Wednesday, January 23, 2013

When it all goes quiet


When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, 

I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces. 

When it all goes quiet, I see they're right here. 

I see that I'm a little piece of a big big universe. 

And that makes things right.

-Beasts of the Southern Wild

Radical acceptance means calling out oppressors

On Feb. 14, demonstrations are planned under the banner of "One Billion Rising," which seeks to get "women, and those who love them (to) rise up on the planet, joining activists, celebrities, writers, thinkers, and artists, to strike, dance, shake the world and shift the energy to empower women and girls and break the cycle of violence."

It's sponsored by V-Day, founded by Eve Ensler, Tony Award winning author of “The Vagina Monologues,” a global grassroots movement that seeks the end of violence against women. It's got a long list of supporters: MTV, Zumba, fashion designers.

Add Buddhist nuns.

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, a Buddhist nun since 1964 and head of Dongyu Gatsal Ling nunnery, endorses the event in a letter. She says the worldwide event will "remind us that this global situation is not tolerable."

In Buddhist fashion, Jetsunma Palmo doesn't put the blame on others or suggest that the solution must come from some external savior. 
Until women show compassion and respect for their own gender there will be no real progress. We cannot move forward long as women do not support other women...

In order to find a solution we first have to recognise that there is a problem. Then we can get to work on how the problem can be solved. ... Both men and women need  to publicize and condemn any abusive behavior of which they are aware and to support and aid the victims of such cruelty. (italics mine)

May women everywhere find their voices to express their solidarity and outrage against violence and exploitation!

Contemplate: Is violence against women a problem? Does it happen? Is that wrong?

Contemplate: What is my attitude toward violence against women, internal and external? Do I feel compassion for the victims or feel that 'I would never let that happen to me'? Do I call out men who objectify women (because it's easier to abuse an object than a person)? Do I call out structures that commodify and dehumanize women? Do I participate in it?

Contemplate: Do I want to be complicit in violence against women? Do I want to stand up to it and thereby end it? Or at least reduce it? To de-normalize it?

Contemplate: What can I do?

V-Day suggests that you Strike! Dance! and Rise! on Feb. 14. It's a start.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Get to know your happiness

When Buddhist teachers talk about sitting with intense emotions, they're generally speaking about ones we'd characterize as negative: loneliness, anger, sadness, grief, insecurity. I've never heard a teacher talk about sitting with happiness.

But maybe they should. After all, no matter what we do to avoid our negative emotions, we're very familiar with them. We know how anger feels in our body, its colors and textures, the voices in our head. We know that's different from sadness, which is heavier and has a color and texture all its own.
But we tend to lump positive emotions all together under one heading: happiness.
"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Like Tolstoy's happy families, we see happiness as singular -- and not very interesting. But maybe that's because we haven't looked at it. When happiness happens, we're so ... well, happy ... that we're afraid to look too closely or grasp too tightly or like the bluebird, the traditional bringer of happiness, it will fly away.
Matiwos Rumley kicks the ball
“People often use the phrase ‘misery loves company’, and whenever we hear that we reply, ‘happy loves company, too.’ And so it is — that ‘happy’ continues to spread, not just for our family but for the many people Matiwos has touched. We hope you will be watching and smiling along with the Rumleys on Sunday.” Jody Rumley of Hebron, Conn., whose son Matiwos -- adopted from an Ethiopian orphanage in January 2012 -- won his age division in the NFL's Punt, Pass, and Kick competition and will stand at the 50-yard line for the coin toss in Sunday's AFC Championship game.
Here's an idea: The next time you notice that you're not working with a so-called negative emotion, see what's there instead. Is it contentment -- an all's-right-with-the-world feeling? Delight, which for me has gentle bubbling quality, like a low water fountain? Giddy joy -- a 6-year-old spinning just to see her skirt fly out from her body? Bouncy exuberance? How does it express itself: a shy smile, tapping feet, eyes lit up?

What do you do with your happiness?

Naomi Shihab Nye

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.
But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…..
Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

Poem: "So Much Happiness," by Naomi Shihab Nye from Words under the Words (The Eighth Mountain Press). 

