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“Sick of whatever it’s called, sick of the names.
I dedicate every pore to what’s here.”
There is a light at the end of the tunnel regarding this pandemic. We have been struggling with anxiety and isolation for a year and it seems like the sun is coming out now.
Well, I can’t speak for everyone. I’ve been struggling with anxiety and isolation. We have had to face things that we weren’t prepared for. Not only that, but now here in the United States we are a deeply divided people. “People with different views are the enemy” is something that appears to be all too common now. Maybe the pandemic made people a little more prone to that kind of lashing out.
In September I got married, bought a house, and moved. It may have been the most eventful month of my life. Right in the middle of the pandemic my life had some big changes. And in October I got a new position at work.
At some point I realized I really was not meditating anymore. I enjoyed thinking about meditation. But I had fallen off the wagon.
I wanted to do something to re-commit myself. That’s when I started building a statue garden. My house had a shocking amount of old dead leaves in the backyard and some vines. I started cleaning that up and I discovered there had once been a tiered garden. As I was out there thinking about putting up Buddha statues, I found a statue. It was Fiacre, the Patron Saint of Gardening. I suspect he’s one of the lesser known Catholic saints. I decided to keep him in my Buddha Garden. He gets to stay and represent what used to be there.
I was making space for statues and then one by one getting them and placing them in the garden. There’s still some clearing to do out there and probably always will be. It’s a work in progress that never ends.
The spiritual life is too. I think there’s a deeper meaning to this. I didn’t create a sacred space. I uncovered one. You don’t become your true self, you don’t even awaken your true self, really. On the spiritual path you REVEAL your true self. Like finding a statue buried in leaves. It was there all along.
I have a statue out there that’s roughly the same size as me. And he’s surrounded by various other, smaller statues. And I go out and I spend time with them. I burn incense and rake. And one day I found myself chanting.
Chanting is my least favorite spiritual practice…or at least it was.
Being out there in the Buddha Garden, clearing leaves in a mindful way, brought me back to my practice. I’m chanting the Vajrasattva mantra for personal transformation 108 times per day.
Then a stranger reached out to me and offered to give me a big indoor statue. I have a big white Buddha in my living room. Like the one outside, this statute is life size. Getting that statue felt important. And having him right there, reminding me every day to practice…that means so much. I sit with the Buddha every day, burning incense, sitting, counting my mala beads, and chanting.
The truth is I struggled with everything.
I’ve been really interested in having a really simple spiritual practice. I wanted to just grab my cushion and sit for a little while each day.
And ultimately that wasn’t working for me anymore. Stilling the mind wasn’t enough. Taming the mind wasn’t enough.
The truth is that I needed something that hasn’t been part of my practice for a while. Heart centered practices.
I’ve for a long time had this view, “I want to be a Zen Buddhist, I want to be a Zen Buddhist, I want to be a Zen Buddhist.” I don’t even know why. Even when I was receiving teachings and empowerments at a Tibetan temple, I just wanted to be a Zen Buddhist. Even when I was named a Teacher (Gegan) in the Tibetan Rime Tradition, I just wanted to be a Zen Buddhist.
But the truth is putting myself into a box hasn’t given me everything my practice needs. I’m a Mahayana Buddhist. I practice the Great Vehicle, the Way of the Bodhisattva, the path of Wisdom and Compassion. The box isn’t real and it never was.
I don’t need to limit myself. All of the teachings and practices are available to me. They’re available to everyone and on this path no one gets left out.
I’m looking at a more open-hearted practice, a practice that builds bridges and brings people together. That’s not to say I’m changing all my teachings. I’m not. But I’m learning that practices that bring kindness and equanimity are just as important as practices that bring clarity and wisdom.
All these things run together as part of the spiritual journey.
My first encounter with Buddhism was the Tibetan tradition. I’m still leery of Tibetan Buddhism, but I’m welcoming elements of it back into my life.
The spiritual journey
It’s with that in mind that I’m going to do a series of teachings on Training the Heart soon. Look for that in the near future. Let’s open our hearts and minds. Let’s open them as widely as we can. No one is left out.
Training the Mind is important, but Training the Heart is too. And if I’m sharing any teachings with others, it needs to be the teachings that I’m finding benefit from myself.
I didn’t cry at all between the ages of 15 and 40.
The reason I know that for sure is because I was 15 when my father died. A part of me shut down. This means I didn’t cry when my mother died, or when we found out she was sick. I never cried when I lost a job or when I struggled to pay bills. I didn’t cry during my first divorce. I didn’t cry during my second divorce. I’ve lost everything and had to start over more than once but I never shed a tear.
And then one day last year I cried. My feelings were suddenly wide open. It was a combination of things. I’ve grown as a person, of course. I have a wife that has helped encourage and empower me to be vulnerable. It was during the pandemic and I’m sure the pandemic has opened all sorts of things for people. I was watching Hamilton with my wife and I cried during the last song. (if you know it, you know it) And it was as though a door opened in me. Things make me cry now. I have feelings and I’m not afraid to express them. I thought I was dead inside.
I spent a lot of my life keeping everything in. I spent a lot of my life being a bitter, sad, and negative person. And it has been a process to grow out of that. Honestly for years I thought I was broken and that there were a lot of things wrong with me. I have grown so much.
I think our culture doesn’t serve us very well in this area. Men are taught to not be sensitive. We are taught that sensitivity and emotion are weaknesses. It’s not always direct. “You shouldn’t be sensitive” isn’t something I ever heard. But I did hear “Don’t cry like a girl.” That’s not a good thing to say. Why do men have a higher suicide rate than women? I think it’s because we’re taught to bury our feelings. It’s not healthy and it’s not good.
Open heartedness is not a weakness. It’s a strength.
Vulnerability brings connection, compassion, and empowerment. Cultivating it is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and the world around us.
I see a lot of people saying things like “People are too sensitive these days”. I respectfully disagree with that. We should be sensitive. Facing the world with kindness and an open heart is a good thing. It’s what can uplift humanity and bring us together. Maybe nothing else can.
If the world is leaning more and more toward caring about the feelings of other people I think that is a good thing.
Some monks were afraid of ghosts in the woods. They went to the Buddha and asked what they should do. The Buddha offered Kindness as an antidote to fear.
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“Gentleness indicates greater strength than harshness.”
-Han Shan Deqing
I wonder if we can solve a lot of our problems by being nicer to each other.
When I hear things like “People are too sensitive these days”
“That guy got what he deserved” when someone experiences the consequences of bad decisions
I just wonder where the compassion is.
Life is hard. It’s hard for everyone. All of us are facing many challenges throughout our lives. This can be a tough thing to remember. Suffering is the norm in human life. It’s fundamental. It’s not our fault we suffer. Some of our problems are self-inflicted, certainly. But many of them aren’t.
We judge each other harshly. We look down on people who have made different decisions than we made.
We could all soften our tone with each other. We can all be gentle and in this way make our world a slightly better place.
When someone is terminally ill, you often see a manifestation of kindness. We are generally pretty nice when we know someone is about to die. We respond to them with gentleness and compassion.
Can we try to apply that the rest of the time?
The world needs more kindness, more compassion, more love.
Can we handle people with care?
I’m interested in trying. Are you?
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This is a video I recorded about the Yoga Sutra and the Four Immeasurables.
What if we center our lives in compassion and kindness?
I recorded a podcast on this subject that you can listen to here:
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what is compassion?
Is there great compassion and regular compassion? What’s the difference?
Can we have compassion for people we don’t like?
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The tragedy in Orlando was still fresh in our minds.
And then Alton Sterling was shot by two police officers in Louisiana.
And then later I walked by the news on a TV at work and there was a story about a black man being shot by police. I thought it was another story about Alton Sterling, but it wasn’t.
My friend asked me, “What happened with this shooting?”
And I said, “I don’t know…I can’t keep track of all the shootings anymore..”
Philando Castle was killed by police in Minnesota when he was pulled over for a broken tail light. Because he was reaching for his wallet, after telling the officer that he had a concealed carry license and that he did have a concealed weapon in the car. He told the officer he was reaching for his wallet and the officer shot him. In the car. By the way, there was a child in the backseat. That shouldn’t matter, of course. But it does. An innocent man was shot and that’s what is really important. But thinking about that child makes me really sad too.
