Thursday, September 02, 2010


Recently, a friend asked me the question, “What do you think the Buddha would say about losing someone?” He is really struggling with the loss of someone he is attached to. They haven't died, but they have gone away. Something has changed, and there is a lot of grief. I wanted to think about it for a bit before I answered. And after contemplating the question, this is what came to me:

I don't know what the Buddha would say about basically anything. But I will share what I would say about loss, and losing someone rather than some thing, in particular. Loss, is half of our experience. Gain, the other half. The Buddha talked about this a lot: All things born, are subject to death. It is the ripening of the karmic seed of birth for something to die. This includes everything. Ideas, fantasies, feelings, people, rocks (which seem so permanent, only because they last so incredibly long), dirt, the earth, etc and so forth. This is something we will never accept. Not because we are stubborn, or incapable. We cannot accept this because we ourselves continue to exist out of our own attachment to the permanence of things we want. In fact, the act of wanting, craving, attachment itself cannot be separated from the birth of things, and thus from the death of things. Death would not happen without our attachment. Death does not happen without birth. If we were not attached, there would be nothing to die.

How is this helpful when we lose something, something important to us, something we love? I think that what it tells us is that grief cannot be avoided. In fact, as we age and grow through life, the losses we experience begin to point to something much vaster and deeper than the individual or thing we have lost, or our attachment to them. These losses begin to point to the loss of the dreaming. The dream is what we have been spinning since we knew we existed. In this dream we feel that we are the creator, and that our experiences are the created. This is a mistake, though as long as we enjoy the dream, it is a mistake that we enjoy. As we continue through life to lose more and more things, we start to realize that there is a dream, but we are not the dreamer. There is no dreamer. This is what loss is pointing to. The dream without a dreamer. Without a dreamer there is no way to avoid loss or to bring about gain. We cannot take control of the dream. So in one loss, is all losses. This is how grief expands, grows, and begins to permeate all things, and all experiences. This is the basis of compassion for other people. When we truly see and experience our own pain, it unveils the commonality that we share with other people. It awakens our compassionate heart, our non-judgmental mind, and the love and connection we so crave with other people becomes obvious. So though we are losing something, there is something revealed.

The Dalai Lama:

To the extent that our experience of suffering reminds us of what everyone else also endures, it serves as a powerful inspiration to practice compassion and avoid causing others pain. And to the extent that suffering awakens our empathy and causes us to connect with others, it serves as the basis of compassion and love.” In this way, our grief becomes a well of compassion that we can draw on.

It is our work to continue to experience things as they are, knowing each time we do, that those experiences will die and more experiences will be born. As we move through these experiences they turn more toward the deeper, more continuous experience of birth and death, and less about the particular birth and death.

