Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate

Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate
by Brad Warner


Buddhist practice is difficult and takes a lot of time, effort, and energy. I know no one likes hearing that. There are no shortcuts. There are no easy ways to circumvent the pain and difficulty of practice...

There's a truckload of extremely good reasons why you don't want to rip open the doors of your subconscious too quickly. If you're not fully prepared for what's behind those doors, they're better left shut tight until such time that you are.

In a weird way we're always prepared for whatever we have to face. We just don't know it. We always have an intuitive sense of right action. But we're also very, very good at shouting so loudly over that sense that we may not be able to hear it when it functions. Zazen helps you learn to uncover the intuition you already have.

You'll never work out all the angles. You just have to make the best decision you possibly can, given what you have to work with at a particular juncture in your life.

Nothing ever lives up to your expectations, no matter what your expectations are. This doesn't mean you're never disappointed. But you know that disappointment is just the action of your brain readjusting itself to reality after discovering things are not the way you thought they were. The best course of action when encountering disappointment is to know you now understand the situation better than you did before when all you had to go on was your thoughts. There's no sense wallowing in sadness that you were mistaken. You are fortunate, in fact, because you're now better equipped to move forward realistically.

Our normal state at any given moment, sucky as it may be, is the best and most balanced we can achieve at that moment. Through meditative practice we can gradually improve this state...

The reason we avoid them (euphoria and bliss) is because they're just as unbalanced as our so-called normal states of mind. Euphoria is the other side of terror. True balance of body and mind is very comfortable and pleasant, but it's not euphoric or blissful.

It's also not your duty to keep everyone you meet satisfied. Most people are so thoroughly fucked they don't have the vaguest clue what they really need or even what they really want, and it's not your duty to provide them with what they think they want.

The weird thing about the (Buddhist) precepts is that after you do your practice for a while it becomes effortless to keep them. You simply don't want to abuse your body and brain anymore once you start seeing how nice it feels to keep things in balance. You keep the precepts not because you fear punishment from God or Buddha..., but because you want to. That's a far more powerful incentive.

Identity is a funny thing. We all think we have one. We have a driver's license to prove it! But in practice our identity changes all the time. Our true self and the things we do are exactly the same. We are a function of the universe.

The basis of Buddhist morality is reality itself. It is the order of the universe itself. It is the facts of life, which are facing us at every moment.

...your life still isn't really just yours alone. If I don't keep my body in reasonable shape in general I'm also impinging on others. I get pissed off way too easily because my body never feels right so I can't think straight. If I get angry or otherwise overemotional, it's never just my own affair. I spread that anger to others through my careless actions. When you're angry you are never, ever, every act reasonably. Never. If I get depressed I force others to deal with my black moods. If I get distracted I might run over somebody's kitty cat.

You're just like me, an asshole. Seriously. A complete asshole. You have no idea what you are or what you're supposed to be doing. Yet you run all over creation like it's some cheap-ass toy Santa gave you that you're now gonna break, and then cry until Santa gives you another one. 'Cuz there are a million of them all lined up on shelves at the store. The universe is yours, and all you want to do with it is write your name in spray paint on the wall. You're like a dog pissing on a fence. No one who sees the mark you left on the world could give a shit. You're just exactly like me.

...no amount of enlightenment will eliminate all stress and tension from your life. Things, once set into motion, need to play themselves out. The best you can do is learn how to add as little new garbage to the pile as possible.

Morality is a practical problem-a real problem. What to do here and now is the problem and the answer is contained in the situation itself.

To me, Zen is a search for truth through action. It is less a religion or even a philosophy than it is an attitude.

But sit quietly, and even a piece of gibbon's dung like you can see it. There's no one in the universe but you. You spread out all the way past the farthest galaxies, and that's just the beginning. Your thoughts are all stupid. Your perceptions are completely wrong. There's nowhere you can be but here. There's nothing you can know that's worth knowing. You have no future or past, and yet you'll always be here. And because of this you are God's eyes and ears on this world. You are God himself.

Religious people tell you that you shouldn't do stuff like that (staying out late, sleeping in till a million o'clock, getting drunk and stoned, chasing tail, and general carousing) because it is sinful and evil. Sin and evil don't enter into it. It's just a simple fact that if you want your brain and body to work the way they're meant to, you need to take good care of the machinery God gave you. No two ways about it.

