It's hard for me to think back to the way my life was before the internet. I know a lot of people can relate with that.
I don't just say this because of Buddhaimonia, I say this mostly because of my own spiritual path.
It wasn't through getting some special education, or special training, at a monastery with a long and ancient history.
It was through the internet that I met these wise sages.
And you know what? I'm far from alone. And so happy it happened that way because it means I can relate.
Nowadays, more people are introduced to just about everything in the world through the internet than they are through other more traditional (directly verbal or printed) means, and this includes spirituality, meditation, and anything included within that.
There was a time when I wanted to shy away from that when I didn't really like the fact that all I had was the internet to learn from.
But it's been a while since then, and my practice has developed (and so has the internet evolved), and with that, I've learned that the internet has been, and will continue to be, one of the greatest gifts we've ever received.
It's something which will allow many of us to develop a mindfulness, meditation, or general spiritual practice of some kind when otherwise we'd have no access to reputable teachers to do so.
And that is a beautiful thing.
8 Pieces of Wisdom from 8 of the Greatest Living Sages
Some time ago, I wrote a post titled 8 Pieces of Wisdom from 8 Enlightened Sages.
You guys really enjoyed that post and got a lot from it. But the one problem with the post was, while there's so much to get from past teachers, none of them are alive any longer.
That's not all bad, we can still learn so much from them through the writing and teachings they left behind.
But, that does hold us back for two reasons:
- Modern life brings its own specific challenges, challenges that a teacher who is alive today can help teach us how to overcome.
- We can only learn so much from those no longer alive. Those teachers who are alive today we can continue to learn from day after day, as they give lectures, write books, and connect with and teach their followers in various ways.
It's for these two reasons that I wanted to highlight some of the greatest living teachers today. These are the teachers I've most associated with on my path, along with an important insight I've received from each of them, and I hope that they can be of help to you in your path as well.
1. Everything is "interbeing" in every moment - Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most well-known Buddhist figures in the world (one of the most well-known spiritual figures of any kind at that), and someone whom I have a deep appreciation for.
Thich Nhat Hanh has taught me a lot, but few things as powerful as "interbeing".
Interbeing is the true nature of all things. It's in a way the opposite "aspect" of the Buddhist emptiness (but explaining the same principle), and for those that aren't familiar with Buddhist terminology is a far more welcoming word ("emptiness" sounds bad in the West, and the term has often been misunderstood).
Interbeing is our nature in every moment. In every moment, we're not only interconnected but altogether interdependent.
There is no separating you and me, you and the clouds, the rain, the trees, and the ocean.
When you look deeply, you can see that everything is interbeing in every moment.
This is a deep teaching that can take a lifetime to fully realize, but you can begin realizing this principle in your daily life right now.
When you finish reading this article, take a moment to look around you and think deeply about the way that all things co-exist.
As Thich Nhat Hanh says:
"If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.
Interbeing" is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix "inter" with the verb "to be", we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.
If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger's father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist."
2. Transforming ourselves will transform the world - Eckhart Tolle
In Eckhart Tolle's book, A New Earth, he envisions what is essentially an "enlightened society".
This isn't a new idea by any means, but in his book he offers valuable advice for making this a reality.
The overarching idea is that to transform the world, we must first transform ourselves. This is a principle I've talked about several times before.
In fact, it's in the very transforming of ourselves that the world is transformed.
To cultivate greater compassion and love for ourselves is in fact to cultivate greater compassion and love for others.
And in doing so, we change the very way we interact with every single person we ever meet. It's these kinds of "exponential" effects that working from within create in the world outside.
And Tolle says this is done through a shift in consciousness, by living with a greater awareness of the present moment (surprise).
You can check out Eckhart Tolle's work here.
3. Questions are powerful and enlightening - Byron Katie
"I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment."
Byron Katie is someone I've really fallen in love with over the past 2 years.
I must have read 100,000 Byron Katie quotes on Twitter before ever looking her up, always thinking, "Amazing!", "Wow!", "Who is this person? So wise..."
I'm so glad I eventually did.
Byron Katie is a master of using questions to create shifts in consciousness, to borrow the phrase from Tolle. "The Work" is a set of questions put together by Katie for that very purpose.
I've seen her in action, and she has an amazing ability to help others unlock a new way of seeing things that create real and significant change.
"The Work" is all online and completely free. You can check it out here.
4. Overcoming difficult challenges is possible through compassion and kindness - Pema Chodron
Pema Chodron is easily the most well-known Buddhist teacher of Western origin to date, has been featured on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday, and is most noted for her teachings on dealing with life's most difficult challenges effectively with compassion and kindness.
