How to Become a Hero c.j. hayden
   How to Become a Hero
   You Are the Champion the World Is Waiting For

   C.J. Hayden, MCC

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The world's a mess – so what else is new? 

the world's a messIn 8th century India, the prince Shantideva renounced worldly life and composed the Buddhist teachings known as The Way of the Bodhisattva. Shantideva acknowledged the vast suffering that pervaded his world. People everywhere were afflicted by war, hunger, poverty, disease, and sorrow. As if life itself weren't harsh enough, humans were causing harm to each other daily through aggression, ignorance, and greed. Sound familiar?

Shantideva named just one source as the cause of all this suffering: "All the harm with which this world is rife, all fear and suffering that there is, clinging to the ‘I' has caused it! What am I to do with this great demon?" His solution was simple, although not easy. In The Way of the Bodhisattva, he advocates a way of life dedicated to serving not ourselves, but our fellow humans.

Writing about Shantideva and the bodhisattva path, Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, "When I look at the state of the world today, I know his message could not possibly be more timely." In Chodron's book No Time to Lose, a modern commentary on Shantideva's text, she defines bodhisattvas as spiritual warriors who long to alleviate not just their own suffering, but that of others. Opening with a chapter titled "People Like Us Can Make a Difference," Chodron writes, "Martin Luther King Jr. exemplified this kind of longing. He knew that happiness depended on healing the whole situation. Taking sides -- black or white, abusers or abused -- only perpetuates the suffering. For me to be healed, everyone has to be healed."

On Monday, January 19, 2009, president-elect Obama has asked that we once again honor the memory of Dr. King with a national Day of Service. This year's King Day of Service is expected to be the largest ever, and it's not too late to get involved. Visit to find a service event near you.

A day of service is a generous act, and we should all feel proud to participate. But what King, Chodron, and Shantideva propose is a life of service. Shantideva asks us, "Since I and other beings both, in fleeing suffering are equal and alike, what difference is there to distinguish us, that I should save myself and not the other?"

This is the bodhisattva ideal. The world is a mess. The world has always been a mess. But there is something we can do to lessen our suffering, and that is to strive to alleviate the suffering of others, whenever and wherever we can. And there's no time to lose. In the words of Dr. King, "Life's most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?"

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The strength of compassion 

In the How to Become a Hero discussion forum this month, we heroes-in-training pondered the question: "Where do we find the strength to take action in the face of opposition, disapproval, or personal hardship?"

I encountered some powerful answers to this question in Pema Chodron's Start Where You Are. Pema teaches how the five strengths of lojong mind training can increase our confidence and inspiration as compassionate warriors. These five strengths are strong determination, familiarization with teachings that awaken our heart, remembering the seed of goodness in us all, reproaching our ego with humor and kindness, and nurturing our aspirations.

A compelling element of Pema's approach to this topic is her emphasis on kindness and compassion with ourselves and others. So often, when we feel we have to be strong, we harden our hearts or tap into our own anger or frustration. But Pema suggests we "catch our thoughts before they... solidify into 'us' against 'them'" and "find a way to realize our kinship with others." If we commit to "use our lives to dissolve the indifference, aggression, and grasping that separate us from one another," we will "feel lighter and more courageous." We can find the strength we need by aspiring to continually develop our compassion.

Reading Pema's words, I was reminded that the word courage comes from the French "coeur," which means heart. The true source of courage is the heart, not the head or the gut. If we wish to build our courage, we must expand our hearts. And by opening our hearts to those who oppose us, disapprove of us, or cause us hardship, we will find a way to include them on our journey instead of needing to fight our way past them to continue on.

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The fast track to finding your path 

In the current issue of Inquiring Mind, I ran across this powerful statement in an article by Susan Burggraf, titled "Ordinary Buddhas: That Means You, Babe." Writing about finding one's path, Susan says, "Here's the big trick: don't work with what you don't have, don't develop new skills. There are so many doors and so many openings, so there's one that's sized right for who you are right now."

