re: but seriously, happy easter

much more serious… or we could just call it truthful insight… found it on paulo coelho’s blog… yes, he has one… and yes, i think it’s worth checking out….

Revolutionary and Rebel

Khalil Gibran had said that twenty centuries ago, men loved the weakness in Jesus and did not understand his power.

Jesus did not live as a coward and did not die complaining and suffering. He lived as a revolutionary and was crucified as a rebel.

“He was not a bird with broken wings, but a violent storm.”
“He was not a victim of his persecutors and had not suffered at the hands of his executioners – he was free before all.”
“He came to awaken a new and strong soul, which made every heart a temple, an altar, and every human being a priest.”

Looking carefully at his life, we see that, although he knew that his passion was inevitable, he tried to give us a sense of joy in every gesture.

He must have thought long and hard before deciding what his first miracle should be.

He must have considered the healing of a paralyzed man, the resurrection of the dead, the expulsion of a demon, something that his contemporaries would have considered as “noble”. After all, it would be the first time to show the world that he had come as the Son of God.

And it is written: his first miracle was turning water into wine – for a wedding party.

May the wisdom of this gesture inspire us, and be always present in our souls: the spiritual quest is compassion, enthusiasm and joy too.

Passion: let me not beg for the stilling of my pain

“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,
but for the heart to conquer it.

Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield,
but to my own strength.

Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved,
but hope for the patience to win my freedom.

Grant that I may not be a coward,
feeling Your mercy in my success alone;

But let me find the grasp of Your hand in my failure.”

by Rabindranath Tagore

melted into our heart

The more the wood – the hotter the fire . . .

Excerpted from “Taking the Leap” by Pema Chodron

So we start by making friends with our experience and developing warmth for our good old selves. Slowly, very slowly, gently, very gently, we let the stakes get higher as we touch in on more troubling feelings. This leads to trusting that we have the strength and good-heartedness to live in this precious world, despite its land mines, with dignity and kindness. With this kind of confidence, connecting with others comes more easily, because what is there to fear when we have stayed with ourselves through thick and thin? Other people can provoke anything in us and we don’t need to defend ourselves by striking out or shutting down.

Selfless help, helping others without an agenda, is the result of our having helped ourselves. We feel loving towards ourselves and therefore we feel loving towards others. Over time all those we used to feel separate from become more and more melted into our heart.

the middle way

photo by brooke golightly

The Big Squeeze

Excerpted from “True Happiness”

Sounds True, Inc.

This is the place where most of us hang out for a long time, in what I sometimes call the big squeeze, where you are sort of caught between your idealistic notions of how you want to be (and how you think everyone else should be as well), and your “human frailty” if you want to call it that – the realness of your cravings, or the strength of your habitual patterns. You are sort of caught and rubbed between these two things…

(the sound of Ani-la rubbing her hands together is heard in the recording over a brief period of silence)

And, it’s very interesting, because on the one hand there is your idealism, how one “should” be. And then you are up against how you actually are. And interestingly enough – if you actually allow yourself to be rubbed instead of being harsh on yourself, if you will allow yourself to be rubbed – this is a place were some sort of real balance comes in. You really learn what is the middle way between idealism and craving, some kind of middle way where you can hold your seat, you can keep your heart open and stay receptive to these difficult places. You can stay open and more and more you can not harm yourself by doing the same things over and over.

But it’s half way… you’re sort of right in the middle of something, and I really think this is the place where we learn compassion for ourselves. This is the place where we begin to have some appreciation for what other people are up against, some real empathy, instead of just criticizing them all the time.

When you see yourself, how strong your aspiration is and how you are not always able to measure up, you learn so much from this inbetween state of a really good-hearted strong wish to not block your buddha-nature, and yet still finding yourself in that very place.

it is both

there is no light without darkness… there is no darkness without light… everything is everything… my joy only runs as deep as my sorrow… it’s all good…

“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both.

Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction.

On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple.

Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”

Excerpted from “Start Where You Are”

by Pema Chödrön

resisting the split

Choosing Peace

VIA

By Pema Chödrön

There is a key moment, says Pema Chödrön, when we make the choice between peace and conflict. In this new teaching from her program Practicing Peace in Times of War, she describes the practice we can do at that very moment to bring peace for ourselves, for others, and for the world.

If we want to make peace, with ourselves and with the world at large, we have to look closely at the source of all of our wars. So often, it seems, we want to “settle the score,” which means getting our revenge, our payback. We want others to feel what we have felt. It means getting even, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with evenness at all. It is, in fact, a highly charged emotional reaction.

Underlying all of these thoughts and emotions is our basic intelligence, our basic wisdom. We all have it and we can all uncover it. It can grow and expand and become more accessible to us as a tool of peacemaking and a tool of happiness for ourselves and for others. But this intelligence is obscured by emotional reactivity when our experience becomes more about us than about them, more about self than about other. That is war.

I have often spoken of shenpa, the Tibetan term for the hook in our mind that snags us and prevents us from being open and receptive. When we try to settle the score, we cover over our innate wisdom, our innate intelligence, with rapidly escalating, highly charged, shenpa-oozing emotionality. We produce one hook after another.

What are we to do about that? We could say that this emotionality is bad and we have to get rid of it. But that brings problems, because it’s really the same approach as getting even with other people. In this case we’re basically saying that we have to settle the score with ourselves, get even with ourselves, as it were, by ridding ourselves of our emotionality.

Since this approach will not work, what we need to do is to neither reject nor indulge in our own emotional energy, but instead come to know it. Then, as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught, we can transmute the confusion of emotions into wisdom. In simple terms, we must gain the capacity to slowly, over time, become one with our own energy instead of splitting off. We must learn to use the tools we have available to transform this moment of splitting in two. *Splitting in two* is the moment when peace turns into war, and it is a very common experience.

***Especially if you’re “biracial”***

who is leading your army?

The following is excerpted from:

Pema Chödrön and Dzigar Kongtrül: Let’s Be Honest

A discussion led by Elizabeth Namgyel

…Dzigar Kongtrül: Self-importance is having too much attachment to one’s own well-being and freedom from suffering, without having the same kind of care and concern for others’ well-being and freedom from suffering. When we have a great deal of self-importance, we will never be able to enjoy whatever we possess that we have gathered through our hard work, wit, and cunning. It will always bring a sense of dissatisfaction. We will never feel quite ready to enjoy it, because we carry the burden of being attached to it. However, if we apply to others the same sense of loving and caring that we have in cherishing ourselves, we reduce the self-importance.
When self-importance is reduced, a door opens to your positive qualities. As you continue to reduce the self-importance, the positive qualities take deeper root in your mindstream and your heart. At that point, you have real discipline and you begin to sustain yourself with your innate positive qualities, rather than the drive to become important. The ability to love, to care, to be concerned, to be compassionate—these were all there from the beginning. Previously, they were guided by self-centeredness; now they are guided by the needs of others.

This innate love is a powerful force that is now being led by a completely noble, incredibly dignified leader. Before, this powerful force, an army with the richness of a whole kingdom behind it and the loyalty of the subjects, was being led by a crooked king, and that crookedness created a state of confusion that spread everywhere. When that crooked leader is replaced by a noble leader, with a genuine sense of dignity, everyone in the kingdom can reap the benefit of the positive qualities that are the basic nature of the kingdom in the first place.

Pema Chödrön: Is the leader self-reflection?

Dzigar Kongtrül: The noble leader is altruistic mind, and the crooked leader is self-centeredness. Self-reflection is what discriminates between the qualities of self-centeredness of the bad leader and the altruistic mind of the good leader.

