Wendy Shinyo Haylett is an author, Buddhist teacher, and lay minister with the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism. She’s the host of the popular Everyday Buddhism podcast where she kindly had me on as a guest last year. Wendy has more than 30 years of experience as a Buddhist practitioner and coach helping people live their personal and professional lives with more mindfulness and resilience. In our conversation, she talks about how Buddhism can help us in our everyday life, from workplace conflicts and intimate relationships to overcoming trauma.
[00:01:10] Scott Snibbe: Wendy, I’m so thrilled to have you on A Skeptic’s Path to Enlightenment. You were kind enough to invite me to your podcast, Everyday Buddhism, last year and now I’m delighted to get to have you on the podcast. So thanks for joining me.
[00:01:23] Wendy Haylett: Thank you, Scott. It’s a pleasure to be here.
What is Everyday Buddhism?
[00:01:26] Scott Snibbe: It’s great to have you back. So first of all, I’d like to have you explain what is Everyday Buddhism? Why did you found it and what’s it about?
[00:01:35] Wendy Haylett: Everyday Buddhism essentially comes from the inspiration I got through my lay ministry program through the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism. For anybody who doesn’t know, it is a non-sectarian Japanese Mahayana-influenced Buddhist educational program.
It was founded by Reverend Gyomay Kubose—who was also the founder of the Chicago Buddhist Temple—it was one of the first non-Tibetan, non-Zen, Buddhist organizations in the United States. Now we’ve been brought up to date to say Western Buddhism. But we can’t deny the strong Japanese Mahayana influences within both the Shin Buddhist path and the Zen Buddhist path.
So it’s kind of a mixture of both, but more heavily influenced by Shin Buddhism. Now, most people either have never heard of Shin Buddhism, or they have a lot of crazy notions about it as being sort of a Christian rip-off or something. But it is absolutely a Mahayana Buddhist path; it focuses on the everyday practices that a lay person can do, or a householder can do, rather than deeply involved monastic practices. The words they use are self-power versus other power, focusing less on self-development and more on letting life develop us as it comes to us; that’s the everyday part.
Shin Buddhism focuses less on self-development and more on letting life develop us as it comes.
Reverend Gyomay Kubose wrote the book Everyday Suchness, and it was all about the everydayness of Buddhism. And in Buddhism, there are essentially three major schools or divisions. One is the path of the elders or Theravada Buddhism. It was sometimes referred to as the little vehicle, so Hinayana versus Mahayana, and Mahayana is sometimes referred to as the big vehicle. That’s not considered politically correct anymore but that’s how the terminology came about. But essentially it’s a practice of developing yourself through the stages of meditation and following the path that the Buddha laid down in the Pali Canon, essentially almost a monastic path as if you were a monastic.
I call Mahayana the Lutheran branch of Buddhism. It was like, No, no, we should really do it this way because this way is much better and it’s much more compassionate. Essentially, the Mahayana path is about not just for me alone. The concept is to think about reaching enlightenment after I bring all other beings to enlightenment, which of course is an impossible thing to do but that’s something else we can talk about.
Another path that’s related to Mahayana is typically referred to as Tibetan Buddhism. But Tibetan Buddhism has Mahayana aspects, as well as what we call the Vajrayana path; that’s the path that you probably talk about most on your podcast, the Vajra path, the diamond path, the lightning bolt path. It’s the path of using empowerments and visualizations and special practices to zap yourself to enlightenment within one lifetime. I’m not being facetious, I’m just trying to be everydayness here. And suchness is life as it is.
Suchness is life as it is.
My teacher’s father wrote the book Everyday Suchness. So when I got the impulse to start a podcast—well I was kind of bullied into starting a podcast from friends and family because I was in broadcasting and I couldn’t stop talking about Buddhism. I think they just wanted me to shut up and have another way to talk to somebody so I wouldn’t keep talking to them. So they suggested I start a podcast and even though I was intimidated I did it, and I called it Everyday Buddhism. Of course, I asked my teacher if I could use the term, and I called it Everyday Buddhism because I really wanted to focus on a Buddhism that’s right where you live.
My teacher said that Buddhism is dead if it’s only found in books, it has to get into your bones. So to get it into your bones, you have to use it. And that’s what I wanted to focus on, how we can bring Buddhism into our everyday life.
