This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right and when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live.
In the Gap Between Right and Wrong
We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who's right and who's wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don't like about our associates or our society. It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others. Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.
In the Gap Between Right and Wrong
No Such Thing as a True Story
In Taoism there's a famous saying that goes, "The Tao that can be spoken is not the ultimate Tao." Another way you could say that, although I've never seen it translated this way, is, "As soon as you begin to believe in something, then you can no longer see anything else." The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new. By the way that we think and by the way that we believe in things, in that way is our world created. In the Middle Ages, everyone accepted the idea, based on fear, that there was only one way to believe; if you didn't believe that way, you were the enemy. It was death to all forms of creative, fresh thinking. Many things that people had been able to see, people just couldn't see anymore because they didn't believe in them. Once they began to think and believe in a certain way, there were all kinds of things that they literally couldn't hear, see, smell, or touch, because those things were outside their belief system. Holding on to beliefs limits our experience of life. That doesn't mean that beliefs or ideas or thinking is a problem; the stubborn attitude of having to have things be a particular way, grasping on to our beliefs and thoughts, all these cause the problems. To put it simply, using your belief system this way creates a situation in which you choose to be blind instead of being able to see, to be deaf instead of being able to hear, to be dead rather than alive, asleep rather than awake. Nowadays, some people are stepping out and exploring, but other people are becoming more entrenched in their beliefs. A polarization is occurring, and as a result, for example, we have some Christians getting hysterical about the film The Last Temptation of Christ because someone dares to say that Christ is not what a lot of people want to think he is. When a belief system is threatened, people may even become so fanatical that they kill and destroy. An example is the response of Muslims to Salman Rushdie's novel Satanic Verses, in which he suggests that Muhammad was not what they believe he was -- and for that they would condemn Rushdie to death. Actually you see this situation everywhere. Protestants are killing Catholics and Catholics are killing Protestants. Hindus are killing Buddhists and Buddhists are killing Hindus. Jews are killing Christians and Christians are killing Jews. Muslims are killing Christians and Christians are killing Muslims. There are wars all over the world because people are insulted that someone else doesn't agree with their belief system. Everybody is guilty of it. It's what is called fundamental theism. You want something to hold on to, you want to say, "Finally I have found it. This is it, and now I feel confirmed and secure and righteous." Buddhism is not free of it either. This is a human thing. But in Buddhism there is a teaching that would seemingly undercut all this, if people would only listen to it. It says, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha." This means that if you can find Buddha and say, "It's this way; Buddha is like this," then you had better kill that "Buddha" that you found, that you can say is like this. Contemplative and mystical Christians, Hindus, Jews, people of all faiths and
nonfaiths can also have this perspective: if you meet the Christ that can be named, kill that Christ. If you meet the Muhammad or the Jehovah or whoever that can be named and held on to and believed in, smash it. Now we get to the interesting part. How do you do that? Although this approach sounds pretty aggressive, when we talk this way, we're actually talking about the ultimate in nonaggression. People find it quite easy to have beliefs and to hold on to them and to let their whole world be a product of their belief system. They also find it quite easy to attack those who disagree. The harder, more courageous thing, which the hero and the heroine, the warrior, and the mystic do, is continually to look one's beliefs straight in the face, honestly and clearly, and then step beyond them. That requires a lot of heart and kindness. It requires being able to touch and know completely, to the core, your own experience, without harshness, without making any judgment. "When you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha" means that when you see that you're grasping or clinging to anything, whether conventionally it's called good or bad, make friends with that. Look into it. Get to know it completely and utterly. In that way it will let go of itself. It's said in the teachings that if you hold on to your belief there will be conflict. There's a wonderful story about this. There was a god who knew how men and women love to believe things to be true and make clubs and religions and political systems with the people who agree with them. They just love to make something out of nothing and then write its name on a big banner and march down the street
