I advise people to stay with the immediacy of their experience when shenpa arises. One way is just to start breathing in and out. It doesn't have to be a big spiritual act, just something to replace your usual reaction. Eventually, if you don't have the habitual response, then the urge passes. You're on to something else. When you don't have the habitual reaction, you're actually burning up those seeds in the alaya. Then there are two possible outcomes. One is that the urge disappears; you don't have that particular desire to eat chocolate cake anymore, or to make a mean remark. The other outcome is that the urge still arises, but you don't invest it with much meaning.

But you're not going to get anywhere unless you practice.

Yes, meditation practice is the key. But some people can meditate for years and years and years and still burn no seeds. They are stuck on an image of themselves as good meditators, or good Buddhists. To burn up the seeds of shenpa, one must sit in the middle of the fire.

Zen teacher Ezra Bayda does a practice one day a week in which he does not speak or act out of negativity, no matter what happens. You might think that's repressive, but it heightens the awareness of how you otherwise speak and act in ways that strengthen the negativity. If you've taken this vow, you can say: "It's Wednesday. I can't do that." As a result, you discover what it feels like to burn the karmic seeds of negative mind and negative speech and negative action.

We need to break these habits that keep us locked in a cycle of suffering. We have this sense of the self as solidly right and righteous, which would not be such a problem except that it adds up to enormous suffering at the personal level, and at the global level.

We had a national painful experience on September 11, 2001. Where were you, and what was your reaction to the attacks?

I had just entered a hundred-day retreat. I had been there only four days. My first reaction was shock and enormous sorrow, like what I'd felt when my husband left me. I knew that countless people-particularly in New York-were going to find it impossible to get the ground back under their feet. Yet it was an enormous opportunity for people to wake up out of a trance, and many, many people did just that. I also knew that there probably would be a strong conservative backlash, and I felt great sorrow about that too. I didn't have any feeling of there being an enemy, of us-versus-them. Sometimes the seeds of alaya also ripen for nations, and to me that's what happened. I felt sorrow for everybody on all sides.

Buddhism espouses nonviolence. Yet we're living, it seems, in an increasingly violent world. How is it possible to remain peaceful in such a violent world?

You have to want to lose your appetite for violence or aggression. And to do that, you have to lose your self-righteousness. You have to realize that you cannot continue to have your habitual reaction to something, especially if your reaction ends with violence-physical or verbal-against yourself or somebody else, or even against the government of your country or the terrorists or whomever. You have to accept in your gut that the habitual reaction is poisonous not only to you but to the rest of the world.

Some people are waking up to this because they see the repercussions of violence in the world today. But I also see more and more people looking for ways to justify their aggression. I hear them say, "Yes, but this time I'm right." That's our self-righteousness talking. It is the voice of the fundamentalist within us. People need a lot of encouragement before they can silence that voice. Most of them can't get rid of it right away. They keep getting stuck in the story line. But we're not working with right and wrong. We're working with a change at the core of our being. When you make this change, the habitual pattern that causes you to think that something is right or wrong no longer has power over you. You're no longer a slave to it.

Some people find this message powerful, but the next time someone angers them, they start to get self-righteous again. I say to them, "You're sowing those seeds that are going to cause you and others great unhappiness, and you're cutting yourself off from your basic goodness." And they'll pause and say, "You're right." But many of them are still unwilling to give up their story line. They say, "Sometimes you have to be practical. Sometimes there are things that have to be done." The urge to follow that deep groove is very strong.

I think another such deep groove is the idea that we've got to get them before they get us. So it's not only self-righteousness or self-justification; it's self-preservation.

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