Cultivating Virtuous Qualities

I believe there are three qualities everyone should cultivate. Not just for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of everyone we come into contact with. The three qualities are being humble, contented, and grateful.

Setting Pride Aside: Humility

I personally feel more at ease in the company of humble people. They do not waste time bragging about what they have, who they are, or where they have been. They play down their achievements and are more attentive to others’ needs.

The opposite of this is true for proud and conceited people. It is a challenge for me to spend much time with someone who boasts. They are only interested in selling themselves and seem to have no interest in who you are or what you think or know.

I have always found people with pride to also have the biggest egos — and usually the biggest mouths to go with them. But a humble person is quiet, respectful, and attentive. Which one would you rather be around? Which one would you rather be?

We must stay open-minded at all times. Just because we know a way to do something doesn’t mean another person doesn’t know a better or easier way. We shouldn’t assume we know best. Humble people will continue to learn throughout their lives.

So, what are the causes of pride? There are many, but two main causes are dualistic thinking and an inflated sense of self.

When people think in a dualistic way, it can stir up pride because they start thinking “I am good and others are bad,” “I am handsome and they are ugly,” or “I am intelligent and they are stupid.” It is this type of thinking that causes us to fixate on “I am this, I am that.” We start to emphasize the sense of self, which leads us to become attached to who we think we are. Both of these lead to pride and conceit. In the Sutta Nipata, Gautama Buddha states:

“By being alert and attentive, he begins to let go of cravings as they arise. But whatever he begins to accomplish, he should beware of inner pride. He must avoid thinking of himself as better than another, or worse or equal, for that is all comparison and emphasizes the self.”

It is clear that humility is a trait we have to work at, or we could find ourselves getting wrapped up in pride. The pride I am talking about here is our overinflated sense of self. It is not the pride we have for our children, loved ones, and so on, which stems from love and compassion — this overinflated sense of pride stems from our ego.

Meditation Practice for Humility

In a meditation session, look at pride and humility. Which one do you lean toward? Think back over the past few days and see what situations stir up pride in you, and which ones make you humble. Only when we become focused on these situations are we able to make changes in ourselves.

Need vs. Greed: Contentment

Oh, to be content. If only we could, but it seems human beings have a natural urge to never be content. Or can we? We have to look at what is need and what is greed. I think we can satisfy our need, but we will never satisfy our greed.

What we need is food, clothes, work, money, and human contact. These bring us security and are things we can satisfy to some degree.

What we want is the latest smartphone, expensive clothes, big cars, huge houses, exotic holidays — in short, we want to not only fit in with society, but we also want to stand out.

We have to train ourselves to know when enough is enough. If we just blindly follow our desire to want more, we will never be content. We have to think carefully to see if we really need something or if we are just trying to buy happiness. That is a fool’s game. If we buy something to be happy, it will not last. As soon as a new version comes out or the thing breaks, we will become unhappy and discontented. To try and buy happiness is like drinking saltwater to quench your thirst — it will only lead to dissatisfaction. Just think, if you could buy happiness, all the wealthy people in the world would be totally content, but they are not. They are just like the rest of us, always searching for something to make them happier.

The desire to want more and more brings us anxiety, worry, and stress, whereas contentment can bring us peace of mind and calmness. The fear of losing our happiness leads us to frantically search for more happiness.

When we cannot obtain the thing of our desire, we become sad and angry; disappointment and despair set in. There are two main reasons for this type of suffering. One is our inability to be content with the present moment. The other is when we make our happiness dependent on someone or something outside us. Our discontentment leads us to have more desires in the hope of escaping this type of suffering.

A note of caution: We shouldn’t take contentment to mean we don’t have to put in the effort to better ourselves — of course we do. We have to find our own level of contentment, and once we do, it will be better than any wealth or material belongings.

As Gautama Buddha says in the Dhammapada, verse 203, “…contentment is the greatest wealth.”

Meditation Practice for Contentment

In a meditation session, look at the following questions:

  • Am I content?
  • Do I have enough to satisfy my needs?
  • Do I chase after happiness in material things?
  • Do new things bring me happiness?
  • How long does it last?

Give all of these points a lot of thought.

Everything Is Interconnected: Gratitude

Gratitude means to be thankful for, and to remember, the help others have given us. We should also try our best to pay back any help we have received if and when the person who has helped us needs it.

In the Dullabha Sutta, it states:

“These two people are hard to find in the world. Which two? The one who is first to do a kindness, and the one who is grateful for a kindness done and feels obligated to repay it. These two people are hard to find in the world.”

Lately, it seems that people have very short memories where being grateful is concerned. Gratitude is a virtue we should do our best to cultivate.