Lay practitioners in Buddhism
[00:06:47] Scott Snibbe: Can you talk a little bit about lay practitioners? Sometimes they say Buddhism has evolved so much in monasteries that the role of lay practitioners is confusing or sometimes inferior; that we can think if you’re a real Buddhist, you become a monk or a nun.
Can you talk about what it means to be a lay practitioner and how your tradition supports that?
[00:07:10] Wendy Haylett: In Shin Buddhism, it means everything to be a lay practitioner because that’s the whole point of the practice. Shin Buddhism was founded by Shinran back in the 12th century. It was a really fraught time, there were feudal wars, monks and priests battling each other, one monastery versus another monastery.
And Shinran spent 25 years in this Tendai monastery on Mount Hiei; 25 years of intense practice where they would circumambulate a statue of Amita, do continuous chanting 24/7, continuous visualization 24/7. Anyway, after 25 years, he had this crisis of faith, if you will, and said, I’m getting nowhere, I am no closer to enlightenment than I’ve ever been. I’ve done all this, I’m leaving. That’s it. And he walked out. Because after all these arduous practices, he didn’t feel any closer to enlightenment than when he came in.
And he found another guy named Hōnen who left before and Hōnen started this other practice that he thought would appeal to the people of Japan who didn’t read, who didn’t understand how to do these practices. Even today they call it the simple practice but it’s not the least bit simple. You ever try to be simple, Scott? We’re so screwed up with our cognitive discursive thinking that it can’t be simple. It’s very hard to be simple. So, it was to appeal to those people, the practice was, Hōnen said chant the nembutsu, which is a mantra called “Namo Amida Butsu.” “I bow to Amita. I remember Amita.”
[00:09:11] Scott Snibbe: That’s simple.
[00:09:12] Wendy Haylett: Yeah, you can do it. He wins. He can do it. But anyway, Hōnen said to do it as much as possible, constantly, constantly, constantly. Well, Shinran and Hōnen were banished from where they were in Japan because they were these renegade priests. And Shinran learned from Hōnen for a while but Shinran developed his own special form. He took Hōnen’s teachings and developed them. This is how Buddhism evolves. I think it’s how any religion evolves. Someone takes it and adds something else to it in response to what’s happening around them, which I think is exactly the way it should be. And I think it counteracts that problem you mentioned about “I’m not a monk,” I’m not as important. I’m not really doing it.
But if you’re bringing it to the people, my teacher always said Buddhism is all about person, place, and time. Who’s the person? Where’s the place? What’s the time? Shakyamuni Buddha did the same thing, he spoke to his audience in a way that his audience would respond. So the everyday practice, according to Shinran, was to chant the nembutsu. But instead of doing it a million times, sort of like a once with feeling kind of thing, get it in your heart, you don’t even have to say it out loud. It can just be in your head. And the key is to remember, it’s all about remembering the Buddha. We’re remembering the Buddha in our everyday life.
My teacher always said Buddhism is all about person, place, and time.
And when we were trained in Bright Dawn, we were trained to remember the Dharma, the Buddha, and the Dharma in everything we do, every day. So how this gets into our bones is that we were trained to write dharma talks. They were called Dharma glimpses in our school, meaning where did you glimpse the dharma this week.
And it can’t be scholarly. It can’t be, Oh, I spent a day studying the Tannishō, it can’t be that. It is, I watched a maple leaf fall, and it reminded me of whatever, something that happens every day with your family, friends, nature, whatever. That’s the kind of practice we were taught to do, which kind of borrows from the Shin practice, as well as having its own special flavor.
Beyond mindfulness, Shinran, & the Shin tradition
[00:11:50] Scott Snibbe: When you say remembering, that makes me think a little bit about mindfulness. Mindfulness is very popular today, obviously, and in the Mahayana traditions, mindfulness is a very specific aspect of meditation but it’s often translated as remembering. It’s like that mental faculty of being able to just recall the idea. So the way you’ve described it sounds a bit connected to the definition of mindfulness, of remembering, just to be aware and present of what’s happening in everyday life. Is that what you’re talking about?
