One City

One City

What do you read Hardcore Dharma? Words, words words.

My favorite aspects of Buddhism were not brought forth by SickestBuddhistgate and the winding rhetoric of comments that followed.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy getting down with analysis.  I do. But I’m not fond of when awareness practitioners are seemingly unaware that their desire to tear apart someone else’s conceptual framework can easily veer toward malice if care is not taken.  (I felt care was mostly, but not wholly, taken)  This, I realize, is a dangerous statement to make – given that by addressing the stream of commenting (in a position of greater visibility) I am contributing to the arguments.  Also the fact that my contribution criticizes the intent rather than the content gives some false moral hierarchy to the statement.  And if my intent was pure, I would probably keep my mouth shut and appreciate the varied validities of arguments brought up in the thread, of which there were many.  And that by thus disclaiming, I am attempting, through my awareness, to excuse myself from any argument, and by disclaiming my disclaiming I am further attempting to avoid argument and on an on into infinitum.


But, to requote Ethan Nichtern quoting Daniel Ingram, “a personal mixture of awakened compassion and selfish confusion forms the basis for everything we do.”  In other words, my imperfect no-self self has got a column to write.  And the comment thread reminded me of the emotional tsunami that was recent dinner with my ex-boyfriend.

I’ll skip the context and details, but basically, throughout this dinner with aforementioned ex-boyfriend I became extremely agitated by his “wrongness.”  Some of it had to do with our past relationship, some of it had to do with theoretical disagreements about morality, most of it had to do with battling egos.  I found myself desiring to summon up all my incisive and cutting verbal one-liners to reduce him to a slumping pile of surrender.  I wasn’t fully conscious about how desperate I had been to dismantle his ideology until last night following Hardcore Dharma, taking my requisite walk over the Williamsburg Bridge, thinking about the Four Immeasurables.


The Four Immeasurables are Equanimity, Love, Compassion and Rejoicing.  The teaching Ethan gave on them is one of my favorites, in which he breaks down the Immeasurables by their definition, their opposite, the near enemy to the Immeasurable and the result to be avoided whilst pursuing Immeasurable.  Because I think this teaching is rad I will list it, in very pithy entirety, here:

The Four Immeasurables:

Equanimity (Upeksha)
Definition: One Taste
Opposite: Anxiety and stress
Near Enemy: Indifference
Result to be Avoided: Apathy

Love (Maitri)
Definition: The wish for someone’s happiness
Opposite: Hatred
Near Enemy: Conditional Love
Result to be Avoided: Attachment


Compassion (Karuna)
Definition: Willingness to be present with suffering
Opposite: Cruelty (the wish for someone to suffer)
Near Enemy: Pity
Result to be Avoided: Sentimentality

Rejoicing: (Mudita)
Definition: Joy in other’s good fortune
Opposite: Envy or Jealousy
Near Enemy: Affect
Result to be avoided: Spaced out bliss/ignorance of suffering

So I want to talk about compassion.

In class, Ethan mentioned that he really didn’t have much experience with the opposite of compassion, cruelty.  He surmised that most of us in the room probably didn’t either.  Maybe when we were children, or in middle-school or even high school, but probably, at this point in our life we don’t ever really wish for someone else to suffer.


Well, maybe not consciously, but I was thinking while walking that the desire to prove someone wrong, can be, in a way, a form of cruelty.  Wanting my ex-boyfriend to realize how he is completely wrong about his view of life was unnecessarily cruel.

There’s this exercise in acting in which you create an “action” to play (an action is the motivation behind the words that you pursue while acting a scene).  Let’s say your action for the scene is “to get Polonius on my side.”  When you come up with an action, you also think of what is called a “cap” – which is the desired physical outcome if everything goes your way (i.e. Polonius takes off his hat and bows deeply to you). 


When I think about it, if my action was to “get Ex to see the light”, then the “cap” in the Scene in an Italian Restaurant would (again, sub-consciously) be for my ex to slump over the table, pride-stripped, confidence lost and admit that he was completely in error, then go home to darkness and attempt to reassemble the scattered structure of his belief system.  When I put that image in my frontal cortex, I realize it is not the outcome I desire.

In fact, I find when I’m able to think about my desired “cap” of most any argument I’m having, I can then step back and realize true and wise compassion.  Because more than wanting to be right, I want my ex to be happy.  I don’t want to hang out with him, but I want him to be happy.  And consciously I really don’t want anyone to suffer.  When I have a disagreement with my current boyfriend, who I’m crazy about, I try to remember that my “cap” is us laughing and kissing and loving the hell out of each other.  My cap is not for him to wave a white flag of surrender, or, god forbid feel in any way bad about himself.  It doesn’t mean I can’t express my feelings, arguments or desires.  It means I have to do it with the “cap” of our mutual happiness in mind.


So how can we keep challenging each other with different and varied viewpoints while remember our goal is the cessation of suffering, not logical TKO’s?  As Shantideva said: “We, like senseless children, shrink from suffering, but love it’s causes.”  Most of us, as practitioners, don’t have to worry about conscious desires for others to suffer.  But how can we develop the awareness and clarity of mind to catch our unconscious undermining, our subtle dismissals and our whisper’s of self-righteousness?  While still being able to find our inevitably imperfect voice?  How can we bring compassion to our passion?

In other worlds, it’s my second to last day at my day job, which I’m leaving to attend graduate school full time. 

In bocca al lupo! 


Julia May

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posted August 6, 2009 at 5:59 pm

To be clear, I was paraphasing Ingram’s idea in my own language. In fact, the original point was made perfectly about four years ago with a great teacher and man named Richard Reoch of Shambhala.
But what Ingram said exactly was this:
“Basically, until we are very enlightened, some odd mixture of
compassion and confusion motivates everything we do, as mentioned
elsewhere, and so we have to learn to work with this.”
Just, ya know, being technical and all.
Richard Reoch made the point exceptionally beautifully to a student questioning the discovery of selfish motivation within her compassionate intentions. He basically said what Ingram said above, with tons of heart and eloquence. He’s a pretty amazing gentleman, should you ever cross paths with him.

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posted August 6, 2009 at 6:18 pm

In argumentation, one suffers if and only if one identifies oneself with one’s words. I take pleasure in verbal combat, and I try hard to avoid ad hominem, yet when people identify with their own words, their own arguments, they can get hurt. In short, they can feel they’ve been ad hominemed [sic].
I have in print probably in the neighborhood of 300K words, plus probably an equal amount in the interweb, and at lectures, conferences, in classrooms, I’ve generated millions of words for the critical evaluation of others. Almost from the beginning, I adopted the stance of Joshu Saseki Roshi (though I didn’t know it at the time), that is, I always speak and write as if I’m talking to stones, which is to say I do so without my ego getting involved. Will this preclude taking a strong position or having a strong opinion? No. Will it preclude saying something ill-considered? No. But what it does is free me to talk as if there is no subject/object split, and my words are just words, some nicely-turned, others pure garbage. If I come out with a greater number of the former, good for me; if I come out with a greater number of the latter, good for me.

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posted August 6, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Allow me to clarify my recent posting.
The “pleasure” I mentioned is more precisely a momentary state of moksha, one that is tied to a condition of arising, or what is sometimes called a burning up of the ego-identity in the act itself, in this case, the production of words as signs or as noises. When you dwell in the here and now of word-making, letting go of the accidental things, you can open what Kosho Uchiyama calls “the hand of thought.” So, in this sense, we can understand how something like traditional dharma combat is much more than scholastic.

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Julia May

posted August 7, 2009 at 1:20 pm

@Ethan: That’s what i meant, but thanks for clarifying. I will look into Richard Reoch.
@Mu: That is interesting – Thanks.

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Your Name

posted August 7, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Hi Julia, I would compliment you again but I’m afraid I becoming habituated. :-)
Congrats on graduate school.
Btw you quoted Shantideva and it made me think of his biography. Have you read it?

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posted August 7, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I wrote the comment above.

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Julia May

posted August 7, 2009 at 5:05 pm

I haven’t Damaris. But I’m going to look it up …

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