Skillful Means

Dalai Lama

As runners I think we’re generally less prone to giving away our peace of mind than many other people. When we have something that worries or upsets us we always have the option of hitting the road for some instant therapy. Over all the years that I’ve been lacing them up,  I don’t think I’ve ever felt more stressed after a run than before. Although going for a run doesn’t make my problems disappear, it seems to make them more manageable. It seems almost impossible to stay angry with someone when you arrive home exhausted after ten hard miles. Perhaps we don’t develop compassion for the people with whom we might have clashed, but at least we may shed some of our anger. In Buddhist terms, I think what we’re looking at here is a damn fine example of ‘skillful means’.

One of the most wonderful stories that I’ve heard about nurturing compassion towards those who might be antagonistic towards us came from the Dali Lama. In one of his many wonderful books he tells the story of how a friend of his feared that he may be losing his compassion for others. Becky Baines re-tells the story here;

“He recounts a story of one of his friends, Lopön-la, a Tibetan monk who was imprisoned by the Chinese after their hostile takeover of Tibet. Lopön-la told the Dalai Lama that he had experienced real danger at least two to three times during his captivity.

The Dalai Lama, expecting a story of extreme fear for life, asked Lopön-la, “What kind of danger?”

Lopön-la responded, “The danger of losing my compassion for the Chinese.”

Another wonderful piece of advice which I stumbled over recently on this blog, which lists out what it believes to be the 10 best sites for Buddhism. As I’m writing, the blog is offline and so I’ll quote the part that caught my eye.

10. Ann Coulter:  One of the key teachings of Buddhism is to develop enough space in your own mind that you can recognize, and choose how to deal with, the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance. As root causes of suffering, we dedicate our practice to shining a light on the poisons in ourselves and others, in order to alleviate dissatisfaction. I can think of no better opportunity to practice compassion or deal with our own internal reactions than being faced with a living, breathing example of the three poisons run amok. Ann Coulter is a shining example of what happens when you (consciously or not) embrace the poisons and then package and sell them back to other people to increase their dissatisfaction without offering any hope or path to a more easeful way of being. This may be the best site of all the best sites for Buddhists, as it offers an opportunity to practice how we deal with unskillful emotions in ourselves, and in others.  It’s easier being Buddhist in the familiar environments of Elephant Journal, Tricycle, or Buddhist Geeks – but what happens when we are confronted with button-pushing unskillful dogma?

Of course it made me smile to think of anyone visiting Ann Coulter’s site to be “…faced with a living, breathing example of the three poisons run amok”, but there was a serious point as well. We need to have the skills at our disposal to combat the negative feelings that arise when we feel we’ve been treated unfairly and perhaps running isn’t a bad ‘weapon’ to have in our armoury.

Now, where’s my running shoes?

I believe there’s some fog that needs running through.

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