Civility with Affection

His Holiness The XIV Dalai Lama says that his religion is “compassion.” As one of the main proponents of Buddhism in the world this may seem a strange statement as Buddhism is considered one of the world’s great religions. Technically speaking, as Buddhism is not theistically (God/god) based and is viewed by those within the sphere of the Buddha’s teachings as a mind science, His Holiness’ statement makes perfect sense. At the same time, like all great souls, the universal principles and practices of love and compassion are the fruition of most – if not all – great wisdom traditions, be they considered philosophies, psychologies, or religions. Thus, as a “simple monk” as he calls himself, that compassion is the hallmark of his Buddhist practice demonstrates his commitment to “religiously” adhering to this principle as the essential reason to practice Buddhism in the first place. As is said in the Buddhadharma, “for the benefit of all sentient beings.”

Within the context of compassion, His Holiness also speaks of human affection. Again, we don’t necessarily expect a monk to emphasize this trait with respect to our interactions. However, as within the Six Realms of Beings Buddhism classifies the human realm as being distinguished by passion or desire, it makes only sense that compassion arises from the skillful understanding and application of our inherent warmth – our affectionate nature – what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche calls “basic goodness,” and I label in some of my writings as our basic Loving Nature.

Thus it is that the historical Buddha, when giving discourses on skillful speech and how to maintain harmony with others, cultivating practices and an awareness of the importance and naturalness of human affection are essential in making life together workable as well as worthwhile.

When looking at George Washington’s practice of The Rules of Civility, there are many lessons of propriety and decorum which may – on first view – seem contrived, if not stifling with respect to our desire to be relaxed and comfortable within our own being. Some may seem antiquated, but in The Path Civility, I have often found modern equivalents. Nevertheless, the Jesuits who wrote these Rules in the seventeenth century also understood that without the circumscribing of our passions by some moral or standard, we don’t necessarily volunteer for critiquing or censoring our own social behavior which is usually guided by our ego and habits. Thus, while to give pause and apply a rule may feel stiff and/or contrived, by including an awareness of others and their perception and ease with having done so, an opening occurs and with it, a harmony which allows civility in word and action to be more perceptively imbued with human affection. Even if the transaction is confrontational, actions and words that demonstrate civility with genuine affection as opposed to affectation are either well met or best addressed. This is not soppy, but rather heart-felt civility.

Actions and interactions initiated with heart-felt civility do – initially, but also in the long run – create a civilized world where compassion for all becomes the spark – the passion – that can make the kind of advances which benefit all. That kind of civilized world may not necessarily look that technologically advanced or cool. But, it is a world that is easy to cherish and be grateful for.


Skillful Speech

In “The Rules of Civility” that President George Washington study as a boy and lived as a man, Rule 21 says..

“Reproach none for the Infirmities of Nature, nor Delight to Put them that have in mind Thereof.”

Sadly, mockery of this sort has entered into the social and political spheres, perpetuating stereotypes and causing general harm.  To stand by and join in vicariously or remaining silent when such is being done not only makes oneself culpable, but diminishes ones character and sense of self-esteem. With this in mind, I would like to address skillful and unskillful speech within a culture where there is a fashion of “roasts.”

Roast coming home to Roost…

Almost 35 years ago, I attended a counseling training, where the trainer, David Grove, flipped a common saying. He said “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will always hurt you.”

In this context, I reflect on the recent “slap in the face” at the Oscars. And I put it in the context of thoroughly baseless political jibes and accusations, “alternative facts,” the vile language of the roasts of celebrities that titillate those in need of having their minds dragged into the gutter, and yellow journalism in general that capitalizes on the habitual and often reflexive nature of the Three Poisons of Ignorance, Attachment, and Aggression.

Harmful, hurtful speech and writing does little to inspire, but always inflames and burns and repeats its poisonous thoughts as spirals of emotional reactivity that, sadly, will spill out in physical violence – more often than not when a loved or respected person in our lives is taken to task for no other reason than to get a rise. I say this last point, because even though we may see that there is a moral component here that demands an “on-the-level” accountability, we still have less problems with such speech when it vilifies or degrades someone we do not like or approve of.


How can we encourage ourselves, in our language (if we cannot stop our minds) to not make toxic dumping a style of communication that is thought of as clever, humorous, or justified in some sense of twisted logic?

That the slap at the Oscars receives so much hue and outcry while pity and praise are offered the victim spewing the poison that started the cascade of events should make us ask serious questions about how we can better be kind, compassionate, and yes, even at times be funny without degradation and humiliation being what gets a rise, a nervous laugh, or applause.


Moving Forward

     You are coming out of your house where, for a good part of the last two years, you have been encouraged to sequester as much as possible.

