Praise and blame. Fame and disrepute. These winds blow back and forth. Sometimes the wind is in your sails and you feel invincible; and other times it's blowing against you, making a mockery of your umbrella. Don't worry too much about what others think, or what the world thinks, because that changes like the wind.Only have concern for how you think and the opinion of the wise.
Keep striving to steer the herd of thoughts in the direction of non-hate, non-greed, and harmlessness. As these are thoughts one doesn't regret having and they lead to better outcomes and peace of mind (-:
It is challenging, but giving oneself a hard time for not being perfect is ill-will towards oneself. Self hatred is still hatred and doesn't lead anywhere except to more misery. We are allowed to give ourselves the permission to let go of the past, to let go of regrets, to move on and be kinder to ourselves. Everyone makes mistakes. And all any of us can do is try to learn what we can from them in a non-hostile way. We make amends for the past by cultivating wholesome states of mind here and now, till there's no more room for negativity.
A bit under the weather today. Woke up with a touch of sickness this morning. Didn't feel comfortable lying in bed as had sweated a lot in the night. So I got up and had a bath. Then sat in meditation with a Zen group I sit with regularly. Felt quite unwell whilst I sat, and have an annoying cough which kept interrupting the flow of meditation and stopped me getting into a deep state of concentration. At first I wondered why on Earth I was sitting meditating with others on Zoom when I just wasn't feeling it. But I remembered a story about a monk who got sick with malaria, and he carried on sitting and meditating with the sangha every evening, and even though he felt like he was on death's door, and felt gravely ill, he kept meditating and it was hardwork, he struggled; but he also persevered and eventually managed to reach a flow state known as samhadi (A profound deep stillness, lucidity and unification of mind) and from then on his sickness turned around and he got better. I have heard other stories like this, so I think there is something to it. There's something powerful and healing about getting into a state of samhadi. I didn't manage to do that today, after 30 minutes I felt like I had had enough and left the sitting to lie down for a bit.
But it was not a wasted effort, there was merit there. I think just sitting with the sickness and learning how to flow with it and be kind to myself was a helpful experience. I tried to remain aware and mindful throughout and learn what I could about the mind and how to be okay with ill health and pain; not reacting, accepting things as they are, letting them be, without the suffering.
I can't seem to generate the energy of metta (loving-kindness, goodwill, friendliness) today, feel a bit weak and fatigued, athough I will persevere with that as I have found doing metta practise for the bacteria/viruses causing sickness in my body has powerfully turned things around for me in the past. I can't seem to bring up that feeling just now though, so am spending a lot of time in equanimity. I may listen to a playlist of dharma talks on metta later, as using the voice of another can help to generate the feeling of metta when I am struggling to be able to.
Remembering the five wise reflections oddly brings me comfort, and seems to help the mind to accept the way things are. It reminds me that the first four reflections: ageing, sickness, death, and separation are natural, and happen to all living beings. The last reflection reminds me to show kindness to myself and others, and develop a generous heart and try to give in whatever form I can, even if that is just silently practising metta for myself and others, it still helps. As these are actions that can bring one good karma.
The Five wise reflections
I am of the nature to age; I have not gone beyond old age.
I am of the nature to get sick; I have not gone beyond ill health.
I am of the nature to die; I have not gone beyond dying.
Everything I hold dear and everyone that I love,
Will become separated from me due to the nature of change (of impermanence).
I am the owner of my karma, heir of my karma,
Born of my karma, related to my karma.
My karma is the ground on which I stand.
Therefore should I frequently remember:
Whatever actions I do for good or for ill,
Become the karma I inherit.
This is a nice practise I learnt in Buddhism. It is called sharing your merit with all beings. Merit being your attainments, virtue, knowledge, wisdom, benefits of spiritual practise, wellbeing... all the good wholesome stuff. And you share that freely with all the beings around you. Both seen and unseen. It can help bring a nice vibe I find, especially when out walking. I feel the presence of many different beings, and some I call Devas, (we in the West call them spirits.) I feel them all around me at times, and they bring good energy, and I have found they really appreciate it when we share our merit with them.
