A Jew tries #contemplating the #Hell #Realms according to #Tibetan #Buddhism

As some of you know, I’m engaged in a mini-at-home #meditation #retreat in which I am attempting to #contemplate the experiences of beings who inhabit each of the six #Realms according to #Tibetan #Buddhism.

the-6-realms-of-existence-1203257933471246-2-thumbnail-4

I have spent the last two months wending my way through each of the “upper” five and am now on the final, sixth and “lowest” of the Realms, the #Hell #Realm. Problem is, I don’t believe in Hell. This is a very big obstacle to doing this practice.

The first time I ever heard about this cosmology was in a ten-day teaching entitled “The Bodhisattva Peace Training,” conceived of and taught at that time by His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, one of the last authentic meditation masters to have been trained in Tibet before the 1959 Chinese invasion. He and his immediate family successfully fled to India and he eventually made his way to the USA. I met him and attended this teaching in the late 1980s, when he had been in the USA for several years.

I was a skeptic. I was resistant. I was only there because some of the people I most loved and respected in the world were already studying with and living at this main center in northern California and others I knew and respected and cared for were also studying with him while living elsewhere, including the friend who attended this retreat with me. We both came to it from New Hampshire where we both lived at that time. However, she was not at all skeptical or resistant, having met Chagdud Tulku in 1983 and already been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for several years.

Samsaric Wheel 6 realms

I, on the other hand, came under duress. I felt coerced by my friends to “try this out.” But, what they meant was, DO IT. They were so convinced that this was “it” that they had sold everything to follow this teacher and live at this center, which they helped purchase for the community of practitioners, the sangha.

But I, like several others who came to this retreat who were refugees from the explosions that had just been occurring within Chogyam Trungpa’s Colorado sangha, felt more “no” than “yes” about the entire package. I listened, I took notes, I attended, I considered.

Some of what Rinpoche (which is what everyone called Chagdud Tulku because “Rinpoche” means “precious one” and is a Tibetan honorific reserved for well-respected teachers) taught made sense to me. Some of it even touched me deeply, resonated within my heart and echoed in my mind as if meeting old friends.

Then he got to the explanation of the Realms, specifically the Hell Realms, and I just sat there, stunned. The descriptions of the experiences of the beings relegated to living in these conditions for untold eons started with statements about how these beings had been cast into these lowest Realms due to their unfortunate actions, karma, in former lifetimes. Specifically, they must have committed murder, betrayal of high beings, or some other horrific acts to have “earned” this incarnational location.

I could live with the concept of karma just fine. Cause and effect, do this and expect that. It seemed a bit simplistic to me and somewhat castigating or threatening, but it had a kind of logic to it.

You and karma

However, the rest was harder for me to swallow. Impossible, as it turned out. Rinpoche told us that there were many types of Hells and talked in detail about their conditions: freezing, burning, cutting, piercing; being forced to do repetitive, arduous work (think: Sisyphus); having one’s skin flailed off, regrowing it, then having it flailed off again, repeatedly; walking around in as much pain as we would feel if someone were scraping a fingernail on our bare eyeballs. And, more. Any one of these experiences, we were being told, could last for what would feel to these beings like eons, with no hope of reprieve. The best protection was never to land there. Rinpoche admonished us: “Be virtuous.”

I resented this attitude, which assumed that I and other students needed to be motivated by fear in order to be motivated to become a Buddhist practitioner. As a life-long contrary, hearing this kind of talk tended to push me in the opposite direction entirely. Then, Rinpoche got even more specific about the kinds of acts that landed one in a Hell Realm and I became increasingly insulted, even outraged.

At one point, when we were invited to ask questions, I raised my hand and asked something like this: “Do you really expect us to believe that all of this is real? Aren’t these just stories you tell children to frighten them into being ‘good’?” Yes, I was that disrespectful, something I am not proud of at all.

