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Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the fourth chapter and a list of contemplations related to this chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion of this chapter on Sunday June 14th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

Chapter 4 – Equality and Diversity

We are living in an historical moment when there is great awareness of human diversity and a much broader commitment to human equality than in the past. To nurture this positive development we need to remain clear on the actual foundation of our equality, so that we do not mistake the diversity differences as an indication of inequality.

The bases of our equality are: 1) By virtue of having a mind or awareness, all sentient beings are equal in our capacity to experience pain and joy, in our pervasive longing to avoid suffering and to be happy, 2) All human beings are equal in our capacity to cultivate inner conditions on which our happiness depends, as individuals and also as a society, and 3) We are all equal in depending upon the earth to sustain us.

Contemplation: Which foundation for equality speaks to you? (1) all sentient beings are equal in terms of their longing to experience joy and avoid suffering; (2) all human beings are equal in terms of their capacity to cultivate inner qualities of empathy wisdom, and compassion; (3) all sentient beings are equal in terms of depending on the earth to sustain us.

Equality is not sameness. Tibetan example of trees – at the level of roots we are the same, but branches have great variety. Our many differences in lifestyles, opinions, gender ID, racial characteristics, etc. do not make us more or less human.

 Contemplation: What do you experience as the benefits of diversity (cultural assumptions, religious views, philosophies, lifestyles, opinions, sex and gender identity, race)

The Marketing of “Equality”

The ideal of equality may be broadly accepted, but we do not act and feel equal. There is a great deal of real and perceived inequality. Globalism and consumerism uses equality as a marketing tool to stimulate a sense of personal inequality which can be overcome only by buying more goods.

Global economy sends the message that we are inadequate and incomplete – we need to acquire things to make up for that – leads to constant comparisons with others and the need to keep up. Not knowing the basis of our true worth leaves us impoverished.

What is Development, Really?

We have a culture of seeing some communities of people as “backwards”, in need of development, etc.

What is meant by development? Commonly meant as material development, more consumer goods, etc. This can lead to people becoming “low wage slaves” and the loss of their original human culture. But development could mean having better access to other conditions for happiness and well-being: Development of inner conditions for growth as a human being.

But this is tricky – other worthwhile resources are education, healthcare, etc. As these are adopted, traditions and cultural knowledge begin to dwindle. There is no easy answer! So big questions: How can we establish social equality without erasing diversity? How can we embrace our differences with mutual respect and harmony?

Contemplation: HHK says, “We need to think carefully about how to manage obvious differences. How can we establish social equality (education, medical knowledge, racial and gender equality) without erasing diversity (religious, sustainable ecosystems, biodiversity)? How can we embrace our differences with mutual respect and harmony?”

Difference is not Deficiency

Distinguishing between being equal and being the same: Reducing the ideal of human equality to the idea of sameness results in great harm, especially when the ideal to be aspired to is determined by the self-interests of a few.

Example of extreme plastic surgery, with South Korean women becoming visibly identical in pursuit of a commercially driven vision of beauty.

Our idea of equality must go deeper: not in how we look, but in who we are. We are equal in our shared human condition and in the latent nobility of heart that lies within each of us.

The Value of Diversity

The view of interdependence teaches us to value biodiversity in the natural world. Likewise it can help us value human diversity. It can lead us to appreciate the benefits and beauty of our differences.

One particularly difficult area for appreciation of differences is religion. However, since humans are very diverse in predispositions and needs, we  benefit greatly from having a wide variety of spiritual paths available to us. The idea that one religion is “right” and all the others are inferior or mistaken is unsustainable and not useful. The point for any religion is to suit and benefit individuals.

Religions have the common goal to alleviate suffering and help us find happiness and live meaningful lives.

A Century to Share

In the past century our ability to share information, ideas and goods and our ability to travel have increased dramatically. Much more cross-cultural and cross-religion sharing and communication than in the past. However, with such sharing and contact, both parties are impacted and changed in some ways … both positive and negative consequences.

“Each culture and religion is no longer the property of any single community but is available to all who live on this planet to learn from.”

Given this new reality, the appropriate attitude is to learn to value one another and recognize diversity as highly productive and beneficial. Let go of privileging our own views and deem those of others as inferior. However, wrongly approached, this can easily lead to cultural appropriation and spiritual materialism, not genuine human sharing. Encounters with other cultures and religions must challenge us on some level in order for them to be meaningful. We need to really listen to other traditions, taking care not to project onto them our own meanings and assumptions.

“Authentic sharing means being open to the possibility that the other will change you.”

Our valuing of diversity needs to be grounded in an awareness of our basic equality … on the level of common sense, common values, and common human needs and aspirations.

Sharing is a double-edged sword. It can be used for good or ill. E.g. airplanes can be used to transport people to desired destinations or to drop bombs. Like airplanes, sharing has sharply increased in the past 100 years or so. The focus of sharing needs to be learning to understand one another and appreciate our great diversity.

Contemplation: When we encounter views that are different from our own (including traditions from other cultures here and around the world) what are the best ways to interact, listen and communicate?

The Consequences of Ignorance

All too often the above is not how we respond to sharing. Much of the time we react out of ignorance.

“Into the vacuum created by our basic ignorance about others, we heap our own projections. We take isolated details and flesh them out into full-blown fictions, or we uncritically adopt them from the media or society. When we do not recognize or acknowledge our own ignorance about others, we believe in these fictions.”

Likewise, we take one aspect of a person and think we have seen them in their totality.

Also, we ascribe a false reality to something that has merely been imputed … a person’s name, for example. Or a person’s race or religion.

“We fail to recognize when we are operating on the level of words and labels and not the actual people or things themselves.” Also, “Ignorance denies our own role in producing ideas that we have about others. Ignorance ignores the many interconnections that link us to others and the way those interconnections shape or views of one another.”

“We focus on fictions we ourselves have written and think we are reading the truth.”

This kind of ignorance easily gives rise to fear, and fear is easily manipulated. E.g. fear of Muslims as of 9/11, fear of Middle-Easterners as of Boston Marathon bombing, etc., etc.

“If we analyze this confusion whereby we take projections and appearances to be reality, and we ask ourselves how we became so caught up in labels and identities, we can trace the problem back to a basic problem of selfishness> we cling to our judgements and impressions simply because they are our own. This is a form of arrogance.”

“Rather than simply taking our limited views as the truth, we could ask how things appear to others. There is a great value of seeing through the eyes of others as well as our own.”

Contemplation: How do we become caught up in labels, identities and judgements with respect to diverse groups (including foreigners, evangelists, ethnic group, and political affiliation)? How can we let go of these mistaken judgments?

Hierarchy and Power

We take external appearances as a sign of inherent difference. This includes social hierarchies that we believe are natural and fixed, rather than based on social construction. However, in hierarchies, those at the top depend on those below and vice versa. Nobody is powerless. Those with power are neither inherently superior nor inherently inferior to others. Equal does not depend on social order, but on the reality that we are all endowed with the potential for goodness and the capacity to feel pain and joy.

We can mistake a privileged place in a hierarchy as an opportunity to further self-interest. This is an abuse of hierarchy and is counter-productive. We all must understand the interdependent nature of hierarchies and the importance of responsibility and concern for others. Hierarchies are social orders we create for a specific purpose. When the hierarchy outlasts its purpose we must reorganize ourselves.

Social Inequality is Not Natural

What is the basis of our society today? Our society today is not based on the yearning we each have for happiness, which is equal in all of us.

Rather it is based on who has access to power and who has access to power through wealth. Access to education is crucial, as that determines our economic opportunities. Money is made a condition of access to healthcare and to other means of eliminating our suffering and securing happiness. Therefore there is lots of inequality.

We feel this situation is the fault of the government or big corporations, etc., but this is false. Those in power depend upon those below them. We all have the responsibility to not support this kind of hierarchy … vote against them, don’t buy their products, don’t go along with their policies. (Resist and educate)

Hierarchies and inequalities are human constructs, and can change over time. In ancient history physical strength was important, but now empathy, openness, caring and gentleness are more needed … a shift from generally masculine toward qualities that are more feminine. But this is not a zero-sum game, where for one to win the other must lose.

In the end, our efforts to extend equal rights to all in our global society will succeed or fail based on whether or not we can connect with the real ground of our equality. When we lose sight of our common humanity … our common needs and interests … then diversity looks like an obstacle to equality.

“Interdependence offers a way to see instead the great value in diversity and to recognize that equality does not require uniformity.”

“We also need to learn new habits of connecting from the heart across differences. To that end, our basic capacity for empathy is a powerful resource we can develop to connect on that deeper level.”

Contemplation: When we recognize that hierarchy is driving inequality (wealth, education, healthcare, environment, race, sex and gender) what actions can we take to alleviate this situation?

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Interconnected: Embracing Life in our Global Society

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the third chapter and a list of contemplations related to this chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion of this chapter on Sunday June 7th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

CHAPTER 3: Being and Interdependent Individual

It may seem strange to apply the term “interdependent” to ourselves. It seems to negate individuality. Not so. Interdependence is what develops the personality traits that define us in unique ways.

We never question our assumption that we are a separate, self-sustaining or independent entity. Buddha taught interdependence because he saw that people were clinging to this assumption that we are independent and separate. Buddha taught that this view is the source of our deepest confusion in life and the gravest problems in society.

This view underestimates or ignores the connections between ourselves and others. We see others as apart from us. We believe we can act without consequences for others.  However, we cannot ignore the collective effects of our individual actions.

“Interdependent individual” is not an oxymoron. It is a powerful guide leading us to take better charge of our lives.

Examining the Unexamined

Interdependence is how things are whether or not we are aware of it. Both scientific studies and observation of our experience come to the same result – interdependence.  Everything arises from multiple causes and conditions, including ourselves. Nothing comes from a single cause alone.

    Contemplation: Consider the people and events that made you who and what you are today (body and mind).

Yes, we are unique, but not distinct and unrelated to others. The unique person we become over the course of our lives is based on the ongoing interplay of interdependent causes and conditions.

If we cling to individuality without appreciating how our individuality is supported by interdependence, we live in a state of willful blindness that harms us and others and limits the positive ways we can help others through our connections to them.

From Arrogance to Love

Viewing ourselves as independent leads us to believe and behave as if we are entirely self-made, as if we gathered all the conditions needed to bring us into being. We think we owe nothing to others.

Ignoring interdependence disregards the importance of others to our current well-being. We devalue their contributions. This harmful delusion impairs our ability to relate in a healthy way to others.

