‘In their effort to establish a more comprehensive understanding of Buddhist morality, Mahayana sources frequently classify morality into three increasingly significant categories. First, morality as restraint, which aligns with most concerns of early Buddhist moral precepts. Steadfast in renunciation of ordinary worldly desires, the bodhisattva observes the precepts with great care and exactitude and does this with no thought of reward. Second is morality as the cultivation of virtue. Mmore comprehensive than following the Buddhist precepts, the second level of moral practice is grounded in meditation and its concerns for mindfulness. Attentive to all the ways in which enlightenment can be cultivated, the bodhisattva undertakes these regimes of training in order to prepare for the final stage. Third is morality as altruism. This dimension of morality shows the bodhisattva’s overarching concern for the welfare and enlightenment of others. Moral action at this stage, therefore, entails loving service to others, which includes everything from teaching to care for the poor and the sick. In the final analysis, moral action is not individual but collective, and the bodhisattva engages in morality for the betterment and enlightenment of all.’ (The Six Perfections)
We turned back to this book in my student group last week, and this paragraph provided some food for thought.
‘A basic tenet of Buddhism is that our innermost being is already aware, clear, and unwavering. Not in the future, but right now. In some traditions, this fully wise, awake aspect is called buddhanature. In Mahamudra practice, it is called natural awareness. Natural awareness is not a state; it is fundamental to who we are. We meditate in order to witness this clarity, spaciousness, and compassion as our innermost being.
When we first sit on the cushion, we may have trouble believing there is anything of that nature in a chaotic mind full of churning thoughts and feelings. But as we sit more and more, eventually we discover that a very subtle, quiet awareness is watching the chaos. Natural awareness is not thrown off by the chaos of the relative mind. It remains grounded in every moment of experience, not separate from what it sees; it is a selfless, nondual watcher. It is completely ordinary and present in the now.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
‘It’s not necessary to get to the point of being able to say I completely love myself. But I do think we must come to that place of wholeness where we are at peace, especially those of us who have unresolved trauma. When you have wholeness and peace, it makes you want to love more… People start off thinking they could never love that much—it’s too daunting. Or they don’t want to, because it would make them too vulnerable. But the more you practice love, the easier it is. It becomes an act of grace.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
One of those things we can’t hear too many times.
‘Our hearts and minds have grown accustomed to a paradigm in which one human being has control over another. This is our default, and it has infected all parts of our psyche.
In Buddhism, through meditation and other transformative practices, we aspire to know states of heart–mind that Buddha (the human being) embodied. These states of heart–mind bring us close to reality as it is. When we see the absolute reality as it is, there is no individual human being, no separate entity. There is only interdependent co-arising: I am you; you are me. I am a monarch butterfly that is going extinct, the Black woman whose five generations of family were lynched, and also Hitler and present-day fascists. All is me. Richest and poorest, we inter-are.
It is important to note that while Buddhism has devised many skillful practices to deal with the myth of separation in the consciousness of an individual practitioner, it has only just begun to grapple with systems of oppression. An individual cannot beat a system. To beat one system, it will require another system. Systems of oppression or separation must be replaced by systems of nonseparation or nonduality. The opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy, where women are more powerful than men, but rather it is one of deep equality and solidarity. We are so used to systems of oppression that we have forgotten how to live in a way that is not separate.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
A repost from a couple of years ago that has lost none of its bite.
‘The tendency for most of us each day is to focus on life’s problems. More often than not, we find ourselves lamenting the prickly patch of our long-term relationship rather than stopping to appreciate its strengths; the moments of incredible boredom at work seem to outweigh the interesting aspects. We’re wired with what’s called negativity bias — an evolutionary instinct to look out for threats so that we can escape them unharmed.
But we can learn to work with negativity bias. That doesn’t mean that I think that we can all just flip the gratitude switch on. For better or worse, that’s not how life works — and in fact, gratitude is definitely not automatic for me. To this day, even speaking as someone who encourages the practice, I have found myself thinking at times that gratitude can seem like a glorified form of denial, a way of papering over problems by posting inspirational quotes to social media, by labeling everything in life “a blessing.”
