Monday, August 13, 2012

Samsara Doesn't Seem So Bad

When I was about 20 my dad took me on a kayaking trip to coincide with the whale migration off the coast of Baja California. I had a kayak with a rudder that I could steer. Every time I got off course, I'd make an adjustment to the rudder. Then I'd get off course the other way and I'd make another adjustment.  Pretty soon I was zig zagging into the middle of the Gulf of California, trying to keep up with my dad who cruised along in a straight line, with half the exertion. 

These days my meditation practice feels a bit like I felt on that kayak, trying to keep myself moving from point A to point B, but struggling. I just got back from 6 weeks working abroad, during which I cut back on my meditation practice to accommodate a busy schedule. I've returned home struggling to get back into my normal routine, finding my mind scattered and my inspiration lacking.

Without an inspired meditation practice, life seems rudderless, without much purpose besides moving from one entertainment to the next. I'm zig zagging along, enjoying the warm summer sun, seduced by the amazingly efficient American shopping experience. In August, when everything is easy going, samsara doesn't seem so bad.

The trouble with cruising along and immersing myself in entertainment is that the selfish illusion of samsara will lose its luster. Something will happen that challenges me emotionally, and I'll be like a boxer in the ring who hasn't lifted a dumbbell in months. Out of shape and mentally weak, I'll be in for a beating. 

From a buddhist perspective I might look forward to that beating, but naturally I hope the beating is only painful enough to wake me up. 

In her analysis of Shantideva's The Way of the Bodhisatva, Pema Chodron describes it another way: "When life feels so pleasurable, so luxurious and cozy, there is not enough pain to turn us away from worldly seductions. Lulled into complacency, we become indifferent to the suffering of our fellow beings."

In a way, my meditation practice is training me for tougher times. Those tougher times are inevitable. That's not cynical, its just true. In the ocean of samsara, we are all destined for old age, sickness and death. Facing this fact builds courage and reminds us that the "self" we're so busy constructing is always changing. In fact, there is nothing to hold onto. Our experience of life is sweet and temporary. 

While I'm sitting, I'm aware of the fact that my inspiration is weak. The world isn't offering strong resistance to my happiness. This is very pleasant, but I need to do something to keep my practice strong. 

The way forward for me might be in the Mahayana teachings, which instruct us on how to awaken bodhichitta (awakened heart). Everyone has their own way. You might volunteer at a homeless shelter, adopt a pet, or remind yourself that taking good care of your family is a practice. You might resist averting your gaze from the homeless person on the street, and inquire about your fear. Whatever it takes, you need to work with the wider view, beyond your own suffering. That is what light's the spark in your heart. 

In my present state, I'm inspired by Shantideva's words, which are like blowing on a smoldering fire:

"Should bodhichitta come to birth
In one who suffers in the dungeons of samsara,
In that instant he is called the
buddhas' heir..."

The point is that we are all buddha's and we are all capable of knowing bodhichitta. Even if it is only a split second of courageous compassion in our hearts, it can be enough to wake us up from the illusion of samsara.


  1. This is a good post. I just got back from four weeks overseas, during which time I didn't meditate at all -- or work out. Those two things are part of my regular practice of discipline, and I definitely feel the difference having pushed them aside along with all my cares and worries and stress... Now that I'm back working and dealing with the bills and forms and hospital appointments, and all the things required for daily 'normal' life, I feel my own weakness. It is much harder to handle things without the grounded and insightful practice of meditation. However, I won't judge myself too harshly, either. I'll try to 'make friends' and accept that part of myself that can be undisciplined and weak sometimes. According to Pema Chordon in "Start Where You Are" that acceptance of one's own negative aspects can be important. It can help you accept the imperfections in others, and help you be realistic about your own growth. Don't be too hard on yourself, Kipp!

  2. Hello! In this blog article did you use the information from any extra studies or here are solely your private conclusions? Thanks a lot in advance for your answer.

    1. Hi Troy. Which conclusions were you referring to? If you are looking for research on the effects of meditation or some other kinds of studies, let me know how I can help you find what you are looking for.

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