Tag Archives: Buddhism

The Three Poisons

As children we are constantly bombarded with orders from our parents.

“Don’t eat that.”

“Don’t put that in your mouth.”

“Don’t touch that.”

“Don’t leave the yard.”

“Don’t go out in the street.”

”Don’t talk to strangers.”

We learn as adults that our parents (hopefully) were just trying to look out for us, to teach us right from wrong and keep us from injury or death. Most parents do the best job that they can to protect us from the evils of the world. The world is full of dangers and poisons. You hear about a kid dying or being horribly maimed on an almost daily basis. Parents want to teach their kids the lessons that they need to be healthy and successful in this world. Kids have a tendency to test the boundaries, stretch the leash. It’s a constant tug of war. It’s all a part of growing up.

There are different kinds of poison. There are the cleaning chemicals that we keep under the kitchen sink. There is spoiled food. There are all of the lawn supplies and gasoline in the garage. There is all of the pills and toiletries in the medicine cabinet. The list goes on and on.

And then there are the poisons of the soul.

The Buddha taught this in his First Noble Truth, “Life Is Suffering.” He also taught about the Three Poisons, greed, anger, and ignorance. The Three Poisons are the three-headed monster of human suffering. Greed is equivalent to desire. We are creatures of desire. We desire for sex, money, material items, love and happiness. We are always searching for the newest, better and bigger thing. The next door neighbor buys a new car, so we feel the urge to buy one too. We can’t possibly wear the same dress again to a big event. We need that new pair of high-tech running shoes or the newest laptop. I am just as guilty of that as the next guy. If you are desirous of that which you don’t or can’t have, then you are suffering.

The anger that the Buddha spoke of comes in the form of rage and hatred. We have a tendency as humans to hate, or at least be suspicious of those who are different from us. The difference can come in the form of physical attributes, religion, politics or ideology. Much like our ancestors, we divide ourselves into tribes. Many of us have numerous tribes that we identify with. We are (pick your country of origin)Americans, Catholics, Conservatives, New Yorkers, Steelers fans, vegetarians and Teamsters. By design, we therefore dislike (other)Americans, Muslims, Liberals, Californians, Cowboy fans, meat eaters and scabs. The divisiveness is as pronounced as it’s ever been. This dislike of the others can manifest itself in the form of hatred, resentment, and even discrimination. It has been seen recently in the U.S.A. in the venom tossed back and forth between the Liberals and the Tea Party. If you obsess on this kind of hatred or relate to it in any way, then you are suffering. The anger races through your brain like a lightning storm. This is what we define as stress.

And then there is ignorance. The ignorance that the Buddha speaks of isn’t the kind where you don’t know your ABC’s or multiplication tables. It isn’t that you don’t know how to read or can’t answer when someone says “Que pasa?” The ignorance that the Buddha speaks of is not knowing your true nature. We spend a lot of time examining other people. We should more time examining ourselves. Much has been made of the teachings and practices of the Buddha. There are many misconceptions about what it is all about. Buddhism is not about mysticism. Buddhism is about introspection. It’s about shining a mirror on yourself and your actions. When you examine your previous decisions and choices, then you can begin to be more conscious of your future ones. When you make conscious and informed decisions, you exercise your Buddha-nature. Anyone can be a Buddha and the Buddha-nature is in all things. As the Dalai Lama said, “There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple…” If you don’t know yourself, then you are suffering.

Your brain, your heart, your body is your temple. The Buddha just didn’t teach about the three poisons. He taught about the Three Antidotes.

Generosity is the antidote to greed. I’m not talking about the kind of generosity where you give a dollar to every panhandler that you see on the street. I’m talking about the generosity of spirit. It sounds cheesy, but I’m talking about say “how are you?” and meaning it. I’m talking about opening a door for someone, helping an old lady across the street. I’m talking about making a stranger smile.