This is one of the keys to setting out on a heroic path. True heroes take action; that's how they become heroes. They don't just think and talk about what needs to be done some day; they start doing something about it now. Instead of taking one more class, reading one more book, earning one more degree, or working one more year at the job that eats away at their soul, they find a place to begin today.

Bilbo Baggins left home without even his handkerchief. Why do you think you need to learn more, grow more, or acquire more before starting out on the path you were meant for? You will never be completely ready. Start from wherever you are.

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Dedicating the merit 

Two nights ago, I attended a dialogue between my favorite spritual teacher Pema Chodron and Jack Kornfield of Spirit Rock Meditation Center. The topic was "Wisdom and Compassion," and guided by questions from moderator Michael Krasny of KQED's Forum, Pema and Jack shared valuable insights on following a Buddhist path.

One of the most powerful moments occurred during the audience questions at the end, when a young woman came forward. One week ago, she lost the love of her life to suicide. The poignant question she asked was not how to help herself recover from this tragic loss, but rather: "I couldn't help him when he was alive. How can I help him now that he is gone?"

Pema's response was direct and deeply meaningful: "Do good things in the world and dedicate the merit to him."

Dedicating the merit is a Buddhist practice that gives higher meaning to any act, especially those of compassion and kindness. If you give a dollar to a homeless person and dedicate the merit to a suffering loved one or to the benefit of all beings, you are contributing to the wellbeing of everyone involved. The person who receives your dollar is happy, you feel good about doing something beneficial, and those to whom you have dedicated the merit receive your prayers.

The practice takes prayer into action. Something of tangible value is occurring in the world at the same time as you declare your good intent.

One of the essential qualities I've identified for heroes is that they don't merely have positive intentions, they act on them. Performing good deeds and then dedicating their merit seems a fruitful way to take action on the spiritual plane and the material one at the same time.


Altruism or co-dependency? 

I just returned from the International Coach Federation conference in Denver. A colleague of mine who specializes in personality assessment was attending for the first time and wrote me afterward. "I never saw so many altruists in the same room together in my life," he said. No wonder attending that conference feels like coming home to me.

As a confessed altruist, it seems to me that altruism often gets a bad rap. The word itself means "unselfish concern for the welfare of others," according to the dictionary. But there's a secondary meaning that dictionaries attribute only to zoology: "cooperative behavior by an animal that may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species." In practice, I find that many apply this definition to human altruism as well. The perception seems to be that to unselfishly devote oneself to the welfare of others is in some way harmful to the altruist. In other words, we altruists are dangerously co-dependent.

I think it's telling that this secondary definition originates in the world of science rather than that of the spirit. Biology suggests to us that survival is a matter of competition, while spirituality points instead to furthering the species through cooperation. But is there a spiritual doctrine supporting the view that a devotion to helping others must necessarily be harmful to oneself?

In Buddhism, compassionate service of others is given as a path away from suffering and toward joy, not the other way around. In Catholicism, Pope Benedict XIV, who literally wrote the book on determining sainthood, required of the saints that they perform virtuous acts easily and with pleasure and "sweetness." Nowhere does he suggest that they must suffer and struggle to be considered saintly. So is it Puritan Protestantism that's to blame for the glorification of suffering?

While there is no question that the enduring Puritan ethic calls for the denial of worldly pleasures, a close reading of Reformation leader John Calvin indicates that he viewed suffering as necessary not because one should seek it out, but because it is an inevitable part of human existence. He believed that suffering could contain learning; it developed one's compassion and humility and compelled one to look for spiritual answers. He was a humanist who strongly supported active and compassionate service of others in an effort to remedy the evils of his own time. His writings and sermons exhort his followers to serve God "with a joyful heart." What the pragmatic Calvin actually taught about suffering and struggle was not that it should be sought out as an honor, but that it can't be avoided, so one should find some use in it.

