Bodhcitta – Part Six

You might imagine that we can reach a level of understanding or serenity where we are excused the unpleasant feelings which may have been the aim of our undertaking a meditation practice. It can be a disappointment, but also a relief, to know that we can forget about that wish. And we don’t have to sugar-coat our lives to give an impression to others that Buddhism provides constant bliss. The saying that the road to enlightenment is long and hard is quite right. So why do we undertake it? Because the truth is that any other road is ultimately longer and harder.

The enlightened activity which bodhicitta promotes is characterized by selflessness. True selflessness is easier to understand and to describe than it is to practise. Mind you, even understanding it is trickier than you might expect. The roots of selfishness go very deep, and it takes a lifetime of study to penetrate them fully. And that’s where the small steps, that are our daily practice, really bear fruit as they are the means we have of clarifying and resolving the problems selfishness create.

An example of how we can apply this has become evident to me in recent years, it being a key measure of our wish for enlightenment, and that is in the way we react to criticism or correction. When we are challenged or even disagreed with, what most of us want to do is to defend our position, deny the charge, retaliate even. This is often an automatic, unconsidered, habitual response and is usually fuelled by anger. I have come to characterize this phenomenon when I observe it (in myself of course!) as indignant self-justification. When put in those terms it is rather stark but even when it is not expressed as vigorously as that description would imply, it lays bare what we’re dealing with.

Why is there such a strong feeling – what these days is called a ‘pushback’?

Criticism hurts us because we have an ego-self. Where there is no, or less, ego-self there, any such hurt is either absent or much reduced.

Is there any alternative to acting angrily when we are challenged? Yes. In the monastery we are regularly advised that we are doing things the wrong way, especially when we’re new to the practice. One would hope that this corrective advice would be given gently and compassionately but of course we cannot insist on how the teaching comes. There can be a strong urge to protest, to put our side of the story, to make excuses for or justify our actions. Blame others even, especially if we are already under pressure. Most of us realize that this reaction is not helpful. The better response is – right there – to practice acceptance, and selflessness. To let go of the urge to react angrily, and just make our self sit still. Going through this experience is a vital event in our training. It is a breakthrough, an introduction to a different, more enlightened way of facing life’s challenges.

And then what? Conflict is obviated. Any argument is postponed, possibly indefinitely. The way forward can be found with the anger taken out of the situation. We can actually listen to the substance of the criticism – or shall we call it ‘teaching’ – rather than responding from the feeling that we’re under attack, or being slighted. We just sit still and listen.

Note: I was personally touched by this talk and saw the benefits others are likely to derive from visiting his words, published here on Jade over several days. Thanks to the Reverend for permission to do this. Listen to the talk.

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Bodhicitta – Part Five

There are descriptions in the Scriptures, like those in our ceremonies, of heavenly realms, the seemingly magical attributes of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the rarefied states of mind one can find when one meditates deeply – these are not to be grasped after. That will only push the goal further away. Instead we are assured that simple acts of generosity and compassion in our daily interactions with others are the expression of Bodhicitta. We learn to not even measure or quantify the progress we make, or even think of it as progress. We just do what seems best in the here and now, patiently and without expectation. That is enough.

When we think of bodhicitta the classic image of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree on the occasion of his so-called enlightenment often comes to mind. The picture is one of serenity and peace, his face showing a contented smile. It’s easy to imagine that for us, modelling ourselves on the Buddha means we will display that same smile and air of contentment at all times. That is an understandable but mistaken view. Of course, it is appropriate that the Buddha be depicted that way – it’s inspiring, but the appearance is idealized, the product of artistic license if you like. Not quite in keeping with the day-to-day reality of our lives, especially for those of us, and we are many in number, who are living with difficulties of personal, practical or medical kinds.

The enlightened mind is the mind of acceptance. Accepting reality as it is means that, as well as finding the joy that comes from liberation, we are also exposed to the full range of possible experiences a human being can know. And let’s not kid ourselves about human existence, it is frequently hard going. And most of us haven’t even yet experienced the poor health that accompanies extreme old age.

Note: I was personally touched by this talk and saw the benefits others are likely to derive from visiting his words, published here on Jade over several days. Thanks to the Reverend for permission to do this. Listen to the talk.