Pema Chodron echoes the beauty of her Tibetan Buddhist tradition- that we can realize peace through facing ourselves, as well as others, with compassion and kindness.
It's by doing this that we let go of criticizing ourselves over these various perceived flaws and shortcomings and accept ourselves fully as we are, in doing so realizing a great level of healing.
So many of us run from our problems, from the things we're ashamed of or the things we think we "messed up". But this only creates more pain.
By facing ourselves with courage, opening up to ourselves with absolute honesty, and greeting what we find with kindness and compassion, we can transform our pain into peace.
You can learn more about Pema's teachings here.
5. Wisdom is subtle, and perfectly imperfect - Jack Kornfield
Jack Kornfield is someone I read on a regular basis, through his blog at JackKornfield.com. I've learned a lot from him, but an important point that he illustrated well in a recent spotlight, and one that's always worth mentioning (correction: clearing up), is just how, well...human wisdom appears as compared to how so many of us imagine it.
Wisdom, greater enlightenment, isn't about floating above the clouds, becoming a god, or transcending the world. We still seem as very much "normal" people, the outside world just affects us differently. Our vision has become clearer, really.
We often imagine that through spiritual practice we will, or should, become God-like or superhuman, and that's just not how it is. The "benefit" of spiritual practice is in teaching us how to skillfully deal with our challenges and difficulties, therein transforming our relationship with them and allowing us to realize greater peace and happiness.
This recent interview on Jack Kornfield at Lion'sRoar.com provided a great example. You can check out the full interview here, but here's a snippet:
Your favorite virtue?
Joy. I love being with those who have a joyful heart even though they have considered the facts.
Your chief characteristic?
Looking for synergy. I like to see how all the pieces of life fit together in a mandala.
Your principal poison(s)?
Greed and sentimentality.
Your idea of happiness?
An easy schedule, beloved friends, making a difference, and a peaceful heart.
Your idea of misery?
A non-peaceful heart.
If not yourself, who would you be?
A physician working for Doctors Without Borders, or an activist working for social justice.
The natural talent you’d most like to have?
The laugh of the Dalai Lama.
Your favorite current TV show?
I don’t have a TV.
What’s for dinner?
Hamburger? Salmon? Caesar salad? Chocolate ice cream?
A motto that represents you?
The collective is wiser than the individual.
Oh, the hamburger for sure.
You can learn more about Jack Kornfield at his official website here.
6. Embrace your mud - Ajahn Brahm
"We all know that shit is incredible fertilizer."
Ajahn Brahm is a Buddhist monk of the Forest Thai Theravada tradition originating in Thailand and the Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Australia (where he resides when he's not traveling), on top of heading many other organizations mostly located in Australia.
Embracing your mud, "mud" a term used sometimes in Buddhism referring to our challenges and difficulties, is so important that I dedicated a section of Journey to the Present Moment to teaching this valuable lesson.
As I touched on in the last point, it's in learning how to skillfully handle our challenges and difficulties that we discover greater peace and happiness and a very important aspect of that is in embracing them as opposed to running from them.
This video speaks for itself, and it's as humorous as it is insightful, so I'd highly suggest checking it out (click on the top left video of the 4): Ajahn Brahm on Lion's Roar.
7. "My religion is kindness." - The Dalai Lama
Easily the most well-known person on this list, the Dalai Lama is the head of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work as a peace activist.
I've spoken before about the universality of certain principles (or universal truths), and the above quote from the Dalai Lama sums that idea up.
There are universal truths which can be found within all "wisdom" traditions across the world, and we should live by those principles no matter what tradition we come from or whether we come from any tradition or not.
What are those principles? First and foremost, as the Dalai Lama teaches: love, compassion, and kindness.
Take some time to look around, every tradition in the world preaches these principles. This is the universal language, and it's the language of peace.
8. The truth is found in all things - You & I
In certain sects of Buddhism (Mahayana, specifically), Bodhisattva's are "symbols" which embody important qualities such as wisdom, compassion, and love.
But these Bodhisattva's aren't Gods or literal beings, they're the manifestation of that quality. It's in these Bodhisattva's, expressed in human forms, that we can see how we ourselves also have these various qualities in us as well and seek to express them.
If you meet someone who expresses a deep level of compassion for another person, in that moment it's the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (the Bodhisattva of compassion) being "manifested" (being exemplified, or expressed).
In this way, we can discover how to learn from all beings, not just those that express the highest level of these qualities the most often.
We've all at times shown great compassion, great wisdom, or great love. And those around us have as well. Those around us also do the opposite and express great anger, fear, or delusion. By identifying when these arise in others we can learn from them.
And in that way, our greatest teacher becomes everyone around us.