Seems to me that these three divergent spiritual sources are all telling us the same thing -- help others not because it makes you feel bad, but because it makes you feel good. Perhaps that's how one can tell the difference between altruism and co-dependency.

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The source of happiness 

"If we really want happiness, we must acknowledge that it comes about by taking care of other people."
    -- The Dalai Lama

It often seems that all of Western culture is dedicated to the pursuit of happiness. In the U.S. Declaration of Independence, we claim it as an unalienable right. But for many, this pursuit seems to be about their own happiness, with little heed for the greater good. I'm not accusing an entire hemisphere of behaving selfishly (although perhaps I should), but rather of being self-absorbed. I see a difference.

If the happiness you pursue is limited to your own enjoyment of life, achieving your goals rarely produces lasting joy. When all of your needs and most of your wants are satisfied, then what? The result is the existential emptiness described by so many who have achieved material success, but are lacking a deeper meaning for their lives.

What if the answer were as simple as working for the happiness of others instead of your own? A simple beginning is devoting yourself to the happiness of those closest to you. By focusing on people you already know and love, you can develop your spirit of compassion. The stronger your compassion becomes, the further it can stretch. Ultimately, you will develop the capacity to work for the benefit of not only strangers, but even enemies.

The Dalai Lama says, "If each of us, from the depth of our hearts, were to cultivate a mind wishing to benefit other people... then we would gain a strong sense of confidence that would put our minds at ease. When we have that kind of calmness within our minds, even if the whole external environment appears to turn against us... it will not disturb our mental calm." Sounds like happiness to me.

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Medals for enlightenment 

The process of becoming enlightened is rarely comfortable and often quite painful. Buddhists describe the path of enlightened heroism as requiring bodhicitta, the awakened heart.

When you wake up in the morning, it can be a difficult and painful process if everything is not right in your world. Your worries rush in, body parts may ache, you remember recent upsets and sadness. Waking up in your whole life can be several orders of magnitude more painful than your daily awakening.

My teacher Pema Chodron suggests that we heroes-in-training view the discomfort and pain of waking up in life as a trophy of our struggle. It is a valiant endeavor, and Pema believes we deserve a medal for our efforts. "Award yourself a hero's Purple Heart," Pema says, for the wounds you sustain in your battle to attain enlightenment.

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The opposite of greed 

I just returned from a brief trip back in time, touring the historic mining towns of Virginia City, NV and Bodie, CA. Both towns at one time had populations of 10-20,000 people. The former silver mining town of Virginia City has a population of around 1,000 now, almost all of whom cater to the tourist trade. The gold mining town of Bodie is a true ghost town. The only residents are the rangers who preserve it as a state historic park.

On the drive over the mountains, I was reading aloud to my sweetheart Dave from Silver Kings by Oscar Lewis. In short vignettes, Lewis describes the lives of the founders and early residents of the Comstock Lode region. Despite the fact that over 400 million dollars in silver and gold was taken from the area, most of the miners and businessmen died poor, many of them quite tragically -- shootings, suicides, hangings, starvation, exposure, accidents, and illness. In story after story, the cause of so much tragedy was clear: greed.

The boom years of mining in the Sierras provided ideal conditions for the making of heroes. At every turn, there were endless opportunities, heart-stopping adventures, few constraining boundaries, and many people in need. But instead of heroism, the legends that survive are of violence, avarice, and addiction. The Friends of Bodie tell us, "Bodie bustled with robbers, gunfighters and prostitutes... there were 65 saloons (in a town of 10,000)... The mixture of money, gold and alcohol would often prove fatal. It is said that there was a man killed every day in Bodie." Lewis says, "...for 20 years the Californians had skimmed the cream off the Comstock and, having made their pile, shook the dust of the silver towns from their boots and hurried westward with never a backward glance. Thus, while the new plutocrats indulged their taste for display by ornamenting San Francisco with a series of massive hotels and office buildings and residences, the bonanza towns received no part of the wealth they produced." When the boom was over, Nevada was left with 575 abandoned mining camps and ghost towns.