This is only one part of gratitude as far as Buddhism is concerned. The Pali word katannuta has been translated as “gratitude,” but this doesn’t quite cover it. It literally means that you know what someone has done for your benefit. So, instead of it being an emotional thing as gratitude is usually seen to be — for example, we say things like “I feel grateful” — the literal meaning makes it more intellectual. This translation seems to involve an element of knowledge; we know what has been done for our benefit.

This is an important point because it takes in the interconnectedness of everything. If we just sit down and eat our dinner without being aware of what we are eating, who planted and harvested it, who packaged and delivered it, we will not be fully grateful. Being grateful is connected with an awareness of the world around us, how it works, and who is doing what to benefit us.

Meditation Practice for Gratitude

In a meditation session, think about your last meal and follow the process back from your plate to the seed in the ground. Think about all the people involved in the process. It could be a fairly long list. We should be grateful to all of these people because they have benefited us by providing food that we can eat.

It isn’t always easy to set pride aside, focus only on what you truly need, or recognize how everything is interconnected, but it’s worth it to try. Allow yourself the room to learn from past ways of thinking that have kept you separate from the benefits of these essential qualities of humility, contentedness, and gratitude. As you cultivate these virtues, you’ll find you’re giving a gift not only to yourself, but to the world around you.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Coping with Change

Change is never far from our door, whether it’s breaking up with an ex, moving to a new city, the death of a relative, a pandemic, or the loss of a job. Even good changes, such as having a baby or getting a new job, can be stressful.

Change isn’t easy but here are some ways to help you cope with change and make it feel less scary.

Acknowledge your feelings. 

If you feel resistant to change, then it is important to acknowledge your feelings. Don’t avoid your emotions, listen to them. Emotions are part of self-awareness. They help to tell a story. When you acknowledge and accept an emotion, you stop fighting it and are able to understand it and learn from it.

  • Often, change brings up feelings of anxiety, worry, uncertainty and fear. You have to tell yourself that ‘It’s okay to feel worried and fearful.’ It is all part of being a human.
  • If you need to grieve, then grieve and take care of your feelings. Even if the big change in your life is a happy one, accept that there will still be some emotional losses and work through them.


Remind yourself that you can’t control the outside world, but you can control your attitude and actions.
 

Change may turn your world upside down, but you still have control over how you respond to the situation. You can choose to approach the situation with anger and become frustrated or take your feelings out on others, or you can choose to see the situation as a new opportunity and approach it with an open and curious mind.

Journal about your worries. 

  • Change can bring about lots of insecurities, worries, and negative thoughts. Especially if you feel overwhelmed by change, start writing down all the things that contribute to you feeling overwhelmed. Writing things down can help you see that things are less negative than you first imagined.
  • Firstly, write down what has changed in your life and what is challenging about it. Then, write down possible solutions.

But don’t just write down the negatives, write down the positives that have come from this change. There are always going to be pluses and minuses.

  • Maybe due to this change you have met new people. Maybe you started practicing healthier habits. Maybe you became more positive or confident. Maybe the change helped you prioritize what is most important in your life. Change presents us with the opportunity to grow, and it’s important to acknowledge how things have become better as a result.  

It is always helpful to talk to others who have had similar experiences. 

It can be comforting to talk to someone who’s going through a similar change as you. Talking to someone who’s “been there” can be really helpful, knowing that he or she got through it okay.

  • Ask for advice on what you can do to get through the change.
  • Don’t bottle your feelings up; talk to someone. Talking always helps.

Try relaxation techniques 

Relaxation can help decrease stress and increase emotional wellbeing. Techniques such as meditation, mindfulness and pranayama can help you relax and cope with stress more effectively.

Do light exercise. 

Exercising two to three times a week has been found to significantly decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Even just walking around locally can help you feel better. I am not necessarily talking about going to the gym or doing a workout. You could swim, cycle, walk the dog or go jogging – all of these are going to help you feel more positive.

Let go of what has happened and move on. 

Focusing on the past will not help you to move on with your life. We cannot move forward when we are constantly looking back. It’s no use wanting your ‘old life’ back or spending all of your moments wishing things would go back to what they used to be. That type of thinking is just going to hold you back.

  • Instead of focusing on the past, anchor yourself in the present moment by doing mindfulness practice.
  • Try not to rehash the past or rehearse the future. Each time you find yourself doing this bring yourself back to the present moment by using mindful breathing practices.

Keep up your regular schedule as much as possible.