Pema Chödrön: It is interesting to consider the nature of the self-centeredness that seems to be prevalent in the West. I don’t think the term “self-cherishing,” for example, is all that helpful here, because the ego twist in the West isn’t that we love ourselves too much. Rather, we tend to have a negative preoccupation with ourselves. We might go shopping, not so much to feather our own nest, but to try to overcome some very bad feeling we have toward ourselves. Rather than cherishing ourselves, we hate ourselves. So, loving- kindness toward oneself needs to be developed as the basis before you can spread it to other people.

Dzigar Kongtrül: The loving-kindness is directed to your mind, not to the self. When you redirect the love and compassion from the self-centered approach, which has never produced good results anyway, to the altruistic approach, you find you have positive feelings in great abundance. Even though these are extended outwardly to others, they don’t leave your mind and end up somewhere else. They fill your mind and sustain it.

Pema Chödrön: Shantideva talks about all the ways that we are willing to hurt ourselves, including suicide. He says, if you’re willing to hurt yourself that much, it’s no wonder you’re willing to hurt other people. It seems to me the verses in the Bodhicaryavatara that discuss this issue are key for the West, because we’re much more into self-degradation than what you call self-cherishing.

Dzigar Kongtrül: The use of language in this case is interesting. When we say self-degradation, it sounds like we don’t have much self-importance. But in reality if one were not holding tightly to the self, there would be no reason to feel such aversion to it.

Pema Chödrön: Yes, I see self-degradation as one of the main ways that self-importance manifests in the West. You are still “full of yourself,” but you are full of yourself as a negative thing.

Dzigar Kongtrül: We come to believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. But if you really study, if you really practice, you will find that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong. So you need to commit to a course of study and practice, and until you do that, whether one is in the West or anywhere else, there is going to be the feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with you. When you wish to be happy and free from suffering, and yet your mind is not supporting you, it’s very easy to resort to thinking that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.

race is a shenpa

Excerpted from “Getting Unstuck” by Pema Chodron, from teachings on Shenpa that she attributes to her current teacher Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

So this is a teaching on a Tibetan word – Shenpa. S-H-E-N-P-A, Shenpa.

And actually its taught about a lot in Buddhism but not quite in the style that Dzigar Kongtrul has been presenting it.

The usual translation of the work Shenpa is “attachment”. If you were to look it up in a Tibetan dictionary, you would find that the definition is attachment. But the word attachment absolutely doesn’t get at what it is, and so Dzigar Kongtrul said lets just not use that translation, its incomplete and it doesn’t touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect that it has on us.

So, if I were translating Shenpa it would be very hard to find a word, but I am going to give you a few. One word might be “hooked”. How we get hooked. We get hooked, and then we get “stuck”. Everyone likes to hear teachings on getting stuck and how to get unstuck because it is so common to feel stuck.

Guess what: you can meditate for a long, long time, and you can still get stuck.

In terms of [the example previously described of] having scabies and the itch that goes along with that, and scratching it, shenpa is the itch and its the urge to scratch. So “urge” is another word. The urge to smoke that cigarette, the urge to overeat, have one more drink, or whatever your addiction is.

And it gets into everyday experience. Somebody says a mean word to you… and then something in you tightens. That’s the shenpa. And then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem or blaming them or anger at them or denigrating yourself, and then words or actions, maybe if you have strong addictions you just go right for your addiction to cover over that bad feeling that arose when someone said this mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you. Hooks you. Another word might not affect you, but we’re talking about when it touches that sore place. That’s a shenpa.

The fundamental root shenpa is what in buddhism is called ego, or ego-clinging. And we experience it as this tightening and self-absorption that gets very strong at that point. So the fundamental root shenpa is ego-clinging, or self-absorption, or “cocoon”*, and then the branch shenpas are all the different styles of scratching and so forth, like that.

Buddha by Octavio Ocampo

So someone criticizes you, they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child and – shenpa – almost co-arising. As soon as those words have registered – boom, its there, and its like a tightening.