Rinpoche’s translator stared at me as if I had just cursed at him. Rinpoche, however, was tranquil, unperturbed.

NOTE: Rinpoche understood English quite well at this point, but his spoken English was difficult for most of us to understand. Sometimes he had someone who knew both Tibetan and English so that Rinpoche could teach in Tibetan, but this translator was tasked with rephrasing his Tibetan-syntaxed and oddly-accented English into more familiar English structures for the rest of us. She would take copious notes or listen as he spoke, then rephrase what he said whenever he paused for her to do so.

After Rinpoche responded to my questions, her translation went something like this: “Rinpoche says, ‘The Hell Realms are as real as this one. It is just your karma making it so you and most of us do not usually see, hear, or experience Hell Realms’ conditions right now. Consider yourself fortunate. Your karma has provided you with a precious Human birth. Use it wisely.'”

This did not help me one bit. Not then, and not for many years. In fact, I was so turned off by this and other experiences at this retreat and with my practitioner friends that I avoided learning any more about Tibetan Buddhism for eight more years. I would go visit them, but as friends. I would even see Rinpoche, who traveled with one or more of them and came East to New York or Boston a few times during those eight years, but not to learn anything he taught. Just to visit.

When I finally became more open to it (another long story), in 1996, it still took me several more years to understand and accept, even tangentially, all this Realms information. Which brings me to now, twenty-five years after that first exposure to the Hell Realms. I’m still on the fence.

I believe and I don’t believe. I know it’s possible that many types of experiences exist in many dimensions or realms that most of us do not perceive. I just don’t completely accept the entire story of the experiences as depicted in Tibetan books and by Tibetan Buddhist teachers of what these Realms are like.

I’ve struggled with these last two months’ assignments, feeling worse and worse about my lack of confidence in depictions of the experiences of beings in the Realms. I go back and forth between acceptance and rejection of these “facts.”

I can allow that Humans can live hellish lives, or parts of our lives can be hellish. Certainly some illnesses, injuries, chemical weapons or other horrible acts of war bring many types of hell to people and animals subjected to them. Napalm, nerve gas, cancer, amputations and phantom limbs, the D.T.s all fit into these stories perfectly.

31-realms

For now, I’m sticking with that version. I’m just too Jewish or too American or too modern or too stubborn (maybe that’s redundant…) to believe in the Realms as depicted.

I do believe in the lessons they are meant to teach, especially the most important ones: Be grateful to be Human, to have been born (this time, anyway) into a life of relative ease and leisure. Be committed to continue to enact and amass more virtue in my life, both for others’ benefit and for my future karmic outcomes.

I can believe in the importance of gratitude and virtuous behaviors. I have thanked and thank again the late Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (who left that body in 2002) and my current teacher, Lama Padma Drimed Norbu, for putting up with my difficulties and teaching me, anyway. Here are photos of Rinpoche before he left that body and of his new incarnation, and Lama Drimed, below.

Chagdud Rinpoche

Lama Drimed

Meanwhile, I have about a week to contemplate the experiences of Hell, real or imagined. Here I go.

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#Desire Realm Torments and Teases

#Buddhist cosmology puts humans and animals together in what is translated as the #Desire Realm. The Realm I am #contemplating for this phase of my #retreat is The Hungry Ghosts (#Pretas) Realm, which comes “below” these two. Pretas are born into this Realm because of exhibiting strong possessiveness and desire in other lives. So, in all three of these experiences, desire is the culprit.

desire21

However, we can’t function without desire. Our motivations are rooted first in desire, even for the most altruistic intentions, until we are beyond all suffering and desire. Let me know when you achieve that; I haven’t met anyone yet who has. Even His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, speaks of anger and other common emotions that still arise for him. The major difference between someone at his level or close to that and most practitioners are two factors; how long the feeling lasts and what we do in response to it.

