Your Inner Statue

“But how are you to see into a virtuous soul and know it’s loveliness?

“Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothed there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on from it the godlike splendor of virtue, until you shall see perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.” 

– Plotinus, Enneads, on Beauty. 

One is either happy as they are, or trying to be the best they can be. No-one chooses suffering. Anyone who desires to be the best version of ____________ they can be, will surely be inspired by the above quote. If one strives to; “cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue.” Then we will know happiness. 

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Life & Mind

The Buddha says;

“Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.”

This is the essence of the Buddha Dharma, and the theme of the Dhammapada. If we can gain control of our thinking process, we have the ability to re-shape our whole character and personality. We can re-make ourselves. 

Destructive and negative ways of thinking can be rechanneled, constructive channels can be deepened, all through right effort, introspection and meditation. “As irrigators lead water to their fields, as archers make their arrows straight, as carpenters carve wood, the wise shape their lives.” 

Our personality can be divided into 5 distinct parts or skandhas according to Buddhist philosophy. These parts are; form (rupa), sensation or feeling (vedana), perception (samjna), the forces, habits and impulses of the mind (samskara), and consciousness (vijnana). The Buddha tells us that birth is the coming together of these skandhas, and death is their breaking apart. 

If this idea was better understood, the truth that what we think will shape our reality, our experience of life on the planet would be very different. There is an Indian folk story about two princes, one high-minded and generous, the other very selfish. They were both sent to foreign lands and asked to tell what kind of people they found there. The first reported that he found people basically good at heart, not very different from those at home. The second man felt envious hearing this, for in the place he visited everyone was selfish, scheming and cruel. Both, of course were describing the same land.

This story only goes to prove and strengthen the truth behind the initial quote; “our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.”  To follow on from this it is clear that If we begin to make changes within ourselves, we will by doing so, change the world and how we experience it. 

Little by little we must begin to make changes in our lives. The image we should have is of a bucket filling with water, it does so drop by drop, slowly and consistently until the bucket is full. Many of us want the bucket to fill much quicker than is possible. When the bucket doesn’t fill and we don’t see any changes after a week or two, we give up. If only we could be aware of all of the drops that we have accumulated during those two weeks, would we be so quick to lose hope? 

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Universal Responsibility

What with it being the Dalai Lamas birthday today, I thought it would be appropriate to share his thoughts on universal responsibility. For his whole life he has worked tirelessly for all sentient beings. 

I will share a quote from the Dalai Lama:

“At the same time, the problems we face today- violent conflicts, destruction of Nature, poverty, hunger and so on- are mainly problems created by humans. They can be resolved- but only through human effort, understanding and the development of a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. To do this, we need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and for the planet we share, based on a good heart and awareness. 

Now, although I have found my own Buddhits religion helpful in generating love and compassion, I am convinced that these qualities can be developed by anyone, with or without religion. I further believe that all religions pursue the same goals: those of cultivating goodness and bringing happiness to all human beings. Though the means might appear different, the ends are the same.

So, although it is difficult to bring about positive change in society itself, it is undoubtedly worthwhile to try. It is possible. This is my firm belief. Whether or not we succeed is a different matter: what is important is that we do our best.”

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The Dalai Lama

In 1938 a two year old boy was recognised through a traditional process of discovery as being the reincarnation of all previous Dalai Lamas, the spiritual rulers of Tibet.

Have almost finished the Dalai Lamas autobiography ‘Freedom in Exile.’ It was a fantastic read, especially for someone who loves autobiographies, Buddhism and virtuous figures with whom to aspire. The above quote emphasises his message which runs like a thread throughout the book. With this in mind, I though it would be a nice idea to share a few stories from his life, and a few concepts which come from Buddhism. Here is an overview. 

In 1938 a two year old boy was recognised through a traditional process of discovery as being the reincarnation of all previous Dalai Lamas, the spiritual rulers of Tibet (more about this in a coming blog). Taken away from his parents, he was brought up in Lhasa according to a monastic regimen of rigorous austerity. Which, from the Dalai Lamas own words, he did not like one bit! Aged seven he was enthroned in the 1000 room Potala palace as the supreme leader of a nation the size of Western Europe, with a population of six million people. At the age of fifteen he became head of state. 