Shenpa is not the thoughts. Dzigar Kongtrul made a big thing about it’s closer to an emotion, it’s pre-verbal and then it breeds thoughts really quickly, but shenpa is not the thoughts. He said it’s more like an emotion, but I think its even pre-emotion in a way, its kind of that (makes gasping sound)… so that you can feel it happening, which often, people just starting with this can – you feel it happening sometimes.

Say like at the monastery, at Gampo Abbey, people were finding someone would come sit next to them, and of course you have a kind of intimate relationship with everyone there living in community, and they can feel the shenpa just because this person sat down next to them, because they have some kind of thing going about this person, and they’re hooked.

Now if you catch it at that level, its very workable and then you have the possibility to have this enormous curiosity about this urge to do the habitual thing, to strengthen the habituation. You can feel it.

One thing about shenpa is it’s never new, it always has a familiar taste in the mouth. It has a familiar smell. It’s like when you begin to get the hang of it, you feel like this has been happening forever.

It causes you to feel the fundamental underlying insecurity of the human experience that is inherent in a changing shifting impermanent illusory world as long as we are habituated to want to have ground under our feet.

speaking of freedom

I cannot forget that “liberty and justice for all” wasn’t really for all.  So much for being impeccable with your word, Founding Fathers.  Here’s an interesting snippet of the history of the struggle for freedom in this nation.  The struggle of those who toiled to build it and cultivate it’s wealth, and one man who was dedicated to assisting them.  I’m curious about the early years of Henry Ward Beecher’s life.  I wonder how he came to see the truth, when the illusion was set up to work in his favor.

Underground Railroad

VIA

The road to freedom is one of the great themes of American history. The story of the Underground Railroad exemplifies the profound power of that journey. Following the lead of its famed antislavery preacher Henry Ward Beecher, Plymouth Church played a fundamental part in New York City ‘s underground activity.

From the very beginnings of slavery in America, slaves escaped to freedom. They ran to the wilderness; they went to live with the ever-hospitable Indians; they slipped into cities and made their claim as free Blacks. In the Revolutionary era, Puritan New England and Quaker Pennsylvania passed legislation abolishing slavery. The exodus northward, which came to be known as the Underground Railroad, began. By 1831, the term “Underground Railroad” had been coined to describe the informal, secretive network of ordinary citizens, Black and White, whose safe houses offered refuge.

Although Plymouth Church was not established until 1847, just fourteen years before the start of the Civil War, it later became known as “the Grand Central Depot” of the Underground Railroad. Oral tradition and several published memoirs tell us that slaves seeking passage to Canada may have hidden in the tunnel-like basement beneath the church sanctuary (this space can still be visited during our public and school tours). Beecher’s private stenographer, T.J. Ellinwood, quotes the Minister as claiming, “I opened Plymouth Church”, though you did not know it, to hide fugitives. I took them into my own home and fed them. I piloted them, and sent them toward the North Star, which to them was the Star of Bethlehem.“ The Rev. Charles B. Ray, an African-American living in Manhattan, and the founding editor of the Colored American newspaper, was quoted as saying, “I regularly drop off fugitives at Henry Ward Beecher‘s Plymouth Church in Brooklyn.” Other churches in Brooklyn and Manhattan, especially Black churches, also hid escapees, but most have since moved to newer buildings. Plymouth Church is one of the few active Underground Railroad congregations in New York still housed in its original location.

