Tag Archives: compassion

the dalai lama in vancouver

last week i had the pleasure again to see the dalai lama. the topic of the talk was women and peacebuilding. i’d like to share with you my notes, taken down as closely as possible in his delightful language.

this is the third time i’ve seen the dalai lama. one of the things that i enjoy about these talks is that they always underscore the same message, but from a slightly different angle. also, simply being in the presence of the dalai lama (even when he falls asleep partway through the session, as he did this time, so exhausted from his super demanding schedule) is inspiring. not because he is grave and religious. he is the funniest head of state i’ve ever encountered; a trickster, really. you know that smile that he always shows? it’s the smile not only of happiness but of someone who delights in having fun and making jokes, and that comes through all the time in his talks. and like any true comedian, he is irreverent, he always looks at the status quo and says, “hmmmmmmmmmm ….”.

another thing i absolutely love about him is the ease with which he says, “i don’t know.” wouldn’t it be wonderful if more people in authority would simply say “i don’t know” when they don’t have an immediate answer to a question? no spinning, no ignoring the question and talking about something totally different, no pretending you know … so refreshing!

the quotes below reflect in a small way, i hope, the dalai lama’s commitment to compassion, his view on the role of anger, the importance he places on motivation, his urging us to take action, his deep respect for diversity, his global thinking, and his deep passion for the environment, the alleviation of poverty, and the central place of education.

the dalai lama will be back next year, i hear. we here in vancouver are very lucky to have been chosen by him as the dalai lama center for peace and education.

compassion practitioner

some anger also have role

harsh method does not mean we feel anger towards the person

anger immediate motivation

be content and still outraged

serious concern for wellbeing of humanity

anything that is harmful, you oppose

“what is your greatest fear?” “environment. gap between rich and poor, not only on international level but also on national level.”

frustration creates anger, sometimes violence

the female? good talk, i like it

they call me many things. god king, living buddha, monster, feminist – don’t matter

if no more dalai lama – no important

in case female dalai lama can be more effective – why not?

where is compassion? in the slums

media should pay equal attention to the positive things

“do you feel optimistic about the world?” “oh yes! our life starts with compassion! our life begin with lovingkindness”

this body go well with peaceful mind

we need motivation

compassion really also from the beginning to the time of death

human nature gentleness

whenever i meet young people, i give them hope and importance

peace starts within ourself. then that creates a certain atmosphere

will we be an extremist for love?

the facts should be written down, and then there will be a change in consciousness

everything tight, fear, distress: no creativity

there must be opportunity to express human potential

different country, different situation

whole world become like one community, then implement local situation – but same goal

i want to say yes to everything!

research and education very essential

image by elton melo


invisible illnesses are, by definition, not seen. there are two parts to this: the (un)seen, and the (non)seer. i’m not sure that invisible illnesses are in fact invisible.

the man with chronic pain sits on his bed at 3:00 am, a gun in his mouth, ready to pull the trigger. he makes sure his wife doesn’t see it. but it is a reality that can be seen; in some/many/most cases a reality that exists because insufficient effort has been made by the medical profession to see his pain and suffering. ask anyone working in palliative care or a hospice (and, surprisingly enough, sometimes also in sports medicine): in many cases, if you experiment long enough, a combination of drug cocktails, complimentary approaches and human(e) caring out can be found that will bring adequate relief of the horrible experience of excruciating pain.

the woman who keeps going back to the casino covers her tracks; she doesn’t want her co-workers to know how deeply she is in debt, and she is horrified at her mother finding out what she’s done with the money that aunt judy left her. but there she is, look: at the table, throwing in one chip after the other. yesterday she won $6,000! she just knows it will happen again, maybe tonight, for sure tonight! at a deeper level, she feels she is doomed, is always a few minutes away from enrolling in the voluntary exclusion program but somehow is afraid to do it. and we, we know she, or someone like her, is there, right now, this minute. she, too, is at a high risk for suicide. we know it, and therefore we can see it. even if we suspect it – maybe we are one of her coworkers – we can see it, just a bit. we don’t always need a 100-watt light bulb to tell a horse from a dragon.