Interdependence is a more realistic and healthier vantage point from which to relate to our individuality.

    Contemplation:  How has interdependence made you unique?

    Contemplation: Consider what you have received that makes you the unique individual you are today. Consider your feelings about the individuals identified in this contemplation.

    Contemplation:  Karmapa says that gratitude and appreciation for what others have done for us leads to cherishing and affection for others, which in turn leads to responsibility for the well-being of others. Contemplate this point.

We can actually experience the intimate connections that link us constantly to others and to the planet. This transcends simply understanding interdependence. This is an active sense of love and concern for other people and the natural world.

Real Self-Reliance

We need to cultivate healthy self-reliance. Interdependence provides a firm basis for healthy self-reliance because interdependence allows us to consciously change course and grow in new directions.

Why? When things depend on causes and conditions for their existence, they are open to change. Causes and conditions constantly interact in ways that affect the outcome.

Example: A seed is not the sole cause of a tree. Conditions such as moisture, soil, and warmth determine the size, strength and quality of the tree. Manipulating any of these conditions changes the result.

In the same way changing conditions in our lives (especially inner conditions) can change our lives.

First, we need to identify correctly the inner conditions we can and must change. Being attentive to the workings of interdependence allows us to recognize the opportunities we have to take charge of our lives. This is healthy self-reliance because it does not deny the role of others or external circumstances. Instead, takes them into consideration. We attend to both our experiences within and also to the interactions we have with our social or natural environment.

[Humility and Confidence are explained later in this Summary]

    Contemplation: Consider what positive quality you aspire to strengthen (love, compassion, wisdom, humility, or confidence). What is your plan for strengthening that quality?

We cannot change the course of our lives by changing a single cause or a single condition. We must cultivate many inner conditions to bring real transformation. The potential has always been there, but once we decide to develop that potential, we do so by bringing together all the conditions that enhance the quality we want to strengthen.

Mental and emotional elements are required to give rise to compassion and other qualities. We need to consider the health and strength of our motivation, our feelings, our understanding, and our perceptions. Then we can use self-reliance to develop the qualities we wish to nurture. Simply wanting change is not enough by itself. Our wish to change must interact with other inner elements and then those inner elements must interact with outer conditions to shape our external circumstances.

Don’t be discouraged if change happens more slowly than we want. Recognizing the possibility of change is inspiring, but we can’t change rapidly. Compassion and other qualities are not something we can acquire, install and power on. They must be cultivated gradually and in concert with other qualities. Why? Because inner emotional and mental states exist interdependently; therefore, increasing our virtuous qualities takes multiple steps. Simply wanting is not enough.

Self-Cultivation is not Self-Absorption

We must cherish ourselves in a healthy way. We have the primary responsibility for the state of our own hearts and minds. This is healthy self-cherishing – looking after our inner affairs.

Each person must become his or her own protector in order to extend care and protection to others. Extending protection to others is what prevents us from falling into self-obsession or self-absorption.

Self-absorption ignores the web of relationships in our life. Our view is restricted to “I”, “mine”, “my” partner, “my” parents, and “my” friends. Egocentrism is a prison in which we shut ourselves away from everyone else. Only a few people or pets matter to us. Only they are allowed to enter our self-made jail. Everyone else is irrelevant. We are shut off from the world. Our self-sufficient and independent view reinforces those walls. We create this isolation. Only we can liberate ourselves from this imprisonment.

Once we tear down these walls, our view is so broad that it can take in the entire world. Our awareness of connections must be expansive because we are impacting others, not just through immediate and direct interactions. Through long chains of causal connections, what we do in our own home and neighborhood contributes to the happiness or suffering of others in the far corners of the globe.

At the same time, we can’t overlook our own experiences.  When we become aware of how much unites us, we become able to learn about others by seeing our own situation clearly. When we recognize that we want to be happy, we see that the people connected to us want to be happy. By knowing what hurts us, we know what not to do to others. Our experiences help us know what others are feeling.

At the same time, we need to educate ourselves about the unique situations others face in order to be capable impacting them positively.

Our knowledge of our shared inner condition is the starting point that motivates changes in our actions so that we benefit others and avoid harming them. We begin with understanding that others want to be happy and free of suffering just like we do.

Humility and Confidence

Humility and confidence are qualities we must cultivate to become healthier and happier interdependent individuals.

In a self-oriented world, humility and confidence seem inconsistent with each other. But in the world of interdependence, new possibilities make sense (including humility and confidence paired together).

Our consumer society thrives on competition and displays of strength. The “winner” approach seeks positions of superiority over others and conceals weaknesses. This makes it hard to address weaknesses (which we need to do).

Humility does not mean weak. Healthy humility does not demean our qualities. Rather, we recognize that because everything is relative, there is always room to grow. Nobody is ever the absolute best.

Humility is enhanced by understanding that we are in a constant state of development. However much or little positive qualities we have, further growth is always possible. Our positive qualities can be developed without limit. We may know a great deal, but we can still learn from others and from our own experiences. Healthy humility helps us keep an open door to improvement.

Pride closes that door. We tell ourselves we are better than everyone else and have more than everyone else. Pride looks down on others. We need them to be less in order for us to be more. This egocentric wall boxes us in. Reducing pride does not mean losing confidence.