waving it and yelling and screaming, only to have people who believe the opposite come toward them with their banner, yelling and screaming. This god decided to try to prove a point about the human condition so that people might, in seeing the absurdity of it, have a good laugh. (A good laugh is the best way to kill the Buddha.) He constructed a big hat divided right down the middle, the left side of which was brilliant blue and the right side flaming red. Then he went to a place where many people were working in the fields on the left side of a road and many other people were working in the fields on the right side of the road. There the god manifested in all his glory; no one could miss him. Big and radiant, wearing his hat, he walked straight down the road. All the people on the right side of the road dropped their hoes and looked up at this god; all the people on the left side of the road did the same. Everybody was amazed. Then he disappeared. Everyone shouted, "We saw God! We saw God!" They were all full of joy, until someone on the left said, "There he was in all his radiance and in his red hat!" And people on the right said, "No, he had on a blue hat." This disagreement escalated until the people built walls and began to throw stones at each other. Then the god appeared again. This time he walked in the other direction and then disappeared. Now all the people looked at each other and the ones on the right said, "Ah, you were right, he did have on a red hat. We're so sorry, we just saw incorrectly. You were right and we were wrong." The ones on the other side said, "No, no. You were right. We were wrong." At this point they didn't know whether to fight or to make friends. Most of them were completely puzzled by the situation. Then the god appeared again. This time he stood in the middle and he turned to the left and then he
turned around to the right, and everyone started to laugh. For us, as people sitting here meditating, as people wanting to live a good, full, unrestricted, adventurous, real kind of life, there is concrete instruction that we can follow, which is the one that we have been following all along in meditation: see what is. Acknowledge it without judging it as right or wrong. Let it go and come back to the present moment. Whatever comes up, see what is without calling it right or wrong. Acknowledge it. See it clearly without judgment and let it go. Come back to the present moment. From now until the moment of your death, you could do this. As a way of becoming more compassionate toward yourself and toward others, as a way of becoming less dogmatic, prejudiced, determined to have your own way, absolutely sure that you're right and the other person is wrong, as a way to
develop a sense of humor about the whole thing, to lighten it up, open it up, you could do this. You could also begin to notice whenever you find yourself blaming others or justifying yourself. If you spent the rest of your life just noticing that and letting it be a way to uncover the silliness of the human condition -- the tragic yet comic drama that we all continually buy into -- you could develop a lot of wisdom and a lot of kindness as well as a great sense of humor. Seeing when you justify yourself and when you blame others is not a reason to criticize yourself, but actually an opportunity to recognize what all people do and how it imprisons us in a very limited perspective of this world. It's a chance to see that you're holding on to your interpretation of reality; it allows you to reflect that that's all it is -- nothing more, nothing less: just your interpretation of reality.
Widening the Circle of Compassion
Only in an open, nonjudgmental space can we acknowledge what we are feeling. Only in an open space where we're not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly. When we talk of compassion, we usually mean working with those less fortunate than ourselves. Because we have better opportunities, a good education, and good health, we should be compassionate toward those poor people who don't have any of that. However, in working with the teachings on how to awaken compassion and in trying to help others, we might come to realize that compassionate action involves working with ourselves as much as working with others. Compassionate action is a practice, one of the most advanced. There's nothing more advanced than relating with others. There's nothing more advanced than communication -- compassionate communication. To relate with others compassionately is a challenge. Really communicating to the heart and being there for someone else -- our child, spouse, parent, client, patient, or the homeless woman on the street -- means not shutting down on that person, which means, first of all, not shutting down on ourselves. This means allowing ourselves to feel what we feel and not pushing it away. It means accepting every aspect of ourselves, even the parts we don't like. To do this requires openness, which in Buddhism is sometimes called emptiness -- not fixating or holding on to anything. Only in an open, nonjudgmental space can we acknowledge what we are feeling. Only in an open space where we're not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly. Recently I was talking with an old man who has been living on the streets for the last four years. Nobody ever looks at him. No one ever talks to him. Maybe somebody gives him a little money, but nobody ever looks in his face and asks him how he's doing. The feeling that he doesn't exist for other people, the sense of loneliness and isolation, is intense. He reminded me that the essence of compassionate speech or compassionate action is to be there for people, without pulling back in horror or fear or anger. Being compassionate is a pretty tall order. All of us are in relationships every day of our lives, but particularly if we are people who want to help others -- people with cancer, people with AIDS, abused women or children, abused animals, anyone who's hurting -something we soon notice is that the person we set out to help may trigger unresolved issues in us. Even though we want to help, and maybe we do help for a few days or a month or two, sooner or later someone walks through that door and pushes all our buttons. We find ourselves hating those people or scared of them or feeling like we just can't handle them. This is true always, if we are sincere about wanting to benefit others. Sooner or later, all our own unresolved issues will come up; we'll be confronted with ourselves. Roshi Bernard Glassman is a Zen teacher who runs a project for the homeless in Yonkers, New York. Last
time I heard him speak, he said something that struck me: he said he doesn't really do this work to help others; he does it because he feels that moving into the areas of society that he had rejected is the same as working with the parts of himself that he had rejected. Although this is ordinary Buddhist thinking, it's difficult to live it. It's even difficult to hear that what we reject out there is what we reject in ourselves, and what we reject in ourselves is what we are going to reject out there. But that, in a nutshell, is how it works. If we find ourselves unworkable and give up on ourselves, then we'll find others unworkable and give up on them. What we hate in ourselves, we'll hate in others. To the degree that we have compassion for ourselves, we will also have compassion for others. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don't even want to look at. Compassion isn't some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we're trying to live up to. There's a slogan in the mahayana* teachings that says, "Drive all blames into oneself." The essence of this slogan is, "When it hurts so bad, it's because I am hanging on so tight." It's not saying that we should beat ourselves up. It's not advocating martyrdom. What it implies is that pain comes from holding so tightly to having it our own way and that one of the main exits we take when we find ourselves uncomfortable, when we find ourselves in an unwanted situation or an unwanted place, is to blame. We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of
who's right and who's wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us, and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don't like about our associates or our society. It is a very common, ancient, wellperfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others. Blaming is a way to protect our hearts, to try to protect what is soft and open and tender in ourselves. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground. This slogan is a helpful and interesting suggestion that we could begin to shift that deep-seated, ancient, habitual tendency to hang on to having everything on our own terms. The way to start would be, first, when we feel the tendency to blame, to try to get in touch with what it feels like to be holding on to ourselves so tightly. What does it feel like to blame? How does it feel to reject? What does it feel like to hate? What does it feel like to be righteously indignant? In each of us, there's a lot of softness, a lot of heart. Touching that soft spot has to be the starting place. This is what compassion is all about. When we stop blaming long enough to give ourselves an open space in which to feel our soft spot, it's as if we're reaching down to touch a large wound that lies right underneath the protective shell that blaming builds. Buddhist words such as compassion and emptiness don't mean much until we start cultivating our innate ability simply to be there with pain with an open heart and the willingness not to instantly try to get ground under our feet. For instance, if what we're feeling is rage, we usually assume that there are only two ways to relate to it. One is to blame others. Lay it all on somebody else; drive all blames into everyone
else. The other alternative is to feel guilty about our rage and blame ourselves. Blame is a way in which we solidify ourselves. Not only do we point the finger when something is "wrong," but we also want to make things "right." In any relationship that we stick with, be it marriage or parenthood, employment, a spiritual community, or whatever, we may also find that we want to make it "righter" than it is, because we're a little nervous. Maybe it isn't exactly living up to our standards, so we justify it and justify it and try to make it extremely right. We tell everybody that our husband or wife or child or teacher or support group is doing some sort of peculiar antisocial thing for good spiritual reasons. Or we come up with some dogmatic belief and hold on to it with a vengeance, again to solidify our ground. We have some sense that we have to make things right according to our standards. If we just can't stick with a situation any longer, then it goes over the edge and we make it wrong because we think that's our only alternative. Something's right or something's wrong. We start with ourselves. We make ourselves right or we make ourselves wrong, every day, every week, every month and year of our lives. We feel that we have to be right so that we can feel good. We don't want to be wrong because then we'll feel bad. But we could be more compassionate toward all these parts of ourselves. When we feel right, we can look at that. Feeling right can feel good; we can be completely sure of how right we are and have a lot of people agreeing with us about how right we are. But suppose someone does not agree with us? Then what happens? Do we find ourselves getting angry and aggressive? If we look into the very moment of anger or
aggression, we might see that this is what wars are made of. This is what race riots are made of: feeling that we have to be right, being thrown off and righteously indignant when someone disagrees with us. On the other hand, when we find ourselves feeling wrong, convinced that we're wrong, getting solid about being wrong, we could also look at that. The whole right and wrong business closes us down and makes our world smaller. Wanting situations and relationships to be solid, permanent, and graspable obscures the pith of the matter, which is that things are fundamentally groundless. Instead of making others right or wrong, or bottling up right and wrong in ourselves, there's a middle way, a very powerful middle way. We could see it as sitting on the razor's edge, not falling off to the right or the left. This middle way involves not hanging on to our version so tightly. It involves keeping our hearts and minds open long enough to entertain the idea that when we make things wrong, we do it out of a desire to obtain some kind of ground or security. Equally, when we make things right, we are still trying to obtain some kind of ground or security. Could our minds and our hearts be big enough just to hang out in that space where we're not entirely certain about who's right and who's wrong? Could we have no agenda when we walk into a room with another person, not know what to say, not make that person wrong or right? Could we see, hear, feel other people as they really are? It is powerful to practice this way, because we'll find ourselves continually rushing around to try to feel secure again -- to make ourselves or them either right or wrong. But true communication can happen only in that open space.
Whether it's ourselves, our lovers, bosses, children, local Scrooge, or the political situation, it's more daring and real not to shut anyone out of our hearts and not to make the other into an enemy. If we begin to live like this, we'll find that we actually can't make things completely right or completely wrong anymore, because things are a lot more slippery and playful than that. Everything is ambiguous; everything is always shifting and changing, and there are as many different takes on any given situation as there are people involved. Trying to find absolute rights and wrongs is a trick we play on ourselves to feel secure and comfortable. This leads to a bigger underlying issue for all of us: How are we ever going to change anything? How is there going to be less aggression in the universe rather than more? We can then bring it down to a more personal level: how do I learn to communicate with somebody who is hurting me or someone who is hurting a lot of people? How do I speak to someone so that some change actually occurs? How do I communicate so that the space opens up and both of us begin to touch in to some kind of basic intelligence that we all share? In a potentially violent encounter, how do I communicate so that neither of us becomes increasingly furious and aggressive? How do I communicate to the heart so that a stuck situation can ventilate? How do I communicate so that things that seem frozen, unworkable, and eternally aggressive begin to soften up, and some kind of compassionate exchange begins to happen? Well, it starts with being willing to feel what we are going through. It starts with being willing to have a compassionate relationship with the parts of ourselves that we feel are not
worthy of existing on the planet. If we are willing through meditation to be mindful not only of what feels comfortable, but also of what pain feels like, if we even aspire to stay awake and open to what we're feeling, to recognize and acknowledge it as best we can in each moment, then something begins to change. Compassionate action, being there for others, being able to act and speak in a way that communicates, starts with seeing ourselves when we start to make ourselves right or make ourselves wrong. At that particular point, we could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where we could live. This place, if we can touch it, will help us train ourselves throughout our lives to open further to whatever we feel, to open further rather than shut down more. We'll find that as we begin to commit ourselves to this practice, as we begin to have a sense of celebrating the aspects of ourselves that we found so impossible before, something will shift in us. Something will shift permanently in us. Our ancient habitual patterns will begin to soften, and we'll begin to see the faces and hear the words of people who are talking to us. If we begin to get in touch with whatever we feel with some kind of kindness, our protective shells will melt, and we'll find that more areas of our lives are workable. As we learn to have compassion for ourselves, the circle of compassion for others -- what and whom we can work with, and how -- becomes wider.
No Escape, No Problem
We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves--the heavy-duty fearing that we're bad and hoping that we're good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds--never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake. Looking at ourselves this way is very different from our usual habit. From this perspective we don't need to change: you can feel as wretched as you like, and you're still a good candidate for enlightenment. You can feel like the world's most hopeless basket case, but that feeling is your wealth, not something to be thrown out or improved upon. There's a richness to all of the smelly stuff that we so dislike and so little desire. The delightful things--what we love so dearly about ourselves, the places in which we feel some sense of pride or inspiration-these also are our wealth. With the practices presented in this book, you can start just where you are. If you're feeling angry, povertystricken, or depressed, the practices described here were designed for you, because they will encourage you to use all the unwanted things in your life as the means for awakening compassion for yourself and others. These practices show us how to accept ourselves, how to relate directly with suffering, how to stop running away from the painful aspects of our lives. They show us how to work openheartedly with life just as it is. When we hear about compassion, it naturally brings up working with others, caring for others. The reason we're often not there for others--whether for our child or our mother or someone who is insulting us or someone who frightens us--is that we're not there for ourselves. There are whole parts of ourselves that are so unwanted that whenever they begin to come up we run away. Because we escape, we keep missing being right here, being right on the dot. We keep missing the moment we're in. Yet if we can experience the moment we're in, we discover that it is unique, precious, and completely fresh. It never happens twice. One can appreciate and celebrate each moment--there's nothing more sacred. There's nothing more vast or absolute. In fact, there's nothing more! Only to the degree that we've gotten to know our personal pain, only to the degree that we've related with pain at all, will we be fearless enough, brave enough, and enough of a warrior to be willing to feel the pain of others. To that degree we will be able to take on the pain of others because we will have discovered that their pain and our own pain are not different. However, to do this, we need all the help we can get. It is my hope that this book will supply that help. The tools you will be given are three very supportive practices: 1. Basic sitting meditation (called shamatha-vipashyana meditation)
2. The practice of taking in and sending out (called tonglen) 3. The practice of working with slogans (called the seven points of mind training, or lojong) All these practices awaken our trust that the wisdom and compassion that we need are already within us. They help us to know ourselves: our rough parts and our smooth parts, our passion, aggression, ignorance, and wisdom. The reason that people harm other people, the reason that the planet is polluted and people and animals are not doing so well these days is that individuals don't know or trust or love themselves enough. The technique of sitting meditation called shamatha-vipashyana ("tranquillityinsight") is like a golden key that helps us to know ourselves. SHAMATHA-VIPASHYANA MEDITATION In shamatha-vipashyana meditation, we sit upright with legs crossed and eyes open, hands resting on our thighs. Then we simply become aware of our breath as it goes out. It requires precision to be right there with that breath. On the other hand, it's extremely relaxed and extremely soft. Saying, "Be right there with the breath as it goes out," is the same thing as saying, "Be fully present." Be right here with whatever is going on. Being aware of the breath as it goes out, we may also be aware of other things going on-sounds on the street, the light on the walls. These things may capture our attention slightly, but they don't need to draw us off. We can continue to sit right here, aware of the breath going out. But being with the breath is only part of the technique. These thoughts that run through our minds continually
are the other part. We sit here talking to ourselves. The instruction is that when you realize you've been thinking you label it "thinking." When your mind wanders off, you say to yourself, "Thinking." Whether your thoughts are violent or passionate or full of ignorance and denial; whether your thoughts are worried or fearful, whether your thoughts are spiritual thoughts, pleasing thoughts of how well you're doing, comforting thoughts, uplifting thoughts, whatever they are, without judgment or harshness simply label it all "thinking," and do that with honesty and gentleness. The touch on the breath is light: only about 25 percent of the awareness is on the breath. You're not grasping or fixating on it. You're opening, letting the breath mix with the space of the room, letting your breath just go out into space. Then there's something like a pause, a gap until the next breath goes out again. While you're breathing in, there could be some sense of just opening and waiting. It is like pushing the doorbell and waiting for someone to answer. Then you push the doorbell again and wait for someone to answer. Then probably your mind wanders off and you realize you're thinking again-at this point, use the labeling technique. It's important to be faithful to the technique. If you find that your labeling has a harsh, negative tone to it, as if you were saying, "Dammit!," that you're giving yourself a hard time, say it again and lighten up. It's not like trying to down the thoughts as if they were clay pigeons. Instead, be gentle. Use the labeling part of the technique as an opportunity to develop softness and compassion for yourself. Anything that comes up is okay in the arena of meditation. The point is, you can see it honestly and make friends with it.
Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself. It is healing to know all the ways that you're sneaky, all the ways that you hide out, all the ways that you shut down, deny, close off, criticize people, all your weird little ways. You can know all that with some sense of humor and kindness. By knowing yourself, you're coming to know humanness altogether. We are all up against these things. We are all in this together. So when you realize that you're talking to yourself, label it "thinking" and notice your tone of voice. Let it be compassionate and gentle and humorous. Then you'll be changing old stuck patterns that are shared by the whole human race. Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.* LOJONG PRACTICE The heart of this book is the lojong practice and teachings. The lojong practice (or mind training) has two elements: the practice, which is tonglen meditation, and the teaching, which comes in the form of slogans. The basic notion of lojong is that we can make friends with what we reject, what we see as "bad" in ourselves and in other people. At the same time, we could learn to be generous with what we cherish, what we see as "good." If we begin to live in this way, something in us that may have been buried for a long time begins to ripen. Traditionally this "something" is called bodhichitta, or awakened heart. It's something that we already have but usually have not yet discovered. It's as if we were poor, homeless, hungry, and cold, and although we didn't know it, right under the ground where we always slept was a pot of gold. That gold is like bodhichitta. Our
confusion and misery come from not knowing that the gold is right here and from always looking for it somewhere else. When we talk about joy, enlightenment, waking up, or awakening bodhichitta, all that means is that we know the gold is right here, and we realize that it's been here all along. The basic message of the lojong teachings is that if it's painful, you can learn to hold your seat and move closer to that pain. Reverse the usual pattern, which is to split, to escape. Go against the grain and hold your seat. Lojong introduces a different attitude toward unwanted stuff: if it's painful, you become willing not just to endure it but also to let it awaken your heart and soften you. You learn to embrace it. If an experience is delightful or pleasant, usually we want to grab it and make it last. We're afraid that it will end. We're not inclined to share it. The lojong teachings encourage us, if we enjoy what we are experiencing, to think of other people and wish for them to feel that. Share the wealth. Be generous with your joy. Give away what you most want. Be generous with your insights and delights. Instead of fearing that they're going to slip away and holding on to them, share them. Whether it's pain or pleasure, through lojong practice we come to have a sense of letting our experience be as it is without trying to manipulate it, push it away, or grasp it. The pleasurable aspects of being human as well as the painful ones become the key to awakening bodhichitta. There is a saying that is the underlying principle of tonglen and slogan practice: "Gain and victory to others, loss and defeat to myself." The Tibetan word for pride or arrogance,
which is nga-gyal, is literally in English "me-victorious." Me first. Ego. That kind of "me-victorious" attitude is the cause of all suffering. In essence what this little saying is getting at is that words like victory and defeat are completely interwoven with how we protect ourselves, how we guard our hearts. Our sense of victory just means that we guarded our heart enough so that nothing got through, and we think we won the war. The armor around our soft spot--our wounded heart--is now more fortified, and our world is smaller. Maybe nothing is getting in to scare us for one whole week, but our courage is weakening, and our sense of caring about others is getting completely obscured. Did we really win the war? On the other hand, our sense of being defeated means that something got in. Something touched our soft spot. This vulnerability that we've kept armored for ages--something touched it. Maybe all that touched it was a butterfly, but we have never been touched there before. It was so tender. Because we have never felt that before, we now go out and buy padlocks and armor and guns so that we will never feel it again. We go for anything--seven pairs of boots that fit inside each other so we don't have to feel the ground, twelve masks so that no one can see our real face, nineteen sets of armor so that nothing can touch our skin, let alone our heart. These words defeat and victory are so tied up with how we stay imprisoned. The real confusion is caused by not knowing that we have limitless wealth, and the confusion deepens each time we buy into this win/lose logic: if you touch me, that is defeat, and if I manage to armor myself and not be touched, that's victory.
Realizing our wealth would end our bewilderment and confusion. But the only way to do that is to let things fall apart. And that's the very thing that we dread the most--the ultimate defeat. Yet letting things fall apart would actually let fresh air into this old, stale basement of a heart that we've got. Saying "Loss and defeat to myself" doesn't mean to become a masochist: "Kick my head in, torture me, and dear God, may I never be happy." What it means is that you can open your heart and your mind and know what defeat feels like. You feel too short, you have indigestion, you're too fat and too stupid. You say to yourself, "Nobody loves me, I'm always left out. I have no teeth, my hair's getting gray, I have blotchy skin, my nose runs." That all comes under the category of defeat, the defeat of ego. We're always not wanting to be who we are. However, we can never connect with our fundamental wealth as long as we are buying into this advertisement hype that we have to be someone else, that we have to smell different or have to look different. On the other hand, when you say "Victory to others," instead of wanting to keep it for yourself, there's the sense of sharing the whole delightful aspect of your life. You did lose some weight. You do like the way you look in the mirror. You suddenly feel like you have a nice voice, or someone falls in love with you or you fall in love with someone else. Or the seasons change and it touches your heart, or you begin to notice the snow in Vermont or the way the trees move in the wind. With anything that you want, you begin to develop the attitude of wanting to share it instead of being stingy with it or fearful around it.
Perhaps the slogans will challenge you. They say things like "Don't be jealous," and you think, "How did they know?" Or "Be grateful to everyone"; you wonder how to do that or why to bother. Some slogans, such as "Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment," exhort you to go beyond common sense. These slogans are not always the sort of thing that you would want to hear, let alone find inspiring, but if we work with them they will become like our breath, our eyesight, our first thought. They will become like the smells we smell and the sounds we hear. We can let them permeate our whole being. That's the point. These slogans aren't theoretical or abstract.
They are about exactly who we are and what is happening to us. They are completely relevant to how we experience things, how we relate with whatever occurs in our lives. They are about how to relate with pain and fear and pleasure and joy, and how those things can transform us fully and completely. When we work with the slogans, ordinary life becomes the path of awakening. *If you've never tried sitting meditation before, you may wish to seek the guidance of a qualified meditation instructor. See the list of meditation centers at the back of the book for help in finding an instructor.
Weather and the Four Noble Truths
When the Buddha first taught, he could have taught anything. He had just waked up completely. His mind was clear and he experienced no obstacles -- just the vastness and goodness of himself and his life. The story goes, however, that it was difficult for him to express his experience; initially he decided not to teach because he thought no one would be able to understand what he was talking about. He finally decided that he would go out and he would teach because there were some people who would hear him. The interesting thing is that at first he didn't talk about the unconditional; he didn't talk about basic goodness, clarity, space, bliss, wonder, or openness. In the first teaching of the Buddha -- the teachings on the four noble truth -- she talked about suffering. I've always experienced these teachings as a tremendous affirmation that there is no need to resist being fully alive in this world, that we are in fact part of the web. All of life is interconnected. If something lives, it has life force, the quality of which is energy, a sense of spiritedness. Without that, we can't lift our arms or open our mouths or open and shut our eyes. If you have ever been with someone who is dying, you know that at one moment, even though it might be quite weak, there's life force there, and then the next moment there is none. It's said that when we die, the four elements -- earth, air, fire, water -- dissolve one by one, each into the other, and finally just dissolve into space. But while we're living, we share the energy that makes everything, from a blade of grass to an elephant, grow and live and then inevitably wear out and die. This energy, this life force, creates the whole world. It's very curious that because we as human beings have consciousness, we are also subject to a little twist where we resist life's energies. I was talking to a man the other day who has severe depression. When he gets depressed, he sits in a chair; he can't move. All he does is worry. He said that all winter long he sat in the chair, thinking that he ought to go bring the lawn mower out of the snow, but he just couldn't do it. Now that's not what I mean by sitting still. Sitting still, or holding one's seat, means not being pulled away from being fully right there, fully acknowledging and experiencing your life energy. So what happens? I can tell you my experience of it. I was sitting, doing the technique, when this bad feeling came along. Next thing I knew, I was thinking all kinds of things, worrying about something that's going to happen in September, worrying about who is going to take care of the minutest little details of something that's going to happen in October. Then I remembered: sitting still in the middle of a fire or a tornado or an earthquake or a tidal wave, sitting still. This provides the opportunity to experience once again the living quality of our life's energy -earth, air, fire, and water. Why do we resist our energy? Why do we resist the life force that flows through us? The first noble truth says that if you are alive, if you have a heart, if you can love, if you can be compassionate, if you can realize the life energy that makes everything change and move and grow and die, then you won't have any resentment or resistance. The first noble truth says simply that it's part of being human to feel discomfort. We don't even have to
call it suffering anymore, we don't even have to call it discomfort. It's simply coming to know the fieriness of fire, the wildness of wind, the turbulence of water, the upheaval of earth, as well as the warmth of fire, the coolness and smoothness of water, the gentleness of the breezes, and the goodness, solidness, and dependability of the earth. Nothing in its essence is one way or the other. The four elements take on different qualities; they're like magicians. Sometimes they manifest in one form and sometimes in another. If we feel that that's a problem, we resist it. The first noble truth recognizes that we also change like the weather, we ebb and flow like the tides, we wax and wane like the moon. We do that, and there's no reason to resist it. If we resist it, the reality and vitality of life become misery, a hell. The second noble truth says that this resistance is the fundamental operating mechanism of what we call ego, that resisting life causes suffering. Traditionally it's said that the cause of suffering is clinging to our narrow view. Another way to say the same thing is that resisting our complete unity with all of life, resisting the fact that we change and flow like the weather, that we have the same energy as all living things, resisting that is what's called ego. Yesterday I began to be very curious about the experience of resistance. I noticed that I was sitting there with uncomfortable feelings in my heart and my stomach -- dread, you could call it. I began to recognize the opportunity of experiencing the realness of the four elements, feeling what it's like to be weather. Of course that didn't make the discomfort go away, but it removed the resistance, and somehow the world was there again. When I didn't resist, I could see the world. Then I noticed
that I had never liked the quality of this particular "weather" for some reason and so I resisted it. In doing that, I realized, I re-created myself. It's as if, when you resist, you dig in your heels. It's as if you're a block of marble and you carve yourself out of it, you make yourself really solid. In my case, worrying about things that are going to happen is very unpleasant; it's an addiction. It's also unpleasant to get drunk again if you're an alcoholic, or to have to keep shooting up if you're a drug addict, or to keep eating if you have overeating addiction, or whatever it is. All these things are very strange. We all know what addiction is; we are primarily addicted to me. Interestingly enough, when the weather changes and the energy simply flows through us, just as it flows through the grass and the trees and the ravens and the bears and the moose and the ocean and the rocks, we discover that we are not solid at all. If we sit still, like the mountain Gampo Lhatse in a hurricane, if we don't protect ourselves from the trueness and the vividness and the immediacy and the lack of confirmation of simply being part of life, then we are not this separate being who has to have things turn out our way. The third noble truth says that the cessation of suffering is letting go of holding on to ourselves. By "cessation" we mean the cessation of hell as opposed to just weather, the cessation of this resistance, this resentment, this feeling of being completely trapped and caught, trying to maintain huge me at any cost. The teachings about recognizing egolessness sound quite abstract, but the path quality of that, the magic instruction that we have all received, the golden key is that part of the meditation technique where you recognize what's happening with you
and you say to yourself, "Thinking." Then you let go of all the talking and the fabrication and the discussion, and you're left just sitting with the weather -- the quality and the energy of the weather itself. Maybe you still have that quaky feeling or that churning feeling or that exploding feeling or that calm feeling or that dull feeling, as if you'd just been buried in the earth. You're left with that. That's the key: come to know that. The only way you can know that is by realizing that you've been talking about it, turning it into worry about next week and next October and the rest of your life. It's as if, curiously enough, instead of sitting still in the middle of the fire, we have developed this selfcreated device for fanning it, keeping it going. Fan that fire, fan that fire. "Well, what about if I don't do this, then that will happen, and if that happens then this will happen, maybe I better get rid of such-and-such and get this and do that. I better tell so-and-so about this, and if I don't tell them that, surely the whole thing is going to fall apart, and then what will happen? Oh, I think I want to die and I want to get out of here. This is horrible and" Suddenly you want to jump out of your seat and go screaming out of the room. You've been fanning the fire. But at some point you think, "Wait a minute. Thinking." Then you let go and come back to that original fluttering feeling that might be very edgy but is basically the wind, the fire, the earth, the water. I'm not talking about turning a hurricane into a calm day. I'm talking about realizing hurricane-ness, or, if it's a calm day, calmness. I'm not talking about turning a forest fire into a cozy fire in the fireplace or something that's under your cooking pot that heats your stew. I'm saying that when there's
a forest fire, don't resist that kind of power -- that's you. When it's warm and cozy, don't resist that or nest in it. I'm not saying turn an earthquake into a garden of flowers. When there's an earthquake, let the ground tremble and rip apart, and when it's a rich garden with flowers, let that be also. I'm talking about not resisting, not grasping, not getting caught in hope and in fear, in good and in bad, but actually living completely. The essence of the fourth noble truth is the eightfold path. Everything we do -- our discipline, effort, meditation, livelihood, and every single thing that we do from the moment we're born until the moment we die -we can use to help us to realize our unity and our completeness with all things. We can use our lives, in other words, to wake up to the fact that we're not separate: the energy that causes us to live and be whole and awake and alive is just the energy that creates everything, and we're part of that. We can use our lives to connect with that, or we can use them to become resentful, alienated, resistant, angry, bitter. As always, it's up to us.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?