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Lama Surya Das

Let Go or Get Dragged
by Lama Surya Das

A friend of mine named Eva, who manages a Buddhist retreat center in the mountains of Switzerland, has a yellow sticky hanging above her mouse pad as a reminder. It says: “Let go or get dragged.” That about sums it up for me.

I have been thinking a lot lately about acceptance, and how it actually changes things. For example: have you ever noticed how hard it is to change your mate, while a little more acceptance goes a long way towards transforming your relationship? Ultimately, I can change myself; that is about as far as it goes, although the ripple effect definitely filters further outwards. In a deeper sense, transforming myself transforms the world. That is why Buddha said: “When I was enlightened, all were enlightened, even the rocks and the trees.”

Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das

Acceptance has its own transformative magic. Letting go means letting be. Cultivating this panaceic inner virtue has helped me become far more patient, tolerant, empathic and open-minded. And lord knows, we could use a little more of that in this violent, strife-torn world!

The Buddhist PeaceMaster Shantideva said, long ago:
“Anger is the greatest evil.
Patient forbearance is the hardest practice.”

Patient forbearance is the third transcendental virtue and transformative power (“paramita”) of the Bodhisattva, the peaceful spiritual warrior. Cultivating inner discipline and integrity raises our standard for living and brings purpose and meaning to our lives. Facing our difficulties with courage and fortitude can bring us spiritual satisfaction and riches beyond measure. This is a time in our history to become sacred warriors for peace, not warmongers or mere worriers. Anger and fear are the roots of violence, as we know.

The Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna said: “Contentment is the greatest form of wealth.” Contentment should never be confused with complacence and indifference. There are various types of wealth in this world, but let me assure you that cultivating equanimity, spiritual detachment and heartfelt acceptance brings an inexhaustible wealth of contentment. Incessant craving and greed knows no end, like drinking salt water in a misguided attempt to alleviate thirst. Cultivating contentment and gratitude helps us appreciate what is given rather than focusing on what may be missing or imagined.

Radical acceptance implies unconditional friendliness, the kind of openness and love that allows us to meet life as it is; which never throws anyone out of our hearts, even if we don’t like what they may think, say or do.

Awakening to the Buddhist Heart

Love is far greater than the ego-based dichotomy of likes and dislikes. Don’t you love your child or pet, even when they disturb you and you dislike what they are doing?

Of course we all want to be better people and make this a better world. I do believe that we can and must do so. Acceptance does not mean condoning the evils, injustices and inequalities in life. However, it can help us see more clearly what is, just as it is, and how and why things work the way they do, before we attempt to enter the fray. When we calmly observe and investigate the causes of things, and the fact that nothing happens by accident, we can see far more clearly, and the truth reveals itself, whether we like it or not. Cultivating patience and acceptance has provided more mental clarity and spaciousness for me to examine input before unthinkingly responding in the classic stimulus-reaction pattern of habitual conditioning common to most of us most of the time, and at the root of so many of our problems.

Now and then, practice taking a sacred pause: breathe once and relax, calmly enjoying a moment of mindfulness and reflection before reacting -- this can dramatically increases the chances of making better choices and undertaking wiser actions. We simply have to remember to do so, again and again, until it becomes a new habit.

Letting go means letting be, not throwing things away. Letting go implies letting things come and go, and opening to the wisdom of simply allowing, which is called nonattachment. Sometimes we may not know what to do. That is a good time to do nothing. Too often compulsive overdoing creates further unnecessary complications. When at a complete loss, some put down their head, fold their hands, and rely on a higher power for clarity, guidance and direction. Myself, I bow down and, as it were, place my head in the lap of the Buddha, and await inspiration. This actually works.

Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be by Lama Surya Das

Patience does not mean passivity; acceptance does not imply weakness, apathy, indifference or carelessness. We can cultivate patient forbearance and loosen our tight grip a bit by remembering the Buddhist mantra “This too shall pass.” For it will, whatever it is. I like to chant to myself the Buddhist slogan “Like a dream, like a fantasy, like an illusion,” when things seem claustrophobic and I am taking my preoccupations -- ­and this myself -- too seriously.