In my recipe for heroism, the first step is "evoking your higher self." The parallel in Buddhist teachings on the path to becoming an enlightened hero is the first paramita: cultivating compassion and generosity. To develop these qualities one must overcome their opposites: the negative emotions of self-absorption, craving, aggression, and possessiveness. Imagine what stories would have emerged from the Comstock if the silver kings had used their wealth and power to establish a culture of generosity, if they had shown compassion to those less fortunate, if they had discouraged aggression and addiction by contributing to the communities that created their fortunes.

It's easy to look at the tintype photos of men with long beards and longer coats and think that times have changed. And it's true that we have seen in recent years some compassionate leaders and corporate heroes. But every day's headlines show us that the world is still sadly lacking in compassion and generosity. Instead of bemoaning this, the place to begin is with ourselves. What can we do, each one of us, to cultivate our own compassion and generosity, and so evoke those qualities in the rest of the world?

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Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose 

I spent last weekend in a meditation and study retreat led by Pema Chodron with the intriguing title "Doorway to Freedom." The full content of this retreat is probably worthy of a month's blogging, but the essence was captured in Pema's opening remarks: "The only path is to be in the immediacy of what is happening right now. But what do you do when now is uncomfortable? If you are present for it, everything is a doorway to freedom -- from fear, defensiveness, anger, addiction, ignorance. Never underestimate our low tolerance for discomfort. All difficulty comes from our tendency to move away... Buddha's first teaching was that everyone feels underlying dissatisfaction. We think there must be some way to avoid it, but there is not. We must learn to be with it. If you live in avoidance, you must be on the defensive all the time."

One of the gifts that makes Pema a powerful teacher is her willingness to share her personal experience with finding a way to live with suffering. She speaks directly from the heart, making an empathic connection with her listeners. "We start looking for spiritual answers when none of the usual exits take us out of the pain," she said. "We rarely look until there is pain. We want a life where we always feel our best and when we can't find it, we look to spiritual answers for comfort."

Always seeking comfort, though, can be our downfall. The urge to move away from discomfort is so strong, Pema told us, that just like an annoying rash, we feel we must scratch it -- by turning on the TV, taking a drink, eating the chocolate -- whatever our favorite avoidance behavior is. But scratching only makes the rash spread. We must learn not to equate scratching with comfort and the cure. "Stay present with the discomfort," Pema suggests, "and have compassion with yourself for wanting to scratch."

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Everyday heroes in Tibet 

I had the honor last night of meeting Karma Senge Rinpoche and Damcho Tenphel Rinpoche, Tibetan lamas who are visiting the US for the first time to raise money for the Weyching Gompa nunnery. Karma Senge Rinpoche spoke to us through an interpreter on the topic of "Practicing in Difficult Times." He made the topic personal -- about us, his American hosts, and our difficult times since Sept. 11 and its aftermath. Never once did he mention the incredible difficulties of his own daily existence as a religious leader in Chinese-occupied Tibet.

Karma Senge described simply how they are providing shelter, food, clothing, and education for the nuns, most of whom are orphans. Housing for most of them does not yet exist in the sacred site where they have gathered, which is accessible only by foot or on horseback. Regardless of the conditions, they study and meditate for 8 hours per day... and work 6 hours daily to keep themselves fed, clothed, and build the nunnery around them. When housing construction is complete, they plan to next build a medical clinic to provide health care to the surrounding area.

Under conditions where we might think we could accomplish nothing more than survive, the nuns are making their study a higher priority than having a roof. Instead of waiting for a road to be built, they are planning a medical clinic. What a difference in perspective this is on what might be considered "difficult."

