The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God... Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there's some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us... Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.
Throughout my life, until this very moment, whatever virtue I have accomplished, including any benefit that may come from this book, I dedicate to the welfare of all beings. May the roots of suffering diminish. May warfare, violence, neglect, indifference, and addiction also decrease. May the wisdom and compassion of all beings increase, now and in the future. May we clearly see all the barriers we erect between ourselves and others to be as insubstantial as our dreams. May we appreciate the great perfection of all phenomena. May we continue to open our hearts and minds, in order to work ceaselessly for the benefit of all beings. May we go to the places that scare us. May we lead the life of a warrior.
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People get into a heavy-duty sin and guilt trip, feeling that if things are going wrong, that means that they did something bad and they are being punished. That's not the idea at all. The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart. To the degree that you didn't understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you're given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to open further.
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As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don't deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.
We have two alternatives: either we question our beliefs - or we don't. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality- or we begin to challenge them. In Buddha's opinion, to train in staying open and curious - to train in dissolving our assumptions and beliefs - is the best use of our human lives.
We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged enough or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that's death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn't have any fresh air. There's no room for something to come in and interrupt all that. We are killing the moment by controlling our experience.
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Even though peak experiences might show us the truth and inform us about why we are training, they are essentially no big deal. If we can't integrate them into the ups and downs of our lives, if we cling to them, they will hinder us. We can trust our experiences as valid, but then we have to move on and learn how to get along with our neighbors. Then even the most remarkable insights can begin to permeate our lives. As the twelfth-century Tibetian yogi Milarepa said when he heard of his student Gampopa's peak experiences, 'They are neither good not bad. Keep meditation.'
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The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn't mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don't have to feel it's happening because we personally made the wrong move. In reality, however, when we feel suffering, we think that something is wrong. As long as we're addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot.
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To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is.
The essence of this practice is that when we encounter pain in our life we breathe into our heart with the recognition that others also feel this. It's a way of acknowledging when we are closing down and of training to open up. When we encounter any pleasure or tenderness in our life, we cherish that and rejoice.
Once I had an opportunity to talk with Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, about the fact that I was not able to do my practice properly. I had just started the vajrayana practices and I was supposed to be visualizing. I couldn't visualize anything. I tried and tried but there was just nothing at all; I felt like a fraud doing the practice because it didn't feel natural to me. (...). So he encouraged me by saying that as long as you have these kinds of doubts, your practice will be good.
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This meditation is called nontheistic, which doesn't have anything to do with believing in God or not believing in God, but means that nobody but yourself can tell you what to accept and what to reject. The practice of meditation helps us to get to know this basic energy really well, with tremendous honesty and warmheartedness, and we begin to figure out for ourselves what is poison and what is medicin, which means something different for each of us.
WE ALREADY HAVE everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves-the heavy-duty fearing that we're bad and hoping that we're good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds-never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.
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Even though there are so many teachings, so many meditations, so many instructions, the basic point of it all is just to learn to be extremely honest and also wholehearted about what exists in your mind - thoughts, emotions bodily sensations, the whole thing that adds up to what we call "me" or "I".
If the object of meditation were something concrete, something solid and graspable - an image or a statue or a dot on the floor or a candle - it would be much more of a concentration exercise. But the breath is very elusive; even if you wanted to give it one hundred percent attention, it would be difficult because it is so ephemeral, so light, so airy and spacious. As the object of meditation, it brings a sense of softness and gentleness.
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When one of the emperors of China asked Bodhidharma (the Zen master who brought Zen from India to China) what enlightenment was, his answer was, 'Lots of space, nothing holy.' Meditation is nothing holy. Therefore there's nothing that you think or feel that somehow gets put in the category of 'sin.' There's nothing that you can think or feel that gets put in the category of 'bad.' There's nothing that you can think or feel that gets put in the category of 'wrong.' It's all good juicy stuff-the manure of waking up, the manure of achieving enlightenment, the art of living in the present moment.
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One evening Milarepa returned to his cave after gathering firewood, only to find it filled with demons. They were cooking his food, reading his books, sleeping in his bed. They had taken over the joint. He knew about nonduality of self and other, but he still didn't quite know how to get these guys out of his cave. Even though he had the sense that they were just a projection of his own mind-all the unwanted parts of himself-he didn't know how to get rid of them. So first he taught them the dharma. He sat on this seat that was higher than they were and said things to them about how we are all one. He talked about compassion and shunyata and how poison is medicine. Nothing happened. The demons were still there. Then he lost his patience and got angry and ran at them. They just laughed at him. Finally, he gave up and just sat down on the floor, saying, 'I'm not going away and it looks like you're not either, so let's just live here together.' At that point, all of them left except one. Milarepa said, 'Oh, this one is particularly vicious.' (We all know that one. Sometimes we have lots of them like that. Sometimes we feel that's all we've got.) He didn't know what to do, so he surrendered himself even further. He walked over and put himself right into the mouth of the demon and said, 'Just eat me up if you want to.' Then that demon left too.