Henry Ward Beecher

Plymouth’s first minister, the Rev.Henry Ward Beecher , spearheaded and symbolized Plymouth’s antislavery activity, but the founding members of Plymouth selected him as their pastor in no small part because they knew he would do so. He already had a record as an opponent to slavery when he made those beliefs clear in his trial sermon for Plymouth. Beecher and his peers were greatly influenced by the Second Great Awakening, a Protestant religious revival of the early 1800’s, firmly committed to abolishing slavery. As a student at Amherst College, he helped found an abolitionist organization, which was promptly shut down by the faculty. At seminary in Cincinnati, he contributed to an antislavery newspaper which was mobbed and destroyed; he also patrolled the streets of that city, fully armed, when temporary special policemen were called upon to protect free Blacks from threats. When he was a minister in Indianapolis, his limited preaching on the subject caused members to leave his church, but he remained active in the Underground Railroad there, as his widow, Eunice, recalled years later.

Enormous publicity surrounded one of Beecher’s first antislavery acts at Plymouth Church. In 1848, 77 fugitive slaves were sold in Washington after the failure of the largest group escape attempt on the Underground Railroad. In that group were two teenage girls, the Edmondson sisters. Thanks to the fundraising efforts of people like Beecher to regain the girls’ freedom, the Edmondsons galvanized public support for the abolitionist movement – and inspired Beecher’s own sister, Harriet, to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Beecher, with his newly elevated public profile, had to be especially circumspect in harboring escaped slaves. Eventually, in 1872, he was named by The Brooklyn Eagle as an active participant in the Underground Railroad. The article claimed that Plymouth’s minister helped dozens of fugitives in cooperation with a man in New York named “Napoleon.” This Napoleon “had the matter of escape under his charge and whenever a slave was sent on to Mr. Beecher he, Napoleon, would fix things along the Central Railroad and see to it that the officials along the route were got into friendly disposition for the fugitive.” The article does not indicate Napoleon’s race, but he may well have been Black, for Black involvement in the Underground Railroad almost certainly exceeded that of Whites.

There are believed to be many members of the Plymouth congregation who were active in the Underground Railroad. Evidence suggests that escaped slaves were hidden in the homes of several Plymouth members. The Church treasurer, S.V. White, had a small chamber in his house said to have been used to hide runaways, a room that was still in existence in the 1900s. One of the Church’s greatest activists in the Underground Railroad was Lewis Tappan. He is best remembered as a leader in organizing efforts to release the escaped slaves of the Amistad in 1839. Later, he helped fund the creation of Plymouth Church (his daughter, Lucy Tappan Bowen, was one of the original 21 members), but he did not join until 1856. As part of his work helping runaway slaves, he provided refuge in his home to a 15-year-old girl who escaped by pretending to be a male conductor on a New York-bound ferry.

All this was taking place in one of the most pro-slavery states of the North. Not until 1827 was slavery finally abolished in New York. Much of this attitude may be traced to the years when New York was a proprietary colony of the Duke of York, a major shareholder in the slave-trading Royal Africa Company. With his powerful influence, he instructed the governors to do everything possible to sell more slaves. After independence, the close business relations between Southern planters and New York merchants continued to enhance pro-owner sympathy.

Whatever ambivalent feelings about slavery remained in New York, they were greatly tested in 1850. That year, the country began negotiating slavery in the newly acquired territories seized during the Mexican-American War. The designation of new slaveholding states, plus the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act requiring all American citizens to assist in apprehending runaway slaves, incensed many Northerners. The work of the Underground Railroad intensified. These were the years of Plymouth Church’s greatest involvement, and, by 1860, it was certainly the most famous church in America. One year later, the Civil War began, and Plymouth continued to supply material and spiritual support to a devastated country. Five brutal years later, slavery was outlawed, and Plymouth Church’s role in the Underground Railroad could finally, thankfully, come to an end.

The exact statistics of the Underground Railroad – how many slaves escaped, how many free citizens aided them – will never be known. But we do know that this was a time and an undertaking in which Blacks and Whites came together to right a grievous wrong. It should also be said that, for the members of Plymouth Church, and for most if not all of those who took part, they did so to live out their Christian faith.

Portraits of abolitionists Charles Sumner, Henry Ward Beecher, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Gerrit Smith, Horace Greeley and Henry Wilson, c. 1866