In this podcast episode, I will share five daily life guidelines that have been beneficial for me in my personal practice. They are: consume mindfully, practice loving kindness, practice gratitude, discover wisdom, and accept constant change.
Koan Discussed: When the many are reduced to one, to what is the one reduced?
Koan Shared: Once Ma-tsu and Pai-chang were walking along and they saw some wild ducks fly by.
“What is that?” the Master asked.
“Wild ducks,” Pai-chang replied.
“Where have they gone?”
“They’ve flown away,” Pai-chang said.
The Master then twisted Pai-chang’s nose, and when Pai-chang cried out in pain, Ma-tsu said, “When have they ever flown away?”
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 133. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. And today, I’m going to talk about five daily life guidelines.
Keep in mind you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use what you learn to just be a better whatever you already are. If you’re new to the podcast, episodes one through five give a good introduction to the basic teachings and concepts of Buddhism. You can visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the Start Here link and get started there. If you’re looking for an online community to practice with and interact with, consider becoming a supporter of the podcast by visiting secularbuddhism.com and clicking on the top link that says, “Join our online community on Patreon.”
Before jumping into the topic for today’s podcast episode, I want to talk about the Zen koan that I shared in the last podcast episode. The koan says, “When the many are reduced to one, to what is the one reduced?” I want to share some of the thoughts that come from some of the community members on Patreon regarding this koan.
The first one comes from Lauren who says, “To me, this week’s koan made me think of the interdependent nature of reality. I also thought about the often used car analogy. If you are taking a car apart piece by piece, when does it stop becoming a car? The many car parts are often reduced to the concept of a car in our minds, but the reality is that each component is unique and interdependent with all things. So I think it’s a lesson to remind ourselves that every concept we have of a physical thing or an idea is made up of subcomponents, and those are made up of subcomponents, and so on. This is so we can be mindful of what it took for this thing, this concept, this moment to arise so we may act more skillfully by having right view in the world.”
Mirella says, “I really like this koan, as it makes me think about the concepts of oneness, interconnectedness, and non-self all in one sentence. If the sense of separation between self and other disappears, then there is no one left, at least not in the same way as before the many were reduced to one. This doesn’t mean that the one is reduced to nothing, but rather that the one has become the many.”
Then, Matt says, “I am reminded of the story of the men and the elephant. In this situation, reducing the number of blind men would reduce our understanding of the elephant. I really love this koan. It also made me think of how a forest benefits from a diversity of species. A reduction of species makes the forest less able to cope with change. I think humanity is learning this from the internet. We can become trapped in thought bubbles on the internet. Reducing the views that we are exposed to makes us more vulnerable.”
I enjoyed the thoughts that were shared on the Patreon community, specifically these by Lauren, Marella, and Matt, and I wanted to share some of my own thoughts regarding this specific koan. I agree with what was shared where the invitation of the koan is to see the interdependent nature of things. What’s fascinating to me, when we start to think about this in terms of the one and the many, if you think about it in terms of a line that goes up or a line that goes down, you end up at the same place, which is the point of uncertainty and the point of not knowing.
So if I were to take the car as the analogy, car is a concept. It’s an idea. And yet, it’s a thing. It’s real. And yet, I could reduce it to all of its parts, and I end up with another concept, for example, an engine. The engine of the car. Now it’s not the car, it’s the engine. But, you do the same there. The engine, reduce that to its parts. Oh, well, now I have piston, and all these other parts of an engine. You take the piston, reduce it to its parts, and at some point you go all the way down to the lowest known particles that we know of. Then, what are those made of? And you’re still left with, well, we don’t know. We just know as far as we can go, there’s this, I think it’s quirks, right? Quarks, quirks? But, you get to that. Well, what are those? What are those made of? Is there anything smaller? And again, the answer would be we don’t know, at least for now.
But if you go up the line, it’s the same thing where many states make a country. Many countries make a continent. Many continents make the planet. Many planets make the solar system. Many solar systems make a galaxy. Many galaxies … And you go up, up, up, up, up, up until you say, “Okay, we’ve got the universe, and the universe is expanding.”
Now you can go into the theoretical explanations beyond that. What if it’s a multiverse? What if it’s string, bubbles? The various explanations of what there could be with a multiverse theory, you end up at the same place, which is we don’t know. And I think it’s kind of fun to think about that in terms of this koan, with the many and the one. What you have is, again, the many and the one, the one and the many, the many and the one. It just depends how you want to define it. Many states make up one country. But if you reduce the country to its parts, you’d have many states. Well, reduce the many states to their parts. Well, many counties. What about the many counties? Many cities. What about the many cities? And it goes on, and on, and on. But what we have are just concepts and ideas. So that’s fun to think about in terms of this specific koan, that when the many are reduced to one, to what is the one reduced? For me, this is, again, it’s an invitation to see the interdependent nature of things.
