Archive for the ‘The wisdom of others’ Category

(30 November extract from  “The Language of Letting Go” by Melody Beattie, 1990 Hazelden foundation)

One day my son brought a gerbil home to live with us.  We put it in a cage.  Some time later the gerbil escaped.  For the next six months the animal ran frightened and wild through the house.  So did we – chasing it.

“There it is.  Get it!” we’d scream each time someone spotted the gerbil.  I, or my son, would throw down whatever we were working on, race across the house and lunge at the animal, hoping to catch it.

I worried about it even when we didn’t see it.  “This isn’t right,” I’d think.  “I can’t have a gerbil running loose in the house.  We’ve got to catch it.  We’ve got to do something.”

A small animal the size of a mouse had the entire household in a tizzy.

One day, while sitting in the living room, I watched the animal scurry across the hallway.  In a frenzy I started to lunge at it, as I usually did, then I stopped myself.

No, I said.  I’m all done.  If that animal wants to live in the nooks and crannies of this house, I’m going to let it.  I’m done worrying about it.  I’m done chasing it.  It’s an irregular circumstance, but that’s just the way it’s going to have to be.

I let the gerbil run past without reacting.  I felt slightly uncomfortable with my new reaction – not reacting – but I stuck to it anyway.

I got more comfortable with my new reaction – not reacting.  Before long I became downright peaceful with the situation.  I had stopped fighting the gerbil.  One afternoon, only weeks after I started practising my new attitude, the gerbil ran by me, as it had so many times, and I barely glanced at it.  The animal stopped in its tracks, turned around and looked at me.  I started to lunge at it.  It started to run away.  I relaxed.

“Fine,” I said.  “Do what you want.”  And I meant it.

One hour later the gerbil came and stood by me and waited.  I gently picked it up and placed it in its cage, where it has lived happily ever since.  The moral of the story?  Don’t lunge at the gerbil.  He’s already frightened, and chasing him just scares him more and makes us crazy.

Detachment works.

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One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two “wolves” inside us all.

One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

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Buddha explained how to handle insult and maintain compassion.

One day Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him. “You have no right teaching others,” he shouted. “You are as stupid as everyone else. You are nothing but a fake.”

Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?”

The man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.”

Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.”

“If you want to stop hurting yourself, you must get rid of your anger and become loving instead. When you hate others, you yourself become unhappy. But when you love others, everyone is happy.”

The young man listened closely to these wise words of the Buddha. “You are right, o Enlightened One, “he said. “Please teach me the path of love. I wish to become your follower.”

Buddha answered kindly, “Of course. I teach anyone who truly wants to learn. Come with me.”

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I spent years trying to “create my own reality” and feeling slightly frustrated at the fact that all my reality creation didn’t seem to be affecting my reality that much and was actually making me feel worse for the fact that I thought I must be doing something wrong. I’d got my head round the fact that my reality was my world as I saw it and experienced it, but it took a while for it to seep in that whilst I could certainly change my attitude to things that happened to and around me, there were plenty of things that I didn’t seem to have any control over at all.

Eventually I realised that actually what I wanted to be able to do was control events around me so that I could avoid negative feelings. Difficult. Difficult and counter-productive, not to mention a long way removed from reality. So I decided to start over and see whether I could get to a position that was more viable and connected with reality. The preface to Charlotte Joko Beck’s “Nothing Special: Living Zen” helpfully provided the following:

“Living Zen is nothing special: life as it is. Zen is life itself, nothing added. … When we seek … the fulfillment of our fantasies, we separate from the earth and sky, from our loved ones, from our aching backs and hearts, from the very soles of our feet. Such fantasies insulate us for a time; yet in ten thousand ways reality intrudes, and our lives become anxious scurrying, quiet desperation, confusing melodrama. Distracted and obsessed, striving for something special, we seek another place and time: not here, not now, not this…

“Living Zen means reversing our flight from nothingness, opening to the emptiness of here and now. Slowly, painfully, we reconcile to life. The heart sinks; hope dies. “Things are always just as they are”, observes Joko. This empty tautology is no counsel of despair, however, but an invitation to joy. … Abandoning magical thought, awakening to the magic of this moment, we realise in dynamic emptiness the grace of nothing special … living Zen.”

Steve Smith, Claremont, California, February 1993

Starting from the position that things are as they are is actually a better springboard than living in a castle in your head. Nobody is saying you shouldn’t think positive; nor is anyone suggesting you should catastrophise. But whatever you do, start by letting reality in. You’re going to have to let it in sooner or later, so why waste time, effort and feelings staving off the moment? I believe that seeing things as they are is better for you than insisting on believing them to be as you would like them to be. Sometimes reality is too harsh and too difficult to be let in all at once, but the door has to be ajar so that it can come in when you’re ready.

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“A lecturer, when explaining stress control to an audience, raised a glass of water and asked, “how heavy is this glass of water?” Answers ranged from 20g to 500g.

The lecturer replied…

“The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. “In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

He continued…

“And that’s the way it is with stress control. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on.” “As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on with the burden. So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down. Don’t carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever burdens you’re carrying now, let them down for a moment if you can. Relax, pick them up later after you’ve rested. Life is short. Enjoy it!”

And then he shared some ways of dealing with the burdens of life…

  • Accept that some days you’re the pigeon, and some days you’re the statue.
  • Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.
  • Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.
  • Drive carefully. It’s not only cars that can be recalled by their maker.
  • If you can’t be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.
  • If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.
  • It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.
  • Never buy a car you can’t push.
  • Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you won’t have a leg to stand on.
  • Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.
  • Since it’s the early worm that gets eaten by the bird, sleep late.
  • The second mouse gets the cheese.
  • When everything’s coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.
  • Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.
  • You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person.
  • Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.
  • We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have weird names, and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.
  • A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.”

Source: Progesterone Therapy: http://www.progesteronetherapy.com/stress-control.html – author unknown

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Buddhism is not a belief system. It’s not about accepting certain tenets or believing a set of claims or principles. … It’s about examining the world clearly and carefully, about testing everything and every idea. Buddhism is about seeing. It’s about knowing rather than believing or hoping or wishing. It’s also about not being afraid to examine anything and everything…

The Buddha himself invited people on all occasions to test him. “Don’t believe me because you see me as your teacher,” he said. “Don’t believe me because others do. And don’t believe anything because you’ve read it in a book, either. Don’t put your faith in reports, or tradition, or hearsay, or the authority of religious leaders or texts. Don’t rely on mere logic, or inference, or appearances, or speculation.”

The Buddha repeatedly emphasised the impossibility of ever arriving at Truth by giving up your own authority and following the lights of others. Such a path will lead only to an opinion, whether your own or someone else’s.

The Buddha encouraged people to “know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome and wrong. And when you do, then given them up. And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome and good, then accept them and follow them.”

The message is always to examine and see for yourself. When you see for yourself what is true – and that’s really the only way that you can genuinely know anything – then embrace it. Until then, just suspend judgement and criticism.

The point of Buddhism is to just see. That’s all.

(Extract from “Buddhism plain and simple” by Steve Hagen (Penguin 1997)

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Source: Primate Brow Flash Blog, formerly at http://www.phpsolvent.com/ wordpress/?p=135

83 Problems

I might rename this site to “83 problems”. From the lecture last night at Common Ground Meditation Center, the following Buddhist parable:

An ordinary guy came to see the Buddha to get help with his problems. “My roof leaks, I don’t have enough money, my neighbors are noisy, my boss hates me, my kids are messy and disrespectful, my knee hurts and I’m losing my hair. And don’t even get me started about my wife.” and he went on to describe all his problems in great detail while the buddha smiled and listened patiently.

When the guy was done complaining, he asked the Buddha, “So, how can you help me?”

“I can’t help you”, said the Buddha.

“HUH? What kind of teacher are you?”, said the guy, “why did I come all the way here for you to tell me that? And what the hell are you smiling about?”

The Buddha said, “Everyone has 83 problems. Sometimes we fix one, but it is guaranteed that another will pop up in its place. It’s just life. I can’t help you with your 83 problems, but I can fix your 84th problem.”

“What is my 84th problem?”

“Your 84th problem is that you don’t want to have any problems.”

This is the best answer to the question that everyone asks about the Buddhist principle of unattachment: if you melt down your ego and separate the “you” from all the things around you and start to relax a little bit, then where is the impetus for action to improve the world, shave, vacuum, etc.?

Well, those are examples of the 83 problems, and they are still problems that require our attention. Buddhism helps you with the 84th problem, which is suffering over the other 83 problems. If you can approach your other problems without the computational overhead of suffering over them, you can see them more clearly and act on them with more wisdom.

If I strip the threads on a pipe while fixing a minor plumbing problem, I might decide to punch the pipes REALLY HARD because it totally sucks to strip pipe threads, especially ones that disappear deep into the floor. Life is bitter and painful and stripped pipe threads are not even the half of it, as far as I can tell. Buddhism is not practicing to ignore, avoid, or be happy in spite of problems! The practice of Buddhism is the practice of learning to embrace the problem and not suffer over it. Grief exists, pain exists, and we all will feel them. And we all must accept them and feel the full force of these problems, but to truly suffer over it, we must wish it didn’t exist. To avoid the suffering, we must accept the pain.

It is not as simple as learning that punching stuff is a bad idea. I can figure that out for myself.

I also think it means something more than “always look on the bright side of life”. Practicing aversion towards all problems and only focusing on the positive is not the answer. Finding a way to appreciate the problems as part of your life is the answer, according to the Buddha. Think of the 83 problems as the water that you swim in. Samsara

So in this weblog, I recount the 83 problems, and recognize the 84th problem as an illusion.

The parable is used in an excellent editorial about computers that used to be available at http://www.osxfaq.com/Editorial/sobek/index12.ws 

but no longer seems to be there. Another version is available at http://www.lessons4living.com/wmaz_week204.htm

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