Choje Akong Rinpoche

Choje Akong Rinpoche

Today the terrible news reached us that Choje Akong Rinpoche has been murdered in China.

Akong Rinpoche was a revered Tibetan Kagyu Buddhist master who amongst other things, helped discover the 17th Karmapa and co-founded along with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche the first Tibetan monastery in the West, Samye Ling in Scotland.

I never ‘met’ Akong Rinpoche, (I took refuge with his brother, the Abbott of Samye Ling, Lama Yeshe Rinpoche) but was in his presence. I’ll never actually forget the first time I saw him ‘in real life’. It was my second visit to Samye Ling, earlier this year, and after I arrived and had settled in, I took a walk around the temple before the evening classes to see the new wing of the courtyard that had opened up. I turned a corner and saw a man up at the temple door gently swinging a sweeping brush and I thought “that looks just like Akong Rinpoche…” and low and behold it was, sweeping away some dust that builders had left behind.

Later on I randomly walked past him outside the tea shop. I caught his eye briefly and he looked back and had the sweetest smile on his face. I sadly missed the teachings he gave in Dublin earlier this year as I had a prior commitment.

I suppose everyone is blessed by having such a person live in our times, he was heavily involved in charity work, specifically the Rokpa Trust, and travelled extensively supporting such efforts. I think especially anyone who has benefited from Samye Ling will think of him fondly.

Om Mani Padme Hum.

Anger is an energy

I’ve been thinking recently about anger. In the current climate of austerity there is a lot of anger about and talk of anger. A refrain you hear from time to time is “Why aren’t you angry?” or “If you are not angry you are not paying attention”. I’ve struggled with this as I’ve been trying to practice compassion and non-violence. I think to myself “anger is a bad thing, and an unhelpful reaction” – to quote Yoda “Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

As I’ve thought about this, I’ve also realised that I should “check my anger privilege”. As a straight, white male, in a relatively affluent country, it’s absurd for me to tell other people who live lives far harder than mine “not to be angry”. But I still can’t help but feel that “anger” is a destructive response.

But His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama, of course, has an enlightened take on it. When asked “Is it un-Buddhist to feel anger and indignation?” he replied:

Here the issue is how to deal with anger. There are two types of anger. One type arises out of compassion; that kind of anger is useful. Anger that is motivated by compassion or a desire to correct social injustice, and does not seek to harm the other person, is a good anger that is worth having. For example, a good parent, out of concern for a child’s behavior, may use harsh words or even strike him. He may be angry, but there is no trace of any desire to hurt him.


anger brings more energy, more determination, more forceful action to correct injustice.

As always in Buddhism, motivation is vital

The deep motivation is compassion, but it takes anger as the means to accomplish its ends.

This is vital to remember when anger arises.

The question is a person’s state of mind or the motivation that causes the action. When we act, that act arises out of a cause that already exists in us. If we act when our inner motivation is hatred toward another person, then that hatred expressed as anger will lead to destructive action. This is negative action. But if we act out of consideration for the other person, if we are motivated by affection and sympathy, then we can act out of anger because we are concerned with that person’s well-being.

This take on it is highly instructive. It transforms anger into an energy which can have very different consequences. If it is anger arising from injustice, than it can be used to drive change (as long as the target of the anger is the injustice itself, not people involved). This was echoed by Lama Yeshe of Kagyu Samye Ling monastery in Scotland. He was giving a talk in Dublin last year and was asked about how to be compassionate to your enemies. As a man who was chased out of Tibet by Chinese soldiers who killed some of his compatriots, he harbours no hatred towards the people who did these deeds. Like most Tibetan’s he wants to change the injustice of the occupation of his homeland, but with feeling anger or hatred towards the occupiers.

As John Lydon once sang, anger is an energy. Where that energy comes from and what you do with it is important. “Anger” in an of itself is not the problem.

