Bailarinas del Cielo

7 minutos de lectura.

(The English version of this article is here.)

¡Feliz día de Heruka!

Y algo más: nos haríamos un gran favor al recordar que no practicamos Tantra en soledad, sino con la inmensa ayuda de las Dakinis y los Dakas, los Budas Tántricos. No siempre las personas lo ven, así que pensé decir algo al respecto, considerando que hoy es el mes de Vajrayoguini.

La práctica de Vajrayoguini comienza con el yoga del dormir entre otras razones porque:

Por la noche las Dakinis de los veinticuatro lugares sagrados visitan a los practicantes sinceros de Vajrayoguini y les conceden sus bendiciones… Puede ocurrir que se acuesten preocupados por los problemas que hayan tenido durante el día, pero que se levanten descansados y con una actitud clara y constructiva… También es posible que los obstáculos contra su práctica de Dharma se desvanezcan de manera inexplicable durante la noche. Las Dakinis tienen la capacidad de ayudar a los practicantes de esta forma cuando establecen un vínculo con ellas por medio de la práctica de Vajrayoguini. ~ Guía del Paraíso de las Dakinis

Y así es: las Dakinis constantemente ayudan a los practicantes, especialmente si permitimos que lo hagan. Esa es mi experiencia, incluso cuando estuve en retiro prolongado.

En tibetano, “Dakini” o “khandro” significa “viajera del espacio” o “bailarina del cielo”. (“Kha” significa espacio o cielo y “dro” significa ir o bailar). Ennuestra práctica tántrica aprendemos a volar en el cielo del gozo y la vacuidad al que pertenecemos, en lugar de arrastrarnos por los largos y dolorosos caminos del samsara, y permitimos que las Dakinis nos asistan. Queremos estar bajo el cuidado y la guía de las Dakinis y Dakas de los veinticuatro lugares y sus emanaciones. Esto incluye a las Dakinis coléricas como Kakase, que nos protegen de las fuerzas malignas y demás, con llamas del fuego de la sabiduría.

¿Precisamente qué o quién es la Dakini?

Para obtener realizaciones tántricas, necesitamos confiar plenamente en el Guía Espiritual (Gurú), Yidam (Deidad) y Protector. También necesitamos confiar en las Dakinis. Pero a veces observo que las personas no sienten su cuidado y guía tanto como sienten el cuidado y guía de otros Budas.

Entre otras cosas, escuché decir que las Dakinis no son Budas “reales”. Que no son figuras históricas con narrativa propia. Que son abstractas. Que se pueden sintetizar en una — por ejemplo, Tara y Vajrayoguini son la misma, por lo que en definitiva sólo hay una Dakini.

En base a lo que escuché, las personas no siempre sienten una relación personal fuerte con las Dakinis ¡Incluso escuché que los hombres inventaron a las Dakinis para asistir a los practicantes masculinos! Y esa percepción no es poco común.

Esta no es la manera de pensar en las Dakinis, especialmente si eres mujer, ¡o quizás aún más si eres hombre!

Una conversación con mi Guía Espiritual que me cambió la vida

Una vez pregunté a mi maestro el Venerable Gueshe Kelsang: “Hay un montón de Budas y Gurus masculinos en el linaje, pero en verdad no hay modelos de conducta para las mujeres de esta tradición, salvo Tara y Vajrayogini, que además se supone que sean la misma persona. ¿Dónde están las Budas femeninas en las que me voy a convertir?”

Gueshe-la me habló del tema durante una hora. Explicó la misoginia en la antigua India y Tíbet, y que hubo muchas mujeres iluminadas, pero debido a la estructura de la sociedad, o no podían enseñar, o sólo podían enseñar a unos pocos discípulos. Por eso no se hicieron famosas o conocidas como poseedoras del linaje — aunque lo fueran.

Sin embargo, continuó, tienes muchos modelos de conducta, porque todas las Dakinis de la mandala de Heruka fueron practicantes femeninas como tú. Todas tienen historias. Todas tienen nombres.

Esta conversación cambió todo. Me di cuenta que las Dakinis son reales. No “reales” con existencia inherente, sino que existieron realmente: fueron personas de verdad. Tuvieron historias, aunque se hayan perdido en el tiempo. Fueron modelos de conducta. Fueron poderosas. Aún tenemos sus nombres. Y cuanto más las conozco a lo largo de los años, más siento su guía y más gozosa se vuelve mi práctica tántrica.

Gueshe-la también explicó y demostró las buenas cualidades de las mujeres practicantes, como su relativa humildad y valentía en comparación con los hombres. Gueshe-la habló de la necesidad vital de contar con maestras, tanto ordenadas como laicas, en el Vajrayoguini-omnipresente mundo moderno. ¡Pero dejémoslo ahí que hay hombres leyendo! 😄

La naturaleza Dakini

Las Dakinis son seres extraordinariamente libres, gozosas y trascendentes. Todos y todas tenemos no sólo naturaleza de Buda, sino además, naturaleza Dakini.

Los términos «Héroes y Heroínas» y «Dakas y Dakinis» son sinónimos. Shantideva dice que un verdadero Héroe o Heroína es alguien que ha destruido su mente de estimación propia, que ha conquistado sus perturbaciones mentales y tiene el valor de ayudar a innumerables seres sintientes. ~ Guía del Paraíso de las Dakinis

A veces pienso que el budismo o el tantra nos llaman la atención porque tenemos este anhelo de libertad y no convencionalismo — hay algo de rebeldía en cada uno de nosotros. Pero a veces podemos encontrarnos en lo que pareciera ser una sociedad espiritual jerárquica; y tal vez sentirnos intimidados por cuan convencional e incluso rígidas parecen ser las cosas.

De ser así, es importante recordar que todas las estructuras externas, todas las jerarquías budistas, son formas de ayudar a los demás — que emanan del gozo y la vacuidad, y están diseñadas para guiar a todos hacia el gozo y la vacuidad.

El Budismo Moderno

Nuestro principal objeto de refugio en el budismo moderno o Kadampa es Guru Sumati Buda Heruka — nuestro Guía Espiritual en el aspecto de Je Tsongkhapa, con Buda Shakyamuni en su corazón, y éste a su vez con Buda Heruka y Vajrayogini en su corazón. Esto revela nuestra práctica externa, interna y secreta del Dharma, a través de la cual nuestro Guía Espiritual nos conduce a su corazón de gozo y vacuidad.

Guru Tsongkhapa encarna la disciplina moral y la renuncia. Absolutamente accesible, representa la estructura visible o externa para ayudar a los demás, como los centros, la comunidad ordenada y la comunidad Pratimoksha laica. Podemos “permanecer naturales mientras cambiamos nuestra aspiración”, como reza el lema Kadampa. Por ejemplo, obedeciendo las normas de tráfico, mejorando nuestra ética, o mostrando un ejemplo genuino de humildad y honradez, mientras por dentro las cosas cambian.

Je Tsongkhapa emana de Guru Buda Shakyamuni en su corazón. Guru Buda Shakyamuni encarna las realizaciones internas de amor, compasión y bodhichita de Je Tsongkhapa fluyendo sin esfuerzo por todo el mundo de los seres vivos.

Y a su vez, Buda Shakyamuni emana del Daka y la Dakini definitivos, Heruka y Vajrayogini en su corazón, que encarnan la práctica tántrica secreta u oculta del gozo y la vacuidad que origina e impregna todos los fenómenos, que es la realidad misma, y que ya existe como la solución.

Como se dice en Gran Tesoro de Mérito:

Según la tradición de Je Tsongkhapa, un maestro cualificado conducirá gradualmente a sus discípulos y discípulas a través de las etapas del Lamrim, el Lojong y el Mantra Secreto (Tantra), y mostrará cómo integrarlos en una práctica regular.