Those are the thoughts I have about the koan. And now I want to jump into the topic for the podcast for today. I’ve been thinking a lot about different topics, and I keep a list where I have my ideas of topics. And for some reason, I thought I’d share this one today. This is a list that I first encountered when I was doing my lay ministry program with Bright Dawn. This was one of the teachings from the Bright Dawn way of oneness Buddhism, and I really enjoyed it. I wrote it down, and I’ve thought about it over the years and what it means to me. And I thought I would share it with you. But, this was taught to me in the context that there are five daily life guidelines.
I must say real quick that when I first heard about these as guidelines, it made me think of that scene in Pirates of the Caribbean where Keira Knightley, Ms. Turner, is trying to get Captain Barbossa to follow some specific rules or codes, and she invokes the pirate’s code. He retorts with, “First of all, you have to be a pirate to follow the pirate’s code.” But then, he says something that always stood out to me. He says, “And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This is something that I think about often with concepts in Buddhism. There is no compelling in Buddhism. There are no commandments. It’s not like a hard set of rules. Almost everything that we learn about is in the context of being guidelines.
So when we think about these in terms of guidelines, remember there is no compelling. There’s no rigid requirement to follow these things. But, I enjoy these guidelines. I think they are worth thinking about daily on a daily basis. So, I want to share them with you. These are the five guidelines that I learned about.
The first one is the guideline to consume mindfully. When we talk about consuming, we’re not just talking about consuming food. I do think it’s wise to eat sensibly and to not be wasteful and not take a whole bunch of food on my plate knowing that I’m probably not going to eat at all. I think there’s some sensibility with that and skillfulness with that. But, this goes into other things as well. The fact that we can pause before we buy something and see if breathing is enough. Sometimes we buy things because we feel that we need to have something that’s going to make us feel a certain way.
This is actually exactly how marketing works. The goal of marketing is to make you feel the pain point in your life that you are experiencing, because you do not have this specific thing, this house, this phone, this vacation, this whatever it is that we’re trying to market to you. I know this because I come from a marketing background. I worked at an advertising agency. Marketing has been one of my specialties for throughout most of my career. So I know that the proper technique to get somebody to buy something is to help them feel the pain point and highlight that. Your life is the way that it is because you don’t have this. We don’t say it exactly like that, but we make you feel that. Then, the solution is, well, you buy this product, or you buy this service, or whatever the thing is. And guess what? Then life’s going to be good.
So to consume mindfully is to pause before we’re going to buy into something and see why do I really want this. What’s the real motivation behind me acquiring this thing, whatever it is? And again, I’m not saying that buying anything is bad. I’m just saying it’s very skillful to know why we’re going to buy something. And in our society, sometimes we don’t entertain the thought of why we’re buying something. We just buy it because we want it.
The next form of consuming mindfully is paying attention to the effects of the media that we consume. So when we consume content, we acquire content through various sources, whether it be books, podcasts, television shows, music, social media, and there’s a way to consume more mindfully. Again, it’s not that one or another is bad, but what does it do to you to consume what you’re consuming? I know people who really struggle with the emotions and feelings that they consume by watching the news. And it seems like a really skillful thing would be to just stop watching the news, and yet they can’t. It’s like, “There’s this thing that I hate, and I got to keep watching it because I hate it if I don’t have it, and I hate it when I have it.” It’s just really strange. And there may be a much more skillful approach, which is, well, then stop consuming that thing that makes you feel that way.
Again, I’m not saying that we need to do any of these things. These are just guidelines. It’s all about you understanding yourself and then consuming mindfully based on what you know is best for you. It would be highly unskillful for someone who’s allergic to peanuts to decide, “Well, I’m still going to eat peanuts anyway because I like the flavor.” It just, it’s not that that’s good or bad, it’s just that it’s highly, highly unskillful. Why would you do that? But we do that all the time with the many things that we consume. So, consuming mindfully.
The second one is share loving kindness. So again, these are five daily life guidelines. I like to think about share loving kindness. And to me, this means consider other people’s views deeply. And I like the keyword deeply. Because oftentimes, I think about my views and how meaningful my views are to me. We all have meaningful views. Our way of interpreting reality is real to us.
