Brahma Viharas for Activists

A couple of years ago I wrote about the Brahma Viharas (aka the Four Divine Abodes, aka the Four Immeasurables) and their Near Enemies. If you’ve never heard of these concepts, I highly recommend that post as a more thorough introduction and overview of what they’re all about.

If you’re already somewhat familiar with them, here’s a quick table outlining the Brahma Viharas and their Near Enemies, the latter representing what can happen when we get a bit self-centered vs focusing on others, even if we start out coming from a good place. This table also shows the Antidotes, or the Brahma Vihara we might want to bring into our practice if one of the Near Enemies starts to take over.

Brahma ViharaNear EnemyAntidote
Metta / LovingkindnessAttachment to a person or a particular outcomeKaruna
Karuna / CompassionGrief, overwhelm, or despairMudita
Mudita / Sympathetic JoyIntoxication with someone else’s good fortune, choices, or life pathUpekkha
Upekkha / EquanimityIndifference or apathyMetta

And here’s diagram I created to show the same thing, highlighting in a more visual fashion the interplay between each of the Brahma Viharas… noting also the dynamic between interdependence / care / connectedness (toward the outside edge of the diagram) and self-centeredness / ego-clinging (toward the inside of the diagram):

I created another, more personal version of the same diagram after realizing how regularly I cycle through this exact pattern when it comes to social justice issues:

In my better moments, I find myself at the top right in the land of Metta: filled with a sense of kindness that emanates outward to all beings, omitting none.

But often, particularly when I’m faced with news of the latest injustice — someone has been attacked because of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation, for instance, or I perceive some community I’m a part of as not being as inclusive as they could be, for instance — my sense of lovingkindness starts to decay into Metta’s Near Enemy. I can become quite attached to views about how people SHOULD behave, how they SHOULD treat each other, how justice SHOULD be enacted, etc.

According to this system, that’s when I need to bring in the next Brahma Vihara: Karuna, or Compassion. Not only for the beings that I perceive as being oppressed and marginalized, as I mention in this diagram, but also for their oppressors, or the people who are behaving in less-than-inclusive ways, whether due to hatred or just plain old ignorance.

Continue reading “Brahma Viharas for Activists”

If your heart is breaking, I hope it’s breaking OPEN

A friend-of-a-friend sent this to a friend of mine (Ashley!), who sent this to me, and now I send it to you, and maybe you’ll send it on again, and we’ll all Keep Going:

What a beautiful example of Lovingkindness, and Compassion, and Mudita, aka JOY!

And of transferring merits, don’t they show so vulnerably how one’s own practice can become a beacon and an inspiration and an invitation to open to your own experience, and that of others?! Check out how many people wrote in the comments that watching this video is what finally allowed them to cry.

May I somehow manage to cultivate a bit of the beautiful, generous, connected energy they share, especially in the section from 1:37 – 2:30. And her eyes-closed, centering BREATH at 1:53! _/|\_

I hope my rage, I pray that my rage is a fire
That clears my mind out
And makes me ready to listen
I pray my pain is a river
That flows to the ocean
That connects my pain to yours
And I pray, I pray my happiness is like pollen
That flies to you and pollinates your joy
Oh boy!
Oh boy, is that possible?!
I don’t know, I don’t know
We are making this up as we go
We have to make it up as we go

Like Rechungpa, I have a lot to learn

Apparently I need to read this book, ha:

Rechungpa is a promising disciple, but he has a lot to learn, being sometimes proud, distracted, anxious, desirous of comfort and praise, over-attached to book learning, stubborn, sulky and liable to go to extremes.

Source

Lauren Ruth Ward channels some serious Vajrapani energy

I’ve been studying up on Vajrapani, wielder of the thunderbolt, protector from fear of unknown places. He’s got a wrathful side. Look at his mudra! \m/ He’s ready to burn it all down; all the delusion and hatred, that is.

Lauren Ruth Ward channels this energy perfectly in this Jam in the Van performance:

Even the lyrics are spot on, complete with poison, pride, and a fight to lead with one’s heart. Om Vajrapani Hum!

Valhalla by Lauren Ruth Ward

You’ve got beauty coming out your ears
Aw, must make it hard for you to hear
Give me the wheel
And I will take you off course
I’ll put your money on the speckled horse
I’ll put your money on the speckled horse

Communication is the only ointment
(But) You give me poison
You give me poison

They’ll memorize my name on the list
At the door at Valhalla
I’ll tell them how I died
In the battle of Madonna
Some will scratch their balls
And wonder how I conquered
Befriend the male gaze
Make my own money
Forming my own phase

I ate shit on the walk of fame
Yeah, I tripped looking down looking for my name
I saw the L saw the A saw the U
Saw the aRe you gonna gonna make it thru?
You can’t take tomorrow
Won’t fake today
When are you going to make
A name?