  • The more change that is happening, the more important it is to stick to your regular schedule. Having some things that stay the same, like walking the dog every morning or waking up at the same time, gives us an anchor. This anchor is a reminder that some things are still the same, and it gives your brain a little bit of a rest. The brain loves routine, so try to stick to a daily schedule.

Calming Self-Talk

The way we talk to ourselves during times of change is so important. If we talk in a harsh and negative way, we are going to make ourselves feel worse. But if we talk to ourselves in a calm, positive and supportive way, it is going to help us go through the change easier.

Here are some supportive phrases we could use:

  • Change is a part of life
  • Everyone finds change challenging
  • I am not alone in the way I am feeling
  • I acknowledge and accept my feelings
  • Things change and that’s ok
  • I will get through this challenging time
  • I will learn and grow from this change
  • Change is a part of life

Finally, give yourself a break. Everyone finds change challenging. You may feel a little out of control – and that’s ok. You may feel like you are not living up to your expectations – and that’s also ok.

My last piece of advice is to make a point to laugh more. Laughing increases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins—and that makes you feel good. Laughing also decreases cortisol—a stress-producing hormone. So, times may be challenging but there is always time to smile.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

A Sense of Self – The Buddha Dharma Series

In Buddhism, one of the most difficult teachings for people to understand is anatman or non-self. The doctrine states that in humans there is no permanent entity that can be called a self or a soul. This denial of “any Soul or Self” is what distinguishes Buddhism from other major religions, such as Christianity and Hinduism, and gives Buddhism its uniqueness.

The teaching is not only difficult, it is also controversial and one of the most poorly understood teachings in Buddhism. Many teachers believe it is more important to learn about karma and rebirth, but I would disagree. Most people usually misunderstand these teachings and they end up reinforcing a sense of self. They believe their karma gets attached to the self, and then this self is reborn. So, personally, I believe, if you want to reduce your suffering in this life, you should understand the teaching of non-self.

This sense of being a permanent, solid, autonomous self is an illusion. The problem is this illusion is so ingrained into our ordinary experience. We have a sense of a permanent, individual self, but that is all it is, a sense, a feeling. If I ask you, ‘Who are you?’ you may tell me about your job – I’m a lawyer, doctor, teacher and so on. But this is not who you are, this is your work. If you changed your job, would you stop being you? So, you are most defiantly not your job.

You may tell me about your family or nationality – I’m from a wealthy, middle-class, poor family. I’m Indian, British, African, and so on. Again, that is not who you are, it is just you in relation to others.

You may tell me you’re a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, etc. But that is your religion and not who you are.

You may say you are your thoughts or feelings or emotions, but these are all impermanent, so they cannot be you. The same goes for your body or your experiences, they are also impermanent and cannot be you.

We can go on with this exercise forever, but everything we find will be impermanent and superficial. There really is nothing within us that is independent and never changing.

So, if you are thinking here that Buddhism is saying you don’t exist, it isn’t. What it’s saying is, you do not exist in the way you think you do. We are not permanent, individual, solid entities. Instead, we are changing moment to moment, like the water flowing down a mountain stream. Giving ourselves a fixed name or identity doesn’t make us permanent, it is just a convention we have come up with so we can talk about ourselves. If you took me apart and laid all of my bits and pieces on the floor, you would not find an inherently existing Yeshe.

So, a question everyone asks when they come across this teaching is, ‘If I am not who I think I am, who am I? Instead of a permanent self or soul the individual is compounded of five factors that are constantly changing (See How we experience the world). These collection of five changing processes, known as the five aggregates, are: the processes of the physical body, of feelings, of perceptions, of responses and of the flow of consciousness that experiences them all.


When we identify with the process of the physical body, we get attached to our physical form. When we identify with the process of our feelings, our perceptions, and our responses, we become attached to them. Our sense of self arises whenever we grasp at, or identify with, these patterns.

The sense of a self is perpetuated because we pay attention to only the surface of our experiences. We never take the time to delve deeper. We identify with what we like and don’t like, what we want and don’t want, our dreams and beliefs. We think our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and physical sensations are a part of us, instead of seeing them as passing phenomena.

If we allow ourselves time to observe these processes come and go, we would be able to see them as just experiences that arise and fall away, and not a self. If we had a permanent self, we would never be able to change. So, if we want to grow and change, we need to let go of this idea that we have a self that defines us.

The next question people ask when they hear about non-self is, ‘So what? Why should I care if I have a self or not?’ This idea of a self produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism and other defilements, impurities, and problems. In fact, in Buddhism, it is said that the illusion of a self is the source of all our suffering.

When we identify with our physical, emotional, and mental experiences we become attached to them; the threat of losing any of these is deemed a threat to our very existence. But we are going to lose them because they are impermanent. This means the illusion of a self is setting ourselves up for failure.