Now, nobody goes around living their life saying, “I know that my way of interpreting reality is wrong, but I’m going to stick with it anyway.” Why? Nobody does that. Why? Because we all genuinely think that our way of experiencing and interpreting reality is the correct way. And you can see this in any form of ideology, right? Everybody believes that their way is the right way. So to consider other people’s views deeply for me means I’m going to go beyond the view. To view it deeply means, where did this view come from? What are some of the causes and conditions that gave rise to this view? You know, just you go down layer, layer, layer. And we don’t know the answers to all these things. You can’t know all these things, but you know that there are causes and conditions. So that helps me to not get so hung up on whatever the view itself is.
I can talk to someone who might have a very strange view that makes no sense to me, but I can see it deeply and understand that that view has causes and conditions. And I may not understand those causes and conditions, but knowing that there are causes and conditions and those causes and conditions have causes and conditions changes the relationship that I have with the specific view. I think that’s really helpful when we’re talking about political views or religious views. Those are always hot topics. It also means sharing loving kindness to me means that we work for peace at many levels. It means that I’m trying to experience more joy and less negativity with my interactions with other people.
Another component to this sharing loving kindness to me is recognizing that it takes bravery on my part to be kind and compassionate. Now, one quick example of this to give a little bit of context is the way that we interact with people, like homeless people. In Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart, she has a section where she’s talking about how when we see someone on the street and they’re homeless, most of us tend to not want to look at them, especially if you don’t have anything to give them, because it’s awkward and it feels uncomfortable to not be able to help.
It’s not that we go around saying, “Oh, I don’t want to help you.” Maybe some people do. But for most of us, what we go around feeling is I wish I could do something, but I can’t. I’m not in a position to. I don’t have the money. I might not have money on me. So I’m just going to avoid looking at this person because I can’t help them anyway, which is actually sad because it kind of makes them feel invisible.
So the idea of bravery and compassion or having brave compassion is recognizing for me to look at this person in the eyes and just acknowledge them and say, “Hi, how are you?” Or, “I hope you’re having a good day,” or just a smile. It takes a little bit of bravery because there’s going to be a little bit of awkwardness, which is the awkwardness of I don’t have anything for you or I can’t do anything for you, but I’m okay with the discomfort of the awkwardness because I’m brave. So I’m just going to share that compassion and share the smile. That’s how I think about it in my head, this term of brave compassion. So that second daily life guideline is to share loving kindness, to be willing to share that kindness to other people even when it’s hard to do because it’s uncomfortable at times.
The third one is practice gratitude. This is always a good one, right? We can respect the people that we encounter because everyone and everything is a teacher. This is a helpful one for me. When you encounter someone that’s unpleasant, a coworker or the annoying person in the store, or whatever it is, we can start to see these people as teachers. What can I learn from this? What can I learn from this behavior I’m experiencing? What can I learn from … And when we have that mindset of learning, then you can have gratitude. Thank you for teaching me how not to be, or thank you for teaching me how … I don’t know, whatever the lesson is that you get. If you’re the one who can make a lesson out of anything and learn from anything, then it’s natural to feel a sense of gratitude towards whatever situation, or scenario, or person.
Then, we can be equally grateful for the opportunities and the challenges. I think it’s very easy for us to be grateful for opportunities. That’s natural. But, it’s not very common for us to feel a sense of gratitude for our challenges, but the challenges are often the more formative of the two.
I’ve had plenty of nice opportunities and experiences of things in life that I was grateful for, and I’ve also had many challenges or situations that were extremely painful and difficult, and I didn’t feel a sense of gratitude for it at the time. And yet, those events are the ones that went on to forge something much more significant and larger for me in terms of my character or in terms of life changes that I can look back on. And if I’m being very honest with myself, I would have to say I am much more grateful for all of the challenges than I am for the opportunities, because the challenges are the ones that really helped me learn more about myself or really helped me to grow. So when we practice gratitude as a daily life guideline, we’re looking at both the opportunities and the challenges and trying to practice gratitude towards both.
There’s a quote that I like to share in terms of gratitude. This is by David Steindl-Rast. He says, “In daily life, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” I think that’s so true. And if we can develop practicing gratitude, we’ll find that we tend to be more happy going through life not because we’re happy, but it’s because we’re grateful. It’s the gratefulness that makes us happy. And I think a lot of times we have that mixed up. We try so hard to find ways to be happy when instead we should just try to find more things to be grateful for. And really, what is there to not be grateful for? Anything that teaches me something is something I can be grateful for. So, yeah, there’s a lot to be grateful for if you just think about it.