Confidence is a virtuous form of pride. We realize that we are able to do good things. Confidence helps us get rid of our limitations. Humility and confidence allow us to grow beyond our limitations while allowing us to live our interdependence well.

Being the Best Ever

Independent means feeling distinct and separate from everyone else and wanting to stand out and be the best. We feel we matter only if we are unique and special in some way.

When we appreciate the value of what we are and have, then there is no need to stand out. This relates to the third quality of interdependent individuals: contentment.

Contentment means enjoying what we have and what we are, truly savoring and making full use of it.

The consumer culture is based on dissatisfaction – thirsting after what we lack. The habit of desire disregards what we have, constantly searching for newer and better. We are unable to feel satisfied with who we are or even notice what we have. Dissatisfaction also affects relationships. We feel we are not good enough; our partner is not good enough. No matter what we have, we want more. Learning to enjoy what we already have rather than chasing more is a better approach.

Dissatisfaction is seen as healthy because it drives progress. Contentment is seen as complacent and stopping forward motion.

However, there is no conflict between contentment and progressing. Satisfied does not mean we stop growing or gaining new things. It means appreciating what we have. Contentment provides a strong basis for improvement. Without appreciating what we have, there is no firm basis to build on.

We make happiness unnecessarily complicated, but happiness can be simple and natural. Appreciation and joyful gratitude is the spontaneous natural extension of full awareness of interdependence.

Just being a human being is amazing. Our precious human life means we have opportunities to develop positive qualities. A sincere wish to make the most these opportunities provides tremendous value.

    Contemplation: Our precious human birth is valuable beyond compare. We have something special and worthy of profound satisfaction. If we use this life to develop our understanding of interdependence, this will lead to endless value for ourselves and others.

Adjusting Course

Life presents endless opportunities to deepen our awareness of interdependence and reorient our daily interactions and experiences accordingly.

    Contemplation: Simply observing our own experience is a reminder of the value of interdependence. Contemplate this and make a short list (no more than 10) of examples of other individuals who are indispensable to our well-being on a typical day.

    Contemplation: Consider your feelings about the individuals identified in the previous contemplation.

    Contemplation: How are these moments of interdependence opportunities to cultivate humility, confidence, contentment or any of the inner qualities we have determined to deepen?

These moments can transform interdependence from an idea into something we feel and value highly.

In the course of everyday life we can awaken to the reality of our interdependence and begin to live according to this basic underlying principle – it becomes a way of life, a principled way of life.

The Refuge of Love

Karmapa left Tibet and came to India when he was fourteen. There he found lots of new opportunities and much benefit, but also many challenges. He has not been free to go wherever he chooses, which  greatly reduced what he is able to accomplish. He had to cultivate satisfaction with whatever was possible.

Karmapa views the point of life as cherishing and supporting others, trying to serve as a refuge where others can find love. This is what has given meaning to his life.

Even though he cannot benefit others in a direct way, he holds in his heart affections and concern for others – then they know someone cares deeply for them. As long as he is alive, he will offer support and love to all. All we are connected with him can take comfort in the knowledge that they have at least one person in the world that sincerely and completely cares about them. This gives Karmapa purpose and meaning in his life.

This basic fact of interdependence is a source of courage and determination for him.

Once we fully embrace our connections to others, we can intentionally breathe life into them, and this can fill our lives with meaning and love.

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Interconnected: Embracing Life in our Global Society

 

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the second chapter and a list of contemplations related to this chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion of this chapter on Sunday May 31st at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

Chapter 2  TRUE CONNECTIVITY Summary

Three years before COVID-19 upended our lives, His Holiness opens this chapter on true connectivity by stating that “we are living in a paradoxical moment.”  He points out how we are highly connected to each other in a technological way but this type of connection leads to us feeling more isolated.  A lot of research is being devoted to this now and the research validates Karmapa’s conclusion.  However, in this time of COVID-19, we are living more digital lives than ever before.  Karmapa gives us strategies to be online wisely so we can feel connected to our world in deeper ways.

He reiterates his statements from Chapter 1 about how interconnected and interdependent we are. To enhance our true connectivity technologically, he states that we need to look at our obstacles to feeling more connected, and this will help us use our technology more wisely.

One factor that increases our feeling disconnection at a heart level is the online emphasis  on the outer differences between people instead of the commonalities. One way to counter that effect, for example when seeing economically disadvantaged people, is to think how it is often people in that economic situation who make our clothes, or grow our food.. They benefit it us.   He concludes that despite all outer differences, we are all connected by our common desire to be happy and free from suffering.

GOING BEYOND VIRTUAL REALITY

Technology has the potential to bring us closer together if we use these tools wisely.   Many have been online for the first time or on-line in new ways during COVID-19, and have had birthday parties, weddings, Passover, Easter and other important events together with friends and family, some of whom would not have attended an in-person event.

Examples of using technology in ways that disconnect us, is the internet’s emphasis on extraordinary people and their conditions, and competition that pushes us to exaggerate our good qualities.  Everyone seems to be having such a fantastic life online because we often don’t post our embarrassing situations and mistakes.  We thus we end up interacting with others online “as an illusory electronic self, interacting with illusory electronic versions of other people.”  We forget the pixels on the screen are not the person, and interacting with an online friend does not convey the “human warmth that we all need.”    Karmapa states that online connection can make us feel lonely and sad because it is not real or nourishing.  We are sitting home alone with a screen wanting to feel a true connection.

