Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Buddha on The Exalted [THE END]

Sayings of Buddha on "The Exalted".
Rendered in haiku form.

This is twenty-sixth and last in the series!

The image is "Lux in Tenebris" by Evelyn De Morgan.

Cut the stream of lust
That binds you to your desire.
Trace it to its source.

When you cut the thread,
The conditioned world dissolves
And all becomes clear.

The exalted one
Established in the two truths
Breaks illusion’s chains.

He knows what's skilful,
And he knows what's unskilful
And he goes beyond.

Through meditation,
Training in calm and insight,
The two become one.

There is no this shore,
No other shore, free from wrongs,
For the exalted.

Practicing alone,
Clean and pure, he meditates.
His work has been done.

No subject-object,
He reaches the highest goal,
Free from dishonour.

The sun is brilliant
By day, the king resplendent,
But he shines always.

Silver is the moon
By night, gold the awakened
In meditation.

But Buddha’s splendour
Shines at all times, day and night,
Surpassing all lights.

He is exalted
Who rids himself of evil,
Strife and distraction.

To strike him is wrong
And shameful, yet if assailed,
He takes no offence.

More shameful is he
Who does not restrain anger
And returns a blow.

The more one protects
The mind from harmful intent,
The less one’s sorrow.

He does no evil,
Restrained in the three aspects:
In deed, word and thought.

Honour your teacher,
Who enlightened you like fire,
For his sacrifice.

He is exalted,
Not on account of his line,
Birth or matted hair.

Only through the Truth,
And the way of purity
Is he exalted.

Why do you sit there,
O foolish one, hair tangled,
Mind ragged with lust?

Why wear a deer skin
When inside is a forest
Which you never clean?

He is exalted,
Who wears rags and meditates,
His veins standing out.

He is exalted,
Not because his mother is,
Though born from her womb.

Through his own effort,
Pure and without attachments,
He is exalted.

Having cut all bonds,
He is fearless and boundless,
Without trace of sin.

He clings to nothing.
Like drops on a lotus leaf,
Pleasures fall away.

Like a mustard seed,
Balancing on a needle,
Desires are fleeting.

He is exalted,
Who lays down sorrow’s burden
And lives without sin.

He sees depths profound,
And discerning right from wrong,
Gains the highest peak.

The exalted cut
The strap, the thong and the cord
And unbolt Truth’s door.

Patient, he endures
Insults, beating or prison
And feels no anger.

With strength of patience,
Greater than an army’s might,
Resigned, he conquers.

He never angers,
Keeps his vows and frees his will,
This body his last.

He lingers not with
Settler or nomad, but lives
Alone with few wants.

Renouncing violence,
He does not kill nor cause death
Of life, pure or not.

Peaceful and detached,
Among the hostile or armed,
He bears no rancour.

Like a mustard seed
Lust, hate, pride and false piety
Slip the needle’s point.

He is never harsh,
His words kind, helpful and true,
They offend no-one.

Nothing does he take,
Not given him, good or bad,
Long, short, great or small.

He has no desire
For this world or for the next,
Free from lust and sin.

Free from lust, he sees
The four noble truths and holds
No shadow of doubt.

Beyond worldly ties,
Good or bad, he’s wholly pure
And free of sorrows.

He is pure and calm
Like the moon in a clear sky,
Not craving selfhood.

He has crossed the swamp
Of passion, the road of sin,
The ocean of life.

Out of the darkness,
Having crossed illusion’s flood,
He’s reached the far shore.

In calm and insight,
Free from grasping or doubting,
He has found true peace.

He has extinguished
All taste for homely pleasures,
Resolute his will.

To become seeker,
He has given up the world.
Clear, he passes on.

Earth does not bind him,
Nor do pleasures from heaven,
For nought can bind him.

He gives up pleasure
And he gives up discontent
To find inner peace.

He knows in detail
How things rise and pass. Detached,
He sees the four truths.

His destination,
Neither gods nor men can know,
For he has woken.

He carries no past,
Nor waits no future in the
Undying present.

Fearless as a bull,
Noble, whole-hearted and pure,
He has conquered all.

He knows former lives,
He sees into all the worlds,
His line is ending.

But he’s exalted
Beyond heaven, beyond hell,
For he is awake.

He has accomplished
All that he had come to do
And now he is one.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Buddha on The Seeker

Sayings of Buddha on "The Seeker".
Rendered in haiku form.

This is twenty-fifth in the series.

The image is "Angel" by the American painter Abbott Handerson Thayer.

Master of each sense,
It is good to know what you
See, hear, smell and taste.

Control your body,
Speech and mind, for through restraint,
Seekers end sorrow.

Mastering the hand,
The foot, the speech, the whole self,
You find contentment.

Delighting alone
In calm and insight practice,
They call him Seeker.

He is measured, wise,
Mind composed, expounding Truth,
His words like honey.

