The antidote to living on automatic is to cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being aware of what we are thinking, feeling, saying, and doing each moment. It also means being mindful of our ethical values and of the kind heart, so that we can live according to them in our daily lives. By cultivating this awareness, we will no longer be spaced out, just reacting to things, and then wondering why we are so confused and exhausted at the end of the day. If we are mindful, we will notice that we have a kind heart and will enrich it and let our actions flow from it. Or, we might become aware that we are upset, irritated, angry, or are on the verge of scolding somebody. If we realize that, we can come back to our breath, come back to our kind heart, instead of throwing our negative energy out in the world.

Being mindful of living in an interdependent world

We also become more mindful of how we interact with our environment. We realize that we live in an interdependent world, and if we pollute our environment, we are affecting ourselves, our children, and other living beings. Because we are mindful of being kind, we will curtail the ways in which we pollute the environment. We will carpool when going to work or school, instead of using up gasoline in a car by ourselves. We will recycle the things we use: paper, cans, plastic containers, bottles, glass jars, and newspapers. We know that if we throw these away in the garbage, we are destroying our planet and are affecting other beings in a negative way. Thus, we will reuse our plastic bags and paper bags when we go to the supermarket. In addition, we will not leave our air conditioners or heaters on when we are not home, and will not use products such as styrofoam whose production releases many pollutants into the air.

I think that if the Buddha were alive today, he would establish vows that touched upon modern issues and actions. Many of the monastic vows arose because lay people pointed out to the Buddha about what monks or nuns did with new situations and problems. Each time this happened, the Buddha would establish a precept in order to adjust and address the detrimental behavior. If the Buddha were alive today, people would complain to him, “So many Buddhists throw out their tin cans, glass jars, and newspaper! They use disposable cups, chopsticks and plates, which not only make more garbage but also cause the destruction of many trees. They do not seem to care about the environment and the living beings in it!” I do feel many of the Buddhas concepts are timeless and would address such issues, but I also understand the nature of wisdom as growing and ever-changing thus The Buddha would address and update his teachings for current times.

Being mindful of our actions

Mindfulness also enables us to be aware if we are about to act destructively as we go through the day. Mindfulness says, “Uh oh! I’m getting angry,” or “I’m being greedy,” or “I’m feeling jealous.” Then we can apply the various antidotes the Buddha taught to help us calm our minds. For example, if we discover we are annoyed and anger is arising, we can stop and look at the situation from the other person’s point of view. When we do this, we recognize they want to be happy, and because they aren’t happy, they are doing that action we find objectionable. Then instead of harming them out of anger, we will be more compassionate and understanding, and will work with them to negotiate an agreement.

But how do we do this when life and its moments are bringing us down or distracting us? We have to practice beforehand, in our meditation practice. In the heat of the situation, it is difficult to remember what the Buddha taught if we haven’t practiced it already when we were calm and peaceful. In the same way that a football team practices on a regular basis, we need to meditate on patience and to fully understand those qualities daily to get well-trained. Then when we encounter a situation in daily life, we will be able to use the teachings.

Peace and Love, Jim

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