being insulated (like Siddhartha, the prince) from the problems of the world and the irritations of people will not allow you to see your own egoistic shortcomings. Expressing your shortcomings as you deal with sickness, death, sadness, or even that you didn’t get your dream deal on Black Friday, offers you the opportunity to reflect on your poor behavior. You won’t change anything if you are too comfortable.
When the Tibetans talk about the hell realms one of them is the realm of the gods.
Even gods and goddesses have egos, and because they are too content and their every whim is catered to, they don’t turn inward to take a look at themselves.
Our realm, the realm of enough calm and comfort that there is time to reflect, while there still is enough angst to deal with in whatever positive or negative way is your style,
is the very best realm with which to come to some sort of self-reflective enlightenment.
Currently I have to give thanks for the turkey who rents space in our building.
He’s decided he doesn’t like me because he projected something on me that actually wasn’t true. I tried to let him know I didn’t feel that way. He’s decided that we won’t talk, ever. Okay, so now I am left to contemplate this whole mess. Alone.
What I can tell you is that I have to watch how I now act because when my feelings are hurt then I want to toughen up. I have to acknowledge the tendency in myself that if another lets something go on for a looooong time with no resolution, I turn off to resolution at all. I have to watch how every time I see him I don’t spit venom, because it doesn’t serve him or me, frankly. I have to watch how it is hard for me to let go of what is going on when another person decides to let things be uncomfortable and/or at war, when there was no war in me. I have to look at the war in me — was there war in me?
No, though I was tired of him leaving kitchen messes piled so that we had flies and gnats and the smell of garbage and had to make sure we cleaned up so our clients coming into the building don’t think of this as a reflection on us, and I wrote him a note about that — and it was a decent note. He doesn’t like notes and so takes a note as an affront, when in fact I rarely run into him and leaving a note is easier if I haven’t run into him over several days. I have to watch my tendency to eventually hate — yes hate — someone who will not resolve truthfully something between us. Underneath that is that I really liked him.
Hurt feelings. Sadness just outside our studio doors. Frustration. How to let go.
This is daily until I get through it on my own.
And so, I give thanks this Thanksgiving for the turkey in our building.
Lojong Practice 17: Be Grateful to Everyone, REALLY?
Lojong interruptus, again.
Today I am behind largely because of government bidding deadlines.
The government ate my homework . . . whaddeva!
I want to talk about what is relevant anyway. It just doesn’t happen to be the next
slogan and not last week’s either so I am making the rules up as I go
and I am going off in a bit of a new direction for this post.
I am here to say that meditation is a practice, yoga is a practice,
but frankly, there are practices that we don’t think of as practices.
Art is a practice whereby when you have a great moment
(like a great workout) you end up with a sell-able piece.
Patience is a whole big practice for me. I should write a book on patience, so I can learn all about it, because I have a little more than I did 20 years ago but not nearly enough.
Sobriety is a practice. And that is what this week is all about.
This has been a hellacious month. I mean, a grand slam emotionally
surprising month where things that I loved became the utter pits (thank goddess not
my marriage kenahora), where groups that I looked forward to became hurtful,
stress and more stress, juggling new tax forms (and I hate accounting), jobs walked
in the studio then were pulled only to be replaced by jobs that had to be done before Christmas (really?) and then some stayed but were moved to next year and every single thing is a rule breaker. We don’t store furniture and gads I’ve said several times
until I have to admit we have nine pieces of furniture we are storing!
I stopped sleeping. I’m an insomniac anyway but wow I really went back to
3-4 hours a night tops and no drug worked, believe me, I’ve tried prescription and homeopathic and herbal and Chopra’s meditations and chamomile tea and warm milk and kava and lunesta and. . . (though I won’t discourage any suggestion, ever.)
Not sleeping turns up the emotional heat. No resolution makes me cranky.
(See last week’s post about the turkey I was grateful for. Really? Patience.)
And so, for the first time in goddess-knows-how-long, I really wanted to drink.
Just a glass of wine followed by tequila and coffee, okay, forget the coffee.
I tried all the normal things and nothing worked: accepting it, talking to my husband about it, thanking my crazy booze-hound mind for sharing, doing a half-pint of vanilla ice cream for several nights, and rich dark German chocolate cake. I have not drank yet,
but when I say nothing worked I mean the energy didn’t shift. I’ve been at this a
loooong time, and so, I am probably going to a meeting tomorrow at noon.