They’ll memorize my name on the list
At the door at Valhalla
I’ll tell them how I died
In the battle of Madonna
Some will scratch their balls
And wonder how I conquered
Befriend the male gaze
Make my own money
Forming my own phase

It’s a sleepy time
For the ones who choose their hearts
One of a kind, bedroom eyed
Pair of dice
Take my hand you will understand
My side
Be my friend
Woman or man
We will fight

They’ll memorize my name on the list
At the door at Valhalla I’ll tell them how I died
In the battle of Madonna
Some will scratch their balls
And wonder how I conquered
Befriend the male gaze
Make my own money
Forming my own phase

How did she do it?
How did she do it?
How did she do it?
They all will ask

Calling on Akshobya: a Puja for people experiencing anger

As someone who experiences anger and indignation quite strongly, I’ve been digging around for Buddhist approaches to handling these challenging emotions. Of all the Buddhas in Triratna’s mandala, it seems that Akshobya is the appropriate one to call upon at such times… though I can’t think of a time when Imperturbability or Mirror-like Wisdom would NOT come in handy!

Ever since discovering Saccanama’s Puja to Akshobya I’ve been wanting to arrange it into a printed booklet, complete with images and all the refuges and precepts intact and an appropriate reading, etc. Voilà!

If you send this pdf to Warehouse Stationery or some other printer, they know how to organize things such that it works out properly when printed on A4 paper, folded and stapled into a 20-page booklet.

If anyone is interested, I can probably figure out how to organize the pages so that it works if you’re printing it from home? Contact me and we’ll get it sorted 🙂

Generosity and the giving of time: a talk for Buddhist Action Month

As part of our Buddhist Action Month series on Generosity, this week I gave this talk on Generosity and the giving of time.

The official description from the Auckland Buddhist Centre’s website is below (thanks Mary Anna for writing these up!)… but it actually ended up shifting into something a bit more esoteric once I started pondering: what even IS time?!

A finger is sometimes pointed at Buddhism accusing its practitioners of sitting on their cushions, wishing everything to be well and happy but not actually doing anything practical to achieve it. Yet in Buddhism the Bodhisattva ideal exists, where Buddhists dedicate their lives to the alleviation of suffering of all, and tirelessly dedicate themselves to this task.

In this spirit Buddhist Action Month (BAM) was born. Buddhists commit to taking action in areas of concern, usually around the degradation of the environment or issues around poverty and other social concerns.

Most of us have intentions to act with care for the environment and a desire to help those less fortunate. However, many things seem to get int the way of translating this intention into action. For some, feelings of scarcity and lack shrink their perception of the resources they have available to offer. Others are overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness or dissuaded by feelings of hypocrisy from giving their resources to a cause.

This is where the “Perfection of Generosity” – one of the practices of the Bodhisattva, serves us well. Generosity is an act of love, and out of love comes the spaciousness, energy and resources to act. Generosity connects us and imbues our lives with wellbeing and meaning. Generosity provides the resources to act in any situation, so that we take action not only in Buddhist action month, but we live Buddhist action lives.

Over the month of June, we will cover the following themes:

  • evoking Ratnasambhava and the spirit of generosity
    • giving money
    • giving time
    • giving to the care of the environment
    • how generosity makes us happier, creates more meaningful lives and the science that supports this idea

29 June – Elizabeth U – generosity and the giving of time

Elizabeth gives her time to many unpaid causes. She will talk about the factors that enable her to give her time for free and for the service of others. She will speak to the busy-ness of our lives, how we need to evaluate how we spend our time and what makes time well spent. She will also touch on time scarcity and the perception of “enoughness.” She will explain why we need to make space for generosity in our lives and how we can do that.

For Nothing is Fixed: podcast and poems

“Fixed” as in: permanent / unmoving / unchanging;
“Fixed” as in: repaired, made whole.

On this theme I present this timely and provocative conversation between Viveka and Paramananda. So much of what Viveka says (and not just in this podcast!) resonates with my experience, in particular:

Just because we’re physically together doesn’t mean we’re vibing together… Just recognizing that when we’re physically together doesn’t mean that all bodies are able to be there in the same way has been a huge teaching for me.

and:

How can we actually co-create a space that everyone is genuinely able to be welcome with others, to be welcoming others? …There’s something about the beautifulness of our differentiation where we can actually welcome each other fully.

