Kshitigarbha

We invoke your name, Kshitigarbha. We aspire to learn your way of being present where there is darkness, suffering, oppression, and despair, so we can bring light, hope, relief, and liberation to those places. We are determined not to forget about or abandon those in desperate situations. We will do our best to establish contact with those who cannot find a way out of their suffering, those whose cries for help, justice, equality, and human rights are not being heard. We know that hell can be found in many places on Earth. We will do our best not to contribute to creating more hells on Earth, and to help transform the hells that already exist. We will practice in order to realize the qualities of perseverance and stability, so that, like the Earth, we can always be supportive and faithful to those in need.

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3/26

The first thing that comes up for me around this verse is that as practitioners, we must be deeply in touch with our own self, in order to determine where our balance is in regards to being in touch with those who suffer. Learning and practicing to take good care of our self must be the first priority. If we attempt to try to be in touch with the suffering of others but are personally experiencing an imbalance of mind/body/spirit, it would not be beneficial to the other person or to our self. I think this is implied in this verse, however it is not directly addressed or spoken to.

There are many ways to be in touch with those who suffer. As the Fourth of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, entitled: Awareness of Suffering, states: …We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact and using telephone, electronic, audiovisual, and other means, to be with those who suffer…

For my own practice of staying in touch with the suffering of others, I volunteer with hospice and meet with patients every week; I intentionally watch documentaries that are centered around heart-heavy topics or that highlight hardship stories; I read news articles that are especially challenging and difficult to read, centered around trauma, mental illness, and matters concerning inequality; and I currently have a pen pal in prison who I stay in close contact with via letters. And, I am careful not to engage in such documentaries/news stories when I am not feeling well-balanced and stable in mind and heart. So I practice to stay in close relationship with myself, as some days I need to focus more on self-care and wellness vs. being in touch with the suffering of someone else. So for me it’s important to routinely and continually check in with myself, so that I know what I have to offer and when. It’s very easy to over-extend myself in this regard – and to put tending to others above my own self-care.

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3/28

One of my guiding life mottos that I remind myself often of is: There is only so much time in the day. In relation to this verse on being present where there is darkness, it means that I must be careful not to get caught thinking that I need to step into ALL the darkness, ALL the ares of oppression, suffering, and despair. I used to have a world savior complex back in my teens and early 20’s – activism-minded – and I am not interested in reverting back to that.

I also find it really helpful to keep fresh in mind how wonderful it is that we have a world filled with so many people who gravitate towards different areas of need. I am only one person – and there’s both a lot I can do and only so much I can do. We all dig the well in different spots – and thank goodness for that.

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3/31

1. How would you summarize this verse in your own words?

We aspire to do our best not to turn a blind eye towards matters of suffering and to keep our own practice strong, in order to be of support to others.

2. What do you see as being your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to the qualities of this Bodhisattva?

Strength: I feel as though I do pretty well in practicing to stay in touch with matters concerning suffering while also keeping an eye on my own balance, so as not to over-extend myself. For the most part I know what my limits are. Weakness: Sometimes I try to offer support to friends who are really struggling but I do so with an energy of “I’m going to save them!” and it isn’t what is most beneficial to them – or to me. People who are suffering may not be ready to transform and heal, no matter how much I may want to help them. Sometimes I can push too much. I recently watched a talk by a doctor as part of an online wellness summit and he said that his motto is to help only those who are swimming towards him, verses trying to go after all the people he saw and felt were struggling but ultimately weren’t ready to start healing. He said when he used to do that, it was a waste of time and energy, for him and the other person. I can still get stuck in trying to help those who aren’t swimming towards me.

3. What is something you’ve gleaned by reflecting on this Bodhisattva this past week?

What came up for me was the reminder of how important it is to 1. Be in close relationship with myself in order to know where my limits are in regards to delving into matters of injustice, suffering, and the desperate situations of others, so as not to lose myself and become overwhelmed and 2. To diligently dig the well in the places I can and know that I cannot dig all the wells in all the places; to draw from the Serenity Prayer: to accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to change the things that I can, and develop the wisdom to know the difference.

 

Samantabhadra

Recap:

This post is part of a 5-week series in relation to the Five Bodhisattvas and a Reflection Group I put together and am part of with a few sangha friends of mine.

Bodhisattva literally means “enlightened being.” The Plum Village chant book defines it as such: One committed to enlightening oneself and others so that all may be liberated from suffering.

In our practice tradition, we are especially urged not to regard the bodhisattva’s as external separate entities but more as qualities in which to actively cultivate within our own self, for the benefit of all beings. While the Bodhisattva’s are mentioned as actual human beings – and disciples of the Buddha – in the sutras, we are encouraged to see them as representing skill-sets and capabilities in which to hone and sharpen in our own life.

We read and reflect on one bodhisattva at a time for one full week and then answer three reflection questions each Sunday, which we email out to the group of participants.

These are the bodhisattvas in the order most commonly encountered in our tradition:

Avalokiteshvara: Bodhi. of Great Compassion
Manjushri: Bodhi. of Great Understanding
Samantabhadra: Bodhi. of Great Action
Kshitigarbha: Bodhi. of Great Aspiration
Sadaparibhuta: Bodhi. of Never Disparaging

This last week was week #3.

Here is the verse, my journal entries, and my answers to our group reflection questions for Samantabhadra:

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We invoke your name, Samantabhadra. We aspire to practice your vow to act with the eyes and heart of compassion, to bring joy to one person in the morning and to ease the pain of one person in the afternoon. We know that the happiness of others is our own happiness, and we aspire to practice joy on the path of service. We know that every word, every look, every action, and every smile can bring happiness to others. We know that if we practice wholeheartedly, we ourselves may become an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for our loved ones and for all species.

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3/20

This is the bodhisattva I resonate with personally the most. This is the bodhisattva of Great Action, and I often refer to myself humorously as a Woman of Action.

There are so many lovely lines in the verse – and I find the especially lovely because I’ve personally encountered and experienced them in my life. I am someone who puts great emphasis on practicing joy on the path of service. And in doing so, I’ve seen firsthand how true it is that the happiness of others is my own happiness; how every word/look/action/smile can bring happiness to others; and how when I practice wholeheartedly, I am able to becomes an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for others.

For me, cultivating joyful-based actions is my highest and most important aspiration on my path of practice. When I set my compass in this direction, I see clearly the ripple effects that occur as a result, everywhere I go.

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Rituals

Immensely inspired by a video interview I watched this morning, as part of a free Wellness Summit happening online right now, entitled: How to Set Yourself Free From Pain & Misery, with Dr. Sean Stephenson, I was called to craft this post focused on my own personal daily rituals.

In Dr. Stephenson’s interview, he said: I have 16 rituals and if I don’t do at least 4 of them every day, my insecurities will eat me alive.

He said a lot more that’s worth mentioning – I took over 5 pages of notes during the 60-minute video! – but there is much greater value for you, my friends, in watching it yourself (click on link above). It is one of the very best mindfulness-based talks I have ever seen.

So rather than using this post to relay all of my notes, I will instead focus on sharing my daily rituals, which isn’t new for me to do here on my blog but has perhaps been a little while since last I did.

 

Nicole’s DAILY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)

Waking up early enough to enjoy a period of time connecting with myself, amid the graces of quietude and slowness

Writing (if even only a little bit)

Sitting meditation

Gratitude practice (which I created myself and involves certain verses I say each morning, along with prostrations to the earth)

Saying a connection/gratitude verse before I eat each meal

Watering my seed of joy, with intentional skillful effort

Guarding well my sensory input (TV/films, music, books, magazines, conversations, social media, news…)

Resting (which for me typically comes in the form of taking a nap every day; even on the days I work, as soon as I get home around 4:00, the first thing I do is lay down to take a short nap before preparing dinner)

Maintain consistency with when I eat each meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Wake up at the same time every day (5:00am) and go to bed around the same time each night (between 9-10pm)

 

Nicole’s WEEKLY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)

Attend sangha every Monday night

Participate in my self-crafted Mindful Morning Saturday practice

Watch a Dharma talk and/or mindfulness-based teaching video online

Spend time dancing and exercising

Devoting one morning (usually Sundays) to Lazy Morning practice

 

Nicole’s YEARLY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)

Attend our two locally held and organized mindfulness retreats with my extended Montana sangha family

Prioritize solo sojourns

Spend extended, concentrated time on personal retreat (or amid other practice-related spells of personal quietude)

Attend local days of mindfulness and special practice events hosted by our sister sanghas as much as possible

 

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Fear of Ego

Sometimes, my fear of ego causes me to shirk back from what I have to offer, much to a detriment. For it’s helpful to no one when I dim my light.

To be clear: developing ego is NOT the same as shining our light. I must come to truly remember this, over and over again. Because I forget. Like, a lot.

There’s a great and powerful balance that can be cultivated. I can be confident and strong without being arrogant and overbearing. These are real elements that can coexist swimmingly together.

Still, my fear of ego often settles in next to me, whispering things like: If you do X, you know it’s going to make person X feel inferior and threatened and If you show up like this ______, you know someone is going to have something to say about it, and it won’t be pleasant.