Most people, Buddhist practitioners included, get lost for a moment or longer (or forever, if the person has no skills or practice to deter it) in the intense emotions of the present circumstances. We also get lost in emotions from events in the past or while anticipating the future. Every interaction, everything that occurs is an opportunity to remember or forget.

desire defn

The best signs I can hope for in my life due to practice are to experience these emotions less frequently, less intensely and for shorter durations and not to get lost in them. The goal is not the journey. But, part of being in the Desire Realm as a human is to have goals.

What does it mean to “get lost” in emotions? For me, this part of the journey looks like this: when I’m lost, it means I forget about the nondual, oneness truth of all existence. I can’t feel my intention to benefit all beings. I lose track of my ability to feel compassion or to be even a little bit unselfish. I cling completely to the false reality of my tiny physical and ego-ridden self as if “I” am all that matters, or matter the most.

Then, equally importantly, when I do get lost, I am tasked with not condemning myself and not giving up. Learning to accept my failings, have compassion for my forgetting, recognize my humanness and even have a sense of humor about myself. I attempt to take myself more lightly while keeping my goals in mind.

Ruthlessness without condemnation is the key: being honest enough to face my foibles without falling into self-negating, self-deprecating messages. Actually, I’m doing pretty well with this part. I accept who I am at almost 60 years old much better than many people do.

Interestingly, the fact that I do not judge myself as harshly or frequently as others judge me has caused me a few problems. Apparently, misery loves company. Judgers want to see that their judgments have a negative effect. In my experience, when I do not take their derision or evaluations personally, they take offense. They claim I’m not listening, I’m not respecting them. They feel that I’m judging them.

What a strange set of illusions we share! My response to all that self-induced misery for those people is to feel compassion for their being lost and not get lost, myself. For refusing to allow their torment to bother me, I become unpopular.

love-irresistible-desire-irresistibly-desired

Oh, well. Luckily for me I stopped desiring popularity in adolescence. Wish the rest of the adults would grow up.

Until then, torments and teases in the Desire Realm continue and we do our best to ride them out and not make things worse. Join me in gentle humor at oneself and others (but keep your amusement about others to yourself if you want friends!).

Keep on.

Who is YOUR inner “Hungry Ghost”?

http://www.yogachicago.com/mar08/hungryghost.shtml

Amy Weintraub (bio and links, above and below) writes very personally about her own inner “Hungry Ghost,” known as Pretas in #Tibetan #Buddhism, the 5th of the 6 Realms I am contemplating for my home retreat.

I’m just beginning this phase of my #Tibetan #Buddhist, #Nyingma #Vajrayana #retreat and wanted some inspiration. Found it!

Her last paragraph, quoted below, was IT for me. I hope it inspires you, also, in whatever #meditation, #contemplation, or other personal #growth and #recovery practices you are engaged in for your own improvement. Best to you!

Today, I write from the memory of seeing the Hungry Ghost in the mirror. There are times, even now, where I see her everywhere, when any mindless action I take follows the old call-and-response pattern of my life. I thoughtlessly judge someone I love. I reach for a cracker when I’m not hungry. I pour another glass of wine. And behind all these actions, she looms, ready to devour, with that E.T. head and too-thin neck, refusing to see the great blossom of her belly beneath, recklessly craving more. No room for my lungs to take a deep breath. No room for my heart to feel compassion for my life. Over the years that we’ve lived together, I’ve learned two things. When I feed her, I am left ravenous and longing for more. When I embrace her with compassion, the wild yearning is pacified and, together, we have learned to dance. Sometimes, my Hungry Ghost still leads the dance, but more and more, it is compassion that leads the way.

Amy Weintraub, MFA, E-RYT (500), author of Yoga for Depression (Broadway Books) and founding director of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute, leads professional certification trainings in LifeForce Yoga for #Depression and #Anxiety for mental health professionals and #yoga teachers internationally. She is also a senior Kripalu teacher and mentor. Amy is featured on the CD Breathe to Beat the Blues and the first DVD home yoga practice series for mood management, the award-winning LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues. Her bi-monthly newsletter includes current research, news and media reviews on yoga and mental health. To sign up, go to http://www.yogafordepression.com. For more information, visit http://www.yogamind.com or call 773.327.3650. This is from a 2008 post, so not sure if it’s active, still.

