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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You Have to Live a Normal Life?

I ran into an aide who cares for a man down the hall in the laundry room the other day and she asked me about my intentions for the future. When I told her of my aspiration for ordination, to live a spiritual life, she responded, “Why? You are young – you have to live a normal life! You have to go to college, have a wife, have kids, like a normal life.”

When I asked her why I had to do that, she answered, “It’s normal! It’s what everyone does!”

Now, I’ve heard a bit of skepticism and confusion from people when I mention my interest in the monastic life, but I hadn’t yet heard someone voice their opposition so squarely until I heard her statement.

To put her logic in the form of a syllogism:

A life including going to college and having a wife and kids has to be lived because it is normal and what everyone does.


I don’t know what the causes were that led me to have absolutely no faith in this statement whatsoever. Whatever they were, I’m infinitely grateful for them. Actually, because of the education I’ve received, I saw why this syllogism is entirely faulty.

By being exposed to different cultures and ways of life, I learned that it actually isn’t true that everyone goes to college, gets married, and has kids. I also learned, especially driven into me through my post-Holocaust Jewish upbringing, that being a thing that everyone does is not at all a valid reason for having to do something. Slavery has been quite normal in certain places at certain times. Raping women who are lesbians is normal in some places.

Actually, if I think about it, the sentiment expressed by words like “have to,” “should,” and “must” don’t apply to real life. They deny personal responsibility and personal efficacy. To orient one’s whole life directed by one of those terms would be a horrible imprisonment!

The conversation I had with this aide reminded me of the importance to question. If there is any single habit that I think will bring stable happiness to oneself and to others, it would be to smile at others with a mind of love. But a second habit that’s necessary for the welfare of the world is to question.

Today, I will not only question the story that mainstream culture tells about the purpose of life, but I will question my own perceptions and the stories I make up myself. I’ll be vigilantly on guard, watching for when my own disturbing attitudes like anger and desirous attachment overshadow my good sense.

I won’t just accept my judgments and thoughts about others and I won’t just latch onto my own opinions and views. I’ll question my thoughts, knowing that doing so will make me wiser and kinder in the long run.



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What Are the Important Questions?

I’m having an interesting time taking an Introduction to Philosophy course from the University of Edinburgh offered through Coursera. The opening lectures suggested that philosophy is concerned with addressing questions that matter to us and working out the right way to think about important things.

Reading and listening to the material on epistemology (theories of what constitutes knowledge and how knowledge is gained) illuminated for me that there are really different ways of thinking. Different questions matter to different people. For myself, the question of what constitutes propositional knowledge doesn’t seem that important; at least not important to start with.

Siddhartha Gautama, before embarking on his spiritual search for awakening, asked himself this question:

Why should I, myself being subject to birth, aging, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, seek what is also subject to birth, aging, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement? … Suppose that, being myself subject to birth, having understood the danger in what is subject to birth, I seek the unborn, the supreme security from bondage – Nirvana. Suppose that, being myself subject to aging, sickness and death, to sorrow and defilement, I seek the unaging, unailing, deathless, sorrowless and undefiled state, the supreme security from bondage – Nirvana.

It seems like presuppositions of “Western thought” prevented that question from having arisen in the span of Western philosophy. I mean, our worldview doesn’t even have a place for this to be considered. But I think it’s a darn good question!

This then inspires many other questions – What are the causes of birth, aging, sickness, death, etc.? Is the unborn, deathless, sorrowless state of nirvana really possible? What are its causes?

Then, it makes more sense to start to ask questions about the nature of my perception, about how I relate to and apprehend my self and other objects, about how to discern deceptive appearances from true knowledge.

This type of investigation, then, has a very clear goal – happiness. Overcoming an unsatisfactory existence of repetition and delusion and stress.

I haven’t yet gotten clear about the goal of the field of epistemology. Perhaps there is no clear destination, but people just want to know what’s going on for the sake of knowing. That’s fine, too.

Tonight, I’ll reflect on what the important questions are to me and why. I’ll try to see the perspectives of others, not just to understand where others are coming from, but to be able to really learn from them. Hopefully, this will help to expand my awareness of how other people think and to increase my own wisdom, so that I may be able to relate to others in a harmonious, meaningful, and constructive way.

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The Joy of Going Wee-wee

Here is one of the best pieces of advice for spiritual practice (i.e., life) that I’ve ever heard, coming from my dear Dharma sister Ven. Chonyi

Enjoy what you’re doing.

