Category Archives: self-esteem


In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is sort of like a Western saint, a spiritually-evolved person of some stature. The comparison breaks down, however, because while saints are basically agreed upon to be in “heaven,” it is a bit more difficult to pin down a Bodhisattva’s whereabouts. No heaven, y’know, and all that.

Saints are supposed to keep an eye on things Earthly, interceding with God and facilitating the odd miracle — celestial ombudsmen, sort of. Bodhisattvas, on the other hand, are supposed to have deferred Nirvana in order to remain and help other beings to attain enlightenment. Since it has been taking a while, reincarnation becomes an issue.

If you don’t believe in reincarnation, saints, intercessions and so forth, things get a bit dicey in the area of both saints and Bodhisattvas. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, for example, is reputed to be the 9th incarnation of the 5th Dalai Lama, and has had ample time to get some work done. But what if (like me) you believe he’s just a Tibetan kid named Lhamo Thondup, who happens to have had greatness thrust upon him?

Don’t get the idea that I’m putting His Holiness down. You’ll note, I hope, how I refer to him — and it’s not tongue in cheek. He is an exceptional man by anyone’s standards, and if anyone alive deserves the title more, I don’t know who that might be.

But I digress.

Let’s call folks like me, who consider the Four Noble Truths and the Precepts to be ends in themselves (as opposed to leading to anything beyond a life well-lived), “secular Buddhists.” Are there, then, secular Bodhisattvas and, if so, who are they?

In order to decide that, we need to ask if there is such a thing as secular enlightenment. Obviously there can be, in the sense of Buddhist teachings, and also in the sense of helping others to see more clearly the rights and wrongs of ordinary living — helping them to find a system of ethics, in other words.

HHDL, to continue the example, has taken few formal students in his life. Nonetheless, his unique combination of mystique, visibility, charisma and — above all — approachability, have created a worldwide appreciation for Buddhism and Buddhist teachings that would have been nearly impossible under other circumstances. Just as importantly, he has opened the world’s eyes to political and human rights issues that their governments would have much preferred to ignore in favor of more practical matters.

People like the Dali Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Nadine Gordimer, Wangari Maathai and their like are indeed Bodhisattvas — for what more can a Bodhisattva do than help people awaken? What is enlightenment, in any useful sense, beyond seeing clearly and, through empathy and compassion, developing the determination to make improvements for the betterment of all?

Who? You?

A Bodhisattva?


Remembering Bill C.

I wrote this some years ago. I’m re-posting it, with some minor editing, because “There, but for the grace…”

I don’t spend much time regretting the past. There are a lot of things I’ve done that—given the opportunity—I’d probably do differently (or not at all) but you have to be careful what you wish for. The Law of Unintended Consequences is nothing to mess with.

Today I’ve been thinking about my friend Bill. I met him during a period in my early twenties when I was driving airplanes for a living. We were drawn to each other by a mutual love of airplanes, flight attendants, and the bars of the Fort Lauderdale area.

This was not too long after the Bay of Pigs, and there was a lot of stuff happening in Africa around then as well. The company we both worked for had, at one time, some clandestine connections with interests in the Caribbean, and shady characters of some repute still wandered around the small airports of South Florida and the islands to the south. I found this moderately interesting. Bill found it fascinating.  Continue reading

Hope and Expectations (a blast from the past)

I hope I’ll win the lottery, but I don’t expect to.

A lot of us addicts get our hopes and expectations amazingly tangled. Most of us need to take a close look at the difference during our early recovery (and often afterward) because they can cause huge complications in our lives. Read on…

Humility And Humiliation Ain’t The Same Thing

Michele and I were at our regular meeting last night – you know, the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in. Things moved from a reading to a discussion of humility and what it meant to the members.

When I first got to the rooms I was confused about humility as opposed to humiliation and amazed at the number of different answers I heard whenever the subject came up. Now, some years later, I find that there’s still confusion.

Bill Wilson wrote, in the 7th Step chapter of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, that humiliation is necessary for us to reach a bottom and decide to get sober. (I’m paraphrasing, but I believe accurately.) I guess that’s true if you consider the various jackpots we addicts achieve as humiliation. Surely many—if not most—of them are. Most of mine were, anyway. But I’m not sure it’s the best way of describing a bottom.

The simple fact is that most of us developed pretty thick skins in our addictions (remembering, of course, that “skins” are only on the surface, as in “skin deep”). In fact, I was so convinced of my general lack of worth and accustomed to being picked on as a kid that I developed a thick skin by the time I reached puberty. Mine took the form of being a know-it-all, who automatically assumed that unwanted observations from others were simply bullshit and thus unworthy of attention or consideration.

That was a pretty effective way of covering up the hurt, but it certainly didn’t protect my battered ego much! Every little lash of the figurative whip made a mark on my soul, bypassing the skin altogether. Nonetheless, it totally shaped my attitude toward life in general. It also had the effect of causing me to avoid challenges. If I figured I could easily accomplish something without looking bad (and I was pretty good at judging that), I’d do it and usually excel. But as soon as things tightened up and became difficult, I would back away and head in a different direction, toward a conquest with more certainty. That protected me from incipient failure and cemented a preference for the “easier, softer way” that we all know from our early attempts at recovery.

So I trained myself to ignore humiliation and avoid anything that I perceived might lead to it. In my mind, even embarrassment equaled humiliation, so I worked even harder at proving myself right, in my own mind, and ignoring the signals that I needed to straighten up and fly right.

Life became so difficult toward the end of my active addictions that even getting into recovery amounted to the easier, softer way: I was forced into treatment by my boss, instead of recognizing the solution myself. All I had to do was go along with it.

My recognition of humiliation, and its lessons about humility, came quite some distance into my recovery when I developed a degree of empathy. I began to appreciate and sometimes feel how I’d hurt others, and began to really want to do something about it. In most cases, I was successful in making those previously incomplete amends. Decades later I’m still working on some of them, but I did find that the humility needed to do so didn’t kill me—or my soul. In fact, it has begun to feel okay over the years, at least as far as I’ve managed to get. I’ve come to appreciate a definition of humility that’s someplace else in Bill W.’s writing. I haven’t been able to find the actual quote, but it goes something like this:

Humility is an accurate assessment of our faults and our assets, along with a sincere desire to improve them.

Doesn’t sound quite so scary when you think of it that way, does it?

The Purpose of Life

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

See also: