Buddha's Brain

"Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without." ~ Buddha

How are You?

Posted on August 22, 2014

A couple of nights ago, someone approached me, looked me in the eyes and asked how I was doing. They were sincerely interested in me and my life. They actually stood in front of me and waited for an answer!! It was an almost bizarre feeling for me because in this fast paced world, “How are you?” has become an illegitimate question tossed about as a nicety….rarely do we wait for the other person to answer….rarely do we look into their eyes when we ask the question….rarely do we really care to listen to what they have to say…..and most often the answers are “Great, how are you?” which is regurgitated out as easily as expelled air from our lungs. After all, if we wait too long to actually listen to the response, we may get stuck in an endless stream of hum-drum complaints. So we ought to make it as quick and polite as possible… and keep walking!!
Recently, I’ve been thinking about what “true friendship” means in the context of the Buddha’s teachings and the presence of “heart” in relationships. Is it really a two-way street or can it be a one-way road? The Buddha taught us that in the general context of  skillful friendships, one-way roads lead to dead ends, and if we always give so much of ourselves…if we always take extra steps, the extra steps become extra miles and eventually, one becomes tired of walking. In my experience, what people most need is to be shown as much unconditional love as possible, released from all expectations. I don’t think you have to be an expert in any way. Be natural, be yourself, be a true friend, and the person will be reassured that you are really with them, communicating with them simply and as an equal, as one human being to another. Sometimes, I think, all it takes is a friendly, “How are you?” and TRULY meaning it.
The Buddha said, “Show everyone you encounter unconditional love,” but in some situations that is far from easy. We may have a long history of suffering with the person, we may feel guilty about what we have done to the person in the past, or anger and resentment at what the person has done to us. It’s difficult and the different schools of Buddhism teach us different ways to manage.
The First Noble Truth is that in life, there is suffering. We also understand impermanence….there are lies, there is truth, and the constant changing of people who surround you. Friends may hurt you. Boyfriends/Girlfriends will come and go. However, there is one person you can always count on. You. Your relationship with yourself is one that is never-ending, no matter good or bad. Being comfortable with who you are and the decisions you make is essential.
Heart is a direct presence that allows a complete attunement with reality. In this sense, it has nothing to do with sentimentality. Heart is the capacity to touch and be touched, to reach out and let in.  Our language expresses this twofold activity of the heart, which is like a swinging door that opens in both directions. We say, “My heart went out to him,” or “I took her into my heart.” Like the physical organ with its systole and diastole, the heart-mind involves both receptive letting in, or letting be, and active going out to meet, or being-with. In its own different way, spiritual work removes the barriers to these two movements of the heart, like oiling the door so that it can open freely in both directions.
What shuts down the heart more than anything is not letting ourselves have our own experience, but instead judging it, criticizing it, or trying to make it different from what it is. We often imagine there is something wrong with us if we feel angry, needy and dependent, lonely, confused, sad, or scared. We feel guilty about asking for help because often we feel people don’t want to hear it. We place conditions on ourselves and our experience: “If I feel like this, there must be something wrong with me… I can only accept myself if my experience conforms to a standard of how I should be.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama once shared his great surprise and shock at discovering just how much self-hatred Westerners carry around inside them. Such an intense degree of self-blame is not found in traditional Buddhist cultures, where there is an understanding that the heart-mind, also known as buddhanature, is unconditionally open, compassionate, and wholesome. Since we are all embryonic buddhas, why would anyone want to hate themselves?
The Buddha described the essence of our nature in terms of basic goodness. In using this term, he did not mean that people are only morally good…..which would be naive, considering all the evil that humans perpetrate in this world. Rather, basic goodness refers to our primordial nature, which is unconditionally wholesome because it is intrinsically attuned to reality.
This primordial kind of goodness goes beyond conventional notions of good and bad. It lies much deeper than conditioned personality and behavior, which are always a mix of positive and negative tendencies. From this perspective, all the evil and destructive behavior that goes on in our world is the result of people failing to recognize the fundamental wholesomeness of their essential nature.
A couple of nights ago when that person stopped and truly showed they cared about me, my journey, my story…it was proven to me that the thread of goodness lies in every being on this planet. It’s how we choose to share it with the world around us that is the important step. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to ask, “How are you?” and then stick around long enough to listen.

Bilāra Jātaka: 128

Posted on August 11, 2014

Long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in the kingdom in Benares, the Bodhisattva was reborn as a mouse. When he grew up he was much bigger and stronger than an ordinary mouse. In fact, he was almost the size of a baby pig. He lived in a burrow in the forest with hundreds of other mice. They spent their days collecting seeds and nuts, darting here and there on the forest floor, chasing each other over and under the fallen branches and among the trees.
Now a certain jackal often came wandering through the forest, past the home of the mice. He happened to notice all this scurrying about of small morsels, and an idea formed in his mind. He found a great open space between the trees, where the sunlight fell for many hours during the day. He nosed around for a good spot, where he might be visible to any small creatures looking out from the shade of the forest. There he began to practice standing on one leg. First he tried the left front leg, and then the right. Neither of his front legs was very strong and he had difficulty keeping his balance. Next he tried his hind legs, first one then the other, to see which one was the strongest. The right hind leg turned out to be the best. At first he couldn’t balance himself at all, and he kept toppling over onto his right haunch. The ground was pretty hard, and it wasn’t very pleasant to fall over, so he gathered up some dry grass and made himself a nice cushiony landing spot, and continued his practice. It didn’t take very long before he had mastered the art of standing on one leg. He pointed himself with his face towards the sun and opened his mouth.
The Bodhisattva-mouse was out and about gathering seeds and noticed the jackal in the clearing. He thought to himself, “This jackal has undertaken some kind of difficult religious practice. He must be very virtuous.” He went right up the jackal and said, “Oh, Holy One, how may I address you?”
The jackal answered, “I am called Dhammika – the one who seeks the truth.”
The Bodhisattva was a curious mouse. He said to the jackal: “Why are you standing on one leg like that? Why don’t you place all four feet on the ground?”
The Jackal answered (never turning his face away from the sun): “If I were to place all four of my feet on the ground, the earth would not be able to bear my weight. It is out of kindness to the earth that I am standing on one foot.”
The Bodhisattva tried standing on one leg for a moment. It wasn’t very comfortable. He walked around the jackal and looked up at him. He could see the jackal’s teeth in his open mouth.
“But why are you standing with your mouth open?” he asked.
“My mouth is open,” replied the jackal, “so that the wind may enter and sustain me. For you see, I eat nothing other than air. Air is all I eat.”
The Bodhisattva-mouse felt with his tongue the tiny seeds he had collected in his cheek. He liked their nutty flavor and their chewy texture. Air was all very nice for breathing, but he couldn’t imagine eating it.
“And why are you facing the sun?” the Bodhisattva continued to question. “Doesn’t it make your head hurt to stand like that?”
The jackal replied modestly, “I am honoring the sun, little mouse. Any discomfort or suffering I experience is of no consequence.”
The Bodhisattva was impressed. He spent most of his day hurrying about gathering provisions. He rarely stopped to stand still, though some times, when he was passing through a sunny patch between the trees, he felt the sun on the fur of his back. Then he would slow down a little and appreciate that sensation of heat.
He said good-bye to the jackal and resumed his quest for supplies. He thought to himself, “This jackal is very virtuous. We mice have busy lives, but surely we can find time to honor him.”
The very next day the The Bodhisattva Mouse and the Jackal brought a whole troupe of mice to visit the jackal and to pay their respects. Some bowed down low. Others brought little offerings of seeds or nuts (though they knew that the jackal lived on air alone). Some showed their respect by trying to stand on one leg, just like the jackal, but for most of them, because of their plump bodies, it was just too difficult. When it was time to go, the mice formed themselves into a line and bowing to the jackal, returned into the woods. The jackal, watching them out of the corner of his eye, waited until they were trooping off in a neat line, and then dropped down on all four feet and neatly seized the last mouse in line. He chewed it and swallowed its flesh. Then, very carefully, he wiped his mouth, and resumed his standing pose.
Gradually the number of mice living in the forest burrow diminished. The mice noticed that there was more room in their burrow. “That’s odd,” they said to each other. “Before, we hardly had room to turn around. Now we he have so much space we could even do our exercises here.” They went to the Bodhisattva and told him about it.
The Bodhisattva thought to himself, “I wonder why the mice are gradually disappearing.” He reviewed their daily habits and realized that the only change was their morning visit to the jackal.
The next day, when it was time for the mice to go and pay their respects to the holy jackal, he placed himself in front of all the remaining mice when going, and, at the end of the line when it was time to leave.
The jackal was quite accustomed to his routine, and looking out from the corner of his eye, saw that the mice were trooping off as usual. He didn’t notice that the last mouse in line was considerably bigger than the others. Dropping down onto all four legs he sprang forward to seize the Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva saw him coming and turned about.
“O Holy Jackal” he said, “Your religion is not one of goodness. You claim to be seeking the truth, but instead you go about killing innocent beings.”
Having spoken, he recited this verse:
Yo ve dhammadhajam katvā nigulho pāpam ācare vissāsayitvā bhūtāni bilāram nāma tam vatan ti.
Listen, I’ll tell you a secret: those who put their goodness on display, may not be good or kind at all.
The Bodhisattva-mouse jumped up and fell down on the jackal’s throat. He bit down with such strength that he split open the jackal’s larynx and killed him.
The rest of the mice turned about and tore the jackal limb from limb. I heard that those who came first got flesh, but those that came last got none. And from then on, the mice lived happily in the forest free from fear.
Charlatans, fakes, con-artists, and sweet-talking holy men have been around for a long time, probably since human beings first learned how to hoodwink and extort each other. Ancient India, like any period of history, had its fair share of spiritual teachers whose only motive was self-aggrandizement and personal gain. Buddhist criticism of Brahminical religion appears in both the story-literature of Buddhism as well as the canonical texts. This particular story is a harsh cautionary tale. But what are we to make of the brutal ending?
Two possibilities come to mind: first, that the jackal’s swift demise is the natural playing out of his own actions. Karma in this case is logical and occurs without any delay. What is troubling is that the Bodhisattva-mouse and the other mice have now descended to the level of the jackal. Instead of attempting his reform, they are playing by his rules, rules that condone violence. While the jackal’s evil-doing has come to an end, what about the mice? Will they now have a taste for killing?
Another possible interpretation of the ending is that the listeners (and readers) are meant to experience genuine shock. Just as folk- and fairy-tales often end with the violent death of those have plotted against the good, this Jātaka tale offers a stark lesson in the danger of following one’s own impulses to connive and manipulate the perception of others. As in many fairy-tales, the abrupt ending jumps us out of the story and back into our lives, where things are a little more ambiguous, but where it’s just as imperative to examine what motivates our speech and our actions.


Posted on August 3, 2014

Sri Baba RamDev-jiIt’s always interesting to me to notice how words disappear from common usage or how they are “overused” in our daily lives. We have certain words in our passive vocabulary, we know their meaning, but they tend to disappear or get overused in day-to-day conversation…..which usually means that they’ve really disappeared from the way we shape our lives. Last week, I gave a dharma talk in which I happened to mention the word love. After the talk, a woman in the audience who had emigrated from Russia came up to me and wondered why it’s so easy for Americans use the word love. She knew the word, but she had never heard people use it so casually. And it’s good to think about why. Where and why did the word fall into such looseness?
Most people are under the impression that they can think out their lives. But that’s a misconception. We are subject to our emotions and think in ways based on our emotions. So it’s extremely important to do something about our emotions. In the same way as the Buddha gave us the Four Supreme Efforts for the mind, he also outlined the Four Emotions for the heart. The Four Supreme Efforts for the mind are (1) not to let an unwholesome thought arise which has not yet arisen, (2) not to let an unwholesome thought continue which has already arisen, (3) to make a wholesome thought arise which has not yet arisen, (4) to make a wholesome thought continue which has already arisen. The Four Emotions…..lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joy with others (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha)…..are called the “divine abodes.” When we have perfected these four, we have heaven on earth, paradise in our own heart. 
I think everybody knows that above us is the sky and not heaven. We have heaven and hell within us and can experience this quite easily. So even without having complete concentration in meditation and profound insights, the Four Divine Abidings, or Supreme Emotions, enable us to live on a level of truth and lovingness, security, and certainty, which gives life a totally different quality. When we are able to arouse love in our hearts without any cause, just because love is the heart’s quality, we feel secure. It is impossible to buy security, even though many people would like to do so. Insurance companies have the largest buildings because people try to buy security. But when we create certainty within, through a loving heart, we feel assured that our reactions and feelings are not going to be detrimental to our own or other people’s happiness. Many fears will vanish. 
Metta…..the first of the Supreme Emotions…..is usually translated as “lovingkindness.” But lovingkindness doesn’t have the same impact in English that the word love has, which carries a lot of meaning for us. We have many ideas about love. The most profound thought we have about love, which is propagated in novels, movies, and billboards, is the idea that love exists between two people who are utterly compatible, usually young and pretty, and who for some odd reason have a chemical attraction toward each other…..none of which can last. Most people find out during the course of their lifetime that this is a myth, that it doesn’t work that way. Most people then think it’s their own fault or the other person’s fault or the fault of both, and they try a new relationship. After the third, fourth, or fifth try, they might know better; but a lot of people are still trying. That’s usually what’s called love in our society. 
In reality, love is a quality of our heart. The heart has no other function. If we were aware that we all contain love within us, and that we can foster and develop it, we would certainly give that far more attention than we do. In all developed societies there are institutions to foster the expansion of the mind, from the age of three until death. But we don’t have any institutions to develop the heart, so we have to do it ourselves. Most people are either waiting for or relating to the one person who makes it possible for them to feel love at last. But that kind of love is beset with fear, and fear is part of hate. What we hate is the idea that this special person may die, walk away, have other feelings and thoughts…..in other words, the fear that love may end, because we believe that love is situated strictly in that one person. Since there are six billion people on this planet, this is rather absurd. Yet most people think that our love-ability is dependent upon one person and having that one person near us. That creates the fear of loss, and love beset by fear cannot be pure. We create a dependency upon that person, and on his or her ideas and emotions. There is no freedom in that, no freedom to love. 
If we see quite clearly that love is a quality that we all have, then we can start developing that ability. Any skill that we have, we have developed through practice. If we’ve learned to type, we’ve had to practice. We can practice love and eventually we’ll have that skill. Love has nothing to do with finding somebody who is worth loving, or checking out people to see whether they are truly lovable. If we investigate ourselves honestly enough, we find that we’re not all that lovable either, so why do we expect somebody else to be totally lovable? It has nothing to do with the qualities of the other person, or whether he or she wants to be loved, is going to love us back, or needs love. Everyone needs love. Because we know our own faults, when somebody loves us we think, Oh, that’s great, this person loves me and doesn’t even know I have all these problems. We’re looking for somebody to love us to support a certain image of ourselves. If we can’t find anybody, we feel bereft. People even get depressed or search for escape routes. These are wrong ways of going at it. 
On the spiritual path, there’s nothing to get, and everything to get rid of. Obviously, the first thing to let go of is trying to “get” love, and instead to give it. That’s the secret of the spiritual path. One has to give oneself wholeheartedly. Whatever we do half heartedly, brings halfhearted results. How can we give ourselves? By not holding back. By not wanting for ourselves. If we want to be loved, we are looking for a support system. If we want to love, we are looking for spiritual growth. Disliking others is far too easy. Anybody can do it and justify it because, of course, people are often not very bright and don’t act the way we’d like them to act. Disliking makes grooves in the heart, and it becomes easier and easier to fall into these grooves. We not only dislike others, but also ourselves. If one likes or loves oneself, it’s easier to love others, which is why we always start lovingkindness meditations with the focus on ourselves. That’s not egocentricity. If we don’t like ourselves because we have faults, or have made mistakes, we will transfer that dislike to others and judge them accordingly. We are not here to be judge and jury. First of all, we don’t even have the qualifications. It’s also a very unsatisfactory job, doesn’t pay, and just makes people unhappy. 
People often feel that it’s necessary to be that way to protect themselves. But what do we need to protect ourselves from? We have to protect our bodies from injury. Do we have to protect ourselves from love? We are all in this together, living on this planet at the same time, breathing the same air. We all have the same limbs, thoughts, and emotions. The idea that we are separate beings is an illusion. If we practice meditation diligently with perseverance, then one day we’ll get over this illusion of separation. Meditation makes it possible to see the totality of all manifestation. There is one creation and we are all part of it. What can we be afraid of? We are afraid to love ourselves, afraid to love creation, afraid to love others because we know negative things about ourselves. Knowing that we do things wrong, that we have unhappy or unwholesome thoughts, is no reason not to love. A mother who loves her children doesn’t stop loving them when they act silly or unpleasant. Small children have hundreds of unwholesome thoughts a day and give voice to them quite loudly. We have them too, but we do not express them all. 
So, if a mother can love a child who is making difficulties for her, why can’t we love ourselves? Loving oneself and knowing oneself are not the same thing. Love is the warmth of the heart, the connectedness, the protection, the caring, the concern, the embrace that comes from acceptance and understanding for oneself. Having practiced that, we are in a much better position to practice love toward others. They are just as unlovable as we are, and they have just as many unwholesome thoughts. But that doesn’t matter. We are not judge and jury. When we realize that we can actually love ourselves, there is a feeling of being at ease. We don’t constantly have to become or pretend, or strive to be somebody. We can just be. It’s nice to just be, and not be “somebody.” Love makes that possible. By the same token, when we relate to other people, we can let them just be and love them. We all have daily opportunities to practice this. It’s a skill, like any other.

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