This sounds simple enough, but looking around me – and inside myself – I discover that it doesn’t just happen naturally.

Going wee-wee was not something to which I paid much mind. Sure, it’s a relief, and I have a vivid memory of one car ride where it was a huge relief. But now that I work as a caregiver for an elderly gentleman, going wee-wee isn’t any longer only to relieve myself.

A few days ago, I noticed that as I got up during the night to assist my friend in going wee-wee, I started to feel very frustrated. “Can’t you just let it all out at once!? Just go in your bed and we’ll clean it up later – I’m sleeping!”

Luckily, before I destroyed all my virtue, the recollection of Ven. Chonyi’s words resounded through my mind: Enjoy what you’re doing. Now I have this slogan, as much koan as mantra, to keep my mind happy. Enjoy what I’m doing.

Though it doesn’t happen automatically, it doesn’t take that much effort, either. By merely having that thought, I notice that I begin to let go of my tightness. I begin to let go of my ego. After all, doesn’t unhappiness tend to show up accompanied by self-preoccupation?

If I really want to be joyful, I have to stop considering that the most supremely important thing in the universe is what I want, what I need, what I think is the right way. Get out of my way if you dare think otherwise!

Then, I can simply be aware of the current state of my mind. Not worrying about loss or gain, not fearing that I won’t get enough sleep, I can keep my loving attention on my elder in need.

Today, I’ll extend this attitude toward whatever activities I engage in. After all, why bother being miserable? Geshe Chekawa’s 7-Point Thought Transformation states, “Always maintain only a joyful mind.”

If this is impossible, then I hereby renounce my status as a human being. But it is totally possible! Of course, it necessitates that what I’m doing is not harmful to others. Indeed, for worldly or spiritual happiness I must overcome my destructive tendencies.

But once hurtful intentions are out of the way, the sheer thought to have a joyful mind beckons conscientiousness, which continuously takes delight in refraining from harm and in doing constructive, helpful actions. A joyous enthusiasm arises that spurs me on to continue cultivating deeper loving-kindness, compassion, and so much joy that it will flow out of my ears and spill into others!

This is why this life is magnificent – it has such great potential. Today, I’ll strive to not harm others. I’ll try to benefit others. Whatever that ends up looking like, I’ll enjoy what I’m doing.

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Support of a Spiritual Community

Today ends the first week of Sravasti Abbey’s annual Retreat from Afar. I’m only doing the meditations on the four establishments of mindfulness once a day here at home. Even so, knowing that the Abbey community and guests are in the hall five sessions a day, honing their wisdom and compassion and dedicating the positive resources (or “merit”) they’re creating to the welfare of all beings, gives me immense satisfaction.


I feel encouraged, supported, and connected each time I start to waver into afflicted states of mind and then redirect myself with the simple thought, “Wait – you’re in retreat!” I remember the dedication and enthusiasm of the meditators in full-time retreat, which leads me to be mindful of our goal. The short term goals are things such as gaining a more peaceful mind, having more resilience to deal with difficulties, being more open and transparent with others, and being free from miserable states of existence.

But our genuine goal, for each one of us alike, is to attain a complete cessation of all undesirable experiences and the mental afflictions and deluded actions which bring those about, ultimately culminating in the supremely awakened, responsive, omniscient state of a Buddha, who is best able among all beings to benefit others.


Recalling this goal and the motivation required to progress towards it, my mental afflictions naturally drop away. Simply having the support of a spiritual community, even though it’s on the opposite side of the country, evokes integrity within me. If they can do it, so can I!

Afflictions cower before the power of this unified body of human beings, all working sincerely to develop themselves to their fullest potential.


Of course, both the strength of the afflictions and the power of to overcome them actually are all within my mind. But lacking strength of mind and wisdom, the sheer thought that there are people to back me up, and in turn to hold me accountable after I committed to do the meditation practice, brings greater determination and clarity.


Today, I’ll reflect on the inner might of those engaged in spiritual practice. I’ll allow myself to feel inspired by their example – heck, even by the fact that they simply exist!

This is really quite incredible: in this world many people don’t question the presumption that money equals happiness and that material prosperity is ultimately rewarding. Yet, there exist people who see through illusory, transient pleasures and strive to actualize genuine, lasting happiness for themselves and others.


Today, I’ll continue my retreat practice from afar, increasing my understanding of the impermanent, impure, unsatisfactory, and selfless nature of the body in order to abandon craving attachment, anger, pride, jealousy, and ignorance.