Únete a las Dakinis

Por lo tanto, es importante recordar nuestra naturaleza Dakini secreta — completamente libre de protocolos, y en verdad incluso, más bien anárquica. Toda apariencia y concepción ordinaria — sea o no virtuosa — debe desaparecer. Si recordamos que todo está impregnado por la Tierra Pura de las Dakinis, no hay razón para sentirnos oprimidos por estructuras en apariencia jerárquicas porque comprendemos su verdadera naturaleza e intención.

Identificarnos con esta naturaleza secreta es crucial si queremos utilizar nuestra comprensión del gozo y la vacuidad para superar las apariencias y concepciones ordinarias y alcanzar la Tierra interna de las Dakinis, es decir, la luz clara significativa y la iluminación. De lo contrario, si nos descuidamos, podemos terminar atrapados en aún más apariencia y elaboración, incluso juicios hacia nosotros mismos y los demás.

No hay necesidad de sentirnos limitados, estancados, aburridos, inadecuados o mal con nosotros mismos. De hecho, es mejor olvidarnos de nuestro sentido ordinario y equivocado del yo y disolverlo en la vacuidad lo más posible, y en su lugar unirnos a las Dakinis.

Podemos abrazar nuestra naturaleza Dakini sin restricciones, como Je Tsonghapa. En la ofrenda tántrica del tsog, que hacemos los días 10 y 25 de cada mes en los centros Kadampa de todo el mundo, cantamos la Canción de la Reina de la Primavera. Je Tsongkhapa se la cantaba a las Dakinis, y las Dakinis se la cantaban a él. Je Tsongkhapa, un Buda tántrico, se liberó por completo. Je Pabongkhapa tuvo visiones de él montado en un tigre.

¡Tus comentarios son bienvenidos!

Got blessings?

7.5 mins read.

What on earth are blessings?!

You, who love all beings without exception,
Are the source of happiness and goodness;
And you guide us to the liberating path. ~ The Liberating Prayer

And what does it mean to say that Buddhas are the source of our happiness? For example:

Buddha’s function is to bestow mental peace on each and every living being every day by giving blessings. We know that we are happy when our mind is peaceful and unhappy when it is not. It is therefore clear that our happiness depends on our having a peaceful mind and not on good external conditions … Through continually receiving Buddha’s blessings we can maintain a peaceful mind all the time. Buddha is therefore the source of our happiness. ~ The Mirror of Dharma

I don’t know about you, but questions about this have come up over the years, such as “Surely we are happy on our own sometimes?! If Buddhas didn’t exist or weren’t around, would we never be happy? Just generating peaceful and virtuous minds is supposed to make us happy, why do we need blessings as well?”

How do I explain this to myself, let alone to people who know nothing about Buddhas? It seems pretty deep and mystical. Can we understand this without relying on blind faith? I’d be interested to hear what you think about this. This is my understanding so far.

Enlightened beings (Skt Buddhas) are beings imputed on enlightenment, who possess enlightenment, who embody enlightenment, who ARE enlightenment. Enlightenment is reality. Living beings are in unreality because of our ordinary conceptions and appearances. We are in darkness because we don’t know we are manifestations of bliss and emptiness; but the light of omniscient wisdom effortlessly finds its way through every chink, and any peace in samsara’s prison comes from this. In his Mahamudra teachings of 2003, Geshe Kelsang says:

Generally every living being without exception receives the blessings of enlightened beings every day, and because of this they will experience from time to time some small inner peace. Without any particular reason, they are happy. This is the function of enlightened beings, their job.

Without the existence of enlightenment, I think we would be practically powerless to be happy. The blessings of Buddhas are the nature of bliss and emptiness, compassion and wisdom, enlightenment. They hold us all up from falling into utter darkness. It is simply far far less effort to go along with our ignorance and other delusions, assuming that everything we see is real. If there was no enlightenment, there’d be only samsara at its worst. No light. The trend toward disorder, the law of entropy, would prevail.

It looks like their minds are generally darkness, covered by self-grasping ignorance. From this darkness, sometimes, from time to time, they develop a positive mind, a peaceful mind, a calm mind, like lightning. ~ Mahamudra 2003

Whenever we are relatively virtuous, non-deluded, and peaceful, at that time our minds are already conjoined with the peaceful non-deluded reality of enlightenment, which means we are already experiencing blessings. Therefore, whenever we experience any degree of inner peace, it is good to recognize that experience as moments of blessing, and enjoy those moments with an understanding of the deep and close connection we have with enlightened beings. When we experience inner peace, right there is our Buddha nature, right there is Buddha, and right there is Buddha’s blessings. When we do this, the blessings and peace grow in power. This works for everyone, in any tradition.

Making an effort to receive blessings

Because in case you were wondering, there is no suggestion that you have to be a believer in Buddha or indeed subscribe to any particular faith to get blessings or to be happy. That would defy all observation and common sense. Everyone has Buddha nature, the potential for enlightenment, and is capable of experiencing inner peace. Everyone receives blessings, often without even trying. Such as this purring cat next to me.

And we can experience these blessings even more if we know what is going on. They become powerful blessings. They can transform us. As it says in How to Transform Your Life, likening the sun to Buddha’s blessings and the closed shutters to our lack of faith:

Even when the sun is shining, if our house is shuttered, only a little light can enter and our house will remain cold and dark; but if we open the shutters, the warm rays of the sun will come pouring in.

All this is probably why our main commitment for refuge in Buddha is to “make an effort to receive Buddha’s blessings”. Venerable Geshe-la said in 2003:

Without receiving the blessings from enlightenment [sic], we are powerless, we have to remain in samsara’s prison in life after life, endlessly.

People in other traditions work on receiving blessings just as Buddhists do. Faith in holy beings makes us receptive to blessings; we believe in blessings and so we receive them more loudly and obviously, like turning on a radio to tune into the radio waves. Take Patricia, for example, who is always wishing me and everyone else a blessed day, “May you be blessed, God bless you.” And who, despite her aches and pains, more often than not has the broadest smile on her beautiful face.

By developing strong faith, our mind will open and the full sun of Buddha’s blessings will come pouring in. ~ How to Transform Your Life

Seeing through the virtual reality

What does it mean if we’re not enlightened? It means we’re not in reality. We are identifying ourselves with delusions and mistaken appearances, believing that’s all there is.

We have mistaken dualistic conceptions about most things, and that includes samsara and enlightenment, if we’ve heard of them – we think they are inherently unrelated, as if they exist in a totally different place and time, but do they? Is it like America being here and Africa being there and never the two land masses shall meet?

Samsara is like a virtual reality that exists within the space of bliss and emptiness – it is pervaded by space and surrounded by space, it’s just that people in that virtual reality don’t know they’re in it. (Or to use another analogy, it is like someone with their head stuck in a cloud of delusion being oblivious to the infinite sky around them.) We believe that everything we see is far more than mere appearance and really exists, solid and real, including all the painful stuff, including even (and especially) our avatar-like self. But we can learn to see through this to the pervasive truth, space-like emptiness and bliss. We can wipe out or purify the source code of our samsaric virtual reality, ignorance, and replace it with the source code of enlightened appearances, bliss and emptiness.

If you imagine switching off all the mistaken appearances of samsara, what is left?

There is a beautiful passage in the Isolated Body chapter of Tantric Grounds and Paths where Venerable Geshe-la explains what life is like for a Yogi or Yogini who has gained the realization of the union of bliss and emptiness:

Once they have this experience, they simultaneously perceive any objects, such as forms, that appear to them as manifestations both of emptiness and their mind of bliss. Because they have a deep recognition of emptiness and their mind of bliss as the same nature, they can view all phenomena that appear to their mind as manifestations of their bliss, and this special way of looking at phenomena causes them greatly to increase their experience of bliss, just as a fire will increase if more fuel is added to it.

May all happiness and joy be fulfilled

May all suffering quickly cease
And all happiness and joy be fulfilled. ~ The Liberating Prayer

Back in the day I asked Venerable Geshe-la about the correct usage of the passive tense “be fulfilled”, when I was a Tharpa editor and sent The Liberating Prayer to prepare for publishing. I even foolishly suggested some other wording, maybe something like “And everyone attain happiness and joy”. But luckily he ignored me because happiness and joy are indeed already here, they don’t need to be attained, they just need to be fulfilled. How? By letting go of the hallucination of mistaken appearances so that our already peaceful Buddha nature can mix with enlightenment permanently.

