Friday, December 30, 2011

Verses of Kindness and Compassion

I've put together a revised collection of verses and phrases for the four immeasurables (brahama-viharas) that you can find online here.

Buddhist practice is closely associated with insight, which is said (or implied) to be the highest practice, leading to everything good, including kindness and compassion. Hopefully insight into how things are, and how they work, does lead to kindness and compassion. Unfortunately, it's not always true; half-developed or unbalanced insight can lead to clarity and power that are not connected to kindness and compassion.

And insight leading to compassion is not the only way to go. It works the other way round as well: compassion, when engaged and cultivated in a balanced way, leads to insight.

Sometimes Buddhist practice is said to be the uniting of compassion and insight. I think this is best. But if I had to put one practice above the other, it would be compassion, because the motivation for insight ought to be compassion: to know how to free ourselves and others from suffering.

May all beings be safe, healthy, happy, at ease in their body, at home in the world.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Weasel, Crow, and Coyote on the Dharma Trail

by Sam Hamill

A weasel went out
one day and saw a large crow
dancing in the dust.
"Ha-ha," the crow cried, "Ha-ha."
Poor weasel, not speaking Crow,

thought the old crow
was humiliating him.
"I'll get you for that!"
he barked, "I'll gnaw on your bones!"
Weasel crouched low in the grass

and slowly crept close.
But when he made his great leap,
he came up with dust.
"I'll get you for that!" he barked,
retreating into shadows.

Crow bobbed on his bough.
"Ha-ha, ha-ha," he bellowed.
Weasel leaped again,
snapping the air with his jaws,
"You arrogant prick!" he screamed,

"I'll get you for that!"
Far off, another crow called,
"What's all the ruckus?"
Crow chuckled and replied, "Just
stupid Weasel eating dust.

I tried to warn him
about Coyote," Crow called,
"but all he wanted was to eat me, then got mad
when I escaped. What a fool!"

Weasel slunk away
with his tail between his legs.
Crow called Coyote,
"Hey, old friend, there comes Weasel,
all tried out from meanness.

I tried to warn him,
but he's too mean to listen."
Coyote grinned. He
licked his chops and sniffed the air.
"The angry ones are easiest."

~ from Dumb Luck by Sam Hamill

The Simplest Things

I have had to learn the simplest things
last. Which made for difficulty.

~ Charles Olson

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

If You Come Back

Gandalf: You'll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.

Bilbo: You promise that I will come back?

Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same.

~ from the trailer to Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How Many of You Expect to Die?

The three most common ways that old people die and the trajectory and duration of each scenario, from a New York Times blog post from Jane Gross:

Cancer deaths, which peak at age 65, usually come after many years of good health followed by a few weeks or months of steep decline, according to Dr. Lynn’s data. The 20 percent of Americans who die this way need excellent medical care during the long period of high functioning, she said, and then hospice support for both patient and family during the sprint to death. 
Deaths from organ failure, generally heart or lung disease, peak among patients 10 years older, killing about one in four Americans around age 75 after a far bumpier course. These patients’ lives are punctuated by bouts of severe illness alternating with periods of relative stability. At some point rescue attempts fail, and then death is sudden. What these patients and families need, Dr. Lynn said, is consistent disease management to head off crises, aggressive intervention at the first hint of trouble and advance planning for how to manage the final emergency.
The third option, death following extended frailty and dementia, is everyone’s worst nightmare, an interminable and humiliating series of losses for the patient, and an exhausting and potentially bankrupting ordeal for the family. Approximately 40 percent of Americans, generally past age 85, follow this course, said Dr. Lynn, and the percentage will grow with improvements in prevention and treatment of cancer, heart disease and pulmonary disease.
These are the elderly who for years on end must depend on the care of loved ones, usually adult daughters, or the kindness of strangers, the aides who care for them at home or in nursing facilities. This was my mother’s fate, and she articulated it with mordant humor: The reward for living past age 85 and avoiding all the killer diseases, she said, is that you get to rot to death instead. 
Those suffering from physical frailty, as she was, lose the ability to walk, to dress themselves or to move from bed to wheelchair without a Hoyer lift and the strong backs of aides earning so little that many qualify for food stamps. These patients, often referred to as the old-old, require diapers, spoon-feeding and frequent repositioning in bed to avoid bedsores. Those with dementia, most often Alzheimer’s disease, lose short-term memory, fail to recognize loved ones, get lost without constant supervision and eventually forget how to speak and swallow. 
What all of these patients need, Dr. Lynn said, is custodial care, which can easily cost $100,000 a year and is not reimbursed by Medicare. The program was created in 1965 when hardly anyone lived this long.

Source: Jane Gross, How Many of You Expect to Die? 
New York Times, July 8, 2008

Easier Said Than Done

Return & rest: abide in experience as it arises.

Open: vividly experience the whole field.

Look: know the nature of experience.

Do: respond and be free.

Care: help others as much as possible.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stable Attention

Stick to the body like a shadow. Body is where stability is. Relative stability, of course--in this world, everything, everything changes. But the ground of experience, if there is one, is the body--the flesh and bone and nervous system and biochemical soup in which every perception and experience arises.

We can abide, present in our experience, by alternating and mixing and eventually uniting three increasingly-subtle efforts: focusing, resting, and opening. Focusing means returning to, placing the attention upon, and staying with one aspect of experience: the passing of air at the nostrils, the rise and fall of the abdomen, a visual object in front of us, a sound we make. Resting is resting in that experience: air flow, sensations in the body, color and shape, or sound. Opening means opening to the rest of experience as it rises and falls, while centered and resting with that one aspect of experience: thoughts and emotions come and go while I rest in the breathing body. Focusing, resting, and opening lead to stability that is not narrow or difficult to maintain. With flexible, vivid, resilient, encompassing attention we begin to see the actual nature of what arises.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Regular Exercise, Practicing on Our Own

"Practicing the dharma in our day to day lives is in a way similar to exercise. The oral instructions of the gurus, as well as the scriptures of the Buddha, merely provide a general understanding of what true spiritual practice is. The real details are filled in by our actual life experiences, meeting them face to face. It is important to understand the dharma in this way. In my case, I don’t have many opportunities to spend time with my teachers, so it is up to me to practice the dharma as best I can as much as I can. Sometimes there will be things that we really do not understand and need more clarifications about. But the real practice of dharma is relating to our emotions. Practicing in this way is similar to the need to have regular exercise in our lives."

~ from an interview with the 17th Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje in New York, July 2011

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thoughts Self-Liberated

Thoughts don't come from anywhere and they don't go anywhere, so how could they be anything other than self-arisen and self-liberated? Just like waves on the ocean. That's how it is.

From an interview with Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche 
Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly, Spring 2004