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Monthly Archives: September 2006

Possibly the greatest quote about the Buddha I have ever seen…

“The greatest thing the Buddha has done is to show the world that it can only be transformed by the reformation of the mind of man.”

– Dr B R Ambedkar

Dr Ambedkar was instrumental in the process of Indian independence; he was the architect of that country’s constitution. He was also a noted social reformer, leading numerous members of so-called ‘untouchables’ to a new future through Buddhism.

I was always of the opinion that I had the ability to choose my responses to situations. By developing mindfulness I can begin to see that there are situations where I simply do not have any control; events are processed through my pre-determined vedena and an emotional response is produced more or less spontaneously, without any ability for me to influence it.

I’ll give an example. I was supervising Rory last night while he was brushing his teeth. Despite the fact that he was very tired, bathtime had gone without a hitch. He did something naughty (in a fairly minor way, on reflection) and I did what any parent would do – “Rory!” I said, somehwat sharply. Of course, tears ensued but at least they were accompanied by good behaviour again. But there was something else – I noticed that I felt really angry. Recognising this did two things – it took the steam out of the anger meaning that I could go back to being the fun Daddy I’d been a moment before, and it gave me a window into what had triggered it. Everything had gone so well that I had become firmly attached to the idea of a bath & bedtime without tears, because if that happens it reaffirms my belief in my abilities as a father. So that moment of anger cut pretty deep. The challenge, I guess, is to get familiar with those ideas at the root of our reactions, to know what is making us tick – then we can see when events are causing unpleasant vedena, and prevent the unskillful reaction.

There is no need to intervene in any way to prevent negative emotions arising; according to those more spiritually advanced than myself, if we do see what is going on underneath, change happens without any further intervention on our part. No wonder mindfulness has been described as a revolution.
Of course this is not a one-off thing, it’s not as if we discover everything there is to know about ourselves and sit back thinking the job is done; we, like any phenomenon, are constantly in a state of flux and we need to rediscover what drives us from moment to moment. That’s why awareness is so important.

I’ve come across a couple of splendid online resources. The first is Sangharakshita‘s site where one can find downloadable pdf’s of several of his books, including all four volumes of his autobiography. That should keep you busy for a while.

Next up is a book on meditation written by Kamalashila that’s suitable for both beginners and more advanced practitioners. There’s not much more to say, just read it!

One thing about Buddhism that I have enormous respect for is the ability for anything to be questioned. Not only is scepticism healthy, but it can frequently be funny, as seen by the jokes and anecdotes at The Happy Buddha, or in this post at ThinkBuddha entitled ‘What Do Buddhists Look Like?’ Very funny.

A lot of people get stuck when it comes to the idea of change. Particularly when it comes to making a difference in the world. “What difference can I make? I’m only one person. Why bother if no-one else does?” is often heard. But with ethical actions, the only way that we can make a difference is one action at a time.

It’s like the story of the guy that wanted to make New York City happy. He would work through the taxi drivers – praising them for their ability to cope with such awful traffic, or somesuch – in the hope that they would pass on some of that happiness to their next fare, and then maybe that person would be a little happier at work, or home… You see how it goes, a single action rippling out to affect a wider world.

I also like the story of the finnish governement (disclaimer: i’m not sure if this is true), who apparently sent one low-energy lightbulb to every household. The endeavour cost the same as one new power station, but saved more energy than that station could have produced. Just imagine if we all changed all of our lightbulbs…

In that spirit, may I reccommend We Are What We Do. They’ve published books with titles like ‘Change The World for a Fiver’ that are full of ideas for simple everyday actions that can make a difference if only one person does them, but will probably cause a revolution if we all get on board. I especially like action #77 (which is kind of like the brahma viharas in a nutshell).

There’s something else to say about this – the effectiveness of any action is bound to increase if others know about it. That might be inherent in the act itself (showing empathy, introducing yourself to your neighbours), but it might not be if you do something more personal. For example I recently gave up meat, and that’s great, but it can inspire others to do the same if they know. Be out about your ethical practice, and hey, maybe we can make the world a better place.