He abides in truth,
His joy, his practice, his mind
Blessed by truth’s virtue.

Don’t disdain your lot,
Nor envy others their gains,
Or you lose focus.

Be grateful your lot,
However little, and live
Pure and diligent.

One who’s not attached
To the mind-and-body form
Is a true seeker.

He does not think “I”
Or “mine”, nor mourns for his loss,
Knowing all will pass.

Kind and devoted
To Buddha’s way, you’ll find Calm
Unconditioned Bliss.

Bale out the water.
The empty boat sails smoothly,
Free from lust or hate.

Five things you will cut,
Five you give up, five you grow,
To free the five bonds.

Selfishness and doubt,
Hypocrisy, lust and hate.
These five things you cut.

Five you give up: birth,
Body and soul, restlessness
Conceit and darkness.

With faith, energy,
Mindfulness, concentration
And wisdom you grow.

Free from lust and hate,
Delusion, pride and wrong views,
You break the five bonds.

Master of the fives,
He who’s crossed the river’s flood,
They call him Knower.

Meditate, mindful,
Not lost to pleasure’s suffering
That cries out, “Enough!”

With wisdom comes calm,
With calm comes wisdom. With both,
You are close indeed.

Alone, mind at peace,
Seeing truth, you feel the heart
Of joy transcendent.

Observe this moment!
Enjoy how things rise and pass.
This is wise practice.

Begin by mastering
Your senses, your contentment
And your moral code.

Find friends pure and bright.
Be yourself a kind good friend.
Through joy, end sorrow!

As the jasmine plant
Sheds its withered flowers, you too
Should shed lust and hate.

Graceful, free from want,
Calm in body, speech and mind,
They call him Peace-Man.

Examine, reproach,
Encourage, and teach yourself,
Your own mindful guard.

Be your own refuge!
How could another be so?
Your peace lies with you.

Take care of yourself
As a horse dealer takes care
Of his favourite horse.

Through gladness and faith
In Buddha’s way, you’ll find Calm
Unconditioned Bliss.

Even one who’s young,
If devoted, lights the world
With Buddha’s teaching.

May you too shine forth
Upon the way, like the moon
Rising from the clouds.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Buddha on Desire

Sayings of Buddha on "Desire".
Rendered in haiku form.

This is twenty-fourth in the series.

The image is "La Pia de’ Tolomei" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti inspired by a reference in Dante's Purgatorio.


Should you sleep, desire
Will grow and suffocate you
Like a forest vine.

Like a chimpanzee,
You jump and swing, tree to tree,
Seeking out new fruit.

Drowning in desire,
Your sorrows swell in this world
Like grass after rain.

Drown this strong desire
And sorrow drops like droplets
From a lotus flower.

So, dear gentlemen,
Who are gathered here today,
Dig up sorrow’s roots.

Cut away the grass
That obscures the fragrant root
And crush its fragrance.

Don’t let death break you
Time and again like the floods
Break the helpless reeds.

If the roots hold firm,
A felled tree may grow again,
So too with sorrow.

Thirty-six streams flow
Each tempting to your senses
To sweep you away.

Vain imaginings,
Fantasies born of passion,
Beware their wrong views.

Thirty-six streams flow.
If you're seduced by their charms,
They’ll swallow you up.

Six doors, six objects,
When you see desire fixing,
Burn it with insight.

Beset by desire,
Man’s craving becomes his joy,
His joy, his craving.

Hunters of pleasure
Find themselves like hunted hares
Caught by their own lust.

Like the hunted hare
Who wishes back its freedom,
Burn the roots of lust.

Out of the hollow,
You find yourself on the path.
Why do you rush back?

Desire's a hollow.
Why would one who was once free,
Give up his freedom?

Iron, wood and rope
Do not bind as strong as love
For gems, kids and wife.

Love for lady fair,
What more beautiful desire?
Yet hard to escape.

The wise break all bonds
That tempt desire with pleasure
And renounce the world.

Oh, slave of desire!
Poor spider, caught in its web,
Can you leave the stream?

Give up past, future,
Here to the unconditioned,
Beyond life and death.

Watch your lustful thoughts.
Observe your passionate feelings.
What draws in your gaze?

Careful what you wish,
Lest wishes become stronger
And become desires.

The wise calm their thoughts,
Meditate on their feelings,
And Truth sets them free.

The enlightened one,
Free from fears, desires and wrongs,
Strips life’s rose of thorns.

Free from attachments,
Knowings meanings, groups and lists,
He’s the ultimate.

I’ve overcome all.
I know all. I am detached,
Free from evil roots.

I’ve given up all,
Seen for myself the four truths,
Who then has taught me?

Truth exceeds all gifts,
Supreme in taste and delight,
Clearing all desire.

Wealth harms the foolish
Who, thirsting for it, destroy
Themselves and others.

Wealth harms not the wise,
Who seek only the far shore,
So do not taste it.