Failing Without Failing at #Buddhist practice, part 452.

Last day #contemplating the Animal Realm for my #Buddhist #meditation #retreat

I do not know how to inhabit the mind or body or life of anyone but myself. Not really. I can pretend. I am imagine. I can sympathize. But, do I (or anyone) ever actually empathize, get inside the experience of another being and feel, see, think, sense it the way s/he/it does?

Well, if anyone can do this, I’d like to hear about it. I really can’t.

This part of my #meditation #retreat—#contemplations of the beings of the Six #Realms, as some of you may be following—starts with the “Gods” Realm; moves to the “Demi-Gods” or “Jealous Gods” Realm; then to the Human (I did almost all right with that one…); and now, my last day of the Animal Realm. Tomorrow I start trying to inhabit the “Hungry Ghosts,” or “Pretas” Realm. I end this section of the four-month retreat with the “Hell” Realm(s) (oh, yes; there are more than one of those!). I wasn’t ready to admit failure until the Animal Realm was about to end, so what does that say about my human arrogance, eh?

I just can’t become a squirrel, a dog, a fox, a minnow, an eagle, a spider—anything besides a human—with any credence or authenticity. I can fabricate, because I am a writer and I can use my fantasies to concoct whatever I want. But, actually, am I BEING a cat? NO.

Nor was I able to become a being that would be a deity of any description. I can predict I won’t be able to be a hungry or thirsty ghost nor any being inhabiting one of the many Hell Realms, either.

What keeps me going? Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist practices and meditation exercises in the Vajrayana tradition work even when the practitioner doesn’t understand or know what to do, does it incorrectly or incompletely, and basically messes it up. I know this because that has already happened for me with the preliminary practices (Ngöndro), all of the visualization/deity practices, and the first level of dzogchen (trekchöd). I knew nothing, didn’t even believe it all, didn’t understand most of it and it works, anyway.

What do I mean by “works”? Our main teacher, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, quoting the Buddha, would explain the signs of effective practice something like this: “If you are less angry and more patient, less selfish and more generous, if compassion arises even some of the time within you without effort, your practice is working. Keep going, either way.” People around me and my own assessments agree: my practice is working.

Why do these practices work even when the practitioner is a dolt, like me? Because these are not religious practices. They do not rely on someone’s beliefs to be effective.

Vajrayana practices (and most of Buddhist practices in any school or lineage) are scientific, tried-and-true, proven methods for training and taming one’s mind, opening one’s heart and developing spontaneous compassion, decreasing selfishness and anger, increasing patience and generosity and generally becoming a better, more beneficial person. Whether you like it, believe it, do it absolutely right or not, these practices succeed.

Think of Buddhist practice as medicine: does your belief in the drug or understanding of how it was created or the way it operates in your system really affect whether or not a prescription works? Of course not. You can be unconscious, an infant or demented and medicine still works.

Yes, perhaps everything is more powerful when we do believe, when we are comprehending. Certainly I know that the power of prayer and positive thinking has its place. But, I also know, from personal experience, that one’s inner feelings and doubts don’t really matter when the methods are effective. They just work.

Lucky for me, the only thing I need to contribute is perseverance. That I can do. I can keep going, maintain my commitment, continue the practices and hope for the best outcomes possible to benefit all beings. I am disciplined, if nothing else. Most of the time, that is.

I keep using the methods, taking the medicine. I made vows to do so and I maintain my vows.

Faith helps, for certain. I know that when the practitioner has deep faith in the dharma, the teacher, the practices, things go more smoothly and perhaps more quickly. Without at least some faith, it’s impossible to be motivated enough to maintain discipline. I do have faith in the teachers and the practices.