[00:12:23] Wendy Haylett: Similarly, although I wouldn’t call it just mindfulness. I’m not saying that in a negative way or casting any aspersions as if that’s a lower level of practice. It is part of it but it has to develop beyond that. I think you have said this before, you can be mindful of killing someone more properly. They do mindfulness practices in corporations and how to be mindful for productivity so you can earn more money for the company; you can be mindful of that. Mindfulness in and of itself is no big deal and it isn’t a Buddhist practice on its own.
Mindfulness in and of itself is no big deal and it isn’t a Buddhist practice on its own.
The thing is, you need to have that dharma flavor, and a lot of it, in our traditions, comes from the Shin tradition—that I honor the most—the sense of being aware sort of like Shinran. I’ll tell a little personal story. I practiced for 10-plus years in Tibetan Buddhism. Both the Gelug tradition, a little bit of Nyingma, and eventually the Drikung Kagyu tradition. I studied for many years in the Gelug tradition, in the Asian Classics Institute teacher training, which has gotten a bit of a bad name but it was still a valid training. I have all my materials and I wouldn’t throw them in the fire.
So they were great translations and they were very helpful and really grounded me. So I had been practicing for quite a while within the local Dharma Center. And I was in the middle of my Ngöndro; it’s called the introductory practice but it’s so far from being an introductory practice, it’s laughable.
[00:14:22] Scott Snibbe: It’s kind of like a Buddhist boot camp.
[00:14:27] Wendy Haylett: Buddhist boot camp! And I know very few people who’ve actually completed it, it’s a hundred thousand offerings, a hundred thousand confessions, a hundred thousand, I forget, a million “a hundred thousand things”!
So I was halfway, or I don’t even know if I was halfway, who knows? Luckily I was much younger then, so I could prostrate without killing myself, full body prostrations. Anyway, I was halfway through that and I experienced a crisis of faith. I did not know Shinran at the time, so this was not an imitation thing at all. I didn’t know anything about Pure Land Buddhism or Shin Buddhism or anything. And I just thought, what am I doing? I don’t understand why I’m here. Although I loved my sangha, I loved the directors, I loved my teachers, and the llamas.
So it wasn’t like I turned my back on what was there but it was not getting into my bones. It was not getting into my heart. I was feeling flat and I would go to practice and I would hear the conch shells and the drums and I would be like, What the heck? What does this mean to me?
And so I, like Shinran, walked out. Actually, I went to my director’s house and brought him a pizza and talked. Because I was teaching a basic Buddhism course at the time, and I said, I can’t do it anymore. I said, And I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I think I’m a complete failure. And that’s what happened to Shinran, he felt like a complete failure.
So I bumbled around for a while and then heard about Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism. I had been getting their newsletter, don’t know why. So I connected with them and they were just starting their ministerial training program at the time. I said, Well, let me try that. And they almost rejected me because they said I had too much Tibetan Buddhism background. And I said, No, don’t reject me, I will be a failure! So they accepted me. Long story short I started that in 2006 and was inducted as a lay minister and sensei in 2009. That’s when I learned about Shinran, and that connection was so strong for me that it propelled me from that day forward and does to this day.
That’s when I learned about Shinran, and that connection was so strong for me that it propelled me from that day forward and does to this day.
The impact of the Everyday Buddhism podcast
[00:17:03] Scott Snibbe: I’m curious, how does that translate practically to what you do with Everyday Buddhism? You have quite an audience, so what do you think some of your more dedicated followers would say they get out of your podcast?
[00:17:14] Wendy Haylett: Well, I have stacks of emails and messages as I’m sure you get too. Which really, if I didn’t, I don’t know if I would continue. I get wonderful feedback and half the time I’m crying because they’re telling me it’s changed their life. And because I talk about Buddhism through everyday circumstances and I don’t mince words and I am completely honest about my craziness and the bad things I do, it resonates with people.
So what they get out of it is they say they’ve learned that they didn’t have to follow the precepts. They learned that they didn’t have to do this to be a Buddhist. They learned that they didn’t even have to be a Buddhist. All they had to do was keep these things in mind as they went through their days. More than one person has told me they quit their therapist because this helped more. Now, I would not recommend that because I have a therapist. I think combining both is just fine and a good idea.
I think it’s just a matter of how to bring that Buddhist sensibility to your everyday life so that it can make some sense and get you outside of your small little ego focuses. We’re all looking for something that is beyond ourselves, something bigger than ourselves; and Buddhism offers that. But if you’re just doing a mindfulness practice, I don’t know if you’re going to feel that. So that’s what I try to do every time I create a podcast episode, most times now it’s with some sort of guest who’s written a book.
