Clear Motivation

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

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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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Television Vortex

Last night I experienced the deepest meditative concentration I can remember… while watching a TV show.

It’s shocking to me how readily my mind becomes absorbed in total television fantasy, even after repeated  examination of its barren value and years of abstinence from it. Alas, I have not for a day gone sober from my own day dreams, so it should come as no surprise that I get hooked in to the imagination of another.

I wonder what great use of my life I could make if I engaged my thoughts in understanding the nature of reality or developing love and compassion with as much gusto as I think about the characters and plot of the newest detective thriller?

What if I give up on, “Oh, where’s he going? What’s that shiny thing in the clock!? No way, look at that!!!” Then follows all my proliferation, imagining what I would do were I the protagonist (and of course, I’m always the lead star).

What if I focus instead on, “How wonderful it would be if everyone in the universe had everything they desired and experienced unceasing joy and peace of mind! What are all of my fellow beings experiencing right now? What are Congresspersons feeling? What are the birds and critters in hibernation feeling?

“What is going on with the mother in poverty watching her twin babies starve to death? What is going on with the mother in spiritual poverty, so obsessed with being the best and acquiring the best that she barely has a moment to watch her children? May all of these people and all beings be free of every form of suffering!”

Today, I’ll reflect that I myself am a conditioned phenomena. I will exert myself to not succumb to the easy path of hypnotic boob-tube trance. I’ll use my capacities for the path of intelligence and altruism. I do not want my mind to atrophy!

And if I become skillful in reflecting on the dependently arisen nature of phenomena, then even an activity as mundane as watching TV becomes cultivation of wisdom.

I won’t just see the show. I’ll see producers, writers, directors, actors, cameras, lightboxes, computers. I’ll see inventors and engineers, laborers in China and Korea, miners digging up metals, and workers extracting and refining petroleum. I’ll see trends coming and going and blends of humor getting concocted. I’ll see bands of light entering an iris and projecting colored wavelengths onto rods and cones, and the meeting of the object, the sense organ, and the consciousness, producing a subjective perception.

Today, I’ll bring this type of awareness to bear on whatever my mind encounters. This will allow me to avoid getting sucked into the vortex – and it’s not the vortex on the TV screen that’s really a problem; those are just shapes and colors. It’s the vortex of my own delusion and unawareness that grasps appearances as existing independently, from their own side, that I seek to demolish.

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Offer Every Benefit and Happiness to All Beings

In short, I will offer directly and indirectly

Every benefit and happiness to all beings, my mothers.

I will practice in secret taking upon myself

All their harmful actions and suffering.

Here, again from the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation is a presentation of the profound pith instruction for generating bodhicitta, the mind intent on full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. The instruction is so simple, yet totally tears the fortress of our self-centered world asunder.

Offering direct benefit and happiness can come in infinite forms. I can smile and say hello to people, open doors as others make their way inside, give material aid, lend a hand where its needed, volunteer time to help friends with projects or to serve people in need, or give the gift of Dharma.

Offering indirectly is to imagine giving my body and all my possessions, along with all my good qualities and positive actions, to others. Visualizing that all beings receive exactly what they need to fulfill their deepest yearnings for happiness and seeing that they become satisfied is a practice that allows loving-kindness to flourish in my mind. Because possessing great impartial love will enable me to powerfully give direct benefit and will prevent me from harming others, this practice indirectly benefits others. Further, simply wishing others well does seem to have an actual effect on others.

Taking upon myself the harmful actions and suffering of others increases my compassion. It overwhelms my fearful and miserly mindset that wants to protect myself, even at the cost of others. It allows me to see that clinging to my own security and welfare is really like affixing a clamp to my heart, constraining the full potential for me to experience true openness and happiness. It destroys this self-fixation, totally changing my experience of the world and making every interaction I have with others a cause for rejoicing.

I take harmful actions because these are the cause of suffering. Taking their suffering, I imagine that they are free of the miserable effects of harmful actions.

I visualize black smoke entering in my left nostril as I inhale, bringing the suffering of others into myself. It hits my heart, where the essence of my self-centeredness hides, and like an intense bolt of lightning striking a tree, incinerates this lump of selfish concern.

In self-centered thoughts’ absence, a beautiful and serene white light permeates outwards, pervading all worlds and bringing with it exactly what each living being needs and desires.

Today, I will practice this verse of transforming my mind into an abode of compassion. I’ll joyfully accept any hardship or difficulty that I come across, taking it in along with the pain of all others. With delight, I’ll burst open the seems of selfishness to offer to all beings – my mothers – any happiness or good condition I happen to have.

Seeking Refuge in the Awakening Mind

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I will use this teaching to motivate my actions throughout the day –

Bodhicitta (literally, “the mind/heart of awakening/enlightenment”) is a mind with the intention to attain the fully purified and perfected state of a Buddha in order to be able to benefit all sentient beings.

Today, I will reflect on the advantages of developing this mind. I will strengthen my confidence that it is the most worthwhile endeavor. I will show myself that it is possible to develop it. And I’ll let it guide my actions throughout the day, taking my focus away from my own self-centered concerns and looking towards others as the object of my care. All the while, I’ll keep in mind the long-term intention that dedicates my actions as causes to progress towards the fully awakened state.

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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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For the Welfare of All Beings

With the thought of attaining awakening

For the welfare of all beings,

Who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel,

I will constantly practice holding them dear.


This verse, from the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation by Geshe Langri Thangpa Dorje, elucidates the entire point and essence of spiritual practice.

To the extant that I hold other beings dear, with warm-hearted affection and compassion, with acceptance and tolerance, with empathy and sympathetic joy that encourages goodness in others – to that extant my life will have meaning. To that extant I will approach awakening.

Today, I will practice this verse.