Ecological awareness

Thus the point I am making in all these essays is that civilised people, whether Western or Eastern, need to be liberated and dehypnotized from their systems of symbolism and, thereby, become more intensely aware of the living vibrations of the real world. For lack of such awareness our consciousnesses and consciences have become calloused to the daily atrocities of burning children with napalm, of saturation bombing of fertile earth with all its plants, wild animals, and insects (not to mention people), and of manufacturing nuclear and chemical weapons concerning which the real problem is not so much how to prevent their use as how to get them off the face of the earth.

We need to become vividly aware of our ecology, of our interdependence and virtual identity with all other forms of life which the divisive and embossing methods of our current way of thought prevent us from experiencing. The so-called physical world and the so-called human body are a single process, differentiated only as the heart from the lungs or the head from the feet. In stodgy academic circles I refer to this kind of understanding as “ecological awareness.” Elsewhere it would be called “cosmic consciousness” or “mystical experience.” However, our intellectual and scientific “establishment” is, in general, still spellbound by the myth that human intelligence and feeling are a fluke of chance in an entirely mechanical and stupid universe–as if figs would grow on thistles or grapes on thorns. But wouldn’t it be more reasonable to see the entire scheme of things as continuous with our own consciousness and the marvellous neural organisation which, shall we say, sponsors it?

Metaphysical as such considerations may be, it seems to me that their issues are earthy and practical. For our radically mis-named “materialistic” civilisation must above all cultivate love of material, of earth, air, and water, of mountains and forests, of excellent food and imaginative housing and clothing, and of cherishing our artfully erotic contacts between human bodies. Certainly, all these so-called “things” are as impermanent as ripples in water, but what life, what love, what energy is there in a perfectly pure abstraction or a totally solid and eternally indestructible rock?

Alan Watts – Does It Matter?

Consider The Veggie Burger

Last week I completed a mini personal challenge of 7 days without eating meat. It’s the second time I’ve done such a thing recently, both conducted mainly as experiments into how easy I would find it.

For a while now I’ve been considering my stance on meat eating. I’ve been a carnivore my whole life, and never really gave it much thought. I guess I started considering it when I started going out with a vegetarian, but she has never been preachy nor particularly interested in ‘converting’ me. I think the main influence from her has been that since we started living together I began to cook less and less meat until I stopped completely. It became impractical to cook separate meals so often, and as I began eating the same food as her I became exposed to the different ways you can prepare meals without meat. As such, I have bought and cooked meat about twice in the past 4 years or so.

My philosophical viewpoint on meat-eating first began to change as I explored Buddhism. It’s a common misconception that Buddhists = vegetarians, but there is no such ‘rule’ or ‘precept’ that forbids the eating of meat. It is true, however, that Buddhism tends to vegetarianism. The reason being that at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching is compassion for _all sentient beings_. We also have the first precept, which is “I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life.” Now, this can be interpreted in different ways. Technically, eating meat is not the taking of life. The person at the slaughter house does that. But others argue that by eating meat you are creating the demand for that slaughter to happen.

As it is, there is no compulsion for lay Buddhists to abstain from meat. It is more common for monks and nuns, however, to do so. This isn’t so clear cut either, though, as with the myriad schools and sects of Buddhism ideas differ. It is often taught that monks and nuns should avoid meat, but if they are offered it, should not turn it down.

I practice in the Kagyu school of Buddhism, and recently the head of the Kagyu, His Holiness the Karmapa, ordered that Kagyu monks, nuns and their monasteries and centres become vegetarian. He has stressed the importance of abstaining from meat for Buddhists and has encouraged it amongst lay followers.

Last year I saw a series of talks by Drupon Rinpoche on the generation of compassion during which he spoke of the practice of contemplating that due to countless rebirths, everyone you encounter has at some stage been your mother. Or as His Holiness the Dalai Lama puts it:

the Tibetan Buddhist tradition teaches us to view all sentient beings as our dear mothers and to show our gratitude by loving them all. For, according to Buddhist theory, we are born and reborn countless numbers of times, and it is conceivable that each being has been our parent at one time or another. In this way all beings in the universe share a family relationship.

