Posts Tagged ‘joy’

Awakening to the Fullness of Life

June 5, 2016

“This food is a gift of the the whole universe: the earth, the sea, the sky, all sentient beings. In this food is much joy, much suffering, much hard work. We accept this food so that we may follow a path of practice and help all beings everywhere.”

The sacred is present in each moment. Prayer is our ongoing and active relationship with the sacred – with life. While prayer can take place at set times and places, it is not limited to the chapel or meditation hall. The whole of our lives are potentially prayer, filled with wonder, gratitude, and contentment.  Prayer awakens in us spiritual joy (ananda), which is often evoked by even the most mundane of tasks.

Such was my experience as I made Jelly from our abundant harvest of Lilikoi, also known as Passion Fruit. It is one of the fruiting vines that thrives in the few inches of soil that covers the hardened lava in our neighborhood. We have tried to grow many types of plants, in all sorts of raised beds and containers, but only a few flourish without constant attention and fussing over. Even bananas, one of the more prolific plants in our area, don’t do well in the shallow soil.

Making JellyIn the kitchen – bursting with gratitude – I sang and chanted while working. I was aware that these exotic fruits were a precious gift and that I was participating in the fullness of life by making jelly – heating the juice, cleaning the jars, measuring, etc. I found that all of life was present in the kitchen. The making of jelly had become a prayerful act of gratitude, honoring the gifts that nature had so freely given.

We cannot survive without food. Yet it is easily taken for granted in a society of great abundance like the U.S. We forget how fortunate we are and overlook the working of the elements or the human sweat and suffering that is in every bite of food. We do not appreciate how entirely dependent we are on other beings and the whims of nature for our very survival. Each morsel of food is truly a “gift of the whole universe.” It is a gift that often goes unnoticed.

Prayer helps us notice these small gifts of life. Prayer delights in the ordinary, the beat of our heart, the movement of our breath, the way soap bubbles cling to a freshly washed plate, or the cheerful chorus of frogs at night. Wonder and sacredness abound in the prayerful life.

The Zen saying goes, “Before enlightenment chop wood carry water, after enlightenment chop woodLilikoi Jelly carry water.” Enlightenment is awakening to ordinariness, which – it turns out – is not ordinary at all. It is not something we get or achieve or find somewhere else. Enlightenment is found in the many little moments of everyday life.

Prayer, which is a less grandiose term than enlightenment, is simply awakening into the fullness of life, which may be found in something as simple as making jelly on a Saturday afternoon.

Peace, Paul

Mudita: The Joy of Joy

April 14, 2016

Sympathetic Joy is the most common translation of the Buddhist term mudita. Mudita is finding joy in the joy of others. It is spontaneous, unconditioned and unlimited. It is the joy of aliveness, of being itself. Mudita is spiritual joy.

We have all experienced mudita, most likely in presence of children. The joy of children is so pure and unbounded that it is contagious. Seeing a child engaged in joyous play, we ourselves are touched by joy. The joy we feel is not something we own. We did not produce it through our own efforts. It arises from outside ourselves. We simply enjoy the the joy experienced by another being.

laughing-buddha-figureIn Buddhism there are techniques to simulate mudita. They are valuable and can help us be more open to the arising of spontaneous joy. In their simplest form, one strives to wish others happiness and remember to celebrate others’ successes.

However, we must not mistake the map for the territory. The cultivation of joy is a close approximation but not the real thing. Since the practice is contrived, it is easy to get caught up in judging our success, or lack-thereof, in finding joy in others’ joy. We may become frustrated by the arising of negative thoughts, judgements, and jealousy – the antithesis of joy.  We may wonder how we can we feel joy in another’s success, when we are jealous of that success?

True mudita arises in spite of our imperfections and negative thoughts. Spiritual joy is a vast ocean upon which thoughts are only ripples. Negative thoughts may continue to arise but are insignificant in the presence of mudita.

Ultimately, mudita arises from beyond what we think of as self. Mudita is the nature of the measureless. It arises naturally when our hearts open to the unconditioned. When we are touched by the unconditional, we experience boundless joy in even the smallest moments of life. Unfortunately, we are usually too caught up in conditionality – planning for the future, reliving the past, judging and weighing each experience – to see the joy present in each moment.

Awakening to mudita begins by paying attention. This is why prayer and meditation are so important. They help us slow down. Through contemplation, we become comfortable with stillness and quite.

Our world is frantic, filled with information and activity. It is not a conducive environment for deep peace. Taking time – daily – to sit quietly can seem like a herculean task. Nevertheless, inner stillness – peace – is worth the effort. It allows us to see the world anew. Over time we become more capable of experiencing spontaneous joy. We begin to rejoice in the sights and sounds of nature, the joy of friends and family, or just in the joy of joy – our own or that of another.

Peace, Paul

Gratitude and Happiness

January 17, 2016

The first noble truth of Buddhism, which is often translated simply as suffering, actually has a richer meaning. It conveys a sense of bitterness, of unsatisfactoriness, of incompleteness. The Buddha was realistic. He did not deny the existence of happiness in our daily lives. Life is filled with many small joys: the pleasure found in a warm cup of coffee, or the happiness contained in the smile of a child, or the satisfaction we feel when we complete a task. However, all of these happinesses are tempered by transitoriness. They do not last. As such they are not a source of true happiness. No matter how good life is, there is always has an element of unsatisfactoriness.

