This week’s slogan may seem like a repeat of last weeks but it is a little subtler. The slogan – Don’t Ponder Others – ask us to go one step further. Last week we talked about not causing further harm to another’s injured limbs. This week is about letting go of the need to pick at, complain about and judge others.
This seems like a good to time to remind us that these slogans are held within the section Disciplines of Mind Training. This is not about making you or me a better person. This is about restraint. The more we learn restraint, the more disciplined our conduct. The more disciplined we are in our conduct, the more we live a blameless life. The more blameless our lives, the happier and confident we feel. But it all starts with practicing the discipline of restraint.
One of the most insidious habitual tendencies of being human is the constant picking, obsessing and projecting of our opinions on others. This slogan says use restraint and stop that. Let people be themselves – however they show up. This is particularly important for practitioners. When we practice, our “suffering radar” is heightened. Its seems as though we are extra sensitive to pain. Understandably, we feel compelled to help others reduce their suffering by offering the wisdom of the Dhamma; wisdom that has reduced our own suffering. We push and push even though we know, at least on some level, we cannot force another to change or do what we want.
Everyone must find their way on their own. We can be supportive and offer compassion, but people must walk their own paths. Can you see a correlation between the practice of restraint and the cultivation of equanimity? Could true equanimity (not indifference) come from something as simple as refraining from picking at, obsessing over and/or projecting onto other about their lives? Until Thursday…
This weeks slogan – Don’t Speak of Injured Limbs – is about letting go of the need to point out the faults of others. This is not so much about whether the conduct is offensive, harmful or cruel. It is about our need to constantly point out the fault(s). It is like being trapped in aversion and/or desire. We go through the world constantly pointing out the wrong behavior of others. No wonder we can’t see our own harmful, offensive and destructive ways. We are too busy looking away from ourselves.
I like they way this slogan treats “faults” as injured limbs. It helps us learn to see another’s faulty behavior as an injury like a missing leg, deformed arm or being in a wheelchair. We would never point out or make a big deal about a another’s physical injury. This slogan helps us see that faulty behavior comes from injury also. So pointing out another’s fault is like making fun of their injury. In a way, you are causing additional harm to someone already in pain.
I’m pretty sure this slogan will raise all kinds of red flags around behavior that is dangerous. The mind is probably bursting to point out that we should not let such conduct go unnoticed. Keep in mind, however, this practice is about cultivating kindness. It isn’t about whether you speak so much as how you speak. Norman Fisher titles this – don’t talk about faults. He notes that if you practiced not pointing out the faults of another regularly you would become a more likable person. You decrease the need to find fault with others and, if you do correct or address the faulty conduct of another, you do so from a place of compassion rather than judgment.
My question for the week is – what do you think this would do to you if you stopped talking about your own faults. What if you saw your own faulty behavior as an injured limb, do you think it would help you generate care and compassion for yourself?
Tomorrow we will take up another slogan in isolation from the Disciplines of Mind Training Section. The slogan is Change Your Attitude, But Remain Natural. This title seems pretty self-explanatory and is connected to the type of attitude we bring towards any experience. The longer we practice, the more our relationship with suffering, discomfort, and judgment begins to change. We can feel this shift as expansiveness and strength. We might even find ourselves singing praises of our practice to everyone we meet and .
Practice can inspire us to change everything from our eating habits to our willingness to forgive. With all this change, we might develop a sense of self-righteousness where we might be tempted to impose a lot of rules on both ourselves and others. We might get stuck in our concepts of what a practitioner should be like leading us to continuously try to make ourselves and others become “better” people. Our practice efforts become focused on being more generous, more kind, more loving rather than simply being with whatever is present; be it kindness or anger, generosity or stinginess.
This slogan is about remembering to keep it real. We are not enlightened and until we become enlightened, we are not perfect. Remaining natural means accepting our humanness in all its glory. I like Norman Fisher’s version of the slogan – Don’t Be A Phony. Don’t try to act like you are something you aren’t. Don’t put on airs or pretend you are more than you are. This is connected to discipline because it means we need to be willing to keep ourselves in check. Above all, to thine own self be true.
This week we will begin the sixth of the seven sections for mind training – Disciplines of Mind Training. This section is on various ways to create or be disciplined around practice. There are 15 slogans in this section so sometimes we will be exploring them in groups. As an overview, this section is about how we are off the cushion and that means how we are with people. I think that is why Norman Fisher calls this section The Discipline of Relationship. (Side Note: I was looking over my last post and may have given the impression that discipline of relationship had to do solely with evaluating or assessing our practice. But what I was trying to say is that our discipline around relationships also help us with a more accurate evaluation or assessment of our practices).
I think Norman Fisher’s language around each slogan in this section is much easier to connect with so I will use his. The first slogan is Come Back To Basics. The basics are (1) remember your intention to practice and do no harm, (2) refrain from outrageous actions and (3) develop patience (or as Norman says “don’t be one-sided). In every situation in life, every moment and every experience, we can always access our practice by remembering these three simply and easy to access guidepost. I am constantly quizzing myself around whether I am causing harm; to myself or another. I just softly ask myself throughout the day – will “this” cause harm? Second, I try to temper my over-reacting so I don’t get too exuberant nor too despaired. Finally, the lawyer in me is always open to the other side; which doesn’t mean I agree with it, just that I can see that there could be another way to look at something. This helps me not get stuck in my opinion.
