Not Part of the Deal
The mind must be monitored and inventoried like an alcoholic in recovery or a Washington lobbyist: It never goes away until it gets what it wants. And what it wants is to be in control at all times. But control is not part of the deal of being a human being. We may rightly try to confront injustices, but some things can only be seen, noted, and accepted for what they are.
– Stephen Altschuler, “Sitting Practice Redux”
The Only Place
Just as we cannot live without water, so are joy and peace essential for our inner fulfillment. We may not even be aware that we are searching for something. It manifests only in our restlessness as we move from here to there, trying out different friends, different ideas, different jobs, different countries. Whatever we attempt is a reflection of our inner thirst, which we hope to quench in all these external ways. What we are looking for lies within us, and if we gave out time and energy to an interior search, we would come across it much faster, since that is the only place where it is to be found.
– Ayya Khema, “Thirsting for Enlightenment”
Advice from an Experienced Meditator
We’re swamped with therapies, self-help books, and techniques—what musician and activist Bob Geldof called ‘the thriving economy of psychotherapists, designer religions, and spiritual boutiques’—which treat our lives as projects to be tweaked and fixed. Isn’t meditation (if it’s anything at all) a relief from all this? Isn’t it the opposite of repairing and adjusting and striving and perpetually wanting things to be different?
– Barry Evans, “The Myth of the Experienced Meditator”
For, as the Buddhist view has consistently demonstrated, it is the perspective of the sufferer that determines whether a given experience perpetuates suffering or is a vehicle for awakening. To work something through means to change one’s view; if we try instead to change the emotion, we may achieve some short-term success, but we remain bound by forces of attachment and an aversion to the very feelings from which we are struggling to be free.
– Mark Epstein, “Shattering the Ridgepole”
Imagination and Reality
Imagination draws its energy from a confrontation with desire. It feeds off desire, transmuting and magnifying reality through desire’s power. Fantasy does the opposite; it avoids desire by fleeing into a crude sort of wish-fulfillment that seems much safer. Fantasy might be teddy bears, lollipops, sexual delights, or superhero adventures; it also might be voices in one’s head urging acts of outrage and mayhem. Or it might be the confused world of separation and fear we routinely live in, a threatening yet seductive world that promises us the happiness we seek when our fantasies finally become real. Imagination confronts desire directly, in all its discomfort and intensity, deepening the world right where we are. Fantasy and reality are opposing forces, but imagination and reality are not in opposition: Imagination goes toward reality, shapes and evokes it.
– Norman Fischer, “Saved from Freezing”
Do not fear failure. Whatever happened in the past is past; do not worry about it happening again. Before you meet with success, failure is natural and necessary.
– Master Sheng-Yen, “Being Natural”
Not about Comfort
A central component of spiritual life is recognizing that practice is not about ensuring that we feel secure or comfortable. It’s not that we won’t feel these things when we practice; rather, it’s that we are also bound to sometimes feel very uncomfortable and insecure, particularly when exploring and working with our darker emotions and unhealed pain.
– Ezra Bayda, “The Three Things we Fear Most”
Breaking the Sadness Habit
At times our tendency is to indulge in sadness—we don’t want to get rid of it, we want more. But there are many other situations in which we can see clearly how much energy is invested in trying to get rid of sadness. Lots of energy is literally thrown into the desire to get rid of it. Of course, I am not referring to those small acts of wisdom in which one gets together to talk things over with a friend, for example, or goes into nature. I am referring to something compulsive, something obsessive—thinking, judging, reacting about how to get rid of this unpleasant feeling. We might as well talk about total nonacceptance of sadness; we might as well talk about aversion to sadness. A lot of energy goes into this desire.
– Corrado Pensa, “Breaking the Sadness Habit”
Approaching Unfavorable Conditions
Like the death of a child in a dream,
Through holding the erroneous appearance
Of the varieties of suffering to be true
One makes oneself so tired.
Therefore, it is a practice of bodhisattvas when meeting with
unfavorable conditions to view them as erroneous.
– Ngulchu Thogme, “The Art of Reality”
The Luminous Gap
Entering the awakened state of mind, even for a moment, is always preceded by an experience, however fleeting, of extreme contrast and conflict. Even on the highest and most subtle levels of attainment, negative and positive continue together side by side, until one makes the leap beyond them both.
– Francesca Freemantle, “The Luminous Gap in Bardo”
When you analyze it, the motivation to ‘just feel good right now’ is really just indulging our desires. The motivation to immediately gratify desire is what has driven most of our actions throughout our beginningless sojourn in samsara—all it has accomplished is to perpetuate our confusion, pain, and habitual inability to pull ourselves out of this mess. This is precisely the problem that Buddhism was invented to solve.
– David Patt,“Who’s Zoomin’ Who? The Commodification of Buddhism in the American Marketplace”
Every Moment Foundational
Everything we encounter is fully and completely itself. Nothing is merely a means to an end, nothing is merely a step on the path to somewhere else. Every moment, everything, is absolutely foundational in its own right. Zazen, defined in the narrow sense as seated meditation, is but one of an infinite number of possible paradigms for this state, yet at the same time it is the unique expression of the coming together of human nature and buddhanature.
