Dhammapada, a collection of verses of Shakyamuni Buddha
Buddha of the Future (Miroku Bosatsu) Japan, Asuka period (538-710) - Cleveland Museum of Art
Who will penetrate this earth
& this realm of death with all its gods?
Who will ferret out
the well-taught, Dhamma-saying,
as the skillful flower-arranger
will penetrate this earth
& this realm of death
with all its gods.
will ferret out
the well-taught Dhamma-saying,
as the skillful flower-arranger
Tilting at Windmills
Do you ever get the feeling that, sometimes, all we do is tilt at windmills? I was curious about the expression made famous by Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote who did lots of tilting so I looked it up. Not that I know what an intrasitive verb is, but its 4th meaning is: to fight with lances, to engage in a combat or a struggle – like tilting at injustices.
Those of us coming to Buddhism from the western cultural background come well equiped for tilting. We are “engaged” in causes from soup to nuts. Our lances are the made of the world view we each hold to be the true one. And, we hone our lances within the social groups we share.
Looking at this concept from a Buddhist perspective I keep coming back to two questions. The first is: are our windmills as imaginary as Don Quixote’s? The second, if they are not, then as Buddhists, do we engage in tilting?
These are not easy questions. But how do I get to the answer? For me, I had to first decide if I am on the Buddhist path. Am I a Buddhist? Yes? No? Once I answer ‘yes’ then I went to the next level of examining my relationship with windmills. In other words, how does Buddhism influence and guide me in my world view and belief systems about tilting at windmills, real or imagined?
The nature of these windmills is not fixed as real nor imaginary, that was my first thought. They are fluid and morph from one to the other as my world keeps changing. Since change is the only constant and my ability to know the complete ‘truth,’ the best I can do is what I know at the time.
As long as I interact with other humans (as if we have a choice), I am interacting with humans who are bonbu, imperfect. Maybe that is what windmills represent, the combined imperfections we each bring into the mix. The difficulty begins when I am attached to the firm belief that my perception of the windmill is the “only true one.” Since it is an interaction, you may see my belief as a cause that needs to be defeated and reformed.
Science, philosophy and our own experiences have shown over and over how our perceptions of even something as simple as describing a person seen for a short time is not reliable, nor completely accurate. But we continue to insist we are 100% accurate.
Buddhism’s first and second Noble Truths then become my guide for the ‘if’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ of my engagement in causes. Does that mean “I do nothing?” Of course not. What it does mean, for me, is the awareness of my limitations of changing the world and the dukkha I bring about for myself and others when I act with an unyielding attachment to my “cause,” real or imaginary.
Do you know what it means to “win the battle against yourself?” It’s different from when you compete with friends to see who was the fastest or the best at something. This lesson is about you. It’s important to learn not to give into your own negative feelings, especially when you want to give up or to go play instead of doing something difficult.
For example, you might want to play video games or watch TV instead of doing homework or household chores. It might be more fun to race your friends or play in the pool. It’s wonderful if you are the best at something. But you shouldn’t give into this feeling. It’s more important and much harder to win against yourself by doing chores and other things that you may not want but still need to do.
Children need precious time to throw themselves with abandon into what they love. However, it’s also important to teach children that they will not mature solely by enjoying their own trivial pursuits. They must learn to reign in a desire to play via the virtue of patient endurance. They must overcome weaknesses with perseverance, which entails overcoming indulgence. It’s even difficult for adults to resist temptation, so it’s important to recognize and praise children for efforts to such an extent.
Excerpts of Buddhist voices across teachings, across continents, across time.
The Excellence of Bodhichitta
by Pema Chödrön
When I was about six years old I received the essential bodhichitta teaching from an old woman sitting in the sun. I was walking by her house one day feeling lonely, unloved, and mad, kicking anything I could find. Laughing, she said to me, “Little girl, don’t you go letting life harden your heart.”
Right there, I received this pith instruction: we can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.
If we were to ask the Buddha, “What is bodhichitta?” he might tell us that this word is easier to understand than to translate. He might encourage us to seek out ways to find its meaning in our own lives. He might tantalize us by adding that it is only bodhichitta that heals, that bodhichitta is capable of transforming the hardest of hearts and the most prejudiced and fearful of minds.
Chitta means “mind” and also “heart” or “attitude.” Bodhi means “awake,” “enlightened,” or “completely open.” Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. Even the cruelest people have the soft spot. Even the most vicious animals love their offspring. As Trungpa Rinpoche put it, “Everybody loves something, even if it’s only tortillas.”
Bodhichitta is also equated, in part, with compassion – our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt. These walls are further fortified by emotions of all kinds: anger, craving, indifference, jealousy and envy, arrogance and pride. But fortunately for us, the soft spot – our innate ability to love and to care about things – is like a crack in these walls we erect. As a natural opening in the barriers we create when were afraid. With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize the vulnerable moment – love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy – to awaken bodhichitta.
An analogy for bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is a tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our only with all those who have ever love. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when were arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared by all.
Excerpt from: The Places That Scare You by Pema Chödrön, Shambhala Classics, Boulder 2001