Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pink Takes on Vanity

Pink's new song, "Stupid Girls", is an assault on the commercial vanity of our culture that places appearance above substance. In an interview with MTV, she discusses why she wrote the song and why she can't truck with America's national pasttime of getting drunk on mindlessness:

People are going to think, "You're supposed to be a feminist, you're supposed to be supporting women," but I just can't support that, what the majority of these women are doing — or not doing, more like. It's just this mindless consumer culture, and it's such a wasted opportunity. Every time I see myself lying on that hospital gurney [in that video] I sort of wince. It's a $150 billion cosmetic industry, and what does that say about how we feel about ourselves? It's sort of pushing this image — shop, drink, party, don't think, shop, don't think. I just can't do that.
You go, girl.

Hearing It vs. "Getting" It

I don't know how many times I've recited a prayer about achieving enlightenment on the behalf of all sentient beings. And yet, there's been something selfish and self-centered about my spiritual practices. I could sense that they were being motivated by a desparate desire to "save" my own skin. But I didn't know how to unseat this desire.

Then one day last week, I was reading Deshung Rinpoche, who was talking about Mahayana and how compassion for all sentient beings should motivate our practice. And it dawned on me: "Wait...when I'm sitting, I'm supposed to be sitting for all sentient beings. When I recite mantras, I'm reciting them for all sentient beings. When I practice Chenrezi or White Tara, I'm practicing for all sentient beings!" I knew all of this - intellectually. But it wasn't until that moment that it became an emotional and psychological truth for me.

This is why lamas and teachers often repeat the same instructions over and over. They're waiting for that beautiful, ineffable, unpredictable moment when everything lines up just right in our psyche, and we "get" it in a single flash of insight. This is why paying attention to our teachers is critical, even when we believe we've heard it all before.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Free Book on Lamdre

I haven't read this all the way through yet, but it looks great on a quick scan. Lamdre - a.k.a. "the path including its result" - is the key meditational system of the Sakya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, and is also discussed in-depth in Deshung Rinpoche's Three Levels of Spiritual Perception.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Patience of Teaching

One thing I've found myself working hard on lately is my mental tendency to want to "fix" others whom I see as participating in deluded or ignorant behavior, such as becoming impatient over trifling matters or speaking behind someone else's back. Isn't this an error in which the vast majority of us participate? We see the efficacy of an idea, and we want to inject it into other people's lives - often using the grossest and most inelegant means available to us.

Of course, we don't ever ending up helping anybody like this. Usually, we just piss off all of our friends and relations, while feeding our ego-delusions about how "good" and "spiritual" we're being.

Jesus' words about living in glass houses, and about not seeing the log of wood in one's own eye, go a long way here. If I'm fixated on the behavior of others, I'm obviously not tending to my own mental state.

Beyond that, I'm also viewing this tendency as a form of impatience. Someone on E-Sangha wrote recently about how his wife slowly started practicing Buddhadharma after noticing over a period of months how relaxed and calm he had become. And isn't that the way to do it?? This way, we're not only being compassionate toward others, we're also preserving our practice of the paramita of patience. If I keep deluding myself into believing I can change the world overnight, I'm not going to accomplish anything outside of turning myself into a bitter ex-Buddhist.

One of my family signs all of his messages with a quote from St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." I doubt St. Francis ever foresaw a Western Tibetan Buddhist putting these words into the service of the Dharma, but I can't imagine he'd be terribly displeased either.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Integral Buddhism with Ken Wilber and Lama Surya Das

Here's a great talk between Integral Spirituality deep thinker Ken Wilber and Dzogchen master Lama Surya Das on Integral Buddhism. (Integral Naked membeship required; it'll run you $10 for a month's access.)

One of the best ideas put forward by the two is that spiritual development is only one kind of human development. Reaching the apex of spiritual realization doesn't mean you've wiped out all of the personal problems that might plague you in other areas of your life. (Indeed, some highly realized people are, as one of my friends noted, "real space cadets" when it comes to their daily routine.) Surya Das puts it best when he refers to the view of spiritual realization as total perfection as an "ascending" view. "It's the idea of 'Heaven'," he says, "as opposed to 'Heaven on Earth'."

Seattle Shia and Sunni Pray Together for Peace in Iraq

Pray with them.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Be Still

Yesterday I was rushing around to help get my wife out the door. She had a huge interview she was conducting that day (she's a writer by trade). Understandably, she was concerned about nailing it.