We’re all looking for something that is beyond ourselves, something bigger than ourselves; and Buddhism offers that.
I don’t go based on what they wanna talk about always. I just keep trying to drill it down to what can my audience take from this? Even if they don’t read the book, what can they take from this to help in whatever suffering is appearing in their lives at that time.
Buddhism in the workplace
[00:19:27] Scott Snibbe: Can you give me an example of something that’s resonated strongly with your audience? One of these ways of translating Buddhism to the everyday.
[00:19:35] Wendy Haylett: Yeah, there’s a lot of workplace stuff where people hate their coworkers or they hate their job and I’ve gotten a lot of responses the first few episodes I covered the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. So I did the Eightfold Path in kind of my own way, I talk about it in my book in that way as well. I get a lot of feedback both from the book and the podcast about how it made them see work entirely different.
Instead of looking at it as my boss isn’t treating me right, he doesn’t respect me, this woman in the next cubicle chews all the time and makes too much noise, it’s always cold, and why can’t I do this my way—we all do this. We all focus on what’s wrong with our life: this is wrong, this is wrong, and that is wrong. I get the same thing with people complaining or talking about problems in their relationships. It’s sort of the same thing. It’s like I was focusing all on this, so when they listen to like right livelihood—I actually usurp the Buddha’s words and put it in my own words and I called it right living. Because right livelihood is right living. It’s just right living.
It’s like, did you replace the toilet paper roll so the next person didn’t have to search around for it when you left the bathroom? That’s right living, pretty simple. But it’s a Buddhist practice if you look at it that way, in an everyday way. If there were dishes in the sink, did you wash them up, or did you just leave them there and start complaining about the person who left the dishes in the sink? Whether that be your spouse, your roommate, or your coworker.
So I get a lot of comments from that point of view. I’ve also shared some very personal episodes about things I’ve gone through that have generated a lot of responses because I expressed issues I had with trauma. And people expressed how wonderful it was to be able to talk about those things and that they didn’t have to think of somebody who was a Buddhist as perfect.
What personal story resonated with your listeners?
[00:22:01] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, what’s an example of—if you don’t mind talking about it—one of those personal stories that’s resonated with your listeners?
[00:22:09] Wendy Haylett: More recently, I suffered a lot of trauma. I have a complex PTSD and I didn’t know I did. It reared its ugly head during the pandemic. For whatever reason here I am, 70-years-old, it would’ve been nice to have dealt with this when I was a little younger but these things happen, right?
Anyway, it reared its ugly head; I started behaving in ways that were totally not me, like full of anger, lots of judgment. I’ve always been a little judgmental, but lots more judgment, lots of anger, and it’s because of unresolved issues I didn’t know I had. And those issues stemmed from recognizing my sexual orientation and coming out as gay in a journal or a diary when I was a very young girl and my mother found it and then separated me and my little girlfriend and told the teachers to separate us.
And it was the thing you would do in those days. That was like the early sixties. I don’t find fault with my mother, like logically in my head I don’t. Because I was young, couldn’t speak for myself, and there was nothing in the greater culture that supported that sort of thing, it was repressed and it caused great trauma. Then I had multiple traumas that resulted from trying to deal with that orientation at a time before Stonewall, at a time when it wasn’t accepted when it was absolutely illegal to be outwardly gay.
Yet I went along thinking, I got it all together. I understand it was the times, my head did all that, but in here it was different. So I got a stream of emails from people saying, This made all the difference in the world to me. Now I feel that I can practice Buddhism and still be a screw-up, or still be confused, or still take antidepressants.
We are all foolish beings
[00:24:25] Scott Snibbe: Well, how did Buddhism help you process those sexual identity issues and trauma issues? Were there specific practices?
[00:24:32] Wendy Haylett: Buddhism helped me a lot less than I thought, to be honest. Here’s the deal, Scott, it’s like, you come to something like this and your first thought is, I’m this decades-long Buddhist practitioner, I’m a Buddhist teacher, why can’t I handle this anger? Why can’t I just get this under control? And I couldn’t.
