Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Little Diversion

I forgot my copy of the Dhammapada at home today, so I don’t know what the next chapter says. I know the title is “The Dark”, but that is all. Instead of making something up or talking about why we are afraid of the dark or some other eccentric twist of words, I’m going write about something a friend asked me about in an email.

His question has to do with judgment – we make judgments all the time, sometimes we are not aware that this may cause some suffering in ourselves and others. My friend asked, Is it possible, in theory, to live without making judgment and only practice discernment and staying present? He went on to say that through practicing Tai Chi, he is finding a stronger sense of inner peace.

Not only is it possible in theory, it is possible in practice, to live without making judgment. This is called enlightenment. It also goes by the name Samadhi, with different flavours such as Laja Samadhi, Savikalpa Samadhi, and Nirvilkalpa Samadhi. Enlightenment is very far away and very close to all of us. For most cases, it is best to accept that we are not enlightened. However, just because we do not live in a perpetual state of perfect awareness – Nirvilkalpa Samadhi, this does not mean that the principles are any less valuable.

In Arizona, there is something called desert dust. It’s a very fine sand dust and collects everywhere and, when swept away, returns very quickly. I have a friend who does not see any reason to sweep the desert dust from his porch “because it will just come back five minutes later”. I think this is the same mentality of someone who does not harness their thoughts – their judgments – because they know their mind will wander. Of course! The desert dust, the thoughts and judgments and desires of our minds, will certainly come back five minutes later. But doesn’t it feel good to have a clean porch, even if it is only for a little while?

Part of the purpose of meditation is to train the mind. Without training, the mind will wander endlessly and cause us much confusion and pain. In meditation – sitting meditation, yoga, prayer, whatever method we use – we are teaching our mind to experience joy, well being and peace. When I first started serious practices in meditation, I felt there was separateness between the times I would sit in mediation and the rest of my day. However, I quickly realized that the more diligent I was in my meditation, the more likely I would experience some similar shade of bliss in my daily activities.

I trained my mind so the desert dust would not come back so quickly. There are days when I step out onto the porch and there is a thick layer of the stuff. Some days, I just want to walk past and not acknowledge it’s there. When I deny the fact that my mind needs a good sweeping, I feel lousy. Things bother me. I feel irritable and out of control. On the days that I pick up the broom and at least try to sweep some of the stuff away, I feel better. When I am in a routine and I keep my porch clean, I feel in control and happier.

So, it’s not so much a matter of never making judgment, it’s more a matter of how clean is your porch.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Out Of The Forest

“If he is a good man,
A man of faith, honored and prosperous,
Wherever he goes he is welcome.

Like the Himalayas
Good men shine from afar.

But bad men move unseen
Like arrows in the night.”
- Dhammapada

A judgment was made about me the other day. It was determined I was not a good person. Needless to say, my first reaction was to feel insulted. The news came as a slap in the face. I consider myself a good person. I conduct myself with decency, fairness and generosity. I make a point of accepting the good in others and offering them a wide berth to refine themselves. Hearing this judgment the other day, shook my foundation.

How could it be that someone would think I was a bad person? Most people I know, and people I meet, go out of their way to tell me that I am very nice. I was once told someone me as ‘the nicest person you will ever meet’ – I think that might be a little overboard, but all in all I am a decent person. So I wondered, how could this judgment be made and on what grounds?

I discussed this with a journalist friend of mine from Turkey. She suggested that the person judging me was not at all responding to me, but instead, they were thinking only of themselves – I pose a threat to their control of an existing situation. I think my friend’s assessment is the only reasonable explanation.

In the book, The Four Agreements, one of the agreements is “Don’t take anything personally”. What people say about others has mostly to do with their own thoughts – their own perception of their reality – and very little to do with the person on the receiving end. If I apply what Don Miguel Ruiz wrote and include my Turkish friend’s assessment, I can come to terms with this unfounded judgment.

The terms are much easier to deal with. Basically, I silently discredit all this person said. They are wrapped up in their own personal greed and manipulation. However skewed, unfair or inaccurate that person’s opinion, it means nothing to me other than I must be extra diligent in my assertion of being a good person. It’s been a while since I’ve had any pudding, but I know, the proof is in there somewhere.

A note about the book, The Four Agreements: When I read this book in the summer of 2001, I almost stopped reading it. I found the first 30 or 40 pages to be almost patronizing. Someone sitting near me heard me scoff and told me to finish the book. She had already read it and told me that she and others have also had the same reaction. However, once you get through the first section, the book is an excellent primer. So basic yet potentially life changing, I highly recommend this reading. In fact, I always keep a few extra copies on hand to give out to people when they need a little mantra to get them through a tough patch How’s that for being a bad person!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Way

“It is you who must make the effort.
The masters only show you the way.”
                                     - Dhammapada


Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, all the religions, philosophies and metaphysic equations are simply that; equations.  One can find endless suggestions and directives towards a better life, towards enlightenment.  The suggestions are good starting points, but by themselves they are useless.

There is a saying in aviation, “’Useless’ is the runway behind you, the airspace above you and fuel on the ground.”  Spiritual texts, self-help books, the counsel of a priest, whatever you look to for guidance is of no value unless you act on it.  Once a person has read and understood a text, it turns from potential energy to simply the runway behind you.  How we use knowledge, how we choose to live, think, speak, work goes back to one of the Paramis: Viriya Paramis, in English, Effort, Energy & Diligence.