We of course lose absolutely nothing when we share our merit with others, what you give out energetically comes back to you exponentially. This means your merit will grow from this practise, and then you will have more to give, and the more you give, the more comes back to you, and so on, it grows and grows.
However, the intention behind giving is also important, as it is our intention that will be the flavour of what comes back to us energetically. What we reap is what we sow. As a rule of thumb, right intention tends to come from the belly or the heart, intentions developed in the brain and our thoughts can generate the wrong kind of intention.
I think it is a blameless practise, that causes no harm and nothing bad can come from it.
It has also helped me a couple times with grief. Where I offered to share my merit with loved ones who had crossed over this past couple of years. I felt their presence as I did this and that they really appreciated the merit. All spirits appreciate it when we share our merit with them, I think it can really help them out where they are.
I think this practise is also a good training for the mind in developing generosity, good will and friendship with other beings. It can be done silently in one's head, and nobody has to know that you are practising this at all. You don't have to be wealthy, you can be in poverty and still practise sharing your merit. We have all had moments of genuine kindness, there's some merit right there that can be shared. Share your entire life's worth of merit with all the beings around you in all directions, and dimensions throughout all time and space.
Keep doing that as often as you remember to.
In Buddhism this energy is known as metta or loving-kindness. It also means friendship, warmth and joviality.
Compassion is a form of metta, it is metta towards another who is suffering.
Empathetic Joy is also a form of metta, this is where one feels joy in another's happiness. You could say (for anyone who has encountered object-oriented programming) that compassion and empathetic joy are both subclasses of metta (;
Equanimity is also very valuable, and compliments metta perfectly. Ajahn Sona describes metta and equanimity as being like a knife and fork. They work well together.
Equanimity is welcome for times when generating metta feels impossible, when the grief is too much, and for the times when you make mistakes and fail, when things don't go to plan, for the things you can't change in the world. Nobody can solve all the world's problems, neither me nor you are responsible for solving the world's problems, that's an impossible task. We also should not suffer with other beings. That just leads one to sadness and the complete wrecking ball of depression, which doesn't help you or any other being. The best help we can be to other beings is to practise keeping our own minds bright and lucid, keep our spirits lifted up so we can offer support and friendship, compassion, and uplift others. This world is going to need that now more than ever. One can also radiate equanimity energetically, which can help bring calm to a difficult situation.
This practise takes a while though, lots of repetitive practise, lots of failures, but don't beat yourself up for those, just learn what you can, pick yourself back up and try try again.
It is good to try and find something that invokes that feeling in you. Can be anything: a loved one, a pet, any person, a mythological figure, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, an animal, a tree, the ocean, something neutral like the snow, water, air, colours, can be something imaginary. Use anything that brings up that feeling of love within you. Even if you get just a finger snap of the feeling, that's good enough, it snowballs. And the mind will find its way back there again, and again, and get better at finding its way back there. And sometimes it will do it without you consciously invoking it. Once it gets the hang of it, the mind will get quicker at finding it, and the amount of time the feeling lasts for will also grow both in intensity and duration.
Remember that what we practise now is what we will become. A way I have found that can help to keep fuelling the determination to practise, is to imagine having compassion for my future self and others. It is a gradual training, much like learning any other craft or skill in life, but with repeated practise it can be done, and the beneifts will blow your mind. Your future self (and all the people around you) will be glad that you did (-:
The Buddha once asked a king, "Suppose there are armies coming for you in all directions, crushing and killing everything in their path. There is no hope of escape from this impending doom. What would you do?"
The king said, "I would practise generosity, give, and be kind."
The Buddha praised his response, saying that was indeed the wisest thing any of us can do in that situation. Our deeds generate our karma, and that's what we take with us to our next existence.
