A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of a prison to us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for only the few people nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.- Einstein -
The last set of phrases in a standard loving kindness practice is "May all beings be safe. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be happy. May all beings live with ease." What is meant by that phrase all beings? Typically the leader of the meditation will imply good wishes to all human beings. Albert Einstein is telling us that we should strive for a sensitivity to include "all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." I think the Buddha would have agreed.
The first version of engaged Buddhism was the revolution called the Mahayana. As I understand the history, Buddha did not explicitly develop a hierarchical lineage system. His followers, however, as competitive and comparing human creatures, had subdivided themselves into multiple competing schools within 300 years after his death. Each of them claimed that their version was truer than the others. Only the Theravada school has preserved a full collection the early texts, although fragments from other schools serve to validate the content of the early teachings. Over time, the schools became more exclusively monastic and mostly male dominated. This was unlike the community during Buddha's lifetime which included both monastics and lay practitioners and both men and women.
The Mahayana developed as an attempt to shift the emphasis away from the focus on the disputes among the monastic communities by returning to the pre-sectarian values of the Buddha with greater emphasis on the practice of kindness and compassion for all beings everywhere. The aspiration to 'save all beings' before their own personal awakening, became the goal of the Mahayanist.
It was the Mahayana interpretation of Buddha's teachings that was spread by enthusiasts into eastern Asia, to Korea and Japan, and later into Tibet. Most of Southeast Asia remained Theravadin but it becomes mixed in areas closer to China and Korea. We find features of both the Theravadin and Mahayana traditions in the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh who is from Viet Nam which sits between China and Southeast Asia.
One of the most rebellious figures in recent India was B. R. Ambedkar (1891-1956). Although born an untouchable, his father worked for the British East India Company and he was allowed to go to school. As a member of the lowest class of citizens in India, he was segregated and given little attention or help by teachers growing up. He managed to pass examinations and became the only untouchable in his high school. He went on to earn graduate degrees from Columbia University in New York and from the University of London. Returning to teach in India, he was popular with the students but other professors objected to his sharing a drinking-water jug with them.
By 1927, at the age of 36, Ambedkar began not to just write about the conditions of untouchables, but to actively resist their mistreatment. He publicly condemned the classic Hindu text, the Manusmriti for ideologically justifying caste discrimination by ceremoniously burning copies of the text. He continued to work for better treatment of the untouchables within the political system of the time and after India's independence from Colonial rule in 1947, he was invited to work on the new constitution. The text provided guarantees and protections for a wide range of civil liberties for individual citizens, including freedom of religion, the abolition of untouchability, and the outlawing of all forms of discrimination. He also argued for extensive economic and social rights for women.
Around 1950, Ambedkar became interested in the egalitarian principles of Buddhism and began to study and eventually wrote a book, The Buddha and His Dhamma which summarized basic tenets of Buddhism in everyday language. By 1956, he and his wife became officially Buddhists by taking traditional refuges and precepts from a Buddhist monk. In a large ceremony, he then proceeded to convert some 500,000 of his supporters. In this way, his supporters challenged the caste system in India. He died later that year but because of his efforts, thousands of untouchables were no longer required by law to view themselves as 'less than.'
Buddha encouraged his followers to think for themselves and not follow leaders just because they are leaders or scriptures because they are scriptures. Instead, he asked his followers to practice, investigate and apply diligence and commitment to their search for ways to avoid suffering. It is no surprise that many social activists in our contemporary society follow Buddha's teachings around kindness and care for others rather than supporting the mainstream culture of greed and competition for resources that leads to conflict, hostility and even violence. In this last week of the Boundless Heart Project, we will take a look at some of the contemporary Buddha-friendly teachers in this tradition who advocate for social justice, racial equity, preservation of natural resources and world peace as expressions of kindness for all beings on the planet. Greed, hatred and delusion are formidable enemies of the heart/mind, inevitably leading to misery.
"All tremble at violence;
All fear death,
Seeing others as being like yourself,
Do not kill or cause others to kill."
Buddha: Dhamapada v. 129
Since the end of World War II, the United Nations and the five permanent members of its Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) have operated under the aim to resolve conflicts without war or declarations of war. There have been many military conflicts since then but many groups and individuals have resisted abandoning this ideal.
Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama are well known contemporary Buddhist figures who have spoken out in support of peace, harmony and taking responsibility for all living beings on the planet. Although they are from very different historical expressions of Buddha's philosophy, they are representative of the Mahayana tradition which took it upon themselves to share the Buddha's teachings with the whole world. Each of their respective traditions presents the teachings in different colored robes, but they preserve the core value of non-violence from the early layer of the teaching.
The Buddha's teachings emphasize that anger and other negative states of mind are the cause of wars and fighting. People can live in peace and harmony only if they cultivate positive emotions such as loving kindness and compassion in themselves. We don't abandon anger by fighting with it, we abandon it by cultivating the opposite emotion which is loving kindness. We investigate and support the conditions that lead to kindness and compassion so that the energy of hate and violence will lose support.
Thich Nhat Hạnh has been credited with coining the term 'engaged Buddhism' which promotes the role of an individual's commitment to personal peace as preliminary to the cultivation of world peace. This article, In Engaged Buddhism, Peace Begins with You reviews the history of the engaged Buddhism movement in an interview with John Malkin of Lion's Roar Magazine.
Thich Nhat Hanh came to the attention of America during the Vietnam War as an advocate for American withdrawal from that war. He later became acquainted with Martin Luther King and spoke against the racial inequity in this country. His popularity as a spiritual teacher is evidenced by his interview with Oprah Winfrey which you can watch here and his visit to speak at Google here.
It would not tell the whole story if we didn't mention his role in popularizing the concept of mindfulness. I read and re-read the first three chapters of his classic presentation of the Satipatthana Sutta in The Miracle of Mindfulness while I was sailing around the world. When I returned to work, I copied those three chapters and shared them frequently as an introduction to the practice. Here is a link to a four minute audio offering from his teaching on walking meditation and here is a seven minute video of him presenting the teaching. If you have never heard him speak, these samples are flavored with his own peace of mind.
Stephen Pinker is a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, linguist, and popular science author who argues that our capacity to reason has resulted in less violence now than at any time in human history. His TED talk can be viewed here. Not everyone finds his optimism compelling, so please also read Robert Wright's criticism here. Robert is an evolutionary psychologist, a talk show host and his detailed and scholarly book The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, gives him the credibility to address these issues. You may want to read his more recent book, Why Buddhism is True, or explore his Tricycle course titled Beyond Tribalism: How Mindfulness Can Save the World. The photo is from a 1 hour and 22 minute discussion on YouTube between Bob and Stephen that you can watch here. Don't get stuck believing either Pinker or Wright too strongly. I am going to wait and see what happens in the next 10 years.
Tomorrow we will explore the Dalai Lama's suggestion that the world's problems can be addressed by a scientific approach, not just a spiritual one.
There are three people I consider giants in in forging the connection between Buddhism and Science, The Dalai Lama, John Kabat-Zinn, and Richie Davidson. These three people have brought science and spirituality onto the same page, and their students and their followers have brought the teachings on Mindfulness or sati, onto the world's stage. I am so excited to share in the education of my local community about these teachings that express the marriage between psychology as a science of human flourishing and the spiritual path of yogis from more than 2,500 years ago, especially as they were presented by the Buddha. As in any marriage, there are inevitable conflicts and each tradition brings its own baggage so we get to apply the teaching to our own practices.
As I mentioned when I talked a bit about the importance of listening skills in relationships like marriages, learning to listen to each other on the world stage is not so easy. Hierarchies just seem to emerge. Academic tenure is awarded based on your place in the publication hierarchy, not on your intellectual ability or ethical character. Even outside of academia, the person with the most books often wins. Buddha has suggested that we avoid following a teacher just because they are the teacher, or following the sacred texts because they are sacred. We are to explore the practices he suggested and see for ourselves which ones serve us well in the long run. Wisdom arises from practice.
In the early teachings, Buddha recommended that we set aside our self-centered comparing mind. That is a very advanced practice on this path because it is counter to some of the oldest forces of evolution. However, we now know that there are also areas of the brain that have evolved to ensure our capacity to connect and belong in groups because humans rely on other humans for survival. To do that we must be kind and compassionate. We are blatant conformers to avoid rejection, although we would deny it to anyone who asked. We have a very sophisticated but not infallible "theory of mind" brain network which gives us the sense that we know what the other person is thinking, and we are often wrong. See research from Michael Schermer or Dan Ariely for more information about how our brains are wired to delude us.
