You Are Not Your Home

Toward friends, attachment rages like a river;

Toward enemies, hatred blazes like fire.

Therefore it is the practice of Bodhisattvas to give up that home,

Where the darkness of stupidity, of forgetting what to accept and reject, prevails.

  • the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva. Verse 2.*

Attachment and hatred. These are things that can cause us a lot of harm. We hold on tightly to the things we want and we try hard to push away the things we don’t want. Sometimes in Buddhism we talk about a concept called the three poisons. These are usually called attachment, aversion, and ignorance. But they have a few different names. It seems like that’s what we’re talking about here with attachment, hatred, and stupidity.

These are said to be the three feelings that cause us the most suffering. But in this case, we’re talking about people so I’ll limit our discussion to that. We are attached to people we like and we are averse toward people we don’t like. Sure, that makes sense.

I can understand easily why hatred is bad. It consumes us. It steals our joy. It makes us do awful things we wouldn’t normally want to do.

But what about attachment? This is a tough thing to think about.

In Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva says:

Beings who are themselves impermanent

Are greatly attached to that which is also passing.

This is our reminder that we can’t hold onto anything, even people. Eventually all things pass away. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t take delight in our loved ones as well. But we need to think clearly. If you’ve ever been betrayed by someone you loved, if you’ve ever ignored red flags in a potential partner you’re interested in…that’s attachment clouding your judgment. We want unclouded judgment.

So what’s all this about giving up home?

There are some different ways to think about this. I like to think it means we should broaden our horizons. We don’t have to do anything just because it’s what we’ve always done. Maybe our home can be the baggage we’re carrying.

You are not your history. You are not what has happened to you. You aren’t your family or your tribe either. You aren’t even your opinions and beliefs. You are so much more. You are the sky and all this others stuff is just the weather. We can put down the things that don’t serve us.

The well known scholar and teacher Atisha said: “Keep far away from places harmful to your mind; Stay at a place where your virtue increases!”

We sometimes feel trapped by our circumstances and we rarely really are. I’m not saying someone has to get away from their family and friends, of course. But if you feel you’re being harmed you don’t have to stick around.

And we can love and care about and help all people, not just the ones who look and think like us. It seems that may be getting lost in the modern world. We can have compassion for anyone.

Some say this verse means we should leave our families behind and go be monks in the forest. That’s what the Buddha did. He left soon after his son, his only child, was born and just went to live in the forest. He didn’t return for several years. That’s the part of his story that never sat right with me. I always wondered “Was the Buddha like a deadbeat dad?”

One of my teachers said it doesn’t make a lot of sense to apply modern cultural thoughts about marriage and family to an ancient story. The truth is we’re missing a lot of the context because the situation 2,500 years ago on the other side of the world is so different from the situation here and now. That’s definitely true.

Someone that wants to leave their family and career behind to go run away and be a monk could take that meaning here, but I don’t.

To me leaving your home means leaving your past and your background. But not really leaving it because nothing ever really leaves. It means holding on loosely rather than obsessing about it all the time. We can learn from our past, but we don’t have to live there.

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*all quotations are from “Illuminating the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva by Chokyi Dragpa

The Things We Carry

I think we’re all carrying weight based on our life experiences.

I carry some weight around the subject of death.

Back when I was in college in my early 20s it was unusual that my parents aren’t around. Now I’m in my 40s and it’s much less unusual. Lots of people my age don’t have parents anymore. Some people say college was the best part of their lives. I was grieving the whole time. It wasn’t the best part of my life. Now is.

My father died at the age of 56 and my mother died at the age of 58. I was born when they were in their 40s, so they’ve been gone since I was a teenager. Sometimes I call myself an orphan and that’s not really accurate because I was 19 when I was on my own. Technically I was an adult, but if you’ve ever met a 19 year old you probably know we should be saying “adult”.

And, at that time, I knew it was a tragedy when dad got cancer and died and three years later mom got cancer and died. Of course it was a tragedy. They left behind me. But I didn’t realize the simple fact that they were so young. My parents had gray hair and were older than any of the other parents that were around with kids my age, so I didn’t have that awareness that 56 and 58 are YOUNG.

In total honesty, I didn’t get a vasectomy because I was certain I didn’t want any more kids. I got a vasectomy because I knew I really didn’t want to have any in my 40s…just in case.

Now, what I want to say is: these cancers were not the scary hereditary kinds. At least that’s what my doctor tells me. So at least there’s that. And my rational mind is fully aware of that. But, you know what?

There’s that other part of my mind that isn’t rational. So the baggage of “i could get sick and die” is still with me and probably always will be. I don’t need to carry that baggage, I don’t need to think about that.

