Saturday, August 31, 2013

For a Future to be Possible

For a Future to be Possible
Commentaries on the Five Mindfulness Trainings
by Thich Nhat Hanh

When we see suffering, compassion is born in us.

We need to stay in touch with suffering only to the extent that we will not forget; so that compassion will flow within us and be a source of energy for our actions.

Thinking is the base of everything.

When we are truly alive, everything we do or touch is a miracle.

Time is for being alive; for sharing joy and happiness with others.

When a person is suffering from so much physical pain, we sometimes can alleviate his suffering by watering the seeds of happiness that are in him.

Love is deep, beautiful and whole. True love contains respect.

We have to make an effort to heal our language by using words carefully.
"It doesn't cost anything to have loving speech." Vietnamese saying
When we feel understood, we suffer much less.

The Buddha has to be in society.

To keep your body healthy is to express gratitude to the whole cosmos...

The quality of our life depends very much on the amount of peace and joy that can be found in our bodies and consciousness.
"My own approach to food is to be curious and grateful." Gary Snyder
"In Buddhism, a clear mind is a precious gem." Saluk Sivarikia
"If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way." The Buddha
"Nonviolence can never be absolute. But we can continue to do our best to minimize the harm we cause and to maximize our appreciation and reverence for all life - people, animals, plants, and minerals." Chan Khong

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Why Bhutan could be one of the happiest countries on earth?

Originally posted on


Bhutan is one of the poorest and least developed nations in the world but it has been ranked the happiest nation in Asia and eighth happiest in the world in a survey.

Plastic bags are banned, tobacco is almost illegal and the country measures the wellbeing of its people by Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Carmen Roberts went to find out why Bhutan is such a land of contentment.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Five Environmental Lessons We Can Learn from Buddhist Monks

Originally posted on on July 22, 2013

My friend Julia recently visited Buddhist monasteries in Nepal and India and was deeply touched by the Tibetan Monks there. Living on less than a dollar a day, the monks she met were models of spiritual humility, happiness and simplicity. She came back from Nepal and the monastery full of life, and more dedicated than ever to service, simplicity, and meditation.

In our discussions afterward, we reflected on the following 5 eco-themed lessons we could learn from the Buddhist monks.

We Can Flourish With Fewer Possessions

The classical (Theravada) rules in the Buddhist Scriptures known as the Pali Canon say that a monk is allowed to have only these eight possessions: 1. an inner robe, 2. an outer robe, 3. an additional robe to protect from the elements when necessary, 4. a bowl, 5. a water-strainer, 6. a razor to shave his head, 7. a needle and thread and 8. any necessary approved medicine.

And yet, with just these simple possessions they have lived and thrived as a community of learning, personal growth and service for over 2,500 years. What possessions could we thrive without?

You Have to Act While You Are Still Uncertain

Suppose a man were wounded by an arrow, and when the surgeon arrived, he said to him, ”Don’t pull out this arrow until I know who shot it, what tree it comes from, who made it, and what kind of bow was used.“ Certainly the man would die before he discovered the answers. In the same way, if you say you will not be a monk unless I solve all the questions of the world, you are likely to die unsatisfied. ~ Majjhima Nikaya

The famous parable above was told to encourage people to treat spiritual practice like medicine, and seek to relieve their own suffering before getting answers to philosophical problems (that would likely never come anyway). But it is just as relevant for modern environmental thinking.

With the wisdom above we can see that we don’t need to wait for complete certainty (which we will never have!) to take environmental action. Our ecosystems are suffering, and we can move towards closed resource loops, renewable energy, stable populations, and clean manufacturing before we have all the answers.

You Can Be Happy With Very Little

When scientists at the University of Wisconsin hooked the monk and author Matthieu Ricard up in their lab, they discovered that he was by far the happiest person they had ever tested by their objective standards.

Many of us suspect that material acquisition is not necessary for true happiness, but now we have hard data backing us up!

We Are All Interconnected

In the Buddhist vision of the cosmos, the universe is seen as a vast web in which all objects are intimately interconnected, and the objects are in themselves nothing without these interconnections.
When we see the world in this way, and when we see other beings as extensions of ourselves, an ecological vision flows effortlessly.

Work In Nature Can Be Worship

There is a deep ecological wisdom in the Zen injunction to treat as worship ordinary work like chopping wood and carrying water. When we bring mindfulness and a meditative mind to such work, it imbues it with dignity and wonder. Any worldview that does that is a deep lesson for environmentalists, inviting us to get our hands dirty and do the real work of caring directly for the earth.

Brian Toomey is the owner of JB Web Analytics, and an occasional contributor to sustainablog.