The antidote to anger is compassion. When you have a moment where you feel the anger, the rage, the impatience start to rise up in you, take a second to examine the root cause of your anger. If it is directed to another person, ask yourself what that person ever did yo you. If it is a policeman, are you angry because you once got a parking ticket? If it is a service worker, is it because you once got a bad pizza? If that person has a different color skin than you, is it because you are afraid or angry because of something that happened somewhere else in the world? There are a million reasons that these feelings rise up, but is there any good reason to let them ruin your day? The strongest compassion that you can show is the compassion that you give to yourself. When a strong emotions flares reach inside yourself to examine the source. Once examined it can be discarded. The more you practice this, the less often you will have to do it.

The antidote for ignorance is wisdom. Once again, I’m not talking about the stuff you answer on the ACT. Wisdom is knowledge of self. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to take stock of your life. Meditation is an invaluable tool. Quieting your mind and staring internally can make you question your values and methods. It’s important to remember that life is a series of causes and effects. Wisdom is taking responsibility for the events in your life. Ignorance is finding someone else to blame. The sooner you drill down to the root causes, the faster the positive effects that you desire will come. Can you really wait around for someone else to make you happy? Better to take the reins and do it yourself.

That’s my plan.

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More Alchemy

b’AWARE ~ Consciousness is a magical elixer of realization and enlightenment. Catch a snowflake on your tongue. Make someone smile. Be aLIVE today. ~ Brother T

I’m not a philosopher. I have never been successful at any one thing in life. Mediocre at much. Excellent at nothing. It is only after I learned that life is not about indulging oneself in any whim or want, that I learned that the world does not revolve around the man known as Brother T.

A decade ago I was a hot mess. Stress had me stacked up like a Jenga game with too many pieces missing. I was business first and everything else second. I never smiled. I never greeted anyone who crossed my path. I wanted what I needed and I wanted it now.

One day I walked into the office of the company that I was working for, went straight to the woman who was in charge of that department and demanded some stupid insignificant thing. It never occurred to me that anything could be more important than the thing that I wanted. Of course I got it. I’m sure that I heard an “asshole” whispered under her breath. I didn’t care. I got what I needed.

Upon exiting the room, I was immediately accosted by my girlfriend. She dressed me down for not being civil, asking how my co-worker was doing, not enquiring as to how her ailing father was holding up. In other words, being a rude asshole. Now the girlfriend, who I’m happy to report found herself a non-asshole for a husband, was from a foreign land. She was an alien not only to the USA, but also to the rat race that was ruling my life. The lesson that I learned from her was that there is nothing more important than being civil and friendly. The funny afterwards of the story is that I greeted the co-worker the next day, asked after the ailing father. She complained to our collective boss that I was “nice to her but faking it.”

“Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though t’were his own.” ~
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’ve become a firm believer in the ability of the individual to bring a sense of joy and happiness to virtually everyone that they come into contact with on a daily basis. I knock on doors and talk to people for a living. Twenty to thirty people per day open their door for me. Most of them do not want to see me. They do not think that they need home improvements. They resist my intrusion into their free time. That’s okay. My main mission is to make them smile and laugh. Once I make that happen, we are on the same team. It is US against THEM. So I say and do whatever I can, no matter how outrageous (but always legal and in good taste) to make that happen. I can honestly say that I get as much if not more joy from the smiles and laughs than these strangers do.

“There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.” ~
Kahlil Gibran

Saturday I woke up feeling less than human. I decided to take a long walk up High Street to my current library of choice. Even though the temperature was hovering at fifteen degrees, there was a steady stream of pedestrians, joggers and bicyclists out on the main drag. I made it a point to address every one of them. The beauty of our neighborhood is the diversity. There are probably one hundred different nationalities living within two miles of my home. It helps that I live on the fringe of the largest and most diverse university in the United States, The Ohio State University. I pimped for smiles and by golly I got em. It was a spectacular two hour tour. I felt like the King of High Street by the time I was done.

“You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both” ~
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The Sage of Concord” got this one only half right. If you have joy and you share it, you will have power. The world is a rat race. It keeps spinning faster and faster. People have to hold on for dear life in order to survive. It is stressful and numbing. Yet few walk among us through life like a fish swims through water. Effortlessly. Joyfully. Happily. As I journey into the second half of my life, I find that if I hold on too tight then life gets hard. But if I can walk at just the right pace, give smiles to all who cross my path, and take time to smell the… pick your euphemism, and life becomes ever so much easier. If that’s not power, I don’t know what is.