The fourth one is to discover wisdom. And to me, this is about finding the connections between the teachings and our own life. And like I said, anything can teach us. Anything can be my teacher. So when I make the correlation between that thing that’s teaching me something and what that means for me in my life, that’s a matter of discovering wisdom. I find I discover wisdom in the little things, the wisdom of being annoyed at the red light, the wisdom of dealing with the coworker that makes annoying sounds or whatever the situation is. There’s wisdom to be had there if we’re willing to look.
Now, another concept here related to this discovering wisdom is that we should not become attached to our conclusions. When we see something that we say, “Oh, I’ve gained some insight,” that’s fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong or dangerous with gaining insight. But, how attached are we to the insight that we gain. This to me is like the blind men and the elephant. I gain wisdom when I feel the elephant then I discover, yep, these are … The elephant consists of all these little stringy things. And then later, I might discover, yeah, that’s the tail. That’s just the hair on the tail, and that’s only one part of the elephant. But to me, that might be the only real part. But, how attached am I to my conclusion? If I’m attached to my conclusion, then I don’t want to hear from the other person that’s saying, “No, it’s not. It’s one big sidewall,” the one who’s feeling the side of the elephant. So, let’s not get too attached to our conclusions.
And again, we can always keep the beginner’s mind, the empty teacup. As soon as the teacup’s full, there’s no more room for more tea so we keep it empty. That to me is not becoming attached to our conclusions.
There’s a quote that I think goes well with this concept, discovering wisdom, which is the Tibetan proverb that says, “If I know I will die tomorrow, I can still learn something tonight.” And I love that thought. I’m always trying to learn something new. I’m always trying to read a new book, listen to a new podcast or do something that teaches me something because I’ve come to understand that there’s so much out there to be known. And so very little of it that I’ll ever get to know that it’s just exciting to learn something new, that’s exciting to gain any kind of insight about any kind of topic, and that has affected the type of things that I watch. I enjoy documentaries that teach me things because I know that that’s something that I’ll never even get close to scratching the surface of knowing all the things that there are to know. And that’s true whether I’m just thinking of one specific topic or subject or just in general all that there is to know about anything. We’ll never get there.
The fifth one is to accept constant change. To me, this means it’s an invitation to be open to whatever arises in every moment. Again, this is cultivating the beginner’s mind. But to me, I like to picture this with the Tetris analogy. I’m going through life, and the Tetris game is always changing because new pieces are always showing up, so I don’t want to get stuck for too long. We all get stuck from time to time. When that piece shows up, we’re like, “Ugh! I almost had this figured out, and then that showed up. Why did that have to show up? “And sure, I might be stuck there for a few seconds as that piece is coming down and I’m trying to figure out where to put it. But don’t get stuck there too long because then comes the next piece.
This is equally applicable to when the piece shows up that you didn’t want as the piece that shows up that you did want. You’re like, “Finally! I got the pieces that I need. Everything’s finally going to work.” And yeah, it might. Then, it shows up and they all lock into the same place, and everything’s good. That line disappears from your game. Because that’s the way the game works, right? And then it changes again. So don’t get stuck too long. Because when it’s good, it’s good while it’s good till it’s not good. But when it’s bad, it’s also bad while it’s bad till it becomes good again. And that’s just the nature, as Pema says, of things coming together and things falling apart. And that is life, right? Things come together, and then things fall apart, and then things come together, and then things fall apart. And it goes on, and on, and on until our game is over. I love to think about that when I think about Tetris.
I want to close this with a invitation to keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Always keep going. So these five daily life guidelines are consume mindfully, share loving kindness, practice gratitude, discover wisdom, and accept constant change. These have been fun for me in the past several years to try to think about often, daily, really, because they are useful guidelines. And with time, they become a little bit more habitual in the way and affecting the way that we interact with people, and with situations that we’re going through in life, and with life in general. So my invitation to you is to think about these five daily life guidelines and see if any of them seem like they would be good or relevant for you to apply into your day-to-day life.
And that is all that I have for this podcast episode. As always, I want to thank you for sharing. If you want to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can consider becoming a patron and joining the online community where we discuss these koans, and the podcast episodes, and more. There’s even a study group/book club. You can learn more about all this by visiting the online community at secularbuddhism.com. And if you enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others, write a review, give it a rating tonight tunes. And that’s all I have for now, but I do look forward to recording another podcast episode soon.
And before I go, here is another Zen koan for you to think about. Once, Mat-tsu and Pai-chang were walking along and they saw some wild ducks fly by. “What is that?” the master asked. “Wild ducks,” Pai-chang replied. “Where have they gone?” “They have flown away,” Pai-chang said. The master then twisted Pai-chang’s nose. And when Pai-chang cried out in pain, Ma-tsu said, “When have they ever flown away?” Till next time.