When we rely on blessings, we can go very deep in our meditations. We can be transported quite rapidly to very pure states of mind, our delusions gradually giving away to an indescribably deep peace that comes from wisdom and connection to the sacred.

And through this we can start to hold the space for others, and our prayers have power:

Please nourish me with your goodness,
That I in turn may nourish all beings
With an unceasing banquet of delight. ~ The Liberating Prayer

This is why, for example, it is legit to focus on one’s mother as Buddha Tara. When we search for our mother using wisdom, we cannot find her in her body, her mind, or anywhere else – the mother we normally see does not exist. There is no inherently suffering living being there. Yet she has performed the functions of Tara for us and so can rightly be identified as such. This recognition allows for huge blessings to pervade the situation and relationship, transforming both of us. Check out this article for more of what Geshe-la said about that.

Allowing ourselves to have this experience

As this is traditional retreat month in the modern Buddhist tradition, I wanted to add one more thing. Sometimes I think that we don’t allow ourselves to go deep because we feel we don’t have time. “I don’t have time to be blissful! I don’t have time to dissolve myself and everyone else away because there are 50 texts awaiting me, the dog is hungry, and I have to get to work!”

One solution is to allocate yourself time each day for a meditation practice, and, however long or short it is, let that be the happiest time of the day when you really do allow yourself to go deep, knowing that everything else can wait till after your session.

Another solution is to do occasional retreats, when “we stop all forms of business and extraneous activities so as to emphasize a particular spiritual practice” – in other words we have all the permission in the world to stop thinking about all our normal stuff. Therefore we can afford to go deep in the sessions and keep that thread of mindfulness throughout the breaks.

Over to you, I look forward to reading your comments 😊

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Serenity in the storm

7 mins read.

It’s no secret that humanity has been living through some difficult times and a lot of people have been struggling to stay afloat.

Friends all over the world have told me they’ve been having a challenging two years. Some who were relatively carefree have been experiencing levels of anxiety they didn’t expect, for example, and I know what they mean. I read that therapists cannot keep up with demand because stress and other mental health issues are, not surprisingly, at an all time high. Samsara (the cycle of impure life explained by Buddha) was not exactly working out even before this pandemic; but the pandemic has functioned like a magnifying glass for vulnerabilities.

Nine out of 10 therapists say the number of clients seeking care is on the rise, and most are experiencing a significant surge in calls for appointments, longer waiting lists, and difficulty meeting patient demand. Nearly one in three clinicians have 3-month waiting lists, and report hating having to turn so many people away.

This has got me thinking even more than usual about the value of Buddhism, or Dharma. Buddha specialized in overcoming adversity and suffering. His teachings address all aspects of the human experience, including trauma, grief, loneliness, depression, anxiety, anger, and overwhelmingness. Buddhist meditation is both therapeutic and transcendent, and anyone can learn how to do it, Buddhist or not.

We can go to classes now all over the world. There is no waiting list, no one has to be turned away, and weekly classes are kept accessible and inexpensive — not much more than this over-priced coffee I am nursing. And once we learn how to meditate we can do it whenever we like, for free. It doesn’t require special clothing or equipment. We can do it wherever we like too — on our bed or on our commute or on a park bench.

Hole or door?

I have been wanting to share a bit of advice for any of you who might be feeling fear and worry in these difficult times — advice I am just going to go ahead and repeat verbatim from a fellow ancient Kadampa:

This moment that humanity is living through can be considered a door or a hole. The decision to fall into the hole or go through the door is yours.

If you consume information 24 hours a day, with negative energy, constantly nervous, with pessimism, you will fall into this hole.

But if you take the opportunity to look at yourself, to rethink life and death, to take care of yourself and others, you will go through the door.

Take care of your body and mind. When you take care of yourself, you take care of others at the same time. Be kind to yourself and others.

You are prepared to go through this crisis. Grab your toolbox and use all the tools at your disposal.

Don’t feel guilty for feeling fortunate in these difficult times. Being sad and without energy doesn’t help at all — enjoy life! You have the right to be strong and positive. You have to maintain a beautiful, cheerful, and bright demeanor. This has nothing to do with ignoring the world’s problems, it is a strategy of resistance.

When we walk through the door, we have a new view of the world because we have faced our fears and difficulties. This is what you can do now:

  • Practice serenity in the storm
  • Keep calm, meditate daily
  • Make a habit of encountering the sacred every day
  • Demonstrate resilience through faith, patience, and love.

I hope this year that lots of people will add tools to that resilience toolbox by taking advantage of the meditation centers existing all over this big wide world.

While we remain with delusions such as aversion, uncontrolled desire, confusion, and fear, we are all of us mentally unhealthy to a greater or lesser degree. If we don’t understand ourselves, we cannot heal ourselves, let alone anyone else. Therefore, we need to learn to apply the medicine of Dharma to our own actual problems; and with a skillful meditation teacher this is exactly what we can do. Moreover, Buddhist meditation is not only immediately curative but also an entire path to the everlasting bliss of enlightenment – meaning that we can practice it at whatever level we wish.

For any Kadampas amongst you, this pressing need for Dharma to stay widely available has got me thinking about a related topic that seems quite relevant  …

Find your Sangha

Listening recently to one of Venerable Geshe Kelsang’s teachings from a Festival he taught years ago, I heard the laughter of thousands of people in attendance. It struck me how important these Festivals are for the flourishing of Kadampa Buddhist teachings in this world, providing the glue to keep this tradition alive and whole.

I really appreciate the opportunities that livestreaming meditation classes have created for people everywhere – it has been a genuinely silver lining to this pandemic, and I hope it stays put. However, from what I can tell, there has also been a lot of inevitable fracturing over these past two years of involuntary separation, and the sooner we can all try and get back in person to our Centers and Festivals, the better. (Maybe not this minute, with Omicron raging, but as soon as the coast is clear.)

We talk about the Three Jewels of refuge in Buddhism – not just Buddha and Dharma (his teachings), but also Sangha (the community of practitioners). Our Sangha provide the antidote to the isolation so many of us have been feeling, as well as the advice and help we need to make sustained and happy progress. I recall Venerable Geshe-la saying years ago:

People come for the teachings, but they stay for the Sangha.

What is our Center for?

What is your Buddhist Center for you?

I think this might be quite an important question to ask ourselves as we deliberate on whether or not to head on back there.

Kadampas are all about living a more heartfelt, enlightened way of life. That’s the theory, anyway. We really are supposed to mean it when we say, “Everybody welcome”; and this is because we are trying to be Bodhisattva communities. We share in the vision of bringing about lasting peace and freedom in the hearts of each and every single living being! Every Center is dedicated to this very aim. As Geshe Kelsang says:

If we always maintain the recognition “I am a member of a Bodhisattva family; our community is a Bodhisattva family,” we will develop respect for our community, which in reality is Mahayana Sangha and an object of refuge.

If we go to our Center in person, we can help build up a warm, inclusive, and kind-hearted Sangha community, and it really will become a place where anyone feels they can come for company, joy, and mutual support. It can also act as a reliable base from which we can take everything we learn back out into our family and wider communities.

But, to paraphrase Gen-la Dekyong from last Summer’s International Festival, how can we say “Everybody welcome” if we’re not at the Center to let them in?!

We need to show up, somehow, to do our bit if we possibly can. I think so, anyway. As Venerable Geshe-la says in a talk he gave called “What should our main practice be?”

We cannot cherish all living beings immediately because our self-cherishing is too strong. Therefore, to train in the intention to offer happiness to others we need to choose one object to begin with. Eventually we can apply this practice to all mother sentient beings. I can say that for us this object is our own Dharma Centre. If we help Dharma Centers, in reality we are giving happiness to all living beings.