The Karmapa references this when advising on vegetarianism

If a Mahayana practitioner, who considers all sentient beings to be like their father or mother, eats the flesh of another being out of carelessness and without any compassion, that is not good. So we need to think about this and pay attention to it. All of us Mahayana practitioners, who accept that all sentient beings have been our mothers and fathers, need to think about this. For that reason, it would be good to decrease the amount of meat that we eat.

This is to be taken by Buddhists as a statement of reality but also a powerful practice for generating compassion for all beings. Animals included. As I pondered this, I couldn’t help but escape the fact that eating a beings flesh is not very compassionate.

This planted a seed in my head. This seed then spurred me to consider the topic from a non-religious direction, and to investigate the ethics of eating meat. This reoccured to me when I was watching the movie “Samsara” last year. There is a sequence in a chicken factory where you see a conveyor belt of chickens being sucked up into a machine alive. The scene hit me like a punch to the gut. The more you learn about how animals are treated before they get to your plate, the most you must face up to, and consider your opinion of those creatures.

I keep coming across more and more stuff which challenges my habits. There’s a great documentary called King Corn about two guys who decide to grow an acre of corn and follow it into the food system. The sequence on cattle feeding is disturbing, outlining how for quick and cheap meat, cows are fed corn which their stomachs cannot handle. They are fattened up and kept alive just enough to keep them going til slaughter. If they are not slaughtered, the damage the corn does will kill them anyway. They also barely get to move, so live their lives being force fed to the point of death.

I also discovered David Foster Wallace’s classic essay “Consider The Lobster” – ostensibly about the Maine Lobster Festival, but really about the ethics of boiling live animals for your pleasure. He writes:

Is it not possible that future generations will regard our own present agribusiness and eating practices in much the same way we now view Nero’s entertainments or Aztec sacrifices? My own immediate reaction is that such a comparison is hysterical, extreme—and yet the reason it seems extreme to me appears to be that I believe animals are less morally important than human beings; and when it comes to defending such a belief, even to myself, I have to acknowledge that

(a) I have an obvious selfish interest in this belief, since I like to eat certain kinds of animals and want to be able to keep doing it, and
(b) I have not succeeded in working out any sort of personal ethical system in which the belief is truly defensible instead of just selfishly convenient.

For me these two points hit home hard.

I am not a vegetarian, but intellectually I now more or less agree with the stance. Thus I am now attempting to wean myself off meat. The main stumbling block are occasions when I eat out and my own selfish and lazy tendencies. Most pressing is that I am somewhat of a picky eater (although a lot better than when I was younger), and in particular my distaste for cheese and eggs. These are problematic because from my experience of my girlfriend’s dealings with the world as a vegetarian, cheese and eggs are a common options. Again, these are only really issues when eating out – and more acutely when getting sandwiches for lunch (If there is a Subway nearby, however, this problem is solved thanks to their veggie pattys). The common response to this is “go vegan”, and that may be a long term option – but it still doesn’t solve my problems when trying to eat away from home. It also doesn’t help that Ireland is only slowly coming to offering decent options for vegetarians. I’ve seen numerous occasions where my girlfriend rolls her eyes at the bog standard veggie meals offered. I have noticed a sea change though, even pubs and the like getting in on the action with veggie burgers of various styles being offered.

To my end, I am following a few guidelines to help me significantly reduce my meat intake:

  • No meat at home. This is pretty easy, and I’ve become well used to cooking curries and stir frys and the likes without meat. I’ve also become quite fond of meat-replacements like Quorn and Cheatin’.
  • Making packed lunches more and more.
  • If I’m eating out and I like the veggie option, I try and go for that. Also, if I know there are veggie options nearby at lunch for instance, I go for that. This will mean putting my heart before my stomach. Even if prefer the chicken dish, if I like the veggie, dish I’ll order that.
  • Red meat is out. This is a common enough tactic I believe – to gradually reduce the meats you consume. Beef will be first.

I’m not trying to become preachy in all this. I mean, I’m not a vegetarian. But I have caught myself giving out about meat consumption, even whilst I am eating chicken. It’s a personal choice, but one which I am grappling with a lot now. But I am finding it harder and harder to justify eating meat. If I really think about what I am chewing, and I consider the life of that creature, it troubles me.