With Tibet under threat from the communist Chinese, there followed a traumatic time in trying to hold on onto the freedom of his people whilst having to maintain his Buddhist precepts of peace and non-violence, therefore avoiding any sort of war or conflict.  

Then, in 1959, he was forced into exile- followed by over 100,000 destitute refugees. Since that time, in exile in the Himalayan village of Dharamsala, he has devoted himself to the plight of his people and to promoting world peace through an unwavering policy of non-violence.

He continues to live his life pursuing the Bodhisattva ideal. According to Buddhist thought, a Bodhisattva is someone on the path to Buddhahood who dedicates themselves entirely to helping other sentient beings towards release from suffering. 

Release from Suffering. Isn’t that what we are all trying to achieve? Whether to you that means; finding your next meal, getting away from a poisonous relationship, or removing certain circumstance in life which promote stress and anxiety. I believe there are many ways at doing this, following the Dharma being one of them. The Dalai Lama inspires one to not only remove as much suffering you can from your current life situation, but also to do the same for your loved ones, and by extension all sentient beings. Because if we concentrate on our similarities instead of our differences, we will notice that we are all human beings, consisting of flesh and bone, and that we are all experiencing suffering to some degree. This should bring us closer together, rather than encouraging division. 

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The life of Milarepa is one of the most beloved stories of the land of Tibetan, and a beautiful example of the contemplative life. By learning about this great Lama one can also glean an introduction into Tibetan Buddhism. It presents the quest for purification and attainment in a single lifetime, tracing the path of a great sinner who became a great Saint. It is also a powerfully evocative narrative, full of magic, miracle, suspense, and humor, while reflecting the religious and social life of medieval Tibet.  

I will share a scene from his life here. One that shows his harsh aesetic lifestyle as well as his sense of humour and compassion for mankind. 

“One night a man came looking for any food or belongings I might have. He scoured the entire  cave but I burst out laughing and said, ‘see if you can find something at night in this place where I can find nothing by day.’ He laughed too and then went away.

About another year had passed when several hunters from Tsa who had failed to catch any game appeared. I was clothed in three cloth sacks tied with a jute rope and resting in meditative equipoise. They prodded me with the ends of their bows and said, ‘is this a man or a ghost? Judging by its looks and its garb, it probably a ghost.’ 

I opened my mouth and said, ‘I am most definitely a man.’ Recognising the gap in my teeth, they asked, ‘are you Topaga?’ ‘I am’ I replied. ‘In that case we request some food for now, which we will not fail to repay later. It was said that you once returned to the village, but that was many years ago. Have you been living here all the while since then?’ 

‘I have indeed,’ I replied. ‘But I have nothing agreeable for you to eat.’ ‘We will take whatever you eat. That will be enough for us.’ ‘Very well then, build a fire and cook some nettles.’ 

When they had built a fire and cooked some nettles they said, ‘now we need some meat or fat to season it.’ ‘If I had meat it fat my food would not have lacked nourishment, but I have not had any for years. For seasoning, use nettles.’ 

‘In that case, we need some barley flour,’ they said. I replied, ‘if I had flour my food would not have lacked substance, but I have not had any for years. For flour, too, use nettles.’ 

‘Well then,’ they added’ ‘we can not do without salt.’ I replied, ‘if I had salt my food would not have lacked flavour, but I have not had any for years. For salt, use nettles.’ 

They said, ‘Definitely, with your food and clothing, you will never improve your appearance or regain your strength. This is not becoming of a man. Even a servant had a full belly and warm clothes. There is no one in the world more miserable or pitiful than you.’ 

I replied, ‘Having renounced this life, I am meditating alone in the mountains and devoting myself to achieving this enduring aim. I have sacrificed food, clothing, and conversation and in this life I shall defeat my enemies, the mental afflictions. For this reason reason, there is there is no one in the world more courageous and high-minded than me.’ 

