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It’s one thing to lead a focused and peaceful life in the quiet seclusion of an ashram or monastery, but what about where most of us actually live—in a noisy metropolis or bustling suburb? Hip, helpful, and humorous, City Dharma is the essential guide for everyone who’s forced to make a living, ?nd someone to love, or just get through the day in the congested and inhospitable environments most of us call home.
|Publisher:||Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.89(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE"
Was Jean-Paul Sartre Right?
To straighten the crooked you must first do a harder thing--straighten yourself.
In a cartoon in The New Yorker a woman walks down a Manhattan street and, in reference to the changed atmosphere of New York post-September 11, says to her friend: "It's hard, but slowly I'm getting back to hating everyone."
This is funny and startlingly honest. So many spiritual teachings and books sugarcoat the reality that people are difficult. But there's no denying that people are difficult; greed, selfishness, and narcissism run rampant in the human species. And as world history continues to demonstrate, many millions are schooled in repression, brutality, and deprivation. All of these disparate aspects of consciousness can be found in crowded urban and suburban areas.
My main impetus in writing this book is to help other people in the way that I have been helped by the teachings of the Dharma. There is no getting around the fact that most of life's difficulties, excepting illness, are caused by people's relationships to themselves and to those around them. This is true whether the conflict is between nations or the two people fighting in the apartment next door.
The Dharma doesn't deny these difficulties; it simply lessens them in a couple of ways.
We assume that other people are the cause of our unhappiness, the source of our "hell." When we look around us there is much to support this assumption. From rudeness to murder, it seems as though all the hell is coming from outside ourselves. Other people are making us mad, crazy, unhappy, and unfulfilled. They cut us off in traffic; they sleep with our spouses; they don't give us the promotions we deserve; they lie, steal, and cheat--they create hell on earth in ways great and small. We tend to think, I'm not an angry person; they made me angry.
Then, after some reflection, we begin to recognize that most of our hell is actually inside us. Negative things happen, people act badly, and the world is an imperfect place. However, when we think about it, there is very little that happens to us on a daily basis that is really "bad," and when it does occur, it passes quickly. But we then create endless suffering through our interpretation, our conditioning, and our identification with the thoughts around the event. It's not what happens to us; it's our relationship to what happens that creates the suffering.
In other words, bad things happen to good people, but most of the suffering comes afterward, in the netherworld of our own minds, as we rehash the incident, unable to let it go. For instance, after my computer was stolen, I went through a few moments of berating myself: If only I had sent the book to myself by e-mail or This shouldn't be happening to me or I should have known better than to hide my key outside.
We each react to the situation according to our own conditioned thought, which almost always creates more suffering. In my case it's usually something along the lines of I should have known better. Instead of reacting with compassion for myself, I was filled with self-recrimination. But the reality is, I don't even know how the thief got into my apartment. Anything could have happened, including someone picking the lock.
Another person might react to the situation by focusing on the people who stole the computer, going on a rant about criminals, and becoming more hardened and suspicious of the world. We will all have different reactions based on our different conditioning.
How strongly we react is dependent upon how identified we are with our thoughts. By identified, I mean how attached we are and how much we think those thoughts define us. For instance, the thought comes up: I'm stupid. If we are identified with that thought, then we believe it to be true and it becomes part of our identity.
So why do we believe these thoughts and give them such power? Because all the random conditioning hardwired into us by a combination of nature and nurture dictates our reactions.
For instance, in the nature end of the spectrum, they have just found a gene called 5-HTT that determines why some people react to stressful events such as death, abuse, or job loss by falling into deep depression or paralyzing anxiety, while others are much less affected by the same events. According to the journal Science, it turns out that those with two copies of the long allele of this gene are able to withstand such events much better than those with two copies of the shorter allele. This is a person's nature, made up of our individual inherited and biological reality.
The other aspect that determines our behavior is our nurture, our early experiences in our family, our culture and our society. For example, if your father told you, "You're stupid," or if your mother was hyperimpatient with everything you attempted when you were a child, that negativity becomes ingrained. It becomes a part of the voice in your head that plays every time a difficulty arises. These experiences are our nurture, which is either negative or positive or a combination of both, and continues all our lives.
So we create our own hell because of our own internal conditioned thought patterns, created by our nature and nurture. The way of lessening the hell of the outside world is not by getting other people to change but by lessening the hell inside ourselves.
How do we do this?
By not identifying with your internal story, judgment, and belief systems as they arise in the form of thought, you are in a sense empty of your conditioned response. This doesn't mean reactivity is going to magically disappear--it's incredibly difficult to be human. But although reactivity may happen, you don't hang on to it; you release it as soon as you recognize the conditioned response. In short, you are now awake to it. You simply don't believe the thoughts to be true and you don't project them onto the outside world. Because you're not contributing anything extra to the conflict or negative occurrence, you create peace. You experience much more internal freedom, and you lessen your hell and that of everybody around you. It's akin to the old saying "If everybody swept their own doorstep, the whole world would be clean."
The Dharma goes one step further and suggests that the ultimate recognition is to realize there is no "I" at all, that "I" is a construct of the mind.
What is the answer when we ask ourselves the age-old question "Who am I?" Are we our education? Our beliefs? Our jobs? Our families? Our thoughts? Society would say yes. But is it true? This is one of the main inquiries of this book.
The Dharma says we are not any of these things. We are not the small self, the little "me, me, me" of conditioned personality imprisoned by our attachment to and identification with people, experiences, and material possessions.
If we are not the small self with its constant striving, filled with desires and fears, thinking constantly about acquiring and then protecting what we have acquired, what is the truth of who we are?
We will get to that. But first we must take a long, deep look at who we have been trained to be.
From the Hardcover edition.
Table of Contents
|"Hell is Other People" Was Jean-Paul Sartre Right?||12|
|Road Rage: Dealing with Mad Max Within and Without||57|
|Turn It Down: Noise Versus Sound||85|
|Keeping Up with the Joness: Awaken from Status Envy||110|
|Walking Down a Dark Alley: Awareness and Violence||143|
|Moving En Masse: Public Transportation||188|
|"Spare Some Change?" The "Smelly Bum" on the Corner||212|
|"Me. Me. Me. What About Me?" Urban Rudeness and Narcissism||237|
|Scaring Ourselves to Death: Transcending Media Negativity||262|
|Another Day, Another Dollar: Avoid Working Stiffness||284|
|Sex and the City Dharma: Seeking Love vs. Expressing Love||316|
|The End: Death and Belief and Fairy Tales||357|