December 26, 2008 § Leave a comment
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God: playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you.”
December 14, 2008 § Leave a comment
December 12, 2008 § 1 Comment
As defined from a sociological perspective, stereotypes are “a special type of social knowledge structure or social belief that represent organized prior knowledge about a group of people that affects how we interpret new information.
So, as such, all of us (unenlightened) individuals live utilizing stereotypes on a daily basis.
“The activation of strong stereotype is not only automatic but also nonconscious, making it more likely that they will influence your behavior without you being aware of it, an effect called implicit stereotyping.”
The form of stereotyping we generally think of serves to elicit negative images of groups of people, usually other than our own. Yet we still live with stereotypes. What about the guy with piercings or tattoos? The young girl sitting on the bus, in her teens, but very much pregnant with child? What about the woman with matted hair and ratty clothing? Our response to those people are based on preconceived ideas as to the kind of people they are might be based on their outward appearance. Simply put, based on a stereotype developed from our previous experiences.
I’ve been really contemplating stereotypes since my posting regarding my visit to a Chinese restaurant in New Orleans while I was visiting with family. I’ve been examining my projected expectations on individuals who grew up during the Cultural Revolution in China.
Stereotypes reminded me of something I was once told by a Tibetan lama. First we perceive something according to one of our sense consciousnesses, giving rise to the impression of phenomena that we ignorantly believe to be external to ourselves. A feeling arises with that perception, an awareness of its deceptively “real” existence. Then an impression emerges as a positive, negative, or neutral response to the stimulus. Then we conceptualize the experience and label it according to what we believe we are perceiving, categorizing it as a “manifested” mental formation. It’s all based on ignorance that we are perceiving something “real” outside of our own mindstream. The practice of Dharma, however, brings us to the point of giving rise to the Mind of Enlightenment (Bodhichitta) and realizing the inter-dependant nature of all phenomena.
It’s the same, not only with physical objects, but also with people and the way stereotypes work. We see someone of a different ethnicity, religion, creed, nationality, whatever, and think that person is outside of our self, unconnected to us. Due to karmic traces we experience a positive, negative or neutral impression of that person. We then label them according to the categories in our minds that are based on prior experiences/stereotypes. We then judge them based on those prior experiences. It works in positive and negative ways.
How many times have I approached someone and already had the situation played out in my mind as to how they were going to respond to me? How may times has someone approached me and I thought I knew for sure what they were going to ask or say? My unmindfull reactions are based on habitual tendencies that I have yet to see through, knots I have yet to unravel.
About a year ago I had just gotten back to apartment in which I live in, and was gathering my things to get out of the car. I noticed a young man standing in the parking lot; he was in his early twenties, smoking a cigarette, wearing a while sleeveless undershirt and baggy jeans. His body language was “thug,” the way he held his smoke, the way he stood, his stance, everything about him screamed “thug.” As the universe would have it I was going to have to walk right by him to get to the door into the building. I knew I couldn’t just sneak past him without being seen as I was wearing my full robes. I braced myself for whatever he might say. I was almost in the building, and then of course he had to say something: “Yo. So, huh, what’s up with Buddha?” I turned around not having any idea what to say. His tone of voice, everything, was still conveying “thug.” Yet he walked up to me and started pouring out his heart. He wanted someone to talk to who wouldn’t judge him.
He talked about his anger. He talked about his smoking. He talked about his rough day at work. He talked about his lifestyle choices. By that point he had melted me and my preconceived projections, the stereotype by which I had prejudged him. At that point he had truly become my teacher in awareness. Then he said, “Don’t know why I’m talking to you. You people don’t want someone like me.” He began to shut down. I remember looking at him and saying, “Just because you get angry doesn’t mean you don’t have a good heart. You still have a heart, don’t you?” He looked up and just smiled at me. I could tell he wasn’t expecting that comment. We chatted a bit more, and then he had to go. I tried to find him later and give him a book by H.H. Dalai Lama about opening the heart, but he was gone. I don’t think he will ever realize what a huge impact he has had on my life. Wherever you are, thank you.
Those 15 minutes in that Chinese restaurant in New Orleans really opened my eyes once again to just how easy it is to get caught in habituated perspectives. It’s easy to judge. It’s easy to project concepts. It’s easy to remain blind to one’s own ignorant tendancies. That’s easy.
Opening the heart, that’s hard. Learning to give rise to Bodhichitta, true compassion, well to be honest, that can be painful. It entails stepping outside our zone of comfort to confront our blindness and past habituations. To feel compassion, in my own ignorant opinion, means to open one’s heart not only to others but also to one’s self. It means being truly brave to face one’s own pains, scars, and to be openly honest with oen’s self. How can I help someone else wash their hands if mine are still smeared with sludge? How can I assist someone else with their pain if I can’t see straight because I haven’t taken the time to get through my own disturbing past? It’s not being selfish; it’s being truly selfless. If I want to be of any true help, I must begin washing my own hands.
To illuminate the darkness, forget about it. Focus on lighting a match to light the candle. Once the candle is lit the darkess will naturally receed. The lamp of Bodhichitta must be lit with the flame of compassionate awareness. Place around the young light a globe constructed of the Six Paramitas to protect the flame from extinction. Then the darkness cannot encrouch upon the tender flame and snuff it back out.
To end, I’d like to quote a verse from Way of the Bodhisattva, by Shantideva:
When the Spirit of Awakening has arisen,
in an instant a wretch who is bound
in the prison of the cycle of existence
is called a Child of the Sugatas
and becomes worthy of reverence
in the worlds of gods and humans.
Even a wretch can be transformed into a Child of the Buddhas by the power of arising Bodhichitta. What could be more beautiful?
December 9, 2008 § Leave a comment
In haste and hurry we gather up our tattered robes,
And pack up our traveling bags: not much to take.
Sleeves brushing white clouds, we retreat to the cave’s mouth,
Carrying the moon on our shoulders, we circle the sky’s edge.
Translated by Beata Grant
Daughters of Emptiness:
Poems of Chinese Buddhist Nuns
December 8, 2008 § 3 Comments
On Saturday, on the way to the airport to depart New Orleans, I stopped at a little Chinese restaurant to get a quick bite to eat. Airplane food is down to chips, pretzels, nuts, and ginger snap cookies at $3 a hit. I had never been to that part of town to eat, even though New Orleans is very much home. Just saw the only Chinese restaurant around Enterprise Car Rental and in I went.
I was unsure how I’d be greeted. Some Chinese are very appreciative of monks and nuns of all lineages, and some are very suspicious of those in the Tibetan lineages, especially Westerners (only by my limited experience with no intention to stereotype anyone). They were very nice to me. The young girl who took my order told me her mother was Buddhist and went back to the kitchen to get her. She came out to see me but didn’t speak much English. An older Chinese woman translated for us. She was very gracious and very happy to see me. I must admit to having been a little embarrassed. Kept thinking, “If she only knew what an idiot I really am she wouldn’t be so nice to me!” But I just smiled and realized that it truly wasn’t me she was being gracious to, it was what the robes represented that she was honoring.
Then the truly interesting part of the conversation began (I’m still waiting for my food at this point). The older lady asked about the color of my robes as they were dark maroon, and I explained my teacher is Tibetan. “Oh, so you under the Dalai Lama then?” I responded that yes, kind of, but my teacher is not the Dalai Lama, that Penor Rinpoche has a monastery in South India, and a big temple in New York. She started going on about how the Dalai Lama can’t be trusted, that she has no faith in him. That he left Tibet at age 14 and knows nothing about how things really are. I just smiled and observed her face. What could I say? I felt very sad for her. She grew up in China during the upheaval and her view is based on Communist propaganda.
She then asked if I followed the Dalai Lama that’s in politics or the real Dalai Lama that’s still in China. What??? Maybe someone could help me out on this. Is there another Dalai Lama somewhere being supported by the Chinese government? I had never heard of such.
I simply responded to her that my Master (Penor Rinpoche) is not involved in politics, and that politics is very sticky. I smiled and said I stay out of politics and simply follow my Guru’s instructions. Thankfully my food was ready and I got it to go. I was beginning to get a little uncomfortable with the line of conversation.
December 6, 2008 § Leave a comment
For the past few days I’ve had the opportunity to indulge in the company of my family in Louisiana. The humidity is the same as ever, embracing and sticky. I have come to appreciate the arid climate of Colorado, but I must admit sometimes I actually long to spend time in the tropical climate of New Orleans.
So now I am waiting in the New Orleans International Airport, waiting on a flight that is delayed by 2 hours. I have the easy side of the situation, as many travelers had to return to ticketing to rebook their flights as they would miss the connecting flight in Denver to make off to their ultimate destination.
Waiting in an airport, for me, is a true test of patience. I have read through the books I brought with me, so maybe I’ll choose one to reread again. Or just sit here and be grateful to simply be sitting here.