I’m this decades-long Buddhist practitioner, I’m a Buddhist teacher, why can’t I handle this anger?
So I had to go to a therapist. Well, I didn’t have to, I went to a therapist, thankfully, and the therapist showed me that I had, what she called, complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Because it was multiple incidents on incidents on incidents of betrayal based on my sexual identity.
So at first no, Buddhism I didn’t think helped, but it did help afterward because I went easy on myself. I realized that if I can do compassion practices for others, even though we routinely include ourselves in compassion practices in a formal compassion, we include ourselves. We either end with ourselves or start with ourselves. It’s kind of tertiary, kind of rote for most people. I don’t think they really do it. I didn’t anyway, and I had to actually do the complete, like embrace myself, tell myself I’m okay, because one thing they talk about in Shin Buddhism is that we’re all foolish beings.
The term they use is “bombu,” foolish beings. We are all foolish beings. We all try to do things the right way but we end up doing things stupidly. And to be honest with you—I hate to go off on a tangent—but the thing I just thought of is that I’m working on my second book and this is part of my second book, people think Shakyamuni had this great awakening, right? He saw all his past lives, he knew what to do, he knew how to teach it. But what did he do? He left his family and his kid, right? Walked away from them after his wife nearly died, giving birth and just walked out the door.
We are all foolish beings.
Then he took up these ascetic practices to the point that he almost died. They said you could see his ribcage through his back and it was a milkmaid on a dusty road that offered him some milk that saved his life. So if you look at that as the metaphor of our lives, Shakyamuni was a knucklehead. He wanted to do things the right way but because he’s just a regular foolish being, he did it the wrong way. He thought he had to do all these ascetic practices, but what did it do? It only caused him more suffering and got to the point where he almost was unable to help anybody.
So that’s how I think Buddhism helps me, I can accept any stupid things I do because it’s part of my nature.
[00:27:48] Scott Snibbe: There’s a wonderful quote by Shantideva, one of my favorite quotes, where he says, If suffering came into being by choice, then no one would suffer. I think of that often because we’re such, like you say, foolish beings that we do have the capacity for happiness and to at least be internally happy. Of course, things happen to you all the time that you can’t control. But we don’t choose to suffer.
We don’t choose to suffer.
[00:28:14] Wendy Haylett: Not always. You know, Shantideva is one of my favorites as well. I love it, it’s like one of my bibles. And he has another verse in there that he says, Oh, what evil force has me in its grip. That’s what I thought when I had PTSD. It was like I have an alien inside of me. That’s what I would tell my wife, my partner. It’s like, I have an alien inside me. I can’t help it. What got me in its grip, right? That’s our nature.
Do we have free will?
[00:28:46] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, it’s worth reflecting on this a little more. I’d love for you to talk a little more about the idea of free will because I think certainly as I’ve gotten more and more into Buddhism, I realize how much of my everyday actions are conditioned. And as they say in Buddhism, they’re automatic.
Rick Hanson would say it’s neuroplasticity conditioning responses in your neurons and circuits. Every time you have a certain type of thought or do a certain thing, you just deepen that habit. Can you talk a little bit about how you break out of those habits? If we are so foolish and our actions are out of our control, how do we break out of those habits and how much are we in control?
Do we have free will or how much do we have free will?
[00:29:30] Wendy Haylett: Really good question. I’m going to answer about the breaking out of the habits first and then try to link it to their free will because then that gets a little more philosophical and I’ve got to think about that a little more. But breaking out of the habits, to me once you accept—and most people cannot accept this, even though they may say this. They may think, I’m just an ordinary being and I make these mistakes, but like I always say, Ah, bullshit. I’m sorry. Do you really mean that? Do you really understand what that means? If you really understood what that meant, you would totally accept that as part of your nature.
And if you accept that as a part of your nature, everything relaxes, and then you accept everyone else the same way. So instead of going around judging everybody and making everybody “others,” and making you the best, let your guard down around yourself. Then you let your guard down around others, and then the whole thing becomes this open, interdependent person, place, and time thing that suchness is all about.