Joy to Power,
Brother T

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World's Smallest Footprints

World’s smallest footprints
in a patch of snow
cause me to pause
and ponder

Looking closer
I see ten perfect toes
and wonder what a baby
is doing unshod in the snow

Alarmed, I follow their progress

The footprints
grow smaller
closer together
almost as if

They never were

I turn around to a field
of unblemished snow
footprints are gone
baby’s and mine

Almost as if
We never were

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Two People, One Job, One Moment

“Wow, I really want this job.” You fill out the online application and send it off through cyberspace. Thinking that a phone call might be better, you make the call and leave a voicemail. You open another tab on your browser and pull up the company website. It seems perfect. You finally make the connection and set up the interview. You make getting this job your number one goal in life.

“Each minute in life should be a divine quest.” Paramansa Yogananda (1893-1952)

You wake early on the morning of the interview. You meticulously prepare, your hair and clothes are perfect. Your resume is updated. You leave early and arrive twenty minutes before you’re supposed to be there. Your stomach is tied in knots.

“Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.” – Jim Rohn (1930-2009)

You walk into the office and meet the Manager for the first time. She stands and walks around the desk and meets you half way. You are both smiling. You share a warm handshake. You talk about the job, its qualifications, responsibilities and compensation. You both agree that you are the perfect person for the job. It seems like all of your life experience has been leading you to this point. But has it? Let’s stop and examine this moment for a second.

“Time is not a line but a series of Now points.” Taisen Deshimaru (1914-1982)

Let’s imagine a few variables in this perfect occasion. Maybe the Manager spills her coffee right before you walk into her office, making her irritable. Maybe a car on the sidewalk splashes you out front, shattering your confidence. Maybe you cut yourself shaving, making you look less professional. Maybe the Manager used to work at one of your old jobs, or knows one of your references. Any little thing can spoil this perfect, magical moment. But is it a really magical?

“The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” Abraham Lincoln – American President

In truth, the future never comes. Just as we have no control over the past, we cannot control the future. We spin the past in ever-increasing fantasies, interpretations that fit our self- and world-views. At some point the past becomes some mixture of fact and fiction. If you don’t believe me, just pick up any history book and ask the winners and losers for their interpretations of it.

We try to guide our future. We plan meticulously. We prepare for that special day. Then we spill the coffee, cut ourselves shaving, get splashed on the street or say the wrong thing. Our plans go awry. All we can truly do is the best that we can and hope for the best. But there is one thing that we can control.

Let’s rewind to that moment when you stride confidently into that office and shake your future Manager’s hand. Even if any one of those variables has thrown up a roadblock, you can still salvage one good moment. And the one after that. You can only control the physical moment that you are in. If you walk into this same office one hundred days in a row, prepare just as meticulously, say all of the same things in the same order. You can never, ever, have a Groundhog Day moment. Something will always be different, even if it’s just that you wore the shamrock boxer shorts instead of the ones with the Tasmanian Devil. You and the Manager can never share this same moment again. As soon it is gone, that is when the legends begin to be written. So why not make that moment the best it can be?

“Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks to another day of loving.” Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)

You have the power to make this moment the best that it can be. You can choose to be happy and share that happiness with everyone who crosses your path. The past is gone and the future is nothing but a dream. All you have is now. So seize this moment and really live it. I know that I am.

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A Step

Breathe

Place the heal
with purpose
on the ground
transfer the weight
to the ball of the foot
stride

And repeat

“The journey of one thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.” Lao Tzu

Any journey, whether it involves running a marathon or walking to the refrigerator, requires the taking of that first step. As you place your foot on the ground and begin the transfer of weight to the ball of the foot, do you notice the texture of the walking surface? Do you feel the blades of grass, the grains of sand, the ridges of ice, the faux smoothness of the blacktop? Do you note how the temperature contrasts with that of your skin? Is your stocking dry or slightly moist? Is the soul of your shoe free of debris? Is the elevation on an incline or decline? Does your heel drag behind you or lift and drop? Do you notice the subtle difference as your other heel strikes to complete the step?