He goes on to explain exactly what he means by that, summing it up like this:

By helping Dharma Centers to flourish we are helping pure Dharma to flourish, and if Dharma flourishes people will have the opportunity to listen to, contemplate, meditate on, and realize Dharma. In this way they can solve their problems and gain permanent freedom from suffering.

Without our Dharma Center flourishing, what would be left in our area? Would we even have the rather convenient livestreaming we have all come to know and (sort of) love … ?!

Finally, in the current climate I think it’s worth mentioning also that Kadampa Centers are political-free zones. There is so much more we humans have in common than not, and Buddha’s teachings help us to appreciate this such that we can genuinely understand and respect one another. Something the world could use more of, wouldn’t you agree?

Comments on this subject (pros and cons of livestreaming) are appearing on this article, and your experience is very welcome if you can take a moment to write about it in the box below.

(One thing I want to just add is that, in my observation, livestream has worked well as a way to stay connected for those who had already attended Centers and somewhat knew their Sangha. Less so for complete newcomers — livestream is not quite as supportive — which may be why some Centers are now noticing that there are more “new” people than old-timers showing up for in-person classes. Your thoughts are welcome on this too.)

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Are you for real?!

6.5 mins read.

We need to take the real self out. It is getting in the way of everything good, everything fun.

Grasping at our self as real is the reason we took rebirth as a human being in the first place. We blame everything and everyone for the problems of this human life of ours, but the real reason everything keeps going wrong is because how can anything other than polluted waves arise from a polluted ocean of samsaric rebirth? We need to purify our ocean-like consciousness of this contamination of ignorance by realizing that its object — the real or inherently existent self — does not exist.

I am carrying straight on from this article, so it might help to read it first if you have time.

Which is the real me?

In this meditation (outlined below), we can imagine lining up all our selves. There are so many of them! This is not even to mention the countless versions of self we have had since beginningless time. Line them up and see that the painful, overwhelmed one, for example, is one of many – so which one is the real you?!

What will come out of that is a moment of, “Oh, the self I normally see, the separate unique one, doesn’t exist!” Self exists, even the painful one, but only as an imputation of the mind — not from its own side. I am projecting a singular fixed self on shifting plural parts and believing it is actually out there, more than a projection.

We grasp at one of these versions of self at any given moment and believe it is the one and only, the real me, but why? And, for that matter, why do we pick that one and not another happier more resilient one?! There is no reason, just bad habit.

We don’t need to grasp any version as solid and real. Singularity is merely imputed – self is just a label that we are imputing on various parts of our body and/or mind, such as a thought “I’m hopeless at everything” and a feeling of being overwhelmed. There is no such singular self there. If we go looking for it, it’ll disappear like a rainbow:

When we look at a rainbow it appears to occupy a particular location in space, and it seems that if we searched we would be able to find where the rainbow touches the ground. However, we know that no matter how hard we search we will never be able to find the end of the rainbow, for as soon as we arrive at the place where we saw the rainbow touch the ground, the rainbow will have disappeared. ~ Modern Buddhism

The painful self is just a projection of our thoughts. We feel we have no choice but to experience it because we believe it’s real, but it’s not. What are we going to do if we understand this? Well, we will stop projecting it because it hurts. Why would we project that not good enough self?! That argumentative self? Especially when we have alternatives, which Buddha offers. We can be a confident, joyful Bodhisattva, for a start. We are not inherently a Bodhisattva (or anything else) but this actually means we can relate to ourself as one. This change of identification is grounded in reality, not fantasy, and will lead to incredible results.

A simple meditation 

I’ll now put some of the stuff from this and the last article together in a meditation.

Start by slowing down, as explained in this last article. Ideally generate a good motivation, such as the wish for your family and all beings to be free from the sufferings caused by self-grasping.

I always relate to myself as one self, a unit, a singularity. Is that true? For example, although I am happy, unhappy, tired, energetic, hungry, full, etc, I feel that this is the same single self that is sometimes hungry etc.  

Bring a painful version of self to mind, for example, “I’m not good enough/hurt/insecure.” Use a version that you get stuck in all too often. See how in that moment you perceive it to be your actual self.

I perceive that singular self as if it were independent of the mind and everything else, discrete, inherently existent. It appears to exist objectively as a single, separate, whole unit, delineated from everything else. This is the self I normally see. Spend some time getting a look at it. 

Then ask, “Is this my actual self? Is this really me?”

Line up a self that is an adult, daughter, friend, happy, sad, angry, attached, tired, etc. Which one of these many selves is me? The real me?

The self has many parts and therefore is not a singularity but a plurality. ~ Modern Buddhism

Therefore that painful self you’re stuck in is NOT the real you. It is A self, not THE self. The non-contiguous self that appears so clearly and at which you grasp does not exist any more than a rainbow:  

If we do not search for it, the rainbow appears clearly; but when we look for it, it is not there. ~ Modern Buddhism

Recognize that. Get a sense of relief as you let it go. 

What does this mean? Because my objectively cut-off painful self doesn’t exist, I don’t need to hold onto it. Because the self is just an imputation, empty of existing from its own side, I am always free to choose what to impute myself on or identify with. Because I am just projecting or imputing myself on a plurality of parts, I am free to project myself differently on different parts — I can identify with my Buddha nature, kindness, or wisdom, for example.

Hold this understanding for a few minutes if you can, feeling happy in the freedom of emptiness. And conclude with the determination:

I am not stuck; in fact I have limitless potential. I am free to be who I wish to be. Therefore, I will choose to be a happy self, a kind self, and/or a Bodhisattva.

Taking the time to slow down

As a main takeaway from these last two articles, I’d like to suggest that we all take the time to slow down so we can wisen up. I have been telling myself this because I, perhaps like you, have been coming out of a challenging several months, with more heady conceptuality than usual from getting caught up in one unfolding crisis after another, personal and collective. None of us is alone in facing anxiety and feelings of isolation – people tell me and I see headlines about the toll this Pandemic is taking on people’s mental health. I am finding that the simple act of slowing down is helping me a huge amount. I think it can help you too.

We can try it whenever we notice that our mind is getting tight or inflexible or worried. We can try it when we are next waiting for something – for a red light, for a kettle, for an appointment, for a meeting to end. If we just stop for a few minutes and allow our mind to relax, we will most likely find that we start to feel better. Our wave-like troubles can subside in a still, tranquil ocean. And not only that, we will also likely find that we naturally start connecting to a deeper sanity that waits inside us, such as love or wisdom.

Retreat season is just around the corner, in January — a perfect time to slow down and get creative for a far better year … Here is an article about meditation retreats and what is on offer in 2022.

Over to you. Please leave any comments or questions in the box below 

Related articles

How to stop being so down on ourselves

Slowing down and wisening up

The meditation game changer

 

 

Slowing down and wisening up

7 mins read.

Do you feel like you’re in a hurry a lot of the time? Like there’s always something to get to after this?

It’s not very relaxing, but in my observation we’re pretty much all in a hurry these days, including me more than I’d like of late. I caught myself the other day even managing to feel in a hurry while waiting in line at the airport. I had nothing to do and no real choice except to be, but I had an antsy feeling wanting the line to hurry up and/or wondering about what I was going to do or say when I got to the head of the line. Even though it was obvious that I simply had to show my passport and Covid certificate — even though I knew that and was prepared (had spent days preparing! even had the Verifly app!) — I still wanted to get it all over with.

This was instead of being utterly peaceful and relaxed in the present moment.

Which I can be if I want. We all can. But for that we have to slow down. There are many ways we can slow down, the simplest being just breathing and relaxing into our heart. There is no need to push for any result – we simply give ourself a few minutes to allow all our busy conceptuality to dissolve into the peaceful clarity of our own mind. 

Slow down AND wisen up

When we allow ourselves to slow down, we start to feel happier and less rushed. Even better, as soon as we absorb just a little bit we automatically become a little bit wiser. We are able to see things with a deeper knowing. We drop below the flotsam and jetsam of our turbulent thoughts to the still depths within and everything becomes clearer, reflected more accurately, as in a still lake. And then we can start to figure things out on a more spiritual level such that we can truly let go and relax.