Definition List:
  • to imbue: to fill somebody/something with strong feelings, opinions or values
Pronunciation MP3:
= imbue

Saturday, August 10, 2013

How We Choose to be Happy

by Rick Foster & Greg Hicks

From Library Journal:
Foster and Hicks conduct workshops internationally in the development of interpersonal skills. For this book, they interviewed happy people from all walks of life, from the United States to Eastern Europe. The resulting personal stories, writing exercises, and quotes together inform and instruct the reader in the nine principles discovered by the authors in their travels. Foster and Hicks use their nine choices to teach leadership development in the corporate world and also as a diagnostic tool for medical doctors. These choices include the active intention to be happy, accountability, identifying needs and desires, and centralizing goals by creating a dream list. These are followed by recasting (looking at experiences in positive ways), exploring options, appreciating every day, the art of giving, and, finally, exploring truthfulness.

Memorable Quotes:

"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms." Muriel Rukeyser

"Those who wish to sing always find a song." Swedish proverb

"Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation?" Jane Austen

"It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere." Agnes Repplier

"Remember that happiness is a way of travel - not a destination." Roy M Goodman

"Take your life in your own hands and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame." Erica Jong

"If you do not ask yourself what it is you know, you will go on listening to others and change will not come because you will not hear your own truth." Saint Bartholomew

Sometimes we're so busy responding to other people's formulas for happiness that we haven't created a formula of our own.

"...I see that happiness is a steady state inside me and that it's always there waiting for me, no matter what is happening in my life." study participant

Fear is a trap. It keeps up stuck in unhappiness. It obscures analysis, keeping negative events clouded by anxiety.

"Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark." Agnes de Mille

Each new day presents the potential for relationships, education, personal growth, professional development and just plain fun.

"Whatever is flexible and loving will tend to grow; whatever is rigid and blocked with wither and die." Lao Tzu

Happy people have unusually acute vision, an ability to see life clearly in all its diversity. They've an awareness of contrast - good and bad, beautiful and ugly, soft and loud, fast and slow... They have a consciousness of form - hard, soft, angular, flat - the daily symphony that plays all around us, the sweet sounds of its music contrasted by the harshness of the jackhammer. And they get perspective from values - right and wrong, weak and strong, righteousness and evil. They embrace loved ones for their greatest strengths and for their most troubled faults.

When we fight against the totality of our lives, we risk missing life altogether.

"Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love." Lao Tzu

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dharma Road - A Short Cab Ride to Self Discovery

Excerpt from "Dharma Road: A Short Cab Ride to Self Discovery" by Brian Haycock

I'm driving back from San Marcos with a fifty dollar bill in my pocket, feeling pretty good. The sun's out, but it's not blasting away. I've got the radio on, an old Johnny Cash road song going. I've been to Buda, Marble Falls, Pflugerville, Cedar Park... I'm thinking I'll work some calls from the radio when I get close to Austin, then try to get something going downtown, maybe make a big day out of it. For a cabdriver, this is heaven.

A 'Vette flashes by on my left, doing eighty. It's silver, lean and hard, and it's just eating up the highway. I can picture the guy inside, in his leather bucket seat, listening to the surround sound, or whatever they have in 'Vettes, watching the highway flow on by. I wish I had a 'Vette.

I'm thinking he must have a radar detector. No one does eighty out here without one. I've been thinking about picking one up, but the cab company doesn't really like to see them in the cabs. Besides, it's not in the budget. I pick up the speed a little, watching the back of the 'Vette pull away up the road, watching for his taillights.

I wish I had a radar detector. But I won't be buying one anytime soon. And I definitely won't be buying a 'Vette on what I'm making in the cab. Or on anything I can even imagine myself making doing something else. That fifty-dollar fare to San Marcos doesn't seem like such a big deal now. Most of it'll be gone as soon as I stop at a gas station to top off the tank.

I'm not feeling so good now.

The Buddha taught that we suffer because we crave what we cannot have. Whatever we have, we always want more. We're never satisfied. There's always something else, something that would make our lives just right if we could only have it. It just eats at us until we get it. And then we lose interest in that and go on wanting something else. It just goes on and on, and it seems like there's no way out. The guy in the 'Vette probably wants a Ferrari. Or an airplane. And he's no happier with his 'Vette than I am with this cab.

I'd like a Rolls Royce with the cab package, a fast meter, and a never-ending gas card, but I probably won't get that. I'd also like to date Jennifer Aniston, climb Mount Everest, and discover a cure for cancer. It's not going to happen. Not for me. Not this time around.

People wonder about Elvis, how it could have gone so wrong. I think I understand. It was harder for him. Most of us think we'd be happy if we only had a little more money, a better car, a prettier girlfriend. And we keep trying. At the end, Elvis knew none of that could save him. With all he had, he was still empty. He was as destitute as a crackhead curled up in an alley with his teeth grinding down. He wanted something he couldn't have, something he couldn't even name. And he knew he'd never have it. It wasn't the pills that killed him. It was the emptiness. The pills only finished him off.