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I'm a Buddha; you're a Buddha 

One of the many elements I find useful in the Mahayana teachings of Buddhism is the basic principle that we are all already Buddhas. According to Tibetan lama Tulku Thubten Rinpoche: "We are already endowed with Buddha qualities, or Buddha perfections, the moment we are born... The only problem is that somehow we are trapped in samsara... all our internal obscurations... which prevent us from actualizing and manifesting this internal perfection..."

As a Co-Active Coach, I was trained to hold my clients as naturally creative, resourceful and whole. By holding on to that perspective, my clients and I together attempt to view anything that prevents them from being magnificent as illusory. Their natural state is perfection, so self-perceived limitations and the voice of the inner critic are simply distracting chatter -- the background noise in the restaurant that makes it hard to hear the important conversation you are wanting to have with your dining companion.

But since we exist in the state of samsara, holding on to this perspective can be quite difficult. I spotted a marvelous commentary on this in the movie Shallow Hal. (You're kidding, right? Buddhist philosophy in a Farrelly Brothers movie?) Our hero Hal -- a formerly shallow guy -- has been hypnotized by Tony Robbins (playing himself) to see the inner beauty in every woman he meets, causing him to fall in love with the charming 300-pound Rosemary. In a scene where Hal's best friend begs Robbins to break the spell, Robbins says, "What spell? He was hypnotized before when he thought women like Rosemary were ugly." This is samsara, our conditioned existence under the control of delusions that prevent us from seeing the beauty and perfection in everyone, including ourselves.

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Courage to change... or not 

If there is a remedy when trouble strikes,
What reason is there for despondency?
And if there is no help for it,
What use is there in being sad?
-- Shantideva

This 8th century version of the Serenity Prayer is my study verse this week for my Way of the Bodhisattva class with Pema Chodron. Heroes are well known for taking action, finding a remedy when trouble strikes, but this verse reminds us that another heroic quality is cheerfulness in the face of danger and difficulty. Sometimes there is no solution, or at least not an immediate one, and if that's the case, well, is there a use in being sad?

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Taking out the hook 

In a discussion group with Pema Chodron last night, our topic was getting hooked by strong negative emotions such as anger or fear. Pema told us that while these emotions -- and the experience of being powerless in their grip -- are universal, there was an aspect of the experience that was unique to the West.

It seems we Westerners, when we notice that we have once again been waylaid by our own negativity, blame ourselves for it. We actually compound the problem by layering guilt on top of the original sabotaging emotion. Pema described the process as trying to put out a fire with kerosene.

According to Pema's teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who taught all over the world about training the mind, in Eastern cultures this isn't so. The negative emotions, or kleshas, are seen more as influences from outside that impose their will on you, almost like being possessed by a demon. If a demon possesses you, it certainly isn't your fault!

Detaching from the source of the negativity in this way seems almost certain to make it easier to unhook from it once you realize it is there. You can bypass completely the phase so familiar to us Westerners of thinking, "What's wrong with me? I've done it again. I should have been stronger. I should have known better."

Pema pointed out that when seeing yourself as you really are hurts, when you are stung by not living up to your own expectations, it's an insult to your ego. And this perhaps is the real source of this difference between West and East. We Westerners are well known for being overly dependent on individual ego strength, for isolating ourselves and shunning collective thought. So, naturally, when we find ourselves doing something we had sworn we would no longer do -- getting angry or being afraid -- we believe it is our ego that has failed us. We believe we have failed, and another round of self-loathing and blame begins.

If instead we can separate from the sabotaging emotion, reject the emotion but love ourselves, we can take the hook out with much less struggle. Instead of pouring kerosene on the fire, we can remove its source of fuel.

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Up, down, over & through 

I'm continuing with my study of Shantideva's instructions for becoming an enlightened hero in The Way of the Bodhisattva. The verse posted on my bathroom mirror this week is:

"When something has been planned and started on,
Attention should not drift to other things.
With thoughts fixed on the chosen target,
That and that alone should be pursued."