     As you step out into the sunshine, you see the familiar face of a neighbor you have not seen in all these long months.  You smile, but as you gradually move towards them, the following dialogue begins in your mind…

I wonder if they are vaccinated?

Where have they been? Have they recently been exposed?

Shouldn’t they be wearing a mask?

I wonder if they are wondering if I have been vaccinated or not?

Do they think I should be wearing a mask?

Should I walk up to them and give them a hug or a handshake?

Should I just fist or elbow bump or just wave from a distance?

Would it be best that I just kind of nod and walk over to the other side of the street?

And all of this happens in the moments which, before, would have been worded with greetings and questions about family, health, travel, neighborhood concerns, or the dogs.

In this pandemic era, Zoom, Skype, Messenger, and FaceTime have been saving graces.  And yet, they pale as means to feel intimacy, camaraderie, or community.  And with all these looming questions and doubts in just seeing or being with each other, is it any wonder why we feel more up tight and uncertain at the most basic physical level of being human in the company of our fellow specie members?

Putting aside the political, philosophical and religious polemics fueled by fake news, propaganda, slick marketing, fear tactics, and denial, the chasm of news/opinion between Fox and MSNBC, our moral and intellectual discomfort is intensified and made even worse when we cannot, at the most basic level, trust or feel comfortable in our own skins with friends, neighbors, let alone those we disagree with, but would have – in a different time – made efforts to understand and perhaps, even work with.

And then, to make matters less under our control, there is global warming and the inevitable cascade of geological and ecological shifts and changes that occur and which we only exacerbate in our ignorance and hubris.

It is difficult to ascertain whether we as a species have ever been in as much peril on seemingly all levels of our collective existence.

In my examination of our collective conundrum, I see four essential steps we can and must take to preserve the best of what we have and rebuild – in the future – all that we have lost.

For, “moving forward” – the theme of this month’s reflection – is NOT about a return to what was or a comfortable illusion of “normalcy.”  Moving forward in the most positive way involves four key ingredients; mindfulness, morality, civility, and endurance.

Mindfulness as a term is bandied about all too glibly.  Sadly, it is used as a band-aid, rather than an ongoing mental state of peaceful, attentive, focus.  In a world where cleverness, sarcasm, and one-liner sound-bites are the dominant drone in our ears and brains, it takes effort and discipline to seek out and practice mindfulness methods which have existed and proven effective over the ages.  Without such mindfulness, the discernment to know the best possible options for moving forward is not possible.

Morality.  At the most basic levels of our being, we all know what brings us more light and what leads to greater darkness in our lives.  The transcendent qualities and principles known in the secular tradition of Freemasonry are an essential distillation of what every wise and life-affirming spiritual path espouses; brotherly love – our altruistic loving nature – relief – our realization that there is more joy and happiness in seeing others well and happy than the mere satisfaction of self-centered drives for pleasure – and truth – which does, indeed, set us free.  These three tenets – brotherly love, relief, and truth – become fortified and make an impact on the real world when the cardinal virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice are sincerely studied, practiced, and embodied.  When well-considered through mindfulness, morality lightens our load, lightens our being, shines out from within.

Civility.  When mindfulness is wedded to morality, it is not difficult to engage others with skill, wisdom, and compassion.  The compassion we speak of here is where we – with passion – engage others where they are and for what we hope is the best possible outcome.  This can take on many faces – peaceful, empowering, well-intended persuasion, even confrontation when deemed regrettably unavoidable.  Thus, while mindfulness and morality are more of the inner work we must engage in, civility is the countenance and demeanor that makes for the best possible outcome in our human transactions.

Endurance.  I once read a sign on a church that read, “This is the past that someone in the future will long to go back to.”  Hence, I think it a waste of our precious energy in these times to hitch our wagons to some “normal” that we think was there prior to the time we are in now.  In truth, many of this world have and continue to live in dire circumstances where sickness, poverty, and warfare have been the context in which they have lived their lives, possibly from birth.  It is just that now, in spite of all of what most in the world would consider privileges, we seem to be unable to escape and are seemingly joining the multitudes in their struggle. 

If ever there was a call to empathically embrace and act in the common good, it is now.

But to do this, the mindfulness, morality, and civility I speak of here needs to be more than lip service or qualities we fashionably embrace to show how progressive we are.  For, these times are not going away and – more than likely – will become worse before a better day arrives.  Thus, we need to exert ourselves, step out of our comfort zones, and with discipline, learn how we can make durable and powerful the mindfulness, morality, and civility we need to make our life and the lives upon which we are interdependent better.

