To create a generous life in a crazy world, I suggest a recipe for practice containing three essential ingredients. A skillful balance of these ingredients helps you sustain energy, motivation, positivity, and equanimity even when so many things are falling apart, corrupt, unjust, discouraging, even frightening. It helps you maintain compassion and take responsibility as a citizen of the world without being overwhelmed and disheartened by the scale of the suffering, and helpf you take joy in your precious life without denying or ignoring suffering and injustice.
When we call suffering beings to mind and extend metta, we face reality while centering ourselves in our true self, which is boundless and interdependent with all of life. We recognize the wellbeing of others is not separate from our own wellbeing. This might seem like metta practice would open us up to even more suffering, thereby increasing our own fear and anxiety, but this is not the case. In fact, metta helps us face reality – an absolutely essential part of our Buddhist practice – while aligned with our deeper nature. This alignment results in a sense of plenty – of having resources to share. It results in a sense of strength, because we are centered in our boundless self and have given up our self-centered concern and defensiveness. Metta practice also counteracts our sense of powerlessness in the face of tragedy or difficult circumstances, and awakens our compassionate impulses to help.
Buddhism, as well as many other religions, teach that we should treat each and every human being with respect, regardless of their behavior or off-putting manifestation. What does this really mean? Sometimes people are hateful, manipulative, cruel, selfish, irresponsible, or downright violent and destructive. Surely, in being asked to respect such people, we’re not being asked to ignore or condone their behavior, so how does respect for them actually look? And why is it important to cultivate this unconditional respect?
Buddhism teaches that no matter what happens to us, we always have some degree of choice about how we respond, and what we do next. At those critical, precious moments when your perspective widens and you become more aware of yourself, you can act in accordance with your aspiration to relieve suffering for self and other. This is what practice is: Taking advantage of our moments of choice, which arise countless times throughout the day and night, never losing faith that each of those little choices matter.
Whether you are personally intrigued by the concept of enlightenment or not, it is absolutely central to Buddhism. However, enlightenment – to use a kind of corny phrase – is not what you think. I’ll discuss sudden and gradual experiences of enlightenment, the changes such experiences bring about in us, and why it’s important for all of us to seek enlightenment.
Vow is a central practice in Buddhism, as I’ve discussed before. Vows – alternatively aspirations, intentions, or commitments, formal or informal – are a conscious choice we make about the kind of life we want to live, and the kind of person we want to be. Clarifying the vows we are already living, and the vows we still want to take on, can help give direction and meaning to our lives.
How do we create a strong and sustainable Buddhist practice outside of a monastery? It takes determination, creativity, and flexibility. In some ways practice outside of a monastery is harder. We need to create structure for ourselves and build up good habits, but then the circumstances of our lives change, and our practice has to change. There are many competing demands on our attention and time, so we need to consistently maintain our practice (can’t just “set it and go”). We’re mostly doing this alone, relying on our own self-discipline instead of social support (or even “positive peer pressure”).
The key is giving our practice form, but also accepting that it will change, sometimes constantly; learning to hold it together like clay on a potter’s wheel but recognizing this is a dynamic process.
Many American cities are on fire – literally – as tensions over systemic racism erupt. How do we enact our bodhisattva vows in the face of all of this suffering – caused by racism, the global pandemic, the breakdown of earth’s natural life support systems, and global heating? Our vow is to “save all beings” but – at least in terms of an individual’s goal – is impossible. How do we honor our bodhisattva vow in a vital and authentic way, as opposed to it being a largely irrelevant ideal?
Grief is love in the face of loss; do you want to stop loving in order to stop feeling grief? Of course not. But we also don’t want to be controlled or overwhelmed by it. There are a number of Buddhist practices that can help us as we practice with grief – trying to face it, and making sure we don’t impede our own grief process. What I’ll share in this episode isn’t by any means a developed or exhaustive process of grief work, it’s just a short list of Buddhist practices that can be beneficial.
Grief in Buddhism: What are the teachings about it, and how are we supposed to practice with it? It’s often easy to suppress or bypass our grief. This may leave us stuck in one of the early stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, or depression), or unable to face reality or live with a fully open heart. Unfortunately, some Buddhist teachings may seem to suggest it’s better if we don’t feel grief. I explore the question of grief and how we can practice with it in Buddhism in a fruitful and beneficial way.