The thing is: I’m tired of having to reel myself in in an attempt to mitigate another’s discomfort with their own self. I’m tired of dimming my light, pretending as though I’m nothing special. We’re all something special, for pete’s sake; each and every one of us. To deny this – to cover it up – is doing no one any good.

Non-Attachment

In Buddhism, we have teachings centered around non-attachment. But how do we apply this and make sense of it as laypeople – with romantic partners and close friends and kids and family and pet people?

And aren’t we also encouraged – neigh urged – in our particular mindfulness tradition, to take refuge in the sangha? To lean on and lean into our people for love and support, care and connection?

How do we reconcile this paradox?

I think I figured it out. Ready?

I think what it comes down to is that it’s not that we need to love, depend, and rely on our people any less than we are – it’s not that we need to un-attach from them, necessarily. It’s that we need to simultaneously love and depend and rely on our own self too. We need to enjoy and revel in our own company, just as much as we enjoy and revel in the company of our closest people.

Perhaps non-attachment, then, refers to our ability to keep good company with our own self, right alongside of giving mad love to those we adore and cherish when we’re in their company.

Sunday Morning Reflections

Self-created meme with a verse I wrote this morning

Sunday morning reflections, penned this morning:

So much unfolds on its own accord, without cause for input or advice. We could pitch a fit and throw it in the direction of so many a thing, but it would be akin to trying to flood the world with a garden hose. Absurd.

How much time is wasted on matters we have no sway over? How much hardship is generated by shirking responsibility over that which is entirely in our own hands and of our own making? On both counts, the answer is: a lot.

The combined daily total of world births and deaths a lot; the amount of times I’ve apologized in my 39 years a lot; the number of stars in the sky a lot.

Remember, a bird has cause to sing and a flower to unfurl each on their own time. If we were to attempt to take over the sun’s job as conductor, the world would be flung to the wolves for rapid devouring.
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My morning writings bear the brush strokes of my current influences. And since right now I am reading Mary Oliver, the grace of birds and flowers are finding their way onto the page.

And this simple exchange gives me ripe pause.

We often think of children as sponges and adults as stubborn, who become more set in their ways as they age. Yet, are we not just as susceptible to input?

Yes.

The answer emphatically is yes.

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Manjushri

We invoke your name, Manjushri. We aspire to learn your way, which is to be still and to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people. We will look with all our attention and openheartedness. We will look with unprejudiced eyes. We will look without judging or reacting. We will look deeply so that we will be able to see and understand the roots of suffering, the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. We will practice your way of using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, thus freeing ourselves and other species.

– from the Plum Village Chanting & Recitation book

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3/12

There is similar language in this verse as there was in the last verse on Avalokiteshvara, but instead of saying “listen” it says “look.” This makes sense, as Avalokiteshvara is the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion and Manjushri is the Bodhisattva of Great Understanding. Compassion and understanding are closely related.

Perhaps to listen is with the heart and to look is with the mind. Both parts are necessary to create the whole picture of self, and to come into full relationship with the world.

It’s easy to regard these Bodhisattva verse teachings as pertaining to our actions relating to other people but it’s also important to apply these to our self. When I am able to look at myself with unprejudiced eyes and without judging or reacting, it is only then that I can truly offer those same curtesy’s to others.

How I treat myself inwardly translates directly to how I treat others externally. There is no separation.

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3/14

…the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. When I am in touch with nature of impermanence and selflessness (which is another way of saying: interbeing), which underpins all of life in every situation, then I am able to see and understand more clearly the roots of my own suffering. Most – if not all – suffering stems from seeing things/people/self as permanent/fixed in place and/or seeing things/people/self as being separate/disconnected entities.

How much time and energy do we expend in wishing that a particular moment was other than as it is?! Probably a lot.

Part of this verse involves a profound understanding of how everything is part of life – nothing and no one is separate. That goes for: bad days, inclement weather, feeling hurt by someone, stubbing our toe, anger, heartbreak, stress, a flat tire, that gal we don’t like who works at our grocery store, that politician we wish weren’t in office, and so on. Using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, involves cultivating the art of full acceptance of what is going on, verses getting caught in wishing things/people to be different to the extent that it causes us to fight against the reality of what’s unfolding around us.

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3/15

To understand deeply means to have insight penetrate through our surface knowings and our intellectual processing. Just as we must get out of our own way in order to listen deeply, we must do the same in order to look deeply.

We must get out of the way of our ego and limiting notions and social constructs of thought, in order to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people.

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