Before COVID-19 how did you view technology and connection with others electronically?

Now that we cannot see our friends, has your opinion of online connection changed?  If so, in what ways?  If not, why not?

DON’T LIVE A LITE LIFE

We have so more access to information online that we can process in our lifetimes, but we have not made “the shift from intellectual to emotional engagement.”  Karmapa states that the sheer volume of information available prompts us to remain on the surface and not go deep and feel how the information impacts us. One example he gives is our tendency to respond to a friend’s news online by clicking on an icon instead of reaching out with condolences or congratulations.

Karmapa suggests we can look at how technology impacts us by asking ourselves:

What does it do to me to engage with technology in this way?

How does it actually make me feel?

What am I willing to give up in order to gain those benefits?

 He states it is a fallacy to believe that our screens and other external objects can bring us happiness.  Happiness “can only be found within us and emanate out from there.”

 EMOTIONAL DISCONNECTIVITY

Karmapa states that many who connect online feel dissatisfied with their connections, and even when they are connecting with one person, they multitask and connect with someone else at the same time. Even people living in the same house text each other instead of talking to each other.  He contrasts this with the way he grew up, and his connection with natural surroundings. There was a lot of labor in a rural farming community and people worked together. When the work was done they spent time together, enjoying the company of others, which was very satisfying to him. His Holiness asks us to reflect on our what we are losing through our digital connections.  He is concerned that our digital connection could lead to a negative cycle of less satisfying connection, trying to find true connectivity in the digital world, which leads to further dissatisfaction, loneliness and isolation.

In our time of COVID-19, some people are spending more time with housemates for better or worse, and others are stuck home alone.   Digital connections are all some of us have.  Others are now conducting all of their work on-line.

How has this time of COVID-19 affected your emotional connections?  Are you connecting more or less than before?  Are you feeling more or less isolated now?  Maybe you alternate?  Are you making any resolutions about connection when our forced isolation ends?

INTRODUCING HIS LONELINESS

His Holiness describes the loneliness of being an exalted pubic figure.  He compares that to the super image of ourselves that we project online, only showing our best selves so we get the most likes or retweets.

In addition to our digital disconnection, he states that other causes and conditions like our self-reliance and emphasis on individuality can produce loneliness. If we feel disconnected, even being surrounded by people will not make us feel connected.  Truly, being around people and still feeling lonely is a terrible feeling. Reflecting on our interdependence, can help us feel more connected.

Even if you are stuck in your home alone, can you feel the connections you have with others?  People who you talk to directly, and the people you don’t know but who have made your food and clothes, the person who built your home, electronics, or created art, books or music that touches you.

 COME IN FROM THE COLD

Karmapa advises that to “ease loneliness, we first need to find friends within ourselves…by connecting with our own positive qualities.” We need to support these positive qualities by surrounding ourselves with warmth and appreciating our positive qualities.

What positive qualities do you have?  Can you increase your appreciation of them by reflecting on the benefits they bring to you and others?

 OUR NATURAL CAPACITY FOR CLOSENESS

We have an innate potential to be feel close to others and connect with them, evidenced by the natural way that babies and young children can connect with others. As we age, this ability “is eroded by doubts, fears, and suspicions. He believes that this erosion is from habituation and conditioning about how different we are from others.  Reflecting on our good qualities and on interdependence can also help us reconnect with our innate ability to connect and feel close to people.

What stops you from connecting with people? Think of the elevator example His Holiness gave.  How do you typically react?  Why?

 RECOLLECTING KINDNESS

Another exercise to help us feel our interconnections is with a practice called “recollecting kindness.”  In this practice we bring to mind situations in which others were kind to us. He suggests not only reflecting, but he suggests conducting some research to help bring more abstract helpers to mind like those who make our clothes, and really connect with them. We could even express gratitude each time we get dressed for their kindness. Our appreciation could also then motivate us to act further in terms of trying to benefit them, for example contributing to organizations to help them, not buying from companies that use sweatshops, etc.  We can use this exercise to appreciate anyone who has helped us directly or indirectly. The result of this exercise is more gratitude, connection and benefit for self and others.

 THE VALUES OF INTERDEPENDENCE

“Bringing heart and mind together, gratitude is an affective state that can be produced by an awareness of interdependence.“  Training in gratitude for the kindness of others makes us feel good.  This training can extend to everything and everyone until you feel that everyone is benefiting you. This feeling will make it easier to connect and feel close to others, and have a more positive outlook.

Sit and bring to mind one or more people who have benefitted you directly. Contemplate how they benefited you.  Feel how connected you feel to that person.

 THE KINDNESS OF ANIMALS (and NATURE)

Animals and nature are straightforward, so if we have feelings of suspicion or doubt towards the intentions of others, animals and nature may be a good place to start generating a sense of connection and closeness. Watching animal videos about animals taking care of each other can inspire us to develop our own caring qualities.  We can also reflect on the suffering of animals and our planet to help foster a more compassionate attitude towards them.  Turning compassionate thoughts into action is the next step.

Reflect on the suffering of animals or the planet.  Is there something you can do to help them?

