Wavelessness

Zhao De wrote, “If water is still enough, everything is reflected clearly.  If mind is calm, then wisdom grows.”

A key goal in the practice of Buddhist meditation is to develop a calm mind.  We call the practice mindfulness but mindfulness is also a state of mind.  And calmness does not mean absolute stillness.  There is movement in calmness.  According to the T’ai Shang Ch’ing-ching Ching (“Cultivating Stillness”), a text attributed to Lao Tzu, “Movement is the foundation of stillness.”

Sometimes we engage in metaphor:  Still water is our mind.  The stillness of the water is disturbed when the wind blows and makes waves.  Waves are our sufferings.  The nature of water is stillness, while the nature of waves is movement.

When we gaze upon a calm sea, we see that the surface is tranquil, smooth, waveless.  Because there is no surface movement to distort the reflection, in still water we see a clear reflection of things as they are.  A calm mind reflects the world without distortion.  In addition, this mind does not try to seize and cling to everything it sees, and when there are waves, it is not smashed by their impact.

You know the theory:  If a person’s mind is profoundly still, he or she becomes aware of their true nature and the real aspect of things.  Like still water, when the mind is calm it sends back a clear image of the non-duality of the world, and we discover that a wave is not separate from water; it is water, in movement.  It’s a rather obvious conclusion but remember water and waves are metaphors.

In meditation practice, to develop this non-dual realization fully, we consider the mind to be water and sufferings as waves, and we meditate to become waveless.

Being present in the moment, mindfulness is wavelessness.

Being aware, of course, that movement is also present.

A certain sage from Texas maintains that “Still is still moving to me.”

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Principles for Leadership

Etre harcelee par la presse is a French expression that means “to be hounded by the press.” That’s what has been happening with me the past several weeks. The news media won’t leave me alone. They all want to know who I am endorsing in the 2016 Presidential election. To get them off my back, I have decided to reveal the candidate I will support:

No one.

I don’t think I have been so underwhelmed by a crowd of contenders before.

I would love to see a woman president, but to be honest, I have had enough of the Clintons to last a couple of lifetimes. And if you think Obama was one of modern history’s most polarizing presidents, just wait until Hilary wins . . . man, oh, man.

I agree with most of what Bernie Sanders has to say, but I can’t help but feel that anyone who identifies himself as a socialist has little hope of winning a general election in 2016. Besides, Bernie comes off as kind of grouchy and we have enough of that with the GOP (Grouchy Obstructionist Party).

Speaking of which, with the bag of mixed nuts the GOP is serving up this year, the grip on reality has never been looser.

In Chapter 66 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says, “If a sound person wishes to become the leader of the people, that person first displays humility before them.”

Lao Tzu’s work contains many other timeless principles for leadership. There are countless seminars and courses, and a multitude of books devoted to distilling lessons from the Tao Te Ching on this subject, as well as daily life. Fortune 500 corporations, including IBM, Mitsubishi, and Prudential, have long used the book as a management/leadership training text.  Our politicians should take a look at it.

I don’t recall where I ran across this but it’s a nice compilation Lao Tzu’s essential leadership teachings:

Lao Tzu’s Principles for Leadership

lao-tzu-2016bThe best leaders are those whose presence is barely known by others.

Leaders value their words highly and use them sparingly.

Because a leader has faith in others, then others have faith in his or her leadership.

When a leader’s work is done, others will say: we did it ourselves.

Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish. Do not overdo it.

To lead people, walk beside them.

Love people and lead without cunning or manipulation.

The ancient leaders who followed the Tao did not give people elaborate strategies, but held to a simple practice. It is hard to lead while trying to be clever. Too much cleverness undermines the people’s harmony. Those who lead without such strategies bring benefit to all.

By being lower, rivers and seas are able to receive the homage and tribute of all the valley streams, thus they rule over them all.  Therefore, it is a wise leader, wishing to be above the people, who by his words puts himself below them, and, wishing to be before them, follows them.

Leaders go first by putting themselves last. It is from their selflessness that they are able to fulfill themselves.

It is good to empower people, so that no one is wasted.

The best leaders are effective because they do not try to seize power. They are effective because they are not conceited, proud or arrogant.

The wise keep their word and do not pressure others.

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Not Knowing

In Buddhism, we say that the root of sufferings is our fundamental ignorance or avidya, a fundamentally flawed way of viewing the world, as I wrote in the last post, not knowing the true nature of reality.

There is a flip side to “not knowing” and that is the wisdom of knowing that you know nothing. Both Zen Buddhism and Taoism place a great deal of emphasis on the value of not knowing.

There’s the famous Zen story about the student who asked a teacher, “What is the essence of Buddha-dharma?” The teacher replied, “Not attaining, not knowing.”

The Taoist sage, Lao Tzu wrote in Chapter 71 of the Tao Te Ching, “It is beneficial to know nothing. Pretending to know is a disease.”

schultzNot-knowing is not the exclusive providence of Eastern philosophy, even Western philosophers such as Rudolph Steiner have weighed in on the subject. He once said, “You are right to think you know nothing; but this is not because you are incapable but because the whole world is unable to know anything.” *

I can’t speak for Steiner but as far as Buddhism and Taoism are concerned, the purpose of a teaching like not knowing is to help us unlearn, for developing wisdom is partially a process of disabusing ourselves from the many false notions we have held all our lives. It’s letting go of our preconceived ideas and awakening to a more natural and direct understanding of how things are. Lao Tzu called this “illumination” (Ch. ming).

Of course, there is always some wiseacre who comes along, like the Tang dynasty poet Po Chu-i:

“Those who speak don’t know,
Those who know don’t speak.”
It is said that these words
Were written by Lao Tzu.
Now, if we are to accept
That Lao Tzu was one who knew,
Then why did he compose a book
Of five thousand words?

– – – – – – – – – –

* Rudolf Steiner, From Beetroot to Buddhism: Answers to Questions : Sixteen Discussions with Workers at the Goetheanum in Dornach Between 1 March and 25 June 1924, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999, 188

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Problems and Benefits

That ‘Old Philosopher’ and poet of Ancient China, Lao Tzu said, “The acceptable and the unacceptable are both acceptable.”

This means to take life as it is. Sounds simple. Well, it is easy to accept the acceptable, but to accept what is unacceptable seems counter-intuitive to normal way of thinking. What is unacceptable is undesirable, unsatisfactory, intolerable, unreasonable – why would we want to embrace that?

If we look at it from a psychological point of view, it is important to be in touch with our negativity. We cannot overcome anger, sadness or other bad feelings unless we deal with them. Buddhism teaches that suffering comes from our thoughts and feelings, so it seems rather obvious that denial is not a strategy we want to employ. We can expand this to cover just about everything else in life.

Early Buddhists developed a meditation practice designed to help us accept the unacceptable. It is called Kammatthana, a Pali word that means “basis of meditation” or “place of work”. These are meditation subjects suited to individual temperaments and inclinations.

Buddhaghosa, in his epic meditation text Visuddhi-magga (“Path of Purification”) listed 40 kammatthanas, and they range from subjects such as the non-existence of a permanent self and the idea of friendliness to some really unacceptable ones like the impurity and wretchedness of life and a the idea of a corpse in a state of decomposition.

Buddhaghosa wrote, “When the mind is familiar with the perception of foulness, then even divine objects do not tempt a person to greed.”

I have never meditated on the idea of a rotting corpse, and I don’t I ever shall. But I do get the intention behind it.

The first step in accepting the unacceptable is recognizing that to divide things into acceptable and unacceptable, good and bad, and so on, is dualistic thinking. That is not as simple as it sounds, either.  It is difficult to undo thought patterns that are nearly habitual. A way to break down this wall of duality that might be more helpful than corpse contemplation might be to just do away with the idea of unacceptable, tear down the concept of foulness.

To give you an example, one of the most unacceptable things in life is illness. Definitely one of the worst problems we can have. In his book, Ultimate Healing, Lama Zopa Rinpoche advises us that “To transform our problems into happiness, we have to learn to see them as pleasant.”

He goes on to say that to see problems as problems, illness as illness, unacceptable as unacceptable has many disadvantages and that we can turn it around if we meditate on the benefits of problems, which is probably a more difficult notion to hold in the mind than the idea of a corpse.

I don’t think I need to discuss the various ways in which embracing the unacceptable is beneficial. If you open your mind, they will come to you. When it comes to thoughts and emotions, we must be willing to experience even our negative thoughts and emotions fully. We can’t allow ourselves to reject them as invalid. Everything is valid. Whatever arises in our life is acceptable. Take life as it is.