Sobriety is a practice, and that gift reminds me that all of life is a practice right up
until we are in the urn or ground or shot from a cannon (thank you Dharma Liberty Finklestein Montgomery.) We are never completely done with anything because as soon as we think we are, it sneaks back into our life in a new form, “Hello, forgot me?”
I’m in my 60th year. I’m going to share it all because frankly the only thing I have to offer you is my truth. Perhaps some bit of life experience will be a nugget of wisdom for you.
Namaste, and off to a dinner of fries and a China Cola.
Culture Monk I had you ringing in my ears to day, “really?”
14. Seeing confusion as the four kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection.”
“#14. Seeing confusion as the four kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection.”
I admit to liking liking Jamgon Kontrul’s* slogan a bit better:
“To see confusion as the four kayas,
the Protection of emptiness is insurpassable.”
Conditions arise and diminish; everything, whether perceived as good or bad is constantly changing. Our minds invest them with a heightened reality they do not have. To be able to rest in a mindset that does not cling to any circumstance, good or bad, cuts confusion entirely. Clarity of mind is possible. This is the protection, to embody this wisdom.
I could go further about the kayas but to study them is a huge undertaking. Simplisticly, so that you begin to understand from where this protection comes, they are:
- Dharmakaya is the wisdom or body great teaching, things as they are, free from duality, or a kind of cosmic consciousness. It is leading to openness of mind/heart.
- Nirmanakaya is the transformative body leading to clarity, and is embodied by Shakyamuni Buddha, the teacher of clarity of the mind.
- Sambhogakaya links the first two, to offer a realistic way of perceiving this reality.
- Svabhavikakaya, literally, “self-nature” or “essence” body. I have the hardest time describing this one — it refers to the empty nature, when can actually transcend this reality to understand that it s all purely an appearance, with no lasting nature.
15. “Four practices are the best methods.”
Otherwise it becomes a Buddhist lesson, and many of my readers are not Buddhists.
- “Accumulating merit”: In this case, I accumulate merit through the lack of a negative reaction to a problematic encounter. Everyone, thanks to the Beatles, has heard of instant karma — meaning negative karma. By practicing, meditating on, and being prepared for “negative” encounters, I can choose not to react with anger. Even if I am angry, I can choose how to express that anger. I don’t have to go over the top; I can find the hurt underneath the anger, and take the whole explosion down a notch. Taking the highest road possible is to accumulate merit or good karma.
- “Laying down evil deeds” has four stages:
1) Regret. Not wallowing in regret, which is useless, but seeing that I got really mad, and I should not have said this or that. . . then,
2) Refrain. Stop whenever you see what you are doing. Drop the storyline and get to what you really want out of the situation and how you are going to NOT take this tack. Say you are sorry. Ask for forgiveness if appropriate.
3) Take refuge. In my world, and especially when I have no way to change the outcome with another person by speaking with them directly, I can at least take my issues to the zafu, meditate, and hope for a change. Some might turn it over to god/dess in prayer. I can hold the tension when I MUST. I never said I would like it. I am not there yet.
4) I surrender to resolution when it presents itself. Don’t hang onto grudges when the fight is over. Let go.
- “Offering to the hungry ghosts”: This is about being thankful for the devils in your midst, because they allow you the opportunity to grow. Send them the best you have to offer in your heart, even if for some reason you may have to draw boundaries.
- “Offering to the protectors”: I know that in my own life, I have avoided pitfalls that might even have been of my own doing, let alone someone else’s doing who may have a grudge against me. When I am aware of these, I give thanks. When I am not aware of these, I am grateful for the well-being and goodness I have in my life, and wish for that to be so for all beings. Even my “enemies”.
Life Turning Itself On Its Head!
I have two statues of Weeping Buddha.
The small one is wonky, distorted and not symmetrical.
Sometimes my drawing is wonky, but sometimes my drawing is accurate and the statue I am drawing is wonky. This is a pretty good contour drawing of a wonky statue!
Look at those feet, completely strange! The monks practice their carving skills and
in the process, turn out odd statues. I practice my drawing skills with
Weeping Buddha and turn out statues with a dozen fingers. Life is practice!
Bread and Butter
This speaks to me of the benefits of a long practice, and it doesn’t matter whether it is dance, art journaling, or meditation. If you’ve practiced the moves, when that lovely (wo)man reaches for you when a great song is played, you are ready to be swept away! If you’ve painted every day in various situations then you are up to the task when faced with a memory you want to paint.