It takes practice in that you have to think of it less as an “I’m going to try to do this,” and more of an open-hearted kind of a thing. In other words, let your heart break. My teacher’s teacher’s teacher says, If it’s not in your bones, it’s not Buddhism, it’s gotta get into your bones. It’s gotta get to the place where you really feel that instead of it being “I’m not practicing hard enough, there’s something wrong with me,” instead of thinking that way, which is our normal Western culture kind of way of thinking about things. If I just tried a little harder, if I just tried a little harder . . . if you just tried a little harder, you’d probably just make yourself crazy.
My teacher’s teacher’s teacher says, If it’s not in your bones, it’s not Buddhism.
It doesn’t mean you give up but you try in a different way, and that is by just being open to things as they are and things as they are might just be. My heart is breaking right now for the pain I felt in my childhood, which is perfectly okay. Because if I can get up and walk past that—like what if Shakyamuni just walked around, instead of following the ascetic practices, and talked about what he wanted to do, might that not have been a wiser choice? Not that I could presuppose what the Buddha oughta do but that would be answering that question.
We have free secondary will. We are completely conditioned creatures. I mean, if you follow 12 links of, what is it, co-dependent origination?
We have free secondary will. We are completely conditioned creatures.
[00:32:38] Scott Snibbe: Dependent, I like that though, codependent.
[00:32:40] Wendy Haylett: Yeah, dependent origin, I always do that too, I don’t know why. But if you follow those 12 links, we clearly are just this treasure trove of conditioned reactions. We can’t help it, it’s our inheritance. It’s not like original sin. It’s like original goofiness.
[00:33:00] Scott Snibbe: Or confusion.
[00:33:02] Wendy Haylett: Original confusion! Delusion. We are delusionary beings so the free will part is being aware of it. I think once you’re aware of it, then you are more likely to like self-correct. I think that that secondary correction stuff is the only free will we have or something like that.
We are delusionary beings so the free will part is being aware of it. I think once you’re aware of it, then you are more likely to like self-correct.
Self-power and other power
[00:33:28] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, what you talk about I think are some of the paradoxes in Buddhism, that you transform yourself by completely accepting yourself.
[00:33:38] Wendy Haylett: Right, in Shin Buddhism, there’s the thing called self-power and other power. The self-power practices are like sitting in Zazen or doing your Gulag’s visualization or doing Vajrasattva or whatever the thing is. Those are like self-power practices.
One of my teachers always said it takes self-power to get to other power. In other words, you have to have that recognition that you are not at the center of the universe and then you can make the next step. Reverend Al Bloom was one of the great translators and teachers of modern Shin Buddhism. He’s passed now, in the last couple of years. He taught our class in a special teaching. This is when I had what I call my Buddhist born again moment.
He told this little story about a woodpecker at the top of a tree in the stand of trees where loggers were clearing. The loggers were all down there, busily clearing, chopping down trees. The woodpecker was pecking along at the tree. He didn’t really notice the loggers. He was busy pecking at the tree, and all of a sudden he peck, peck, peck, and the whole tree gave away. And he said, I did that. I think it’s like that.
Balancing Buddhism and politics
[00:35:09] Scott Snibbe: That’s funny. You know, Buddhism is so focused on the individual sphere, for good reason. There’s no way you can really have a benefit in the world, or even good relationships, without accepting, loving yourself, and coming to peace with your own mind.
I’ve heard people ask the Dalai Lama several times about what they should do about war and he always said, First and foremost, resolve all the conflicts in your own life. That’s the path toward resolving war. But we don’t always get that.
And so that leads to something I wanted to ask you about, just how do you think Buddhist ideas and practices might bear on some of our political and cultural conflicts today? Especially in our country, in America, with intolerance, aggression, racism, and anti-democracy, on all sides of the political spectrum.
[00:36:01] Wendy Haylett: Authoritarianism. Yeah, it’s a tricky subject for me personally. I have a lot of trouble with it because I came from a broadcasting background so I got very involved in the news and it’s a habit, right? These days it’s a habit that’s been more and more painful to keep.
And this is all I can say because I think that’s all any of us can say. The more I thought that I had to be aware of every little thing that was going on all over the world, which is so completely easy to do these days because our phones are right there and it’s always on, always available. If you succumb to looking at it and knowing everything that’s going on in the world, you’ll go nuts, truly. You’ll go crazy. But the one thing that happens is it does set you up for conflict because if you get so involved with what’s going on, there is no way you’ll be an objective bystander.