the old man whose wife died a few months ago is sitting in front of the TV. his children are busy somewhere at the other side of the country, and the dog passed away a year ago. he stares at the moving images in front of him but doesn’t see them. he knows there’s a world out there but he perceives no place for him there anymore. no-one needs him. he sees no more point in talking, cooking, or brushing his teeth. his curtains are drawn; no-one can look in; depression is about to take him over completely. but there are still stories inside of him, experiences, wisdom. they can be seen by those who take the trouble to listen to him to hear him.

in invisible illness, there are things that are hard to see; it’s not easy to directly point at experiences like pain, addiction or depression. but there are also things that are hidden by the person with the illness because of shame, hopelessness, or because of the many times an attempt was made to show what’s going on but no-one seemed to care. and there are things that are not seen not because they absolutely cannot be perceived but because we don’t look and don’t listen.

that can be changed.

(this post was written in honour of invisible illness awareness week, september 14 to 20, 2009)

buddhist carnival – september 2009 edition

welcome to the september edition of the buddhist carnival, where we showcase treasures from the buddhasphere. today we have compassion and helping hands, cockcroaches, sleep, returning to the centre and a bunch of (no)selves. as always, let’s start off with a poem:

we dance around in a ring and suppose;
but the secret sits in the middle, and knows.
– robert frost

thank you, zenbananas, for giving this to the buddhasphere.

compassion – even when it is difficult

this blogger extends compassion to the person who ended the life of george tiller, who died earlier this year because of his commitment to helping women who need abortions

in mahayana buddhism, the bodhisattva kshitigarbha, best known by his japanese name of jizo, is the helper of beings who suffer in the hell realms and of children who die before their parents, including those who are stillborn, miscarried, or aborted. for the past day i have been thinking that jizo will protect dr. tiller, who did his best for the unborn whom jizo helps to good rebirths. as i was reading about him this morning, i realized that jizo will help the doctor’s murderer, too, if he wants to get out of the hell he’s in.

for the rest of the entry, read here.

and the new heretic makes friends with cockroaches

instead of swatting at and smashing and scurrying about the roaches so i could paint, i simply talked to them (yes i talked to them) or at other times just waited and thought kind words towards them, and asked them to move so i could paint… and they moved out of the way.

buddha’s judas

saradode shares an interesting dream; she reflects it was about betrayal, and makes a connection between the biblical judas and bddha’s brother-in-law, devadatta

as for devadatta, the scriptures…assign him a role that is similar to judas in the gospel story.

i understood right away that this was what my dream had been about. i kept reading, and came to the story. devadatta had become (or had always been) egotistical and ambitious, and wanted to take control of the sangha from buddha. he plotted to kill him, but that didn’t work.

the book described how devadatta then “decamped” with 500 or so of buddha’s monks, whom he had convinced that buddha had become “given over to luxury and self-indulgence.” as i read that part, my lip began to twitch quite violently (one of his ways of getting my attention), and i saw, again, “last supper.”

devadatta’s plan, however, failed, and the monks returned to buddha. the next thing i read stunned me:

some texts tell us that devadatta committed suicide; others that he died before he was able to be reconciled with the buddha.

this dream really intrigued me. my first thought was, how do we betray ourselves in life-denying ways?

return to centre

a beautiful image and a few quick thoughts on this topic:

“things get crazy and we forget to work from our center.”

so, i began to think, “how can i start to do that again?”

well, tonight, grace summed it up at the beginning of our meditation practice at blue heron sangha.

