By Gerald Stribling
Cheryl Giles, of the Harvard Divinity School, quotes Pema Chödrön in an article she wrote that is included in the anthology The Arts of Contemplative Care (Wisdom, 2012).
Chödrön, in turn, was relating a story from the Tibetan tradition of a monk giving advice to a woman about ending her own suffering so that she could devote her life to the alleviation of the suffering of others.
This is accomplished, the monk advised, by becoming fearless. And in order to become fearless, the monk advised her to “work with five slogans.”
Reveal your hidden faults.
This isn’t about standing up in church and confessing that you masturbate too much. You become aware of your hidden faults through the process of meditation—specifically through the sometimes painful exorcism of the delusions you harbor. Enlightenment comes when you are free of delusion. Such as? Such as believing in an afterlife.
I’m not saying that heaven or rebirth aren’t real, what I am saying is that you really shouldn’t be wasting your time believing in things no one can prove. The only way to lose your fear of death is to lose all hope in an afterlife. If it is real, then you’re either pleasantly surprised by the balmy weather in heaven or face another lifetime of suffering (if you’re Buddhist).
Belief is ideological in nature—ideology is not truth. Nazism was an ideology. Fundamental religion is based on ideology. Political positions are based on ideologies.
Ideologies are bullshit.
If that were not the case, there would be no opposing ideologies. The Buddha said that you are better off with no beliefs. Or as Homer Simpson said, “Faith is for things that aren’t real.”
Approach what you find repulsive.
You find things repulsive because you have an aversion to them. Aversion is the opposite of clinging, craving and obsessing about what you don’t have. This doesn’t mean that to be be a good Buddhist, you have to rub your chest with cow dung. What it means is that your perceptions and your attitude change as you live a contemplative life, meditate and learn to look at everything more objectively.
Or you could wash the dishes. Washing dishes is a chore, and chores by implication are not fun. But let’s say you turn your dish washing (which you have an aversion to) into an opportunity to meditate. By that I mean that you focus all your concentrative abilities on the act of washing the dishes. Feel your soapy hands slide over the convex surface of your cereal bowl. This is a sensual experience that you could even turn sensuous if you wanted to. Remember that what you are able to accomplish through meditation spills over into the rest of your life.
You’re a Buddhist, dude. When you’re holding your girlfriend’s hair out of the way while she’s puking her guts out in a toilet bowl, don’t retch yourself.
Help those who you think you cannot help.
Homeless people are scary. You don’t know if they’re down on their luck, or mentally ill, or strung out on drugs, or looking to buy a bottle of cheap vodka, or ready to mug you. So, you don’t make eye contact. Your own uneasiness—your own fear—makes them invisible.
I like my daughter-in-law’s approach. When she sees a homeless man, she buys him a six-inch Subway sandwich, hands it over, and just says “You look hungry.” And then she walks away. You’ve confronted your fear of smelly old bums, and you’ve done something really nice, which makes everybody happy.
Anything that you are attached to, give that away or let it go.
No, that does not mean that you are going to end up sleeping in your car, or even that you have to sell your motorboat. The key concept here is attachment, and it is through the process of meditation that your truths are revealed to yourself, including your unhealthy relationships with things and people (see Reveal your hidden faults above).
Biochemically, addiction is a hard thing to understand. People who have never had an addiction don’t understand why people can’t just “give it up.” The psychological component of non-substance addictions to things like gambling and sex is really chemical in nature, the secretion and uptake of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Even in substance addiction like opioids, some people are going to be able to quit using with more ease than others, and some are never going to be able to quit. Two different brains, two different chemistries. Rising above the way your brain is wired takes discipline and courage—two of the benefits of meditation.
Go to the places that scare you.
That certainly does not mean to expose yourself to danger, though I have to admit that living for six months in a cobra-infested jungle can be quite stimulating. To me, going to places that scare you means: volunteerism. Volunteerism almost always entails stepping out of your comfort zone. You can’t fully benefit from the Buddhist experience without showing compassion, and the more compassion you’re able to show, the better the Buddhist experience is. Abiding happiness comes from only one source.
Think about this one thing: everybody knows someone who suffers from depression. If you tend toward depression yourself, then you know how hard it is to sink below the surface of your depression when you’re engaged with another person. By befriending a person with depression you’re helping to fix that person, even if only for the short period of time it takes to have a cup of coffee together. You’ve also struck a blow for suicide prevention, and possibly the reduction of gun violence.
People have an aversion to being with other people who are morose or in a bad mood. But if your intention is to follow the Buddha’s path, you have no excuse not to.
Editor: Dana Gornall