Pray and hope with me, if that pleases you. Have some faith in whatever you believe in. Continue. Support others to continue.

Thanks. I appreciate it. Onward.

Mayflies, Pumpkin Pies and #Impermanence

Mayflies live their entire adult lives during only a few hours or perhaps up to three earth days. They belong to an entire order of insects, Ephemeroptera, which means lasting a day in Greek.

Adult Mayfly

Pumpkin pies also usually last only a few hours or up to perhaps a couple or three earth days (depending on how many are baked and how many are eating them).

Pumpkin Pie

With these and so many examples of #impermanence surrounding us, how is it that we can be so surprised when someone leaves us through choice, accident or death? We ask, “Why?” as if there would an answer different than this, just for us, just for this occasion: “because everything ends.”

Why are we so caught up in our illusions of continuation that we neglect to recognize the preciousness of each moment, each hour, each day we inhabit these fragile, ephemeral bodies? We meet, greet, hang out with friends, family, colleagues, groups of loved ones and leave without realizing that one or more of us may never see one another again in these bodies, in this lifetime.

I am struck at this time of year especially by how much we take for granted, how many of our days we deny the temporary nature of the license any of us has to go on living. I feel lucky that, as a #Buddhist, I intentionally spend a part of each day in an integral part of my practice reciting and recalling the truth of impermanence. We do this whether we are #Zen, #Theravadan, #Vipassana, #Mayahana, Vajrayana or non-sectarian practitioners.

Impermanence is one of the key concepts we learn as beginning students of #Buddhism and we contemplate it repeatedly: everything is impermanent and bound to die. Everything that exists ends. Everyone who is born dies. Nothing earthly lasts. No one escapes this fate. Relationships, jobs, activities, emotions, diseases, meals, sexual encounters, pleasures and pains of all descriptions eventually end.

I am in a state of melancholy. I am ebullient and filled with hope. I am curious. I am anxious. I love. I fear. I receive. I give. I end.

During my mini-#retreat I begin each day with the Ngöndro, the preliminary practices for #Vajrayana #Nyingma #Tibetan #Buddhist #meditation. These practices themselves begin with “The Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind,” and one of these is the contemplation on impermanence.

The way this contemplation affects me has changed over the the 17 years I’ve done this practice daily. At first, I was resistant, looking for the loophole. Maybe everyone ELSE dies, but I will not. Maybe YOUR relationship, YOUR job, YOUR life ends, but MINE continues. On and on, denial after denial, to the point of absurdity.

At one point, some friends and I joked that one of us was the “designated dier,” meaning, the one we chose would die on all of our behalves so that the rest of us, i.e., we, would not have to die. We volunteered D. He objected, but we prevailed. We kept telling him this for many years. Luckily, he’s still alive, so I do not feel guilty about this. However, I do remember feeling a tremendous sense of relief that the group had not chosen me to be the designated dier; I do feel guilty about that relief.

Regardless of anyone’s guilt or innocence, being chosen or not, D could not take my place or anyone else’s. We all die.

More than many people I know, I have lost friends and relatives to death, starting when I was 7 years old and was with one of my great-grandmothers when she died while getting dressed. Since I didn’t know she had died at the time, I was not afraid, merely puzzled that she would choose to lie back on her bed to take a nap while putting on her stockings.

When I was given to understand that she had died, I realized that I hadn’t been scared because there had been nothing frightening or startling in her death. One minute, she was talking with me (in Yiddish), putting on her clothes. The next minute, she stopped talking, laid back, her stockings in her hands, and was silent, the stockings resting on her body. No clutching at her heart or head, no screams or moans. Just gone.

While the dozens of others who have died around or right in front of me did not go so silently or easily, I still do not find death frightening. Sad, often. Feeling sorrow and compassion for those in pain or suffering, surely. But afraid? No. I often miss the person who dies for many months or years, grieving with great sobs, laughing and reminiscing about those I yearn to see again.

But, I never think: “Oh, why did s/he die?” I know the answer.

We all die.

The best any of us can hope for is to appreciate one another while we are alive. So, this is what I try to do. I tell people I’m grateful. I say “I love you.” I give them what I can of mine: time, stories, gifts, resources, help, support, encouragement. I let them know often, not just when they’re sick or I’m in pain, how much they mean to me.

Many call me “sappy,” or “sentimental.” I prefer to view my actions as realistic. We truly never know when we are going to die, which of our loved ones will die and when, between one visit or encounter and the next. Not knowing this, I treasure each call, each visit, each email, even when I don’t tell them this.

What else can we do? You tell me. Comment here. And, go tell someone you love that you love them. Again.

#Buddhist #Meditation #Retreat part 4: Animal Realm contemplations

Some of you know I’ve been doing an at-home, part-time #Buddhist #meditation #retreat in the #Vajrayana #Nyingma #dzogchen tradition of #Tibetan #Buddhism for about two months and plan to finish on Tibetan New Year (#Losar) on March 2, 2014. This retreat consists of the preliminary practices, or #Rushan, for #T’högal. Some of what I’m learning and doing are only to be discussed with dzogchen teachers or similarly or advanced practitioners, but some I can talk about. I share what I am able and wish to in these blog posts.

This portion’s contemplation and prayers are on beings of the Animal Realm. Of all the 6 #Realms, as Tibetan Buddhists conceive of our shared illusory reality, the Animal Realm is the closest akin to ours, so close that Humans can co-exist consciously with Animals. This means we can readily see, smell, hear, feel, and taste Animals in our everyday existence. For most Humans, our senses are not so easily stimulated by beings of the other Realms.

The first time I heard teachings on the 6 Realms, as I mentioned in a previous post, I thought the teacher was being metaphoric or joking. I was so stuck in my senses’ ordinary experiences that I could not believe the other Realms actually co-exist with ours.

There are some Buddhists who do treat the 6 Realms as a metaphor. These meditators prefer to use these concepts to recognize the ways that humans experience all of the Realms’ conditions while being human rather than believing that there are actual beings living in each of the Realms. I leave it up to you as to how you conceive of the Realms and the beings’ experiences.

For me, it’s more important to contemplate those experiences and generate empathy and compassion for them, regardless of how they occur. The main characteristics that Tibetan Buddhists assign to Animals as distinct from Humans are explained in this way by Barbara O’Brien in her article on the Buddhist Wheel of Life (samsara, in Sanskrit):

“Animal Beings (Tiryakas) are solid, regular and predictable. They cling to what is familiar and are disinterested, even fearful, of anything unfamiliar. The Animal Realm is marked by ignorance and complacency. Animal Beings are stolidly un-curious and are repelled by anything unfamiliar. They go through life seeking comfort and avoiding discomfort. They have no sense of humor. Animal Beings may find contentment, but they easily become fearful when placed in a new situation. Naturally, they are bigoted and likely to remain so. At the same time, they are subject to oppression by other beings — animals do devour each other, you know.”
http://buddhism.about.com/od/tibetandeities/ig/Wheel-of-Life-Gallery/Animal-Realm.htm

I don’t happen to agree with this conceptualization of animals; I never have. I do not see all animals as “ignorant,” and some definitely have a sense of humor! They are certainly a lot less bigoted than most humans I know and know of. As for the being “subject to oppression” part, even devouring each other, we’d have to include humans in that activity, wouldn’t we?

Animals are also most certainly NOT “un-curious,” and many employ what Temple Grandin calls “seeking” behavior in their everyday lives. (Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals , Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). In fact, Grandin’s research proves that animals need more than their basic physical and psychological requirements to be met. Yes, animals need (or certainly would prefer) to be free from hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear and distress. However, Grandin proves resoundingly that animals respond positively when allowed to use “seeking behaviors” and “play.” Some animals, particularly pigs and primates, can malinger, become self- or other-injurious, kill or even die without these outlets.