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Follwing on from my Random acts of Kindness post, I came across an organisation that embodies random acts of kindness and labels its members RAKTIVISTS. 

What is a raktivist?

‘RAKtivist’ is short for ‘Random Acts of Kindness activist’. Think of RAKtivists like kindness ambassadors—and, like all ambassadors, they’re a part of an active, global community.

RAKtivists are everywhere. The student who stops to hold the door open for a teacher with her hands full? They’re a RAKtivist. The commuter who offers their bus seat to an elderly passenger? They’re a RAKtivist too. The parking attendant who leaves a note on someone’s car, complimenting their parking skills? You guessed it. RAKtivist.

 Anyone who believes kindness can change the world, who reminds everyone around them how much love there is in the world, who inspires hope and generosity with their actions as much as their words—they’re a RAKtivist.
I have become more interested in the Dalai Lama recently, for is this man not the spiritual ambassador of compassion and kindness? Just read the opening chapter to his autobiography and will likely share any stories I think you may like in the coming weeks. 

All this happening together, beginning the Dalai Lamas autobiography and receiving an email from RAK informing me that I am officially a raktivist has a sense of synchronicity about it. I will embrace this moment and try and live up to my newest title: RAKTIVIST. 

A recommendation from their email states: “Imagine what the world would be like if thousands of people became RAKtivists and EVERYONE committed just one act of kindness every month. That is why we need your help. This will start a world movement.” 

Just one act every month! Surely we can do better than that. 

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Many of us are aware of Nike as the famous sports brand. But there is much symbolism that goes into branding, particularly Nike. The Greek Goddess of Victory is the first symbol. The second is their mantra ‘Just do it!’ These two together create many subconscious associations for the consumer and athlete. 

The Goddess 

Nike in ancient Greek religion, was a goddess who personified victory, also known as the Winged Goddess of Victory. Victory in both war, and peaceful competition. Nike was often depicted in ancient Greek vase painting with a variety of attributes including a wreath or sash to crown a victor, and a lyre for the celebration of victory in song. In scenes of the War of the Giants she appears as the charioteer of Zeus. In mosaic art and coins Nike is often shown holding a palm branch as a symbol of victory.

The Nike executives have even said that her presence symbolized victory, and she was said to have presided over some of history’s earliest battles. 

The Mantra 

Just Do It! When you think of successful people in any field, you think of them working hard, aiming high, being productive, staying focussed. They are often people who act, rather than thinking about or planning an action, only to never get round to performing it. For all of us who know what procrastination feels like, imagine an angry drill sergeant screaming at you to, “Just do!” Whatever it was that you were putting off. Things would get done!! 

So these two things together. The mantra and the goddess. It’s plain to see why Nike is such a huge brand. If it’s directors live by their mantra, and have the Goddess of Victory watching over them, is it a surprise to see it sitting atop the sports market? 

Then there are its exemplary athletes, the best of those knew how to get it done, when it needed to get done. Here’s a few that come to mind; Micheal Jordon, Tiger Woods, Roger Federa and Serena Williams. Individuals who epitomised the brand. 

Jordon was renowned for dominating the game and scoring points at crucial moments. Federas ease and balance at navigating his way round the court and hitting winners. Woods’ ability to hold putts when it was required so comfortably is a clear sign of the confidence he had when he was in his prime. I can almost imagine him in his most confident days, having a dialogue with Nike, goddess of victory in his mind. “This ones important”, Woods would say, “must make for the win”. And Nike would reply nonchalantly “Just do it then”!! And vanish into thin air. Serena Williams looks like she is the Greek Goddess of victory when she steps on the court! 

This brings us to an important principle: Comfidence. All of these players in their prime exuded confidence, they knew they would win at certain points in their career, and they did. Nike was looking over them. 

How can this be related to our own lives. Well, if we compete at anything, we should start visualising ourselves winning. Visualising what’s necessary to win. Imagine the goddess Nike is on our side and is willing us to win. Give it a try, it has worked for Nike and their athletes, and it can work for you. Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude. 

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