Weeds damage the crop,
But water crops free from weeds
And the yield is good.

Lust damages all,
But give to those free from lust,
And the yield is good.

Hate damages all,
But give to those without hate,
And the yield is good.

Weeds spoil fertile fields,
But sow the field without weeds,
And the yield is good.

Ignorance spoils all,
But give to the sagacious,
And the yield is good.

Avarice spoils all,
But give to the generous
And the yield is good.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Buddha on The Elephant

Sayings of Buddha on "The Elephant".
Rendered in haiku form.

This is twenty-third in the series.

The image is Babar.

Like the elephant,
Withstanding arrows of war,
So I shall endure.

Strong as elephants,
Steadfast like trees in water,
We shall not re-move.

Many lack morals
So to withstand oppression
You must be well-trained.

The trained elephant
Is the noble seat of kings,
Abiding in peace.

Mules, horses from Sindh
And elephants are noble
When tamed – man more so.

No means of transport
Can take you to the pure land,
None but your tamed self.

Great Dhanapala
In a rut goes wild, won’t eat
And yearns for his home.

The stupid in sloth
And gluttony fall asleep
Like ignorant pigs.

In the past this mind
Wandered as and where it liked
At its own pleasure.

Now I’ll tame this mind
With wisdom as a keeper
Tames an elephant.

Arise and delight
In mindfulness and guard well
Your mind from the mud.

Like the elephant
That pulls itself from a rut,
Make a great effort.

If one finds a friend
Wise, virtuous, steadfast and true,
One should live with him.

Joyful and mindful,
One overcomes all dangers
In good company.

If one has no friend
Wise, virtuous, steadfast and true,
One should live alone.

Alone like the king
Who relinquished his kingdom,
Live in the forest.

Like the elephant
Matanga, who roams alone,
Live in the forest.

Better live alone,
Carefree, doing no wrong, than
In bad company.

Without fellowship,
One should live without burden,
Free like Matanga.

It’s good to have friends
Who help you in need, happy
To see you happy.

It’s good to make do
With what is available
And be contented.

It’s good to be just,
Free from regret at life’s end,
Rid of all sorrow.

In this world, it’s good
To dote upon one’s mother
And serve one’s father.

In this world, it’s good
To provide food and shelter
For wisdom and grace.

It’s good till old age
To have virtue and strong faith,
To stay ever true.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

I Will Stay (Pema Chödrön)


This is third in the series of Chödrön-based teachings accompanied by Chopin.

In the last post, we discussed the three lords of materialism, three kinds of attachment which obstruct the awakening of bodhicitta, the subject of the first post. In this post, we discuss what it means to stay with our thoughts, feelings and experiences, the four qualities of maitri, and the use of training slogans to help us.

Sitting meditation, also known as mindfulness-awareness practice, is the foundation of training for the bodhicitta-warrior. Sitting cultivates loving-kindness and compassion, the relative qualities of bodhicitta – it cultivates unconditional friendliness for ourselves and parts the curtain of indifference that separates us from the suffering of others. In addition, through getting closer to our thoughts and feelings and getting in touch with our bodies, through opening to ourselves, our inner voice and self-confidence, we also open to gaps in our internal dialogue, moments of relaxed open-ended awareness without clutter, moments of unconditional bodhicitta. But there is no guarantee that sitting will do this. If we use meditation to reinforce the barriers of our false beliefs, then we could practice for years without penetrating our hearts and minds. This would be of little benefit. It would be wise for us to ask then…
Q. Why do you meditate?

Happiness? Freedom? Peace? Wholeness?

It is sometimes said that to make peace in the world, you must first make peace within yourself. But trying to fix ourselves is not helpful. It implies struggle and self-denigration. Denigrating ourselves is probably the major way we cover over bodhicitta. Self-improvement can have temporary results, but lasting transformation occurs only when we honour ourselves as the source of wisdom and compassion. Without the complete direct acceptance of ourselves, which we call maitri, renunciation of old habits becomes abusive.

There are four qualities of maitri that are cultivated when we meditate: steadfastness, clear seeing, experiencing our emotional distress, and attention to the present moment.

Steadfastness – meditation strengthens our ability to be steadfast. No matter what comes up, aching bones, boredom, falling asleep, or the wildest thoughts or emotions, we develop a loyalty to our experience. Though we might consider it, we don't run screaming out of the room. Instead, we acknowledge that impulse as thinking, without labelling it right or wrong. This is no small task. Never underestimate our inclination to bolt when we hurt. We're encourages to meditate every day, even for a short time, to cultivate this steadfastness with ourselves. Meditation isn't about getting it right or attaining some ideal state. It's about being able to stay present with ourselves.

One aspect of steadfastness is simply being in your body. When you first sit down, relax and do a body sweep to get in touch with what's going on, bringing awareness to every part of the body. If there's tension somewhere, stop and rest your awareness there for a few breaths before moving on. You can reconnect with your body like this when it occurs to you, maybe once or twice during in a sitting session. Then return to the technique.