Being in our heart letting everything dissolve into emptiness is the most relaxing activity on the planet. At least it is if we are actually a little bit absorbed and present and not over-thinking things, pushing to get this done, pushing for an insight. To begin with, we have to let ourselves abide with our Buddha nature. From there we can gently contemplate Dharma instructions – allowing ourself to stay with each little insight as it arises so that it can naturally evolve into the next.

It doesn’t work if we try to stay in control of the proceedings and rush them as opposed to surrendering to a deeper, let’s say unfurling, wisdom. This wish to control is ego-driven and it doesn’t work for meditation. If we’re not careful we start to identify with someone who isn’t that great at meditation, believing that meditation is going to be too much hard work even though we know it is supposed to be good for us. Meditating with that self-identification is rather painful. Sometimes it makes us a bit “lungy”, which is when our inner energy winds stop cooperating so that we feel strained and distant from our own insights.

I’ve spoken about how to deal with these things on the blog, but today and in the next article I want to explore in particular that self-grasping we have at a singular self, such as the me that cannot meditate. Maybe we can approach this on the basis of a little meditation, such as the one here. See you back here in five minutes …

…. Hello again.

How to abandon grasping at singularity

As with any discussion of emptiness, first of all we need some intellectual understanding through listening or reading to instructions, and then we gently bring that understanding into our heart by contemplating it with interest or admiring faith, without pushing. When we get a personal insight, our heart moves and we abide with that for as long as we can, neither following other thoughts nor pushing for further insights.

In the chapter Ultimate Bodhichitta in Modern Buddhism, Venerable Geshe Kelsang explains how we can meditate on the emptiness of the 8 extremes. These specialist meditations are in the section “The emptiness of phenomena”, and are the 8 different ways in which we grasp at phenomena as real. It is a spacy section and a lot of fun! I’m going to jump straight to #7 to share a practical way of meditating on avoiding the extreme of singularity as it relates to our self.

When we observe one object, such as our I, we strongly feel that it is a single, indivisible entity, and that its singularity is inherently existent.

When we think “Me” at any given moment, we are holding onto ourself as singular. The one and only. I am a whole unto myself. I am a discrete entity, existing in and of myself, I don’t depend on anything else. I am just me, indivisible me.

In reality, however, our I has many parts, such as the parts that look, listen, walk and think or the parts that are, for example, a teacher, a mother, a daughter and a wife. Our I is imputed upon the collection of all these parts.

We impute ourselves on multiple things. Whenever our “parts” change, which is all the time, our self changes, because we are not inherently single but imputed on a plurality. For example, what happens to the unhappy self when our mood lifts and we are happy again? It disappears because it was only ever appearance to begin with.

As with each individual phenomenon it is a singularity, but its singularity is merely imputed, like an army that is merely imputed upon a collection of soldiers or a forest that is imputed upon a collection of trees.

That’s not how our self is perceived by our self-grasping ignorance! Regardless which version of self is arising, ignorance grasps it as objectively or inherently singular. There’s just one of me, right?! So when I’m feeling overwhelmed, for example, that me is a single overwhelmed self, the one and only me. I believe it and buy into it. This grasping fills my mind, and therefore I feel bad and have little energy to do anything.

However, far from having just one self, we have a lot of them — in fact we probably have hundreds in any given day. I’ll go first:

I am a daughter; in fact I am arguably two daughters – my mom’s and my dad’s. I am a sister and a sister-in-law. I am anxious. I am relaxed. I am a writer. I never get round to writing. I am a hiker. I am a lazy lump. I am good at meditation. I should be better at meditation. I am kind. I am mean. I am cool. I am a nerd. (I am a cool nerd.) I am overwhelmed. I am in charge. I am a traveler. I never go anywhere. Etc etc. I just threw those out randomly, I could probably go on all day.

Most of these versions cancel each other out, yet strangely I still manage to grasp at each single one as if it was the real me.

We have gotten habituated to this singular sense of self over this and many lifetimes. For example, we can go for a long time without identifying with, say, a jealous self, but then someone does something and we’re believing it again. In those moments, it can feel unimaginable that we may not be that self. A friend may encourage us, “Hey, just drop it!” Yes, why don’t I?!, but it’s impossible. You don’t get it, I am that.

Ten minutes ago I was a different self. I am swapping selves continuously. I have to let go of one self to be another. How real can any of these singular separate selves therefore be?!

Moreover, with each friend we have also developed a different persona – jokey, serious, flirty, etc. We are constantly swapping hats/selves. Yet due to ignorance we then keep grasping at each self as distinct and fixed and stuck.

And not only that, but what about all those distinct selves the rest of you see when you look at “me”? You all think something completely different when you bring Luna Kadampa to mind. How many versions of me are floating around?! I hope there are some decent ones, but it’s not entirely my fault if there aren’t.

I am out of time and you may be out of coffee break. But the meditation I’m going to explain next week (already written) will help with this.

Over to you 🙂 Please leave any comments or questions in the box below so I can address them as well in the next article.

Further reading

Drop into your heart and breathe

 

Meditation in the pursuit of happiness

 

Pausing in the pursuit of happiness to be happy

Quick fix meditation on emptiness

 

 

Hope vs Nope: The impact of faith and non-faith on body and mind

Guest article by Doctor, Acupuncturist, and Kadampa Buddhist, Hung Tran

4.5 mins read.

Precisely what faith is and exactly how it works are tricky enough questions for experienced meditators to answer. But accounting for the role of faith in spontaneous remissions is even more challenging.

As a Western-trained doctor, master practitioner of Classical Chinese Medicine, and Kadampa Buddhist, I’ve explored faith in many different settings. I’ve seen firsthand the impact of faith on the body, and I’ve felt firsthand the impact of faith on the mind.

In this article I’d like to explore the three types of faith Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso describes in How To Understand The Mind, and discuss their possible connection to a medical phenomenon known as the ‘placebo effect’.

The word faith comes from the Latin fides, meaning trust. In the West we tend to distinguish between faith and reason, but in a Dharma context both are just steps in the process of gaining certainty — or so-called “valid cognizers”.

Practically speaking, faith allows us to develop trust in something, and then through that to entrust ourselves to it. It’s an openness and receptivity that lets us step beyond our current situation and into something new.

Interestingly, in How To Understand The Mind, Geshe Kelsang says that to really understand what faith is we need to understand non-faith first. Perhaps this is because non-faith is something we’re all much more familiar with!

What is that ‘burnt seed’ of non-faith? I would argue that it’s primarily a feeling of being stuck, limited and shut down. In contrast to the upward momentum of ‘Hope’ it is the downward heaviness of ‘Nope’.

On that point, remember Barack Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope? Well, it turns out that our all-too-familiar feeling of Nope is actually far more audacious. Why? Well, audacity means ‘boldness of ambition’, and when we’re stuck in a Nope state, that experience of non-faith turns out to be astonishingly bold.

Because despite having a precious human life with all its freedoms and endowments, despite having access to the Dharma and a fully qualified Spiritual Guide, and despite the reality of subtle impermanence which means we’re changing moment by moment anyway, that feeling of Nope makes us utterly convinced that no positive change is possible — whatsoever.

I, for one, would call that pretty darn audacious!

Now, in my clinical experience as a Doctor I’ve seen again and again how illness and recovery are intimately related to an individual’s outlook and beliefs. In fact, the three types of non-faith that Venerable Geshe-la describes — ‘non-admiration’, ‘non-belief’, and ‘non-wishing’ — are easy to see in any medical setting.

Consider the following example. Imagine that you’re sick and you’ve sought out a doctor for help. If you aren’t sure about them, and doubt their credentials and experience, you’ll first develop non-admiration, which will hold them at a distance, and keep you rather closed. You’ll then develop non-belief which will doubt their diagnosis. And lastly you’ll develop non-wishing, which will prevent you from entrusting yourself fully to their course of treatment.