I don’t turn it off completely but I have to keep some distance from it. Or I end up “othering,” turning everybody else into an other, and if I turn everybody else into an other, then I am creating that anger and that judgment in me. I keep furthering it. I keep building it up. It’s like a muscle. I keep building it, building it, building it, building it; instead of building the muscle of my own compassion, which I think I can only do when I separate myself from all that stuff, especially because it’s so negative these days. It does trickle down, unlike trickle down economy, I think it does trickle down.
[00:38:02] Scott Snibbe: I agree with you again, from my own perspective, I’ve looked at my own mind in stretches where I’m really engaged, like before an election. A few months before an election, I definitely notice my mind gets really stirred up and agitated the more that I keep track of it.
And then times when I’m really busy with projects or other types of things, I do notice I’m a lot happier and my relationships are better. So I wouldn’t consider myself a politically disengaged person; I vote, I actually have very strong political opinions, in a certain direction. But I actually don’t think it requires that much work every day or that much reading, extensive amounts of the news, to be politically engaged and to be a good citizen. Unless that’s your work and your job, if you’re in advocacy or politics; but if your work is in other areas, I do agree with you.
It can be a lot healthier for your mind to limit the amount of the divisive messages that you hear, which come from both sides and is actually in a lot of ways the function of journalism, to hold power accountable, which is a quite aggressive and critical stance and a very important role in our society. But the effect it has in your mind is not necessarily rooted in compassion, unity, or balance of emphasizing all the good things that happened today.
[00:39:21] Wendy Haylett: I’m with you all the way on that. I am a very political person. I’m on the same side you are, I believe. And I won’t give it up and I will call it out and I’ll support candidates if I think it’s the right thing to do and all that stuff. But as you said, you just don’t need to keep that close of watch on the whole thing.
[00:39:43] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, I think younger people especially might challenge that quite strongly and say, If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
What would you say to people about finding that balance of making sure we’re part of the solution to the world’s biggest problems today without making our minds more angry, frustrated, negative, and causing more problems in the world?
[00:40:08] Wendy Haylett: Yeah, I think a lot of it has to do with how old you are. As someone who is 70 now, I was part of the hippie generation, I protested the Vietnam War. I was at Kent State the weekend that those four were shot down in cold blood. So, I still have anger about that, don’t get me started.
But I certainly can’t do those sort of things now at my age for many reasons. I can do things that are more in line with my generation that takes a little wisdom and that would be not participating in Facebook feuds, not participating in TikTok wars, but instead maybe writing politically insightful pieces that have a Buddhist worldview.
I’ve been trying to do that on Substack, on some of the alternative media that younger people go to, younger people don’t have a lot of elders that maybe have a more objective Buddhist wisdom stance. Younger people might have elder relatives that are Foxaholics—no offense to those people who may be listening—but I think we could benefit greatly how the world thinks if we can be a model to younger people. Before they go charging off into their protest, ask them what’s on their mind. Are you there to make the other guy feel bad? Or are you there to actually improve circumstances in the world?
Can you talk about analytical meditation and how you practice it?
[00:41:58] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, that’s very wise. I wanted to ask you about analytical meditation, that’s the emphasis of our podcast and most of our guests are of that tradition. And you mentioned that you do analytical meditation in your sangha, can you talk about what analytical meditation is and how you practice it with your sangha?
[00:42:17] Wendy Haylett: Well, analytical meditation is your bailiwick, I feel like I shouldn’t be talking about this, this is what you do on your podcast. But analytical meditation, which is what I learned from Tibetan Buddhism, is something that’s been near and dear to me for a very long time.
To some people, they think of it as a complete paradox or conflict to what meditation is supposed to be. They think meditation is just shamatha or calm abiding. Or maybe Vipassana, which can have an analytical flavor, but we won’t go there.
The thing about analytical meditation is you are using your brain in a more trained and focused way. Because the Buddha taught meditation, he taught to first develop concentration. No matter what form of meditation, you first have to develop concentration. Now you can concentrate on a flickering flame, the picture of a Buddha, nature, a stream, a bubbling brook, or you can concentrate on a subject.
Analytical meditation is using your crazy discursive brain and trying to train it, put the bridle on it, and say, We’re gonna just think about what can I learn from the everydayness of living with my child, so to speak. What can I take from that? And you just train your mind to focus only on that. So when it goes astray, which it will—anybody who has meditated for more than two minutes knows that within 30 seconds you’re off and running someplace else.
