I always feel just a little bit sorry for k.d. when she is put on the “Buddhism” Hot Seat like she was at Royce Hall June 20, 2015. While it is true that she is a practicing Buddhist, talking about her own spiritual journey is not something she seems to really enjoy. Of course, I have no idea what kd really thinks about it. But I notice that her demeanor is just a tad out of sync with that of someone like, say Pema Chodron, who has spent the bulk of their adult life talking about their own inner experiences. And yet, k.d. trots out practically every time she is asked anyway. So kudos to you there, k.d. Not sure I could appear on the scene and talk about something I don’t really like to, like the devastatingly empty relationship with my mother.
Anyway, she did make one comment that I wanted to expand upon. kd kind of “blew through” it, as if everyone knew what she was talking about. Maybe they do. But just in case, I wanted to try and explain what I think she was alluding to. k.d. was explaining to Tami Simon how the first meeting with Lama Gyatso, her root guru, went..paraphrasing what I can remember she said, “He asked, ‘What’s your motivation?’ and I said, ‘to sing, to make people happy’. And he said “What’s your motivation’? And so, there it started”.
If you are like me, you may have thought, “But wait, wanting to sing and make people happy is a motivation, so what gives with this lama Gyatso person?”. What gives is the the difference between limited and expansive motivation. Now, I am no expert at all, but I can try to share with you what I know about this distinction from my own Buddhist journey thus far.
Probably the biggest tenet in Buddhism is the desire and supporting actions for all sentient beings to be happy. You may see often the signature line on Buddhist emails “May all sentient beings be happy”. This is because this is the ultimate motivation any of us can have. If you get up every day, and everything you do is motivated by this desire, then you are filled with epic expansive motivation. So, people like Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, in some ways even Jimmy Carter come to mind as famous people who seem have or had a lot of this ultimate motivation. Of course, there are likely millions of others who we don’t ever hear about.
But if you are like most of us, you get up every day and you motivations, while not harmful per se, are limited. You are concerned for you and your family, your paycheck, going on vacation, helping your friend move, getting rest and relaxation, being a good parent and so forth. On the Buddhist view, if your motivations are expansive, then so too will your actions work to lead to the cause of happiness of all sentient beings. And if your motivations are limited, then your actions will work to lead to the cause of limited happiness; not ALL sentient beings, but the select few who you focus on.
So when kd told Lama Gyatso “my motivation is to sing and make people happy”, these were very limited motivations. The kind of happiness k.d.’s voice brings, no matter how awesome a voice she has, is extremely limited. It is short-lived. In fact, in some ways, her voice causes suffering. Her fans beg and implore her to come to their country, to make a new album, or to record this or that song. They miss her. The hope she will make more music, and fear that she won’t. That’s suffering.
Now, k.d. did not expand on this idea of limited versus expansive motivation at all. We can only guess that she has different, more expansive motivations today, and I think it is fair to say that Tools For Peace is her way of working to cause happiness for all sentient beings.
So, this is what I think k.d meant when she told the “What’s your motivation?” story.