The next problem for humans is to resist the evolutionary forces that drive groups to try to dominate other groups. This is a problem that scientists are just beginning to understand. One line of research explores the complexities of the role of oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, which apparently only makes you love the ones you're with, not the greater humanity. The effects of oxytocin are context dependent, a common theme in all research trying to predict behavior of humans. See the book Behave by Robert Sapolsky. I found this to be a challenging read because predicting human behavior seems more complicated than rocket science.
Another player in this field is Paul Bloom, a Canadian-American psychologist who proposes that the painful emotional feeling we get watching someone suffer is not always a good thing. You can hear him on the topic in this four minute talk. You can also read his book Against Empathy: a Case for Rational Compassion. Although not everyone agrees with the aspiration to have kindness for all life including our enemies, the Buddha was one of the first to argue that all people, not just male monastics, have the capacity for awakening and the capability to see the our common humanity as universal, not just situational. It is in the spirit of kindness for the common humanity of all living beings on the planet; plants, animals, humans, races, ethnic groups, and all genders, that we undertake these more advanced kindness practices.
For more information on the Dalai Lama or the Mind and Life Institute, click the links. The Mind and Life Institute supports research and teaching on the science of human flourishing. The Dalai Lama's interest in science goes back to his childhood. The movie Seven Years in Tibet (1997) starring Brad Pitt is a must see for an up close and personal picture of the curiosity that was such a big part of his early life.
For more information on Richie Davidson or the Center for Healthy Minds, click the links. The motto of the Center for Healthy Minds is "Change Your Mind, Change the World". They are affiliated with the University of Wisconsin in Madison and here is a list of their programming.
Diversity is a much more involved topic than simply making sure you have a balance of genders and racial minorities on your staff. It begins with the diversity of the tiniest plankton and simple life forms like bacteria and algae. There are 250,000 species of plants and approximately two million different species of animals that have been identified on Planet Earth. What this means to me is that there is lot of flexibility in the system. However, according to Wikipedia, "in June 2019, one million species of plants and animals were at risk of extinction. At least 571 species are lost since 1750 but likely many more. The main cause of the extinctions is the destruction of natural habitats by human activities, such as cutting down forests and converting land into fields for farming."
Since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962, some of us have been concerned about the effects of human activities on the diversity of life. It has been many years since I looked at her story but the wake-up call has not been loud enough. In a more recent book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian Yuval Noah Harari, has again brought our attention to the drop in diversity among all species. Our species persists in promoting greed, ill will and the delusion that the planet's resources are infinite and that there will always and forever be more. My late husband, Bill, a student of biology, had studied microorganisms growing in petri dishes and even though they were provided with appropriate nutrition, he used to say "they died in their own s__t." Perhaps we will develop systems to handle our own waste but, in the meantime, it is an act of kindness to the planet to begin cultivating the sense of "enough" so we don't create more unnecessary waste.
Here is a poetic obituary for Joseph Heller (author of Catch 22) from Kurt Vonnegut (author of several books that are still required reading for English Majors.)
True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22’
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!
The third step in Rick Hanson's Neurodharma class which we have been exploring in the Dharma Practice and Discussion Group, is the teaching called Resting in Fullness. He previously covered cultivating steadiness of mind and the warmth of a kind heart. The third step builds a resting state where there is little or no craving or aversion. This teaching takes us back to the first week in this project when we began practicing with kindness for ourselves and is foundational for all the more difficult practices. If we can sit on our cushion and practice with meditative concentration, we can create a security blanket of calm, peace and contentment that will provide the basis for having those experiences in our everyday lives. Here is a link to the guided meditation on peace, contentment and love that Rick leads for this section of the course.
I spent the first 18 years of my life in Fairbanks, Alaska, among the moose raiding the garden for Mom's broccoli and cabbage, thick carpets of moss under the bonsai evergreens stunted by a layer of permafrost just below the moss, icicles hanging from the eaves of the roof for the whole winter, and patterns of hoarfrost on the windows behind thick layers of curtains arranged to keep out the cold. Snow arrived by mid-September and mid-march was mud season. Things are warmer up there now. Everything changes and we don't always like it.
In line with the way in which Buddha's teachings have inspired social and ecological activism, two modern Buddhist teachers have spoken out about climate change. Bikkhu Analayo and Stephen Batchelor. Bhikkhu Analayo is a Theravadin monk, a scholar, and a meditation teacher, now at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Barre, Massachusetts. Although mostly known for his studies of mindfulness in the early texts, e.g. Mindfulness of Breathing: A Practice Guide and Translations, he also has a recent book (2019) titled Mindfully Facing Climate Change. In it, he examines the earliest layers of the Buddha's teachings to help us respond to the challenges of global warming.