I’ve been practicing tonglen for so many years that when I am suffering I think of all the others who are suffering and take it all on, breath in the pain from everyone in terms of the pain I am feeling. This is a knee-jerk reaction now, from years of conscientious practice on the zafu. It doesn’t diminish my pain — my pain is quite real — or belittle it (after all, if the heat in our home is out for a few hours I may be cold and still, not as cold as the family sleeping on the sidewalk). It raises my compassion, allowing wisdom and balance.
Understand the fleetingness of a heart-filling moment: Jai came in to say hello while I was on the toilet today. He makes his first pass to get scratched, then turns, and being a male cat, pretends he could care less about my affections, then rethinks it (he really loves the scratches) and goes in for one more round of head-bumping on my leg. This morning I fully felt the joy of this bathroom ritual — it’s the little things that lift your life. I wished that everyone could have small heart opening moments.
My husband fills my heart daily. I tell him, not just “I love you” but how I feel in the moment I feel it, take the time to stop and say whatever is in my heart, make a post-it love note on his computer, write it on a drawing. I am grateful, and part of this is because I have experienced untimely death and KNOW impermanence first-hand, and part is because tonglen creates an atmosphere of gratitude when practiced fully.
When time is cut short, experiencing the joy of stolen moments of creativity on my back desk (now my art studio at work), and breathing the wish that everyone find ways to fulfill their heart wishes. I appreciate the small moves, and the community of journalers of various types around the world, of which I am a part. This fills my heart.
“How interruptions can awaken us to the
experience of both absolute and relative bodhichittha,
to the open, spacious quality of our minds and warmth
of our hearts. When something surprises, it stops your minds; catch that gap of a moment, that moment of
big space or bewilderment or total astonishment,
and let yourself rest in alaya. . .
When our mind starts again, practice tonglen.”
Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are
The Paramita of Exertion
When I began meditating and then later, doing tonglen, it was a monumental feat to get me to the zafu. Somewhere along the line, especially when I began studying the lojong, I began to feel joy in in what I was doing. Like creating art or reaching for my knitting or cuddling loved ones, I looked forward to the time I explored the various slogans and enjoyed the breathwork and mind-full practice, until it became part of my beingness.
You need to exert yourself in the beginning to get over lazy.
“Lazy is a general lack of mindfulness and lack of joy in discipline.” (Trungpa)
Once you begin to quicken into the joy of the practice, or the appreciation,
if not joy, of feeling compassion, of sending and receiving,
then you have arrived at a place
where you will need little exertion to move forward into practice.
Practice will be part of who you are.
You and practice become one.
“17: Practice the five strengths,
the condensed heart instructions.”
The first of the five strengths, is strong determination. Trungpa describes
this as “determination to maintain absolute bodhichitta (awakened heart-mind)
and relative bodhichitta (tenderness), to maintain awareness and compassion.”
All good things to do, AND they felt overwhelming.
When I first started tonglen I was a year sober and really was just trying to deal with my emotions in any form without numbing out, which is what the alcohol did for me.
I was sure I would fail at maintaining “absolute bodhichitta (awakened heart-mind) and relative bodhichitta (tenderness), to maintain awareness and compassion.”
Pema Chodron and Brugh Joy, a wonderful teacher, emphasizing an open heart
above all else, offered me a way in to overwhelming situations.
I made a commitment to open my heart and drop the armor in difficult situations.
I was determined to relate instead with openness and to use difficult encounters
and difficult people as an opportunity to practice all these new tools.
Ani Pema calls this an “appetite for enlightenment” and I knew I had that!
I commit daily to keeping my heart open in difficult situations, to breathing deeply and sending and taking with the breath, to offering up for the sake of all sentient beings.
Every time I walk through the slogans, I hear something a bit different.
I really could not relate to Trungpa’s instructions on the five strengths. Now, as I write this — and by the way, copying pithy sayings in longhand is my best study method, as it combines auditory (my worst sense) with visual and kinesthetic — my strong learning senses — I see clearly that the very thing I earned from Ani Pema and Brugh was embedded in the slogan: “the condensed heart instructions.”
I know that I have achieved some of this because I rarely hold my breath in tense situations now. I breath in the awful, and send out a better state than I am seeing.
Familiarization was studying after meditation, which became a daily joy
when I began to see dharma (literally, “truth”) — the teachings — as a lifeline to sanity, or as an antidote to my own mental health. Studying the teachings became a path to lightheartedness, to basic happiness or joy. Surrounding myself with the pithy sayings
on a daily basis meant they arose even in stressful situations.
I have friends who ask me why I dog-ear certain books instead of moving on to new teachers, new dharma. It is because a handful of my favorites contain all I have to learn and learn deeply. I’ve frankly
not gotten all that I can out of them yet.
I’ve yet to go through the lojong from Trungpa and felt, “Oh, I know that. Boring!”
Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, a couple
of lojong books, and the heart sutra.
This is all I really need.
If I had to grab just one book now it would be the red notebook. My notes on the lojong.
Pema Chodron speaks about the moment when you realize the teachings are all about yourself in the world. Dharma is not like studying law, which is distant and may not ever effect you. These teachings, or whatever is a lifeline for you, shows you a way to get to know yourself intimately, to stop running away in addictive behavior, and to put your foot on a path which will eventually bring you more joy even in trying circumstances.
Synchronistically, on FaceBook right now a lot of Christian authors and atheist authors debating the phrase, “All things happen for a reason.” I cannot enter the debate, because my ground of being and beginning suppositions are not close to theirs. I don’t think much about what God causes or Satan causes, and have never found it a helpful contemplation, so the debate over whether this or that caused the current problems is as inevitably stale and pointless (unless you enjoy that type of argument) as a game of tic-tac-toe.
It is an insensitive thing to say to someone whose husband/wife/child is dead.
I could write a book (I have) on stupid things people say to people who are grieving.
However, I will tell you that grieving is grieving, and it is important. Being honest in the moment helps (even if very angry, especially if you can temper your anger toward someone in a manner that is not abusive and own it). How you handle situations (and we are always talking the bad situations, never the good times) has a huge impact on how you experience them. Losing everything in the recession, the loss of a child or mate, being stuck in traffic — every one of these can be experienced differently depending upon how you respond. Loss hurts, yes, but if you let yourself feel it fully then move into chop wood, carry water (you eat, clean, bath even when crying) when it is time for that, then back to grief, then one foot in front of another (clean his closet out, let his son take his watch) — this way is better than trying to stop the pain up, and going into depression. Grief and depression are different. Grief is flowing, depression is clogged. Grief comes to an end, even momentarily, and changes palpably over time, even if you always miss the person you are grieving for. Depression can go on for an eternity; damage your health, even kill you.
Finally, I am also part of the insane crazy people who are into fountain pens
and watercolors and sketching. If you have doubts about whether the strength of familiarization is possible, think about your favorite hobby or pastime.
Honestly, I read blogs about pens, paints, techniques, paper, ink.
I write comments to friends on Facebook about all these things. Cooking too.
Way too much time early in the morning. Whatever your thang is —
cooking, fly fishing, knitting, baseball — know that the energy you put toward
knowing all about that is the same energy I put toward my study of the dharma.
IF I had a productive FaceBook page about it I would participate.
(They always seem to attract trolls. Has anyone ever swayed a member of another religion to theirs by getting on a blog and ranting against anothers religion?)
Certainly Mitchell and I discuss our relationship to our spiritual path and whatever
is on our plates at any given time. The energy pays off. I am healthier, more joyful
even in the worst of times, and much less blaming and abusive to others or myself.
(Note: I use the word abusive lightly, not as in beating the hell
out of someone or clinical abuse, which, BTW, is not advised)
I don’t relate well to the “seed of virtue”, probably because it is not one of my strengths. Trungpa speaks of having a tremendous yearning toward wakefullness all the time.
Well, that is not me. I like watching movies, and also reruns of
Westwing and Castle and English mysteries, reading Calvin and Hobbs
for the umpteenth time, none of it in the realm of raising my consciousness.
I’ve never been good at keeping samaya,
or the promises to do a committed prayer every day.
On the other hand, I always told Chagdud Rinpoche I would not do it —
so I guess I never lied. He would give me a bit of hard time, then let it be.
I think he appreciated the honesty. And I did regularly do my practice,
whatever I had committed to do for the time I agreed to do it.
On the other hand, one of my teachers was Brugh Joy. I participated in several of Brugh’s yearly studio groups, and each time, he spoke of openly committing to meditating or consciousness raising activities on six days, always giving a veg day in each week.
On the other hand, there is Pema Chodron’s discussion of Seeds of virtue:
Relaxing into one’s basic goodness.
At last I can now acknowledge my basic goodness. I didn’t think I had any 40 years ago. Now I’ve met it, and can finally see some of my basic goodness.
I’ve come to terms with caring deeply about people. I am extremely self-honest.