What will be the net result of these three types of non-faith? Essentially, no change whatsoever. You will remain exactly the same and, in fact, you may even come to feel worse as a consequence of identifying more strongly with your illness.

On the other hand, if you feel that the doctor is highly qualified and fully reliable, your experience will be the exact opposite. You’ll develop ‘admiring faith’ that makes you open and receptive, ‘believing faith’ that trusts what they’re saying, and ‘wishing faith’ that allows you to entrust yourself fully to their course of treatment.

The net effect here is essentially the basis of transformation itself. You’ll have a brand new way of relating to yourself and the situation, and a sense of being in a concrete relationship with recovery rather than sickness.

In the placebo effect, the ‘placebo’ is a pill or treatment with no actual medicinal properties. Its only power is to suggest the possibility of recovery to the patient. When faith in the placebo is present, it is that faith alone which facilitates a psychological shift from Nope to Hope, and thereby a corresponding physiological shift from illness to recovery.

To give an example, Parkinson’s disease arises from impaired dopamine release in a certain area of the brain. In one experiment, patients given a placebo and told it was a new anti-Parkinson’s drug were not only able to move better but brain scans revealed increased dopamine in the affected area.

As evidence within the medical literature grows, Fabrizio Benedetti, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Turin, has described the placebo effect as having evolved from “a nuisance in clinical pharmacological research to a biological phenomenon worthy of scientific investigation in its own right.”

To conclude, the placebo effect is a timely reminder of the power of both faith and non-faith. Countless studies show how illness and recovery are facilitated by our beliefs. Practically speaking, if we believe something, it is ‘true’ for us and has power in our life — whether or not that belief is an accurate description of our actual potential.

In reality then, faith — this inner process of ‘trusting’ and ‘entrusting’ — functions to change our setting. Not the external setting, but the inner setting — like a setting on a dial.

So the big question is this: is the inner dial of our mind set to Hope or Nope? Because either way, the consequences on our health, happiness and spiritual practice are very real and very far reaching.

Please leave your comments and questions for our guest author below!

Dr. Hung Tran is uniquely placed to address the intersection of medicine (both Western and Eastern) and Buddhism. You can find many more insights on his wonderful website: https://www.hungtran.co.uk

 

Not enough love!

Hampstead HeathToday my mother’s caregiver Saint Patricia and I were shaking our heads at the deepening tragedies unfolding in Afghanistan. I said “People shouldn’t treat each other like this.” In between resisting spoonfuls of high-caloried shake, my mother, a 70lb speck in her huge medical bed, whispered her agreement: “No, they shouldn’t”. Patricia then summed up the problem in three words:

Not enough love.

Patricia knows this because she is one of the most faithful and loving people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She is a devout Christian from Jamaica, and since she arrived to take care of my mother, who is in hospice care at home, our London apartment has frequently been filled with prayer and happy smiles. I have been here for almost two months looking after my parents, and me and Patricia are fast friends. She inspires me to greater efforts in my own spiritual practice, for when she is not caring patiently for my adorable but “Nooo! Don’t touch me!!!” mom, she is reading the Bible or leading her prayer group or giving good advice to her church friends and large family. She doesn’t watch TV or read magazines, she sets the alarm for 11pm to join in another hour of prayer, and she never loses out on a moment to close her eyes and talk to God. She has practically moved in with us – staying way more than her hours, not so much because she needs to but because she wants to. Oh, and she also cooks for homeless people in her spare time.

We haven’t gotten into deep philosophical discussions, but she and I share a lot of the same views. About karma, for example — when various nurses were queuing up one day to see my mom, despite a nationwide shortage of care, Patricia said: “When you cast your bread out on the water, it comes back later to you. She is blessed.” Peering curiously at us both the other day, my mother remarked out of the blue, “You are both exactly the same!” Given that Patricia is an elderly Jamaican she met only two months ago and I am her daughter, that could seem a curious statement. But we understood and said so. “Yes, we speak the same language,” said Patricia, to which my mother whispered, “I am glad you understand what I mean.”

Here’s something I noted down a month ago: “Sitting here holding my mom’s hand, Patricia is absorbed in prayer on the chair across the room – she is praying for me and my family (we are on top of her group’s prayer list!), and little does she know that she is on top of my prayer list too. She would love for me to be a Christian and, whereas I don’t mind her being a Christian, I do want her to go to a Pure Land. Whose prayers will prevail?!? (mine).”

How did we stumble upon such a gift? In the summer my mother had come out of hospital and was being taken care of 3 x a day by the NHS team. Most of our Somalian carers would work from 7am to 8pm, sometimes for 6 or even 7 days a week, and then go home to take care of their husbands and kids – I was in awe. But with their over-subscribed schedule, they usually had only 20 minutes or so to sort out my mom before they needed to get to their next patient. So I was a bit surprised one morning when I came down the quiet staircase a bit later than usual, expecting to find my mom alone in her bed and get her up to breakfast, only to find a woman sitting companionably with her at the kitchen table while she slowly ate her porridge. “How long have you been here?” She looked at her watch. “About an hour and a quarter.” This was Diana.

This was the same day I was to start sleuthing for a private carer for my mother. I had a bunch of agencies lined up to talk to but, on a hunch, impressed by Diana’s good heart, I asked if she could recommend anyone. “Me”, she said. So that was it. And it turned out that she comes as a package with her 69-year-old mother, Patricia. Fast forward five months, and “We are family”.

They started work when I was back in America, and the moment I stepped back through their doorway in Highgate Diana told me, “We love your mother. We are here to give her blessings. We want her to have a peaceful death. Do you understand what I mean?” I did and I do.

They give my 87-year-old dad blessings too, generally sensing when to be sympathetic and when to laugh at his occasional (understandable) grumpiness. As well as this challenging period with his beloved wife of 62 years, he has been in a lot of pain with sciatica. “Your lower back is older than you are”, his doctor told him today, based on his MRI – probably due to substantial wear and tear over an illustrious, athletic past and days now spent on the sofa. However, Patricia helps him keep things in perspective because she also has a sore right leg and a bad back (not to mention a blind eye), but “We are alive, Michael!” When he groans loudly that he doesn’t like the pain, Patricia might say in her strong West Indian accent, “Who does, Michael? But we are very fortunate and we are blessed, praise the Lord.” My dad’s dad was a vicar, and so was his dad before him, and so on, dating back who knows how long. My dad broke the mould by becoming a diplomat, but he has some faith and patient acceptance, which Patricia is able to bring out better — it turns out — than his annoying daughter can.

Back to the bedside/global stage … we were agreeing that the problems of our sad and complicated world come from a lack of love, compassion, and wisdom. How many complications could and would be solved if everyone was loving each other and had faith in something deeper than themselves?

And one of the best ways to develop love is to stop focusing on others’ faults til we make them into Other, and instead focus on their good qualities and kindness until we experience how we’re all in this together.

The kindness of mothers

To this end, Buddha taught a meditation on the kindness of mothers, where we start by remembering the innumerable kindnesses shown us by our current mother, and then extend this appreciation to the mothers of all our lives.

It is so easy to take our mother’s kindness for granted. Plus it is all their fault if anything untoward happens to us. Even if they do everything almost perfectly, like my mother arguably has done, it is quite normal to exaggeratedly blame them for our own deficiencies or problems even well into adulthood. So we can meditate on the kindness of mothers in detail to redress that balance. This is an open-ended meditation that we need to make personal to our own mother or chief caregiver of this life. But here are a few ideas.

Even our own body (about which we’re constantly thinking, “Me! Me! Mine! Get off!”) came from (Biology 101) bits of our parents’ bodies. My mother said yesterday, in one of those moments of clarity that shine through her dementia: “I taught you how to say please and thank you. I made you.” Coincidentally a friend had given me some long socks to give her, so this was just the right moment to do that, for the socks say, “I made a good kid.”  She loves these socks. Although she no longer needs them because she no longer walks, they are hanging decoratively at the end of her bed.