“tonight we begin as we hear the sound of the bell, returning to our center.”

somehow the realization came that we begin to work from our center again by returning to our center. and, how do we do that?

start with something simple. pay attention to something. anything. breath is always good.

sleeping and samsara

liza solomonova, a graduate psychology student from montreal, blogs about sleep, dreams, and states of consciousness. in this post she reports on allan wallace’s shamatha project

the goal of such practice is to experience the subtle level of consciousness, a ‘substrate consciousness’ from all mental stuff originates and into which it essentially returns. every one of us experiences this ‘substrate consciousness’ when in deep sleep, in dreamless state, there is no identity, no imagery, virtually nothing, as if our ‘self’ is dissolved into something more basic. similarly at the moment of death, according to buddhist thought, we experience this subtle essential state of consciousness. in a metaphorical way, we die every time we enter deep sleep. and then… from that subtle consciousness, from that non-discursive state – dream arises! a whole world, a whole new and compelling identity (it is new if you are not lucid dreaming, of course) is ‘born’, and with it a whole range of emotions, feelings, sensations and so on. as the first rem cycle is over, we ‘die’ again, return to the deep sleep. and then another dream arises, and with it a whole new world, which probably has nothing to do with the previous dream world, and is only marginally related to the world of our waking life. and then we die again…

the self – what self?

in a fabulous (and long) interview with zen teacher shinzen young, interspersed with illuminating videos, har prakash khalsa delights us with shinzen young’s take on the nature of the self and enlightenment as it is perceived in buddhism, hinduism, christianity and the jewish tradition. here are a few excerpts from his thoughts on the self:

hpk – when you say “the perception that a thing inside us called a self” goes away, do you mean completely away?

szy – the ambiguity is the word perception. the actual word is ditti in pali, or drishti in sanskrit, which i think you know means “view”, literally. in this context ditti or drishti refers to a fundamental paradigm, or concept about something. so in this case perception is perhaps not the best word. it’s more like the fundamental conviction that there is a thing inside us called a self disappears. according to the traditional formulation after enlightenment that never comes back. however, if by perception of self we mean momentarily being caught in one’s sense of self, that happens to enlightened people over and over again, but less and less as enlightenment deepens and matures.

i like to analyze subjective experience into three sensory elements: feel (emotional-type body sensations), image (visual-thinking) and talk (auditory-thinking). those sensory elements continue to arise for an enlightened person forever. sometimes when the feel-image-talk arises the enlightened person is momentarily caught in them but even though they’re caught in that, some part of them still knows it’s not a thing called self. that knowing never goes away. the frequency, duration and intensity of identifying with feel-image-talk diminishes as the months and years go on as you go through deeper and deeper levels of enlightenment. there are exceptions, but typically it takes months, years, indeed decades learning how not to get caught in feel-image-talk when it arises.

so to sum it up, what disappears at enlightenment is a viewpoint or perception that there is a thing inside this body-mind process called self.

… and more (or less) self …

ambud has a series of posts on critics of buddhism. here he, too, reflects on the idea of no-self, a concept that is hard to grasp for anyone, let alone critics who typically haven’t spent a lot of time steeping themselves in buddhist ideas.

the author stumbles and misstates his argument by equating anatta with nonexistence. buddhism isn’t nihilistic, anatta refers to soul-lessness; the idea of non-self in the ultimate sense. anatta isn’t an argument against a ‘self’ as defined by physical properties etc., of which we are all aware, it is instead, a statement about that which has no inherent existence, that which is caused.

if you have any articles you’d like to see here, let me know. the next edition comes out on october 15.

image by axel buehrmann

march 2009 buddhist carnival – in reverse

roses are blooming on the rosebush.
there is nothing strange.
the flower blooms silently and falls quietly without sound,
never again to return to its branch.
her total existence is expressed in that one moment.
one place on the branch.
that is the voice of the flower,
the truth of the single flower on the branch.
therein lies the joy of life, infinitely brilliant and everlasting.

a single rosethis poem appears more than once in sensei ogui’s zen shin talks, a book that i have been slowly savouring over the last seven weeks.

for the buddhist carnival today, rather than featuring posts from various buddhists writers, i want to start with a story from the book. it is a story about sensei ogui, who is a buddhist minister in the shin or pure land tradition, going to visit a dying man.

when i walked into the hospital room of the dying man, i heard family members crying. the man dying was an issei pioneer, a first generation japanese american. his son said, “papa, priest is here.”

