Anger and Social Change

I have the good fortune of having Facebook Friends who are more knowledgable and more experienced than me about activism and social change. The fact that we disagree about the means to achieve objectives that we have in common has challenged me to articulate an (unpopular?) point of view about anger as a force for social change.

Alex Himelfarb specifically, has written on his blog and on Facebook wall about anger as a motivating force for social change. As he points out, many people are disenfranchised, impoverished, dis-empowered and simply angry that their political systems and representatives have betrayed them. I too have felt betrayed – in particular by the Liberal party for reneging on its 2015 electoral promise to enact proportional representation. And I have felt angry about this betrayal as well as about the inaction by governments globally to deal with the climate crisis, not to mention the social inequalities among disenfranchised populations within countries and among countries.

So our reactions to ethical and social problems in society are not very different. We self identify as being in the “progressive camp”. Our differences are about “anger” as a motivation for changing things.

There is no doubt, that as a matter of sociological fact, Alex is correct in saying

Anger has in the past been an important force for building and expanding democracy, when those excluded from power and opportunity joined together in solidarity.

He also says:

Anger is always risky but can also be constructive, providing the impetus to overcome inertia and the inevitable resistance to transformative change.

In contrast, Alex says, there are ‘moderates’ who deny the existence of this anger and offer compromises. Think Joe Biden.

Alex cites recent psychological research on anger and political activism by Brett Ford at the University of Toronto showing that there is a correlation between anger and action for social change.

The conclusion of this research is that

…effective emotion regulation like reappraisal may be beneficial in the short-run by helping restore emotional well-being after upsetting political events but may also be costly in the long-run by reducing the potential for productive political action. [1]

The logical inference is that a social activist needs to harness anger (it motivates change) and couple it with “hope for a more just world in which people live in harmony with one another and nature” and “great things can happen” (from a Facebook post by Alex).

Again, Alex writes

it’s time to expand our perception of what’s possible, to stop denying or delegitimizing anger, but channeling the understandable anger in service of a national mission to tackle real challenges rather than invented ones and building a more just and sustainable future.

My perspective on Anger is that it is not a beneficial or trustworthy emotion. It is born of the pain and suffering we experience and see others experience but if it is the motivating force for action, the action will be imbued with the very energy it is trying to dispel.

However, anger should not be denied or repressed. It is a real human response – along with fear, indignation, anxiety, despair and a host of other emotions.  These responses must be acknowledged and understood. From the point of view of an individual’s consciousness, we would say – these responses need to be held in awareness.

But the “legitimization” of anger might be another matter. If legitimization means that anger should be viewed as a beneficial force, I disagree.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentary on the first of the 5 Mindfulness Trainings – Reverence for Life makes this point:

We see the suffering caused by the destruction of life, and we undertake to cultivate compassion and use it as a source of energy for the protection of people, animals, plants, and minerals. The First Precept is a precept of compassion, karuna — the ability to remove suffering and transform it. When we see suffering, compassion is born in us.

The key in this passage is that understanding the suffering in ourselves and in others is the source of compassion and that compassionate action can relieve suffering. Compassion for suffering arises from being attuned and sensitive to our own suffering and the suffering of others, therefore it is necessary to remain in contact with it:

It is important for us to stay in touch with the suffering of the world. We need to nourish that awareness through many means — sounds, images, direct contact, visits, and so on — in order to keep compassion alive in us.

Nhat Hanh is inviting us not to avert our attention from suffering in the world – we have to face it, to see it, to recognize it. It takes courage because it is often hard to witness.  Watching the suffering caused by climate change is hard enough. But there is also the ignorance and greed of people and corporations who regularly and consciously commit crimes of dis-information and cruelty that aggravate and perpetuate this suffering it is sometimes unbearable.

The Nhat Hanh continues:

… we must be careful not to take in too much. Any remedy must be taken in the proper dosage. We need to stay in touch with suffering only to the extent that we will not forget, so that compassion will flow within us and be a source of energy for our actions. If we use anger at injustice as the source for our energy, we may do something harmful, something that we will later regret. According to Buddhism, compassion is the only source of energy that is useful and safe. With compassion, your energy is born from insight; it is not blind energy.