But at the same time, does it help me appreciate life? Maybe. It definitely helps me appreciate time with my kids. And it helps me want to create value in this world. I want to do good things because tomorrow is not promised. Life is impermanent and the truth is we should all remember that.

Anyone can die at any time. So don’t waste your life. Love more, share more, be kinder. And bring all your energy and focus to the things that matter.

Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us.

The Happiest Season

I was watching a wonderful movie called “The Happiest Season” with my wife on Thanksgiving. It’s a romantic comedy/drama that you can find on Hulu. In it Kristen Stewart plays an orphan. Her parents passed when she was 19. As a result she doesn’t really like holidays.

That sounds sillier than it is.

Her girlfriend convinces her to go meet her family for Christmas. But her girlfriend has not come out to her parents. Lots of crazy things happen.

Equal parts hilarity and heart. Five stars.


There’s a scene where the family is meeting her for the first time and they have this attitude of “I’m so sorry about your parents.” They pat her on the shoulder and they have incredible concern for her.

And she’s just like “Um…it was a long time ago…”


It’s sort of played for uncomfortable comedy. The family is a little over the top with their sympathy, saying things like, “You’re so brave. And you don’t need to be.”

I’m telling you all this for a reason.

I didn’t really know how to explain it until I saw it in the context of this movie. That’s exactly what it’s like.

I lost my parents when I was 19 too. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a clear presentation of what it’s like. I started thinking holidays were stupid after my parents died. I became a negative person. I’ve definitely made more than my share of mistakes.

And the sympathy is exactly what it was like for many years too. Now that I’m 40, a lot more people my age have lost their parents. It’s not nearly as unusual as it was. But through my 20s and even into my 30s I received plenty of “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

It wasn’t easy. I carried the weight of that loss for a long time. I guess I still do. For years I was just miserable. And I also I wasn’t really capable of letting people get close to me. I didn’t know how to show up for relationships like I needed to. I was just sort of broken and numb.

I still carry some baggage. I have real attachment issues and fears of abandonment. That’s gotten better but it will probably never totally go away.

The truth is we’re all carrying emotional baggage from childhood. We like to think we outgrow that stuff, but I don’t think we do. Whether your parents were mean, or didn’t show the kind of love you needed, or passed away too soon like mine…that’s manifesting in our relationships. It can take a lifetime to figure out how to put that baggage down.

I’m still working on it. Are you?

Mistakes

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I’ve done many things that have harmed myself and also may things that have harmed others. That’s a really difficult thing for anyone to wrestle with. But when we start a mindfulness practice, when we start seeing ourselves clearly, then we see the good and the bad.

Ram Dass said, “You can no longer deceive yourselves as sincerely as you did before.”

I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’m sorry to anyone that I’ve ever harmed. I spent a lot of my life being a very negative and a very selfish person. That’s a hard thing to admit, but it’s the truth. And I believe in being honest with you.


I carry a fair bit of emotional baggage around the deaths of my parents. It impacted me deeply (as it would anyone) I’ve always thought I was lucky that I didn’t fall into drug addiction or some self destructive impulse. But what I did fall into was….not realizing my potential. I’m really only now realizing what a mess I made of my 20s and 30s. That’s not an excuse for any of the mistakes I’ve made, but it definitely had a big role in shaping who I am. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that if you had known me a few years ago you’d be thinking “Why would anyone take advice from him on anything?”

I was the most negative person around it took many many years of meditation practice to change that.

We need to practice kindness but we also need to remember to give ourselves kindness too. We have to reflect on our baggage and see what we really need to put down.

That’s why our meditation practice is so important. We need to learn to put down our baggage so we can live more fully. We need to learn to see things clearly so we can make the best decisions for ourselves. And we sure as hell need to cultivate compassion. It’s in short supply in the world today.

We don’t meditate to be good at meditating. We meditate because it helps us in our day-to-day lives. It’s also only one tool in our arsenal. We need to eat vegetables, spend some time outdoors, relax, and tell our friends that we love them. All of these things help us unleash our full potential.

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I’m teaching a class the first three Sundays in October. It’s not too late to sign up.


Introduction to Zen Mind:

https://www.floweringlotusmeditation.org/event-details/introduction-to-zen-mind-a-mini-course-in-three-sessions-with-beth-herzig-and-daniel-scharpenburg

The Great Way

“The Great Way is Gateless,

Approached in a thousand ways.

Once past this checkpoint

You stride through the universe.”

 

This is the opening of the famous Zen text “The Gateless Gate”.