To begin with, our mother let us stay in her womb. Not room, womb! Inside her own body?!!!! We are body snatchers. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Alien? At some point an alien gets into Sigourney Weaver and takes over her body – my main (only) memories of that movie are of her desperately trying to claw this thing out from her stomach. I would do the same if someone jumped into my body and started growing. But that’s basically what we did to our mother! We dived in there at conception and started to grow. Her stomach got bigger and bigger! But she didn’t mind! She had no idea who she was getting, we might have been a deranged psychopath for all she knew. But she was fine about it.

If a complete stranger turned up at your house and said, “Can I stay in your spare room for the next 18 years? Oh, and can I eat all your food, ruin your sleep, use up your life savings, stop you having fun with your friends, be absurdly ungrateful, and provide you with a constant source of anxiety until the day you die?” … would you be like, “Oh yes! Please come in, come in!” Our mother did that. We take it for granted, but we were perfect strangers from another life and she could easily have gotten rid of us. She owed us nothing.

Because of this kindness we are here today. That’s enough to feel indebted, even if she had to give us up at birth, and even if she was massively deluded thereafter. A friend of mine was adopted at birth and one day Geshe Kelsang said to him: ‘You have two kind mothers. The one who gave you your body and the other who brought you up.”

My mother said yesterday, “Who is that beautiful girl!”, and I told her she made me.

Whether or not our birth mother brought us up, we can go onto consider the kindness of whoever did. Without them, we wouldn’t have had any clothes. We would have starved to death. We would have walked under a truck. We would have drowned in the bath. We would not have known how to talk or walk or eat or write. Remember the horror stories coming out of the Romanian orphanages back in 1989, where the children were left on their own in filthy cots all day, and how it damaged them physically and psychologically beyond repair? That didn’t happen to us, thanks to our mother.

Without this tiny woman lying here, I wouldn’t be writing this because (a) she read to me so copiously aged 2 onwards that I learned to love words, (b) she kept making me go to school, and (c) she paid for me to do a typing course. Oh, and my fingers come from her too. These days, rigid in bed, she often worries, “I don’t know what to do. What am I supposed to be doing?” I tell her there is nothing left to do, especially where I am concerned. You have done it all already.

For the full meditation on the kindness of mothers, please check out Joyful Path of Good Fortune or Meaningful to Behold.

If it wasn’t for mums, I think our society would be completely unhinged. I sometimes think that this love is all that is keeping things together and relatively civilized. It is the glue in the family, the glue in community. If we took all that motherly love away, our world would literally fall apart today, wouldn’t it?

Even if our mother was deluded, it is only due to her kindness that we are alive to complain about it. Without our mother, we wouldn’t be sitting here learning how to forgive others or develop love by thinking about others’ kindness. Our opportunity to attain the bliss of enlightenment itself is thanks to our mother. Sitting here next to my sleeping mother, I think how what I owe her – physically, mentally, spiritually — is immeasurable. Probably unpayable, unless I hurry up and attain enlightenment.

Please pray for my mom. Her name is Sally. May she always be peaceful and happy. May she abide in Guru Tara’s heart.

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Ten ways we’re all equal

 8.5 mins read.

(Para leer este artículo en español utilice este link.)

It’s no secret that we human beings are not getting along very well with each other these days. There are any number of reasons for this, but the deeper causes arguably lie more in our messed up psychology than in the external world.

Buddha was an expert psychologist – diagnosing what ails us at the deepest level and proscribing the cure. He lived at a time when the caste system was entrenched in Indian society, but in his teachings and practical example managed to show how people could live without all the prejudice and hatred, the “isms” of his time. He taught everyone equally, from monarchs to outcasts, and he taught that everyone IS equal.

The following is just a list off the top of my head – there are probably more ways we are equal – but it’ll do for starters. (Please feel free to add more in the comments.) Contemplating all or any of these always increases my love for others and lifts my mood.

1. Equally full of potential: We all have the same spiritual depth or Buddha nature, the same indestructible potential for enlightenment, the same exact innate seeds for purity, goodness, love, happiness, compassion, and wisdom. Regardless of our packaging, all living beings have far more in common than not. If we could learn to distinguish people (which includes animals) from their delusions and see them instead as innately pure, even as future Buddhas, world peace and harmony would quickly appear on the horizon.

2. Equally wishing to be happy and free: Every living being has the same two basic wishes – the wish to be happy and the wish to be free from suffering. No one has a monopoly on these wishes. Like the snowflake example given here, we have far more in common than not.

Although we all equally deserve to be happy and free, unfortunately our common enemy, the delusions, causes this to happen instead:

Although living beings wish to be free from suffering,
They run straight towards the causes of suffering;
And although they wish for happiness,
Out of ignorance they destroy it like a foe. ~Shantideva

3. Equally me and other: We are all equally me and we are also all equally other, depending on our perspective. Which means that if I am special because I’m me, so is everyone else; and if others are not special because they are other, nor am I.

We pay lip service to equality in our society:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. ~ US Constitution

But of course, due to our delusions, some men are created more equal than others, to coin a phrase. Or rather they think they are.

Some of these life-changing ideas on innate equality so prominent in Buddhist mind-training have also come up the ages in other faiths and in political discourse, of course. Truth is truth, wherever we find it.

Everyone needs a rest from our narrative.

One important area of equality, however, that has always lagged so dismally as to be largely non-existent is in the generally accepted human view of animals. According to Buddhism, person, being, self, and I are synonyms, and so animals are as much persons or people as we are. And we can end up as animals.

4. Equally subject to delusions: Whether our delusions are strongly manifesting or leaving us in peace, while we remain with self-grasping ignorance we are never free from the threat of delusions. We may be temporarily free from hatred, for example, but if we have no permanent liberation from hatred we will hate again, causing ourselves and others suffering. This is why temporary liberation from particular sufferings is not good enough – we have to get rid of all our sufferings permanently by destroying its root, self-grasping.

5. Equally enmired in samsara: While we share this prison called samsara, we are all equally experiencing the sufferings of birth, ageing, sickness, and death, not getting what we want, getting what we don’t want, and experiencing dissatisfaction. Regardless of our status in this particular samsaric life, we are still all equally subject overall to the three sufferings – pervasive, changing, and manifest. We are also all equally subject to the six sufferings of uncertainty, having no satisfaction, having to leave our body over and over again, having to take rebirth over and over again, having to lose status over and over again, and having no companionship.  Regardless of where we are in the six realms, sooner or later we all experience all of these, and have done so since beginningless time.

Some people are temporarily luckier than others at any given moment; but no one in the six realms is more special. If we really want to be special, we’d be better off becoming liberated and enlightened for the sake of all living beings. We’re only special once we realize we’re not special.

Rater than segregating ourselves from other living beings, Buddha’s advice is to segregate ourselves and others from the real prison guards = the delusions.

6. Equally subject to karma: We are all equally subject to the laws of karma, the internal law of cause and effect wherein our intentions are the causes and our experiences are their effects. As in gravity, where for everyone what goes up must come down, so for everyone our positive actions must lead to happiness and our deluded or negative actions must lead to suffering.

7. Equally kind: Every living being has been the mother of every other living beings. Multiple times in fact. Due to our different appearances, we don’t recognize each other as mothers, more likely as friends, enemies, and strangers. But these appearances are deceptive and keep us divided.

Everyone is also equally kind when it comes to helping us physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually in life after life – this is the meditation called Remembering the kindness of others.

We need everyone equally as our objects of love and compassion, patience, generosity and so on, if we are to attain enlightenment.

8. Equal in the eyes of enlightened beings: Due to their omniscient wisdom and universal compassion, Buddhas love everyone equally, with absolutely no favorites. It is one of the qualities of being enlightened and why enlightened beings are true sources of refuge.

9. Equally empty of inherent existence: Venerable Geshe Kelsang says in Modern Buddhism:

To mix our mind with emptiness we need to know that, although phenomena appear in many different aspects, in essence they are all empty. The differences we see are just appearances to mistaken minds; from the point of view of ultimate truth all phenomena are equal in emptiness.