More than anything, we fear losing what we already have. We become attached to the things in our lives that bring us pleasure, but those things are only temporary. Fleeting. So we hold on, tighter and tighter, but that doesn't work. Everything is changing, all the time, and all our attachments will be broken in the end. The rock-and-rollers will lose their edge, their records will stop selling, and they'll be doing nostalgia tours, wondering where it all went. The beauties will lose their looks, the athletes will slow down. Change is the only constant. Nothing lasts forever. You can't go home again, no matter where you're from.

Most of the changes in our lives are slow and subtle. We don't even notice them. But they add up.

Driving around Austin, you get a sense of constant change in the landscape. There are construction cranes and wrecking balls everywhere you look. It seems like they've always been there. Living here for over twenty years, I feel like I've moved to another city, a little at a time.

When I first moved to Austin, there was a place near where I lived called Beer Park. That's right, Beer Park. This is Texas - people think like that here. There were picnic tables set up, a horseshoe pit, a makeshift stage. Sometimes there were people playing guitars, just kicking it around, having fun. I'd go there after work with some of my friends, have a roast beef sandwich, a glass of beer. It lasted six months. The University of Texas bought the land, tore everything down, and built a maintenance facility on it.

Our lives change more quickly and surely than any landscape. Friends drift off, move away. We move, change jobs, join clubs, take up causes, lose interest in them, fall in and out of love. It's not always a bad thing; we all want some variety, some change to make things interesting. Some of the changes are for the better, some for the worse. But very little in life lasts for long. And nothing last forever.

According to the Buddha, the events of our lives have no independent existence. They are only temporary. It's all a house of cards. Everything arises and fades away. Ashes to ashes, all fall down. This is a world of shadow and light, nothing more than a show. It's fun to watch, but that's about all.

The suffering we feel isn't caused by the fact of impermanence itself. Impermanence isn't good or bad, it's just the way things are. It's like gravity, or gas prices or the long cab lines at the airport. The problem is our habit of craving what we cannot have and becoming attached to things that cannot last. Then, when they're gone, we feel the loss.

I've gotten attached to the cab I drive, number 119. It's an ex-police car with a big V-8, heavy-duty brakes and suspension, about as well built as a car can be. I spend more time in the cab than I spend at home. A lot more. I've driven so many miles in it, I feel like it's an extension of myself, a suit of clothes I put on in the morning. Sometimes it goes in for service and I have to spend an afternoon in another car. I feel uncomfortable, awkward. Everything just feels wrong, and I can't wait to get back in my regular cab. But 119 has over 200,000 miles on it and there's a vibration in the transmission that shouldn't be there. It won't last forever.

When the cab goes down, I'll move on to a new one, and I'll get used to that and I'll probably get attached to it. It's all right. I've got some perspective on it. It's only a car, after all. But when we form strong attachments to things in our lives that cannot last, they lead to suffering in the end. Like anyone, I look back at some of the good times I've had, and I wish I could go back, live that way again. But I can't.

In Buddhism, four sources of suffering are unavoidable: birth, sickness, old age, and death. Birth and the process of growing up are painful, both physically and emotionally. Sickness, old age, and death are great sources of suffering for most people, but the real problem is only our reactions to these changes in our lives.

Life begins with suffering. We are pushed from the warmth and safety of the womb to find ourselves in an uncertain and dangerous world, gasping for breath. The first thing we do is cry. It's a good thing we can't remember our birth. We'd be traumatized.

Old age can only be avoided by dying, so old age is really a good thing. The elderly are fortunate to have lived so long. But it's hard to think of it that way. They have aches and pains and can't do the things they used to do. Old age is hard because we're so attached to our youth. We remember the things we could do then, how good it felt to be young and strong, how fresh and new the world seemed. And we miss that.

We're attached to our good health while we have it, so when we're sick, we suffer from more than just our symptoms. Some people have had health problems for years, and they've gotten used to a certain amount of sickness in their lives. It doesn't seem to bother them as much. People who have been fortunate enough to enjoy good health for most of their lives are in for a shock when they get sick. I get a cold every few years, and that's about it. So far. When I get a cold, I'm the most miserable person on earth. I'm pathetic. I just whine and complain until it goes away. My time will come: I'll get really sick, and I won't be able to handle it at all. That's how attachment works.

And then there's death. We all know it's coming, so it should be easy to accept, but it isn't. We're attached to our lives and want them to go on forever. But they don't, and people who have to face death are truly filled with suffering. Even if they don't know it.

When the Buddha began to teach, he was asked what his teaching consisted of. He said, "I teach suffering and the end of suffering." Now, after twenty-five hundred years, the Buddha is still teaching the end of suffering. He's teaching it to us.

The way to end our suffering is to let go of our cravings, to give up our attachments to the impermanent events in our lives. If we can learn to accept the temporary nature of all things, to see them simply as events to be appreciated for themselves without trying to hold on to them, then we can live without suffering. That is the basis of Buddhist practice, the entry to the Eightfold Path, the blueprint for a life free of suffering.