This is also my basic framework for living with other people. It represents my outer boundaries. I have been living within this framework for many years and because of it I can see the deeper development of my practice. My discipline to these guidelines is why I am confident about practice. My confidence doesn’t come from a comparison to others so I don’t need to try to be like other practitioners. It comes from an internal understanding of what I value; what I think is important or the right way to live.
This week we’ll explore what these three basic principles mean in your life. Do you have basic boundaries that you can easily access? Can you see the difference between using the boundaries as a compass to help you see when you have veered off the path and a hammer to force you back in line? In your own life, are your boundaries a compass or a hammer?
We have covered all the slogans in the Evaluation of Mind Training but there is one more thing we should cover before we move on. It is not an actual slogan but it is the glue that hold all the slogans in this section together. Throughout our exploration of this slogan we looked at practicing around releasing the ego, trusting our inner wisdom, keeping a sense of humor and practicing with distraction. All four of these slogan come into play our of one thing – our relationships.
Norman Fisher gave two great quotes around this in his introduction to this section. First he refers to this section as “the discipline of relationship”. He says “we usually don’t think of relationship as a discipline. But it is a discipline after all. For it is through relationship that we most fruitfully expand our horizons and train our minds to be compassionate and resilient.” This is an important thing to keep in the forefront of our practice. We need the people in our lives; family, good friends, mentors, even the people we rarely pay attention to and the ones who get on our last nerves. We cannot train in kindness without them all. Kindness is not just about being nice to the people we like. It’s about connecting with Metta in all experiences and all experience is relational.
Moreover, we cannot accurately evaluate our practice except through our relationships with others. According to Norman “dealing with others isn’t just dealing with others. We think of it that way, but that’s a mistake. Dealing with others is dealing with ourselves dealing with others. There are no others apart from us, and there is no us apart from them. Our problems with others are our problems with ourselves and vice versa. Recognizing this is the first principle.” We need relationship to practice with these slogans. What do you think the implications would be if we could see relationship as practice? Do you think liberation of the mind would be possible if you never had contact with another person?
This week’s slogan is about distraction – If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained. This is probably one of the most important principle of our entire practice. It presents the idea, or I should say, the reality of distraction as a natural part of practice. In addition, including it as the fourth and final slogan in the Evaluation of Mind Training section is perfect. How we see and work with distraction says a lot about our practice and whether it is pointed towards liberation or just more suffering.
There are two aspects of distraction and this slogan supports both. First, distraction carries with it a truth that you have moved away from awareness. It means you have become lost in thought; some distant situation, memory, emotional neurosis or the like. Often we think this slide away from practice is a negative thing; that we have done something wrong. This slogan reminds us that distraction is a natural and normal part of practice. The point is not to avoid being distracted but rather to bring distraction on to the path just like everything else about being human.
The second aspect of distraction that this slogan supports is that distraction can actually a gift. Norman Fisher makes an excellent point in this regard. He says we use distraction to help us return to the practice the way we use the ground to help us up when we fall to the ground. Think of it. When we fall to the ground, we don’t get upset with the ground. On the contrary, we push off the ground to get back up. What if we used distraction this same way? What would our practice look like if distraction is what reminded us to return? We would need to hold distraction the same way we hold walking, breathing, eating, sleeping and waking up. These are all things the mind does for us. We simply remember and re-remember over and over again.
What do you think?
This week we are going to be exploring the fourth slogan in the Evaluating Your Training section. The traditional wording is Always Maintain Only A Joyous Mind. This slogan seems to point to the idea that we need to keep up our encouragement to practice and nothing does that like a sense of joy. We are not trying to practice out of a sense of guilt, should, have-tos or must. We practice out of a sense of joy.
We do this by maintaining a sense of humor and cheerfulness. If you are holding some kind of judgment about how good or advanced your practice is, you are just stuck in more “selfing” and ego. From the mind’s perspective, you will never measure up given that the standard bearer is Buddha. The mind, however, is a motor and has no basis for its comparison. To follow it’s pronouncements and criticism is like taking financial advice from a 3 year old; maybe share, maybe not, who knows why, but the brown coin taste better so keep that.
I think our ability to keep a cheerful spirit around practice has to do with two things. First, you really need to see the irrationality and haphazardness of the conditioned mind. As long as we think there is “someone” doing something we can continuously blame that “someone” for something. If you really understood the nature of consequential intersection of random conditions and their effect on your life, you would truly live in laughter all day. Second, you need to feel the release of suffering without you doing a thing to change your circumstances. As long as we believe that certain conditions bring about happiness, ease and joy, we will continue to strive for them. When you start to experience happiness, peace, joy, etc as a states of mind, you will never worry about how much money, stuff, praise, pleasure or the like you have in your life. You will never be without joy.
Do you think this is possible? Lets explore this a bit on Thursday.