Clear Motivation

"Be kind whenever possible. It's always possible" – The Dalai Lama

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Afraid of the Truth, Angry at Lies

In my job, I’ve heard conflicting claims between coworkers and management. Aside from the irritation and uncertainty about how to proceed in future communications, I’ve become quite curious – Why in the world do we tremble at the thought of telling the truth?

Clearly, nobody likes to hear a lie. I get so upset when I think people are lying to me! Nobody likes feeling suspicious of others, especially of those on whom our livelihoods depend. That’s both the employers and the employees. In the case of society, that includes the politicians, the business people, and the public. We all depend upon each other.

Yet, it seems that we’re so afraid of losing something for ourselves that we hide the truth, often without even thinking. We try to protect our money, our prestige, our power, whatever it is.

Like when I was requesting a raise yesterday, I tried to hear the needs of my employer while stating my own feelings and needs. Still, at one point, a little lie crept in… I could almost see it, as though it were a hollow phantom memory veiling the silhouette of truth behind it.

I was convinced it were the truth. Why was I afraid that if I didn’t make this one comment, my case for meriting a raise wouldn’t be strong enough and I would be left despairing?

In reality, we don’t lose anything useful when we speak truthfully. We only lose the tight chains of the self-centered attitude and our very fear itself.

In my experience, there is a vulnerability that comes with transparency. But it isn’t something to be afraid of – in fact, it’s quite liberating. It’s a space of open possibilities and a commitment to kindness towards others above all else.  Instead of getting the raw end of the deal – as we think we will if we’re totally forthright – we gain self-respect and appreciation from others.

Because which is more painful – occasionally not getting the very best for ourselves or having constant anxiety throughout every interaction, worrying that we might get taken advantage of or not get out ahead? Is it more stressful to once in a while say something our friends dislike or to always worry that someone might think we’re uncool?

Deceitfulness is an attribute of “spiritual numbness,” aka self-centeredness. It is blind to the reality of our equality with all living beings. Therefore, the only reliable method to actively transform that attitude is by thinking about the experiences of others. Seeing that they, too, cherish truthfulness and despise dishonesty, we can really begin to adopt honesty as the best policy and make our lives more wholesome.

Where does that leave me? With a lot of nice words and a nasty habit to subdue. Today, I will call my employer again. And I will scrutinize every thought that arises, rooting out selfish intentions and staying mindful that the person on the other end is, just like me, simply wishing for happiness.


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Don’t Worry, He’s Nice

Jogging around the block the other day, I approached a dog sitting on someone’s lawn. The dog stood up and started to come towards me, and a man standing nearby quickly called out, “Don’t worry – he’s nice!”

Isn’t that often all we need to hear? All of my anxieties, suspicions, and soreness that come between me and others – when I really trust those words, they immediately fade away. I can see the other person, or dog, as simply another being. I can stop worrying about what harm may come to me if I let my guard down.

Holding up a guard itself creates the tension that leads to so many unsatisfying encounters. Clinging to my self and the safety of my ego is what leads me to turn others into enemies. First comes a negative image – a judgment – of them. Then, thinking I’m standing before someone who could do me harm, I act like a jerk. Acting like a jerk, the recipient of my unfriendliness is now inclined to reciprocate that behavior. As the pattern repeats, enemies are born as easily as fears.

I think to get over this habit, we need to realize that we ourselves are nice. Once, the Buddha was in a village with 500 of his disciples. A mad elephant was let loose and began rampaging through the village, running straight for the Buddha. All of the villagers ran away, as did the monks. Yet, the Buddha remained still, totally unafraid. Only Ananda stayed with him. As the elephant came closer, the Buddha radiated metta (loving-kindness) towards the wild beast. By the time the elephant reached the Buddha, he stopped in his tracks and bowed down before the Buddha.

The Buddha’s heartfelt love for this elephant aroused him from his nightmare anger. This love told the elephant, “Don’t worry – You’re nice!” It allowed her to see her basic goodness, the inner purity of her mind. It’s like how many people, from all walks of life, report feeling something quite unique and enjoyable when in the presence of H.H. the Dalai Lama. His profound love reminds us that we’re far more than we’re ordinarily aware of. It’s very hard to stay angry around someone like that!

Realizing that my own basic nature is related with this kindness enables me to give up my hostility. I can replace the usual anxiety and suspicion of others with warmth and affection for them. When everyone I meet is a friend, no matter what they do, everything is a favor.

Since everyone appreciates kindness, this attitude spreads. If I can hold on to the awareness of my own capacity for love, I’ll share it with those around me. I’ll see the kindness of others.

Today, I’ll practice being mindful of the power of love and train myself to dwell there. Thus, all beings around me, my friends, my mothers, will be encouraged to awaken their own potential for limitless love.

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Tyranny Over the Mind of Man

When I biked to the Jefferson Memorial yesterday, I was struck by the words etched on the upper rim of the structure, encircling Jefferson like a halo: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against all forms of tyranny over the mind of man.”

There are many forms of tyranny. There’s the tyranny so pervasive and subtle that Jefferson likely didn’t have the slightest thought that he was enacting it when he wrote “the mind of man” – the tyranny of patriarchy. There’s tyranny in the form of slavery, of social structures that maintain an unequal distribution of resources and access to education, and of course the tyranny of those despots who wave their wands of destruction over the homes and hearts of their brethren.

But are these examples of tyranny over our minds? To me it seems like these are forms of external tyranny. Of course, when one’s body is oppressed and one’s environment perverted, it is very difficult to have freedom and peace of mind. Even so, I recall a story told by H.H. the Dalai Lama of a monk who had escaped Tibet after being imprisoned there for decades. He reflected, “The thing that I was most afraid of was that I would lose compassion for my captors.”