As a teacher, I have often struggled with the expectation of students.  Many times, I have stood before a classroom and felt an undeniable expectation that I was somehow going to learn for them.  As the instructor, I was already the expert.  As an expert, I can only relay what I know.  The responsibility rests on the students’ shoulders to assimilate the teaching and act on it.  I can talk endlessly about fourth normal form and referential integrity and all sorts of other subjects that make eyes glaze over. However, I can not make a person learn. 

Whatever it is that you pursue, whatever it is that you are hoping to achieve, set your mind to it, and act.  Put on your shoes, open the door, and step into the big beautiful world.  Don’t wait for the doorman, the porter or the guide.  Don’t look for someone else to validate you.  Don’t expect your professor to write your exam, or expect the police officer to bring you to a full stop at a stop sign.  Don’t expect Buddha to achieve enlightenment for you.  Don’t expect Christ to stop you from sinning.  You can look to all the examples that are available, but in the end, these are only masters showing you the way.



Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Just

“The true seeker
subdues all waywardness.
He has submitted his nature to quietness.

He is the true seeker
Not because he begs
But because he follows the lawful way,
Holding back nothing, holding to nothing,
Beyond good and beyond evil,
Beyond the body and beyond the mind.

Silence cannot make a master out of a fool.”
                                    - Dhammapada

Today, I'm tired, so very tired.  All these words keep jumbling around in my head, my mouth, my fingers... maybe I'm getting mixed up, maybe I'm getting mixed messages, maybe I'm getting a mixed drink.  Maybe it's the silent treatment.

One of my least favourite tactics is the “silent treatment”.  When we are four our five, we use the silent treatment a lot.  By the time we reach our sixth birthday, we should abandon this method and look for more productive means of communication.  However, I know plenty of people who still use the silent treatment long past the age of five.

Beyond immaturity, the silent treatment has some other unjust qualities.  One definition of the word “just”: free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception, aligns well with today’s quote and the subject of the silent treatment.  When a person cuts off communication, they are in effect, lying by omission.  If it is because they truly have nothing to say, that’s one thing, but I can’t think of a single time when the silent treatment was invoked because a person had nothing to say.  On the contrary, it is usually when a person has the most to say that they enact this childish stunt.

People use the silent treatment to leverage power.  If they do not communicate, they feel they have they have gained the upper hand.  However, there is no upper hand.  There is an attachment to manipulation and deceit.  There is an attachment to the noise and frustration of when things which do not work out.  There is a disturbance caused by silence.

When discontentment arises, it is best to voice concerns.  Once an issue has been discussed, than a solution can be worked out.  Sometimes, the solution is a compromise.  Sometimes, the solution is an agreement to disagree.  No matter what, voicing ones thoughts is how we evolve.  Squelching ourselves only makes us fools.

Monday, June 18, 2007


One of my favorite quotes of the Dhammapada, speaks about a subject which I have struggled with for many years: anger.

“Anger is like a chariot careering wildly.
He who curbs his anger is the true charioteer.
Others merely hold the reins.”
- Dhammapada

It’s not surprising to me that one of my favorite quotes has me so very stumped on how to address this subject. I considered dozens of different choices for discussing anger. I thought about myself and my personal history. I considered teenage angst, urban angst, swarming, Columbine, Thomas Aquinas, – all the typical stuff. I considered an episode of the Simpsons and some thoughts from the movie Awakenings. I considered the deep seated anger of the Hmong and how it escalated to sheer idiocy in Los Angeles. I considered metaphors of unresponsive steering wheels and the purpose of an emergency brake. I considered a number of approaches to talk about anger; possibly because there are so many available examples.

In lieu of deliberating indefinitely, I’ve decided to talk about a refining moment in my own evolution of anger management. It was something that happened about a year ago in Laos. In Asia, showing anger, yelling, stomping, waving arms are all seen as a sign of loosing control. It is looked down upon and I advise anyone who comes here to keep their anger in check. Not only does it make for an all around dismal feeling, it also is the beginning of a whole lot of effort to either make amends or sustain the anger.

The first time I lost composure in Laos was about a year ago. I was taken by surprise at an awkward time on a matter relating to money – specifically, money I owed. I didn’t entirely loose my cool. However, I did cross a line in personal relations, a thinner line in the east than the west. In the end, someone was singled out for upsetting me. I don’t think that person ever fully trusted me again.

What angered me was the surprise and the untimely information of a debt to be paid. Instead of pausing for a moment and suggesting an alternative solution, I became defensive and visually upset. Oh, let’s stop gussying up the words – I was pissed-off and I made a scene. I was completely out of sync with the local decorum.

After I was finished with my tantrum, it was explained to me that due to the time (Sunday night, 10pm) and the circumstances (I was staying at an isolated guest house on the edge of town), my debt could be paid in the morning when the banks open. Very simple.

Reading the quote about the chariot, I think not only of how I careered wildly, but also, how I embarrassed myself. Embarrassed because the stands were full when I made the exact wrong decision. Everyone knew it but me, I had let loose my grip on the reins.