with his whole strength the dying man extended his hand to shake my hand. i shook his extended hand. he said, “thank you very much for all kinds of things.”

i kept quiet. i couldn’t find any adequate words to describe my feelings. i shook his hand tightly.

the son with tears in his eyes said, “papa, i shall see you again the pure land [which could be roughly translated as the shin buddhist term for heaven]. i learned this in sunday school.”

i was quiet.

the dying man began talking with all his strength. “say, my son, do i have to go to some other place to meet you again? i have already met you and i’m meeting with you in nembutsu. na man da bu. na man da bu.”

[“nembutsu” is short for “namu amida butsu”.  “namu” refers to “refuge”, and amida buddha (“butsu”) is the buddha of infinite life and light. infinite life manifests as infinite compassion and infinite light manifests as infinite wisdom. the chant “na man da bu” is the sound of oneness with amida buddha.]

at the end of this chapter, sensei ogui turns this into a question to ponder over for a lifetime – he calls it lifetime homework.

do i have to go to some other place to meet you again? i have already met you and i’m meeting with you in nembutsu. na man da bu. na man da bu.

what is this?

i am so intrigued by this question, and i do want to spend some time mulling this over, tasting the question, sleeping on it, dreaming about it …

perhaps it means …

we are already where we need to be. this is it. no striving, no “tomorrow i will …”, no “what if yesterday … “. we are all connected in light, compassion and wisdom.

or perhaps it means … what are your thoughts?

so for buddhist carnival today, i want to ask some bloggers this question. and since i’ve dedicated my blog posts in the last little while to the topic of eating disorders, i’ll ask both buddhist bloggers and those who blog about eating disorders.

do i have to go to some other place to meet you again? i have already met you and i’m meeting with you in nembutsu. na man da bu. na man da bu.

what is this?

i am inviting all of you to reflect on this, among others, these people:

the conservative buddhist.blogspot.com
american buddhist
a buddhist catholic
the f-word
anmol mehta
urban monk
joanna poppink
12-step buddhist
daily buddhism
operation lola
eating with your anorexic
dano macnamarrah
ED bites
eating disorders foundation

image from jepoirrier’s photostream

last minute, long-lasting christmas gifts

if you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that i’m generally not a big fan of prayers sent along via emails, or similar material (see my rant against the email with the prayer of saint theresa, for example). but once in a while something comes along in my inbox that really touches me.

here is a suggestion for a whole different sort of christmas gifts:

mend a quarrel.
seek out a forgotten friend.
write a long overdue love note.
hug someone tightly and whisper, “i love you so.”
forgive an enemy.
be gentle and patient with an angry person.
gladden the heart of a child.
find the time to keep a promise.
make or bake something for someone else. anonymously.
release a grudge.
speak kindly to a stranger.
enter into another’s sorrow.
laugh a little.
laugh a little more.
take a walk with a friend.
lessen your demands on others.
play some beautiful music during the evening meal.
apologize if you were wrong.
turn off the television and talk.
treat someone to an ice-cream cone (yogurt would be fine).
do the dishes for the family.
pray for someone who helped you when you hurt.
fix breakfast on saturday morning.
give a soft answer even though you feel strongly.
encourage an older person.
point out one thing you appreciate most about someone you work with or live near.
offer to baby-sit for a weary mother.

(it turns out this comes from day by day with charles swindoll)

therapy and creativity

this is a guest post by sarah luczaj, a british therapist and writer, living in poland. she runs an online therapy practice  at mytherapist.com and has a poetry chapbook, “an urgent request” coming soon from fortunate daughter press.  sarah and i met through the counselling resource blog at counsellingresource.com.