Their conversation takes as its springboard this poem by James Baldwin, which Paramananda recites beautifully (and from memory!) at 4:40:

For Nothing Is Fixed
by James Baldwin

For nothing is fixed,
forever, forever, forever,
it is not fixed;
the earth is always shifting,
the light is always changing,
the sea does not cease to grind down rock.
Generations do not cease to be born,
and we are responsible to them
because we are the only witnesses they have.
The sea rises, the light fails,
lovers cling to each other,
and children cling to us.
The moment we cease to hold each other,
the moment we break faith with one another,
the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.

***

Here’s another excerpt of a poem, which I heard for the first time this afternoon. Apparently it is stenciled on the streets of Salem, Massachussetts in such a way that it is only visible when it rains, and I wish I could find the poem in its entirety:

Prema-Bangera-TheArtofHealing

All around the globe, Right Now, people are busy filling in the cracks of our world with gold, and I’m deeply inspired.

Both / And: on the experience of existing as woman of color in the Triratna Buddhist movement

The world today is very different from that in which Buddhism originated and flourished…
The challenge Buddhists face today is to find ways of communicating and practising the Dharma that are truly effective in these new circumstances. The situation seems to call for renewal in the Buddhist world, faithful to the Buddha’s own teaching, yet addressing the circumstances we find ourselves in now.

Those are the words of Subhuti, excerpted from his 2012 publication, A Buddhist Manifesto: the Principles of the Triratna Buddhist Community, written at Sangharakshita’s encouragement as a way to spread the latter’s Buddhist principles “to other Buddhists worldwide.”

And.

A problem of the dharma today is that it has become so limited. It has become constricted inside of a kind of fear. We want to maintain control of it, so we resist it evolving as it always has…

…we miss the opportunity before us to liberate ourselves from the obscurations that keep us from knowing who we are, from knowing each other, from knowing that our birthright is exactly love.

Obscuring the path of liberation for us all, simply put, is race. And when I say race, I mean race and ethnicity and heritage and skin color and all of those things that we have conflated into it for hundreds of years.

Those are the words of Rev. angel Kyodo williams, a self-described Black, mixed-raced woman Zen priest, from a recent article, Your Liberation is On the Line.

***

I found this image on the website of an international retreat for women “like me” who are training for Ordination into the Triratna Buddhist Order. [Source]

I am currently training for Ordination in the Triratna Buddhist tradition. After years of of studying with a number of Tibetan Buddhist teachers in India, Sangharakshita, a man who was brilliant and British, insightful and white, brought his unique vision of the Dharma [= teachings of the Buddha] back to England. From there, this vision has spread throughout the so-called “Western” world and beyond.

The Buddhist movement Sangharakshita founded is the Triratna that I first encountered at the Auckland Buddhist Centre, after a decade+ of intermittent Buddhist study and practice. I may just as likely have encountered it at the San Francisco Buddhist Centre, or any of the dozens of Triratna Buddhist Centres located around the world.

I am deeply grateful for the clarity and accessibility of the Triratna teachings, and even more so for the beautiful Sangha [=spiritual community] that makes the Triratna movement so unique amongst all the other Buddhist disciplines.

And.

I struggle daily with several intersectional aspects of Triratna’s culture, as it manifests at the more-distributed-than-centralized global and local levels. The movement’s history stings of appropriation, colonialism, and patriarchy. Formal Dharma study groups and people training for ordination are separated by gender, with no formal support for people who do not identify as “male” or “female.” At my local Centre, it’s a lot easier to join a study group if you identify as a man, but many women wait months, and must make formal commitments, before being assigned to a group.

There doesn’t seem to be an accepted path to Ordination for parents of young children or people who otherwise don’t have the ability to attend retreats for long periods of time. The retreat Centres we use are not accessible for people with limited mobility, which means that many of our older Sangha members, and those who use walkers or wheelchairs, cannot attend.

There is quite an openness to the queer community. On the male side of the gender divide, that openness has bordered on (crossed into?) concerning abuses of power over the course of Triratna’s history. All but one of the authors whose work is disseminated by the publishing company associated with Triratna appear to be male, though it’s possible I’ve missed someone.

There is subtle scorn (or it simple racism?) directed at “cultural” Buddhists, a term used for those who were born into the tradition without having actively chosen to practice its teachings. The one female author I mentioned earlier also happens to be the only person of color I am aware of amongst their list of authors.

***

Triratna is my spiritual home. The more I learn about Sangharakshita’s history, the lineage of his teachings, and the beautiful and diverse people who are the embodied continuation of that lineage, the more comfortable I become with the late founder of this movement.

And.

I would like to keep my eyes wide open to the suffering that follows from the many issues I mentioned above.