Keeping in mind the long term view and the bigger picture can help a lot when we are struggling to untie the knots in our karma, just like taking a rest from struggling with a knotted shoelace or unsuccessfully trying to remember something often leads to a sudden breakthrough when the struggle ceases. Think to yourself, when something is bothering you or a disappointment arrives: how much will this matter to me next month, next year, ten years from now? Is it really a matter of life or death, as my emotional reaction seems to insist, or just ephemeral local weather conditions which will soon be replaced by other thoughts and feelings? Thus, Buddha said to remind yourself that everything is impermanent, fleeting, contingent, like a dream, like an illusion. This will help loosen up your tight grip on unreality.

Pythagoras said: “When you are in charge, do good; when you are overruled, bear it.” This thought brings me inner strength.

Lao Tsu says, in his renowned “Tao Te Ching”, probably the wisest book ever written: “The master does her best and lets go, and whatever happens, happens.”

Here is one secret of spiritual mastery and inner peace, freedom and autonomy: It is not what happens to us, but what we make of it that makes all the difference. We can’t control the wind, but we can learn how to sail better. It’s not the hand you are dealt but how you play it, as the cliché goes.

Awakening to the Sacred by Lama Surya Das

Buddha said: “If you want to protect your feet, don’t try to cover the whole world with leather; cover your feet with shoes.” If we don’t accept ourselves, who will accept us?

I like to remind myself to recite in my head Reinhold Niebuhr’s wise prayer: “May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Unconditional acceptance is not static but ecstatic, vibrant, dynamically engaged in and connected with reality. It helps us to meet life all along the length of her gorgeous body, not just shaking hands with life and wading in its shallows.

The spiritual hero strides fearlessly into life’s depths, facing its incessantly undulating waves, without holding back. Unconditional acceptance is the kind of love Jesus speaks of when he taught to love thy neighbor; that Buddha meant when he said that the enemy, adversary or competitor can be one’s greatest teacher, an adage oft-quoted by the Dalai Lama.

If we cannot love and accept ourselves, how can we love and accept others? Carl Jung said: “The most terrifying thing in the world is to accept oneself totally.” What are we afraid of?

Surya Das

© Copyright 2004 Lama Surya Das.  All Rights Reserved.

Lama Surya Das
Lama Surya Das is one of the foremost Western Buddhist meditation teachers and scholars, one of the main interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, and a leading spokesperson for the emerging American Buddhism. The Dalai Lama calls him "The Western Lama".

Surya Das has been featured in numerous publications and major media, including ABC, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, New York Post, Long Island Newsday, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, the Jewish free Press, New Age Journal, Tricycle Magazine, Yoga Journal, and has been the subject of a seven minute magazine story on CNN. One segment of the ABC-TV sitcom Dharma & Greg was based on his life (Leonard's Return).

Surya has spent thirty five years studying Zen, vipassana, yoga, and Tibetan Buddhism with the great masters of Asia, including the Dalai Lama's own teachers, and has twice completed the traditional three year meditation retreat at his teacher's Tibetan monastery. He is an authorized lama (priest and spiritual master teacher) in the Nyingmapa School of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the founder of the Dzogchen Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and its branch centers in New York City, New Jersey, California, Portland, and Texas. Founder of the Western Buddhist Teachers Network with the Dalai Lama, he is also active in interfaith dialogue and social activism and regularly organizes its international Buddhist Teachers Conferences.

Surya Das is a sought after speaker, and teaches, lectures, and conducts retreats around the world. Lama Surya Das is a published poet, translator, and chantmaster (see Chants to Awaken the Buddhist Heart CD, with Stephen Halpern). He is the author of six books, including "Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World, "Awakening the Buddhist Heart: Integrating Love, Meaning and Connection into Every Part of Your Life," and "Awakening to the Sacred, the three books that comprise his bestselling Awakening Trilogy, the first trilogy of Buddhism for the West. His newest book is "Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be: Lessons on Change, Loss and Spiritual Transformation" (August 2003).

Surya Das is a Contributing Editor to Body and Soul magazine, writes regularly for Tricyle and other magazines, and is a founder and board member of many Buddhist monasteries, centers and charitable projects in refugee camps in Asia. He writes a regular Ask The Lama column online at Beliefnet.com.

His website is http:www.surya.org



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