This is from the chapter on Vigilance, which describes how once you have found your true path, the real trick is staying on it. I've found it helpful to contemplate this verse many times this week as what seems like a million distractions have pulled at me. I am attempting to diligently write my next book, Get Hired NOW!, while running my business, serving my clients, studying with Pema Chodron, and generally living my life.

Adding one extra unwanted task -- my 17th phone call to Comcast attempting to get my cable service restored following their system upgrade -- pushed me over the edge two days ago. "Who am I to be writing a book?" I fumed, forgetting I had already written several. "I can't even get my cable service fixed."

I sulked for a bit, went for a walk in Golden Gate Park, and while scowling at a spectacularly beautiful flower bed, remembered something Pema said in a recent class. "Some days you just can't manage to be a hero. Some days even tying your shoes is too hard. So do what small thing you can manage. And remember that other people feel this way too."

I started back home, trying to turn my thoughts to the people I wanted to serve by writing the book. When I got back, I re-read the verse above. And then I sat down at the keyboard.

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Changing the world a step at a time 

In my Way of the Bodhisattva class this summer, one of the weekly homework assignments is to memorize and contemplate a verse from Shantideva's text. Here is the verse I chose for this week:

"To cover all the earth with sheets of hide --
Where could such amounts of skin be found?
But simply wrap some leather round your feet,
And it's as if the whole earth had been covered!"

The hero's journey must begin with changing himself, but also, changing oneself may be a much simpler task than taking on the changing of the whole world. Shantideva implies that by changing yourself you do change the world. At the personal level, the world seems to change when your perspective of it does, but in fact, a change to your own being can have an observable effect on everyone who comes in contact with you. So, before you start slaughtering cattle, put your sandals on.

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Chop wood; carry water 

An often overlooked challenge of being a hero is how to maintain your heroism in between epic adventures. When you are back at home with your family and expected to once again cook dinner or take out the trash, how do you hold onto your heroic qualities... especially if those closest to you are more aware of your warts than your gifts?

This is where the paramitas of discipline and patience can be supremely useful. One must continually practice being a hero under the most trying conditions -- which may turn out to be those of daily life. Instead of looking at mundane chores as tasks that interfere with your growth and development, try viewing them as a training ground for heroism. They are opportunities to perfect the essential skills of discipline and patience by practicing them in real life situations. Remember that one of the feats that made a hero of Hercules was cleaning out the stables.

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Not found in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles 

Pursuing the path of heroism is intertwined with discovering one's right livelihood. The term right livelihood has Buddhist origins, and has been described by writers such as Marsha Sinetar as "work consciously chosen, done with full awareness and care, and leading to enlightenment." Such work must also be "ethical," a tricky term for which I found a helpful definition in Natural Life Magazine: "...consistent with the principles of honest living, treating with respect other people and the natural world... being responsible for the consequences of one's actions."

To become a hero, one must find one's true calling. Some find it before walking the hero's road and that is what points their faces in that direction; others simply begin down the path and discover it on the journey. But regardless of when it occurs, uncovering your right livelihood is what makes is possible to be a hero every day of your life. Without that key element, you may still have a grand adventure and hopefully make an impact, but then your story ends.

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Send in the kleshas 

In my Way of the Bodhisattva class last night, Pema talked about kleshas. She described these as negative emotions that block us from developing ourselves and helping others. The five kleshas usually named are ignorance, self-absorption, craving, aggression, and possessiveness.

These are the flaws of the hero I spoke of yesterday, when I mentioned that the hero could use his flaws to good purpose. Pema suggests that it is sometimes possible to use the energy of a klesha to overcome the klesha itself. For example, if you are plagued by anger, get angry at the anger. The trick is not to let your anger "hook" you in doing so. It is the clear seeing of the true nature of your kleshas that eventually disspells them.

