Alex Kakuyo · Buddhism · Emotional Reactions · How to Practice · How We See the World · Teachers - Dharma Talks

“Enough leather to cover the world” – Sensei Alex Kakuyo

This is a wonderful article about dealing with suffering, the zen students method of viewing life on this earth, and the suffering we find.

It also talks about “triggering” – namely the question of whether or not, a zen teacher, when teaching their students, should give a warning like: “this following material may offend you, or cause you trauma” to their students.

Excellent article by Sensei Alex Kakuyo on “The Same Old Zen”


Buddhism and Trigger Warnings

Shantideva was an 8th century Indian, Buddhist monk and scholar.  His seminal work is a text called The Way of The Bodhisattva, which details not only how one can become a Bodhisattva in a single lifetime but also details many of the pitfalls that practitioners may experience along the way.
He comments on topics ranging from Emptiness to vows of celibacy and his tone changes from playful to wrathful depending on the subject matter.  However, his overall message can be summed up by the following passage from his book:

Where would I find enough leather
To cover the entire surface of the earth?
But with leather soles beneath my feet,
It’s as if the whole world has been covered.

In this passage, Shantideva is discussing the correct way for Buddhists to react to suffering by comparing daily life to walking barefoot on the earth.  Finding enough leather to cover every rock, stick, and piece of glass so that we don’t hurt our feet is impossible.  But it’s relatively easy to make ourselves a pair of shoes.
Similarly, many people spend a lifetime trying to fix the world in such a way that it will never cause them pain.  But Shantideva is advocating that we focus on training our minds, so that we’re more resilient when dealing with a hostile world.
This is a powerful teaching because it places all of the power back in our hands, and it’s not an exaggeration to say those 4 lines changed my entire life for the better.  When I was younger I wasted a lot of time feeling hurt or angry because people didn’t behave as I thought they should.

Needless to say, I suffered a great deal as a result.

But Shantideva showed me a simpler, more effective path to inner peace.  His writings helped me realize that the best way for me to live a calm, peaceful life was to stop trying to change others.  Instead I needed to focus on changing my own mind.
I thought about this recently when a close friend asked if I give trigger warnings prior to my Dharma talks. According to, A trigger warning is a stated warning that the content of a text, video, etc., may upset or offend some people; especially those who have previously experienced a related trauma.
I try and maintain a certain level of decorum during my talks.  I hold to commonly held beliefs around decency and respect; refraining from profanity, racial slurs, or sexually explicit topics.  But I also don’t give trigger warnings, and I never will.

The reason for this is two-fold.  First, I honestly don’t know what will or won’t offend everyone I meet.  There are some good general rules like the ones I listed above, but beyond that… It seems presumptuous to assume that I know what people might  be thinking/ feeling when they attend my talks.

Beyond that, I think trigger warnings present a false ideal as to what Buddhism entails.  They imply that the practice is one of safety and comfort; this couldn’t be further from the truth.

When I first started meditating, I was desperate for a change in circumstances.  Meditation helped, but not in the way that most people think it did.  I would sit on the cushion, close my eyes, and watch endless reruns of painful moments in my life.

Past traumas that I experienced, the family that pushed me away, the job that didn’t meet my expectations; these things were the content of my practice.  They’d arise as thoughts, I’d return my focus to my breath, and they’d arise again.  This went on for years.

Over time, the memories arose less often, and my reactions weren’t as strong.

Finally, I got bored with them, and I turned my attention to other things.  It was a grueling process, but the end result is that my life is calmer.  My mind is clearer, and I’m able to approach the world with an openness that I didn’t have before.

But I didn’t reach this point because my teachers protected me from my triggers through warnings and safe spaces.  Quite the opposite, they forced me to sit with them, to work with them, to take responsibility for my own mind.

The act of meditation is the act of being triggered over and over again.

And as we work with our triggers, we create “shoes” for our minds in the same way that Shantideva did 2,000 years ago.  Of course, we don’t create unnecessary suffering for ourselves.  But we don’t run from it either.  And we don’t expect teachers to hold our hands or give us warnings in the face of challenging topics.

As Buddhists, we take a different path.  We sit on the cushion, we struggle, and we grow strong

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