Police make me nervous anyway. If I was black my anxiety would probably make me stay home all the time.
I am so sad.
And our society is so fucking divided that people say things like, “If they treated the officers with more respect they wouldn’t have been shot.”
That is victim blaming. It’s no different from telling a rape victim she shouldn’t have worn a short skirt. Victim blaming makes me really uncomfortable. People are dead.
People say things like, “This person had a criminal record, they weren’t really innocent.” That’s crazy too. Who cares if they had a criminal record? Does that mean that they should be shot in the street?
When people make excuses for brutality like this I just wonder if they love and trust the government a lot more than I do. I don’t understand.
I get it, being a police officer is hard. Really really hard. But I believe we can expect more from them. Maybe police need more training. Maybe they need better pay so that precincts can be a little more discerning in who they allow to work these jobs. I don’t know. But I do know that we shouldn’t just accept this as normal and blame the victims whenever possible.
And I’m not sure if these officers had hate in their hearts when they committed these acts (but let’s investigate and find out). But I am sure they shouldn’t be police anymore. Because at best these actions were negligent. If your job is to protect people and you accidentally kill someone, that’s it.
And then some police officers were shot at a protest. (as of this writing I couldn’t find their names or I would post them here. I am mourning them too) As though violence can solve anything, as though this will do anything other than make people angry and ruin the lives of those officer’s families.
I don’t believe our society is so divided that we can only feel sympathy for either the officers that were slain or the two men. All of them are victims of a cycle of violence and division that I hope we can stop.
I think our culture teaches us that violence is the way to solve problems and I don’t agree with that.
Violence makes problems. And we should all cultivate peace and love in our hearts instead of violence and hate.
Not that people shouldn’t defend themselves when they’re under attack. People think that because I’m a pacifist that’s what I think, but if you’re against the wall, you do whatever you have to do. None of these killings were in self-defense.
What can we do?
As Buddhists, some of us take vows to try to save everyone. What can we even do in situations like this?
Today I just don’t know.
Love each other. Build bridges instead of walls. Be kind. Be connected. Stop trying to divide and separate. We do far too much of that.
The media and politicians have a role in this division, but that’s because that’s what people expect from them. So let’s expect something different.
Just be nice.
You can spread kindness and positivity in your life.
It starts with you.
I’ve noticed that some people seem to think that compassion should be conditional.
They think that if someone got themselves in trouble, we shouldn’t feel compassion for them. Or, even worse, we shouldn’t be kind.
I disagree with that position.
I think compassion is the highest virtue and I strive to feel it toward everyone, regardless of circumstances.
I’ll share some examples.
I’ve heard people say that we shouldn’t feel sorry for drug users who are in jail. They knew they were breaking the law. It didn’t come out of nowhere and we shouldn’t feel bad for them.
Putting aside the discussion of legalization (which I support) for a moment, should we feel compassion for them?
I think we should. They made a mistake (buying from an undercover officer or being in the wrong place at the wrong time) but who doesn’t make mistakes?
Another example is someone who’s in a bad relationship. When someone repeatedly leaves and goes back into the same bad situation, do we stop feeling compassion for them? Do we stop because they make the same mistake over and over and they definitely know better?
No. We never stop.
I don’t stop cultivating compassion. I don’t want to stop to think about whether or not someone is worthy of my compassion. My compassion is too important for that. It needs to be constant and ever present in my life. Compassion is something we can cultivate unconditionally.
Be compassionate. Spread love. Be kind and sprinkle kindness everywhere.
Not that it’s easy, of course. Let’s be honest. Sometimes it’s hard to be compassionate. Sometimes it’s really really hard.
But we can try our best. Because cultivating compassion is best, not only for us but for the world too.
“Subhuti, when someone is selflessly generous, they should also practice being ethical by remembering that there is no distinction between one’s self others. Thus one practices generosity by giving not only gifts, but also through kindness and sympathy. Practice kindness and charity without attachment and you can become fully enlightened.”
Practice kindness but don’t be attached to results. When we understand that the boundaries between self and other are illusory, being generous, kind, and compassionate comes very naturally to us.