How to live in this world

We should find perfect existence through imperfect existence. We should find perfection in imperfection. For us, complete perfection is not different from imperfection. The eternal exists because of non-eternal existence.

In Buddhism it is a heretical view to expect something outside this world. We do not seek for something besides ourselves. We should find the truth in this world, through our difficulties, through our suffering. This is the basic teaching of Buddhism. Pleasure is not different from difficulty. Good is not different from bad. Bad is good; good is bad. They are two sides of one coin. So enlightenment should be in practice. That is the right understanding of practice, and the right understanding of our life. So to find pleasure in suffering is the only way to accept the truth of transiency.

Without realizing how to accept this truth you cannot live in this world. Even though you try to escape from it, your effort will be in vain. If you think there is some other way to accept the eternal truth that everything changes, that is your delusion. This is the basic teaching of how to live in this world.

Shunryu Suzuki – Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Have I actually improved the silence?

As the world seems to be falling apart, and social media introduces a new level of cacophony of misinformation, speculation, and downright venomous bile — we should ask ourselves, is what I am about to say better than silence? Am I adding anything to what’s already being said? And possibly most importantly, is my desire to say it keeping me from listening to what is already being said. Because waiting for your turn to talk is not the same as listening.

Have I actually improved the silence?

In a month where between Thatcher and Boston we definitely saw some of the worst of ‘social media’*, Mike Monteiro hits the proverbial nail on the head when he asks us to question our contributions to the digital debate. Twitter just seems to be flowing with bile at the moment. Conversely, I took a dip into Facebook recently following months of having a deactivated account and it just seems so dull, full of banal marketing waffle. Either way, its not very nice to swim in.

Monteiro’s Quaker-inspired creed is a very good way to conduct your online business. As I’ve explored Buddhism more, I think more and more about the effects of my online actions. I’ve become a bit more reluctant to just pump the contents of my brain out there, especially if its for cheap laughs at someones expense or if its throwing a bomb into a heated debate. Mindfulness needs to extend to all our actions, including our tweeting. Indeed, Prickly Goo was born out of a growing dissatisfaction with the tone of my old blog, which had (for me) become simply a rant-fest. Your words have consequences out there in the real world. We really need to think about those, and indeed, our motivations and intentions. Why are we saying what we are saying? I think a lot of why we publish these days is less to do with contributing or debating but more to do with solidifying our own digital ego. As the Boston Bombing story was breaking, you got the impression people were simply tweeting just for the sake of contribution, to be seen to be part of the ‘breaking event’. As a friend pointed out, we get the lunacy of people tweeting that they are speechless. You are telling us you have nothing to say.

*On a side note, there’s been a lot of meta naval gazing about social media’s role in such events. Almost as much discussion to the event itself is now given to how we discussed the event! And in doing so, ‘social media’ has become this almost natural force. Or, to paraphrase the Mighty Mos Def “People talk about social media like it’s some giant livin in the hillside, Comin down to visit the townspeople”

Chop wood, carry water

Thinking more about Buddhism and Marxism the following occured to me. Another way to tackle the subject is this: if tomorrow, miraculously, everyone on planet Earth achieved enlightenment / nirvana / liberation / Buddha-hood, how would we then go about our lives? Remember, this would be the real deal – the reordering of consciousness, not a Hollywood transformation wherein we would all vanish in a flash of light. Despite realising our true Buddha nature, we would still need to live, society would still need to function. But how would a society of Buddhas organize itself? Remember, as the Zen saying goes:

“Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.”

Now, of course, by its very nature it is impossible for the unenlightened to imagine enlightenment, much less to describe it. This is little more than a thought experiment to further a discussion, and not a very deep one. But, looking at the scriptures, the discourses, and our own (however paltry) understanding of liberation, how would  you imagine we would ‘run’ our affairs, post-nirvana?