Buddha didn't want to find something holy; he just wanted a life that wasn't a fucking drag all the time.

The (Buddhist) precepts guide us in our life. They have come from the experience of the truth in the past, so we can say they are based on reality. But our lives are tremendously complex and varied. If we try to apply the precepts too strictly, we may lose the freedom to act. We are living here and now so we must find rules that can be used here and now. We must find our precepts every moment. Reality is changeable so our rules must also be changeable. True rules must work in the real world. True precepts are changeable and at the same time unchangeable. This is the nature of Buddhist precepts. They help us live correctly. They provide a framework which is exact and rather narrow. And yet we are free to act in the moment by moment situations of our life.

The Middle Way was not some kind of spiritual path designed to make us all holy with shiny pink halos on our noggins. It was a way to live a life that wasn't a piece of shit. It was a way to find happiness and stability in an unhappy and unstable world. That's really all any of us are looking for, when it comes down to it.

You're not here just for yourself. You're here for everyone and everything you encounter. Your role is to do and say things that need to be done and said from your unique perspective. You need to be fully yourself.

Morality is an important part of finding real happiness because we are all interconnected. I can't be happy if I make the people around me miserable under the mistaken impression that their misery is not intimately connected with mine. So if I don't want to be miserable I need to behave morally toward everyone I encounter. It means being careful.

Doing and saying what needs doing and saying has to be handled carefully. But being careful and being timid are two very different things.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Building a Business the Buddhist Way

Building a Business the Buddhist Way
by Geri Larkin


How can you shift your own livelihood so that it better reflects your deepest ethical values? First, admit this; you are yearning for something more in your life... There are too many other things to do. The yearning is healthy and healing, and will provide the tenacity you'll need to see your new work into fruition. A business of integrity feeds our deepest hungers. It is a vehicle for connecting deeply with the creative spirit of our lives and provides a way for each of us to express our unique gifts and talents. It offers the proof we need that each of our lives matters. Finally, it is proof that work can give each of us a sense of joy.

...embrace balance, acknowledging that energy and creativity flow naturally out of a well-rounded lifestyles.

...we need to be able to take risks if our lives are going to change in any significant way.

Right livelihood businesses are just plain fun. Humor is always present, along with a refreshing humility. "We'll do our best and see how it plays out, knowing and openly admitting that we don't control the universe."

We can still embrace the precepts and get sucked into our business like a dust ball into a vacuum cleaner. Meanwhile, we need to keep our energy up and our creativity quotient high for our enterprise to prosper and grow. Balance is what keeps us sane. It feeds our energy level. Without it, we're goners. Workaholism does not work in right livelihood businesses. It's too one-dimensional. What we may gain in focus, we lose in tracking the broader context...

We need to define what balance means to us, and to embrace it, both in our lives and in the lives of our staff, clients, suppliers, and other stakeholders.

... (right livelihood) acknowledges and embraces all of the aspects of our lives. It respects that we are not just our business but have other components in our days that matter to us-families that need us, friends, culture, spirituality, play.

...a fully-lived life has five courses. The first is our own spirituality. This provides us with an unending stream of energy and meaning. ...our spirituality helps us to realize the oneness of life and provide the still point at the center of all of the things we do in a day. ...we need to do our spiritual practice-whether it is meditation, prayer, walking in woods, dancing, or just being alone in a quiet place. And we ned to do it regularly. Every single day.

The second course of our life is study and learning; not just book study, but mastery of new skills or adventures into new places. It's getting to know new people, people we might not otherwise know-from different cultures, different ages, other sexes. Study gives us sharpness and keeps our minds working. It feeds our curiosity and rewards our risking new places, people, and things. It also keeps us young and fresh and interesting.

How we make our living is the third course. What we need to remember is that while our work is important, it is only one portion of our life.

The fourth course is called social action. I call it doing good. When Buddha was giving dharma talks almost three thousand years ago, he would tell people that it was not really worth teaching them anything about becoming more spiritual until they got really skilled at being generous. ...we need to do good. It can be spontaneous and informal.