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Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the first chapter and a list of contemplations related to this chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion of this chapter on Sunday May 24th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

INTERCONNECTED – Chapter 1

Awareness is growing that we live in a world where all of us, and the natural world that sustains us, are profoundly and radically connected. This interconnection is described in Buddhism as interdependence.

Interdependence explains why and how we are interconnected. Everything in life happens due to various causes and conditions coming together. Everything that exists is a condition that affects others, and is affected in turn, in a vast and complex web of causality. As part of that web, we ourselves are a condition that impacts those around us.

Interdependence has practical consequences in virtually every sphere of life on this planet – environmental, economic, social, psychological and ethical – everything material and immaterial are all subject to interdependence.

The health of our planet depends on our recognizing how interdependence works in the natural world and especially how human actions – greatly amplified by technological advances – are interacting with other forces. On a personal level our ability to find lasting happiness also depends on understanding how interdependence works within our own life and relationships. Our response to our interconnectedness can produce either human suffering or flourishing.

The Karmapa is particularly concerned with ensuring that our heightened awareness leads to change in individual and collective behavior, to help build a global society that works in concert with rather than resistant to the realities of interdependence. Change requires that we move from intellectual to emotional awareness and from there to action.

OUR INTERDEPENDENT WORLD

Our external reality is shaped through the interplay of myriad conditions (External Interconnection). Among those conditions, some of the most influential are human attitudes and actions. Each of us is a complex constellation of perceptions, ideas, interpretations, emotions, and intentions that mutually affect one another, and that shape how we experience our connections, how we respond, and what we contribute to those connections (Inner Interconnection). Our inner world and the outer world are intimately connected and therefore investigating the dynamics of interdependence at work in the world around us requires that we consider the world within us.

The human heart and mind (our inner world), form an integral part of these webs of interdependence and are key to bringing about real change in the world that we all share. The transformation of our social and material world must begin within us.
Intellectual awareness of interdependence is the first step
Emotional awareness of interdependence is the essential next step
By understanding the interdependence of our inner world and emotions, our understanding of interdependence moves from head to heart and into action.
INDEPENDENT SELF

Reflect on what you are referring to when you say “I” or “me”(i.e., the entire complex of body and mind.)

CONTEMPLATION:

For the terms below contemplate: Am I a separate entity, or am I connected to other people or things? How am I separate? How am I connected? How far can you trace a thread of connections? Can you follow a thread to its source?

My body
My things (e.g., Clothing, food, books, house, car, other things)

All the things that we think of as me and mine – our bodies, our clothes, our food, and all our material possessions – come from others.

My Consciousness
My thoughts
Where do my thoughts come from?
Where do my beliefs come from?

Not only our ideas, but a great deal of our emotional life and our psychological makeup is very clearly influenced by others and impacted by what goes on around us.

Is there such a thing as an entirely independent you?

INTERDEPENDENT SELF

Others are part of you, just as you are part of them. You exist in connection with others. When you see this, you can also see that your happiness and suffering depend upon others.
All beings are changed by being in relationship. Just being connected to someone or something means we are each forming part of the other.

Once we deeply understand that self and others are not two entirely distinct things – that we are not really separate – many things can change. We will feel a sense of profound connection to other beings, and we will experience their contributions to who we are with gratitude and goodwill. We will see and feel that we simply must consider others’ well-being.

Interdependence challenges how we see ourselves in relation to others. This rethinking transforms how we engage with others, emotionally and in our actions.

CONTEMPLATION:

Can you recall a time with someone where you could see the movement of emotions, ideas, or energy shift between you?
How did they impact you?
How did you impact them?
What did you create together in that space of interconnection?
Was it intentional?

INTERCONNECTED WITH OUR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT

We ourselves form part of this vast system of symbiotic exchanges. As the trees and plants take in sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce the oxygen that we so vitally require, we are continually reciprocating with carbon dioxide, which plants use as they produce more oxygen. Once we inhale, that oxygen is carried by our blood to cells throughout our body. Thus we can say that trees and plants and the sun itself are present in our every cell, just as our breath may be present in the plants’ cells.

CONTEMPLATION:

How else are you connected to your environment? (Coarse and subtle ways)
How does the environment impact you?
How do you impact the environment?
What situation does your symbiotic exchange produce?

Everything we need to survive in life is connected to other people and to resources outside of ourselves. Likewise we are the resources that others depend upon for their existence.

SEEING THE NATURAL WORLD AS A CONTAINER, AND ALL THE BEINGS THAT LIVE IN IT AS ITS CONTENTS

This emphasizes the connection of humans, animals and their natural environment.

We often overlook the ways in which the contents can affect the container itself.
The word for contents in Tibetan literally means nutrients. We are like the nourishment for the world that contains us. Our relationship with the world we live in is more reciprocal than we normally envision.

ALL RELATIONSHIPS GO BOTH WAYS

With earthquakes, blizzards, or floods we clearly see that natural phenomena impact us.
Our impact on the planet is less obvious. The earth is so immense, it is hard to see the impact we have. We just need to cultivate different lenses so we can gain awareness of our interdependence on both vast and intimate scales.

If contents are corrosive they damage the container. The analogy of container and contents might help us see the interdependence always works both ways.

(My note: Because of our 5 senses and self-awareness we are usually very aware of how the world is happening to us but not so aware of how we are happening to the world.)