I spent a few weeks listening to this amazing book on CD this past summer, not yet knowing I’d be doing this retreat or contemplations this fall. Generally, I have not had a close relationship to animals or pets (except for others’ pets I happen to live with or encounter over the years). However, forging new relationships with animals via interspecies communication devices and aliens-humans encounters and relationships are central to my sci-fi novels in The Spanners Series, so I listened to Grandin’s book and watched the biopic about her early life (“Temple Grandin,” starring Clare Danes as Grandin; great movie) as research for my series.

Now that I’m in this section of my retreat, I find myself remembering many parts of both the film and the book, considering animals from Grandin’s perspective rather than Tibetan Buddhists’ concepts. Her philosophies, attitudes and understandings are closer to my own. I go further than she does, though: I am more in harmony with Douglas Adams, the late, sorely missed and amazing author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a five-book “trilogy.” One of these volumes is entitled: So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. In this, Adams posits the superiority and other-worldly origins of dolphins, which I have no trouble believing.

I also believe in the superiority or at least equality with humans regarding intelligence, compassion and creativity, of all forms of cetaceans, elephants, wolves and many primates, cephalopods and others in the Animal Realm. To me, it’s impossible to ignore or deny the ways elephants grieve and remember, wolves communicate with their packs, whales gather intentionally for fun and protection, and many other examples of animals’ social, altruistic, creative and communicative behaviors not at all inferior to humans’ activities. I also can’t ignore or deny how disappointed I am in the selfish, unintelligent and socially perverse ways of humans.

This week, as many vegans rail against humans eating turkeys as well as pigs, fish, chickens, cattle and whatever other animals humans eat, I have to remind myself and others of the inherent suffering in all existence, the nature of samsara, according to my Tibetan Buddhist teachers. Humans can’t survive without killing, even when it’s unintentional. We kill billions of beings every day in service to providing us with shelter, food (even vegan food), clothing, work, transportation, education, tools and entertainment. We can’t plow fields or harvest their bounty without killing. We can’t breathe or walk without killing. Every day and every night, all twenty-four hours of every day of our existence, we are murderers.

Contemplating this and Grandin’s book and life make me want to mitigate the suffering of animals, for sure. However, I do not pretend I or any human can eliminate it. We can’t eliminate our own suffering, either. What we can do is change the ways it occurs, lessen or alleviate it, and feel compassionate about it enough to respond appropriately and less selfishly.

So, if you are NOT a vegan, here is my advice: do not waste your animal food. Only purchase, cook/prepare what you and your loved ones will consume. Honor the spirits of the animals who gave their lives to feed you with prayers, thoughts, songs, smoke, herbs: something sacred. Be conscious as you spend your time this week and every week hereafter of the gifts animals give us and the ways we exploit these gifts. Be humble. Be grateful. Be caring.

I will try. I hope you do, also.

Dilemmas while #meditating on being human

During each of the current days I am #meditating during this mini-#Buddhist, at-home #retreat, I #contemplate what it means to be human. I examine the emotional, physical, interpersonal, mental experiences I am familiar with myself and then I attempt to empathize or at least sympathize with others’ experiences as deeply as possible: the pains and pleasures, sorrows and joys, defeats and successes, fears and hopes, worries and excitements. What motivates every being is clear: each of us wants to be happy.

However, as I know for myself and observe in others, we often are extremely inept, even self-sabotaging in our attempts to achieve happiness. Furthermore, this happiness is only ever temporary. Impermanence is a fact of existence.

Spending so much time and focusing so such keen attention on humanness intensifies my recognition of these failed attempts on my own part and for others. Also, I become more acutely conscious of my failures to acquire even a bit more comfort.