(The last course...) We need relationships. Friends and family. We need community. Without them our loneliness can seep into all the other courses of our lives, turning them into mold and mush. The last course is the one that weaves all the other courses together into an honest-to-goodness work of art. A feast worth living.
You can start with what you have, where you are. The role of the resources you are able to gather for the business is simple to tell you what the scale of the business or expansion will be.
"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now." Goethe
...a right livelihood business is patient. It grows in an unforced way, if it grows at all. If it is meant to grow, it grows incrementally in a way that makes it possible for people involved to continue to embrace the other aspects of their lives. It also grows incrementally so that the environment can be protected and the quality of the business, its products, and its operation can be sustained.

Patience matters because it allows space for a business to take form in a natural, integrative way. Patience lets us monitor the consequences of changes-both intended and unintended-so any negative impacts can be quickly corrected. A right livelihood business is a path-your path.

...entrepreneurs constantly ask themselves four key questions:
1.What do I need and want out of life?
2.How can my company accomplish that?
3.What would such a company look like?
4.How do I/we get it to look like that

Our real job is to live a life that is an incredible shinning adventure. The place to start is inside ourselves. What are our real values? What are we honestly good at-because we love doing it? And how does all this translate into our own path?

The first real step in building a business the Buddhist way is to determine your path. And the pre-step to that-if there is on-is to tell yourself that you have a moral obligation to live your own path, because it is true.

The characteristics of a person who is on his or her appropriate path are always clear to the people around them. Their livelihood uses all aspects of their personhood, combining interests, skills and values.

Think of someone you know who is on his or her appropriate path. Did you list these? Energetic, healthy, happy, filled with joy, empathetic, alive, have a special sense of purpose, visionary, see current reality as an ally, embrace change, inquisitive, committed to seeing reality accurately, connected, don't sacrifice their uniqueness, continuously learning, see their life journey as its own reward, deeply self-confident, acutely aware of their ignorance, ditto for their incompetence, relish their uniqueness, have a sense of humor, humble.

People who have the courage to figure out their particular path are happy. Even when the work is excruciatingly difficult. Even if they are fighting a fight that they may never win in their lifetime. It doesn't matter. A match is a match, and appropriate work is like having a constant stream of energy feeding you every day. You don't have time to be bored because there is work to be done. You don't have time to wallow in the unfairness of life because there are mountains to climb. And you don't have time to obsess about the crazymakers in your life because...you just don't.

Doing something that you hate doing doesn't work. Period. Reason on is that we are miserable when we are spending our days working on something that doesn't feed us emotionally and spiritually.

Success happens to people who believe in themselves and in their ability to figure out what needs to be done in a specific situation.

In any difficult situation, you have three tasks:
1. Don't panic (because panic doesn't help anything).
2. Assess the situation. In other words, we need to truly understand what is going on in a given situation.
3. Do the obvious. Doing the obvious assumes self-confidence - that we trust ourselves to do what's best or at the minimum what's "good enough" in any situation.

Failure. There isn't any such thing. This whole drill we call life is about one thing: evolving spiritually. When things don't go as planned, they simple haven't gone as planned. There are probably a bundle of lessons in the experience, but failure? None. Failure is an illusion...

Obstacles are grist for your evolving mill. Best strategy? Face them head on. Define, them, figure out their scale, and then strategize how you are going to get around them. Think like water. Instead of fighting the obstacles, look for ways around them and for the cracks where you can seep through them. After awhile you'll realize that obstacles can actually be entertaining, and appreciate them for their ability to keep you from ever being bored.

Every day I take refuge in Buddha, dharma, and sangha. Each is a reminder that none of us is alone and that asking for help is part of creating a right livelihood life. Nobody does this stuff along. Nobody.

It is a waste of time and precious energy to look for someone else to blame if you make an unwise decision. You don't have that time and energy to spare. I say take the hit and keep going.
"In order to see I have to be willing to be seen." Hugh Prather
...the Dalai Lama teaches, there is no point in worrying about something. Either you can do something about it or you can't. If you can do something, do it. Otherwise just move on.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Plant Seed, Pull Weed

Plant Seed, Pull Weed
by Geri Larkin

"Figure out how to live your life in a way that won't kill you prematurely." Elsie
And even though I have miles to go before I sleep, this awakeness has made some truths clear. One is that we are all inherently awake. Another is that we really are spirit made flesh. We are holy. Clearheadedness has taught me not to predict the impact of any act of kindness because you just never know.

