He who fears death either fears to lose all sensation or fears new sensations. In reality, you will either feel nothing at all and therefore nothing evil, or else, if you can feel any sensations, you will be a new creature, and so will not have ceased to have life.
Archive for the ‘Death’ Tag
I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste. Don’t think you understand It. On the other hand, don’t think you don’t understand It. It? What is It, a pronoun capitalized this way? What is It, pronounced with the kind of emphasis that communicates great significance? Alternatively, it is called the Great Matter, Enlightenment, Emptiness, Suchness. These are ways we refer to different aspects of It. When I write these words, what do you think to yourself? You probably think to yourself either that you don’t understand these things, “Wow, I wish I understood those things, maybe I will someday.” Or, perhaps, “I will probably never understand,” or when you hear these words you have a sense that you do understand these things, at least to some degree; the words conjure up for you a memory of an experience, a mind-state, an insight, or you think of images or sensations that you find comforting or inspiring. It is difficult to say which of these – a sense that we don’t understand, or a sense that we do understand – is more detrimental to spiritual practice.
Buddhist understanding – prajna paramita, the perfection of wisdom – is completely different from ordinary understanding. It is so different that even though it is here under our noses all the time, we miss It. Even though this Understanding is free and available, we revere Shakyamuni Buddha as a once-in-a-universe amazing person because he came to It without even having a teacher who pointed it out to him. This is the central teaching of Buddhism – that there is a kind of wisdom, a kind of insight, “which removes all suffering, and is true, not false.” The Buddha studied suffering – old age, disease, death, loss, dissatisfactions – and asked whether there was any way out of it. He was not the first to ask this question by any means. Almost every religion and social movement has tried to offer people a remedy, a way out, at least a mitigation of this human experience of suffering.
What the Buddha realized was, in a sense, its all how you relate to it. It’s all how you see it and understand your place in it. However, this is not about adopting some arbitrary positive outlook! Well, you could look at things that way and suffer, but if you adopt this philosophy or view things don’t look so bad…This is about seeing the true nature of reality. What is it that we see? A textbook answer would be something like, “we see that we, and all beings and things, are empty of inherent, enduring self-nature.” But this description is so inadequate to convey what we end up understanding. We could also say “we see that things-just-as-they-are, without the filter of our self-concern, are precious.” Or we could say “we see that there is only this moment, and this moment is free from suffering.”
Intellectual understanding of these descriptions or faithful belief in these descriptions, do not convey the release from suffering that the Buddha found. They must be personally and directly experienced for that to occur and once they are personally and directly experienced we are forever changed, but no experience in the past conveys lasting release from suffering either. Perhaps when you hear It – the Great Matter, Prajna Paramita (Transcendental Wisdom), Enlightenment, Emptiness, Suchness – you recall the spacious, unself-conscious feeling you experience in the wilderness. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of the “zone” you get into while doing a body practice or artistic activity. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of how vast space is, or how we are made up mostly of space, between our tiny atomic particles. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of how everything changes, so you can’t really draw a boundary around who you are. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of how it is impossible to trace all the causes and conditions and beings that brought you the meal you eat, and how dependent you are on all these different aspects of the universe. That’s not It.
Now, it would be good for all of us, myself included, if I left you with that message and shut up. But in the West, especially in Soto Zen, they explain things. It is the gentle way. It is so easy to be satisfied with just an intellectual understanding. It is so easy to fool ourselves that ours is not just an intellectual understanding – after all, if it is associated with emotions, it’s not just intellectual, right? It is so easy to allow what was once a real experience to devolve into a mere memory, a mere view. Most of us walk around with a largely intellectual understanding of It. As Dogen would say, we are “playing in the entrance way.” This is why Zen Masters through the ages have pulled out all the stops and done all kinds of strange things to try and wake their students up from their dreams. They yanked their students’ noses, offered riddles, put slippers on their heads. What is that about? Some kind of ridiculous code? A contest to see who was least inhibited? No. It says Right Here, Right Now, Do You See? In a sense it doesn’t matter what is said or done to express it; if both people can experience It, the arrows have met in mid-air. This is extremely important. There is no god in Buddhism that is going to condemn us or even be disappointed in us because we just play in the entrance way. But what a shame.
But thinking you do not understand is just as bad. When I think like that, I am here, and understanding is over there – in that [other person’s] head, or in the past, or in the future. This can be one of the most painful beliefs. It can also be one of the biggest obstacles. We are intimate with It every moment of every day. It is never anywhere else. We experience the perfection of wisdom when we stop looking anywhere else. When the Zen Master comes and challenges us, we answer her in kind. Perhaps we say, “Yes! Buddha caught the pillow!” Perhaps we throw the pillow back. Perhaps we laugh. But the challenge does not send us off in our minds to abstractions or memories, concepts, images, metaphors or teachings. We know the Buddha is nowhere else, and have dropped the self-concern that wonders how “I” relate to Buddha.
