Bonsai is the Japanese art form of growing miniature trees in pots. Wiring is one technique bonsai artists use to train and reposition the trunk and branches. Copper or aluminum wire can be wrapped around a branch to create a certain shape, change the position of foliage, or suggest movement and age. The wire provides stability until the branches are set into its new form. Just as the wire provides support for the miniature trees, so too can an altruistic resolve help reinforce our practice. When life delivers a series of discouragements or difficulties, we can get off track in our spiritual path. Our meditation period may be shoved to the side as self-interest consumes our attention and time. Yet this slogan suggests we can use our challenges to find our way back: we use our adversity to remember the suffering of other people. When we rededicate ourselves to the service of others, we extract ourselves from the mire of self-pity and lose our sense of isolation. Our altruistic focus becomes the wire that reshapes our self-seeking behavior into benevolence that supports us as well.
If egocentrism is a constant source of torment, it is quite otherwise for altruism and compassion. ~ Matthieu Ricard
For more information on the fortieth slogan, go here.
Whether it's a trickling stream or a rushing river, water in nature rarely flows in a straight line. It meanders as it seeks the path of least resistance, preferring to turn and tumble in a new direction when it encounters obstacles. Over long periods of time, it can erode most terrain and may begin to change direction. Yet the one thing that all natural streams and rivers consistently do is flow downhill due to gravity. Even if the force of water is so great as to push it uphill briefly (such as in a flood), water will ultimately be influenced by gravity. What compels us in the same way gravity does water? Usually it is the ego, prompting us to think, speak and act according to its desires. Yet this slogan encourages us to be concerned for everyone, not just ourselves. Patience, kindness and understanding can guide us as we move through our day.
The one intention is to have a sense of gentleness toward others and a willingness to be helpful to others - always. ~ Chogyam Trungpa
For more information on the thirty-ninth slogan, go here.
Turkey vultures are often spotted making wobbly circles
in the sky, as they take advantage of rising thermals. These large birds lack a
vocal organ and thus produce only grunts and hissing sounds. What they lack in
vocalization however, they make up for in olfaction. Turkey vultures are
scavengers, feeding almost exclusively on carrion. They forage by smell and are
able to use their unusual ability even above a tree canopy. The scent of ethyl
mercaptan, a gas produced by animals in the first stage of decay, alerts them
to a possible food source. Humans also have a way of sniffing out what is foul
and unfortunate – not to be helpful but for the sake of indulgence. Those who
have caused us suffering (real or perceived) are the people in whom we’re most
interested. Our self-righteous, indignant side would like them to drown in
misery, preferably slowly and painfully. But the happiness we seek in their
unhappiness won’t bring genuine joy. This fake form of happiness is based in
deluded thinking and fueled by our attachment to a memory of hurt. Such a desire
only results in dissatisfaction and frustration. Authentic happiness, on the other hand, is
self-generating and comes from an open, awakened heart.
Has your heart been kind? ~ Atisha
For more information on the thirty-eighth slogan, go here.
During the 1970s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission released large numbers of Harmonia axyridis to reduce the need for pesticides in forests, farmlands and gardens. Capable of eating 5000 aphids in its lifetime, the Asian ladybug has proven itself to be a beneficial form of pest control. This non-native species can vary in color from red or orange to a dull cream and can be found with or without spots. The white ‘cheeks’ of this beetle are marked with a black W (or M). Unfortunately houses resemble the caves these insects used as shelter in Asia during the winter months, so they tend to invade homes when it turns cold. The beetles will also nip (without breaking the skin) and can release a yellow, smelly substance from their joints as a defensive measure. Once praised for their amazing control of aphids, mites and scale insects, Asian lady beetles are now condemned for exhibiting their natural behavior. Likewise, the thirty-seventh slogan implores us not to let the ego convince us that what is helpful has become too much of a hassle to tolerate. Often we succumb to the idea that spiritual practice should remove all of our challenges and keep us from any pain. But mind training is not about building up the ego and separating ourselves from what is unpleasant. Instead of using all our energy trying to make something go away, we can consider how we can work with it.