In meditation, we discover our inherent restlessness, in body and mind. We derive security in memories, fantasies and plans. We don't want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humour can give us the strength to settle down. In short, the instruction is "Stay… stay… just stay". Training with kindness in humans like in animals results in flexibility, confidence and the ability to not become upset when situations are unpredictable or insecure. Restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Fear and loathing? Stay! Knees, back? Stay! What's for lunch? Stay! I can't stand this any longer! Stay! That is how to cultivate steadfastness.

Clear seeing – After we've been meditating a while, it's common to feel we're regressing rather than waking up. Clear seeing is another way of saying that we have less self-deception, but it comes as an aspect of self-compassion, of maitri. We begin to see our defence mechanisms, our negative beliefs, our desires and expectations, but also our kindness, bravery and wisdom. Although we still associate the walls we've erected with safety and comfort, we also begin to see them as restriction. This is the beginning of the warrior way, stepping out from our familiar world.

Experiencing our emotional distress – Transformation only occurs when we remember breath by breath, year after year, to move towards our emotional distress. Trungpa Rinpoche describes emotion as a combination of existing energy and thoughts. Emotion can't proliferate without our internal conversations. Label the thoughts "thinking", and let them go. But below the thoughts, something remains – a vital, pulsating energy. There is nothing wrong or harmful about that underlying energy. Our practice is to stay with it, experience it, leave it as it is.

There are certain advanced techniques in which you intentionally churn up emotions by thinking of people or situations that make you angry or lustful or afraid, then let the thoughts go and connect directly with the energy, asking yourself, "Who am I without these thoughts?" What we do with standard meditation is simpler, but equally daring. When emotional distress arises uninvited, we let the storyline go and abide with the energy. This is a felt experience. We can feel the energy in our bodies. If we can stay with it, neither acting it out nor repressing it, it wakes us up. (People often say, "I fall asleep all the time in meditation. What shall I do?" There are lots of antidotes to drowsiness, but my favourite is, "Experience anger!"

Not abiding is a predictable human habit. Acting out and repressing are tactics we use to get away from our emotional pain. Many of us when angry seesaw between expressing rage and guilt. In Vajrayana Buddhism it is said that wisdom is inherent in emotions. When we struggle against our own energy we are rejecting the source of wisdom. Anger without the fixation is none other than clear-seeing wisdom. Pride without fixation is experienced as equanimity. The energy of passion when it’s free of grasping is discriminating awareness wisdom.

In bodhichitta training we also welcome the living energy of emotions. When our emotions intensify what we usually feel is fear. This fear is always lurking in our lives. In sitting meditation we practice dropping whatever story we are telling ourselves and leaning into the emotions and the fear. Thus we train in opening the fearful heart to the restlessness of our own energy. We learn to abide with the experience of our emotional distress.

Attention to the present moment – Another factor we cultivate in the transformative process of meditation is attention to this very moment. We make the choice, moment by moment, to be fully here. Attending to our present-moment mind and body is a way of being tender toward self, toward other, and toward the world. This quality of attention is inherent in our ability to love.

Coming back to the present moment takes some effort but the effort is very light. The instruction is to "touch and go". We touch thoughts by acknowledging them as thinking and then we let them go. It’s a way of relaxing our struggle, like touching a bubble with a feather. It’s a nonaggressive approach to being here.

Sometimes we find that we like our thoughts so much that we don’t want to let them go. Watching our personal video is a lot more entertaining than bringing our mind back home. There’s no doubt that our fantasy world can be very juicy and seductive. So we train in using a "soft" effort, in interrupting our habitual patterns; we train in cultivating self-compassion.

So to answer our Question... We practice meditation to connect with maitri and unconditional openness. By not deliberately blocking anything, by directly touching our thoughts and then letting them go with an attitude of no big deal, we can discover that our fundamental energy is tender, wholesome, and fresh. We can start to train as a warrior, discovering for ourselves that it is bodhichitta, not confusion, that is basic.

In all activities, train with slogans! In the midst of confusion, it is knowing to pause and apply our wisdom to the way we live. For example, "always meditate on whatever provokes resentment". Once familiar with this, and knowing it, this slogan will spontaneously pop into our mind before we act out our resentment and remind us instead to stay with the emotional energy. Instead of falling prey to a chain reaction, we catch ourselves. "If you practice, even when distracted, you are well-trained." As we practice, begin to know the difference between our fantasy and reality. Become aware of when we start to tighten or retreat. "Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one." We're the only one who knows the full truth about ourselves, so we must take responsibility, and there's no running away from this responsibility. In all activities, not just when things are going well or badly, train with slogans, and remember, "Don't try to be the fastest.", "Abandon any hope of fruition." and "Don't expect applause."!

Can we give a hand to Pema Chödrön for another brilliant exposition?