The right heel to the ball of the foot to the left heel to the ball of the foot. One step. One second that lasts a lifetime. No other step will ever be exactly the same. The next step will encompass another lifetime and the step you just took will be lost to you. You will never capture it again.

Maybe if you slow down, enjoy the tactile sensation of placing one foot in front of the other, you will realize what you are missing in the ten thousand lost lifetimes that you throw away every day.

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on green earth, dwelling deeply in the moment and feeling truly alive.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

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Thank You

“There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn as in doing it.” Seneca (1 BC – 65 CE) Roman Stoic Philosopher

A lot is made of all of the hustle and bustle, the rat race of our world. We are on the go all of the time. We eat drive thru food in our cars as we race down the freeway. We have an internal clock that tells us when to be pissed off if that food takes more than thirty seconds. We are jacked into the matrix with our smart phones, email, text messages and Internet 24/7/365. In defiance of modern laws and conventions, we talk on those phones and send text messages while we are driving. Multi-tasking is viewed as strength instead of a distraction.

We need to slow down.

“Wake with a winged heart and give thanks to another day of loving.” Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) Lebanese Artist and Poet

I have been That Guy. That Guy that you love to hate when you see him on the road. That Guy who gets pissed off when his food takes to long. That Guy who talks on his phone or sends texts instead of paying attention to the road. That Guy who was constantly distracted by thoughts of past and future while missing the moment, missing the Now. I hated being That Guy.

I needed to slow down.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Cicero (106-43 BCE) Roman Statesman and Philosopher.

Eighteen months ago I found a website that has helped me slow down and get in the moment. It is called Philosophers Notes. It is a collection of notes and podcasts on 100 (a second 100 are in the works) of the greatest self-help, philosophy and spirituality books of all time. It is where I get my inspiration from authors as varied as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Pema Chödrön, Joseph Campbell, Tony Robbins, Marcus Aurelius and Lao Tzu. Each book has numerous big ideas that are juxtaposed with the big ideas of the rest to reveal universal truths and life lessons.

A sister site of Philosopher’s Notes is Gratitude Log. It is called the happiest place on the planet. It is all about giving thanks and recognizing those things in life that make it wonderful. I am trying to make it a daily ritual.

I dislike that word: try. I believe that you DO something. TRYing to do something means that you acknowledge possible failure before you start, giving you and excuse when you do fail. So just do it (too bad that phrase was coined by Nike). Even if you fail, there are lessons to be learned from it. But at least you started from a positive outlook.

We need our daily rituals to be all that we can be.

So this is my evolving daily ritual:

Rise with the sun
Meditate for twenty minutes to empty my mind and focus
Give thanks to all the wonders of my life
Write for approximately two hours
Take care of my hygiene 🙂
Catch the bus at 9:30
Make it to work fifteen minutes early
Greet everyone and thank everyone, along the way

“The deepest craving of human nature is to be appreciated.” William James (1842-1910) American Psychologist and Philosopher

Greet everyone and thank everyone along the way. That has become an important part of my life. I believe that we can become a more civil society. I believe that we can slow down and smell the coffee. There is more to us than accomplishments and a paycheck, a house in the burbs and two point five kids. When we share a moment, I will strive to make it a good one.

“Namaste. I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides, a place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, of wisdom. I honour the place in you where when you are in that place and I am in that place there is only one of us.” Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian pioneer of civil disobedience.

Namaste Friend. Thank you for being you and thanks for reading.

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Going To War

Going To War

Two armies face off
across a dusty plain
armored for a long siege
swords sharpened
quivers filled
arrows dipped in poison.

Death is imminent.

Warriors pound chests
chant slogans
build to a cacophony
of spirit
pride
and rage

A perfect killing storm.

The battle is joined
and no one
not General
cavalry
infantry
or Head of State

Can remember what the war is about.