Being at home with oneself like that is an immense relief from suffering. We must struggle to understand, unfortunately there are no shortcuts. But what we do in that struggle is exhaust all of our dreams until finally there is no place left to go. Then we see It is something we have understood all along. We just didn’t know what kind of understanding to look for. And a final note – having answered the Zen master’s challenge one day does not mean we will be able to do so the next. This is not an understanding that is of any use to us in the past.
Here though ‘he’ is used; leader maps are pertinent to ‘she’ also to succeed in what he or she chooses. Hence, disclaimer for being a male chauvinist pig. Please read on.
Stories don’t just entertain us–they also teach and inspire us. Here’s how to parse your kids’ bedtime stories for modern leadership advice. Once upon a time…Even now, as adults, there’s something in most of us that perks up and starts to listen when we hear those words. We love stories and stories have always served important functions for us. They bring us together and reinforce our sense of community. They engage, amuse, enthrall, and titillate and they teach throughout history, before most people could read and write, stories, told by firesides and in village gatherings, were the mechanism by which we handed down laws and values, religions and taboos, knowledge and wisdom.
Think of stories as the cultural DNA of a pre-literate society. The stories of a group of people provided a map that, if followed, would guide someone to be a successful member of that group, and over the centuries, some of those maps seem to have transcended culture and geography to offer guidance for being successful humans. This seems especially true for one type of story: The hero’s tale. Joseph Campbell explored this theme in religious mythology with brilliance and depth in his Hero with a Thousand Faces, and I’m indebted to his work. However, in exploring these story maps for clues to the characteristics that define leadership, I looked to more humble sources like folktales and fairy tales of many cultures. Campbell’s work focused on our highest aspirations; what we expect of gods and godlike heroes. I wish to know practicality of how folktales tell us what to look for and accept in those who lead us day-to-day.
Think of folktales as maps of success–how to live as safely and happily as possible, how to avoid making fatal mistakes of belief or action. Until recently in our history, choosing a leader was a life-or-death decision. A good leader could guide you to find food, overcome enemies, and keep peace within the society. A bad leader could lead you into starvation or to death through war or lawlessness, and although the stakes may not be as high today, we’re still wired to accept as leaders only those who line up with our centuries-old map of leadership attributes.
By finding and extracting these leader maps, I could learn not only what people look for in leaders; but the corollary of that, what it takes to be the kind of leader whom others would follow. After reading several of leader stories from all over the world, here’s what I see and accept that a leader is farsighted, passionate, courageous, wise, generous, trustworthy.
In leader folktales, the leader-to-be can see beyond his current situation young, poor, despised to his ultimate goal like save his father, win the princess, kill the monster and can express that vision in a compelling and inclusive way, especially to those whose help he needs to achieve it. He can hold to that vision and share it clearly even when others lose sight of it, believe it’s impossible, or ridicule him for trying. He is farsighted.
Moreover, the leader-in-training doesn’t just go through the motions. He is deeply committed to his quest, with his every action is directed toward achieving it. Nothing dissuades him, even the inevitable setbacks and disappointments attendant on any quest. He may not be loud about it, but is relentless. He is passionate.
Throughout the story, he is confronted with difficult situations. He may be afraid and lonely; he may feel like running away, longing for the comfort and safety of home. He often faces situations that are particularly trying for him personally. But he doesn’t turn aside; he doesn’t unlike his brothers or others who attempt the same journey make the safe and easy choices. He doesn’t wimp out and takes the path of least resistance. He is courageous.
He’s not a cardboard action hero, though. His brain is tested, and he must be able to learn from his mistakes. In many versions of the story, he doesn’t initially follow the advice given to him “don’t look back”; “don’t let go”; “don’t touch this or that on your way out” and his mistakes create more complexity and danger. The next time a similar situation arises, though, he behaves differently and succeeds at his task. He doesn’t deny or whine or blame; he improves. He also often comes up with clever solutions to seemingly insoluble problems. Finally, he uses his powers of discrimination to think through difficult choices and arrive at the best and most moral solution, for example, long-term happiness versus current riches; the greater good versus pure self-interest. He is thoughtful, appropriately humble, clear-headed, and curious. He is wise.