Video: Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu played by Valentina Igoshina

More on the lojong slogans of Atisha, which Chödrön refers to, can be found at this site:

The blog originally appeared on Buddhist Travelers.

Existential Haikus

“Who am I?” she asked.
“Who am I?”, the echo answered,
And she understood.

“What is my purpose?”
“Purpose, purpose,” came the echo,
To infinity.

A thousand sunbeams
Lit her face and reminded her
Of nature's answer.

She smiled and smiling,
Awoke to what she always knew
And blessed her echo.

Her echo saw her
And being her true reflection
Made a silent wish.

What became of her?
No-one knows, but her quiet prayer
Echoes through her smile.

When you see that smile, 
You too will be reminded to
Wrap the world in joy.

The image is "Woman in front of the Setting Sun" by Caspar David Friedrich.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Buddha on The Dark

Sayings of Buddha on "The Dark".
Rendered in haiku form.

This is twenty-second in the series.

The image is "Nymphs and Satyr" by the French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

Liars find darkness,
As do all evil-doers
Who deny the truth.

Lies about oneself,
Lies about others, both lead
Into the dark world.

Though up to their necks
Dressed in yellow, many monks
Have evil natures.

Lacking self-control
In thought, word and deed, many
Suffer for their sins.

Better to swallow
Red-hot lumps of molten iron
Than fruits of deceit.

If you lack morals
And restraint, better to burn
Than accept alms-food.

Four misfortunes fall
Upon the man who makes love
With another’s wife.

He who’s unmindful
Of right conduct acquires faults
Of the wicked man.

The wicked lose sleep.
They fall into disrepute
And suffer darkness.

Losing character,
And fearing retribution,
Sinful joy is short.

Just as a grass blade
May cut one’s hand, so small slips
May drag a monk down.

An act that is quick,
Careless, corrupt or dubious
Is not of much use.

Whatever you do,
Do it well and firm and strong,
All your heart in it.

With resolution,
Follow through to the end, for
Slackness scatters dust.

The evil deed hides
In fear of its discovery
And causes torment.

The good deed hidden
Is a light behind a veil
That brings only joy.

Better do nothing
Than evil which you’ll regret,
But best to do good.

Like a border town,
Guard yourself within, without
And seize this moment.

Do not pass the time,
For those who miss the moment
Fall into darkness.

Feel shame where shame’s due
And not for things unshameful.
Wrong views bring darkness.

Feel fear in danger
And not where there’s no danger.
Wrong views bring darkness.

Don’t imagine wrongs.
Know what’s truly wrong and rise,
Happy in right views.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Staying Compassionate in the Present Moment (Pema Chödrön)

When we were digging the foundation for the retreat center at Gampo Abbey, we hit bedrock, and a small crack appeared. A minute later water was dripping out. An hour later, the flow was stronger and the crack was wider.

Finding the basic goodness of bodhichitta is like that-tapping into a spring of living water that has been temporarily encased in solid rock. When we touch the center of sorrow, when we sit with discomfort without trying to fix it, when we stay present to the pain of disapproval or betrayal and let it soften us, these are the times that we connect with bodhichitta.

Tapping into that shaky and tender place has a transformative effect. Being in this place may feel uncertain and edgy but it's also a big relief. Just to stay there, even for a moment, feels like a genuine act of kindness to ourselves. Being compassionate enough to accommodate our own fears takes courage, of course, and it definitely feels counterintuitive. But it's what we need to do.

A friend was telling me about her elderly parents in Florida. They live in an area where there's poverty and hardship; the threat of violence seems very real. Their way of relating to this is to live in a walled community protected by guard dogs and electric gates. It is their hope of course that nothing scary will enter. But through their isolation, their sense of insecurity only grows stronger and they are becoming increasingly unable to cope with an unpredictable world. This is an accurate analogy for the workings of ego.

As Albert Einstein pointed out, the tragedy of experiencing ourselves as apart from everyone else is that this delusion becomes a prison. Sadder yet, we become increasingly unnerved at the possibility of freedom. When the barriers come down, we don't know what to do. We need a bit more warning about what it feels like when the walls start tumbling down. We need to be told that fear and trembling accompany growing up and that letting go takes courage. Finding the courage to go to the places that scare us cannot happen without compassionate inquiry into the workings of ego. So we ask ourselves, "What do I do when I feel I can't handle what's going on? Where do I look for strength and in what do I place my trust?"

The Buddha taught that flexibility and openness bring strength and that running from groundlessness weakens us and brings pain. But do we understand that becoming familiar with the running away is the key? Openness doesn't come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well.

Rather than going after those walls and barriers with a sledge-hammer, we pay attention to them. With gentleness and honesty, we move closer to those walls. We touch them and smell them and get to know them well. We begin a process of acknowledging our aversions and our cravings. We become familiar with the strategies and beliefs we use to build the walls: What are the stories I tell myself? What repels me and what attracts me? We start to get curious about what's going on. Without calling what we see right or wrong, we simply look as objectively as we can. We can observe ourselves with humor, not getting overly serious, moralistic, or uptight about this investigation. Year after year, we train in remaining open and receptive to whatever arises. Slowly, very slowly, the cracks in the walls seem to widen and, as if by magic, bodhichitta is able to flow freely.