It sounds like weird hippie nonsense. A lot of old Zen sayings like this are a little hard to unpack because sometimes they seem so weird.

I think it’s worth a second look.

The Great Way is the path we’re on. The path inspired by the Buddha, the cultivating of awareness and compassion. Find your true nature and help others, that sums up the path.

When we say it’s gateless, we’re saying there’s nothing stopping you. It’s right there, like an open door. Your true nature is always with you. It’s never not present. The door is open. Spiritual teachers can point you to the door, but they don’t open it for you. It’s already open. The gate is gateless. We could say teachers are just selling water by the river.

“If you can’t find enlightenment here and now, where else do you expect to find it?” -Dogen

Your true nature is free and awake, you just have to notice that the gate is open.

It’s approached in a thousand ways because we all come to the path bringing different things with us. My difficulty on the path might be giving into temptation all the time or making excuses to not meditate. Yours might be a tendency to give into anger, or to compare yourself to others too much. We’re all a little different and we come to the path for different reasons, so it’s approached in a thousand ways.

But we’re all on the same path.

And once we enter the gate, freedom is on the other side. The freedom to put down our emotional baggage and our insecurities and our fixations. When we can put those down and truly see ourselves as we are, we can stride through the universe.

“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” -Rumi

What do we need to do? We need to set our intention. We need to decide we want to go through the gateless gate. That’s the beginning.

Baggage and Clarity

I gave a talk recently at Fountain City Meditation about the baggage we carry in our lives and about learning to see things more clearly.

You can listen to that talk here. I think it’s really good:

With Thoughts Clear, Sitting Silently | Scharpening the Mind

And I wanted to write something on the same subject.

“You must purify, cure, grind down, or brush away all the tendencies you have fabricated into apparent habits. Then you can reside in the clear circle of brightness.” -Honghzi

We’re trying to get better. That’s what this path is about. Trying to get better. Trying to be more mindful, to see things more clearly, to pay attention, to move through the world in a way that’s less harmful. That’s what all of this is about.

In the quote above Honghzi is talking about working with our bad habits, about improving ourselves and overcoming some of the things that are stopping us from realizing our potential. This is very important.

What are the things that are holding us back?

That old cliché is true. We are our own worst enemies. We are holding ourselves back more than anything else most of the time. We have habits and tendencies that aren’t helpful. We have baggage that we’re carrying around and we sometimes think that we are our baggage. But we’re not.

You’re not an angry person. You’re a person experiencing anger. You’re not a helpless person, you’re a person that is struggling to feel hopeful. You’re not broken, or at least no more broken than anyone else.

We’re working on improving ourselves and that seems really intimidating. Often we think we can’t do it. We’re trying to become more mindful and aware, but how can we when we feel so scattered and lost all the time?

So, with our practice, what we want to do is see if we can put down our baggage for a few minutes and just see what happens. When we train in this way, when we practice seeing the world without all our baggage and neuroses, then something special can happen for us. We can start seeing the world more clearly all the time.

Seeing things clearly is how we make good choices.

“With thoughts clear, sitting silently, wander into the circle of wonder. This is how you must penetrate and study.” -Hongzhi

That’s what we’re doing. The world is full of wonder. Another aspect of what we’re doing here is learning to pay attention. The world is an amazing place, but we’re missing it all the time because we’re so distracted. With our practice we can learn how to tune out those distractions and experience the world in a more authentic way.

 

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*quotes are taken from “Cultivating the Empty Field, The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi” by Taigen Dan Leighton, which you can get here:

Cultivating the Empty Field | amazon

 

links:

The Story of Honghzi | Patheos

Scharpening the Mind Podcast

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Comparisons, Labels, and Encouragement (Video)

Here’s a talk I gave on comparisons and encouragement with quotes from the text “Faith in Mind”

Let me know what you think.

 

click here to visit my YouTube Channel:

YouTube

You can get another version of this talk that’s audio only here:

Podcast

Further Reading:

Faith in Mind

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Analyzing Suffering

There is freedom in seeing our suffering as it really is. We can analyze our experience, seeing how we feel, who we are, and gaining some understanding into our habitual feelings and tendencies. In an analysis of ourselves we can come to understand that the core of our being is basically good and that we have innate wakefulness, or Buddha nature.

There are layers of delusion that keep us from understanding our true nature. These are things like the small self and it’s habitual patterns and the baggage we carry. If we really look into this with insight, we can see that way we see our selves doesn’t really match reality that well.

One of the ways we can do this kind of analysis is by studying the four noble truths: the truth of suffering, the causes of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path of the dharma. The first two truths represent an explanation of the situation we are in. The second two represent how we hope to transcend it.

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