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Issue #1577 - Monday, October 6, 2003 - Editor: Jerry
MAITRI-Cultivating Unconditional Friendliness to Oneself by Pema Chodron
Maitri is translated in a lot of ways, maybe most commonly as
"love," but the way Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche translated it
was "unconditional friendliness" and in particular
"unconditional friendliness to oneself."
So I teach about maitri a lot. In fact, sometimes I think
it's the only thing I teach. I also teach about compassion a
lot, but actually compassion is a form of maitri so this
unconditional friendliness to oneself, it seems to be what
most of us do not have.
This is very interesting because there was a conference in
Dharamsala with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and it was with
Western Buddhist teachers.
Sharon Salzburg, who's a teacher of western insight
meditation, was talking to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and
explaining how in teaching in the West one of the things that
teachers always encountered was how widespread it was that
people were very hard on themselves. That when the teachings
were taught in a traditional way, sometimes they simply
didn't communicate because we were so good as a group of
people at taking whatever we heard and turning it against
ourselves. For instance, there could be some excellent
teaching on the difficulty, the pain that comes from ego
clinging and that teaching could be taught in a very
traditional way and then people could hear it, and somehow
people could come out feeling bad about themselves. Instead
of feeling inspired or uplifted to heal themselves, they'd
come out feeling bad about themselves.
She was explaining this and His Holiness the Dalai Lama
stopped her and said he didn't know what she was talking
about. She tried to keep explaining that people have a low
opinion of themselves. There's a lot of self-criticism,
self-loathing, and things like this. And somehow, still he
didn't really seem to understand. So he went around the room
and asked all the Western teachers if they knew what she was
talking about. And, of course, everybody knew what she was
When it had gone all the way around, he said, Well that's
very interesting. There is a difference between the Tibetan
people, that he knows so well, and the people of the West.
This would be called, in terms of what I'm going to talk
about tonight, lack of maitri, not having maitri.
So often when I teach on this subject it gets misunderstood
as meaning something like self-indulgence. One time, somebody
came to Gampo Abbey to do a program there who had read The
Wisdom of No Escape, which was the first book that I wrote.
She came because she liked the whole emphasis on making
friends, developing an unconditional friendship with oneself.
We were into the second day of sitting, sort of late
afternoon, and at one point she just stood up and stretched
her arms and made this very loud yawn, and laid down on the
floor. I was sitting in the front of the room as the leader
of the meditation. I'm sitting there, and of course you would
never know by looking at my face that I'm at all noticing
what's going on (audience laughter), but I'm thinking in my
mind, "What in the hell is she doing?"
Afterwards I asked her what she was doing, and she said,
know, I just took your words to heart." She said, "My back
was hurting, and my knees were hurting, I was having a
difficult time. So I was just friendly to myself." Then I
realized I had to stress the teachings on discipline some
There was a story about the Zen master Suzuki Roshi. This was
a situation where his students had been sitting and they were
3 or 4 hours into a very hard sitting period, a sesshin. The
person who told the story said every bone in his body was
hurting, his back, his ankles, his neck, his head, everything
hurt. Not only that, his thoughts were totally obsessed with
either "I can't do this, I'm worthless. There's something
wrong with me. I'm not cut out to do this." It was
vacillating between those thoughts and "This whole thing is
ridiculous. Why did I ever come here? These people are crazy.
This place is like boot camp." His mind and body were just
aching. Probably everyone else in the room was going through
Suzuki Roshi came in to give the lecture for the day and he
sat down. He started to talk very, very, very slowly and he
said, "The difficulty that you are experiencing now. . ." And
that man was thinking, "will go away."
And he said, "This difficulty will be with you for the
of your life."
So that's sort of Buddhist humor.
But it is also the essence of maitri. It seems to me in my
experience and also in talking to other people that we come
to a body of teachings like the Buddhist teachings or any
spiritual path, to meditation in some way like little
children looking for comfort, looking for understanding,
looking for attention, looking somehow to be confirmed. Some
kind of comfort will come out of this. And the truth is
actually that the practice isn't about that. The practice is
more about somehow this little child this I, who wants and
wants and wants to be confirmed in some way.
Practice is about that part of our being that, like that
finally being able to open completely to the whole range of
our experience, including all that wanting, including all
that hurt, including the pain and the joy. Opening to the
whole thing so that this little child-like part of us can
finally, finally, finally, finally grow up.
Trungpa Rinpoche once said that was the most powerful mantra,
"Om Grow Up Svaha."
But this issue of growing up, it's not all that easy because
it requires a lot of courage. Particularly it takes a lot of
courage to relate directly with your experience. By this I
mean whatever is occurring in you, you use it,. You seize the
moment moment after moment you seize those moments and
instead of letting life shut you down and make you more
afraid, you use those very same moments of time to soften and
to open and to become more kind. More kind to yourself for
starters as the basis for becoming more kind to others.
One time when I was a child, I was feeling very upset and
angry at one point. I think I was around seven or eight. And
there was this old woman, who I later become very close to.
But the first time I ever met her, I was walking down the
street kicking stones with my head down, and I was feeling
very lonely. I was basically feeling that nobody loved me
very much and that people weren't taking care of me. So I was
walking along angry at the world, kicking stones. And this
woman said, "Child, don't let the world harden your heart."
And I always remember that. It was the first real teaching I
received, I think. It's still a teaching I remember. And in
terms of this teaching on maitri, this is really the key.
People's lives, through all of time, have had a lot of
difficulty in them The Buddha's first teaching was that there
is suffering in life, If you're born as a human being ,
there's suffering. At the very least, there's the suffering
of illness, of growing old and of death at the end. Not to
mention that the more you love are able to open, there's the
suffering of not getting what you want and of losing what you
do want. Just some inevitable sufferings.
Nowadays, this is an especially difficult time in the history
of this planet, Earth. it's a difficult time. And in times of
difficulty, people get very frightened. Often when I'm
teaching a lot of the questions are that people ask about
just the subject. People inevitably say, "Yes, but it's
dangerous, it's getting more and more dangerous just to walk
down the street. We need to protect ourselves."
I think the point is when our lives are difficult, in small
ways or large ways, when we're going through a lot
emotionally, or when difficult things are happening in our
environment, do those things cause us to become more uptight
and afraid. or do those very same things, when the teachings
are applied, soften us and can open us?
To me, this is how I practice and this is the most important
thing. You never know what's going to happen to us. In any
day of our lives you never know what's coming. That's part of
the adventure of it actually, but that's what makes us
scared, is that we never know. And we spend a lot of time
trying to control it so that we could know, but the truth is
that we don't really know.
Really, I think a lot of people, like children, you're
wanting some kind of practice that's not going to take you
into anything uncomfortable but at the same time you want the
practice to heal you. And it just doesn't work like that.
The question is how do you relate when things are
uncomfortable? That's really the question.
As far as I'm concerned, in terms of spiritual path, that's
the main question: how do you relate with the difficulties?
How do you relate with the feelings you have and the
situations you find yourself in?
This particular teaching on the Four Limitless Ones, on
maitri, compassion, joy and equanimity is really a teaching
on how to take the situations of your life and train
actually train in catching yourself closing down, catching
yourself getting hard, and training in opening at that very
point, or softening. In some sense reversing a very, very old
pattern of the whole species, which is a pattern of armoring
ourselves. It's sort of like the essence of the whole Path is
in that place of discomfort and what do you do with it?
I was thinking that that every time we speak or act it always
leaves us with some kind of feeling. Sometimes that feeling
is elated and feeling like things are going well, that things
are good. Sometimes it leaves you feeling kind of miserable.
Life's like that, it goes one way then the other.
For instance, after this talk tonight I'm going to feel
something. I'm going to go out of here and, I don't know if
I'll actually be talking to myself about it, but there'll be
a feeling that it went or it didn't go well, or whatever. So
what? Either way, the main point is what do I do with that?
What do I do with that?
When I said about us coming to spiritual things like
children, so many of us think that if we come to a spiritual
discipline or start to meditate, it means that everything is
going to be OK. Like every talk I ever give is going to be
this raging success. Or whatever. Everything you ever do for
your kids or with your parents, your husbands or wives, at
your jobs: everything is going to be a rose garden. Maybe
this sounds kind of trivial to say that. You say, "That's not
Deep in our hearts, deep emotionally, we all feel somehow
that it ought to be like that. We're always feeling like we
did something wrong. It isn't like that that. It just goes up
and down. Maitri has a lot to do with a kind heart, but kind
heart towards what?
Kind heart towards the completeness of our being. That means
if I go out of here tonight with a heavy heart or feeling of
disappointment that instead of it spiralling into something
like depression, or destructive behavior, or it can spiral
into me yelling at everybody I meet in the rest of the
evening, kicking cats.
Somehow we don't just allow ourselves to feel what we feel
and leave it at that. With some kind of kind heart or big
space toward it. Personally, this is how I have been training
for a lot of years. It adds up to a feeling that this life
that we have is not so bad after all. It has all these smells
and textures and climates, and emotional ups and downs.
There's some sense. . . I don't know I think what it is for
me, personally, it's this sense that grows and grows that
we're all in this together. How we relate with what comes
towards us is our path to enlightenment. That's how I was
taught and that's how I really feel about it. But that
doesn't mean that everything is rosy.
Enlightened people, as far as I can see, from the ones I've
known, they have mood swings. Someone was talking about their
Japanese Zen teacher. Whenever they would ask him how he was
doing, he would say "OK." So finally, one day the student
lost their temper and said, "Roshi, it can't be that you're
always OK! Don't you ever have bad days?"
And Roshi said, "On good days, I'm OK. On bad days, I'm OK."
It's not easy, you know, to practice this way. What you're
doing is you're really changing yourself at the most
fundamental level. It seems to be that as a species, the
human species, that it's programmed in the genes that when
things are painful, we want to get rid of it. And the other
side is that when they're delightful, we fear losing it. This
kind of practice addresses this kind of pattern, this
deep-seated pattern. It's shaking it up a little bit, turning
it around a little bit.
If you don't think that's revolutionary, it's revolutionary.
It's extremely difficult to do and it takes a lot of courage,
but it changes you very deeply. The way it's been expressed
to me that made a lot of sense to me is it's how the species
can evolve from being stuck to being unstuck. From being
uptight and stressed out and being mostly self-involved with
our own pain to becoming open-hearted and compassionate and
really there for each other.
These teachings on the Four Limitless Ones, and on maitri,
are very much about tapping into the resources that we
already have. In terms of this quality of maitri, Buddhist
teaching always say that these qualities are inherent, that
they're not something that we have to develop or import. That
somebody else has it and we don't. It's actually there, but
the courage comes in to tap into it and then nurturing it.
With maitri, it's beginning to contact the feelings of good
heart or love or appreciation or gratitude or any kind of
tenderness: beginning to acknowledge those kinds of feelings
in our lives. Even tiny moment of good heart, like you're
cold and you get warm, or you're very hot like we've been
these few days and you feel a cool breeze: just small things
like that when you feel some sense of relaxation or gratitude
or appreciation all the way up to large things: beginning to
really notice these things.
Yesterday I went up to Amaravati
Theravada Monastery north of Hemel Hempstead in
Hertfordshire. By the time I arrived at the monastery the sun
was setting and the light levels were getting pretty low. But
I managed to take some pictures anyway. When I had taken
these pictures I went to meditate in the temple. It is
wonderful to be able to do that. There's such a serenity
More photos here: http://www.livejournal.com/community/sacredphoto/14455.html#cutid1
The Night House
by Billy Collins
Every day the body works in the fields of the world
mending a stone wall
or swinging a sickle through the tall grass --
the grass of civics, the grass of money --
and every night the body curls around itself
and listens for the soft bells of sleep.
But the heart is restless and rises
from the body in the middle of the night,
and leaves the trapezoidal bedroom
with its thick, pictureless walls
to sit by herself at the kitchen table
and heat some milk in a pan.
And the mind gets up too, puts on a robe
and goes downstairs, lights a cigarette,
and opens a book on engineering.
Even the conscience awakens
and roams from room to room in the dark,
darting away from every mirror like a strange fish.
And the soul is up on the roof
in her nightdress, straddling the ridge,
singing a song about the wildness of the sea
until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.
Then, they all will return to the sleeping body
the way a flock of birds settles back into a tree,
resuming their daily colloquy,
talking to each other or themselves
even through the heat of the long afternoons.
Which is why the body--that house of voices--
sometimes puts down its metal tongs, its needle, or its pen
to stare into the distance,
to listen to all its names being called
before bending again to its labor.
A friend of mine discovered bookcrossing.com at a local cafe. She found a book there.
It's such a great idea! Mary http://www.oregonlive.com/metroeast/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/metro_east_news/1064923063178480.xml
Strangers find the odd free book
An Internet service called BookCrossing encourages readers to leave books where others can find them
MELISSA L. JONES
FAIRVIEW -- At 6 p.m. on a quiet Wednesday night, a copy of "Siddhartha" leaned against the doorway of the Reynolds School District office.
A fluorescent note on the front of the book read, "I'm not lost. Read me."
It was a board meeting night, and Renee Sessler picked up the book.
"It would be good for me to read this," said the board chairwoman, as she tucked Hermann Hesse's book about the search for the meaning of life onto her stack of school board notes.
The book had been discreetly and carefully placed where someone was bound to come across it. Inside the front cover of the book was a message that asked the finder to read it and post any thoughts about it at BookCrossing.com.
The idea was hatched and the Web site started in 2001 by Ron Hornbaker, president of a Missouri software company. Its aim is to get people to share books and ideas through a global, online book club.
The Web site says 167,000 members have released more than half a million books into the unknown. Members all over the world leave books in subways, mail them to strangers or strategically place them where passersby will see them.
The site has spawned BookCrossing meetings and books that are written as people find them and add to them. The site lists "Official Crossing Zones," places more likely to host a left-behind book. (In Gresham, Mt. Hood Community College is one such spot.)
Janet Mandaville, a 63-year-old Portlander, said she's released seven books between Oregon and Australia. She's found a book of Robert Frost poems.
She affixes labels into the books with her personal message and an identification number so that finders can post their comments online.
"When someone finds a book you get an e-mail that says, 'Guess where your book is now?' " said Mandaville, a retired technical writer." I just think it's such an incredible idea -- make the world a library."
Wayne Standiford, 55, an electrician who lives in Condon, used the site to market a book he wrote about Vietnam. He dropped a copy of "Bury Me With Soldiers" at a radio station and mailed a second copy to Australia. The Australian recipient reviewed the book online and then freed the book at Australia's Vietnam memorial.
"He gave me seven stars out of 10," Standiford said.
For Sessler, the Reynolds board chair who found "Siddhartha," the book came at the perfect time. For the past few years, she has been exploring different religions, and the book's themes speak to what's been on her mind.
"I'm reading it. I'm intrigued," she said. "I've been trying to ponder where I'm going to leave it. I wonder who left it at Reynolds and who they were hoping they can reach."
Have a bowl of tea
And go away!
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by Roy Whenary