The warmth of compassion

When teaching on compassion, the Gyalwang Karmapa has continuously emphasised that feeling compassion towards other sentient beings was not enough. Our compassion has to be turned into action. As temperatures dipped to freezing point and below across North India, the Gyalwang Karmapa bought and distributed over a thousand warm blankets to Bodhgaya's poorest.
Several thousand people from Bodhgaya and nearby villagers, mostly women with small children, queued for hours at the gates to the Monlam Pavilion before the scheduled time of 3:00 pm. The Gyalwang Karmapa then spent nearly an hour inside the Monlam Pavilion personally handing out the thick woollen blankets to each delighted recipient. Their stressed and worn faces lit up as they received the Gyalwang Karmapa's gift, together with his compassionate blessing.
Later, as they dispersed across the surrounding fields clutching their new blankets, their delight could be clearly seen on their smiling faces. Later that evening, the brand new grey blankets could be seen wrapped around the shoulders of many of the beggars lining Bodhgaya's streets.
This active expression of the Gyalwang Karmapa's compassion has helped protect over one thousand people from the deadly cold. Every winter thousands of people, many of them homeless, die from cold across North India. Each of the thousand new blankets gifted by the Gyalwang Karmapa is made from thick wool, perfectly suited to the freezing winter conditions. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Limping toward nirvana

I've been thinking about writing something about the IDP's Year-Long Immersion and Instructor Training  program since early December, when the early application deadline was approaching, but I wasn't sure what I could say. I was a graduate of the first iteration of the program, in 2011. (Originally, it was called the Buddhist Teacher/ Meditation Facilitator Training; my inner 12-year-old delighted in the idea of being a certified MF, but the name changed quietly during the year.)

I did not enter the program expecting to become a teacher. I was looking for a way to deepen my study of Buddhism, and this program appealed to me for a lot of reasons.

2011 was a transformative year. The IDP training was part of that, but I also did a two-week retreat with Lance Brunner, a fabulously kind and creative teacher; was a head oryoki server during that program, and did several weekend retreats in the Shambhala Sacred Path program. All of those things worked with other things, the warp and the woof of life and study.

Now I lead meditation and Buddhist groups. I don't really look at it as teaching -- I see it as sharing information that I've learned from studying and inviting people to explore how that works in their lives. Maybe that's possible because my groups are small. I don't live in New York, and to study and practice with people on a regular basis is difficult. Leading these groups gives me a chance to develop live sangha.

The Buddha said that you are your own best teacher. He told his followers not to take anything he said on faith but to try it for themselves and see if it was useful on the path toward the transformation of suffering.

And that's what the IDP program does -- help you find ways to teach the dharma, to yourself or others; in a class setting or through art, music, dance, blogging, or simply being at peace with yourself in a chaotic world.

Stephen Schettini is a former Catholic and Buddhist monk whose post on religion and righteousness on his blog, The Naked Monk, question life's big answers; expose yourself to doubt, caught my interest, partly because of this discussion on the IDP blog about the teacher training program

Schettini writes:
In Tibetan Buddhism, one’s teacher never gets angry or befuddled. Rather, he ‘manifests wrath,’ meaning that he puts on a show of anger because you need shock treatment, or silence because you’re unable to process the truth. You cannot be part of the community and question his motives. ‘The Path’ is itself code for steering clear of creative acts of discovery. When I eventually acted on the realization that I should find my own way or lose all self-respect, my connection to the community was severed. I was still there; I hadn’t yet even disrobed, but I was excluded from the circle of trust.
Buddhism, he says, was no different from the Catholic church is shutting down questions or challenges to its dogma.

Eventually, he writes, he went outside the organizations and back to study the lives of Jesus Christ and the Buddha. What he found were inspirational examples.
Buddhism was a crutch when I was psychically lame. The tools and the community healed me sufficiently that when the time came I was able to leap from my ivory tower and go on my way. Luckily, I landed on my feet. To ascribe it to destiny or karma is to retreat, pretending I have an explanation when all I have is a code word.
That's his story. It makes valid points, as does the IDP blog post. The Buddha -- who was reluctant to teach in the first place -- didn't set out to create Buddhism. I think he'd endorse using the path he laid out to find your own wisdom. But the path requires you to keep checking in, to see if your wisdom comes from your buddhanature or from dogma, and that's the value of it.

You will get something all your own out of the training. Intrigued? The application deadline is Tuesday, Jan. 15.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Feminism and Buddhism

Lama Tsultrim Allione about Naropa in the 1970s: 
Although I enjoyed living in a Buddhist community, after several years I felt unhappy with the patriarchal, hierarchical, structured organization there. I also felt I was often parroting the words of Trungpa Rinpoche and losing touch with my experience. I was becoming an expert rather than a beginner.
Although I could appreciate the benefits of this structure, I felt the ever-increasing forms and rituals and my attempts to fit into the organization were creating an inner conflict and my practice was not progressing."

"While the critique of patriarchy and the revisioning of Buddhist thought and practice so that it is no longer informed by patriarchal bias is a political, ethical, and spiritual struggle that is essential and ongoing, it must never overshadow commitment to Buddhist practice." bell hooks

Friday, January 4, 2013

The 'end of history' illusion

One of the more distinctive concepts in Buddhism is non-self. It does not mean that you do not exist physically. It does mean that you don't exist as a permanent, solid, independent entity. "You" are as changeable as the weather -- and that's good news. You're not always angry, not always sad, not always giddy or goofy. You sometimes are all of those (I hope), but you cycle through them.

