Saturday, May 30, 2015

Bisy backson

I've been writing for the IDP blog on a regular basis for almost five years -- not because I think I have great insights to share but because it needs to be done. I've worked on daily newspapers for all of my adult life (except for six horrible months immediately after graduating from college when I did public relations), and I understand the need for new content. I know how to produce content. So I do.

For me, it's been a practice in opening, sharing ideas. Since I don't have a live, in-person sangha, this has been a way to explore ideas and share thoughts. It's also about discipline and posting on Saturday mornings. And I've been good about meeting that deadline, providing content. Until recently.

Over the last month or so, I've left my slot empty or posted at other times. There were good reasons: Travel, retreat, events. I've been too busy.

It's interesting that in Buddhism, busyness is associated with both laziness and restlessness. In both instances, external activity is a way to avoid facing what's happening internally.

Gil Fronsdal, talking about the hindrance of restlessness, says:

Constant activity can channel the restlessness at the expense of neither confronting it nor settling it. Because restlessness is uncomfortable, it can be difficult to pay attention to. Paradoxically, restlessness is itself sometimes a symptom of not being able to be present for discomfort. Patience, discipline, and courage are needed to sit still and face it.
The traditional antidote for restlessness is to sit still.

In the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha said that when the mind is restless, "it is the proper time for cultivating the following factors of enlightenment: tranquility, concentration, and equanimity, because an agitated mind can easily be quietened by them."

A time of restlessness is not the time for study because that can cause further excitement, he said.

But you can study the restless body and mind. Focus on the sensations; get to know, intimately, the feeling of restlessness, without the narration the mind provides. Feel the muscles, the energy, the tension and release. Then look at the mind: Where is the razor's edge, the head of the pin, the moment where you go from awareness to I-can't-stand-this-for-another-second? Can you find it? Can you rest there?

Feelings become overwhelming when the physical sensation and the mind work together to keep the hamster wheel of samsara spinning. You can investigate either one on its own, but when they join they create a tsunami of restlessness/busyness/stress that sucks you under.

As much as I identify with that scenario, that hasn't been the case for me lately. I'm not overwhelmed, just short on time. I have a job, a commitment to Buddhist practice that takes 2-3 hours a day, a family.

For some people, establishing discipline is a hard practice. That hasn't been my problem. Meditation has been a daily practice for me since I started. For me, not meeting expectations is much harder because it means giving up the validation that comes with doing what you're supposed to do. It means relying on myself to validate that I'm doing what's right for me. That's hard.

And then that's what you sit with.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The ignorance of a depraved heart

The charge of "depraved heart murder" was filed against one of the Baltimore police officers accused in connection with the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. That's an odd term for most of us: "Depraved heart." 

Maybe it's more familiar as "depraved indifference."

"Depraved" is a strong and unusual word meaning morally corrupt and wicked. Most of us can look at this charge and assure ourselves that we're  not capable of this act, we're not depraved.

But "indifferent." If being indifferent, or apathetic, is a crime, I know I'm guilty. We don't think of indifference as a problem in the course of the day. Maybe it makes life easier, sometimes, not to notice, not to care.

In Buddhism, the three poisons are passion, aggression, and ignorance. They keep the wheel of samsara spinning. It's easy to see with passion and aggression -- they're fiery, fierce, make themselves felt. Ignorance? Meh. How do we relate to what we don't know? How does ignorance -- or delusion -- cause suffering?

A few weeks ago, I attended a refuge vow ceremony with the Karmapa. Over the last decade, I've attended probably a dozen such ceremonies -- usually they leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, connected. Not this time.

Why, the Karmapa asked, would we go for refuge to the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha -- the teacher, the teachings, and those who follow them? (Awareness, the paths that lead to awarness, and those who live in awareness.) Traditionally teachings cite two reasons: Fear and faith.
The Karmapa turned to another subtle and invisible danger: the inadequacy of our love. The fear of obvious dangers, such as war, famine or sickness, we can easily identify. Lack of love, however, is another story; it leaves too many people and animals without protection or refuge. Their terrible suffering could be prevented if we had enough love, His Holiness stated. Since this deficit is within us, we can recognize it and change, and change we must, as insufficient love poses not only the danger of eventual disaster for others but for ourselves as well.
A deficit of love ...

Under the law, the charge of second-degree murder/ depraved heart requires "the conduct must contain an element of viciousness or contemptuous disregard for the value of human life which conduct characterizes that behavior as wanton."

The reason to take refuge, Karmapa said, is the fear of living in a world with insufficient love.

Usually, he said, we limit our love and compassion to relatives and friends; we set a boundary to our caring that allow us to ignore others.
“We need to extend our love,” the Karmapa said, “and come to see that we are connected to everyone.” The Karmapa expanded the usual definition of fear: “When we think about how living beings harm one another, we can see this lack of love clearly. Fearing it within ourselves, we go for refuge to develop the love and compassion that the Dharma teaches.” 
The opposite of compassion -- of seeing others' suffering and aspiring to remove it -- isn't hatred or aggression. It's apathy. Not seeing. Not caring.

What are the boundaries of your love and compassion? Who do you not see? Where is your love lacking? What are you indifferent to?

Love the questions, even when the answers are hard to find or hear. That's how boundaries expand. That's where change happens.