But this feeling of attachment is difficult, of course. Imagine a small child, new still to the world, and the way it works. Imagine their surprise and pain at knowing that the people they love will die. How would you treat this child in the face of their grief? We must approach ourselves this same way, with the same kindness. Because until we no longer are born, we are attached to life. This is natural, and so grief is natural.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I have been contemplating for many years the nature of the teachings on generosity that are found in all the wisdom traditions. Most of them say the same thing. In Buddhism, compassion is the highest state, and the most fruitful for all. In Tibetan Buddhism, the practice of tonglen, or exchanging one's self for others, in all situations, is said - if one can accomplish this completely - to bring total and complete enlightenment, and the most benefit for all beings. AsDilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said, "For those who can practice generosity like this, there is no suffering at all." (Taken from his teachings on Logong slogans from the comprehensive website,
In Christianity, Jesus was clear, generosity is the key to the finding of one's genuine life, and connection to God, "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39).
Rumi, the Sufi poet, said it succinctly for anyone who has ever owned a dog: "There are love-dogs no one knows the names of. Give your life to be one of them." In watching my dog, she embodies an incredible generosity that I cannot even begin to imagine in myself...
And as the Bhagavad Gita says, in the passage that Gandhi meditated on morning and night for the entirety of his adult life, "They are forever free who have broken out of the ego-cage of "I" and "mine" to be united with the Lord of Love. This is the supreme state. Attain thou this and pass from death to immortality."
In the reality of our daily lives, to practice this level of generosity is quite difficult. Our identities are so strong, and the fear of what will happen to us if we sacrifice our most dearly held qualities, can be too strong to overcome. In fact, the line between more ego clinging to a "selfless self" which is a form of aggression, and actual self exchange, can be quite blurry at times. And make no mistake, in exchanging self for other, there is an actual sacrifice. It is not that we will be so immediately rewarded for generosity that our ego will be sufficiently fed. It is true that in certain moments of exchange, when we realize that we actually have the power to help another being, at the expense of ourselves, we do stand to lose something. And perhaps the point is that the "something" that we stand to lose, must be examined more closely.
But also, there is an important point about generosity. To make this exchange, to trust so completely in the emptiness of the self, can be tricky. We don't really know how much we have integrated emptiness, sometimes, until we freak out about a perceived loss. Dilgo Khyentsesays it this way:
"Now, when training in giving away your happiness to others, it is unwise to try to give to all beings right from the start. For beings are countless and your meditation will not be stable, with the result that you will derive no benefit from the practice."
He is making a point that we must actually benefit from practice. Benefiting ourselves is actually an aspect of exchanging self for others. Self development, or rather, self-less development, which could also be called the accumulation of wisdom, is necessary as well. In my own life, there have been times when I did much more for the good of all, by ignoring the cries of suffering of certain people whom I loved very much, in exchange for healing my own being, so that I have a hope of possibly being available to them sometime in the future.
What happens, though, when we feel bereft of wisdom? Do we cease to feel that we can give? Rumi said,
"Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition." Certainly the wisdom that Buddhists talk about is not akin to cleverness, however, Buddhists are clear that bewilderment is a klesha, a defilement, one that is replaced in enlightenment (enlightenment in the momentary sense, not the permanent) by non-conceptual knowing. I bring this up, because inevitably, an aspect of the path of awareness and awakening, will bring to light, just how confused we really are. This can feel overwhelming at times, the extent of our own ignorance!! How in light of this, and the immense fear that can come from knowing how unable we are to help ourselves and others, do we practice generosity? Could Rumi be right, that our very bewilderment, is an opening to others, to ourselves?
In contemplating the Buddha's words in the Nikaya -
"This Bhikkhus [this was how the Buddha addressed his monks, literally meaning, "one who sits with fear"], is The Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering: It is that craving - compelling, intoxicating - which causes us to be born into things again and again, ever seeking fresh delight now here, now there; it is namely the craving for sensual delight, the craving to be something, and the craving to feel nothing."
- I am forced to step a tentative foot out onto the ice pond of my new found confidence in this teaching. It does seem true, that actually suffering, ALL suffering, is a result of attachment, specifically attachment to an illusory self, and therefore illusory accumulation of a pleasureful experience of self. And in light of this, any way that I can act on the illusory nature of the self, and experience, and this CONSTANT craving feel for pleasure can be seen as the cause of SUFFERING rather than the cause of joy, as the craving itself would have me ("me" - or the craving and craver as one) believe, that this would be a good thing.
But let's not cut off desire at the root. There will be some way, as the Tibetans say, that desire's root hairs will sprout again, stronger, as the one's left growing were more able to survive. In addition, desire is in truth our connection to the movement of things, how we move, flow, grow, expand, shift into non-dual awareness ultimately. I think the point is is to actual see how suffering comes about, the simple truth of it. Suffering is from craving, attachment, wanting. The subtle "no"; the subtle "please." And so we watch ourselves choose this suffering over and over again, living a lie that someday we will have what we want.
Looking more deeply at what we want, we find that it may have nothing to do with what we continuously crave, what we are addicted to grasping at. We all want the same thing: happiness, peace, freedom, release. So I am suggesting that in having contemplated these teachings on generosity and overcoming selfishness, that there is a key, a golden key, one that unlocks the door which we have been knocking on, as Rumi says, for a long time, as long as we can remember. "It opens. I have been knocking from the inside." It isn't that we want to be free from grasping, from attachment, or desire. It's that ultimately, we are free from these things, because we don't want delusion, we want reality. Real, ultimate truth. It is the only thing that satisfies. This is an aha moment. One that comes when we see how day in and day out, we want to become something else, and we never will be anything other than what we are.