This is a clear example of a person whose mind is liberated from the most deeply-rooted form of tyranny over the mind of people. This is the tyranny of self-centeredness.

Panchen Lama I referred to this tyrant as “the monstrous demon of selfishness.” With repeated introspective observation, those words are, if anything, revealed to be an understatement.

This is the demon who oppressed me under the sun’s terrible rays with anger as I sat for hours in traffic – ignoring the hundreds of others surrounding me, all in the exact same position as myself, many of whom likely had more important engagements to make.

This is the demon who distracts me every time I get involved in a constructive project, spinning me away from my object of focus towards any whim whose sweet scent it passes.

This is the demon who runs circles in my mind, ruminating about lost loves I never had and grudges that arose from simple mis-perceptions.

And when I look it straight on and examine its very nature, I can see with total clarity that this is the demon that motivates each and every form of external tyranny, none excepted. This demon told people that slavery was good and necessary This demon told Hitler of inferior races that must be eliminated. To this day, this demon tells the world that half the human race is less worthy the other.

To this day, this demon whispers to us that in war killing is justified and that, well anyway, there aren’t any other options.

This tyrant of self-centeredness is what all sages of the past have sworn hostility against. Thus, so will I, today and all days forward until it is utterly vanquished.

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Never Too Old to Create Positive Habits

The young man who I take care of took notice when I began to remove ants from our room last fall and usher them outside. He heard my outcry when a co-worker stepped on a wasp. Then, when on one of the first beautiful days this spring a beetle walked towards us as we sat on a bench in the garden, he said, “Oh Jon, I won’t step on him. I know that’s against your principles.”

When I asked if he would’ve normally stepped on it, he said, “Well, probably. I used to do that.” When I reminded him that it wouldn’t help him any to step on it and it certainly wouldn’t help the bug, he said, “Yeah, that’s true.”

Then, while walking down the path, he called out, “Oh, there goes an ant! We’ll let him go by. Okay, there he goes.” He continued to point out insects in our path, almost as if it had become a game to avoid stepping on them.
What was this? This was ahimsa – the practice of non-harming. This was a virtue. Though the size of the beings may make it seem like a small thing, when I remember that each insect is a living being – who has a mind like I do, who has the exact same wish for happiness as I do, who has been my loving mother in previous lives – then I can really rejoice in what a marvelous thing he did. Consciously protecting the lives of living beings is a wonderful thing! (“A person’s a person, no matter how small!”)

Seeing a 95-year-old vet who enjoyed fishing for his whole life refrain from killing showed me that we’re never too old to adopt positive attitudes and constructive actions. It also showed me that goodness is contagious.

When the co-worker who stepped on the wasp came to me later that day saying that he was sorry to do it in front of me and explaining that he was scared because he’s allergic to bees, I assured him that I wanted him to be safe and told him that I just want to respect the lives of all living beings and wished our culture had ways to keep insects away without killing them. I highly doubt that he’ll stop killing, but perhaps he’ll at least think about why someone would.

Today, I’ll keep my eyes open for opportunities to practice kindness, to deepen my resources of goodness, and to share them in a natural, unimposing way with others. When I see others practice kindness, I’ll rejoice in their actions and in the happiness that shadows positive actions, seeking the means to emulate whatever goodness I discover.

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Unclear Motivation? Don’t Worry!

Today I take a full, deep breath as the final of the “courses” (MOOC’s) I eagerly began several months ago comes to a close. I’d been holding my breath, nearly all the while, because I didn’t clearly understand why I decided to take these courses.


Was I doing the right thing? Was I wasting my time? What’s the point of gaining knowledge if it doesn’t help to effect a positive inner transformation, if afflictive emotions are still ruling my every thought and action?


When I spoke to a dear Dharma sister about this, she gave me some perspective. She told me, “Jonathan, I think you worry too much!”


She reminded me that as long as we’re not harming anyone, then we’re doing okay.


She gave me a sobering reality check: How often do I have genuine Dharma motivations? So far, I haven’t even had one yet, ever! There’s always mixed in, with whatever thought of compassion I can muster, at least some desire, some attachment to sense pleasures, some pride, some animosity or tension or disregard for the effects of my actions.


The main difference here was that I was trying something different, something that would require following through on a commitment and, just maybe, something that would challenge me.


I was clear about a few things. Basically, I wanted to learn and overcome long-standing poor study habits – ostensibly, there’s no harmful intent in that motivation.


I didn’t achieve all of my goals. I still have the obstacles of procrastination and not seeing commitments through to the end. The burning itch to learn more from “my own tradition” (science and Western philosophy) with which I entered into this period of study has all but vanished. So it goes – we change, and as always before and certain to remain true, expectations do not pare well with reality. But, with great gratitude, I must say that I did learn.


Now, I’m rejoicing with relief in the efforts and kindness of the people who put together the courses I took and offered them freely, through the miracle interdependent arising of altruistic thinking meeting modern technology.


And even though I didn’t complete every assignment and let two courses go altogether, I can rejoice in what I did do. I can embrace the whole process with the aspiration that it will help to expand my understanding of reality. Wishing that whatever I take with me from my learning may sharpen my ability to think clearly, make me more open-minded, and strengthen my ability to be of benefit to others will give it deeper meaning than simply learning facts and concepts.


Today I recommit myself to focus on the transformation of my mind, so that my motivation becomes one of pure compassion. Then, whatever I do – even if it may seem “mundane” – will bring benefit to living beings.