As we learn to focus, at least sometimes, on what is right in front of us, we find we can let go of the generalized anxiety that invades us. We remember what it is like to feel calm, to play, and to laugh at silly small things without having a need to go anywhere or be with anyone else to complete our lives. We become bodhisattvas, Buddhist saints, if you will, responding naturally to the need for help that is everywhere...

Through small doings we waste less, argue less (since we listen better), sing more, and are happier.

When we simply focus on doing what is right in front of us, act by act, our hearts open.

We learn to love, on kiss at a time.

Without intention, nothing happens. We don't change. We stay our miserable, whining selves. (Okay, maybe that is just me.) Intention is a huge antidote to the exhaustion of too many directions at once.

We need to stop hesitating. We'll make mistakes in our lives... Okay. That is how we learn. There is no day like today, no time like right now, to start doing what needs doing. Excitement can't happen, joy can't happen, gardens can't grow, if we hesitate.

If we don't learn how to see clearly, we'll never clean up the destructive thinking and behavioral patterns that prevent us from living a joy-filled life.

Generosity, a grand theme in all of Zen... It feeds relationships, self-esteem, world peace. Generosity builds on itself because it just plain feels good.

Shantideva emphasizes (enthusiasm) as a sort of spiritual grease that makes everything else in life not just double but fun.

...how surprisingly easy it can be to feed joy once we give ourselves the gift of believing we deserve it. We do.

We need to pay constant attention to how we are living our lives. Again, hard work.

To be happy, we first need to intend to be happy.

In Buddhism, intention matters. Postponing making intentions is a big mistake. With everything we may hope to do in our lifetimes, it is important to remember that we won't live forever. So we need to focus on our intentions now, not later.

It helps to accept that we will make mistakes headed in the direction of our intentions because that's what happens to people. As long as our hearts are sincere and our intentions kind, we are okay. Since I am a mistake-making machine, some days my intention to wake up for the sake of the world is literally the only thing that keeps me on my path.

We already have the impulse to be helpful to each other. Our job is to simply feed these impulses, regardless of what is happening around us.

Whatever else is going on, we need to have the intention to help each other the best we can, through thick and thin, through our aging and dying, through the Earth's own ebb and flows. And we can do this, not by big actions, but through simple acts of kindness. By simply saying yes to a situation that can use our help.

Okay. We fix our mistakes as best we can, apologize when it is needed, and move on. Doing this, we allow everyone else involved in whatever is happening to move on as well.

The more clearly we see, the more colors and textures and tastes and smells appear before us. We are able to quickly recognize what needs to be done in our lives... The more we practice seeing clearly, the more proficient we'll become. And I promise you that the more proficient we are in seeing what is going on in one aspect of our lives, the better we'll see what is happening elsewhere.

We all get to be generous in whatever way we can without punishing ourselves for the smallness of what we are able to share. It all matters.

When we look, we see generosity everywhere.
"Bold goals attract bold people... If you ask people to reach deep, to think creatively, and to produce extraordinary results, they usually will. Too often in our modern world they are simply not asked." John Wood
...Shantideva singles out enthusiasm as an attribute that feeds our happiness. Enthusiasm always brightens a situation. It feeds energy. It feels good.

...four things would feed it (enthusiasm): wanting to be enthusiastic; sticking with it; letting ourselves be happy; and being careful not to get too carried away...

...we had to give ourselves permission to feel the joy that is a by-product of enthusiasm. Joy can be a little embarrassing if you aren't used to it. It's true and it feeds our happiness, our health, and our sanity as it balances out the inevitable sorrows in our lives.

Once we have a sense of where we are headed, the trick then becomes learning what is too fast and what is too slow. Too much enthusiasm is the path to burnout.

Finding out what is "just right" comes with that old favorite, clear seeing. We watch our own energy to see when we shift from feeling happy when we wake up each morning to wishing it were Friday on a Tuesday.

The teacher reminded me that my job was to live my life with 100 percent enthusiasm - not 70 percent because I would miss things I needed to learn, but also not 110 percent because that would lead to an overgrown life, exhausting to me and to everyone around me.

So our enthusiasm needs to be focused on the "just right," the level of effort that leaves us happy-tired, like a little kid after recess...