When we observe the rising and falling away of all phenomena, we see that everything arises from nothing and then goes back to nothing. This includes our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and physical sensations. If we examine our experiences in this way, we begin to see that our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations are not a self. This allows us to let go of our attachment to them. This in turn releases us from our suffering.

So, you may still be thinking, ‘if this teaching of non-self is true, then who’s reading this? I would answer, a growing, changing being that is in constant flux, and not a solid, permanent, individual self or soul.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

This blog was first released in January 2018 and is being reposted as part of the Buddha Dharma Series.

Four Immeasurables: Compassion – The Buddha Dharma Series

Compassion is the third of the four immeasurables and it is an understanding that the world is full of suffering, and a heartfelt wish that this suffering will come to an end or at least lessen—for ourselves and others.

Some people are so wrapped up in their own world of suffering that they forget to have compassion for other people’s suffering. It can seem at times that we live in a selfish world in which people close their eyes and ears to the constant stream of tears. Some people are even able to watch the news or read the newspaper in a dispassionate way. Of course, we all have our own problems to deal with, but simply focusing on our own troubles is not a kind or helpful way of thinking. This is not the type of world we should wish to live in or leave for our children. If we do not have compassion for others, why should they have compassion for us?

Through focusing on compassion, the fact that everyone is suffering remains vivid in our minds. Sometimes we may feel that we are not suffering, even though on some level we are. This should not stop us from having compassion for those who are suffering. Compassion should be ever present—not just for family and friends, but for everyone, even people who are acting in an unhelpful way. Once we start to discriminate who should have our compassion and who doesn’t deserve it, true compassion is lost. Everyone is suffering, so everyone deserves it. Keep in mind that compassion is for the person and not their behaviour. If we think like this, we will be able to cultivate compassion for all human beings.

I believe it is beneficial to see compassion as a verb; something we have to put into practice. Having said that, we do have to be intelligent with our compassion. It is of no benefit to give money to drunken homeless people. They are just going to spend it on more drink, compounding their problems. It is far better to give them food, or to give your money to a homeless shelter that helps these people.

Compassion isn’t just about giving; it’s about giving sensibly, and that could include money, clothing, food, your time and so on. In a nutshell, compassion is the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something to alleviate it.

The best way to ensure that compassion arises in you is to do a meditation such as this one:

Fostering a Compassionate Mind

Sit comfortably on the floor or on an unarmed chair with your back straight but not too rigid. Gently close your eyes and do the follow breathing exercise.
I want you to breathe in deeply, hold and then breathe all the air out.
Let’s begin:

Breathe in… hold…breathe out…
Breathe in… hold…breathe out…
Breathe in… hold…breathe out…

Now breath normally. Making sure your breath is slow and natural.
This exercise brings you comfortably into the present moment, the here and now…. rest there while I briefly explain about compassion.

Compassion is the wish that others do not suffer, as well as having the aspiration to help end the suffering of others. Compassion is a mind free from hatred and discrimination. Cultivating compassion is a wonderful source of peace and harmony in your mind.

Keep yourself in your relaxed state and start to picture someone who is close to you, someone you care about and are very fond of. Notice how this fondness feels in your heart… (Pauses between each question) Notice the sensations around your heart… Perhaps you feel a sensation of warmth, openness, or tenderness…

Focus on these feelings as you visualize the person you care about standing in front of you. As you breathe out, imagine that you are sending light rays out from your heart and these light rays hold your warm feelings of compassion. Imagine the light reaches out to the person you care about, bringing happiness and relief from suffering. At the same time, silently recite these phrases three times. “May you have happiness. May you be free from suffering.”

Now sit for a moment with these feelings of compassion in your heart.

Now visualise someone you neither like nor dislike, but someone you may see in your everyday life, such as someone from work you are not familiar with, a shopkeeper or a stranger you pass on the street. Although you are not familiar with this person, think of how this person may suffer in his or her own life. This person also may have conflicts with loved ones or struggled with an addiction or may have suffered an illness. Imagine a situation in which this person may have suffered.

Visualise this person standing in front of you and imagine that you are extending the light rays from your heart to them, and that the light is easing his or her suffering. Extend this light out to them while exhaling, with the strong heartfelt wish that they be free from suffering and they experience happiness.

Silently recite three times to him or her: “May you be free from this suffering… May you have joy and happiness”

Now rest a moment with the warmth of compassion in your heart

Now visualize someone you have difficulty with or dislike. This may be a parent, ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, a roommate, or a co-worker.