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Everyday heroes 

In the class I am taking with Pema Chodron on Way of the Bodhisattva, we are focusing this year on discipline and patience. These two qualities are the 2nd and 3rd of the six paramitas -- principles of enlightened living as taught in Tibetan Buddhism.

The entry point on the path of becoming a bodhisattva -- an "enlightened hero" -- is developing generosity, the 1st paramita. But once generosity has awakened in you, you must practice discipline and patience to keep it alive. It's where the rubber meets the road.

Many of us have experienced achieving some level of enlightenment in a weekend workshop or transformative life event. But then you return to your daily life, and it gradually drains away. Heroism requires the discipline and patience to practice, and to fail, over and over again. "Any fool can be brilliant in a crisis. It's the everyday living that wears you down." (Who said that?)

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What if it were easy? 

The 8th century Indian monk Shantideva describes a simple path to being of service:
"All the joy the world contains
has come through wishing happiness for others.
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself."

To the modern ear, this could sound hopelessly co-dependent. Perhaps the trick here is to be joyful yourself. If in working toward the happiness of others, you make yourself miserable, how can that contribute to the overall well-being of the planet? But if you experience your service to the greater good as a cause of joy in your own life, then misery is lessened everywhere.

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True courage is in facing danger... 

"...when you are afraid." Pema Chodron in her Way of the Bodhisattva class last year described three levels of courage -- that of the monarch, the ferryman, and the shepherd. The monarch develops his own strength to be able to help others, the ferryman works in the company of others to help everyone, and the shepherd puts the welfare of others before his own.

Pema used the metaphor of eating to teach more about this. The monarch eats to gain strength, and so be better able to serve his people. The ferryman shares his food with others in the same boat. The shepherd feeds the others first.

Often we think that heroes must be shepherds and sacrifice all for those they serve, but this is not so. Monarchs and ferrymen can also be heroic when their intentions and actions are to be of service.

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Guards, guides & bridges 

I am steeped in The Way of the Bodhisattva this week, preparing to begin this year's class on the subject with Pema Chodron on Saturday. Listening to the tapes of last year's class, one verse from the chapter on "Commitment" stood out: "May I be a guard for those who are protectorless, a guide for those who journey on the road. For those who wish to go across the water, may I be a boat, a raft, a bridge."

The three examples in this verse illustrate different models for heroism -- the guards who protect their charges from harm and fight on their behalf (Thich Nhat Hanh); the guides who lead people to safety, better fortune, or enlightenment (Carl Jung); and the bridges who carry those they serve on their backs by working directly to keep them fed, healthy, and free (Mother Teresa).

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Bodhisattva in training 

I spent the weekend with friends in Santa Cruz, and in addition to swimming and sightseeing, indulged in one of my favorite pastimes of visiting thrift stores and used book stores. You can tell a lot about a place by the contents of its used book stores, and the shelves in Santa Cruz are loaded with psychology, metaphysics, and spirituality titles.

I picked up a marvelous resource for the topic of this blog: Bodhisattva Archetypes by Taigen Daniel Leighton. Referring to bodhisattvas as "heroic benefactors," the book describes modern examples of archetypal characters from Buddhist tradition. Some of the named heroes are ones you would expect, e.g. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. But others are surprising, for example, Muhammad Ali, Daniel Ellsberg, Bob Dylan, and Clint Eastwood.

Leighton describes bodhisattvas as "valiantly functioning in helpful ways right in the middle of the busy-ness of the world." Without a doubt, that fits my definition of a hero.

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The way of the hero 

One of my many influences on the subject of heroism and service has been the classic Buddhist text The Way of the Bodhisattva by the 8th century Indian monk Shantideva. This summer, I will have the incredible privilege of studying this work with Pema Chodron. Pema is an American-born Tibetan Buddhist, now living in Nova Scotia, Canada, who teaches each summer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The focus of The Way of the Bodhisattva is on attaining enlightenment for the sake of the deliverance from suffering of all beings. Powerful stuff, and the very essence of accepting the mantle of heroism.

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