Stephen Batchelor, author, teacher, and scholar, has been a monk in both the Tibetan tradition and the Korean Son tradition of Buddhism. After his Korean teacher died, Stephen left the monastic life and got married. He has continued to study and write in partnership with his wife, Martine, a former nun, who also teaches meditation and has authored several books. Stephen's book, After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age, illustrates his lifelong commitment to trying to understand what the Buddha said and what it means in today's secular, scientifically informed, world. Here is a recent piece on climate change from Tricycle Magazine titled Embracing Extinction.
Life as we know it will end and most of us have no idea what comes after we die. Rather than offer a safe place in a heavenly realm, the Buddha teaches us to train our minds to be present with whatever is occurring in this moment as it is, including the reality of sickness, old age and death. Death of our physical bodies is inevitable. One of the practices from the Discourse on Mindfulness (Satipaṭṭhāna: The Direct Path to Realization) suggests that we go to a cemetery to meditate as a way to help us come to terms with impermanence. Below is a cross section of some ways to work with this. Like the practices of kindness for our enemies, these are for more experienced practitioners and if at any time, you find yourself reacting emotionally, simply stop the teaching and find a comforting distracting activity. This is simply self-kindness. When you are at peace with death, you can act with kindness and compassion in the face of it.
▪Bikkhu Analayo offers this teaching on impermanence. It is 40 minutes and partly talk and partly guided meditation.
▪Here is one from a Tibetan Teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. I enjoyed his recent book called In Love with the World: A Monk's Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying
I couldn't resist giving you a poem today as a buffer from the impermanence practice. There are so many great poems that bring the wonder of the natural world into words. Here is one by Mary Oliver.
“How I go to the woods
Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore
I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.”
― Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, _
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make any sense._
We cannot possibly cover all of the complexities of cultural, ethnic and racial diversity thoroughly in a single essay. I will offer a number of links at the end of this note but what I would like to address here is the incredible difficulty we have overriding evolution to minimize our tendencies to compare ourselves with others of any group, with past selves, or with future selves. The tendency to compare, and then construct hierarchies around those comparisons, is our biological heritage but who we make members of 'us' and who we make 'them' is also influenced by culture. An important aspect of minimizing the us/them dichotomy is our ability to take the perspective of others and that requires familiarity. The more familiar we are with individual members of other cultures, the less likely we are to make them 'Them'. As Abraham Lincoln noted, "I don't like that man. I must get to know him better."
In the e-mail for Day 26 of this project, I mentioned the book by Robert Sapolsky called Behave when we were talking about the complexity of evolutionary forces that drive groups to try to dominate each other. The details off us/them processes are discussed in Chapter 11 of the book which I copied and posted on my google drive HERE. You may have to download it into a pdf reader to rotate the pages to be right side up. In the early part of this chapter, Sapolsky presents what he calls a "fiendishly clever" test for measuring automatic biases which was developed by Harvard University. It is called the The Implicit Association Test - (IAT) which you too can take by going to their website if you click on the above link.
If you look at Sapolsky's book, I think you will be surprised at how many systems conspire to maintain the human tendency to create the dichotomy of 'us vs. them'. Knowing how hard it is to avoid the comparing mind, I am inspired to work harder to recognize and modulate my own comparing tendencies. Self-regulation begins with mindfulness. When we find ourselves experiencing ill-will, we begin by practicing acceptance with it long enough to learn what it has to teach. Then we add curiosity, an open process of acceptance of all experience that arises, and we begin to see patterns. Only when we understand something thoroughly, can we begin to try to change it. Then, we can move to the practice of kindness, starting where its easy. If we are grounded in safety and ease, if we focus on gratitude for what is good, and if we take the perspective of common humanity, perhaps we can learn to be a little bit kinder, even to our enemies.
Pema Chodron is one of the most practical and beloved teachers in the west. Her interpretation of ancient texts makes them available to everyone. This is a collection from her dharma talks and below is list of some of the issues she addresses:
▪Using painful emotions to cultivate wisdom, compassion, and courage
▪Communicating so as to encourage others to open up rather than shut down
▪Practices for reversing habitual patterns
▪Methods for working with chaotic situation
▪·Ways for creating effective social action.
