The Witness

Why do we crave—to the point where it causes physical stress—a witness? Why do we want to walk side-by-side with another person, preferably one perceived as an equal partner, as an intimate witness to our lives, twenty-four hours a day? We don’t want to be alone—isolation has been shown to be emotionally and physically damaging—we want a sympathetic witness: an impartial but understanding reflection of our view.

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Buddhist Music Manifesto

The importance of music as a vital part of spiritual practice and religious culture is acknowledged by all the major religions of the world. However, of the great religions Buddhism alone seems to have trouble finding a place for music. The contemplative sage requires the nourishment of silence as much as the nourishment of food. In fact, sometimes a monk deliberately will go without food to take refuge in a lonely place where he may be certain his meditations will not be disturbed.

For an advanced meditator, a world of silence without music or social chitchat might be a beautiful thing, indeed even a requisite. However the majority of human beings would feel that something important, even essential is missing from their lives. By popular demand, music is not going away any time soon. How can Buddhist society find a proper place for it?

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Stages of the Path

In the beginning of spiritual life, so many things seem arbitrary. The instructions of the greatest sages like the Buddha seem indistinguishable from the opinions of ordinary religionists. Why are the stages of the Path arranged in a certain order? It seems arbitrary, authoritarian. We feel like rebelling against this imposition, and so we wind up cheating ourselves by doing nothing.

After one gains some experience and has made some advancement, however, we begin to see a certain pattern: when we follow the instructions, do things in the proper way and order, we make progress. If we try it our own way, we fail and stagnate.

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The Influential Sage

The Buddha teaches by his personal example that to obtain influence—inspire the spontaneous agreement and aid of others—we ourselves must first practice following: “The best student makes the best teacher.” The consummate student observes what is good and correct in the character and conduct of his teacher. In other words, whether or not he is explicitly taught, he learns by observation and verifies it in his own practice.

We open the possibility for others to be loyal and helpful to us by remaining open and observant, trusting our teacher but testing and confirming the teaching for ourselves. This initiative is the integrity of the student, and it opens the path to attaining influence.

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Music Lessons

What can we play that we never played before and never will again?

Happenings: everyone switches instruments. Anything goes; let go of form and let the energy take you to new places.

Play one note—just one note. Play it again and again—long, short, soft, loud. How much can you say with one note? How much can you express with tone alone?

Listen to the birds. Can you play like that? Can you have a musical conversation with them?

Enduring Progress

Everyone who is sane wants to make progress on the path of self-realization. Unfortunately, we live in a time when inferior influences and people prevail. Even a great personality who acts now will be undermined by the time. However, there is no need to resist this situation; indeed, it’s natural that inferior elements periodically come to the fore. Adversity often stimulates our spiritual growth; the attitude and intention with which we meet it make all the difference.

When challenging situations arise, we are often overwhelmed with anxiety, doubt and fear. We fear we will be ruined if we do not act immediately and vigorously. We doubt whether we possess sufficient mastery to resolve the situation favorably with the inner creative power of becoming. If we act on those inferior feelings, we split apart from the spiritual path, our devotion to the creative power of higher consciousness, and the wisdom of patient nonaction in the face of difficulty. If we insist on following the course of action now, we unnecessarily increase our own misfortune by preventing fulfillment of the creative process.

The ancient guides gave the image of the sage as “mountain over earth.” By keeping as still and quiet as a mountain, by resting firmly on a foundation of proper principles, accepting the nature of the time and not resisting it, you can weather any storm. By trusting in nonaction, acceptance and patience, you gain the strength of the earth itself.

Within us are both superior wisdom and inferior foolishness. We have to choose between them every moment. Remain devoted to the superior wisdom of integrity and conscience. Although others may oppose you, no harm results because by refusing to take action you have disconnected from the karma of this negative time.

It can be difficult in times like this to see the wisdom of internal detachment and external inaction. We want immediate results, but the actual solution is in patient cultivation of wisdom. One person mature in internal cultivation can facilitate a great change, like a vast school of fish instantly reversing its direction, through acceptance and self-correction. The secret of this influence is gradual progress in internal cultivation.

Those who persevere in the principles of wisdom make continuous progress, like a tree growing high on a mountain. If the tree grows too fast without first properly rooting itself, it becomes exposed to being torn up and destroyed by the winds. However, if it establishes a strong foundation and is content to grow gradually, it will enjoy long life and a lofty view. Its growth and establishment are not visible day-to-day, but over time it achieves majestic size.

Human beings are similar. We often desire rapid progress—we want to change someone’s mind today, obtain an apology now, achieve our goals immediately. But sooner or later we must understand that the only lasting progress is gradual progress; otherwise going against the nature of the time wears us out. It’s best to accept that as the Buddha was fond of saying, yathā bhūtām, “That’s just the way it is,” and manage your thoughts, attitudes and actions accordingly.

When we allow ourselves to be pulled off balance by some event or another person, the ego tries to influence the situation through forceful behavior. But actions of the ego inevitably complicate our difficulties. A foolish man may try to escape his problems by drunkenness, but the next morning the same problems remain—plus a hangover.

The greatest possible influence always comes through patient and steady refinement of one’s inner self. If you devote yourself to the path of the sage, every step along that path—no matter how small—strengthens you, and progress comes automatically in time. It will be gradual, but it will last.

Karuna (Compassion)

I weep for those who are in fear, in pain,
for those who are angry or in blame.

I weep for those who work hard day and night,
trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it.

I weep for the parents, caring for kids
who never appreciate or thank them.

I weep for those who think they have to struggle,
argue and fight to get by in this world,
for those who lie and deceive to earn their daily bread.

I weep for those who cannot hear the enlightened Sage,
for those trapped by this awful age.

I weep for those who asked me for the answer
and when I gave it to them, rejected me.

I weep for those who rot in prisons without walls
made of their own thoughts, and think they’re free.

I weep for those who fill their emptiness
with food, drugs, sex and other addictions.

I weep for those foolish passionate boys
who fill the neighborhood with noise.

I weep for those constrained by form,
who cannot think beyond the norm.

I weep for those so blinded by desire,
they cannot see anything higher.

And I weep for the clerics, priests and monks
drunk with obstinacy, pride and hate.

I weep for those who don’t know they are sick,
who suffer but cannot stop to heal.

I weep for those whose hearts are made of sharpened steel.

I weep for those who think the cure is to end it all,
not knowing that life goes on beyond the pall.

I weep for those around me who suffer,
but no one can help because they can’t hear from a brother.

I weep for your pain.
I weep for your suffering.
I weep for your blindness.
I weep for your ignorance.
I weep for your weakness.

And most of all I weep for those who pass before me
thinking I am just like them, so ordinary.

Not recognizing the golden opportunity
to learn the one small thing that sets us free.