Note how often we find ourselves struggling to find the right conditions for meditation and the cultivation of a "spiritual" mind amidst the chaos of our lives. We may feel that we need stillness and isolation to practice, withdrawal from the round of daily life. But a central teaching of the Zen tradition is that anyone can awaken to intimacy with life, and nobody can start from anywhere other than where they are at the moment.
This dialogue between the Buddha and Kutadanta resounds through history and is replayed between teacher and student often.
In The Bhagavad-Gita Krishna tells Arjuna that the attitude of focusing on action without attachment to the outcome is yoga: “Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thought of results, open to success or failure. This equanimity is yoga.”
Similarly, Patanjali tells us in Yoga Sutra I:12 - 16 that abhyasa, continuous applied effort, coupled with vairagya, the willingness to observe experience without getting caught in reactivity to it, will lead to freedom from suffering.
The fourth of the Four Immeasurables, along with mudita, is often quite challenging, is ultimately the foundation and nourishment needed to expand the other three (friendliness, compassion and joy) 'immeasurably!'
"Two things will lead you to supreme understanding (prajnaparamita). What are those two? Concentration (samatha) and insight (vipassana)."
--- The Buddha
Andrew Olendzki has written on papañca ( most often translated as proliferation) and, like much of his work, it is quite good. Showing just what papañca is, its pervasiveness, and that it is just this aspect of our mental experience that we are working with in meditation provides a valuable clarification of practice. It is just here that we find a basis of commonality across all Buddhist traditions. In the Pali Canon, we hear the Buddha say, “In the hearing let there just be hearing…” In Zen, we say, “Take the backward step” from being engulfed in proliferation to “just this.”
Somewhat paradoxically, the contemplation on impermanence can also enhance our ability to touch joy. The Buddha thought the contemplation of impermanence so important he called it one of the three “Dharma Seals,” saying that without an understanding of
impermanence, one could not fully penetrate the Dharma, meaning both his teachings and the real nature of things.
“We hate it when our friends are successful,” sang Morrissey, the mope-rock, singer songwriter and former leader of The Smiths. And while “hate” may be overstating the issue, a quick Google search of that song finds hundreds
of articles and blogs quoting Morrissey, with people sharing the dark, not-so-secret fact, that rather than celebrating others’ successes and happiness, we often react with envy and jealousy. And the flip side of this human quirk is the guilty delight, or schadenfreude, we feel when others fail, as evidenced by so much of the popular reaction to celebrities’ foibles and misfortunes. But we short-change our own joy by falling into such bitterness. We can increase our joy by learning to delight in the joy of others.
The Buddha taught that cultivating a kind and loving heart with a love for all creation is the most important dimension of our spiritual practice. The Pali word metta (Sanskrit: maitri) has two root meanings. The first is “gentle” as in a gentle misty rain that in falling, does not pick and choose where it falls. It simply falls with no discrimination. The second root is “friend.” A good and true friend is one who is constant in good times and bad. The culmination of metta is to become a good friend to all of life.