Question: How can we cultivate a greater awareness of our impacts on our world and on others?

RIPPLE EFFECTS: OUR ACTIONS IMPACT OTHERS, DIRECTLY AND INDIRECTLY

Interdependence involves causality – the way things happen due to the coming together of certain causes and conditions. It’s easier to recognize our role in the immediate results of our intentional actions, but harder to see our role in the indirect results of those actions. The more nuanced our appreciation of causality, the more effectively we can achieve the results we want.

Our actions have ripple effects beyond the direct results that we readily perceive and recognize as consequences of our actions. Everything we do has an impact not only on us and on our immediate surroundings but far beyond that.

CONTEMPLATION:

Recall a situation where you observed things ripple out from an initial action?
Was the initial action intentional?
What was the direct impact?
Was the direct impact consistent with the intentional action?
What were the indirect impacts?
Were the indirect impacts consistent with the initial intentional action?

BROADENING OUR AWARENESS IS ESSENTIAL TO SEE THE MORE SUBTLE WORKINGS OF CAUSALITY

Many problems arise when we limit our view to a narrow, self-centered focus which distorts our view of reality. The notion of me and mine puts up a conceptual wall separating self and other. These walls can be dismantled by seeing our interdependence, and from the awareness that we are all equal in our wish for happiness and to be free of pain and suffering.

A narrow lens makes self and others seem wholly disconnected, but when we widen it by broadening our awareness, we see that our actions affect others and others’ actions affect us.
BENEFIT OR HARM

Interdependence reveals that the pursuit of our aims can either benefit or harm others, directly or indirectly.

To fulfill our responsibilities as members of a global society, it is crucial we look beyond immediate consequences and consider the indirect implications of our conduct. For with our individual actions, we impact the lives of others and shape the world that is our common home (e.g., relationships, families, workplaces, sangha communities, etc.).

CUMULATIVE ACTION, CUMULATIVE EFFECTS

When many people engage in the same intentional collective actions it has a cumulative effect that impacts us all (collective karma). But the connection between collective actions or shared attitudes and their longer-term or indirect impact is more obscure, and we fail to concern ourselves with these wider consequences.

We urgently need to recognize that we are not making choices for ourselves alone. Therefore we need to take much greater care what we decide and how we behave. Many individuals acting out of personal wants and desires have far-reaching collective effects on the world as a whole.

Our own failure to consider the cumulative impact of our actions is actually a major part of the problem.

10.) DEVELOPING INNER RESOURCES

We can see the causality of interdependence very much at work internally as well. Our interdependent lives are shaped not only by material conditions but also by our emotional states, by the strength of inner qualities like patience, love, or wisdom, and by the beliefs and perceptions that influence our decisions – in short the whole suite of cognitive and affective forces at work within us.

Our inner world is constantly shaping the way we perceive and respond to the circumstances we find ourselves in.

CONTEMPLATION:

How do external situations appear in your mind?
Is your mind disturbed?
How do you feel?
Does the way you feel affect the way situations appear in your mind?
Does the way you feel (disturbed mind) affect the way you respond to external situations?
Your inner world has a powerful role in determining how you experience your external conditions and how you respond to them.

12.) THE INTERPLAY OF INNER AND OUTER WORLDS

The outer material world and our inner world actively impact one another. Our attitudes and feelings, affect those around us emotionally. Our attitudes also shape our actions, and with our actions we are creating the world we all share. Conversely, our external conditions also shape us inwardly.

The primary resources we need to thrive in our interdependent world are inner ones. If it is possible to feel content whether we have much or little, which set of resources is more valuable: mental and emotional, or physical and material?

WHAT INTERDEPENDENCE FEELS LIKE

We are all connected. We have a choice to see interdependence as a comforting sense of connectedness, or as unwanted dependency. The choice lies not in whether to be interconnected but in how we live it.

A great deal is at stake in which of these two views – individualism or interdependence – we choose to adopt. We experience our lives differently, we relate to others differently, and the very society we create differs based on whether we believe ourselves to be fundamentally separable and independent or fundamentally connected and interdependent.

Individualism can lead us to compare our situation to others. In such comparisons, competition is endless. We feel a lack, and inadequacy that can lead us to question our fundamental worth.
Interdependence as a value can guide our life. This deep awareness of our interconnectedness can change our lives and change the world.

It moves us from understanding, to feeling, and in the end becomes a springboard to action.

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EAST COAST WINTER RETREAT 2018

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Eight Verses for Training the Mind
2018/19 Winter Retreat

Friday, Dec. 28, 2018 through Tuesday,  Jan. 1, 2019
Beautiful new location:  Copper Beech Institute, West Hartford, CT

 

Registration is now open!

 

Cultivate your path to deeper meditation practice…

Skillful compassion requires a foundation of calm abiding (through shamatha meditation) and the clarity of insight which we can cultivate through progressive stages of analytical meditation. This uncovers our natural joy and wisdom, and prepares us to skillfully interact with our world.

In this year’s 5-, 4-, or 3-day winter retreat over the New Year’s weekend, you’ll find strong support for all of these through the teaching and your own sitting and walking meditation practice.


Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen will teach on Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Geshe Langri Thangpa and will also guide analytical meditation practice.

Acharya Lhakpa Tshering will teach and guide the foundational meditation practice of shamatha (calm abiding) meditation.