Intellectually, we may understand the theory. Indeed, we may have heard this teaching hundreds of times. Yet, we may never have realized the truth of it experientially. As a result, we continually try to find lasting happiness in the things of the world. It is a project that is doomed to failure because stuff always comes up. Things do not go as planned. Or something is never quite right. If, for example we go out to dinner, we may not appreciate the food before us because it is either too spicy or too bland. Perhaps we are uncomfortable because it is either too hot or too cold. Or maybe we are unhappy because someone at the table is not paying enough attention to us, or too much. There will always be some little discontentment present.

The Buddha was very clear: Life is, what it is. We get sick. Things don’t work out as we planned. Stuff goes wrong or breaks or doesn’t work. There is always something that is unsatisfactory. And because that unsatisfactoriness is uncomfortable, we notice it and focus on it, believing that if we can just change that one thing, we will be happy. But it never works. Ultimately it is not the thing or situation outside of ourselves that needs changing. Rather it is we ourselves who must change. Until we recognize this fundamental truth – that the things in this world are ultimately unsatisfactory and are not source of lasting happiness – we will continue to suffer by getting frustrated and angry at the world. And since anger and frustration are in themselves not happy states of mind this compounds our suffering, our dissatisfaction, our discontentedness. No one really wants to be angry, we all prefer happiness. However, if we are not careful, if we allow ourselves to react to more and more of the unsatisfactoriness in our lives with anger, then that is what we become – angry. Not happy but angry.

There are several antidotes to the anger / frustration that arises in response to the unsatisfactoriness in life. In our tradition, the primary antidote we apply is gratitude. It does not require yogic feats of concentration, visualization, or analysis. Like many of our practices, it is easily applied to the lives of people with jobs, spouses, and children.

ThanksOne begins cultivating gratitude simply by recollecting the kindness, help, as well as material goods such as food and shelter that one has received. Ideally this should be done daily, perhaps for a few minutes before going to bed. That way one needs only reflect on the previous 24 hours. With only this very little effort, we quickly realize that we have received more than we have given or contributed. We also begin to notice and experience gratitude for many of the things that we had previously taken for granted: small kindness done by others, or something as ubiquitous as the beating of our own hearts. Often, as a result of this practice, spontaneous gratitude begins to arise at odd moments in your life, like when you take a shower and are overwhelmed with gratitude for the water that comes out of the shower head.

We can, over time, even have gratitude to people or situations in our life that have been very difficult. After all, they helped bring us to where we are today. That is the great gift of gratitude. Every moment, every unexpected turn presents us with mystery and possibility. Gratitude allows us to relax our attempts at controlling each moment. It creates the spaciousness to open to the unknown. If we are willing to surrender to the moment, to approach it with humility, knowing that we do not know everything, then in every encounter there is the possibility of awakening and experiencing profound gratitude and happiness.

Each moment is, just as it is. If our minds are filled with craving and a sense of lack, then we will never find peace or happiness. No moment will be enough. No-thing will satisfy us. We will always feel that we are lacking something and that something needs to change. However, if our minds are filled with gratitude, then each moment is gift – complete, and wonderful, and joyous.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Prayer Life

November 26, 2015

The Religious life is the life of prayer. Prayer is the continual expression of compassion in all that we do, say, and think. Prayer is the yoga of the heart. It is the interior process of “yoking” one’s heart to the unconditioned, that which is unborn, undying and beyond quantification. Hand holding malaIt is not just time spent in formal meditation or contemplation, though those times are important. Rather, prayer encompasses every moment of every day. Prayer is the kind and generous ways we think about and relate to the people around us. It is the joy we find in another’s happiness and the sorrow we feel when we see someone suffering and in pain. Prayer is the loving of those who seem unlovable. It is the willingness to care. Prayer is the desire to be a source of happiness and comfort for friends and strangers alike. Prayer is life; it moves through us with our breath and pulse. Prayer is the antithesis of, and antidote for, violence, greed, and hatred.

In our particular tradition, prayer takes the outward form of calling on, or being mindful of, or contemplating Amida Buddha (Measureless Awakening) with the phrase, Namo Amida Bu! This six syllable phase of sacred sound is a form of the Buddha. Thus to recite Namo Amida Bu is to open ourselves to the presence of the Buddha in our lives and in in life. Namo Amida Bu awakens in us a sense of the sacred. Through the Buddha we touch – are touched by -unconditional love, compassion, and joy. Through Namo Amida Bu, we begin to access the life of Prayer, which is, simply, the overflowing of love and gratitude into the world.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Giving It All Away

April 19, 2014

Generosity is essential to our lives. It is so pervasive that we often do not see it. Yet we practice generosity each time we feed our family, friends, or pets. We are generous when we spend time listening to a friend or family member. We are generous when we offer a kind word to someone. We are generous when we give our time to help others. However, we rarely stop and recognize these as generous and kind acts.