At the pool, I have my “favorite” swimming lanes. These are the ones I prefer because of their proximity to the inflow jets, which act like those in a hot tub. The pressure from this inflow eases the tightness in my back when I hang in front of it. Or, these are the ones I like because they’re closer to the ropes and have more room around the “lane” (this pool, for unknown reasons, does not rope off lanes, only sections). Or, I like this or that lane because, when I do the backstroke, the line on the ceiling’s architecture exactly matches the line I am supposed to follow that represents my lane (which is faintly painted on the pool’s floor), so I have a fighting chance to stay in my own lane (appreciated by all).

Seems so silly, so trivial, so selfish and absurd when I lay it out like this. Yet, as I enter the pool building every morning, I feel a tightness in my chest and my breathing increases, signaling anxiety. Worried questions hum beneath the surface of my thinking: “Will I get a ‘good’ lane?” “Will I get a lane at all?” “Will the people in adjacent lanes bump into me?” Luckily, swimmers can pre-select our lanes as soon as we arrive, before we get into our suits. My anxiety is relieved as soon as my lane is chosen.

I am told the policy is to choose the lane I want and show my choice by placing an item on the floor above it, signaling that this lane is taken. Then, I go change and return to my “saved” lane and get in to swim.

This system works well enough, usually. When I get into the pool area, I choose a “good” lane, which is empty. I put a kickboard down and go to change. But, yesterday I approached my saved lane and saw that someone else was swimming in it. I waited until she was at the wall and I tapped her: “Excuse me,” I said, “You’re in the lane I saved.”

“Oh, no,” she replies. “There was no one here when I got here.”

I pointed to the blue kickboard on the floor in front of the lane and say, “This is my kickboard. I put it here a minute ago and went to change.”

She looks at the kickboard and up at me and says, “You’re supposed to put something else on the kickboard. How do I know that it’s really saved and not just abandoned by the previous swimmer?”

I look at her, dumbfounded, feeling my anger and irritation rising. This stupid, selfish woman is ruining my swim and my swimming time is elapsing as I stand here and discuss her mistake with her. I am also laughing at myself, inside, and pitying her. But, I am mostly fuming. “I don’t have anything else to put there. Just me.”

“You could have have put your goggles down,” she says.

“Look,” I say. “You made a mistake. Please just find another lane.”

“You could find another lane,” she points out.

“I could,” I say, “but this is the lane I saved and you didn’t. So, please move.” Now, I feel as if we’re in grade school arguing over who got here first. I feel ridiculous, but this is the lane I like, remember? I really prefer it.

“Oh, fine,” she says, irritably. She moves to an adjacent lane and swims off in a huff (I didn’t know that was possible, but she did it).

I get in the pool, hang in front of the jet which is now “mine” and feel horrible. Terrible. Anxious, embarrassed, selfish, tight, ridiculous. What kind of a Buddhist am I? A shitty one, obviously. Completely self-absorbed. Small-minded. A failure. Am I happy now, in my favorite lane? Of course not. I feel bad.

I want to apologize. I want to give it back to her. Even that seems silly. I just swim, meditating on humanness and foibles, mine especially, as I swim.

Eventually, I get into the rhythm of it and calm down. I look over and notice she’s gone already. She probably only swims 20 minutes to my 45 and I could have just waited.

Feeling even more ridiculous and small, I continue my swim. I attempt to offer myself compassion, tenderness, amusement. My attempts are mostly failures.

Few choose the Tibetan #Buddhist or other culture’s #Vajrayana path, even though it makes it possible for practitioners to attain long-lasting, many lifetimes’ happiness in one lifetime. Why? Because we practitioners become unflinching observers of our own minds and behaviors. We commit to, we must continue facing ourselves every day, all day (and all night), in every situation, not just while “formally” meditating. It’s frightening, or at least humbling, to notice day after day what I have not achieved after meditating on this path since 1996. Sheesh.

I have a long way to go in my practice. Good to know. I plan to keep going. And, keep swimming.

#Meditation: it’s not for wimps.