A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Karma & Buddha Nature

“The true religious person...accepts the truth that he or she is responsible for the pleasurable and unpleasurable feelings he experiences, these being the fruits of his own karma [actions].” The Dalai Lama

“Drive all blame into one.” Lojong Slogan

What if you really were responsible for your own pleasure and pain because of karma or for whatever reason? Stop and consider this a moment. I have been in deep psychological pain. I have been suicidal. I have been hit, slapped, spit on and strangled. I have had my house trashed and my love scorned. But what if it was no-one’s fault or responsibility but my own? I have thought about this, but only for a little while, and what I feel is relief...relief and compassion for myself.

As I turn more towards being meditative, I am seeing that I get in my own way. Actually I have noticed that for a while, especially since experiencing psychosis. I’ve always had a lot of choice available in my life and yet time and again I have turned away from the healthy one. If that is because of me and not due to anyone else, then I still have the ability to change. We all have this ability to change. The 12 Step Serenity Prayer goes “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” There are things, situations and people we can’t change, but that doesn’t extend to ourselves. It’s not easy to change our own habitual reactive patterns, but I believe it is possible. In the same way we taught ourselves how to be self-defeating, through regular repetition and persistence, we can re-teach ourselves in a new way how to be self-healing. This is what recovering addicts are doing all over the world, but it applies to everyone.

The key word in the quote above by the Dalai Lama is “responsible”. Once you accept responsibility for your life and stop blaming external circumstances or people for your particular problems, you give yourself a sense of freedom. You stop seeing yourself as a victim. If you do as the Lojong Slogan instructs and drive all blame into yourself, you put the negative practice of blaming others to a stop, you detach from that painful, sticky connection to others and stand free and clear. You face the music, you take responsibility.

If you are going to take responsibility, you have to have a certain faith in yourself. Buddhism offers the belief in “Buddha Nature”. Buddha Nature says that our essential nature and everyone’s essential natures are solidly good. Buddha Nature is like the river, the air, the earth of life. It’s a part of everyones psychological makeup. Though, on some level, I think I have always suspected this, that there is a lot of goodness in people, it is only now that I have been passing people on the street saying to myself “And you have Buddha Nature. And you....” What that does is subtle, but effective; it softens me, relaxes me and makes me smile. The real test is to apply it to people that you feel conflicted about. You may say it through gritted teeth--“And you have Buddha Nature.”--but it acts as a reminder to loosen your grasp on your aversion and let some basic acceptance enter into your heart.

So Buddhism teaches that the basis of everything is good, so why is there so much conflict and suffering in the world? One reason is that humans are blinded by instinct and appearances. We forget that we are animals, most of us are domesticated, some rather wild. The wild ones amongst us make the rest of us nervous. We are often assessing the threat level when we walk out the door. We are fine trigger sensitive to behavior. The fight or flight response in us is alive and well. I think a lot of people take this sensitivity for granted to the point where we no longer are aware of why we are moving towards or away from people or why we feel attraction or aversion.

Taking things for granted is something you train not to do as a Buddhist. Taking things for granted means staying asleep, reacting automatically, thoughtlessly. No wonder we feel badly and get into conflict with others; we are thinking, speaking and acting blindly. And being blind, how do we tell when it is day and when it is night? When are we really awake?

Essential Buddha Nature is always present, steady. The image that’s often given is that of the sun. Our habitual, reactive natures are like all kinds of bad weather that obscure the sun. Too often we identify ourselves with the weather, ignoring the bigger picture. It’s not just acutely psychotic individuals who are deluded, it’s nearly everyone. We have a mistaken view of “reality”, but because so many people have the same view people think this is just the way it is and stay stuck inside an illusory cycle and remain sleeping. What can shake a person out of his or her slumber? Most often pain. And that’s why pain is useful and informative. Driving all blame into yourself sounds painful and cultivating compassion is also painful, but at least you are looking at the problem head on. Actually seeing the problem leads you right back to Buddha Nature, back to a base that is all positive, a base that gives sustenance to work through the problem.

Note: I am a beginning student of Buddhism, though I’ve had contact with it off and on over the years, and this blog entry (and probably those to come) makes definite assertions that I haven’t yet fully tested. I mainly want to get you (and me) reflecting in order to tap into insight on our human condition. Please feel free to question my conclusions.
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