We all live in a perpetual state of war. Or at least on the cusp of war. It might be war with your wife, kids, boss or friends. It might be political, religious, or ideological. A person is mean to you or to someone within you hearing. Someone cuts in front of you in the supermarket line, drives erratically while messing with their cell phone, gets your order wrong at the drive through, puts you on hold before you get to talk. It might even be that mosquito that keeps buzzing you when you are trying to concentrate. These little battles are a part of life. There are as many different reasons for war as there are people on this planet. They are inevitable. Unavoidable.

Or are they?

Life’s little battles happen all the time. We can ignore them or let them ruin our day. I am notorious for allowing my train to be thrown off the tracks by little things that I won’t even remember a week from now. It was especially bad when I was in the restaurant business. Heaven forbid that a pizza got made wrong, a server gave poor service, or a guest had to wait too long to get a table. If dishwasher or oven went down or the toilets backed up, I was a borderline basket case. If I am out of balance, I am not a nice person. You don’t want to be around me. I will make you cry.

There is a crucial moment that occurs right before we start to go off the deep end. You can see it in others. The eyes start to glaze over. The corners of her mouth start to tighten up. Her shoulders hunch. Her heart starts to harden and you can almost see the walls going up between her and the rest of the world. The stress is palpable. It is painful to watch it happen to a loved one.

Now imagine how they feel when they see it happen to you.

But does it have to happen? Perhaps. In the beginning. This “hardening of the heart” has been recognized and expounded upon over the course of history.

When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it. ~ Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius – MEDITATIONS (121 – 180 CE)

Equanimity is defined as “evenness of mind especially under stress” (Merriam Webster). I’ll call it balance. I think we can all agree that life is great when we feel like we are in balance, in the flow. We are like a finely tuned (or poorly tuned, in my case) automobile. When all the cylinders are firing in order we feel like we can conquer the world. But add a little water into the gasoline, throw in a bad sparkplug or a pinhole in the radiator and suddenly we are laboring to get through the day. The key is not eliminating all of the little distractions in our lives, but recognizing them and not allowing them to get in the way and slow us down.

Buddhist Pema Chödrön of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia does extensive teaching on this subject. There is a Tibetan word, shenpa, which translates to “attachment.” Pema Chödrön prefers to call it “the hook.” Shenpa refers to all of these little speed-bumps that I’m talking about. It is that instant when we feel ourselves going off kilter. The moment when we get caught by that traffic light. The moment when our loved one is not as attentive as we wish. The moment when the cable goes out. The moment when the person hangs up on us or slams the door in our face.

Practicing Peace In A Time Of War

Pema Chödrön teaches that shenpa can be a powerful and instructive tool to not only help us keep our balance but improve it. Rather than viewing our little irritations as a weakness, we can learn to recognize their onset and power through them. She calls the irritation a “hardening of the heart” and advises us to “hold on to the soft spot behind it. Every time that we can conquer irritation in this way, we condition ourselves to be better and faster the next time.

Marcus Aurelius used to play a game with himself. Whenever he felt an irritation coming on, a flux in his equanimity, he would race to see how fast he could conquer it. He called it his “Equanimity Game.” Since I discovered this game a couple of years ago, I have learned to calm down, attack things rationally instead of emotionally. I make less people cry now.

MEDITATIONS ~ Marcus Aurelius

Life is like a fisherman who casts his line in a barrel. Millions of little hooks are dangling in the water, waiting for one of us to swim along and take the bait. If I get lucky and make that traffic light, the hook is still waiting there for the next driver, the unlucky one. If I say the right thing and make you smile instead of cry, the hook is waiting at the next table for the couple that is not on the same page. The hooks will always be there, dangling, waiting to catch you unaware.

The trick is knowing that they are there, dealing with them unemotionally, and getting on with your life. Pema Chödrön calls it her Four R’s.

RECOGNIZING (that the hook is there)
REFRAINING (from being knocked off-kilter)
RELAXING (into the feeling)
RESOLVING (to deal with irritation the same way over and over again)

The more you practice, the better, and more in balance, you will be. Not only will you be one step ahead of the game, but you can avoid some of the wars that seem inevitable in your life.

Namaste,
Brother T

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