So you just keep bringing it back to that thought. What can I learn from my daughter or son? What can I learn when they’re having a screaming fit? What can I learn about that? How can I be a better person? So I learned analytical meditation through Buddhism, through the Gelug tradition, because they were big on that.
And that was when I really found meditation to be very useful for me, using analytical meditation. First of all, it kept me awake, I’m used to that busy mind, and it kept me from just zooming off into la la land, right? Which is what I think a lot of people think meditation is supposed to do.
But we only incorporate five minutes of meditation in our service. We have sangha every other Saturday and we have a somewhat modified Zen/Shin service with some prayers, refuge prayers, a little chanting, just to keep the concentration, and a five-minute meditation period.
In the five-minute meditation period, our practice leaders—we have two practice leaders and me, we’re all trained to give a cue to the sangha for what they may use for the analytical meditation. We try to cue it towards our reading material because we open the sangha up after the service based on a book that we’re studying.
So if the book talks about being a foolish being, or a bombu, we’ll spend a few minutes in this meditation thinking about how you are a foolish being, or how you were a foolish being this morning. So that’s how we use it.
Other people are like mirrors
[00:45:50] Scott Snibbe: That example is a great one about being a parent. I’m a parent and I think parents really struggle. Could you talk about what insights a parent might have as they reflect on that relationship with their child?
[00:46:03] Wendy Haylett: I don’t have children but I was very close to my nieces and nephews when I was growing up, and now I have grandnieces and nephews. And so I’m used to obnoxious behavior by children. But one of the things that I learned from meditating on children is that I am just as obnoxious. I have those temper tantrums too. I may not always voice them or act them out physically but my brain is doing the exact same thing theirs is. It’s just we’re taught to be a little more polite.
I think that’s another way of building compassion because everybody’s on a different developmental scale. It’s like we can meet some adults our age that never seem to get past like 17 in their mood control. And our first reaction may be, You jerk, grow up. But maybe you should think about, we’ve all got that in us, that little temper tantrum child.
[00:47:21] Scott Snibbe: I think it’s very wise. One of my teachers, Venerable Sangye Khadro, once told me—when I was kind of complaining about somebody—that other people are like mirrors. That the problems we see in them are the ones that we work on ourselves. So I think that’s very wise.
Other people are like mirrors. That the problems we see in them are the ones that we work on ourselves.
Well, you’ve offered to lead a meditation for us, which we’re going to air in the next week’s episode. Could you just talk a little bit about what that meditation is before we go into it?
Shin tradition analytical meditation
[00:47:49] Wendy Haylett: Sure, the meditation that I’m going to lead is somewhat of an analytical meditation from the Shin tradition. You may have heard it, it’s called naikan, which means self-examination, or looking inside, based on a reflective practice, a concentrated practice based on asking yourself three questions.
And in the questions, you can use a journal to write the answers. Or you can just reflect on the question. I’m going to just go through these and what the point is and how I’ve used it and how you can use it. You put a person in mind, like a spouse, a friend, a child a parent, a whatever.
Today, for the meditation, I thought we could bring to mind somebody that you have trouble with, or have a messy relationship with. They’re the hardest to look at honestly. So you ask yourself, what have I received from this person? What have I given to this person? And then the big payoff, the hardest question of all, what troubles and difficulties have I caused this person?
And in that self-reflection, or analytical meditation, we can develop a much bigger sense of gratitude for what the world gives us every day like running water, refrigerators, our wife cleaning up the dishes, our mother bringing us to full term, taking care of herself. When we do that, it opens us up again, it brings Buddhism into our bones and we can see the grace and support of life all around us.
[00:49:49] Scott Snibbe: Well I’m looking forward to that, that sounds good. Wendy, thanks so much for joining me. I really enjoyed our conversation. When I met you, I felt like we were two people who could immediately talk all day long.
[00:50:03] Wendy Haylett: I think we could. I feel the same way, Scott.
[00:50:10] Scott Snibbe: Great. Well, thanks a lot.
Thanks for joining me for my conversation with Wendy Shinyo Haylett. You can check out her podcast Everyday Buddhism, wherever you listen to podcasts and at everyday-buddhism.com.
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