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Watch the Pawking Metaws

At a recent conference in India, the Dalai Lama said, “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parkin’ meters.”

leaders3bNo, wait. Bob Dylan said that, or wrote it rather, in Subterranean Homesick Blues. But what the Dalai Lama did say at the International Conference on Secular Ethics in Nashik, India on Saturday was very similar. According to reports he urged those attending the conference, not to follow any religious leader blindly. “Question,” he said,

Buddha said investigate a thought thoroughly. Study the qualifications of a guru or a leader, meet them, observe till you develop a conviction that what the leader says can be followed.

Know the qualities of a disciple, and as a disciple conduct unbiased investigation; use your intellect and develop enthusiasm to practice what you have accepted and believed. This is the Nalanda tradition and time has come to follow it.”

This is consistent with what the Dalai Lama has been advising for a long time. In my transcript of his teachings on Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland at UCLA in 1997, he told students that when choosing a teacher you should “sniff around so that you can see from both the front and the back,” adding

Then the question is how do we determine what is being taught by a particular teacher is valid of not? And you can only do so by comparing it and relating it to your own understanding of the overview of Buddhist teachings.

It is vitally important for the practitioner to always examine whether what is being taught really accords with the cardinal line set in the basic teachings of Buddhism. If it does not accord with that cardinal line, then it is something to be rejected. This is always the bottom line to be constantly checked against the fundamental tenets of Buddhism.”

Seems like a common sense approach, and yet many people in this world routinely follow leaders blindly. They do and think what they are told without question, without reason, without using any sense at all. I know something about this. I was in a Buddhist organization where unwavering allegiance to and near fanatical devotion for the fearless leader, the President of the organization, was expected on the part of all followers. To question the President’s words or actions was, in my experience, to invite questions about your motives and provoke doubts about your understanding of Buddhism and the quality of your practice.

Once when I did question, I was told by a higher up that I should regard myself as a “disciple of a master, a cub of a lion.” Often the President referred to himself “our father.” But I already have a father.  That wasn’t what I was looking for. To be fair, this organization was attached to a Buddhist sect that maintained that if a person even though the High Priest (of the sect) “is capable of making an error, that person is committing heresy.”

One of the aims of Buddhist practice is the death of the ego, but not in the degree that one becomes so depersonalized, they will give themselves over to a spiritual leader or authority figure and cease thinking for themselves. That stems from looking for something or someone outside our own lives as a source for happiness or enlightenment.

Actually, it is good to have leaders and to follow them, however, in doing so we need to exercise critical judgment, as we have already noted. Good leaders are to be valued highly, for leadership is a crucial function in our society; only we should not put them on too high a pedestal. Now, although we are primarily discussing spiritual leadership here, I feel the guiding principles for all leaders are essentially the same.

Some years ago, I shared some guidelines for leaders taken from the Tao Te Ching and perhaps it would be useful, and of interest, to repost:

Lao Tzu’s Principles for Leadership

The best leaders are those whose presence is barely known by others.

Leaders value their words highly and use them sparingly.

Because a leader has faith in others, then others have faith in his or her leadership.

When a leader’s work is done, others will say: we did it ourselves.

Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish. Do not overdo it.

To lead people, walk beside them.

Love people and lead without cunning or manipulation.

The ancient leaders who followed the Tao did not give people elaborate strategies, but held to a simple practice. It is hard to lead while trying to be clever. Too much cleverness undermines the people’s harmony. Those who lead without such strategies bring benefit to all.

By being lower, rivers and seas are able to receive the homage and tribute of all the valley streams, thus they rule over them all. Therefore, it is a wise leader, wishing to be above the people, who by his words puts himself below them, and, wishing to be before them, follows them.

Leaders go first by putting themselves last. It is from their selflessness that they are able to fulfill themselves.

It is good to empower people, so that no one is wasted.

The best leaders are effective because they do not try to seize power. They are effective because they are not conceited, proud or arrogant.

And, don’t forget: watch the pawking metaws.

The video from D.A. Pennebaker’s 1965 Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back. That’s poet Allen Ginsberg in the background chatting animatedly with Dylan road manager Bob Neuwirth.

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