***

I study, first and foremost, as I am encouraged to do, the Dharma as taught by Triratna teachers. Fortunately for all of us, there are far more recorded talks and videos from Triratna Order members of color than there are written works. I am deeply honored to be able to learn from teachers as insightful and skilled and experienced in the importance of diversity and inclusion work as Vimalasara and Viveka.

And.

To keep my cup full, I regularly seek out diverse Buddhist teachings from people who practice in traditions other than the Triratna community. There is so much amazing anti-racist work happening in the Insight Buddhist Community in North America that Buddhist of any affiliation can learn from, for instance. I share these resources in the hope that we all can benefit from — and see ourselves in — the many facets of the dazzling Dharma jewel.

***

To the extent that I have the energy — it takes a lot of emotional labor! — I am committed to actively working with my local Sangha to build a more inclusive approach to sharing the Dharma. This includes regularly engaging with my friends and teachers and Order members and fellow students in designing new ways to communicate with and learn from each other. It includes doing my best to stay engaged, even when it seems as though my concerns are being minimized or dismissed. I try to model the inclusive behavior I would like to see.

And.

I regularly slide into anger, into indignation. I skip right over “the gap” [between feeling and wanting something to be different] more often than I can keep track of. I wonder how regularly I break the precepts that pertain to kindness, generosity, and mindfulness. I am overcome with feelings of Hrī [=remorse] when I reflect on the impact of my unskillful actions. I know that my tone has many times resulted in people feeling shut down or minimised themselves. The cycle of samskara [=habitual tendencies] continues.

***

I try to remember that all things arise based on conditions. I work to include in my compassion all the people who “aren’t racist” but who do not yet fully understand their privilege or the impact of their behavior on others less privileged… which I do not believe is their fault; rather, I see it as a function of their own conditioning.

And.

I say the name of George Floyd aloud, and remind us about the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, lest we carry on with our Dharma activities as if this moment of great suffering were not happening. Yes, all beings experience suffering. And we need to be clear that suffering is happening in a very specific way — murder, often at the hands of police! — for Black people right now. And that this suffering is related to the suffering of Māori at the hands of the NZ police, and the suffering of indigenous people around the world. And that this suffering is related to the climate crisis. And that our liberation is tied up in the liberation of Black people in the US, whether we choose to look at those connections or not.

***

This represents what is most alive in me today; tomorrow, I might say something completely different. May we all stay open to the possibility of holding multiple perspectives at once. That is, after all, the promise of liberation — of Enlightenment! — that inspires my practice.

Compassion for all beings is compassion in action: Viveka on The Buddha as Social Revolutionary

Lately I’ve been wondering if my belief that I’m acting on behalf of other beings is actually a form of delusional spiritual bypassing.

How can we balance the energy needed to do our own work to address our own delusions, and the energy and work to support the liberation of all beings?

I posed the question above to Viveka during a talk she gave on The Buddha as Social Revolutionary; a month later, I feel even more strongly that we Buddhists could muster a bit more socially-engaged energy while we also use the tools for our own comfort and self care.

Check out her fantastic answer at 45:25 (thank you Viveka ❤ ) or for even more inspiration, watch the entire talk! It starts at 10:07 in this recording and continues for an hour:

Reflections on Death and Impermanence: a talk for the Four Reminders series

Last Monday for the Auckland Buddhist Centre’s online Dharma Night I gave this talk, Reflecting on death and impermanence, as part of our series on the Four Reminders.

Here’s the official description from the Auckland Buddhist Centre’s website (with thanks Mary Anna for writing these up):

At this time we are facing dramatic and unexpected loss: loss of certainty, loss of income, even loss of life, maybe even our own. All of this creates huge anxiety in the face of overwhelming change and uncertainty.

It is at this time that our spiritual practice will enable us to ride the waves of change and find peace despite our circumstances, if we are prepared to apply ourselves diligently to the task.

The purpose of the ‘Four Reminders’ is to help establish the kind of psychological climate in which we will be motivated to enter a path of spiritual practice.

The subjects of the four reflections which we will be exploring over the course of these talks are:

the precious opportunity offered by human life;
death and impermanence;
karma, or the fact that actions have consequences;
and the reality of suffering.

These might be called ‘the facts of life’ in the Buddhist perspective. They are wake-up calls, jolts to our complacency, articulations of the troubling voice of reality as it speaks through our immediate experience. As we go through them, we are saying to ourselves, ‘Remember, reflect, wake up to the truth.’

11 May
Death and impermanence with Elizabeth U
‘Ready or not, one day I shall die’, so go the words of the morning puja. It’s a thing we all know intellectually, but how does knowing it emotionally change how we live the life we have now?