Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Two cocks were fighting and a monk asked:
"Why do they do this?"
and the master replied:
"It is because of you."

You are Hell, as Sartre would say. You disturb the placid stream of awareness that is my own limpid dream. You want me to see you but I’ll fight to the death for you to see me first.

But how quickly my rage melts into the mirror of your gentle consideration, reflecting back an image that is faithful to how I want to be seen. And then You are Heaven. To know me is to love me.

Attunement, acknowledgement, validation.

The Shaolin monks train to be impervious to You, to become like the well-trained cock whose eyes, according to Chuang Tzu, “do not even flicker when another bird crows. He stands immobile like a block of wood. He is a mature fighter. Other birds will take one look at him and run”.

Monday, April 4, 2011

In her book Start Where you Are, Pema Chodron recounts an incident when her desire to help a student was frustrated by his relapse into an addiction. She felt quite angry and disappointed about it and went to her teacher Chogyam Trungpa for advice. She quotes him as saying to her that, instead of having any expectations of people, she should “just be kind to them”. Her point is that helping behaviours, while appearing to be altruistic, are often “really about wanting success for ourselves” i.e. self-serving.

I have heard several Buddhist teachers echo this observation. They are pointing to a kind of moral activism latent in spiritual seekers, a covert form of intrusiveness motivated by the compulsion to rescue. Moral activism of this kind is neither loving nor compassionate. Rather, it is an attempt to exercise one’s power over a person or situation. And it is aggressive. By penetrating another’s space or violating his boundaries, separation is resisted rather than transcended.

This is true but not the whole story.

Like the helping behaviours driven by moral activism, passivism can also be unaware of its desire to take control of a person or situation. Masking its aggression as benign non-action, the silent treatment poses as non-interference, and moral indifference as equanimity. Whereas activism errs on the side of violating boundaries, passivism creates an invisible wall that disorients and distresses others. This reinforces the boundaries separating people and is as violent as transgressing them.

By penetrating boundaries or reinforcing them we set ourselves up as adversaries. Compassionate and loving action, on the other hand, implies that boundaries and distinctions have dissolved.

Just be kind.

My son put it very simply. Holding him, I’d said one morning that I felt his heart against mine. He responded by saying “They’re not against each other; they're on the same team”. And this is how love is.