An interesting metaphor used in Tibetan Buddhism that can help us with this process is that of the "Three Lords of Materialism". These are like three moats obstructing us from reaching and pulling down the walls of ego, three strategies which we use to provide ourselves with an illusion of security from the world, but which then turn against us as we journey inwards. Their water is stale and dirty, a poor substitute for that which we seek, but we can get addicted to it.

The first of the three lords of materialism is called the lord of form. It represents how we look to externals to give us solid ground. They may bring happiness in the short-term, which makes them all the more beguiling. We can begin to pay attention to these methods of escape.

1. What do you do when you feel anxious and depressed, bored or lonely?

Shopping? Alcohol? Food? Drugs? Sex? Seeking out adventure? Retreating into the beauty of nature or the delicious world of a really good book? Phone calls? Surfing the net? TV? Some methods are dangerous, some humorous, some quite benign. But we can misuse any substance or activity to run away from insecurity. When we become addicted to the lord of form, the feelings we're trying to escape still lurk beneath the surface and often get stronger. A traditional analogy of this is of a mouse caught in a mouse trap, but the Dalai Lama offers us an interesting twist on this analogy. He tells how as a boy in Tibet, he would try to see if he could outwit a mouse, but in all his time he never managed to catch one. So Tibetan mice became his models of enlightened conduct. Unlike most of us, they had figured out how to refrain from the short-term pleasure of the cheese for the longer-term pleasure of surviving. Our usual reaction to dissatisfaction or feeling trapped is not to become curious, to stay and investigate the strategies of ego, but instead to reach for something familiar which we associate with relief and later wonder why the dissatisfaction still remains. The radical approach of bodhichitta is to pay attention and acknowledge without judging whatever is going on.

The second lord of materialism is the lord of speech. This lord represents how we use beliefs of all kinds to give us the illusion of certainty. Any of the 'isms' – political, ecological, philosophical or spiritual can be used in this way. When we believe in the correctness of our view, we can be very narrow-minded and prejudiced about the faults of other people.

2. What beliefs do you hold above others, reacting negatively if they are challenged?

The problem isn't with the beliefs themselves, but with how we use them to get ground under our feet, to feel right and another wrong. It reminds me of a fellow I knew in the 1960s whose passion was for protesting against injustice. Whenever it looked as if a conflict would be resolved, he would sink into a kind of gloom, until a new cause for outrage arose and he'd become elated again. Being caught by the lord of speech may start with just a reasonable conviction about what we feel to be true. However, if we find ourselves becoming righteously indignant, that's a sure sign that we've been sucked in and our ability to effect change will be hindered.

The third lord, the lord of mind, uses the most subtle and seductive strategy of all. The lord of mind comes into play when we attempt to avoid uneasiness by seeking special states of mind. New meditators often expect that with training they can transcend the pain of ordinary life. It's disappointing, to say the least, to be told to touch down in the thick of things, to remain open and receptive to boredom as well as bliss.

3. What states of mind do you look back on or look forward to, wishing to get "there"?

Sometimes out of the blue, people have amazing experiences. Recently a lawyer told me that while standing on a street corner waiting for a light to change, an extraordinary thing occurred. Suddenly her body expanded until it felt as big as the entire universe. She felt instinctively that she and the universe were one. She had no doubt that this was actually true. She knew she was not, as she'd previously assumed, separate from everything else. The problem arose when she started to hang onto her experience. She wanted it back. Ordinary perception was no longer satisfying; it left her feeling troubled and out of touch. Even though peak experiences might show us the truth and inform us about why we meditate, they are essentially no big deal. If we can't integrate them into the ups and downs of our lives, if we cling to them, they will hinder us. We can trust our experiences as valid, but then we have to move on and learn to get along with our neighbors. As the twelfth-century Tibetan yogi Milarepa said when he heard of his student Gampopa's peak experiences, "They are neither good nor bad. Keep meditating." The states themselves are a good sign. They only become a problem if we become addicted to them.

Each of us has a variety of habitual tactics for avoiding life as it is. In a nutshell, that's the teaching of the three lords of materialism. This simple teaching is, it seems, everyone's autobiography. The first lord teaches us to "stay" and not deny our own experience, the second to be "compassionate" and not deny the experience of others, and the third to be here "in the present moment" and not deny the experience of now. In summary, they tell us to "stay – compassionate – in the present moment". And we do this by staying compassionate in the present moment. As Trungpa Rinpoche says, if we recognize and just relax with the reality of impermanence, egolessness and dissatisfaction, then we have no problem. There's no cure for hot and cold. There's no cure for the facts of life. When we stop investing our energy in struggling with the facts of life, or hiding from them, in strategies that trap us, then a lot of energy is released. But often we don't recognize this, and the lords of form do give the illusion of providing genuine relief.