I posit that the society that emerges would look very similar to what is commonly described as Communist (and real Communism at that, not the cartoonish scare story paraded by the right).  I can’t for the life of me think of any other possibility, can you?

Buddhism and Marxism

I recently finished my annual re-reading of Alan Watts “The Wisdom of Insecurity” and immediately followed it by starting into E.F. Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful”. I had not intended it, but it turned out to be a thematically perfect fugue, as both have at there centre a discussion of our relationship with nature. Both posit that we have become disconnected with our environment and that this disconnection is the source of both mental anguish, and consequentially, the physical destruction of our environment and society.

Although not strictly a “Buddhist” book, indeed Watts spends more time specifically discussing and interpreting Christian thought, “Wisdom” is clearly a book based on and influenced by, the Buddha’s outlook. It is a classic example of Watts role as ‘interpreter of Eastern thought’. Watts makes numerous references to our social and environmental condition, and identifies the problem as being our dualistic separation. And whilst Watts is acutely aware of the social problems that manifest as a result, his ‘cure’ is a personal one; if we could realign our viewpoint to see our innate ‘oneness’ with our environment and the futility of search for permanence in an impermanent reality, our ‘problems’ would cease to be. This is as the Buddha taught. Watts does not have much time for ‘political’ solutions (either on the right or the left) and is focused on personal liberation, again similar to most of Buddhist thought throughout history. This has more or less been my ‘political’ outlook recently.

Schumacher sees the world very similarly (indeed, one chapter of his book is entitled “Buddhist Economics”) and draws his conclusions from a similar point that it is our fractured relationship with our Universe that is the root cause of our problems. In contrast to Watts however, Schumacher is much more interested in suggesting socio-political solutions. These are however still grounded in this basic idea that we need to reconsider our position in nature. Although critical of some Marxist thought, Schumacher is clearly coming from a socialist/collectivist perspective, saving most of his ire for capitalism.

This got me thinking specifically about Buddhism and Marxism. Recently the Dalai Lama described himself as “half-Buddhist, half-Marxist”. From one perspective, on the surface, one can definitely draw similarities between both, but soon seemingly irreconcilable differences appear to arise. I am no where near learned enough on either topic to draw any conclusions myself, but I was pleased to come across this accessible but comprehensive comparison. Taking a scholarly approach to both Victor Gunasekara clearly outlines how both ‘philosophies’ overlap and depart.

For me Gunasekara underlines what I had suspected, that they compliment each other more than they disagree. Gunasekara is cautious however:

When we leave the critique of religion and God, where Buddhism and Marxism have something in common, and consider ether aspects, the differences in the two systems begin to emerge. These differences exist and are real; but they should neither be exaggerated nor minimised.

Gunasekara is careful not to overstate, he rather wishes to show, but being less scholarly I can allow myself more room to clumsily interpret to say that both describe:

A world constantly in change.
The Buddha described this as impermanence, Marx referred to the dialectic. Both were aware of this basic fact of the matter; that everything is in constant flux. Gunasekara points out however that Marx described this movement as going ‘towards’ a certain state, whereas Buddhism did not.

The Buddha’s first noble truth is that life for the worldling is essentially unsatisfactory, with pain and anxiety being omnipresent. This ‘pain’ was both sensory (injury, illness, etc.) and mental (anxiety, fear).
Marx too identified both types of pain, the squalid reality that most people live in, and the ‘alienation’ that modern capitalist civilisation has instilled in people. Gunasekara, however, makes clear that Marx traced the root of alienation to man’s relationship to his activity and the fruits of his activity. Marx’s interests mainly lie in the ‘socio-economic’ whilst the Buddha’s was much more Universal.

Gunasekara is careful not to over or understate these differences, and concludes that

Thus though traces of the signata (“Three marks of existence”) could be discerned in Marx’s writings he does not give to them the centrality that they occupy in Buddhism. This coupled with the fact that Marx was interested basically only in one aspect of human activity (the socio-economic) explains why he was not able to draw the full implications of those categories used by him which have some relation to the signata of Buddhism.