Alex references the Marxist philosopher Gramsci who

warned that these in-between times were ripe for morbid symptoms, for monsters who use and amplify fear and anger.

Not only do demagogues and hate-mongers [Bannon / Lepen (father or daughter) et al.] stoke fear (e.g. of immigrants / refugees) and anger (e.g. against the establishment “swamp”) but they also rely on the self-righteous anger of the left (e.g. to start impeachment proceedings against the 45th president of the United States) to fuel the motivation of zealots on the right. It’s a never-ending cycle of polarization and extremism that triggers paranoia-fuelled violence (viz. the mass murder of Jews in a Pittsburg synagogue or of Muslims in a Quebec mosque).

Thich Nhat Hanh continues:

It never helps to draw a line and dismiss some people as enemies, even those who act violently. We have to approach them with love in our hearts and do our best to help them move in a direction of nonviolence. If we work for peace out of anger, we will never succeed. Peace is not an end. It can never come about through non-peaceful means.

To the political activist “Peace is not an end.” must sound like a mysterious Koan. What it means is – Peace can be the result [of an action], but only if that action is also the means by which it is performed. How something is done conditions both the results of that action and how people respond to it.

This view can easily be misconstrued as advocating a “wet-noodle” kind of attitude: “whatever shall be, shall be” or “don’t worry, be happy” or even “we need to just accept things as they are”. Not at all. The entire subject-matter of Buddhist practice – at the individual level but also at the social level – is to bring about the end of suffering by witnessing to it and bringing it to an end with love and understanding. It is an act of compassion to (fearlessly) stand up against racism and oppression to be a (peaceful) peace-activist (as Nhat Hanh himself has been all his adult life) and to bring about justice and equality.

In his statement of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings Nhat Hanh encourages his disciples to do their best “to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may […] threaten our safety” and that “members of a spiritual community, we should […] take a clear stand against oppression and injustice” as well as to “strive to change the situation [of oppression and injustice], without taking sides in a conflict.”

By not taking sides, not holding to fixed views, not being oppositional (“them” and “us””), the Buddhist social activist can bring about freedom and equality, and peace and reconciliation by cultivating the conditions that are favourable for their manifestation.

From this perspective, non-violent resistance and activism is not only a question of restricting our actions to do no physical harm, it also has to do with cultivating compassionate intentions for those actions.

[1] Ford, B. Q., Feinberg, M., Lam, P., Mauss, I. B., & John, O. P. (2018). Using reappraisal to regulate negative emotion after the 2016 US Presidential election: Does emotion regulation trump political action?. Journal of personality and social psychology.

The 5 Mindfulness Trainings Revisited

future-possibleWithout a doubt, the 5 Mindfulness Trainings changes lives – it certainly did mine.  I first came across them in 1993 when Thich Nhat Hanh gave a retreat at Maple Village and spoke extensively about his (then recent) book “For a Future to be Possible“. In this book Thay offers commentaries on the trainings and there are also commentaries by other teachers as well. Looking back on it, this was a major landmark in my practice.

It has been several years now since Plum Village announced an update to Thay’s original formulation of the 5 mindfulness trainings.  Part of Thay’s genius as a teacher of Buddhism to the west is his uncanny ability to read the pulse of a culture and find words to which people in that culture respond. This is particularly true with his formulation of the 5 mindfulness trainings.

I have to admit that, initially, I somewhat resited the updated formulation of the 5 MTs, partly be cause I liked the old one so much.  My first response was “less is more” and I was not so sure I liked the greater number of words in the new formulation. But I decided to let this new version settle with me for a few years and I now feel quite differently about it.

I have listed the new and old Mindfulness Training side by side for comparison, with the highlighted passages indicating the most significant changes, interspersed with some comments.

1. Reverence For Life

New Old
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life.  Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world. Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

In this training – and several others as well – some aspects of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings (specifically the second one, “non-attachment to views”) have been blended in.  Dharma osmosis has gone the other way in the past also. There was a time when the 14 MTs did not make specific reference to abstinence from intoxicants as it does in the 5 MTs, but the 14 MTs were later updated to include that (in or around 1998 I believe).