4. What is it we should be staying with, compassionate in the present moment, if right now in this moment we are caught up by one of the three lords of materialism?

Compassion? Love? Silence? Faith? Or just the simple recognition that what we experience as a refuge is but a respite? Is recognition enough, or is it but the root of hypocrisy unless we act upon it in some way? We can stop running away, but most of us have been running so long we've forgotten what it is we're running from. We know we are caught by the three lords, but we don't know why. So what should we be staying with that would reveal our fears in the reality of impermanence, egolessness and dissatisfaction and give us the opportunity to ride them down? Perhaps it is allowing the mindfulness of meditation to permeate through our whole experience of life.

The Fountain

Don't say, don't say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen

the fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes

found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.

The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched, but not because
she grudged the water,

only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were

Don't say, don't say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,

it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,

up and out through the rock.

(Denise Levertov)

When we use strategies to escape from ourselves or others or the present moment, we become less able to enjoy the tender and wonder that is available in the most unremarkable of times. Connecting with bodhichitta is ordinary. It is a natural force waiting to emerge. Whenever there's an opening it will always appear, like those weeds and flowers that pop out of the sidewalk as soon as there's a crack.

Source: This and The Courage to Awaken to Bodhicitta are both based on Pema Chödrön's "The Places That Scare You". 

kathycustren: Thank you, Okei, for providing this look from Pema Chodron at the things that can drive us in our material world. Being aware of them is to acknowledge there is work to be done. :) Namaste ~ Blessings!

aspara121: Thanks for sharing this inspiring article by Pema Chodron. Each time I read her unique thoughts, I realize the depth of her wisdom and understanding of the human condition. We are very fortunate to have her as an enlightened spiritual leader. Btw, I really enjoyed listening to the Chopin video. It added emotional impetus to Chodron's profound thoughts.

Great post! :)


okei: It is my firm belief that Chopin & Chodron go together. (Edit: But I'm not holding that belief over anyone, lol.)

I hope to try to become more aware myself or the answers of the first three questions for me.

The fourth is really a difficult one. Is it possible to pull ourselves up from our own bootstraps? The closest I can get to an answer of what we "stay" with is Love or Silence. Or stillness, or emptiness.

A thought just occurred to me... that in the emptiness of silence, we might be able to sense that which is impossible to sense because it is everywhere, as a fish that is always in the water can have no concept of anything other than water, or indeed as the men in Plato's Cave can have no concept outside of shadow-beings. That which is everywhere is something like life force, that which makes us alive and gives us free will, what Christianity describes as the "Holy Ghost" and I remember Thich Nhat Hanh on hearing about it said, "I like your Holy Spirit", recognizing it as a universal point of dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism.

To get from that to something practical in our lives is something of a leap of faith!

midniterainbow: I'm constantly working on understanding. The closest that I can come is through the eyes of a child. How unfortunate that we age and lose such wisdom until we regain it just before exiting. Children haven't yet acquired the traps of disbelief in themselves or others.

okei: Yay... faith in yourself... that whatever may be... no problem!

Video: Chopin's Raindrop played by Valentina Igoshina.

The blog and comments originally appeared on Buddhist Travelers. 

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Buddha on The Forest Way

Sayings of Buddha on "The Forest Way". Rendered in haiku form.

This is twenty-first in the series.

The image is "Autumn in Bavaria" by the Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky.

If by postponing
Pleasure you find ecstasy,
The wise wait and see.

There’s promise of bliss
And there’s gratification.
Follow your promise.

There’s titillation
And there’s joy – forgo the first
To get the second.

If your contentment
Deprives another of his,
Then you remain bound.

Bonds of enmity
Cannot be cured by revenge.
Their cure is kindness.

Reckless wilful ones
Don’t do what they should do, and
Do what they should not.

The wise meditate
And don’t do what they should not,
Only what they should.

Mindful, discerning
And blessed with intelligence,
They wipe clean all stains.

A mother’s craving,
A father’s pride, both are purged
In a son who’s pure.

The realm of senses
Has a king who proudly thinks
He rules forever.

The realm of senses
Has a queen, languid, fickle,
Obscurely dreaming.

The realm of senses
Has a taxman who measures
All with greedy eyes.

The realm of senses
Has a knight, selfless, humble,
Loyally striving.

Tear down the four walls
And kill king, queen and taxman,
Ending attachment.

Only doubt remains
Like a tiger in your path
To the peaceful shore.

Cast off the five veils,
Lay waste illusion’s kingdom
And end all sorrow.

Alert and watchful,
The disciples of Buddha
Practice day and night.

May you too practice
Mindfulness of the nature
Of the pure master.

May you too practice
Mindfulness of the nature
Of eternal Truth.