In the Tibetan tradition, the word for discipline is the same as joy.  Why?  Because when we live wholly and fully with our eyes wide open, practicing what I have outlined above, joy naturally arises as one of the result.   Thus, to joyfully move forward, we shall need discipline to repair and transform our world. 

The light is not at the end of the tunnel.  It surrounds us.  It is what we ourselves are inseparable from.  With mindfulness, transcendental/spiritual moral principles exemplified in the four cardinal virtues and three tenets, and civilly reaching to others, that light will become more evident here and now. And as that happens, as we move forward in that way, we shall – from our own efforts – hasten an awareness of that light and the beauty we need but awaken to for it to become so.


Harmony and Civility


Harmony and Civility


     Harmony is often preceded by the word “peace.”  This implies that peace and harmony are distinct, but interdependent.  Furthermore, both have internal (i.e. personal) and external (i.e. inter-personal) dimensions.

     External peace is inextribably linked to inner peace.  It could be argued that if there is no inner peace on the part of those on opposing sides of an issue or conflict, the peace achieved is merely the absence of conflict or war.  In some circumstances, where differences are seemingly intractable, perhaps this is as good as it gets.  An example in the real time of today is when Israelis and Palestinians are not lobbing bombs at each other.  In an interview I have had with a well-known promoter of meditation and mindfulness who teaches programs both for Israelis and Palestinians in their respective territories, peace is not even considered viable or realistic.  In this situation, security is the closest opposing sides come to peace.  Harmony?  Seemingly inconceivable.

      Harmony is a deeper, more heart-felt matter that requires a sincere commitment to engender.  Harmony is where various dimensions of thought, being, or expression blend to create a well-integrated, living peacefulness which – in turn – is reflected in our inner attitudes towards ourselves and others, as well as expression or responses externally.

     Imagine, if you will, a number of circles, in which each of us is in our respective center.  In Freemasonry, this symbolizes how we strive to keep our passions within due bounds.  These passions can be our desires, but also includes our more negative emotional states and reactions.

      None of these efforts, however, happen within a vacuum. Imagine that while within your own circle, doing your inner work, you are moving around, doing things with or involve others.  The circles, thus, bump into each other and at times, overlap.  As social beings, these interactions are important to our overall sense of belonging and community.  Yet ever so often the noble ideals and intentions and how we should express them as envisioned in our own minds within our own circle, yet untested, bump into and interact with others who may have the same ideals, intentions, even moral perspectives, but different ideas on whatever it was you came together to do. 

     Welcome to the age-old philosophical conundrums of ultimate or absolute reality versus conditioned or relative reality, where the devil is ALWAYS in the details.  Thus, while we may agree in principle, we may bitterly disagree in practice.  Our seemingly lightly touching circles then resemble a competitive clash of bumper cars!

     To get passed this logjam, if we really want to engage in peace AND harmony, there are three principle steps which we should learn.

      First, we need to take to heart and live according to an on-the-level perspective.  In a framework where equality and equity are foundational, we then need to develop the skill of active listening; pay attention to the content and context in which another offers comment, etc..  Then, there is the practice and skill of civility.

     In any harmonious interaction, civility is a key attribute – so much so that America’s most famous Mason, President George Washington, made a lifelong study and practice of civil discourse and applying civility to every decision, wherever he conceived it to be possible.  Similarly, philosopher Albert Pike, in studying Eastern as well as Western philosophy commented in his Morals and Dogma that the historical Buddha was one of our world’s first Masonic judges, despite him never being a Mason – that we know of!  For the Buddha was more of a philosopher and psychologist who devoted many of his teachings to social, communal, and civil matters, offering all a path of civility as the best course for all to practice.

      From my own studies of the Buddha’s teachings, I have extrapolated a model of civility that is very much in keeping with our Founding Father. 

     What I present here is what I term Five Steps of Wise Action.  I have mentioned these before, but want to offer them here as a remedy to bring about peace and harmony within our community ventures or efforts.

     These are…

  1. Step back.  If opportunity permits, one of the smartest steps forward is to step back.  Get some perspective on the situation.
  2. Assess.  Use your critical thinking skills to see with clarity and surmise what needs to be done.
  3. Reflect.  What’s your part in this situation?  How does your way of thinking impact your response?  What skills do you have to offer?
  4. Engage.  After all these steps which could be defined as internal – you within your own circle – it is time to reach out to others or join them in the venture or task to be done.  Having circumscribed your desires and kept them within due bounds with the mindfulness of Steps One through Three, you engage others on-the-level and are more primed to be an active listener.
  5. Enact. With Steps One through Four, accomplished and in the state of harmony these encourage, you are now more prepared to get on with the task, job, or action for which the force of a collective is needed for success.