That not how we see ourselves, though. We think that we are certain things -- you react in a certain way that draws a response from someone and you say, "That's just how I am." Generous. Kind. Messy. Speedy. Tactless. Attentive. Whatever.

A new study shows that even when we acknowledge that we've changed over time, we don't expect that to continue.

"Is it really the case that we all think that development is a process that's brought us to this particular moment in time, but now we're pretty much done?" psychology research Daniel Gilbert asked.

He and his colleagues interviewed 19,000 people, asking some how much they had changed over the past 10 years and others how much they expect to change in the next 10 years.

"Young people, middle-aged people, and older people all believed they had changed a lot in the past but would change relatively little in the future," the study abstract says. "People, it seems, regard the present as a watershed moment at which they have finally become the person they will be for the rest of their lives."

This belief, described by Gilbert as the  “end of history illusion,” had practical consequences, leading people to overpay for future opportunities to indulge their current preferences, the study says.

The study doesn't address this, but Buddhism says you control how you will change. Turn your mind toward the dharma -- practice patience, exertion, kindness, generosity, and mindfulness -- and you will suffer less. Since you're going to change anyway, why not do it in a way that benefits all beings?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Know your intention

This is the time of year when a lot of people make resolutions. As the year ends, we look back over what’s happened in the last 12 months, what we liked, how we’d like to change in the New Year. That’s important stuff, and it’s in line with Buddhist practice – we’re using awareness, contemplation, and discernment.

But often people struggle to stick with their resolutions. A few days in, and old habits are calling us back to a comfortable way of doing things. Why is that and what can we do about it?

We can look at the intention that guides our action.

In Buddhism, intention is crucial. Karma is connected with intention, not just the action. If you kill a bug unintentionally, by stepping on it in the grass without knowing, there’s no karma. If you deliberately choose to kill that same bug, it may have consequences down the road. (One of those may be that you develop the idea that it’s OK to kill things.)

But you don’t have to believe in karma and rebirth to see the value of intention. If you set an intention, that leaves open many possible actions rather than limiting you to one right or wrong way of doing things.

Say that you have resolved to lose weight. You start a restrictive diet, an exercise plan. Soon you feel beleaguered, and it’s difficult to keep up.

If you look at the intention rather than the action, there’s space. Why do you resolve to lose weight? To look better? To be healthier? And why do you want to look better or be healthier – to attract a mate, get a new job, be able to do more things with your children or grandchildren, live with less pain or stress so you can enjoy life and be more pleasant? Knowing your intention helps you see your true goal. If it’s health, then it’s not just a matter of depriving yourself of fattening foods, it opens up the positive possibilities of eating good food, finding an enjoyable form of exercise, entering into any meal or exercise session with the thought that it is of benefit, rather than a chore.

It turns your mind toward the positive and away from punishment.

In Buddhist study, I learned the idea of framing things according to the ground, path, and fruition.

The ground is the view, the intention. Let’s say, I am a kind person and my intention is to be kind.

The path is the action, how you put that view into practice. Instead of yelling at people or speaking sarcastically, I speak gently and with kindness. I still make my point, but without attacking.

And the fruition is the result. When you act with kindness, others respond more kindly. Not always and not immediately. But I have found that they do.

This framework applies to any action you carry out – what is the ground, the intention? How do I manifest that? And is the result what I anticipated, or should I modify?

The Buddha included Wise Intention as the second step on the Eight-fold Path. Classically, he explains wise intention as the intention of renunciation, the intention of goodwill, and the intention of harmlessness.

Our intention, in the moment-to-momentness of daily life, isn’t always to be of benefit. It may be greed – to get the last doughnut before someone else snags it – or anger, to show up that driver who cut us off, or ego-clinging, to make ourselves appear to be benevolent in order to win the approval of others.

To know your intention requires awareness of your mind. For example, the intention of renunciation involves seeing that you are about to do something unskillful and rejecting that action, choosing instead to do the skillful thing.

Perhaps you’ve heard the Buddha’s advice to ask yourself before you speak: Is what I am about to say true, is it kind, is it necessary? That’s the teaching on intention in action. Is it true/renounce lies. Is it kind/have an attitude of goodwill. Is it necessary – is this the appropriate time and am I the appropriate person to say it/will someone be harmed by this.

Being mindful of our intentions and acting upon those which lead to harmlessness and wholesomeness help train the mind to gradually drop those intentions that are driven by anger, greed, desire, and attachment. Exploring our intentions can lead to deeper insights concerning insecurities, a need for attention, jealousy, or attachment to views.

Examining our intentions begins a natural process of building a foundation of ethics, and mindfulness is the tool that helps us see what we need to work on, what we need to let go of, and to act responsibly instead of reacting harshly or foolishly.