For the king it was easy, but for some of us we don't have wealth or possessions to give away, so how do we give?
What is compassion's way? Is a question I have been mulling over and reflecting on for this past week or so.
Perhaps sometimes compassion's way is to remember the spiritual practise, other times to help another being in need, to get up and be of service to others, to practise loving-kindness and radiate that all around as you go about your day, maybe it is to be kind to yourself, to let go of something, maybe it is to have a moment of stillness, when we meditate we are not causing harm and this can be a way of giving, a Zen teacher said to me he thought my paintings were a way of giving. I had never thought that before, and that gave me something to reflect on.
How can we practise generosity and kindness? It seems there are a myriad different ways to do this, and when one thinks about it, one can find a way that fits with each moment. It got me thinking of all the different ways we can give. That's what matters in the end, the choices we make in each moment, and despite what the world does, how crazy and disturbing it gets, when that doom comes for us over the distant horizon, we can choose to be kind, to give, despite it all. This includes being kind to yourself as well, no room for judgement or shame, you are a being too. Unconditional love for all beings means just that, all beings. Be a friend to yourself as much as to others.
The world just now feels a lot like the one in the story of the Buddha and the king. But whatever time in history, there is always an impending doom coming for us, we are all dieing after all, a doom none of us can escape, every body has an expiry date. Death is natural, when we die we should remember our good deeds, not the ones we feel shame for, so we should feel good about ourseves, happy that we learnt from any mistakes and grew. We should focus on our acts of giving, of kindness and love. We should remember the friendships and that both the good and bad times created the depth of connections we have. We want to die with a warm, loving, kind, generous, serene heart, as that is what will be the seed for our next existence.
The hardest part sometimes is to remember. The word mindfulness means to remember, to keep something in mind. The five wise reflections are something the Buddha recommended people chant regularly to help them remember what really matters in this life:
The Five Wise Reflections
"I am of the nature to age; I should not be surprised by old age.
I am of the nature to become sick; I should not be surprised by ill health.
I am of the nature to die; I should not be surprised by death.
Everything I hold dear, and everyone I love, will become separated from me due to the nature of change, due to impermanence.
I am the heir of my karma, owner of my karma, born of my karma, related to my karma, abide supported by my karma. Therefore should I frequently recollect that whatever karma I do for good or for ill, of that will I be the heir."
We can also practise compassion for our future self.
What we practise now we become.
This may sound crazy but doing metta practise for the viruses/bacteria in my body has helped to consistently turn things round when I have been sick, actually the last three times in fact. Generating unconditional love for the micro-organisms seemed to change their energy a bit, perhaps even effecting their consciousness. And now I feel like they are part of me, but in a more benevolent form.
Metta is an energetic practise and means unconditional love, kindness, jovial goodwill, warmth and friendliness towards oneself and all other beings (not just humans).
I told all the virus/bacteria in my body, that they were all welcome to call my body their home, and that my heart-mind has resolved to become a Buddha. I offered to share the merit (benefits/knowledge) of my spiritual (bodhisattva) practise with all the different beings who call this body their home. All the different consciousnesses living in the body-mind, cells, bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites. I wished them all well and said they were more than welcome to call this body their home and join me on the path to Buddhahood.
I saturated my entire body with this energy and then radiated it out into the world. Offering to share the merit of my spiritual practise with all beings everywhere, wishing them all to be well and serene, and for everyone to realise Buddhahood and cross over to nibbana and be free from suffering.
Metta is a powerful practise and is a skill worth learning, but it takes time for the practise to grow. Equanimity is also an energetic practise that is worth learning as it compliments metta really well. They go together like a knife and fork.
Here are some talks and Q&A sessions from a virtual retreat led by Ajahn Sona I took part in last Christmas, they teach how to practise metta and I can testify that this energy is real and with practise it will snowball and grow stronger and bring much benefit to one's life and those around.
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