Compassion versus Wisdom

OK, the title is a trick–as we know, compassion and wisdom are complementary, and in the end of course there is no difference between them at all. Buddhahood, enlightenment, full awakening is the ultimate development of both, and they are ultimately undifferentiable, like any qualities we may ascribe to the nature of mind for the purpose of discussing it. Buddhahood is sometimes likened to a bird with two wings–both wings have to function fully for flight to take place.

I hear a lot about the importance of engaged Buddhism, putting compassion into action, not thinking it is enough to sit on our cushion or chair and meditate. Sometimes there seems even to be an implication that sitting on the cushion is indulgent compared with being up and about to help others in active ways. Why waste time in solitude when so many are suffering?

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Lo Sar Tashi Delek!

“There is no problem other than the thought.” –Lama Norlha Rinpoche 

When I was running a household and raising my daughter, I eventually learned to streamline the more mundane aspects of my life, such as housework and meal preparation, with the help of an online housekeeping maven who emphasized the importance of having household routines—things you do automatically on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis without thinking about them.

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18 sure-fire ways to catch ego-clinging in the act!

I can think of two situations in life when it’s painfully obvious that ego-clinging is counterproductive. The first is in dealing with very young children. The second is in dealing with dementia. In neither case will you ever win an argument using fact or reason, and when you fail and it feels frustrating, who is it that suffers? It’s not me…it’s my ego-clinging!

The Buddha pointed to ego-clinging as the root source of all our suffering, but do we really know what it is or how to recognize it? Who is this mysterious shadow lurking behind our every thought and action, spoiling every otherwise perfect experience?

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Cultivating bat-quanimity

Equanimity is a quality of our Buddha nature, along with love, compassion, and joy—something we all possess in our innermost being, though sometimes we have to work hard to locate it underneath the surface turbulence. The word equanimity in English comes from the Latin aequus: equal or even, plus animus: mind, spirit, character. It is defined as calmness of mind; composure, especially under tension or strain; or evenness of temper. Among the dictionary synonyms: composure, calm, peace, poise, serenity, tranquility, coolness, imperturbability. You get the picture.

I’ve discovered this week that an excellent test of equanimity is the sudden appearance of a bat in one’s home.

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Lather, rinse, repeat

“Mind is empty. You can change your thoughts.”  –Lama Norlha Rinpoche

We are taught in the Seven Points of Mind Training, “Be grateful to everyone,” and “Rely all the time on a joyful mind.” How can we put this into practice when all around us things are constantly going wrong and people behave in ways that disregard or harm us?

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Mind the gap: digital edition

As you may know, we had a visit last week at KTC from Dr. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction and teacher of contemplative computing. He talked to us about some ways to tame the hold digital technology exerts on our attention, which can be  an issue for us at the monastery just as it might be for anyone who relies on technology in their work and daily life. Among the many topics he touched upon, one of the most immediately useful was “email apnea.” It seems that we users of digital devices have a tendency to hold our breath as we wait for our email to update. Though it may take just a few seconds each time, if we check frequently or have poor reception these intervals can add up to 15 minutes or more during the course of a day, or four 24-hour days over the span of a year.

What excellent news!

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Location, location, location

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, for the last couple of years to help care for my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in the last year of my three-year retreat, and I had to move her to assisted living a few months after retreat graduation in 2011. Since then, I’ve been back and forth periodically, and right now I’m in Richmond again, helping her adjust to a recent move to an all-dementia facility, and overseeing major repairs to her house.

Spending time with my mom and other people in her facility, I feel I’ve gained some insight into how to prepare for my own old age and the possibility of dementia. In a nutshell: practice as much as possible, learn to rest my mind wherever I am, and cultivate contentment with whatever is happening. (Corollary: Eat everything. Including parsnips if needed.)

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Mind the gap

I keep meaning to add new posts but golly it is a busy life, even when it’s a life that is to all intents and purposes dedicated to Dharma practice. It’s hard to bring major projects, Dharma or otherwise, to fruition because they are constantly interrupted by more immediate concerns, and the to-do list is mainly a historical record of things I meant at one time to get done.

Why is it so hard to set aside meaningful periods of time to focus on things that are really important?

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All sound is the sound of mantra: Locust Grove cascade and KTC cicadas

Since the local 17-year cicadas are mostly hidden in the obviously teeming woods around the KTC perimeter, I decided to stop in today at Locust Grove, the Samuel Morse estate on the Hudson River about 15 minutes up Route 9. Not a single cicada to be seen or heard. OK, so maybe it’s named after the trees.

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All sound is the sound of mantra: 17-year cicadas June 2

The 17-year cicadas, last seen here in 1996, are not having an easy time of it.  After waiting 17 years underground to emerge for their brief, glorious moment in the sunlight and air, they were delayed by a long, cool spring. When they finally started to come out during the two-week Saka Dawa nyungne retreat in May, a blast of cold weather halted them in their tracks. But at last, in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave this week, they are emerging in numbers, and their eerie hum grows louder every day. As of today, we can hear them throughout the monastery grounds.

All sound is the sound of mantra: cicadas June 2, 2013

(High sound volume recommended)

cicada and begonia June 2 2013

The constant hum of the cicadas reminds me of this meditation instruction from Chamgon Tai Situ Rinpoche:

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