     Each of us possesses Buddha nature.  One of the hallmarks of this nature is an altruistic spirit.  At the same time, over a lifetime or – if you will – lifetimes, we have negative thought patterns rooted in our confusion, our addiction to our own point of view, and the defensiveness that often blocks any progress.

     Thus, the peace and harmony we seek requires a commitment in thought, being, and expression which – I assert – is best served by first taking to heart the five-step process I have outlined above. 

     Furthermore, if we do engage each other in such a manner – on-the-level, listening actively, applying the Five Steps of Wise Action, the civility these steps naturally engender will make our work go more smoothly and be more effective.  In other words, we shall have created a spirit of harmony – which is contagious, in the best possible way.


Security and Civility


Civility Speaks – Incivility to Oneself


Hunkertown – 4/13/21

Incivility to Oneself

(As Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn use to say: “Bad Idea!”

In 1991, HH Dalai Lama asked a group of Buddhist students what in Buddhism helped the low self-esteem He had heard expressed by so many Westerners.

For in the orient, Buddhism tended to address overly inflated egoic expression.

An example of a culture promoting a healthy strong ego presence is when I once asked Dr. Lobsang Rapgay about mantras and children.  He said that

“Eat my shit,” a back-off buster message…  was what young children were taught as Buddhists understand that we are born with Buddha nature, a child is not lesser than – just inexperienced.  I do not know if this approach was for girls as well, but I applied his logic for our two daughters and son.  I did not teach them to tell people to “piss off.”  But – that our authority as parents was not about us as parents being better or smarter – just more experienced.

But, why is it so different here?  Why do we see a culture, especially a youth culture with so much angst, so much fear, self-loathing, so much uncertainty?

Here some of my thoughts on Causal Factors…

1. In the march of history, where the Bible and other wise books tell us that the sins of the fathers are inherited by their sons, i.e. future generations, we see, over the course of human activity, actions and results of power, avarice, greed, privilege – and all the disparities these create that lead to sickness, poverty, and warfare. 

We think that those who perpetrate such and live in palaces and private islands have it made.  But we ignore the karmic consequences that play out in terrible relationships, drug abuse, mental illness, and the feelings mentioned above.

During the Occupy Movement and Robert Thurman mentioned how he was raised and lived around the one percent.  He said we really would not want their lives.

We feel these things.  We know when our moral compass is askew.  We may indulge in denial or seek absolution through religion or charitable acts.  But these are really bandaids for a bleeding soul.

2. Our religiosity or ethos around original sin, our fall from grace vs. the Buddhist notion of us being nascent Buddhas endowed with basic goodness/loving nature, needing to work on transforming the 3 Poisons of Ignorance, Attachment, and Aggression.

The “sinner” approach creates rigid/linear boundaries where we even get cut off from ourselves whereas a Oneness perspective which sees personal growth and inclusivity as the only sustainable way of moving forward… This does not mean, however, the regret and remorse are not useful attitudes to exhibit when unskillful and harmful acts have been done.

The digital world and incessant stimulation of information, undigested thought and emotion – occupying our world 24/7, without stop. The result is that it is really difficult to know what is important, what we can ignore, even let go of.

Let’s look at our external world…

In a time which the Buddha Sakyamuni spoke of, we see and are in the midst of

  • global pandemic
  • acceleration of high intensity ecological calamities of biblical proportion in terms of tornadoes and hurricanes – the winds – floods, draughts, and rising seas, unprecedented fires and the resulting
  • mass migrations – ecological and environmental refugees
  • rise in xenophobic reactions to protect or hold onto the world the way it has actually never been and thus  rise in
  • violence and the proliferation of political refugees

And so, in the immensity of what we as spiritual beings having a human experience must accept, confront, transcend, and prevail – it is seemingly far easier to just get down on ourselves, beat ourselves up,


Which leads to, inevitably

Self loathing and

Spiritual listlessness, apathy, even laziness

In this psychically numb torpor, we can do things our healthy normal sense would not allow…

In Tantra – self denigration is a path to spiritual suicide

So, how do we challenge the habitual tendency to go down this path of incivility?

The Buddha taught the 4 thoughts that Revolutionize the Mind…

Precious human birth


Karma – what we do makes a difference

Not squandering our God given potentials which we have, since beginningless time…

As dear Dharma friend, Stephen Levine use to say…

Show yourself some mercy

In that softer, more open heart space,

Be grateful

Learn to see your shortcomings as opportunities for growth

When you think of extending kindness to others, from a Oneness perspective, you are one of them!  And, there IS really no THEY!


Civility Speaks on The Speech of Noble Ones


Civility Speaks 3/21

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