When we start to notice our wild and crazy minds, we also start to see how much our thinking determines our levels of - lets just call it what it is - sanity. When we know this, taming our thoughts becomes an important task. The first step to this taming is simply seeing what is going on up there in the first place. To pay attention, meditation helps. Pretty much anything that forces us to really pay attention can calm our monkey minds.

We know how to calm our minds. The trick is to do the work. ...if I'm going to get rid of my junk-mail thinking, I can only do it one thought at a time.

If you have a mind, you'll get junky thinking. No big deal. Seeing the thoughts and knowing how unhelpful they are, we let them go. We stop feeding them the fertilizer of attention. As a result, our minds calm down, and as they do, we watch our lives become lighter, happier, and surprisingly, more interesting. A growling calmness, combined with seeing clearly, allows us to know what we need to be doing moment by moment. It is pretty amazing, the way this plays out. We find we don't need to overplan our lives beyond an outlined sense of direction. We know where we want to go, what we want to do. So our work becomes paying close attention to what goes on around us to see the doors that open to help us head where we are meant to head. The doors we want to walk through.

Anger destroys peace. It feeds negative fantasies and hatred. We don't like ourselves. We may not like anyone. The antidote is patience.

We need to let go of our mistakes once we've cleaned up after ourselves as best we can. If we can't be patient with ourselves, how can we expect to be patient with other people? The truth is, we can't. Life is too short to kick ourselves around the block...

...Shantideva won't let go in his teaching about patience. He scolds us for being impatient with other people, insists that we should never take unkind words personally, telling us that harsh speech and unpleasant words don't harm our bodies. We need to let them go, not for the sake of the person coming at us, but for our own sakes.

When we open up our view, expectation falls away. All we can do is our best and then let go.

So the point for you and me is not that we shouldn't get angry. We do. We will. The question is: What do we do with the anger? ...four-part process to transform anger into something positive:
1.Admit it. When we admit it, we can heal.
2.Put time and space between our anger and what caused it.
3.Don't harm back.
4.Let peace begin with you.

When I go home, I can pray, "Please, let peace begin with me. I know I whine about this, but I mean it."

Every day there is joy. It always surfaces as a surprise. I haven't figured out how it will. What I do know is that it arises out of everyday moments and everyday things.

We don't have to run after joy. It just shows up when we put down our negative emotions and concentrate on what is right in front of us.

One of my biggest surprises, as I stumble along the Buddhist path, is the constant instruction to be joyful. It isn't a suggestion. It is an obligation. It took a while to give what was already happening more energy. Kick starts happened naturally when I looked toward other people, thinking "How can I help?"

So what prevents us from being more joyful? For most of us it seems to be worry. The list is endless. Unfortunately, worry by itself doesn't change anything. Never has. Never will. More bad news is that worry blocks joy.

We need to drop the worrying so joy can get through to us sooner rather than later. Refilling our mind with positive thinking helps.

Noticing and appreciating the goodness we see in others knocks the energy right out of worry.

We can only do our best and move on.

Energetic effort is a surprise weapon in our contra-worrying arsenal. When I'm completely focused on what I am doing, it is impossible to worry. Joy can then seep up through the cracks in my consciousness.

Quiet time also allows for the upward seeping of joy. Quiet time seems like such a small thing. But, oh, the windows it opens!

Every day joy gets its shot at taking over our brains when we give it some quiet space to show up.

There is plenty of joy for each of us. It's just looking for openings. The least we can do is provide them.

May you be fearless. May you make your life breathtakingly beautiful through your acts of generosity and compassion. May these same acts make the world a cleaner and safer place for the children of our children. Small acts writ large change history.

Happiness is there for the taking. A good life, one that nurtures us, is like a seed yearning to be watered. Like a seed, it doesn't take much to kick things into gear.

None of this means our lives will be easy. This work is hard work. Shantideva gives us the tools we need to make perfect gardens of our lives anyway. He tells us to have intention and to enthusiastically move in the direction of that intention, trusting ourselves. He instructs us to be generous, to stop feeding our anger, and to be as patient as a tree reaching its way to the sky. He demands that we let joy in and that we stay vigilant in our efforts. If we follow these teachings, small doings by small doings, joy is ours.