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open to all

This retreat is open to all, and best for those with prior meditation experience. It offers an opportunity for extended meditation and learning with accomplished teachers and an excellent community.  For more details and how to register, see the program and registration info below. There are discounts for Nalandabodhi members and affiliated groups. Register early by Sunday, Dec. 2 for the best discount.

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the teachers, facilitator

Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen is an accomplished meditation master, a classmate and close colleague of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, and a professor of Buddhist Studies and Tibetan language at Naropa University in Boulder, CO.

Acharya Lhakpa Tshering is likewise an accomplished meditator and scholar from the same monastic college and the resident teacher for East Coast Nalandabodhi centers and study groups.  Both Lama Tenpa and Acharya Lhakpa are wonderful examples of profound kindness, wisdom, and humor.  They are fluent English speakers and thoroughly attuned to our Western culture.

Damayonti Sengupta is the Chief Operating Officer of Nalandabodhi International and has studied contemplative movement arts and Buddhist meditation and philosophy for many years. She also has extensive experience as an educator, with a focus on experiential and intercultural learning, as well as organizational development.

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Please check back here for updates on teachers and teaching topics for the retreat.

the program

The retreat provides an environment for silent shamatha (calm abiding) and vipashyana (analytical or insight) meditation.  The retreat includes:

  • Teaching by Acharya Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen on analytical meditation.
  • Meditation instruction by senior teachers.
  • Sitting and walking meditation, alternating.
    • 7-9 hours per day for meditation and teaching sessions (some of which are at your option).
  • Contemplation and aspirations for the New Year.
  • Practice of silence until lunch every day. Individuals can also choose silent days or a completely silent retreat.
  • Tibetan yoga (lujong) every morning.
  • Options for a 5-, 4-, or 3-day retreat, to accommodate your schedule.
  • All meals from Friday dinner through Tuesday lunch.
  • Lodging at the lovely Copper Beech Institute in either single or double rooms.

Some program elements and the detailed daily schedule are still being worked out, so check back for updates.

the location: Copper Beech Institute

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 2.54.38 PMCopper Beech Institute is a refuge of calm—an idyllic retreat center for meditation and contemplative practice in West Hartford, Connecticut. The aims of the Institute includes providing an environment for reconnecting with the things that matter most in life. The tranquil campus offers quiet places for rest, deliciously nourishing meals, and 48 wooded acres to explore, including a gorgeous labyrinth for walking meditation. The Institute is located on the idyllic campus of Holy Family Retreat & Conference Center, which has been a refuge for those seeking quiet, contemplation and peace for more than 60 years. Operating independently from the historic Catholic retreat center, it occupies a renovated, handicap-accessible wing of the facility with 210 dedicated beds and access to the space’s stunning grounds. The campus features lovingly maintained perennial gardens, sculpture gardens, labyrinth, and wooded trails. Copper Beech is located minutes from I-84 in West Hartford, CT—a bustling and beautiful town, ranked by Kiplinger’s in 2010 as one of the Top Ten Best U.S. Cities for the Next Decade. It is just a 25-minute ride from Bradley International Airport, and 15 minutes from Union Station, Hartford’s Train and Bus Station.

More information about Copper Beech Institute is available here.

5-, 4-, and 3-day options

If you are unable to attend the full retreat (Friday afternoon through Tuesday lunch, 5 days), you can attend Friday afternoon through Sunday lunch (3 days) or Friday afternoon through Monday lunch (4 days).

Schedule, Arrival, Departure

The schedule below is tentative and subject to change. Please check back for updated information. (Registrants will also receive an email with retreat details prior to the retreat.)

Retreat Check-In:  Retreat check-in begins at 4 PM, Friday, Dec. 28.  Please do your best to arrive by dinner time (6 – 7 PM). The first meditation session is from 7:00 – 7:30 PM. The first teaching session will follow.

Retreat Conclusion & Check-Out:  For 3-day retreat participants, the retreat ends after lunch at 1 PM, Sunday, Dec. 30. For 4-day retreat participants, the retreat ends after lunch at 1 PM, Monday, Dec. 31. For 5-day retreat participants, the retreat ends after lunch at 1 PM, Tuesday, Jan. 1. (If you are able to stay and help with take down for the retreat, we would be happy for your help.)

eligibility and registration, or RSVP

The retreat is recommended for people with some prior meditation experience.  (We want your experience to be positive. A multi-day retreat is a big commitment if you haven’t meditated before.)  Registrants are asked to fill out a short online background questionnaire.

There are discounts for Nalandabodhi members and affiliated groups. Register early by Dec. 2 for the best discount.

To register now, click on the REGISTER button.

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If you’re not quite ready to register but are interested in attending, your RSVP to us will help (click to send us an online RSVP).

other practical details

  • This is designed as a residential retreat and we recommend that participants stay on-site. This serves to provide a more supportive container for our meditation practice. If you’d like to attend and it is important that you be able to stay off-campus, there are commuter options.
  • Meals are provided by Copper Beech Institute’s excellent culinary staff.  Vegetarian options will be provided, and the staff will try to accommodate special dietary needs. You can provide your dietary preferences and restrictions in the background questionnaire when you register.
  • Calendar page.

questions?

For questions, please e-mail philadelphia@nalandabodhi.org.  We’ll do our best to respond promptly.

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