Along the way, the future leader meets people or creatures in need, and he helps them or shares with them. He does so even though his own supplies are low; even though helping them takes him out of his way or slows him down. In some versions of the story, he has to sacrifice his life for those he loves or to whom he owes his loyalty and this always turns out okay in the end and later, when he is king, his people are prosperous and happy because he rules with an open hand. The leader is not stingy, miserly or selfish. He is generous.
Finally, and perhaps most important, his word is his bond. If he tells his dying father that he will find the magic potion to cure him, you know that he will. If he tells the princess that he will come back to marry her, she can send out the invitations. When some creature says to him, “If I help you, boy, you must free me,” you know the creature is as good as free. The hero does not equivocate or exaggerate. He is trustworthy.
This tale survives and thrives in almost infinite permutations because it is satisfying; it feels right to us. We are hardwired to expect our chieftains to be farsighted, passionate, courageous, wise, generous, and trustworthy. If we don’t see these qualities clearly demonstrated, we won’t follow at all; it is dangerous to do so.
I’m not going to take the approach some of the bloggers have of writing a letter of advice to my younger self, because I’d have ignored it the same as I ignored sound advice from parents, family and friends when I was growing up. I simply wasn’t ready for anybody to tell me anything of value much before I got into my 20s, I was too busy being a realist pessimist and telling anybody prepared to listen how hard life was. So for what it’s worth this is my advice to you, rather than a younger me. The sheer fact that you’re reading here means you are far more open to it than I would have been 10 years ago.
The whole gratitude thing has been done to death over the last few years and there’s an absolutely brilliant reason for that. It’s because gratitude is one of, if not the, most powerful and empowering states for you to be in. It’s impossible to be in a state of genuine gratitude and be feeling depressed. You cannot feel grateful and be anxious at the same time, and a sense of gratitude will kick the ass of a victim mindset until the cows come home. There is an abundance of scientific research that demonstrates the power of gratitude. Grateful people are healthier, happier and live longer than people who think their lot in life sucks. Read that again. Grateful people are healthier, happier and live longer than people who think their lot in life sucks. That’s pretty powerful stuff I think you’ll agree and if that isn’t a good enough reason for you to focus on what’s right in your life, then I suspect you’ll never have one.
Regrets serve no purpose, none whatsoever. Unless that is, you enjoying feeling miserable because that’s about the only thing they are guaranteed to accomplish. With the benefit of hindsight we all have things from the past that we would do differently if we had our time again. We’ve all looked back incredulously at some poor decision and thought, “What the hell was I thinking of?” The reality is every decision you make and action you undertake you do so with the best intentions at that particular moment in time. Unfortunately though, best intentions are not always enough and if you are short on information, in the wrong frame of mind, sick, angry or just blind drunk, you are less likely to make great decisions. However, as long as you learn from your errors you can use that information to avoid repeating your mistakes you can move through your life without the millstone of regret on your shoulders.
We all have crap to deal with in our life no matter who we are. Yes we can look at other people and think they have life figured out better than we do, but it’s often not the case, it just seems that way. Even in your darkest hour there are millions of people going through similar and often worse situations. I say that not to belittle your issue, but as a way of saying we’re all in this together and you’re not alone. Every thought you have and conversation you take place is a communication with yourself. It’s impossible for it not to be. Therefore, every negative thought you have helps build up a pattern of negative thoughts. Every time you tell yourself you’re not good enough, rich enough, intelligent enough, attractive enough you cement that belief, so don’t do it!
A couple of months ago, I said to one of my patients something along the lines of “Look, you can either do this or not do it, it’s up to you. In any event you’ll be dead in less than a hundred years so in the great scheme of things it doesn’t really matter.” This didn’t work quite as well as I had imagined as the lady promptly burst into tears. I never found out for sure whether I had just delivered the biggest spoiler ever, and she previously had no idea the icy hand of death is awaiting her, or if she just liked to live in denial and presume it’s possible to put everything off for as long as possible. Hopefully, you’ll be inspired rather than deflated by knowing you’ll be dead in 100 years because it gives you something to work to. Imagine the procrastination possibilities if we all lived for a thousand years. That eating healthy regime really could go on hold, and not until just after Christmas either, you could put it off for a century or two. Death gives us an opportunity to live a life of purpose and meaning. It isn’t the enemy it’s made out to be even though few of us would rush to cuddle the Grim Reaper. Many people wait until they start to approach middle-age before they evaluate their life. The gradual realization that they’re probably past the half way mark and they’re still in a job they don’t like, a house they can’t afford and with a partner that doesn’t understand them, can be a sobering experience. Today is the best day ever for you decide what is really, really, really important to you and then going and doing it.