Everything was going smoothly until we were packing up the car, and things got heated. She was getting nervous, and when she gets nervous, her tolerance for mistakes goes south. Things came to a head over a silly dispute over where the car keys had gone. She left without either of us saying, "I love you."

I told myself I had forgotten about it, but that I needed to talk to her about the incident once she got home. I mean, come on - it's only for her own good that I let her know how badly she fucked up, right? When she came home that night and got upset because I hadn't done something she requested a few hours earlier, I took this as my cue to complain about how I was being treated "as your assistant, and not as your husband."

"Have you been holding on to this all day?" she asked.

"Of course not!" I scoffed. But internally, I had heard my mind yell, "Of COURSE I have! I demand an apology, dammit!"

And that's when I knew I had been hooked.

Trungpa Rinpoche talked often about how wiley the ego is. It's skilled at reverse alchemy. In an instant, it can transmute our most golden spiritual intentions into base metal. It doesn't matter who was right and who was wrong over the silly dispute about the keys. What matters is that, by getting hooked, I became a participant in the situation spiraling out of control. By hunkering down in my ego and defending my sense of self, rather than shrugging off her blunt tone and her impatience, I helped perpetuate her nervousness.

What would have been the compassionate approach? To ask myself, "Why is she feeling this way? Is there anything I can do to relieve that feeling? Or should I just remain even-minded, and be the most help I can be at this moment?" The situation didn't necessarily demand that I call her on anything; in fact, that would have been nothing but more ego-dancing. ("Look at how spiritual I'm being!") The situation called for me to be still.

I'm learning (slowly) not be beat myself up over such failures. Instead, I try and flip them around and use them to inculcate compassion. If it's hard for me, with my dedication to Buddhism, to overcome ego, I can only imagine how hard it is for others!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Can You Die While Doing This?

I'm blown away by the transforming power of Deshung Rinpoche's The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception. In particular, the following passage is proving very powerful in my own practice:
We should keep a constant check upon actions [which include our thoughts - JD]. That is to say, we should be able to ask ourselves at any given moment:

If I were to die today, would this action I'm engaged in be really worthwhile? Would it be karmically beneficial? Is it really an action that I can afford to die while doing? Can I afford to leave this world on this particular note? Is it really that useful, that helpful, or even good for myself and others? Does this type of activity incline me toward more virtuous action? Whether I am still alive tomorrow or whether I'm dead, does it incline me in a virtuous direction, or otherwise?

(pp. 186-7)

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Meaning of Samaya

Samaya means "commitments". This wonderful article by HH Kunzig Shamarpa Rinpoche explains the 14 ways in which samaya can be broken.

What I love about these recommendations is that they don't relieve the practitioner of using reasoning and spiritual insight to determine what is the best course of action in a situation. For example, I think that most of the attacks on evangelical Christianity these days fall under the category of "Abusing Other Traditions with the Motivation of Gaining More Respect for Oneself." I don't think the same way, however, about radical Islam, which has as one of its goals the violent destruction of practitioners of other paths.

As with all actions on the Mahayana and Vajrayana paths, the right course of action in all situations is the action that would benefit ALL sentient beings. It's a teleological ethic, not a deontological one.

I also liked the point about using forceful means when necessary. I can count a number of times recently when I've shied away from forceful means because I wanted to remain "spiritual" and "peaceful". In reality, I was using my spirituality as a front for my own fear.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Womb: Heaven or Hell?

It's interesting, the different perspectives that different teachers bring to different subjects. I had just finished reading Deshung Rinpoche III's description of life in the womb from his book, The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception. Suffice it to say that Rinpoche doesn't view the womb as any place to spend a Saturday night: the womb is a dark, restricted place into which the budding consciousness is crammed; it is subject to the motions and whims of its mother; at birth, it is drawn forcibly into the world, literally kicking and screaming all the way.

Then I read this month's issue of Shambhala Sun, which focuses on the Venerable teacher Thicht Naht Hahn. Thay lays out a guided meditation that involves seeing the womb as a comforting place, where you were loved and cared for. He uses the umbilical cord as a metaphor for seeing the spiritual umbilical cords you have to all other people and all other phenomena in the world.

And I asked myself: Which one of these teachers is right?

Then it occurred to me: Isn't the point of Buddhism that neither of these teachers is wrong?

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