Intrinsic Joy

'A lot of us feel attacked by our own aggression and by our own misery and pain. But none of that particularly presents an obstacle to creating enlightened society. What we need, to begin with, is to develop kindness toward ourselves and then to develop kindness toward others. It sounds very simple minded, which it is. At the same time, it is very difficult to practice.

Pain causes a lot of chaos and resentment, and we have to overcome that. It is an extremely simple logic. Once we can overcome pain, we discover intrinsic joy, and we have less resentment toward the world and ourselves. By being here, naturally being here, we have less resentment. Resentment is not being here. We are somewhere else, because we are preoccupied with something else. When we are here, we are simply here - without resentment and without preoccupation. And by being here, we become cheerful.’

- Chogyam Trungpa, The Pocket Chogyam Trungpa.

Recovery and the Fifth Precept

'Most of us who came of age in the 1960's convinced ourselves that getting high was the quickest - if not the best - way to begin the long, strange trip toward higher consciousness. Aldus Huxley, the man who wrote The Doors of Perception and turned Timothy Leary on to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, seemed to be saying that we could access ancient wisdom through the wonders of modern chemistry.

For a while at least, that theory seemed to hold true for me, and I suspect I’m not the only reader of this magazine who became interested in Buddhism following an acid trip back in the sixties.

Further on down the road, in the 1970’s, I got a bit more serious about my Buddhism. I struggled through a few meditation retreats with the Korean Zen master Seung Sahn and even considered taking vows to become an official Buddhist. But one of the Buddhist precepts particularly bothered me. It was the fifth one, the one about abstaining from intoxicating drink, and presumably from other drugs that also gave rise to heedlessness.

I never got round to taking formal vows and soon fell away from my meditation practice altogether. It took two decades before I reconnected with meditation, in this case a Vipassana group. Getting high was still an important part of my daily routine, but I’d long since abandoned the delusion that alcohol and other drugs were somehow furthering my spiritual growth. I could no longer hide the fact from myself that I was an alocholic and drug addict - a functional one, with a good job, a house, and a family, but an addict nonetheless.

As a journalist, I’d written about twelve-step spirituality and the burgeoning recovery movement, but I’d never felt like Alcoholics Anonymous was for me. I knew enough about Buddhism to know that its teachings about the dangers of craving and attachment (and obsession, and selfishness and egomania) might offer a path out of addiction. After asking around, I discovered the beginnings of a Buddhist recovery network. I found the work of Kevin Griffin, the author of One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps and more recently A Burning Desire: Dharma God and the Path of Recovery. I attended one of the retreats at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County. I also connected with an eclectic group of recovering addicts who were interested in Buddhism and gathered every Monday at a place we called the KooKoo Factory, a funky loft/performance space in San Francisco’s Mission District. That group disbanded following the death of its founding angel, and I started attending a larger meditation recovery group at the San Francisco Zen Center. I also put a little more effort into finding an AA group that was right for me, and discovered that some of my old ideas about AA were based on too many preconceived notions and not enough personal investigation.

Several years ago, I started working on a book about the early years of the psychedelic drug movement (It would be published as The Harvard Psychedelic Club.) One question the book asks is whether drug-induced feelings of wonder, awe, empathy, and interconnectedness are authentic religious experiences. My answer is that while the experiences may be authentic, the real issue is what we do with them. Do the experiences change the way we live our lives? Do they make us more aware and compassionate human beings? Looking back on my own history, I’d have to say that a few psychedelic drug experiences back in the day did change the way I think about the world and live my life. They did make me a better person. But I can’t say the same thing about a few decades of experiences with other drugs, including alcohol.

Last year, I interviewed six Buddhist teachers about their interpretations of the fifth precept. Some of them urge complete abstention from alcohol and other drugs. Others see nothing wrong with a glass of wine with dinner. Some urge caution but still see some value in psychedelic drugs. One thing I’ve learned in my own recovery is that it’s not up to me to decide if someone else has a problem with alcohol or other drugs. It’s up to them. And I’ve come to feel the same way about the fifth precept.

So if you have a problem with the fifth precept, you might want to ask yourself just why that might be.’

- Don Lattin, Recovery and the Fifth Precept in Tricycle, The Buddhist Review, Fall 2010.

The Timeless Buddha

'We take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha… What is this Buddha? When we see with the eyes of wisdom, we know that the Buddha is timeless, unborn, unrelated to any body, any history, any image. Buddha is the ground of all being, the realization of the truth of the unmoving mind.

So the Buddha was not enlightened in India. In fact, he was never enlightened, was never born, and never died. This timeless Buddha is our true home, our abiding place.’

- Ajahn Chah in A Still Forest Pool: The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah, by Jack Kornfield and Paul Breiter.

Forgiving Others: Not Pushing Anyone Out Of Our Heart

'Like every part of living, forgiving has its own natural process of unfolding. Often we are not ready to forgive ourselves, not able to forgive someone who has injured us. We can't will ourselves to forgive - forgiving is a product not of effort but of openness. This is why the intention to forgive is such a key element in the process. To be willing but not quite ready to forgive holds the door open a crack.

Having the courage not to push anyone out of our heart is difficult enough when we’ve been harmed by someone we know. But as spiritual warriors our intention not to give up on anyone may be most severely tested when we are deeply violated by someone with whom we have no loving ties. How do we forgive a stranger who rapes our daughter, a political terrorist who kills our friend with a bomb?

A student at one of my meditation retreats told me of her struggle to forgive the man who left her son unable to walk for life. One evening she had picked up Brian from a bar mitzvah class, and on the way home a drunk driver crossed over the median and struck their car. She suffered minor injuries, but Brian was pinned to the ground when their car turned over, his legs crushed. Forgiveness was a long and painful process. Thousands of times she felt the burn of anger and the anguish of a loss storm through her. She also felt the hardening of her heart when hatred wanted to take over. Knowing that the only way to find her way back to love and freedom would be from forgiveness, she took on the intention to forgive the man. Gradually over the years, as she allowed the feelings to course through her, forgiving them as they arose, her heart widened to include him. Without knowing any particulars, she knew he too suffered. She knew he had not intended to cause them pain. Eventually, by remembering the goodness of all beings, she opened to hold him with a forgiving heart.

We maintain the intention to forgive because we understand that not forgiving hardens and imprisons our heart. If we feel hatred towards anyone, we remain chained to the sufferings of the past and cannot find genuine peace. We forgive for the freedom of our own heart.’

- Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance, Awakening the Love that Heals Fear and Shame Within Us.

Making Friends With The Real World

'In the practice of meditation, having developed a trust in oneself, slowly that expands its expression outward, and the world becomes a friendlier world rather than a hostile world. You could say that you have changed the world: You have become the king or queen of the universe. On the other hand, you can't exactly say that, because the world has come toward you, to return your friendship. It tried all kinds of harsh ways to deal with you at the beginning, but finally the world and you begin to speak with each other, and the world becomes a real world, a completely real world, not at all an illusory world or a confused world. It is a real world. You begin to realize the reality of elements, the reality of time and space, the reality of emotions - the reality of everything.'

- Chogyam Trungpa, The Pocket Chogyam Trungpa.