i never quite manage to concentrate on one thing at a time, but often the things i do turn out to have something essential in common. relating with young children and translation. writing poems and doing therapy. i could go on, but let’s go back. writing poems and therapy. what do they have to do with one another?let’s take one definition of therapy – to attend. it’s like being a midwife, you are not doing the work yourself but your presence is facilitating, even if you do not need to use the practical skills you have at every birth. you are there and you have accompanied many people on this journey before, you create a feeling of safety which allows the natural process to occur. nine times out of ten you just have to be skilful to stay out of the way and not impede it. and sometimes you need to get right on in there and intervene.

as you can see, i have problems even sticking with one analogy! so what does being a midwife have to do with writing a poem? it’s a similar thing. you are being with something which is about to be born. you need to stay out of the way of its process of coming into being, and that is very difficult, because you want to steer it, make it say this or that, make a good impression. you have practical skills, too, and sometimes you need them, sometimes not.

but therapy is much more like writing poems. first of all the material, your life, has a habit of  spilling out all over the place. next comes the job of reading through, sifting, finding the essential bits, the core, the bit which is meaningful or feels raw and real.

it is as if your whole life is a rough draft for the poem. all of a sudden you just have to write that poem, which once you didn’t even know was there. some sense of discomfort has driven you to make something out of the scribbled mess with your own will, and at the same time some sense of hope gave you the intimation that in the midst of that chaos there is something fresh, alive and trying to speak to you.

sometimes the page is crawling with intellectual understandings, sometimes there is a rigid form imposed on the prose and all the spellings and punctuation have been ruthlessly checked. sometimes indeed the entire text has been twisted to suit the will of the teacher or the reader. yet hidden inside there is a little poem which brings joy, release, revelation, comfort, any or all of these things. or something else.

and the therapist is there to feel which of the words are the freshest and the closest to the bone, to feel where the rhythm is, to help the poet find the poem. the poem is an interaction between the sense of it and the thoughts and feelings and words and the language it is written in. therapy is an interaction between all these things, in two people, the client and the therapist, who is allowed into the creative process, and usually finds that her or his own creative process starts to resonate with the clients, like –  why not throw another analogy into the mix? – musical instruments.

sometimes of course therapy is not like that because the client does not believe that he or she is a poet. and the best efforts of the therapist cannot lead them to feel the spark, which has usually been forced out of them in cruel ways. a poem is a triumph of control, and a complete lack of control.

some people’s life experiences are such that the nearest they can get to exerting control, and losing control, is to rewrite their story according to a different teacher’s rules. but while not everyone can write words on paper so that they dance, so they reveal a thing that feels totally new, and at the same time as if we had always known it, i believe that in therapy, in skilfully attending to our own lives in creative dialogue with a compassionate, curious other, we can all expect a new kind of life to emerge, in its own exact and original way.


a buddhist carnival – 7th edition, part 1

buddhist artwelcome to the may 2008 edition of a buddhist carnival.

this time around, we got another really good selection of articles. i don’t want to throw too much information at you – that wouldn’t be very buddhist, would it? – so i’ll present the carnival in two parts again. part 2 will arrive some time before may 22.

just like last month, let’s start with a poem – actually, an excerpt of a poem – about … lunch with the dalai lama.

he reaches inside his robe and brings out
an old radio which he places on the table
as if it were the cafeteria’s main selection of the day.
as he shows me how to work the dials,
i feel like a child just beginning to walk
or a bird about to sing its first song.
as he works the dials, he looks toward me
to be sure i’m paying attention.

and more on art and buddhism. in an interview at fuzz, eden maxwell talks about the similarity between zen and art.

in zen, there are no lessons, tests, or lengthy discourses; the source of truth is grasped through intuition. art is the same. the source of all great art is intuition. you experience this when you suddenly, without planning, hear a magic lyric or melody inside your head.

on his own blog, eden reminds us of the difference between reality and talking about it.

as the japanese zen priest, shunryu suzuki-roshi, said: “when i raise the hand thus, there is zen. but when i assert that i have raised the hand, zen is no more there.”

this difference is an important concept in buddhism. another such concept is buddha-mind living in everything. nikhil gangoli muses about this here

one of the buddhism beliefs that i have found most useful is this saying attributed to the zen master bodhidharma:

“this very mind the buddha”

if we accept this as true then what are the implications of these buddhism beliefs to the way we live our lives?
simply this: be as polite respectful and reverent to the antics of the mind – the jumble of thoughts, emotions, feelings and complexes – as you would to the buddha himself.

this is something i often think about. it’s easy to look at a child playing and to say, “oh, look, buddha nature!” but what about more difficult people? what about george bush’s buddha nature?

moving on … yet more important buddhist concepts are compassion and equality (in fact, buddha-nature and equality are closely related)

focus on our equality. this is a practice i learned from the dalai lama. judgement and hatred stem primarily from “othering” individuals. we see them as so different from ourselves, so unequal, and so removed from us that it’s easy to not love them. instead, we can focus on our similarities. then we can grow in our kindness. we are all human beings. we all suffer. we all want the best for ourselves and our families. we all hurt. we all cry. we all laugh and smile. we all yearn for comfort and freedom. just because someone is different in some way, does not devalue their needs, innate beauty, and their inherent right to happiness.

so much for part 1. stay tuned for part 2! in the meantime, do you have an article you think we should see? go here to submit it.

(image by circusvoltaire)

a buddhist carnival – february 2008 (part 2)

good morning! here is part 2 of the february 2008 edition of a buddhist carnival.

sunrise in japan - a picture of enlightenment?enlightenment

two people speak on this topic. matthew spears presents an interesting contemplation on the nature of enlightenment. among others, he compares three concepts of enlightenment. he argues that enlightenment is a perception and “because it is a perception, from this state there is nothing that happens to you (an external force operating upon you) but rather simply experiences of you meeting your self.”

let’s follow matthew’s writing with what anmol in 4 word sacred mantra to trigger enlightenment has to say. it’s a different perspective. or not? perhaps true, 100% heart-felt sincerity is only possible with an enlightened heart?

these 4 words are the greatest mantra in the universe. if you can chant this mantra sincerely, enlightenment is yours. in fact if you can chant this mantra sincerely, you have completed your evolution and nature will no longer include you in the cycles of life and death. here is a story to demonstrate the incredible power of this mantra.

come into the present

thomas sweeney asks us to come into the present…, quoting words by buddhist jack kornfeld:

most of us have spent our lives caught up in plans, expectations ambitions for the future, in regrets, guilt or shame about the past. to come into the present is to stop the war.

open hearts

nicole presents ghetto houseguest posted at makeitbetter’s weblog. this story doesn’t reference buddhism at all but it talks movingly about something that i see at the core of my (limited, imperfect) buddhist practice: opening our hearts to those that are very, very different from us.

wanting, needing

matt talks about wants vs needs

many years ago i was interested in world religions and spent a considerable amount of time studying various religions. for part of these studies i went to a buddhist temple and had the good fortune to speak with one of the monks there. in studying buddhism the one part i always had trouble grasping was separating a want from a need. for things like fancy dinners out and exotic trips it was easy to place those firmly in the category of want. but it became complicated with some issues. do i need a house? i certainly want one.. but is it a true need? if i wouldn’t be happy without something wouldn’t that make that a need?


albert foong has an interesting series on compassion. this article is entitled the life that has gone on before: the perils of compassion, part 2

this will sound even more extreme. forget teaching, or advising. just the act of helping others could be a slap in the face. perhaps we shouldn’t even consider any kind of charity or volunteer work or kindness – not until we find this inner peace. i am not saying, don’t do charity work, or never volunteer at the local shelter, for many of the kindest men and women can be found there. all i’m saying is – it may be wiser to wait until you have found your own inner peacefulness.

“why does he say this?” you might think. “even external charity? even helping others out?”

additional articles you might find interesting are akemi’s forgive, not forget, tupelo’s how to accelerate manifestation and sam zoranovich’s discernment vs judgment.

ok, folks, that’s it for february. please submit your buddhist post for the next edition on march 15 using this submission form. you can submit your own article or some you’ve come across and found worthy.

(image by jeff epp)