But each time that dismissive instinct kicks in, I encourage myself to remember that being grateful doesn’t mean I have to keep a gratitude jar that counts my blessings. It just means I can reset my thoughts, just like in meditation, and choose instead to gently settle my attention on something positive. We don’t erase the pain — it’s still there — but we can broaden our perspective by opening to our pain and also opening to things other than the suffering we feel.’ (from Instagram)
There are two thoughts here that I often try to reflect in my teaching: how evolution has set us up to be the way we are, and how usually a sense of broadening rather than choosing is a way to liberation, as in the recent bell hooks post.
‘A form of wisdom that I strive for is the ability to know what is needed at a given moment in time. When do I need to reside in that location of stillness and contemplation, and when do I need to get up off my ass and do whatever is needed to be done in terms of physical work, or engagement with others, or confrontation with others? I’m not interested in ranking one type of action over the other.’ (from Tricycle Magazine).
The very essence of skilful means. When we read this passage in my student group, the last line caused much reflection,
‘Since no single philosophy, religion, or culture has a monopoly on wisdom and truth, it will be incumbent on all participants to join together… Pooling the world’s cultural resources and wisdom and working through them towards higher ideals, we commit ourselves to the practice of learning what we can from wherever we can – globally – and putting this learning to use on behalf of everyone. The renewed, regenerated ideals that would arise from this effort and become obvious to new generations born onto this planet will each embody in some way this profound sense of world unity.
Success in this global venture is far from inevitable, however. Our human historical record is uneven at best. Indeed, success in this effort will call on us to practice generosity, morality, tolerance, energy, mindfulness, and wisdom beyond the extent ever demonstrated in any previous culture. It will call on top rise to levels of maturity and wisdom previously imagined but never actualized in practice. But since pulling back to conserve the past or the present is clearly the path of global failure, we must accept the challenge of change and rise to this occasion by taking responsibility for the emergence of ethical ideals suitable for our unprecedented moment in history. As far as I can see, only a well-grounded, critically honed effort to renew human ideals will put us in a position to actualize the very real possibilities for global enlightenment already there, visible on our horizons.’ (The Six Perfections)
These closing paragraphs to this wonderful book are incredibly stirring, especially when read aloud, as we did recently in my student group. At the same time, as he acknowledges, and we acknowledged, and as I discussed with another student recently, human beings have a pretty poor track record in terms of wisdom, perhaps excelling only at short-termism and unintended consequences. Nevertheless, as I like to reiterate, it is only a hundred or so years since the West was really exposed to Buddhism and its way of thinking, so there is a chance that good things will happen as it starts to spread more widely. That remains one of my sole remaining points of optimism these days.
‘Letting go of incessantly measuring and comparing ourselves to others leads to spontaneous acts of courage and compassion. It’s like learning a dance step well enough that we no longer need to keep looking down at our feet. Eventually we feel the music and the movement, and that’s enough to be perfectly in tune with our partner and right on the beat.’ (My note with this quote is that it came from Tricycle Magazine, though I have been unable to confirm that.)
‘“Five things induce release of heart and lasting peace,” the Buddha told him. “First, a lovely intimacy with good friends. Second, virtuous conduct. Third, frequent conversation that inspires and encourages practice. Fourth, diligence, energy, and enthusiasm for the good. And fifth, insight into impermanence.”’
This was a passage I found in something from Norman Fischer, and I have had it at hand in all my recent conversations and thinking about ease.
‘A form of wisdom that I strive for is the ability to know what is needed at a given moment in time. When do I need to reside in that location of stillness and contemplation, and when do I need to get up off my ass and do whatever is needed to be done in terms of physical work, or engagement with others, or confrontation with others? I’m not interested in ranking one type of action over the other.’ (From Tricycle magazine)
The wisdom of the appropriate response.