Although you may have negative feelings towards this person, think of how this person has suffered in his or her own life. This person has also had conflicts with loved ones or has dealt with failures or may have suffered illness. Think of a situation in which this person may have suffered.

Visualise this person and imagine that you are extending the light rays from your heart to him or her, and that the light is easing his or her suffering and bringing them happiness. Extend this light out to them while exhaling, with the strong heartfelt wish that they be free from suffering and they have happiness in their lives.

Silently recite this three times to him or her: “May you be free from this suffering… May you have joy and happiness”

If you have difficulty in wishing for this person’s suffering to be relieved, you may think of a positive interaction you have had with this person in the past that can help you in wishing them joy and happiness. Perhaps there were times when you got along, laughed together. It is important to remember that they are just the same as you – they want happiness and do not want to suffer.

So, silently recite this phrase three more times to this person, “May you be free from this suffering… May you have joy and happiness”

Now rest a moment with the warmth of compassion in your heart.

Now, when you are ready, start to slowly open your eyes and gently introduce yourself back into the world.

Off the meditation cushion, you can have a set phrase ready to mentally recite once you feel you are not caring for another person’s suffering, something like, ‘May they be released from their suffering, may all beings be released from suffering and may compassion arise in my heart’. But, as before, it is important that you decide on your own wording, so it resonates with you. This is only a suggestion.

Sometimes when we are being harassed by a homeless person, annoyance arises in us instead of compassion. Next time that happens, mentally recite your set phrase. It doesn’t mean you are going to give that person all your money out of compassion, but it does mean you will feel compassion towards them. You should recite your phrase every time you feel that you are not being compassionate. What these phrases do is connect us to others. We appreciate that they are suffering just like us, and once we have this connection, it is easier to radiate compassion towards other beings.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Four Immeasurables: Kind-Heartedness – The Buddha Dharma Series

The second of the four immeasurables is kind-heartedness. This is not about how we feel, but about how we relate to these feelings. It invites us to drop our habitual patterns of reactivity and to free ourselves from emotional habits which serve neither ourselves nor anyone else.

Sometimes our goodwill only covers people that are useful, pleasing or amusing to us. This is not how we should divide groups of people; we have to see people through the eyes of kindness. We must open our hearts to everyone, and that includes the people who make us angry, politicians from a party we disagree with, religious leaders that have different beliefs than ours, people who act and dress differently than us, and those who just have the knack of rubbing us up the wrong way. All of these people deserve our kindness, and so we have to train ourselves to think kind, helpful and positive thoughts about them.

If we just watch our thoughts for a few hours, it becomes quite apparent that this isn’t how we usually think. Not every thought radiates kindness to others, so how can we cultivate kind-heartedness? A great place to start is by doing the following meditation on a regular basis.

Kind-heartedness Meditation

I want you to think of a person you care about. Feel gratitude and kindness for this person. Just sit with these feelings for a moment

Now I want you to repeat the following phrases to the person you care about and when you are repeating remember to really engage with the meaning of the words:

May you be kind-hearted to yourself and others x 3

May you be safe and secure x 3

May you have a peaceful mind x 3

Now sit for a moment with feelings of warmth and kindness for this person

Now think of a neutral person in your life. Someone you neither class as a friend or you dislike. Bring feelings of kindness and warmth into your heart for this person. Just sit with these feelings for a moment

Now I want you to repeat these phrases to the neutral person and really engage with the meaning of the words:

May you be kind-hearted to yourself and others x 3

May you be safe and secure x 3

May you have a peaceful mind x 3

Now sit with feelings of warmth and kindness for this person

Now think of a person you are having difficulties with at the moment. Try to feel kindness towards this person. Remember, they are just like you – they do not want to suffer, they what to be peaceful and secure. Just sit with these feelings for a moment

Now I want you to repeat these phrases to the person you are having difficulty with and really engage with the meaning of the words:

May you be kind-hearted to yourself and others x 3

May you be safe and secure x 3

May you have a peaceful mind x 3

Now sit with feelings of warmth and kindness for this person and just put your difficulties to one side for a moment

Now, slowly open your eyes and just sit there a moment experiencing the warmth of kindheartedness.

Here is a practice to use in your day-to-day life. I find the best antidote to judging someone, when we are not on our meditation cushion, is to have a set phrase that resonates with you, something like, ‘May my mind be at ease, may you be happy, may everyone be free from suffering’. This phrase can be used when you feel negative and unhelpful thoughts rising in you.

The next time you start to judge someone, mentally recite your phrase and your judgement will start to dissolve. Remember, we all have to co-exist on this planet and we all want to be happy, so the best way to end our judgemental thoughts is to wish kindness to everyone.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.



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