Phillip Moffit offers this article titled "Are You the Judging, Comparing, or Fixing Type?" to explore features of our comparing minds. Phillip abandoned a publishing career to create the Life Balance Institute and now teaches vipassana meditation with an emphasis on living the dharma in daily life. Phillip is a co-guiding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center and the author of Emotional Chaos to Clarity and Dancing with Life. The last book was required reading for my Mindful Yoga Teacher Training at Spirit Rock.
Here is a 6 minute visual poem illustrating human diversity.
Allegiance to Life is an interview with environmental activist Joanna Macy in Tricycle Magazine. A collection of her works published as tribute to her 91 years trying to save the world, A Wild Love for the World: Joanna Macy and the Work of Our Time was published this year by Shambala.
From The New York Shambala Center, here is a statement regarding Racism and Racial Justice. There is a list of outside resources halfway down the page.
This quote is best read slowly and aloud.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in its beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me day-blind stars waiting for their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, free. -- Wendell Berry
I want to thank each of you for your practice this month. In some traditions, it would be said that you have accumulated merit. The greatest merit is that which comes to you through your own ability to be calmer, kinder and more skillful in you daily lives. It has only been a month since we started. Let's keep up the good work.
For your next kindness project, I offer you the opportunity to join Bodhi College and Bhavana Community as we present Christina Feldman taking us on a bus tour of the practices of kindness, joy, compassion and equanimity. We will be presenting these teachings through Zoom from 9:30 - 12:00 noon on Saturday and Sunday, October 10th and 11th.
To get more information, you may now go to our website. If you know you want to attend and don't want more information, here is the link to the Bodhi College Registration Page. You will receive an e-mail confirming your registration very shortly. To make payment in US dollars easier for you, we have provided a PayPal option. If you check the PayPal link when you register with Bodhi College, it will show your cost in euros to be 0.00. You may make your payment by clicking the PayPal link here or you may wait to receive the letter of further instructions from them. The Paypal link will also be in that letter. When you arrive at the PayPal link, you will be able to manually enter the fee that is appropriate for you. You may also go to their website description of the class by clicking HERE. If you wish to pay with a check, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for mailing instructions.
This course is also being offered for 5 hours of hands-on credit from Yoga Alliance, the credentialing organization for Yoga Teachers. We are still working on those links. You will go to their site after the program to get your credit.
I was interested to learn from Andrew Olendzki that the word for gratitude, kataññū, in Pali, literally means knowledge or knowing (ññū cf. ñāṇa) what was done (kata), and is used, in particular, as gratitude for one’s parents, knowing what they have done to care for you when you were young. It's puzzling to me that cultivating the experience of gratitude, as it is used today, was not a strong component of the early layer of teachings. Gratitude is certainly offered in later expressions of the path. I will have to ask some more experts on the early teachings. I wonder if the word "Namo" which means "I bow," the root word for Namaste, might be an appropriate way to express gratitude in Pali.
I bow deeply to my main editorial assistant, Sharon Ely, whose artwork you have enjoyed daily as the banner for every e-mail you got. Sharon also proofed most of the e-mails and any errors that got through, probably occurred in ones she didn't get to see. Her cheerful support has been invaluable.
This whole project would not have happened except for the efforts of the whole team from the Monday night Sutta Study group that came up with the idea and then fed me links for articles, poems, quotes and ideas for the newsletters. I thank you all: Carol, Logan, Bill, Louanne, Robin, Kathy (all three of you Kathys), and all the rest of you from Monday night who supported me and this program.
I am grateful to the over 60 of you who participated by reading even a few of the 30 e-mails that were sent out. Thank you for adding your name to this Boundless Heart Project list. Asking for more e-mails in these days is a daring enterprise and reflects your commitment to these teachings. You will all get another e-mail from me tomorrow because it is time for a newsletter to the entire community, but you will not keep getting them every day. If you carefully saved all of the e-mails, please know that the content but not most of the pictures, is available on the website here.
I would also like to acknowledge Tricycle Magazine for their role in making the teachings of all the traditions that emerged from the Buddha's early discourses available to the west. I am personally grateful for both the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies and their Nalanda Program that introduced me to the panorama of the teachings and to Bodhi College for the more depth and understanding of scholarship around the earliest layer of the teachings.