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Laziness is not particularly terrible or wonderful. Rather it has a basic living quality that deserves to be experienced just as it is. Perhaps we'll find an irritating, pulsating quality in laziness. We might feel it as dull and heavy or as vulnerable and raw. Whatever we discover, as we explore it further, we find nothing to hold on to, nothing solid, only groundless, wakeful energy. This process of experiencing laziness directly and nonverbally is transformative. It unlocks a tremendous energy that is usually blocked by our habit of running away. This is because when we stop resisting laziness, our identity as the one who is lazy begins to fall apart completely. Without the blinders of ego, we connect with a fresh outlook, a greater vision. This is how laziness-or any other demon-introduces us to the compassionate life.
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My experience with forgiveness is that it sort of comes spontaneously at a certain point and to try to force it it's not really forgiveness. It's Buddhist philosophy or something spiritual jargon that you're trying to live up to but you're just using it against yourself as a reason why you're not okay.
I dedicate the merit of the occasion to all beings. This gesture of universal friendship has been likened to a drop of fresh spring water. If we put it on a rock in the sunshine, it will soon evaporate. If we put it in the ocean, however, it will never be lost. Thus the wish is made that we not keep the teachings to ourselves but to use them to benefit others.
It's hard to know whether to laugh or to cry at the human predicament. Here we are with so much wisdom and tenderness, and-without even knowing it-we cover it over to protect ourselves from insecurity. Although we have the potential to experience the freedom of a butterfly, we mysteriously prefer the small and fearful cocoon of ego.
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In meditation we discover our inherent restlessness. Sometimes we get up and leave. Sometimes we sit there but our bodies wiggle and squirm and our minds go far away. This can be so uncomfortable that we feel's it's impossible to stay. Yet this feeling can teach us not just about ourselves but what it is to be human... we really don't want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down... so whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to 'stay' and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What's for lunch? Stay! I can't stand this another minute! Stay!'
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We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who's right and who's wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don't like about our associates or our society. It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others... Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.
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Buddha is our inherent nature-our buddha nature-and what that means is that if you're going to grow up fully, the way that it happens is that you begin to connect with the intelligence that you already have. It's not like some intelligence that's going to be transplanted into you. If you're going to be fully mature, you will no longer be imprisoned in the childhood feeling that you always need to protect yourself or shield yourself because things are too harsh. If you're going to be a grown-up-which I would define as being completely at home in your world no matter how difficult the situation-it's because you will allow something that's already in you to be nurtured. You allow it to grow, you allow it to come out, instead of all the time shielding it and protecting it and keeping it buried. Someone once told me, 'When you feel afraid, that's 'fearful buddha.'' That could be applied to whatever you feel. Maybe anger is your thing. You just go out of control and you see red, and the next thing you know you're yelling or throwing something or hitting someone. At that time, begin to accept the fact that that's 'enraged buddha.' If you feel jealous, that's 'jealous buddha.' If you have indigestion, that's 'buddha with heartburn.' If you're happy, 'happy buddha'; if bored, 'bored buddha.' In other words, anything that you can experience or think is worthy of compassion; anything you could think or feel is worthy of appreciation.
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Rather than going after these walls and barriers with a sledgehammer, we pay attention to them. With gentleness and honesty, we move closer to those walls. We touch them, and smell them and get to know them well. We become familiar with the strategies and beliefs we use to build these walls: what are the stories we tell ourselves? What repels me and what attracts me? Without calling what we see right or wrong, we simply look as objectively as we can. We can observe ourselves with humor, not getting overly serious, moralistic or uptight about the investigation. Year after year, we train in remaining open and receptive to whatever arises. Slowly, very slowly, the cracks in the walls seem to widen and, as if by magic, bodhichitta is able to flow freely.
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The Buddha's principal message that day was that holding on to anything blocks wisdom. Any conclusion that we draw must be let go. The only way to fully understand the bodhichitta teachings, the only way to practice them fully, is to abide in the unconditional openness of the prajna, patiently cutting through all our tendencies to hang on.
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We are like children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off limits to others. We're willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.
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