Posted by: Upāsaka | 05/25/2019

Helping without Hoping

“When you have done a good act and another has received it, why do you look for a third thing besides these, as fools do, either to have the reputation of having done a good act or to obtain a return?”

(Meditations, VII.73)

Despite making the practice of generosity an integral part of my life, I have yet to learn how to give without at least a remainder of self-concern.  In fact, this quote by Seneca perfectly captures the sense of a imperfect giving with the image of the gift somehow leaving a sticky residue on the hands that are giving.

We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

May I learn to give without stain.

May I learn to help with hope of return.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 05/24/2019

Choosing Hardship

If you’re worried that I’m turning into some kind of a sadist don’t be — I’ve just developed a fascination with the paradox of salutary hardship. In other words, I’ve been taken with the seemingly counter-intuitive way in which hardship can have an invigorating effect on one’s sense of well-being and spiritual practice. I have to say that fasting for Ramadhan has been the catalyst for this although I have long been acquainted with and inclined towards such lines of thinking although I haven’t always acted upon them. Now, however,, it seems manifestly obvious that hardship and difficulties can supercharge one’s development when embraced and held in the right way. Of course, handled sloppily and with a mind unguarded hardship and problems can easily turn on you like a poisonous serpent being handled without care.

Without hardship how could I practice patience? Without hardship how would my resolve be tested? Without hardship what would the meaning of sila (morality) be?

May we use our difficulties to our advantage and snatch the anti-venom of compassion and wisdom from their venomous maws.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 05/23/2019

Stretching My Limits

As imperfect as I am I still intend to make of my life something of use to others and myself in an ultimate sense. Yes, feeding others and assisting then materially are important but clearing the morass from my heart and learning to embody the Dhamma is a goal work which I can find no fault. Both now and in the future, the Dhamma and vinaya are wholesome and worthwhile but it’s the getting there that’s been a problem for me.

I find that when I’m tired and stressed I more easily lose the thread and have a tendency to snap. So, what if instead of trying to create the perfect conditions to practice I decided to make things difficult in purpose? It certainly seems that the body needs constant stress for its health and maybe training the mind is no different.

I’ve been working on a regular routine of daily physical exercise goals along with contemplative practices that I also try to perform every day. I have been doing things that don’t work and adding things as they seem fit. Much of my practice boils down to giving up sense pleasures like food and sexual activity and, now, trying to limit sleep so that I can find a way to be unperturbed in a controlled situation. When I find I can’t take it I can quit for a day or a few hours and it won’t mean a thing and it will prepare me for those times when escape is not an option.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 05/23/2019

Regarding the World

“So too, bhikkhus, whatever ascetics and brahmins in the past … in the future … at present regard that in the world with a pleasant and agreeable nature as permanent, as happiness, as self, as healthy, as secure: they are nurturing craving. In nurturing craving … they are not freed from suffering, I say.

What would the Tolles and Sadhgurus of the world make of this utterance? What about the New Age hucksters selling their wares in the aprisionado marketplace? The Dhamma goes against the stream which is why it gets such short shrift (in its pure form) from secularists and sophists alike.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 05/19/2019

Insult Pacifism

“It is the part of a great mind to despise wrongs done to it; the most contemptuous form of revenge is not to deem one’s adversary worth taking vengeance upon. Many have taken small injuries much more seriously to heart than they need, by revenging them: that man is great and noble who like a large wild animal hears unmoved the tiny curs that bark at him.”

De Ira Seneca

I was referred to a post by William Irvine recently where he discusses how he has learned to practice what he calls insult pacifism as a result of applying Stoic principles and philosophies to his life. Naturally, as someone who has made of their a life a project of purification, the ideas he proposes are very attractive. Unfortunately for me, although I find much inspiration from Stoic philosophers both modern and ancient, there is a dearth of information about which, if any, techniques one should use to put these into practice.

As a result, I’ve simply come to the conclusion that Stoic philosophy is great food for the discursive mind (ad therefore very useful indeed) but that the practice of patient endurance (i.e., insult pacifism) relies on the development of contentment, equanimity and a host of other qualities of the heart best developed through the ariya atthangika magga (Eightfold Noble Path). Still, for those who can’t commit to the Buddhadhamma for any number of reasons, leading one’s life according to the philosophy of the Stoics would certainly not result in an opportunity wasted.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 05/17/2019

Emergency Metta Practice

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog or, perhaps, anyone born into this human realm, that I’ve found myself embroiled in yet another bitter argument. Well, it’s honestly a lot more asymmetrical but I still have to deal with the ill-will it’s bringing up inside.