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Bodhicitta – Part Four

It takes as long as it takes before we realize that reality doesn’t work like that. ‘The universe is not answerable to my personal will’ as the saying goes – the first law of the universe in fact. So what chance have we got for finding true happiness in life? Buddhist training has the answers.

We learn how to live, not just in terms of Buddhist practice, but in all aspects of life, mostly by observing and imitating others. This is intuitive, instinctive, and it is – I’m going to say it again – not wrong, but it can go awry, for instance when the people we choose to follow don’t give us a good example. We usually model ourselves on people we like, but unfortunately people’s likeability is not always an indication of good morals. And our desire to be accepted, loved and approved of sometimes makes us turn a blind eye to the faults of those we seek to be friends with. We collude with non-preceptual speech and action by going along with it, failing to question or challenge it, and the law of karmic consequence is activated. Suffering catches up with us, inevitably. So our innocent and natural wish to feel good ends up having the opposite effect.

The lucky ones like us find that adopting the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha as that which we choose to follow, to emulate, is the way to avoid, or minimize, the mistakes we can make in this regard.

The wisdom we cultivate when bringing meditation into everything we do enables us to discern this crucial difference. We can differentiate between behaviour we find endearing, and actions which are exemplary.

I’ve always liked comedy, especially on the radio, but these days I regularly notice that there are things I hear which are smart and funny, but I wouldn’t repeat them, because they have an edge which is unpreceptual, like cynicism. We sometimes have to let clever ideas fall away rather than preserve them. This is one way I’ve found of learning to look more deeply into cause and effect and its relation to happiness. It illustrates how it is good to be aware of our every action in daily life – know in detail – learn from what we find, and act on those lessons. This is a big part of studying the truth, aiming to know reality.

Note: I was personally touched by this talk and saw the benefits others are likely to derive from visiting his words, published here on Jade over several days. Thanks to the Reverend for permission to do this. Listen to the talk.

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Bodhicitta – Part Three

So the human pursuit of happiness is natural and good. But problems arise when we lose sight of that essential reason for the search, the original motive. This happens very easily. It is often said that the method unenlightened people employ in life to find happiness is to arrange things as they like them to be and try to keep them that way. That is they look for conditions, possessions and relationships which, when they are in place, provide feelings of satisfaction and contentment. Again, it is not entirely wrong to do that, bodhicitta is within that approach, but when situations change and we lose those things we rely on for our sense of well-being, we often don’t know how best to deal with that.

And we make a basic mistake when we think it is possible to create a life for ourselves where we can control what happens around us and avoid the difficult stuff. In truth it is not possible, even though it might sometimes appear that we can, because we do have agency. Choices we make do result in our life becoming more palatable. Sometimes. The freedom of choice many of us have reinforces the sense that we are in charge of our own destiny, and if only we could prevent those things and people who frustrate our wishes from impinging on us, the course of our life would be a one-way journey to fulfilment.

Note: I was personally touched by this talk and saw the benefits others are likely to derive from visiting his words, published here on Jade over several days. Thanks to the Reverend for permission to do this. Listen to the talk.

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Bodhicitta – Part Two

It’s also true that whatever motivates us when we look to religion to find out if it can answer the deepest questions in our heart, is essentially the same search the Buddha undertook when he left his father’s palace, and adopted the life of a homeless seeker of truth. He didn’t, like many of us have, an assumption or concept of what enlightenment was, he was just desperate to find some comfort for the anguish he had experienced when he saw the suffering of old age, disease and death which all beings are subject to. Realizing the inevitability of death – his own and that of all beings – as well as the inescapable pain and sorrow which all beings encounter, shook him to the core of his being, and he had to try and do something about it.

In some ways that’s a more advantageous position to start from. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but he felt there had to be something. We usually learn that there is something to seek, and read or hear descriptions of it which colour our understanding of what we’re aiming for, and which usually don’t match that well with what we find, for ultimately no words can really encapsulate it. Having something to look for means we’re not really making a journey into the unknown, not really letting go and giving up everything. But that doesn’t mean we won’t be successful of course – the opposite is in fact true. Just that the fulfilment of the bodhicitta generally doesn’t progress in quite the way we anticipate.

Note: I was personally touched by this talk and saw the benefits others are likely to derive from visiting Rev. Roland’s words, published here on Jade over several days. Thanks to the Reverend for permission to do this. Listen to the talk.

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Practice Within The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives