Buddha's Brain

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

“Darling, I am here for you.”

Posted on May 24, 2016

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me. Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.  And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me. Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
Through the years, many of you have been witness to the absolute love I hold in my heart for the song “Let it Be”.  It’s a song that has appeared in every chapter of my life (sometimes numerous times)….probably since before I can even remember.  The raw spiritual connection and emotional acceptance offered by the lyrics have been validated by so many experiences that have been shared by family, friends, students and teachers throughout the years.  Paul McCartney wrote this famous song about his own mother Mary, who died when he was just 14 years old.
Something deep inside us knows what we need in times of trouble. It turns out this is rarely ever good stern fatherly advice or even friendly advice. In our hours of darkness, broken heartedness, and sheer exhaustion, it turns out that we don’t need very many words at all. What we need is a non-judgmental and caring presence that lets it all just, be. What we need is a kind attention that can embrace the whole of what we are, including our pain and anger and confusion. An attention like a hug.
“Darling, I am here for you.” The great Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn composed this mantra of true presence.  Please consider saying this to yourself. Look in the mirror at your face in the morning and say it. Say it late at night when you can’t sleep. Say it all the time. Be extravagant in offering yourself the gift of kind attention. Let yourself be. Let yourself dare to know you are acceptable and welcome in this life, just as you are. In a teaching with His Holiness not long ago he said quite firmly, “If you make friends with yourself, you will never be alone. When you talk, you are only repeating what you know. But when you listen to yourself, you will always learn something new.”
“Darling, I am here for you.” Saying such a statement to ourselves can seem outrageously silly until we try it. Then it can seem revolutionary. Think of all the beings you have pinned your hopes on and maybe even tortured trying to get them to give you this kind, accepting attention. And here it is, whenever you need it. Personally, I have had great, life-changing experiences in my life. Yet the slow-motion revelation has been realizing that we can invite the healing power of presence into our lives….and in the simplest, most down to earth way.
It starts with giving up the war with what is. Just for a moment, give up the thinking and scheming…..and even in the midst of all that mental obsessing, come home to the awareness of the present moment, home to the awareness of the body, bruised and tired as it may feel from all that effort and neglect. Let it be. This can bring light to dark places. In Tibetan Buddhism, most specifically Dzogchen, this sort of self-awareness and acceptance is often referred to as Rigpa or “spontaneous presence, unbounded wholeness and awareness” and is considered “the energetic ground” or support for life. Without it there would only be Avidyā, or ignorance.….His Holiness often analogizes Rigpa as ”one’s true nature is like a mirror which reflects with complete openness, but is not affected by the reflections”…..there are no self-judgments.
This can seem a huge paradox. Our minds and bodies are very limited, and deep down we know this. Our cognition and perceptions have been hammered by conditioning. Even in the midst of our frantic mental posturing, we can physically feel how we spin and twist things. But sometimes we can stop for a moment, give up all that and open….trusting that we don’t have to solve everything and that more will be revealed.
One of my dear teachers once told me that he prefers the phrase “let it be” to “let it go” because letting go can feel like too much doing, inviting the ego to take over, ending the sense of being with life.  I immediately loved the phrase because it conveys a gentle movement of availability….allowing….acceptance.  If there is to be an answer to the mystery of our lives, if there is to be healing of the heartbreak and soothing of the trouble, it starts and ends here. We invite in the mothering attention. We let it be.
I have been blessed to study with the sweet and gentle Thich Nhat Hahn seven times throughout my monastic career….I once heard him say that understanding is really acceptance, and acceptance is love.  I’ve held this statement close to my heart for a long time and I believe it to be true. Acceptance is not resignation or passivity….it is the opposite of weakness. It is the quietly courageous movement of allowing what is, to be what it is…..understanding that what will be, will be…..and that more will be revealed.
It turns out that the greatest wisdom and the greatest love is expressed in small moments and movements, not in big sword-brandishing gestures. It does not require straining beyond our simple human selves, just the opposite. It involves daring to silently say “Darling, I am here for you. Let it be.”


Posted on April 8, 2016

When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone

no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.

There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb


The night will give you a horizon

further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone

that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

                                                                             ~ David Whyte (Sweet Darkness)

The Buddhist tradition is commonly associated with the cultivation of mental discipline, moral purification, and philosophical analysis.  Its social and political dimensions have often been neglected or regarded as the inadvertent byproducts of the inward path…..not so much anymore. Buddhist social teachings, rapid social change, cultural transformation and globalization in the modern world have engaged the evolution of the central concepts (impermanence, selflessness, suffering, interdependence), ethical styles (discipline, virtue, altruism, engagement), and themes (peace, justice, gender, ecology) in the rise of socially engaged Buddhism.
I recently gave a talk about Buddhist social change and secular ethics to a group of graduate students at the MIT Center for International Studies.  Here they were, some of the country’s best and brightest, from all walks of life and armed with knowledge and experience unrivaled by their forebears. And yet, as is often the case, I found myself barraged after my remarks with a flurry of despairing, almost cynical, questions.
“OK,” conceded a young woman, born in New Delhi and raised in California, “positive change has happened in our society, but that was before 9/11, before the Iraq War, before ISIS and the distracting threat of terror. Just look at the recent rollback of so many important social programs,” she bemoaned, “or the menace of global climate change. Do you really think we can solve these problems?” Like many of her peers, she seemed defeated before she’d even begun.
As I was leaving the classroom I found myself reciting Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Never before has there been a generation so well equipped to navigate the choppy waters of modern life. They’re smarter, more worldly, more technologically capable, and better informed than most adults I know. They have at their disposal all manner of tools, from technology like the Internet and computers to degrees from the world’s finest universities, each of which brings access to knowledge and power from which anything is possible.
And still, many of them feel disempowered and hopeless.
The contrast between the reality of the students’ immense capabilities and their perceived powerlessness is one of the great paradoxes of our times. How can it be that the best and worst, the brightest and darkest, sit side by side each so comfortably?
Paradox, I believe, is the cardinal truth of our age. We live amidst unspeakable terrors and yet have never been safer; the globalizing forces of commerce and communications have given rise to a grassroots surge toward localism and self-reliance; rural communities are embracing dense settlements and vibrant downtowns while cities are restoring long-neglected green spaces and celebrating rural things, like farmers’ markets. The list goes on.
Paradox is really just another name for the tension that resides in all of us, the contradictory impulses and beliefs that can alternately deflate or invigorate us. It is, at bottom, a creative tension that, like a motor, propels us from one state of being to the next, making the very act of change possible, if not inexorable. Paradox is the corner about to be turned.
The magnitude and complexity of today’s challenges are real and formidable. But so is our ability to meet them head on, and that ability is only increasing. The question is, will we allow ourselves to be defeated by our paradoxes or energized by them?


Posted on March 16, 2016

In June of this year, it will be one year since the Presidential elections began.  At best, the elections have been an embarrassing, poorly preformed circus with narcissistic ringleaders who claim to represent America on the global stage.  The silliness of the elections has overshadowed so many more important issues facing our communities and invariably, the U.S. has once again become fodder for the rest of the world.
During Sangha discussion period this morning, someone asked a peculiar question: “what’s better: a candidate who believe in ‘nature’ or one who believes in ‘nurture’….’heredity’ or ‘society’ (genes or environment)?”  In that great debate of our time, conservatives lean toward the former and liberals toward the latter.
Maybe we are asking the wrong question. I believe it’s nature and nurture, and this is why.
I was born into a very loving yet humble home. And I ordained when I was 15 or so. One of the first lessons I learned from my Teacher was that experiencing life was as enlightening as sitting in a classroom, so for one year, I escaped being taught some of the typical lessons of my generation: for instance, that this country was “discovered” when the first white man set foot on it, that boys and girls were practically a different species, that Europe deserved more textbook space than Africa and Asia combined.
Instead, I was encouraged to see with my own eyes, follow my curiosity, fall in love with books, and I grew up mostly around grown-ups, both in monastery and out…..which, except for the books, was the way kids were raised for most of human history.
Needless to say, when I returned, school hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t prepared for gender obsessions, race and class complexities, or the new-to-me idea that war and male leadership were part of human nature. Soon, I gave in and became an adolescent hoping for approval and trying to conform. It was a stage that lasted through college.
Since then, I’ve spent two decades working with and listening to kids before and after social roles hit. Faced with some inequality, the younger ones say, “It’s not fair!” It’s as if there were some primordial expectation of empathy and cooperation that helps the species survive. But by the time kids are teenagers, social pressures have either nourished or starved this expectation. I suspect that their natural cry for fairness…..or any whisper of it that survives…..is the root from which all social justice movements grow.
So I no longer believe the conservative message that children are naturally selfish and destructive creatures who need civilizing by hierarchies or painful controls. On the contrary, I believe that hierarchy and painful controls create destructive people. And I no longer believe the liberal message that children are blank slates on which society can write anything. On the contrary, I believe that a unique core self is born into every human being…..the result of millennia of environment and heredity combined in an unpredictable way that could never happen before or again.
The truth is, we’ve been seduced into asking the wrong question by those who hope that the social order they want is inborn, or those who hope they can write the one they want on our uniquely long human childhoods.
But the real answer is a balance between nature and nurture. What would happen if we listened to children as much as we talked to them? Or what would happen if even one generation were raised with respect and without violence?
I believe we have no idea what might be possible on this great Earth.

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