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Sunday
Jan142007

Patience

We need patience to help us get through emotional and physical obstacles when we try to help others. There will always be obstacles. Just because we are trying to help does not guarantee that all obstacles will fall away and everything will be resolved to our satisfaction. Remember, we cannot overcome the karma of others and the ensuing retributions. Without patience, we will be mired in the quagmire of our own disappointment.

Also, without patience, we will give up when criticized and obstructed by those who do not understand what we are trying to do. Just as we sincerely believe that we have wisely found the way to help, others will likewise be certain that they, too, have the right solution. If we are prepared for this and do not allow it to disturb our serenity, we will not be shaken from our pure, calm mind.

As we encounter criticism and obstacles that seem overwhelming, we will need patience. Everything changes—good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant. Remember that just as good times do not last forever, bad times will also change and improve. Although our current conditions may seem overwhelmingly distressing, even these difficulties will some day end. If we can manage to hold on to this thought, we will find the patience within us to persevere, to hold on until our unfavorable conditions begin to ease.

This turnaround will take place more quickly if we can manage to let go of thoughts of our own discomfort and disappointment. Think, instead of how to end the distress of others. The sooner their distress ends, the sooner ours will end, for the pain of others is our pain as well. We are all one, all interconnected with one another.

Do not get sidetracked by thinking that the concerns of another are trivial, for to that person those concerns are all consuming and very important. How we feel about the validity of their concerns is unimportant. We should put personal judgments aside and instead focus on trying to alleviate their distress and unhappiness, which to them is very real.

How can others be happy? In the same way that we become happy—by leaving negative emotions behind.

Saturday
Jan132007

Compassion with Wisdom

Compassion is the intention and capability to lessen suffering and, ultimately, to transform this suffering. When we adopt an awareness imbued with compassion, we seek to ease others’ pain. But in our wish to help, more often than not, we react emotionally and end up getting carried away by our feelings. At times we empathize so completely with what someone is going through that we subject ourselves to the same distress. So instead of one person suffering, there are now two miserable people!

Instead of reacting emotionally, we need to learn to temper our compassion with wisdom. Then we will know how to better help another help another. We will also realize that an individual’s circumstances are the result of past karmas. Therefore, it may well be next to impossible for us to improve another’s situation. This realization does not mean that we should stop caring about others or dismiss their difficulties as being their own fault. It means we understand that our wanting to alleviate their suffering may instead be of benefit to them in the future, in ways we cannot foresee.

So be compassionate, but do not focus on getting immediate positive results. Do not get wrapped up in egoistic thoughts, thinking that “I” can fix the problem. Without such expectations, we will not be disappointed or saddened when our attempts to help end in failure, or worse, aggravate the situation. We will not know how best to help if we fail to temper our compassion with wisdom. In other words, the person we want to help may not have the requisite conditions for us to do so.

When we stop focusing on immediate results and instead focus on just helping others, our compassion will ultimately be able to benefit all beings. By planting the seeds of compassion—the wish for all beings to be happy and free of suffering—we can be confident that we have indeed helped others.

Friday
Jan122007

Thinking Makes It So

When we see an object or watch others enjoying an activity that we view as pleasant, we want to own the object or to undergo a similar experience. We want to possess a newer model of something we already own. We want to go to the same vacation spot a co-worker visited. We want to indulge ourselves because we feel that we deserve it or perhaps because we want to cheer ourselves up after something disappointing has happened.

And so we want—we crave—things and experiences. But as the Buddha explained, craving leads to suffering for craving inexorably leads to more craving. Unquenchable, it grows like an addiction. The more we have and the more we experience, the more we want. Our ever-increasing greed results in our lives becoming more stressful as our craving for objects and experiences far surpasses our ability to obtain them. And so we fall deeper and deeper into suffering.

Why does all this happen? It happens because we mistakenly think that pleasant things, be they material objects or experiences, will make us happy. But happiness is a mental state. Happiness is not a quality inherent in material possessions or experiences. Whether or not something makes us happy depends on what we tell ourselves. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” That is, it is our thinking that makes us happy or sad. We can tell ourselves that to be happy we need more pleasant objects and situations. Or, we can tell ourselves that wanting more inevitably leads to more wanting and thus to more suffering.

Wednesday
Jan102007

Opportunities to Grow

What we experience today is the result of our past karmas. We readily accept the good results because we feel we have earned them. But what of our suffering and pain as we face situations that threaten to overwhelm us? These too are due to our past karmas. We may ask “Why?” Or we may understand why.

Thoughts of angrily blaming ourselves, of terrible sadness over having committed an insensitive and stupid act, of self-loathing, or of other debilitating emotions will derail us from the path. Our current pain is the fruition—the maturing—of past karma.

We can allow painful difficulties to consume us. But doing so will enable the pain to continue as painful results will in turn create more causes that will invariably lead to further painful results.

Instead of being so overwhelmed, we can try to be grateful and understand that this is an opportunity to figuratively sweep away some of our negative karma. As the Buddha said, everything arises from the mind. By changing our misunderstanding to understanding, we can see that misfortune is in fact the clearance of negative karma. Viewed this way, misfortune can thus provide us with the opportunity to grow and progress.

Tuesday
Jan092007

Find the Right Time

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If you know anything that is hurtful and untrue, do not say it.

If you know anything that is helpful but untrue, do not say it.

If you know anything that is hurtful but true, do not say it.

If you know anything that is both helpful and true, find the right time.

~ The Buddha