I am of two minds about whether or not explaining the causes of anger, fear, greed and intolerance as coming from “dualistic and discriminative thinking” is helpful. Doing so begs the question: “how can I be free from this kind of thinking”?  It also begs the question “what is dualistic?” These are good questions to ask, but they aren’t answered or directly addressed in these trainings. But perhaps that’s the point: to introduce some fundamental Buddhist teachings so that the reader will investigate them further.

Similarly, I wonder whether it is necessary to explain the causes of anger and intolerance in order to be committed to transform violence and dogmatism. People who commit to the trainings – initially anyway – may just wish to assert a determination to transform intentions and attitudes without being explicit about the method (the cultivation of openness and “non-attachment to views”).

On the other hand, the advantage of the new formulation is that it indicates the elements of a recipe that can be followed for realizing this goal. Following the textual trail of “non-attachement to views” in the Buddhist sutras opens many doors, not least of which is the Metta Sutra the last line of which reads:

“By not holding to fixed views, the pure hearted one, having clarity of vision, being freed of all sense desires, is not born again into this world”.

2. True Happiness

New Old
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming. Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

The practice of generosity is central to Buddhist practice.  Practicing just this training alone is a lifetime’s work.

Here again the training of “Living happily in the present moment” – also present in the 14 Mindfulness trainings – has made its way into the 5.

One striking element of this new formulation, for me, is the injunction at the end to help “reverse the process of global warming”. Clearly, climate change is the topical issue, one very dear to my heart and critically important for our planet and all its species. We are, without a doubt, at a turning point, perhaps a calamitous one.

The very mention this particular issue by name makes it clear that the meaning of these trainings depend on the context. They must adapt to the times – they apply differently in different circumstances. They are not “absolute truth”.

Hence the formulation of the 5MTs will change again in the future.  These words and encouragements are there to help us with our problems here and now.  If nuclear fallout ever become our top concern – let’s hope it doesn’t! – I expect the trainings will be revised again.

3. True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future. Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

Once more the last of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings is brought in to inform the 3rd (of the 5). It explains why true love (and not craving) needs to be the foundation for a sexual relationship. This must be a helpful addition.

But for reasons I don’t fully understand, many lay people seem to have objected to the addition of “made known to my family and friends” — as though keeping secrets about personal involvements is somehow a necessary part of sexual experimentation in 21st century western culture.

It is true, of course, that in some situations of cultural oppression – regarding homosexuality, for example, or even sex out of wedlock – keeping secrets about your sexual orientation or sexual activity may be a matter of life and death. But in that case, this training should be viewed as an aspiration to a world where all loving, long-term partnerships and commitments can be made known publicly without danger. These trainings have to be used wisely and in context.

My guess is that the primary intent of “made known to my family and friends” was to prevent the situations of unfaithfulness and betrayal – one where illicit sexual relationships are taking place.

Not only do I think “made known to my family and friends” is helpful, I would suggest that this 3rd mindfulness training be extended one step further: to explicitly include the manifestation of inappropriate emotional desires as well as sexual desires. Emotional intimacy with another person who is not your committed partner, particularly an intimacy not “made know to my family and friends”, can be just as threatening as sexual intimacy to the integrity of couples and families – perhaps even more so, in some situations.

This is why I am sorry to see that the phrase “To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others” has been deleted from the new version of this training. I think that this wording, which expresses respect for the commitment to others – emotional and sexual – should be reinstated and enhanced to include emotional commitments and the protection of emotional intimacy.

4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness. Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

There are so many things going on in this new formulation of the 4th Mindfulness training, it’s hard to know what to say. The emphasis on reconciliation at both the personal and social level adds a certain consistency with the 5th mindfulness training that also considers communities and past and future generations.

The new formulation skillfully borrows from the 6th of the 14 Mindfulness trainings on how to deal with anger thus acknowledging that a significant amount of unmindful speech is born from anger.

The emphasis on cultivating the 4 brahmavihāras (sublime abidings) – expressed as “understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness” – as an antidote to anger appears for a second time (it appears the first time in the context of the 3rd training on sexual misconduct). As I indicated in a previous post, I find the word “inclusiveness” a rather felicitous choice for the idea most often translated as “equanimity”.

5. Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth. Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

I love that this new formulation includes awareness of the desire to gamble.  I have myself often fantasized about what it would be like to be wealthy from a lucky 6/49 windfall and I confess to having indulged in the occasional ticket, despite my knowledge of probability theory.  Even though my fantasies were relatively wholesome, like “Would I build a retreat center?”  0r “Would I give the money away to those who need it?”, this way of looking at gambling – as a certain kind of toxic consumption that can poison the mind with greed and selfisheness – is really helpful. In addition it is useful to remember that the windfall from whomever “wins” comes at a cost – the suffering of the (usually) poor people who bought all the losing tickets. Viewed in this way, winning the lottery is a form of exploitation.

On the other hand, I regret the loss of the reflection on our ancestors. What we do and refrain from consuming has an effect – both on the past and on the future. Thay often says that what you do in the present can heal the past. And it can certainly benefit future generations to, for example, practice restraint from ingesting intoxicants.

The phrase “practicing a diet for myself and for society” was a powerful reflection for me: our place as descendants and our place as ancestors to future generations as well as our place in society as a whole was the contemplation of interbeing suggested in the new formulation.

An Un-Patrotic Canadian

It’s Canada Day … again. And I am feeling distinctly un-patriotic about Canada …. as I did during the Vancouver Olympics and Armistice Day. Perhaps it’s just my contrarian nature.

Then again I don’t ever feel patriotically Swiss or British either (and I have all three nationalities). So I’m inclined to explain this lack of patriotism as a generalized lack of faith in Nationhood instead.

I do understand and appreciate that immigrants from war-torn countries who have experienced untold suffering would feel gratitude to a nation and a country for refuge. Vietnamese boat-people, for instance, have a fierce love for Canada for all it has given them in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

I confess that I felt very moved by the naturalization ceremony that I was sworn in at nearly 20 years ago. It wasn’t pledging allegiance to the Queen that moved me – it was witnessing all these other people from around the world (South East Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa) who had chosen Canada as their country – the list was long. It was moving to me because people from so many of these countries have suffered so much in the 20th century and they were adopting a country who had adopted them and given them respite.

But what is it that Canadians (especially immigrant Canadians) feel gratitude for? A “country”? Really? Or is it the institutions of democracy, human rights and free speech? Or is it the friendship and welcome of compassionate people? Or is it the affluence of a rich country that can afford these luxuries?

I think it’s fair to say that democracy, human rights and free speech are luxuries of affluence. These things aren’t affordable in places where local competitiveness is cut-throat or where the poverty of a country enable it to be are ruled by corrupt and brutal military dictatorships.

There is so much to be thankful for, without a doubt. But I don’t like being thankful to a country.  “Being Canadian” is exclusionary and divisive, at least in so far as “the other” is not Canadian. Defining one’s identity, even in part, by nationhood – or even by species for that matter (“Human Being” vs. “Cetatcean”) – creates an “us” vs. “them” kind of discrimination that separates us in ways that are at best not helpful and at worst indescribably tragic (viz. National Socialism in Germany in the 1930s.)

Not that the tragic consequence of Nationalism are very likely to prevail in Canada – except in Quebec, perhaps, where Francophone Nationalists regularly try to drum up this sentiment to rally the “pure laine” of Quebec to secede from “the rest of Canada”.

What would we celebrate then? “The rest of Canada Day”?

How Best To Give

Yesterday I made a small donation to the Humanitarian Coalition for disaster relief in Haiti (why do these things seem to happen to people who are already suffering so much ?) I wonder if “adversity’s sweet milk” is to see such an outpouring of compassion and solidarity for victims of this natural disaster.

I also made a small donation to a Buddhist monastery and I was considering two questions: “how much should I give?” and “to whom should I give?”. What is more beneficial? The practices of liberation of the heart or helping to feed hungry children in a disaster zone?

The 13th Mindfulness training of the Order of Interbeing says, among other things:

[I] will practice generosity by sharing [my] time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.

