Clear Motivation

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


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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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Offering the Victory to Them

When others, out of jealousy,

Mistreat me with abuse, slander, and so on,

I will practice accepting defeat

And offering the victory to them.

This verse is what I must practice in order to really overcome “spiritual materialism.”

It can be all well and dandy to meditate on love for all beings and to practice tolerance and compassion towards those who are afflicted by anger.

But how do I know if I’m just telling myself that I’ll abandon the attitude that’s concerned with my welfare above that of others? How do I know that I’m not faking it, making myself feel good by pretending to be a spiritual practitioner?

 

This instruction in mind training from the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation is the real litmus test. Today, I’ll watch my reactions when people criticize or slander me. Now, those terms are a little extreme. Even if someone mildly makes fun of me or heck, even if they just disagree with me – how do I react?

If I’m honest with myself, I’ll recognize that my usual reaction is to defend myself – or rather, to defend my ego. I make excuses for my faulty behaviors. I point out something the other person did wrong or even make up some fault that they don’t even have and attack them with it.

Or I don’t respond at all, but turn around, embarrassed, and go off smoldering, plotting what I will say to them on our next meeting to redeem myself and show them that they were wrong.

 

Today, I’ll challenge this deeply ingrained habit. This habit is closely intertwined with the ignorance that grasps at a self-existent self, imagining that there’s some solid core, or essence of “I,” within me.

In order to let down my automatic ego defenses, I’ll watch the various feelings that arise when I hear people say something I don’t like. Especially when I think someone’s words are directed towards me, I can get a very clear glimpse of the imaginary way in which ignorance believes I exist.

So, I’ll just let these experiences and feelings arise. I’ll regard the abuse, slander, and so on as my spiritual guides, pointing out to me the faults that I must abandon in order to become the type of person I want to be. I’ll enjoy the internal show of my emotional reactivity and sensitivity, without identifying with it.

I’ll remember that the other person is human being just like me, with the same types of feelings, and instead of defending myself and retaliating, I’ll accept defeat. After all, all that I’m losing is the self-centeredness that keeps me bound in a life of misery. I’ll offer the victory to others, realizing that by caring for the well-being of others, I win the greatest riches the world has to offer.


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When I Meet a Person of Bad Nature

Whenever I meet a person of bad nature,

Who is overwhelmed by negative energy and intense suffering,

I will hold such a rare one dear,

As if I had found a precious treasure.

Usually when I see someone with a toughened expression, someone who doesn’t smile back when I smile, someone who’s short-tempered and always complaining, I want to stay away. I don’t want anything to do with that kind of person. I just want to ignore their remarks to the best of my ability and hope not to find myself alone with them.

But this verse from the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation is advising a radically different approach. If I think about the times when I’m grumpy and reactive, it certainly doesn’t feel good. It’s a really lousy state.

I can see, then, that someone who exhibits behaviors that I find repulsive or harmful is actually suffering themselves. The behavior I see is an outer expression of inner pain.

Why would I ignore such a person? Why should I hide from such a person? They’re in need of compassion! Besides, I have no idea what’s going on inside – maybe their spouse just got killed in a car accident. Maybe they were just diagnosed with a terminal illness. Maybe they just don’t know how to make themselves happy.

This person can be a great teacher of patience. Instead of becoming angry or afraid when I interact with them, I will remember that they’re under the influence of their own suffering and disturbing emotions. I’ll generate compassion, wishing that they be free from their misery. I’ll generate love, wishing that they find a way to think and act and speak towards others that brings them happiness.

Today, I will practice this verse. I’ll hold these rare individuals as dear friends, guiding me to grow in fortitude and compassion. This will aid me in my effort to overcome my own negative energy and suffering and to fulfill my infinite potential for good qualities. This dear one will help me to be of benefit to others, thus making everyone better off.


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In All Actions I Will Examine My Mind

In all actions I will examine my mind

And the moment a disturbing attitude arises,

Endangering myself and others,

I will firmly confront and avert it.

Today I will practice this verse from the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation. Inspiring verses about loving neighbors, turning cheeks and being the change are easy to find. But instructions for how to actually do those things are more rare.

Mindfulness keeps me from being distracted. It holds my attention on an understanding of which mental states are beneficial and which are harmful.

Introspective awareness follows from mindfulness. It recognizes when I become distracted and my mind falls into a negative state. It acknowledges the arising of disturbing attitudes and mental afflictions, so that I can apply their antidotes and return to a neutral or positive state.

With the two mental factors of mindfulness and introspective awareness, I will examine my mind. Of course disturbing attitudes will arise. Instead of becoming absorbed and taken by them, I’ll use my own mind to see them. Instead of letting them control my actions, hurling me around like a tornado, I’ll ground myself firmly with mindfulness, focusing on their disadvantages.

Since mental afflictions directly disturb my peace of mind and lead me to act in ways directly and indirectly creating misery for myself and for others, they are my worst enemy. If I’m to ever speak of  “success” in my life, it only makes sense to due so in terms of the degree to which I’ve been able to subdue my own mind and abandon these distorted mental attitudes.

The value of a peaceful mind is deeply understated in our culture. There is little more precious than this. Today, I will firmly confront and avert destructive emotions.

When attachment towards food, people, money, or possessions arise, I’ll reflect on impermanence. All things will age and disintegrate; the pleasure derived from them quickly vanishes and turns to pain or disappointment; and I myself will die and go on with nothing save my mind and imprints of my actions. Seeing this, I’ll avert attachment.

When aversion towards people or situations arises, I’ll reflect on love. All beings wish for happiness and wish to avoid suffering. They deserve happiness. Anger only hurts myself. May they have happiness and its causes. Difficult situations simply arise – this is the nature of my existence. Anger only creates more suffering. Seeing this, I’ll avert aversion.

When ignorance regarding situations or objects arises, I’ll reflect on dependent origination. All things, people, and events arise in dependence upon causes and conditions. Many factors contribute to the existence of anything. Ignorance takes things to exist as independent entities, which leads to attachment and aversion and all sorts of harm. It further ignores the reality that my own actions, words, and thoughts produce effects. It prevents me from seeing reality clearly and from attaining what I want – happiness. Seeing this, I’ll avert ignorance.


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Kind Mother Sentient Beings

Understanding that the continuity of consciousness is without a beginning point has changes my perspective in many ways. One of its most life-enhancing implications is the unavoidable truth that in the past, we’ve been intimately connected to all other living beings. All sentient beings have been my mother. As my mothers, they’ve been unimaginably kind. Therefore, there is nothing more important for me to do in this life than to repay their kindness.

 

Sometimes while thinking along these lines, a dissenting thought chimes in, arguing that in the same way, all sentient beings have been my mean third grade teacher, my captor, my predator, my slanderer.

While this is true, it doesn’t actually diminish the kindness of my mothers nor in any way make it acceptable to not have loving-concern for them. For one, anger sucks. It serves no good purpose, and to be resentful would only make me miserable to no end. If I really ask myself if there’s truly a sound reason to not develop love for all beings, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, will I find one?

Further, the kindness received far outweighs any harm endured. If I look at our world, this is evident. Mammals would not have evolved if kind mother beings did not invest themselves so selflessly in the care of their children. Absent the kindness of mother sentient beings, our human societies would collapse over night.

How often am I murdered, beaten, eaten, enslaved, or otherwise harmed? Perhaps once a lifetime, maybe with a handful of other mild harms – but mother sentient beings have poured kindness upon me for years on end. I’m still on my mother’s health insurance!

 

Today, I will reflect on the kindness of mothers – mothers I see in the supermarket, mothers I see in nature videos, mothers I see flitting around out the window, and as much as I can remember being reared by my own mother. It’s remarkable. It’s incessant. It’s why I’m certain that love is an central aspect of human nature.

I will bring to mind the warm-hearted affection of regarding my mother lovingly when I look at each person I meet. I’ll see their inner beauty, recalling that I’m only here today because of the kindness they’ve been giving me for eons past. With gratitude and a mind brimming with fantastic joy at the sheer luminosity created as loving-kindness manifests, I’ll extend myself out to others. I’ll care for all others equally, wishing that they have everything good and all the causes for true happiness.


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Taking and Giving in Real Time

When I experience happiness today, I will think, “Oh good, some happiness – now I can give!” When I’m not feeling so hot, I’ll think, “Oh good, here’s some suffering – now I can take!”

In this way I’ll bring the taking and giving meditation with me everywhere I go. There’s no reason to keep it confined to the peace of quiet reflection.

I’ll use my ever-shifting experiences as the fuel for the practice.

Why should I enjoy my pleasure for myself alone? I’d rather share it with others. Why should I let my pains and frustrations go to waste? I’d rather use them as reminders to think about others and develop compassion.

Even though this is done in the imagination, it’s powerful. My experiences consist of just a body with five senses and a mind. Why do I build this up into a great wall of “me?” Me all alone enclosed in this room, so I think.

The mind has no center nor boundaries. The thought grasping “I” as inherently existent is itself a product of imagination.

Imagining that I send out my happiness to all living beings will saturate the seemingly solid borders of my perceptions and dissolve them. My perceptions will not change. What this practice will transform is my sense of being an isolated individual, cut off from others and locked up in the cage of my head.

Love will be easy to cultivate from here!

But inevitably, as I am a sentient being, something will come my way that I just won’t know what to do with. When disappointment, sadness, anger, shock and dismay arise, I’ll cherish those experiences as the means to exhaust the suffering of all living beings.

“Even though it’s only me experiencing this unpleasantness, may I gather up all the unpleasant feelings experienced by everyone in the universe into this single one so they may be free.”

Just that thought will blow apart the conception that holds myself as an independent, unitary, all alone self. Left in its wake will be a spacious and relaxed mind at rest, content with anything that arises. With this, I can make each moment meaningful by building up love and compassion.

Today, I’ll extend myself to the world on fire. Living beings, my kin, are faced with myriad troubles. Instead of falling down into fear or distress, I’ll use this to give rise to courage and determination. I need this, and so does the world.