Gunasekara also takes on what has always been a particular obstacle for me, the issue of materialism. In many ways, materialism is a problematic term as it has numerous interpretations. In much day-to-day usage ‘materialism’ is used to refer to a love of ‘things’ and objects, such as clothes, cars, iPhones. It can also be used to differentiate a ‘scientific’ view of reality as opposed to say a more ‘mystical’ or ‘spiritual’ one. Watts, interestingly, argues that what many would call a ‘materialist’, one who wants for ownership of riches etc, is nothing of the sort as they do not ‘love’ the material of nature. A mystic, it could be argued, is a true ‘materialist’.

Buddhism is commonly understood to be a non-materialist or even anti-materialist doctrine, stressing the illusory nature of reality and the ‘dream-like’ existence of the Universe. Marx spoke of ‘historical materialism’ and thus I have always struggled to reconcile the two at this point. Gunasekara, however, considers what Marx meant by this term.

The first thing to note is that “materialism” as propounded by Marx and Engels is not the same as that which is usually denounced by religionists. Thus Robert C. Tucker has observed: “In Marx’s mind the ancient philosophical terms idealism and materialism have taken on unique new meanings…. To begin with by materialism he does not mean this term what we are accustomed to mean when we use it in philosophical discourse. It does not have a physical or mechanical or physiological connotation, nor does it question the reality of conscious mind. It does not refer to a theory about the stuff of which the universe is composed, although Marx assumes that this is material stuff”

Thus it is easier then to consider Marx’s ‘materialism’ within a Buddhist framework. Marx was not particularly referring to a description of the make up of reality, but rather a description of reality was we see it. Gunasekara also notes:

In the more prosaic sense of materialism as a view affirming the importance of worldly goods for human welfare one may make a case for an opposition between Buddhism and Marxism. But even here it must be remembered that Buddhism argues for a “middle way” for both monk and layman, given the demands of their respective life styles. Marx himself considered that “accumulation for the sake of accumulation” was a characteristic of capitalism, and that in his ideal communist state the distributive rule would be “to each according to his/her need”. So even here some reconciliation may be possible . (In passing it may be stated that the Sangha of the Buddha was perhaps the world’s first communist social grouping.)

Gunasekara also considers how both doctrines consider man’s thought process, and identifies that apparent oppositions (For Marx the environment creates his consciousness – whilst for the Buddha “Phenomena are preceded by the heart, ruled by the heart, made of the heart.” or “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” – the primacy of mind is stressed) Whilst this appears to show a complete contradiction between the two, Gunasekara notes that the Buddhist idea stems from an interpretation of the opening line of the Dhammapada that can be considered “Mind precedes all mental states.” – not so much that our mind conditions the world (indeed, Buddhism ultimately refutes a mind-world duality making it a less clear distinction in the end), but our mind conditions our interpretation of the world, going someway to lessening the difference.

Gunasekara concludes that both Marxism and Buddhism are humanistic philosophies of action. I found his interpretation to be most helpful in helping to further my understanding of both; as a Buddhist with distinctly socialist political leanings. Like Snyder or Knabb, it also affirms, in deference to Zizek’s (admittedly somewhat accurate) notion that the Western Buddhist can use his faith to remove himself from the problems of the world, that the Buddhist can indeed not just interpret the world, but change its material conditions.

A Buddhist Viewpoint on Abortion

Seung Sahn was a Korean Zen Master and somewhat controversial figure who founded a large and influential Western Zen institution. His book “Wanting Enlightenment is a Big Mistake” is a collection of stories, talks and dialogues with students on a range of topics.

In one chapter, a student asks him for his position on abortion. Sahn’s reply begins:

“Buddhism’s first moral precept is a very strong one: do not take any life. And at the same time Zen Buddhism also guides us to the absolute insight that any action is fundamentally not good, not bad. So for many people, this can seem confusing. But actually it is very simple.

The most important thing to consider when doing any action is, why do you do something? Only for you, or for all beings? Why do you eat every day – only for your body, for your tongue’s pleasure? If your direction is not clear, even doing ‘good’ actions every day is not always clear. Correct direction means your actions are already beyond good and bad, and not based on the false notion of ‘I.’ So what kind of direction do you have? Why would you abort this baby? Determining that clearly in your mind is most important.”