– Barry Magid, “Uselessness”
Spend Some Time with Yourself
I try to encourage my students to encounter the world within themselves, to try to follow the thread as to why they’re writing as deeply as they can into their subconscious. I tell them before they do any research, they should spend time with themselves, however long it takes: it could be a couple of days, or a couple of years. After that, you actually encounter someone else as someone else. You allow the world to enter and to become part of you, to break whatever cage you’ve been rattling around in. That part is interesting, too: we have to see our own cages.
– Nick Flynn, “Real Enough”
Wisdom at Work
The desire to know something is wisdom at work. Being mindful is not difficult. But it’s difficult to be continuously aware. For that you need right effort. But it does not require a great deal of energy. It’s relaxed perseverance in reminding yourself to be aware. When you are aware, wisdom unfolds naturally, and there is still more interest.
– Sayadaw U Tejaniya, “The Wise Investigator”
It’s Nothing Personal
Understanding that there is no solid, singular, or permanent ‘me’ makes it possible to accommodate whatever arises in life without feeling so intimidated by our experience, without rolling over like a defeated dog in a dogfight. We can see that things arise due to our karma playing itself out and that it does not necessarily have to be so personal.
– Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, “Realizing Guiltlessness”
Awareness cannot be taught, and when it is present it has no context. All contexts are created by thought and are therefore corruptible by thought. Awareness simply throws light on what is, without any separation whatsoever.
– Toni Packer, “Unmasking the Self”
Avoiding Strained Practice
With interest and investigation there’s wisdom. Effort alone, without wisdom—the way people generally understand it—is associated with strained activity because it is usually motivated by greed, aversion, and delusion. Effort with wisdom is a healthy desire to know and understand whatever arises, without any preference for the outcome.
– Sayadaw U Tejaniya, “The Wise Invesigator”
The Self in Self-Help
Most human beings spend their lives battling with opposing inner forces: what they think they should do versus what they are doing; how they feel about themselves versus how they are; whether they think they’re right and worthy or wrong and unworthy. The separate self is just the conglomeration of these opposing forces. When the self drops away, inner division drops away with it.
– Adyashanti, “The Taboo of Enlightenment”
Cutting Out Attachments
The purpose of Buddhism is to cut down anger, hatred, and jealousy. The way you do it is very simple. If you cannot handle an attachment, then you completely cut out whatever helps the attachment grow.
– Gelek Rinpoche, “A Lama For All Seasons”
The Gate of Not-Okay
The only thing that can make us uncomfortable with being alone is not liking who we are. That’s what we do when we face the wall: we face who we are. Being okay with however that arises is the most compassion and the most honesty you can ever offer yourself—to just accept yourself as you are. Even if you don’t like it, that’s okay, because not-okay is always a practice gate. We can always include what we don’t like in ourselves. But letting go of worrying about having to become perfect: that’s a gift that we give to ourselves.
– Merle Kodo Boyd, “Okay As It Is, Okay As You Are”
Not Clinging to Pleasant States
We like pleasant meditative states. There’s no problem with the pleasantness of them; it’s part of our life experience. The problem is that we often devote our life energy to the getting, sustaining, accumulation, and repeating of these pleasant experiences. But, as we all know, these pleasant experiences don’t last, so they don’t really have the capacity to bring us happiness, to bring us completion, to bring us fulfillment. We’re always seeking more—that’s samsara, the endless wheel of becoming, fueled by wanting.
– Joseph Goldstein, “One Dharma”
The fundamental aim of Buddhist practice is not belief; it’s enlightenment, the awakening that takes place when illusion has been overcome. It may sound simple, but it’s probably the most difficult thing of all to achieve. It isn’t some kind of magical reward that someone can give you or that a strong belief will enable you to acquire. The true path to awakening is genuine discernment; it’s the very opposite of belief.
– Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, “The Seeds of Life”
A Healthy Dissatisfaction
A sense of dissatisfaction is regarded as an essential prerequisite for progress on the Buddhist path. Far from seeking to become somehow ‘nonjudgmental,’ the meditator is instructed to judge all the objects of ordinary experience as scarred by three marks: impermanence, suffering, and no self.
– Donald S. Lopez, “The Scientific Buddha”
The Continuity of Thought
People are often careless about the thoughts they give rise to, assuming that once they forget about a thought, that thought is finished. This is not true. Once you give rise to a thought, it keeps functioning, and eventually its consequences return to you.
– Daehaeng Kun Sunim, “Thinking Big”
Vision and Routine
The key to development along the Buddhist path is repetitive routine guided by inspirational vision. It is the insight into final freedom—the peace and purity of a liberated mind—that uplifts us and impels us to overcome our limits. But it is by repetition—the methodical cultivation of wholesome practices—that we cover the distance separating us from the goal and draw ever closer to awakening.
– Bhikkhu Bodhi, “Vision and Routine”
Inhabiting the Body
As we inhabit our body with increasing sensitivity, we learn its unspoken language and patterns, which gives us tremendous freedom to make choices. The practice of cutting thoughts and dispersing negative repetitive patterns can be simplified by attending to the patterns in the body first, before they begin to be spun around in the mind.
– Jill Satterfield, “Meditation in Motion”
Not Part of the Deal