I also don’t lose my temper often anymore, though I do curse at people a lot when driving — it is not even close to road rage, just letting off steam at the crazies.
On the other hand, I have had a forty year love affair with Buddhism in many forms.
I love it, I am a devotee, not something I talk about much, but here I am admitting to it.
I enjoy reading Buddhist books, and if I am walking into depression I commit to
reading them daily. It has opened me up, kept me sane, tempered my poisons,
made me pliable and reflective, and contributed to a lasting and happy marriage.
I give thanks for the day my brother put my foot on the path.
Okay, maybe I have a little bit of a seed of virtue.
My experience is I can’t deny ego and have it disappear. Ego fights harder. Instead, I soften and listen, like you might patiently listen with a hard-headed little kid, curious about where they are headed. I want to know what is underneath, especially as my ego is a strong fighter. Usually I find fear. By softening with my strong fighting ego, by listening in meditation, I usually can get underneath the anger, the fight, to the frustration. I don’t stop there, but go a bit deeper, to helplessness, to fear, to weariness.
From that place I can comfort, be objective (is there a real threat or is this monkeymind?) and make sane choices. Action from sanity is better than action from a crazy defensive ego. I get to know my better so maybe in another situation when I don’t have time to look I can remember and say, “Ah, I know this response. Thank you for sharing fear.”
This is so important now. I pray that France does not do what we did during 9-11,
a knee jerk reaction to fight a holy war. Killing the man who is aiming the gun at you is one thing, bombing the hell out of innocents who happen to be living near or under a crazy regime is not the answer. It breeds more hatred, more war, more retaliation.
Trungpa says, “Don’t be so predictable.” (Another lojong saying? Perhaps.
It is now part of my vocabulary of sanity.”) Fighters want retaliation.
Many politicians want war, because war and fear mean the people can be controlled and manipulated. War means more war machines, good for business, or someone’s business. The world feels out of control and this is the time to mind your ego, think about what your fears are, be rational in your response. We drive the freeway and the odds there are far worse. There is a canyon between killing the one or ten people who are doing the bombing, imminent danger, and becoming the terrorists yourself.
The fifth of the five strengths is aspiration.
Trungpa speak of this as ending with the wish to save all sentient beings single-handedly.
I like how Trungpa makes the practice very personal, very real.
If one is going to pray or practice, it should be as if the weight of humanity rests on your prayers or practice, it should be that sincere and real.
Aspiration is humbling.
To even consider that it is possible that your heart-mind to
relieve suffering is an awe-some responsibility.
I was in a Bardo teaching with Orgyen Kusum Lingpa,
and he was asking us (students) if anyone doubted
what he was saying was real. It was an outlandish story
of dissolving into air at death. I raised my hand.
The other students scooted away from me on the bench,
as if a thunderbolt was going to hit me!
But I am a zennie, and I also think you should
be honest with your teachers, and so, I didn’t buy it.
I told him I thought it was a lovely story but I didn’t think this was how it worked. He laughed hard and moved on. And I don’t really care about stories of how the Buddha was born of a lotus, or falling from a tree or from the side of an elephant. To me they are lovely metaphorical stories.
What is the point?
With this practice, I believe, and put my faith on the line.
Trungpa’s story of practicing as a little boy when he saw older boys throwing rocks at a puppy stays with me. He as several floors up and could not begin to stop them. He practiced with all of his might, breathing in the puppies pain, the mean boys pain, and sending comfort and strength and who-knows-what to the puppy and the boys. He felt the rocks on his body. Even in pain, he kept practicing, fearlessly.
Having the aspiration is also humbling as it puts life into perspective without negating the suffering you, yourself are in. I may have a very serious problem that is upsetting, painful, real. As I practice, I breathe all that in, acknowledging the suffering in whatever form. As I breathe out, I send the antidote I imagine to all sentient beings suffering in that or other ways. I am reminded of my connection in this world to those suffering more than I am. I am reminded of my Bodhisattva vow. I am humbled by the size, the connection, the possibility. I practice more diligently knowing that this may work, this breathing.
New Posts coming weekly . . .
Some have asked me about my ongoing studies of Weeping Buddha. What is now called “Weeping Buddha” felt to me as a humbled figure before I heard the common name. I like “Buddha Ball’, and regret his common name — but for this writings and images to be found I comply. I would rather not name him and let you feel his emotion for yourself. Images are drawn in an OE or OKINA NOTEBOOK (my favorite journals, also known as Cadic).
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 the lojong affected you or your practice awakening in some manner.
For more info about why, go here.