Likewise, we often do not appreciate the generosity that we receive from others: the kind words, the smiles, the work that others do. In truth we receive more than we give. Nothing that we now have has not been touched by innumerable other beings. Additionally, the very air we breath, the water we drink, the food we eat comes to us with very little effort on our part. Something as simple as the lettuce in our salad is produced by the hard work of farmers who have cultivated that variety of lettuce over hundreds years with the help of the sun, rain, and the whole living system that is the earth.

Realizing how little we do and how much we receive is to awaken a deep sense of gratitude. It can be a transformative awakening and the foundation for a vibrant and joyous religious life.To study the Saints is to understand that the religious life is about giving everything away. This may mean voluntary poverty but more likely it involves giving away our self cherishing. It is a willingness to give up clinging to our little hurts and petty vengeances. It is setting aside the score card of who has hurt and harmed us. It is embracing forgiveness and opening up the heart and striving to respond to all with love, compassion, and prayer.

The religious life is about giving our lives to and for the benefit others. In prayer, we pray not for ourselves but for the welfare of others. We perform works of kindness and mercy in response to the needs of others. We forgive, that our hearts may remain open and free. We understand that love is life, and is thus transformative. Love is the most valuable gift we can give. Thus we offer love and compassion to all: Friends, Enemies, and Strangers.

This is hard work. It takes time and perseverance. Give as you are able. Offer kind words to everyone you meet. Pray for the well being and happiness of all, especially those who have harmed you. Know that Love is limitless. The more you love the more love surrounds you. It does not mean that there will be not suffering or pain. It only means that such pain will be held within the embrace of a loving and generous heart, a heart which sees beyond the pain and suffering of this world.

Peace, Paul

Happiness: A Better New Year’s Resolution

January 2, 2014

There is a very famous story about the great Indian Saint Ramakrishna. He was quite orthodox and as such held to the belief that bathing in the river Ganges washed away all sins. Now to anyone watching the daily throng of devout Hindus bathing in the Ganges, and then observing their conduct after their morning ablutions, it would quickly become obvious that their sins had not been washed away.

One of Ramakrishna’s visitors pointed just this contradiction out to the venerable saint. Once again Ramakrishna affirmed that the Ganges does indeed wash away sins. However, he conceded, our sins wait for us on the banks of the holy river.

For Westerners, New Year’s is much like bathing in the Ganges. It is a time to wash away past sins and bad habits and start anew. We make vows to loose weight and live healthier. Maybe we strive to be nicer, or more forgiving, or generally a better person. Perhaps we aspire to accomplish some goal or project.

These are all very wonderful. Yet our “sins” do not go away. The are hanging out waiting for us in the new year. Sure we push them aside for a bit, but they are persistent. After all they are fruit of our accumulated thoughts and actions throughout our lifetime, maybe even longer. They are familiar and comfortable habits, and they are really hard to change.

It is not surprising then when we easily fall back into old behaviors. Some of this may be the result of overly ambitious goals. It is better that your New Year’s resolution be small and attainable, rather than heroic and unachievable. Real change occurs over long periods time. Persistence and patience, more often than not, win the day. Even the hardest stone is eventually worn down by the constant motion of water.

Another challenge with New Year’s resolutions is motivation. Often our motivation is too small or misplaced. By this I mean that we are seeking happiness for our selves. Unfortunately, what we think of as our selves is really very transient. Our moods and mind change from moment to moment. That goal, which seemed laudable and attainable yesterday, seems ridiculous today. We may even wonder, “Who made such a goal?” You did, of course, or at least a previous “you” did. However, the mind has changed and it is now hard to believe that it was the same you that made such a goal. Before long your “sins”, your habitual patterns, are back in your life and no real change has occurred.

What then is a solid foundation for change? It certainly is not some self building project. Yes being healthier and nicer are good things, but they are just part of your ego project which is, ultimately, the cause for all of our troubles. That which we call self is empty and unreliable. The self is ultimately not a true source of happiness. And as H. H. the Dalai Lama continually points out, we all want to be happy and avoid suffering.

The cause of real happiness is found in non-self, or that which is other than self, ie. “other people”. Buddha is other than your self. Your neighbor is also other than your self. Real happiness, is found when we look outside ourselves and concern ourselves with the happiness and well being of others. This is the beginning of the practice of compassion (karuna) and love (metta) which is the heart of the Buddha’s teachings.

Change from self focus to other focus is hard. Each day we must try to reflect upon the lives of others to understand their joys and sufferings. We can celebrate their joys with them and try to alleviate, or at least sympathize with, their sufferings. We will make mistakes, we will sometimes cause hurt or be unsympathetic to others. Never the less, continue to offer kindness and compassion, as best you can, to the people around you.

Over a lifetime of practicing love and compassion, your life will be transformed. Your old habits, you “sins”, will have withered from lack of attention. You will be happier and will have found inner peace and meaning. More importantly the people around you will be happier for having known you.

Begin today to make the world a more compassionate and happier place. Look beyond yourself and see what you can do for the people in your life. Sometimes all it takes is the right intention, and attention, to awaken to the amazing world beyond your self.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul