Archive for February, 2013

Today we continue our adventure into the 10 Paramitas with Wisdom.  What is the difference between Wisdom and knowledge? The dictionary defines knowledge as understanding gained through experience or study.  Wisdom is defined as understanding of what is true, right, or lasting. Sylvia Boorstein, in her book Pay Attention for Goodness Sake, writes, “To develop Wisdom, it doesn’t matter what mind state is present.  It only matters that you know what is present (page 108).”

In ancient times Wisdom was an attribute of the feminine and was represented by Sophia.  “Sophia, the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Hochmah” is the feminine personification of Wisdom in the Pentateuch.  She is neither a goddess nor a new age creation of feminist theologians.  She was a real biblical person with more material on her in the OT (with Apocrypha) than anyone in the scriptures, except God, Job, Moses and David.”1  The great and powerful Solomon when he prayed for Wisdom knew that it came from Sophia.

Each of us has the Wisdom of Sophia right within us at every moment throughout eternity.  That is why when the dictionary defines Wisdom it does not indicate where you acquired the understanding of what is true, right, or lasting.  Wisdom is there for each of us if we just open our minds to that Divine Idea.  When my students would be studying for a big test I would always tell them that if all else failed the pencil had the answer.  They would laugh and some of them would think I had lost my mind.  And they may have been right: Lost it in the mind of Sophia.

“She is the ‘woman clothed with the sun,’ who brings the blazing light of knowledge.  Sophia is the embodiment of all wisdom, and it is she who urges us to know, to understand.  She leads the willing soul out of ignorance and blesses those who study and endeavor to know her.  In the words of Solomon: ‘I prayed and understanding was given me: I called upon God and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. I loved Her above health and beauty, and chose to have Her instead of light, for the light that cometh from Her never goeth out.’  Sophia is the deepest part of ourselves–that part can grasp in an instant the mysteries of the ages.”2

There is truth in that statement about the pencil.  For Sophia lives in each of us regardless of whether we have the body of a male or a female.  “Behold that I have not laboured for myself only, but for all them that seek Wisdom.”  She holds all people sacred and will give her Wisdom to anyone who calls upon her. The Buddha lived this life that Sophia talked about each and every day.  He may not have called upon Sophia when he was sitting under the Bodhi tree seeking and finding Wisdom of the universe right within him and within everything: the stars, the sun, the moon, the universe all that is, but he found her nonetheless.

Wisdom is greater than knowledge or intellect because Wisdom comes from something well beyond knowledge or humanity, you can name it something or nothing.  Giving it a name does not lesson the power of Wisdom in the universe or in us.  But we so often overlook it.  Throughout time philosophers have tried to understand the nature of Wisdom and how to achieve it.  They saw Wisdom in the people around them even before books, Bibles, the Sutras, the internet, and talk radio!  How could that be?  Because the Wisdom is not in the pencil, the ink, or the person, Wisdom moves through us as it does through all living things. Look for Wisdom in nature, be observant, and be conscious when you walk, drive, eat, work, dance and sing. It is everywhere!  We can tap into it at any time.  We have been told, seek and you shall find.  The Buddha did and so can you!

If you take the time today to stop and ask for Wisdom in each and every situation that you are dealing with, then sit in the silence for as long as you can and simply listen–your answers will appear.  It is said that Thomas Edison would take a coin and place it in his hand, he would then lay down on a bench in his laboratory and think about the problem or the question.  He would take a nap, and when the coin fell to the ground it would wake him up.  Then he would reach for his pencil and write down whatever thoughts were there.  It was invariably the answer to his problem.  If Thomas Edison could us this technique so can you.

Meditate on Wisdom today and every day this week.  Take the time to be like Thomas Edison when you have a problem at work or at home.  Listen for the still small voice within you and then write its message down, then follow through with the ideas that have been given to you.  Let me know what Wisdom you discovered!

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Today we begin our adventure with the third of 10 Paramitas in Buddhism.  So far we’ve worked on Generosity and Morales and today it is Renunciation.   I looked up the word on Dictionary.com and it gave some great synonyms for the word: denial, forgoing, sacrificing, relinquishing, abandoning, surrendering, and yielding.  I liked all of these so much better than the word “Renunciation.”    The example they gave of the word was a king renouncing his thrown, which reminded me of King Edward III giving up his thrown for his lover Wallis Simpson, the famous American divorcee. To me it was more of sacrificing a life of fame and power for love.  For others it seemed like he was abandoning his country for sex and personal desires.

Each of us must follow our path in this life if we are to be true to ourselves.  Renouncing his thrown was not easy for him, accepting his proposal with all its intended and unintended consequences was not easy for her either.  Our lives may not be as dramatic and open to the eyes of the world as Edward and Wallis, but each and every day we make choices to renounce, to forgo, to sacrifice, to surrender things, ideas, habits, and more—we do so to be faithful to our “true self.”

Today let us take an inventory of our lives, let us see what is helping us design and live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life—one that embodies the 10 Paramitas and beyond—one that lifts up humankind.  In the Christian Faith we are coming into Lent which is a time of renunciation a time when we sacrifice something for the memory of Jesus and his teachings of peace and love.  The Buddha is said to have sacrificed a life of riches and luxury to wander and seek the real meaning of life.

Sylvia Boorstein talks about Buddhism and life in her book Pay Attention, For Goodness’ Sake (2002), she writes: “And maybe it also means that people are realizing that what seemed important to them in their life—materialism and consumerism—doesn’t work at all to make a happy heart. It actually makes an unhappy heart. And an unhappy world. And maybe people are discovering that they really need something that speaks to the essence of their being, something that connects them directly with conscious intention, to the truth of their experience so that their lives become meaningful (page 4).”

And so when you take inventory of your life look closely at the things that made a difference, the things that brought you joy, peace, love, contentment, and a meaningful life. Then list the things that brought you pain, fear, anger, suffering, and loss.  Taking an inventory is not easy; it can open old wounds, faults, fears, frustrations, and losses.  But it can also help us remember past joys, happiness, loves, and successes. 

Once the inventory is completed take time to review the list and remind yourself of the things that you had to renounce or yield in order to survive.  It has been said that if life’s experiences do not kill us they make us stronger—sometimes in ways that we may not even recognize. 

I had to move in with my 92-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s disease and that meant giving up many of my so-called freedoms.  Freedom to come and go when I pleased, to sleep in or stay up late, to think only about myself, my schedule, my wants, desires, needs, ability to travel at will and more.  But what I have sacrificed is not nearly as much as I have gained in opportunities to actually practice what I teach: Living a life of the 10 Paramitas.

This experience gives me many opportunities daily to practice kindness, compassion, unconditional love, patience, yielding, relinquishment, and to sacrifice time and energy for something good and important—giving my mother a life of honor and respect where she can feel love and compassion each and every day.  Do not get me wrong it is not an easy path for me or anyone else that is taking care of an elderly parent or relative or a child or significant other who may be ill or disabled.  But millions of us do it and are, in the end, better people having had the experience.

For others reading this blog post you may be desiring the opportunity to relinquish an addiction to drugs, alcohol, food, or shopping—whatever is holding you captive to a life of fear, ill health, financial difficulties and the like.  Others may find themselves looking at a job or a relationship that is not functioning or fulfilling and it needs to be relinquished.  Let us each surrender to our good today.  Let us sacrifice expediency, fear, anger, and revenge for love, compassion, and joy.  Self-love and respect can be awakened in us if we yield to our good today. 

So take one thing from your list of past hurts and abandon it and surrender to the joy and peace that lives deep within you.  Creating a new you is not done overnight, and many of you will need help from friends, family members, self-help groups, spiritual/religious groups, doctors, and the like, but if you are willing to reach out, to relinquish your fears the consequences of change will be magnificent! Be free to relinquish the powerful hold the negative has on you, give it up, renounce it and instead yield to your good today! You may even find your true self! How wonderful is that. 

Let me know what happens!

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A few days ago I decided to do a series of blog posts on the 10 Paramitas in Buddhism as shared in Sylvia Boorstein’s book, Pay Attention, For Goodness’ Sake (2002).  She described these 10 ideals by which we live as Buddhists: Generosity, Morality, Renunciation, Wisdom, Energy, Patience, Truthfulness, Determination, Lovingkindness, and Equanimity (page 9).[1]  We started by practicing the Paramita of Generosity and each morning before we arose we set our intention for the day to find every opportunity or to create opportunities to be generous.

I found it very easy and lots of fun as well.  When grocery shopping I found some great things on sale that a friend of mine just loves so I bought them for him and surprised him when he came home from work they were sitting on his kitchen counter.  He sure was surprised and very appreciative of the gifts and enjoyed eating them throughout the next few days.  How wonderful is that!

Now I am going to take on the next Paramita on Sylvia’s list: Morality.  Wow, now we are in to the heady and often controversial stuff!  So let’s dive in with both feet into our newest adventure in life.  The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word moral as: “of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character; pertaining to the discernment of good and evil and being or acting in accordance with standards and precepts of goodness or with established codes of behavior…

“Mahayana scholars identified three categories of sila: Morality as restraint, morality as virtue, and morality as the selfless activity of compassion. These categories show us a progression of training, from self-concern to selfless concern,” writes Barbara O’Brien in her essay on “Sila Paramita: The Perfection of Morality.”[2]

She goes on to explain in her essay about what Morality is not.  “It’s important to understand that the basis of Buddhist morality is not found in external authority. In other words, the practice of morality is not found in unquestioning obedience of a list of rules. Instead, the perfection of morality is the natural expression of wisdom and compassion.”[3]

Whew, that’s a relief because if I had to review all the lists from all the religions of the world to see what they considered moral and what they considered immoral I’d be in a lot of trouble. Some say drinking alcohol is a sin and will send you to hell in a hand basket,” whatever that is, and others drink every single day as they serve wine during the Eucharist!  What’s up with that?

Zen Buddhists are minimalists and I just love that.  That makes me happy, keep it simple I say. It sure makes life easier knowing that if I focus on three simple things in my life—restraint, virtue, and compassion—I can live up to the ideals taught and practiced in Buddhism that resonate deep within me.

If we want an easy way to know if our thoughts, deeds, and actions are moral ones we can take a look at a Morality sermon preached by the Buddha as Sylvia describes it: “…the Buddha said that there are three times that a person should consider the consequences of any action: before, during, and after. “One should reflect thus,’ he said. “’Is what I am about to do. . .’ or ‘Is what I am currently doing. . .’ or ‘is what I just did. . . for my own well-being and for the benefit of all others (page 73).’”[4]

These go hand in hand with Zen Buddhism’s Three Pure Precepts: Cease all evil deeds, cultivate goodness, act for the benefit of others.  It sounds a little redundant, but redundancy is a good thing.  I tell my students all the time that it takes 12 times of handling the same information to learn it.  So how can we practice something that we have not integrated into our mind, body, and spirit?  Do as many things as you can over the next few days that will give you the opportunity to cease all evil deeds, cultivate goodness, and act for the benefit of others.  That shouldn’t be too hard I don’t think.

You could take Sylvia’s list of “Morality as restraint, morality as virtue, and morality as the selfless activity of compassion.” Or combine Sylvia and Barbara’s lists.  This adventure will take you through some tough times and some joyous times.  It may make you look at yourself in a different light.  You may choose to restrain yourself from getting into an argument with someone, even though you may feel justified in doing so.  Then take a look at how it worked out.  Did it end up being as the Buddha said, “for your own well-being and for the benefit of all others?”  I sure do hope so!

Barbara goes on to say, “Morality as restraint touches on renunciation. Renunciation is understood to be releasing whatever binds us to ignorance and suffering. . . So, we begin the journey by giving up behaviors that bind us, such as lying, stealing, and attachment. . .”[5]  Our attachments can be to almost anything: people, places, behaviors, thoughts, and even things.

So let me know how your next few days go with the morality trip!  It may be like a roller coaster, it may be like a trip in a hot air balloon, and, if you like, it could even be like a trip to the beach filled with sunshine and light.  You make the choice and then let me know what happens and enjoy the trip wherever you go!

[1] Boorstein, Sylvia, Pay Attention, for Goodness’ sake. Ballantine Books

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. Boorstein

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Every religion on the planet has a set of rules for living encased in its message.  The Judah-Christian religion has the Ten Commandments. The Buddhists have several: The Three Refuges, The Three Pure Precepts, The Ten Grave Precepts and the Ten Paramitas.  Almost every non-religious organization has a set of rules that they live by as well. Many have created creeds for their members such as the Hippocratic Oath that the doctors take, or the business that takes on the Golden Rule for its employees, or the oath you may take if you are a Boy or Girl Scout.  Each one gives us a path by which to live, work, and play.

When I teach Customer Service skills to my corporate audiences the first thing we talk about is The Golden Rule: “Treat people the way you wish to be treated.” We talk about how it affects us when we deal with our customers and how living by this rule—or not—affects them and us.

Each one of these systems gives us a lot of things to work on and think about for sure!  But with this comes the ability to look within ourselves to see how we are dealing with the outside world and the inside world in which we live.  Are we focused on self, others, things, thoughts, information, deeds, words, or actions—or a combination of them all?

Sylvia Boorstein in her book Pay Attention for Goodness’ Sake, Practicing the Perfection of the Heart Sutra (2002) says, “I am, however, tremendously glad to have the Paramitas as a spiritual practice, because they are ways of behaving, and although I am not in charge of what I think, I am—most of the time—responsible for how I act.” Wow!  She is so right.  Often times thoughts appear in my mind and I wonder, “Where the heck did that come from?!”  It may be a fear thought, an anger thought, or a jealousy thought that seemed to pop up unexpectedly in the middle of an encounter with someone, or from listening to a voice mail message, or reading a text message, or e-mail—but there it is.

The power of the thought has taken over my life for good or ill.  Depending upon how “I act,” as Sylvia says, will be the crux of my relationship from that moment forward.  If I choose to respond to the thought in a negative, angry, mean, vindictive or threatening way that could end the relationship, get me fired, or cause undue harm to the person to whom this behavior is directed.  Since I am usually a caring person I might then turn that anger, sadness, guilt or shame back on myself.  Now I’ve hurt two people and it all happened in a split second!

Reading her book has prompted me to write a series of blog posts on the 10 Paramitas.  They can be listed in many different ways often different nouns are used for them as well.  I like her list and so I’ll share them with you as she has named them:

Generosity, Morality, Renunciation, Wisdom, Energy, Patience, Truthfulness, Determination, Lovingkindness, Equanimity

Oddly enough she starts her teaching with Generosity.  So will I. She quotes the Buddha saying this about Generosity:

“Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression.

We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous.

We experience joy in the actual act of giving something.

And we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given.”

Fantastic!  Imagine if we worked this entire week on the Paramita of generosity how joyful we could be over and over again throughout the day and evening.  We get to feel great when we begin thinking of how we could be generous today, we get to feel great when we are acting out the generosity, and then throughout the day we get to feel great about remembering how the person responded, how it might have helped him or her in some way, large or small—and remembering the look on his or her face.  It is like being able to experience the event over and over again such as eating that delicious piece of cake or enjoying that wonderful bowl of soup on a cold afternoon or evening again and again. Without the additional calories of course…how great is that!

Herman Hesse in his poem “Steps” wrote, “But only he, who travels and takes chances, can break the habits’ paralyzing stances.”  What habits do you have among the 10 Paramitas that might be worth working on?  The list is large and the actions can be, as Hesse says—paralyzing.  I hope you’ll work on these 10 with me over the next several weeks and if you do I will promise that you will have some wonderful opportunities to awaken to your true self.

Let’s begin by working on generosity for the next several days.  Upon awakening set your intention for the day before you put your feet on the floor.  Say to yourself that today you will find every opportunity, and even deliberately make opportunities, to show generosity.  They can be as simple as giving a ride to someone you know without them having to ask.  It might be holding the door for someone, or praising his or hers work or talent, or complementing them on their attitude, outfit, or smile.   Be generous with your lunch, your time, your talent, your words, your deeds.  Then you get to experience the joy of giving over and over throughout the day! How great is that!

Contact me and let me know what happens on this great adventure through the Paramitas!

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