Regardless, suffice it to say that there is now a person who I would rather avoid and who definitely doesn’t elicit warm and fuzzy feelings. As a result I’m doing everything I can to pacify my heart and clear away any hatred and resentment. The first step in doing so send to me to be nothing short of emergency metta practice.

Using my trusty mala I do a round for the person who had angered me and then switch to someone it’s easy to feel metta for. Rinse and repeat. Clearly it’s not ideal but, to extend the metaphor, formal meditation would be like undergoing surgery in the hospital whereas this type of practice is akin to triage in the field. May I bandage my heart with skill ands may the medicine of metta heal these wounds.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 05/15/2019

Second Guessing

I keep finding myself second guessing things I want to say or write and that may very well be a good thing. Now that I’ve returned to using Facebook i have made the determination not to demean or fight with anyone. Guarding myself from harsh speech means that I now often wrote a reply only to back up and delete it. In fact, I find myself asking why I feel a need to reply or post something at all. Again, this is a good thing.

What I’m really seeing is that, mossy of the things we think and say are unnecessary and based on a house of cards that we ourselves haven’t even taken the time to stack.

May I be ever circumspect in my speech and mindful of its effects.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 05/14/2019

Training Desire

I’ve been reading a lot of the Stoics and interacting with some groups and well-known authors of neo-Stoicism online of late. I’m continually impressed by how these teachings can improve character and it shows in the way these teachers and students of Stoicism comport themselves. And yet there is this sense that Stoic philosophy doesn’t go fast enough; it is as if it is missing something and I think I may have found part of the issue.

According to Massimo Pigliucci, desire can be trained and channeled, as it were, to desire only what is with our control. This proposition is attractive and, at least initially, seems to share some common ground with the Dhamma. But, upon closer examination, it seems to me that the whole idea of taming desire is where we go of the rails.

I need to look into this more but I think the issue is that, as long as we identify with the desire and have no insight into anatta, we really don’t have the space to see clearly and act from wisdom. We may still obtain the same apparent result but the moment our will power fails or we find ourselves reborn into new circumstances, there’s no guarantee that we won’t backslide.

Perhaps it’s this: with magga (path) there can be no phala (fruits) and we cannot break through and see anicca, dukkha and anatta four ourselves. Everything in Stoicism relies on discursive reasoning and will power but its cosmology and metaphysics don’t allow for anything more.

Clearly this deserves much more thought and I’m fleshing this out as I ride on the train but I expect to look into the texts more deeply for answers.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 05/13/2019

Strange Fast

Today has been strange. All day I’ve felt off, as if I’ve done something wrong and I’m feeling guilty for it. Perhaps it’s a spiritual hangover from yesterday when I didn’t fast all day for the uposatha? All I do know is that fasting for Ramadhan had left my faculties weakened and confused. So why do it?

Although initially my reasons had more to do with familial piety, the fast has become largely about purposely working with hardship and practicing renunciation. Plus, all fasting sends to have a hormetic effect so it’s good for my health too.

What that means is just that I’ll need to keep watching the weirdness add it arises and passes away. May I use every experience to practice the Dhamma and cultivate the skills of release.

Posted by: Upāsaka | 05/12/2019

Happy Uposatha – What is a Gift?

I’m now on the receiving end of the blame for having stood my ground. I could get angry but that really won’t help. Expecting my wife’s family to side with anyone but her is foolish and, really, when it comes down to it, I want to be free of siding period. So, I am wrong. So be it.

Right before I wrote this post I was on my way out to pick up a flower and a card for my wife to let her know I think she’s a good mother regardless of what else transpires between us. Then I got a text from my mother-in-aw telling me to be kind and asking why I didn’t send a text to my wife wishing her a Happy Mother’s Day. Funny how these things go, isn’t it?

Anyway, I was originally going to write about giving regardless of how the gift is received. I can almost guarantee that the flower and card won’t be read and thrown in immediately in the trash, so, why even give it? I suppose for myself. To make real and manifest the fact that my current opinion of her as a partner doesn’t mean she’s still not wonderful in a dozen other ways. Regardless, the flower will eventually die and the paper crumple so why not use them both in the service of kindness?

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you!

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