But it doesn’t make any recommendations about how much time, energy and resources to devote to those in need or which needs are more important than others. In that way, Buddhism is, as a monk I know once put it, a “do it yourself” religion. You need to figure out these details for yourself.

One contributing factor is: what is it possible for me to do, under the circumstances? I live in Canada, and I earn a good living, so I can help Haitians best by donating money to organizations better equiped than I am. But at home, perhaps, I can better donate my time and energy to help others with information and experience.

But the question – one that haunts us as western nations as well as individually – is how much is enough? Clearly selling my house, donating the proceeds and leaving me and my family with no shelter is not a sensible extreme. Nor is the extreme of not caring at all and not making any effort to contribute to relief organizations.

So what should it be? A percentage of your income? If you make a high wage, should it be a higher percentage (as implemented in the tax system, perhaps)?

Then there’s the question hinted at above: how does one compare one noble cause with another: people seeking to end greed, fear and delusion for the benefit of all sentient beings vs. creating sanitary conditions and homes for homeless people here and now? What if, by promoting the practice of Buddhism you were nipping a budding tyrant in the bud? The beneficial consequences are immeasurable! Helping a few people out of poverty or hunger temporarily could seem quite small in comparison.

I think the answer may simply be – we just don’t know. Perhaps a “mutual fund” approach is the middle way: giving for the “long term” (full and complete Buddhahood) and the”short term” (here and now helping homeless people).

Or perhaps it doesn’t really matter. Maybe it’s just the act of giving itself – however you do it which is important. Important for the recipient who needs the help but also important for the donor who also needs to express a natural generosity in the human heart.

Monastics in Vietnam Evicted from Monastery

batnha226The Vietnamese authorities have been threatening Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastics in Vietnam for months now and they have finally acted out on their threat.

According to the the release from Associated Press:

Followers of a world-famous Buddhist teacher say Vietnamese police and an angry mob have forced 150 monks from a monastery in Vietnam’s Central Highlands that has been the center of a monthslong standoff.

The Buddhists say an angry mob descended on the site Sunday morning, smashing windows and knocking down doors in an effort to evict followers of Thich Nhat Hanh, an exiled Vietnam-born monk who has sold more than 1 million books in the West and now lives in southern France.

About 230 nuns remained hunkered down inside a dormitory and a courtyard at the Bat Nha monastery in Lam Dong province on Sunday night, said Brother Trung Hai, a close associate of Nhat Hanh’s, speaking from the Zen Master’s Plum Village monastery in France.

There is legitimate speculation that this move by the Vietnames government was in fact motivated by a desire to placate the Chinese government over a Chinese company’s interest in a bauxite mine nearby.

For those who live in Canada, please help by signing this petition to the Prime Minster of Canada, and to the Ambassador of Vietnam in Canada: Petition against Violence in Bat Nha Monastery Vietnam

For more information about how to support the peaceful monastics go to:



A few days ago my spouse went to hear Joan Halifax Roshi give a talk to paliative care workers in Ottawa.

Which got me thinking about death and about the Five Subjects for Frequent Recollection. Normally, these subjects (the first four anyway) are evoked to induce non-attachment.


I am subject to aging,
I am not exempt from aging.

I am subject to illness,
I am not exempt from illness.

I am subject to death,
I am not exempt from death.

There will be change and separation from all that I hold dear and near to me.

I am the owner of my actions (karma), Heir to my actions, I am born of my actions, I am related to my actions and I have my actions as refuge. Whatever I do, good or evil, of that I will be the heir.

I haven’t read it yet, but I am confident in recommending Larry Rosenberg’s book Living in the Light of Death explores these reflections in detail and also offers meditational practices on death. I also know of at least one MP3 recording of a guided medtiation on death by Ayya Medhanandi.

Continue reading


eco-buddhismIt is so wonderful to at last see a site and a book (“A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency”) and a declaration (which you can sign) that reflects a thoughtful and heart-felt Buddhist response to the climate change problem.  The contributors are so eminent and across all traditions.  Here are a few:

His Holiness the Dalai Lama
His Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa
Bhikkhu Bodhi
Robert Aitken
Joanna Macy
Joseph Goldstein
Matthieu Ricard
Thich Nhat Hanh