May you too practice
Mindfulness of the nature
Of good fellowship.

May you too practice
Mindfulness of the body
And its components.

May you too nurture
The joy of a loving heart
That would never harm.

May you too nurture
The joy of a noble soul
That can do no wrong.

To find and enjoy
The way is hard, but so’s life –
All beings suffer.

Settling or travelling,
Both cause trouble when people
Or things don’t suit you.

Stop then your wandering
Through the endless sorry round,
Subject never more.

Faithful and virtuous,
Possessing fame and fortune,
He is loved by all.

The good and generous
Are known, revered and welcomed
Wherever they go.

Clearly visible,
Like the Himalayan peaks,
Good men shine from far.

Bad men move unseen
Like arrows let fly by night
Though they may be near.

He who sits, rests, walks
And thrives alone, finds his joy
In the forest way.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Buddha on The Path

Sayings of Buddha on "The Path".
Rendered in haiku form.

This is twentieth in the series.

The image is "Sir Galahad" by Arthur Hughes.

Of the eightfold path,
Four truths and law of craving,
The Buddha sees all.

There’s only one path,
None other – follow this path
To see like Buddha.

Outwit temptation,
Break illusion, remove thorns
And heal sorrow’s wounds.

How to know this path?
Having myself found the path,
I’ve shown it to you.

Do you have the will?
Masters can but show the way.
Now it’s up to you.

With calm and insight,
Practice meditation and
May you break all bonds.

All form is formless,
Transient, changing, so be it!
Enough of sorrow!

Life is imperfect,
A rocky ride, let it be!
Enough of sorrow!

All is without self.
To have this insight, aha!
Enough of sorrow!

These three are one path.
Meditate on change, on pain
And on the beyond.

On this shining path,
Purity comes through insight,
So make the effort.

You are young and strong,
So arise and concentrate
Lest you lose the way.

Be careful in speech,
Well-focused in mind, and calm
And pure in action.

In meditation,
Wisdom’s born, and it’s lost by
Not meditating.

Knowing this process
Of gain and loss, you should act
To increase wisdom.

Sorrow comes from greed.
Cut the forest of craving,
Don’t cut the real tree.

Craving breeds danger.
Cut the forest of craving,
Burn its undergrowth.

If lust is not cut,
And the slightest trace remains,
Then it spells bondage.

In thoughts for women,
Man is bound like a young calf
Bound to its mother.

Pluck the pleasant thought,
Like a bright autumn lily,
Knowing it will fade.

You have heard tell of
The desireless realm, so take
The path that leads there.

“Here I’ll set up camp
Through rain and shine,” thinks the fool,
Not sensing danger.

One attached to kids
And comforts is swept like floods
A sleeping village.

Sons, daughters, parents
Cannot protect one from Death,
Nor can friends or kin.

He’s a wise man who
Has morals, clears the path, and
Looks after himself.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Buddha on The Just

Sayings of Buddha on "The Just".
Rendered in haiku form.

This is ninteenth in the series.

The image is "Astraea" by the Danish Baron Arild Rosenkrantz.

The just serve justice,
Not their whims, weighing with care
What’s right and what’s wrong.

Faithful to the law,
The wise abide by its rules,
So keep the law safe.

Observing the law,
Unswayed by inclinations,
They are its guardians.

Much talk means little
If a man is not peaceful,
Free from hate or harm.

Learning means little
If one does not understand
And live mindfully.

Little talk means much
For one whose words spring from peace
And awaken joy.

One may hear one verse

Of wisdom and seeing Truth
Be filled with wisdom.

One who sees the Truth
May know or talk little, yet
Live a mindful sage.

The sign of wisdom
Is not grey hair, for a man
May grow old in vain.

Wisdom’s signs are found
In understanding, virtue,
Restraint and kindness.

Fine words or good looks
Cannot free a heart from greed,
Envy or deceit.

The wise like gardeners
Root out weeds and cleanse the soil
So their hearts are pure.

Though he shaves his head,
How can he be a seeker
If he lacks morals?

He who has vanquished
All evils, great and small, he
Is a true seeker.

Though he stands for alms,
Because he acts not in Truth,
He is not a monk.

A monk lays aside
Good and evil in this world
And lives a pure life.

He who holds nothing,
Meditates, goes beyond, he
Is indeed a monk.

Though he is silent,
Silence may mask ignorance,
Not signal wisdom.

The wise are silent,
Because they reflect what’s right
Like a pair of scales.

He who understands
Both inner and outer, he
Indeed has wisdom.

Nobles cause no harm.
He who harms no living thing
Is indeed noble.

Not mere good conduct,
Concentration, seclusion,
Or faith is enough.

In wise attributes,
Wisdom is not to be found,
But in attainment.

When you distinguish
A thing from its contents, then
You’ll have gained wisdom.

Depend on nothing,
And do not rest content till
You are enlightened.