No matter what is going on, there are always small moments in which we can find some joy or relief if we are open to them. ~ Norman Fischer
For more information on the thirty-seventh slogan, go here.
Umbonia crassicornis, a brightly-colored, tropical insect, can be recognized by its thorn-like shape. Clustered on branches of ornamentals or fruit trees, their spiky shells can easily be mistaken for part of the plant. Thorn bugs may initially appear as an innocuous oddity with a unique method of camouflage. Yet these insects don’t just gather on the stems – they suck the sap from them. They make cuts in the plant tissue and deposit their eggs, creating more little mouths that will cause further damage to the tree or shrub. In the same way, our endeavors may look impressive on the outside while our true intent is camouflaged. Looking beneath what is superficial may reveal an attempt to manipulate a situation to our advantage. Consumed with the result we want, the outcome can become more important than what we’re doing or who is involved. But self-serving behavior merely develops self-centered muscles, leaving altruistic ones to atrophy. Like the plant attacked by pests, we may find such 'twists' of behavior only stunt rather than advance our spiritual growth.
Acting with a twist is a form of spiritual materialism. It is always having the ulterior motive of working for your own benefit. ~ Chogyam Trungpa
For more information on the thirty-sixth slogan, go here.
The bowerbird (a species endemic to Australia and New Guinea) has a fascinating ritual when mating season arrives. As part of their courtship, the males build a bower; some structures resemble a maypole built around a small sapling while others are made of vertical sticks with a ‘walk-through.’ These constructions alone would not be enough to get noticed by the females, so the males show off their exterior decorating skills. Found items are arranged in their ‘courtyard’- natural things like shells, feathers and flowers or human-made things such as bottle caps, straws, toys and clothes pins. Each bird will spend hours arranging their collection, sometimes putting items in groups of things that are alike or at times sticking to a certain color choice. They often use optical illusion to hold the female’s attention by arranging objects from smallest to largest. Anything moved out of its place will be put back in its original place. The intention of all this effort is to outshine the other males in hopes of attracting a female. Humans have the same habit of trying to eclipse others, attempting to outperform or outsmart everyone else. But we lose sight of our purpose when this habit is used in our spiritual practice. There’s no need to squander our energy trying to be the best; our practice is not meant to be a race but an effort that will last a lifetime.
We only obsess over winning because of the elation we experience when we have gained superiority over others and see someone else losing. This is only an illusory victory, fabricated by the samsaric mind, and we’ll experience many obstacles if we continue to see things this way. ~ Traleg Kyabgon
For more information on the thirty-fifth slogan, go here.
During the latter part of summer, the bright yellow blooms of goldenrod can be found amid unplowed fields and along roadside ditches. This time of year is also hay fever season, and many sufferers point to the showy blossoms as the cause of their suffering. But it's more plausible their allergies are produced by ragweed, a plant with nondescript flowers that bloom around the same period. Ragweed produces copious amounts of pollen that is spread by the wind. On the other hand, goldenrod's pollen is heavy and sticky; it requires the help of bees, butterflies and other insects for pollination to occur. What is in the air that produces those stuffy noses and itchy eyes is likely caused by ragweed. When things go wrong and our actions are to blame, it's easy to develop a ragweed mentality. We willingly point out our attractive qualities (Look at my lacy leaves!) and shift the focus away from our faults. The cause of any problem is placed on the shoulders of others, and we abdicate all responsibility for any part of what's happened. But like the hay fever sufferer who pulls up all the goldenrod growing nearby, we find that such tactics do nothing to solve the problem. In fact, we relinquish our power that could have been beneficial in working things out. This slogan encourages us to be accountable for the consequences caused by our own words and actions rather attempting to incriminate others.
One has to think about one's problems personally, honestly, and genuinely.
~ Trungpa Rinpoche
For more information on the thirty-fourth slogan, go here.