Sahn reiterates that what is most important, rather than arguing over ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is that your direction is clear – or other words, your intentions.

He then illustrates his point by way of analogy. The first Buddhist precept is to not take life. Another precept is to not lie. He then tells the story of a man in the mountains collecting firewood. A rabbit runs by and runs off to the left. Moments later a hunter with a gun passes by and ask “Which way did the rabbit go?”

If the man ‘makes correct speech’ and doesn’t lie, the hunter will find the rabbit and kill it. “If the man strictly keeps the precept of not lying-simply for the sake of keeping precepts, to be a ‘good’ Buddhist who does no wrong-the rabbit will suffer”

He continues:

“But if your direction for keeping the precepts is truly to liberate all beings from suffering, then you will maybe tell a lie: ‘Oh, the rabbit went that way,’ pointing away from the direction where the rabbit really ran.”

The precepts include not killing and not lying. The question is, at that moment, break the precepts or keep them?

The student when asked this replied that they would prefer that the rabbit does not get caught and be killed. Sahn then makes an even stronger analogy – if someone came to kill lots of people, a policeman would be right to kill that person if it stopped them killing (or killing more.)

Sahn’s point is that a Buddhist viewpoint on such issues is never dictated by edicts or scripture. The Buddha’s teaching implore us to examine the here and now and determine our intentions – for what end are we doing this action?

“So, whether or not babies should be born is not the point. Instead, what is human beings’ correct direction? It is very important to find that. Some two thousand give hundred years ago, the Buddha taught, ‘Don’t kill any life.’ That is the Buddha’s teaching. But the behind-meaning means having Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Boddhisattva Way. It is extremely important that this not be considered as simply a question of whether or not to have a baby, or whether abortion is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’

Rather, we must deeply consider what is human beings’ correct direction and correct way, right now. At this time? How does this action help other beings? Find that, and moment to moment to moment, just do it. If you find that, any action, situation or condition doesn’t matter. You must do it. That is Great Love. That is Great Compassion.”

This is precisely the way of thinking that needs to be supported by legislation in Ireland. That women can at the moment, make the right decision, for that time, for that woman. You must do it. That is Great Love. That is Great Compassion.

The title of this blog post is A Buddhist Viewpoint on Abortion, and as such, does not purport to represent a standardised, canonical or general view.

Step Zero is the Awareness

I’ve quoted Merlin Mann’s podcast Back 2 Work here before, about the intersection between so-called ‘life hacking’ and mindfulness.

In a recent episode he kind of touched on this idea again. In talking about list-making to help you get stuff done, he notes that when undertaking any kind of ‘life changing’ series of steps, that the first step is to notice the problems that need fixing. Or as he put it “Step Zero is the Awareness”.

I’ve thought about this before. You can’t change something in your life if you are not aware it is a problem. So even to notice it is a good step. I think this can help when we get down about things which we want to fix – at least you are aware you need to fix it.

If you find yourself being short with people and snapping at the them and you rebuke yourself – at least you are aware you are doing it. What would be much worse would be to go through life without noticing you were doing this. Then you’d just be another rude ignoramus.

Obviously though the next step is to begin to work on how you can prevent yourself from doing this things or to start doing the things you should be doing.

There can be a trap with congratulating yourself too much on being ‘aware’ – you can falsely believe you are doing something by simply repeating to yourself that you need to do something. Similarly you can beat yourself up too bad, and constantly punish yourself for these faults you see.

But still, I think it bares repeating that Step Zero is the Awareness. At this time of year lots of people make New Year’s Resolutions, and I’ve seen a bit of a backlash against it, some fair, some not so fair. But if it takes the somewhat arbitrary changing of the year to make people self-reflect and become aware of their lifestyles and what can be improved – well, that’s Step Zero in my mind.

Or as G.I. Joe used to say – “Knowing is half the battle”.