Saturday, July 9, 2016

Empathy and Compassion for the US

Yesterday, I saw some of the continuous news stories about the shooting of five police officers in Dallas, Texas at a peaceful protest over recent shootings by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana. This was, of course, devastating and heartbreaking for all involved, if not for the entire country.

I do not normally watch TV, so I do not claim to know all the details of any of the shooting events around these stories. But from what I did see, my heart went out to both the police officers and the shooter. I felt empathy and compassion for both sides of this story, because I could understand the grief that both sides were feeling: the anger that the shooter felt, and the unjust loss of police lives. Both are, I think, caught up in the seething tensions of contemporary America, with young Black men being 21 times more likely to be killed by police officers than young White men.

At some point, soon I hope, events like this will get all Americans to empathize and feel compassion for both sides of this dilemma, as I did while watching and thinking about this event. Only through true empathy and compassion will people be able to see past their ignorance and delusions, and the resulting hatred and aversion that they those generate toward different groups in our society.

I have often felt that it would be good if more people understood the Buddha's teachings on topics like delusion, aversion and compassion, and that more people practiced some kind of meditation to experience those teachings from a subjective feeling level. However, now I am now thinking that it would not only be good, but it may be the only way that the divisions and stresses of today's world can be made better.

The personal tragedies that are broadcast across all of our media outlets today are, I think, increasingly senseless, out of control, and random. In that context, the only logical response possible is compassion for all involved. This is an opening to a Buddhist understanding of the challenges (dukkha) of life.

(P.S. I, personally, have no interested fiction TV of movies, and I prefer to get my news on my smart phone, where I think I can better avoid the hype and click bait of commercial media. When I do see our TV, it is usually because my wife is watching the news, and I happen to be in the same room.)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Loving Gaze

This is a bit awkward to discuss, but here goes… Like many male humans, I am (naturally, I think) attracted to nice looking females. While I recognize that there is an underlying sexual attraction in my gaze, I would never act on that, I just look in a hopefully unobtrusive way (more like a glance). Well, I heard a recording recently by Ram Dass about relationships, which brought together a number of different ideas that I have been thinking about for awhile...
  • “Love all beings”, "Love everything" [Meher Baba, Ram Dass, and many others]
  • “If I am going to love all beings, then I better be celibate” [a Theravada monk/teacher]
So, what I thought I would try to do is to transfer the attraction impulse that I felt toward attractive women, which easily arises on its own, to random other people who I see. So, when I feel that visual attraction toward one person, I then started to look, one by one, at other people nearby. The results….

Wow, is all I can say! First, it was very easy to do this (for me, at least). And second, it worked incredibly well – I could feel an honest appreciation of the beauty in everyone that I looked at. It was not sexual in any way. In fact, any sexual connotations that might have started the initial gaze on the pretty woman faded instantly and was replaced by a really nice and warm appreciation and affection – even toward the person upon whom the whole thing started. Third, I found that I could do this at almost any time in almost any setting – I did not need the pretty woman to start the gaze, though it does help. Fourth, I currently need to see the face of a person for that Loving Gaze to kick in. I am not sure of the significance of this, but it is a potentially interesting observation.
  • “It is only when we rely on love, or have a very caring attitude, that we bring the outside into ourselves. Only then do we understand it, do we see its truth.” [Ajahn Kasanah?, quoted by Mark Coleman, I think]
I say almost, above, because I started doing this in Taiwan, a couple of weeks toward the end of a two-month stay there. I found it very easy to do there, in part because I feel very comfortable in Taiwan. When I left Taiwan, I went to China for a week, before going home to the US. It was my first visit to China in two years, and it was a working visit, not a recreational one. My China visit was fraught with challenges and frustration over using the internet (most of the web services I use are blocked in China) and communication and understanding barriers between me and many of the people I encountered – in other words, culture shock. (I think Taiwan spoiled me.) I tried my Loving Gaze technique, but it was not nearly as easy as it was in Taiwan – which, of course, is a lesson in itself. I also think there are more grumpy people in China, which may be another reason why it was harder there.

I recently heard Gil Fronsdale talking about desire and saying “want what you have, not what you do not have” as a way to more happiness. This made me think that I should be able to transfer my Loving Gaze beyond humans to the places and the context (like my job) that I am in. I tried it on my trip back across the Pacific to the US. I can get a little bit of that, but I think I need to work on it more. I do, however, think the outcome might be really worthwhile.
  • “Everything wants to be seen. Everything wants to be known. Everything wants to be loved.” [anonymous Buddhist monk]
  • “Real change will only happen when we fall in love with our planet” [Thich Nhat Hanh]
This point, of loving places, is the basis of a keynote presentation that I gave in several locations recently on "Tourism and Global Understanding". I created this presentation for the International Year of Global Understanding (2016). In it, I suggest that there are three forms of global/geographic understanding: (1) knowing where places are; (2) knowing how places work; and (3) the subjective knowing of places. I close with the suggestion that to address global issues today, the tourism industry needs to get people to fall in love (and therefore care about) the places they visit.

All of this is about loving one's self. Ram Dass says that we want to possess others (and I think other places, as well) because we rely on them to open our 'soul' to experiencing love (or "oneness"). We say "I am in love with you" because I use "you" as a method to bring me into a feeling of love/oneness. However, as we become less needful (less attached, through meditation, perhaps), we are increasingly situated in our own place of love/oneness. So instead of needing another person to have love (which is a very vulnerable and confused position), we are able to feel love for everyone we see, and are independent of the need to possess another person. This can only happen when we can fully rest in what is ("be here now"). This changes our relationships from a position of trying to get love from another, to one where the relationship is coming out of an internal feeling of love that is enjoyed with the other, but not dependent on the other.

Finally, Ram Dass suggest that this "yoga of relationship" is one of the hardest to do, because it is working with animal reproduction, species survival, human pride, individual freedom and sense of personal space. All of these make it hard to stay focused on being here now.

Heart-shaped fish trap, Chimei Island, Penghu, Taiwan