When we get rid of our self-grasping ignorance and have this experience of emptiness:

everything becomes very peaceful and comfortable, balanced and harmonious, joyful and wonderful.

When you get a chance, check out this stunningly beautiful teaching called “The Ten Equalities” in Ocean of Nectar (in the chapter Identifying the negated object.)

10. Equally mere label or imputation: We are always “othering” each other – it is a function of our self-cherishing whereby I am inherently me and you are inherently you. By extension I, myself, and those whom I currently identify as my kind are more important and/or better than you and your kind.

There is a lot of sensitivity around race, for example. White people can feel like they’re being guilted into being racist, for example, when they don’t really feel they are racist. But black people know firsthand the dangers of white people being blind to the systemic racism in this and other countries, including South Africa where I recently had the benefit of spending a month.

Buddha’s wisdom helps us get way past our labels of each other. We are all in this system together and need to get out of it together. No one is more equal than anyone else. We are all We. We are all Me.

Shantideva explains how we categorize people into those we feel superior to, inferior to, or moreorless equal with. These categories leading to pride, unworthiness, and competitiveness are based on the delusion of self-cherishing, where we feel we are always in a position with respect to others, jostling for position like a horse competing on a racecourse. It is tiring, and it is based on labels imputed by ignorance and self-centeredness.

When we exchange self with others in the radical way he teaches, we actually swap places with someone in each one of these categories and then look back at ourselves. Moving from the space of self to other, developing empathy, those labels disappear. This shows us that these categories do not exist from their own side, that there is nothing behind these labels.

Just as Buddha, in his teachings, did away with all the isms of his time, I think we could profitably do something similar with each other to cure the societal evils of homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, xenophobia, exceptionalism, etc, as well as to stop looking down on animals and abusing them for our own ends in speciesism.

There is a noteworthy verse in the Offering to the Spiritual Guide tsog offering that I’ve always loved:

Since Brahmins, outcasts, pigs, and dogs are of one nature, please enjoy.

This shows that everyone, regardless of their current societal line up, is equally empty of existing from their own side, and exists as mere label. Labels are imputed by thought, so if we change our thoughts from racist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and speciesism to love, empathy, compassion, and wisdom, the labels we hold of each other will change as well. And as there is nothing to be found beyond mere label, everything will change.

Summary

These Buddhist teachings for recognizing our equality in all these different ways are very practical. They are not meant to be dry or intellectual – they can start off intellectual but need to get into the heart through contemplation and meditation. They help us break down the illusion of separateness, increasing our empathy and love. Starting with us, today, they can be used by everyone to make an enormous difference.

Please add your comments in the section below 😁

 

 

 

 

“Yogi”: a modern-day mystic

By Gen Samten Kelsang.

(Para leer este artículo en español utilice este link.)

This article is celebrating the life and death of Gen Kelsang Tharpa. He is the oldest friend I have, and we shared many sweet, humorous, profound moments together, as well as many wild adventures. I feel honored to be able to share some affectionate thoughts about my dear friend.

I met Gen Tharpa when I first arrived at Manjushri Institute in 1983.  I had a burning desire to realize emptiness and become enlightened. At that time he was involved in teaching the Geshe studies program, and was teaching a course on Buddhist logic (Ta.Rig). I promptly joined the class.

In the early days at Manjushri, he was affectionally nicknamed “Yogi” because he loved meditation so much. Even then, all those decades ago, Yogi’s other-worldly and mystical side was showing its presence. Although he had a very gentle manner, his speech was powerful, and he soon became a leader in the community.

Shortly after arriving I became ordained. I found it a challenging time in my ordination, and Tharpa, with his laughter, lightheartedness, and kindness, was one of the people who kept me on track in the early days.

At heart, Gen Tharpa was a mystic. The flow of his energy was deep and powerful. He had a floating dreaminess that was attuned to understanding the mysteries of life and of death. He possessed the eternal patience of a single drop of water that wears away rock. Over the years, this patient and deep exploration of Dharma caused a profound and deep wisdom to begin to grow within him.

People would sometimes get exasperated with his inability to conform with their expectations. Little did they know that it was just because he was marching to the beat of a different drum …. a drum with a gentler, almost mirthful beat, that was not of this world. A drum that was very different from the manic cacophony a lot of us seem to march to.

Discussing emptiness with Gen Tharpa for any length of time would begin to re-shape reality. Another of his old friends told me: “One summer during ITTP (the International Teacher Training Program), while studying the Chittamatrins, Yogi and I were discussing every day how everything is the nature of mind. Life felt very spacey (in a good way) for weeks.”

Back in the early days, we travelled to India together to do pilgrimage. It was a profound and deeply bonding experience. We travelled with two other monks and went on a wild excursion to Massed Vultures Mountain, where Buddha taught the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras over 2500 years ago. We did Offering to the Spiritual Guide puja on top of the mountain.

Our conversations were mostly harmonious and friendly, but not always. Traveling back from Massed Vultures Mountain on the overnight train, I was slipping gratefully into an exhausted sleep, only to find myself suddenly pulled out of it by Gen Tharpa in the bunk above mine — doing his pujas and singing OM MANI PEME HUM really loudly. Indignant, I yelled, “Yogi! You just woke me up!” He smiled innocently: “I was just singing the mantra to lull you to sleep.” Yes, Gen Tharpa was marching to the beat of a different drum!

His natural courage, faith, and wisdom combined to summon the quiet strength and determination to deal with the challenges of life. A major challenge was his health …

Gen Tharpa had severe allergies to food, dust, and chemicals. For most of the 40 years I knew him, every day involved strict adherence to a very restrictive diet and strict vigilance towards external conditions. Often he would get ill from meeting even the smallest unfavorable conditions. Sometimes very ill.

He was very stoic with his illness. Illness was one of the main teachers in Tharpa’s life. Illness could not subdue him, so it taught him about the truth of Buddha’s words. When I reflect on this, I begin to think that if someone asked me to utter a word that summarized his life it would be this, VICTORY.

Maintaining his health involved strict discipline; however, rigidity was against his nature — he could never maintain strict discipline in a rigid manner. What I admired about him was his ability to adhere to strict discipline, but in an easy-going flexible way. He would naturally take a nap, rest a bit, eat some basic food, do some meditation, go for a walk, etc. The combination of his natural easy-going nature with a knowledge of his physical limitations and need for structure made him flow through the day, rather than stumble through it awkwardly. It was like watching a river flowing.

This quality of being flexible yet firm also appeared in his style of working with people. There was not an ounce of rigidity in him, yet he could be determined and tenacious. Combined with his skill with people and his inner courage, he was able to bring harmony to places of discord and strife.

He had the depth and vastness of mind to handle the intensity of another person’s strongest feelings, and hold the space for them to do deep inner work. With a rare combination of genuine compassion and pragmatism, he was able to help others navigate their spiritual lives and make genuine progress on the path to enlightenment.

Over the decades we have had many deep, enjoyable, and sometimes downright hilarious discussions about Dharma. Of all these conversations, one in particular changed me. We were talking about prayer and Tharpa shared an epiphany.

He described the suffering of this life as inevitable for most people. With his spaced-out and totally focused expression, he said that we often cannot protect the people we love the most. That we cannot stop their aging, their pain, their death.

There was a brief silence in the conversation. Tharpa slurped another spoon of his green spirulina soup, and I nodded wisely while contemplating the best way to fit a jumbo-sized veggie burger into my mouth. After a few moments of serious munching we resumed. He looked at me with that delightful other-worldly twinkle in his eye and said, “The way to help them is not to grieve, but to pray that we can meet them in future lives and teach them Dharma.” Maybe a basic point, but that is the moment it took root in my heart.

Gen Tharpa was one of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s first disciples. In Offering to the Spiritual Guide there is a verse:

O Protector, wherever you manifest as a Buddha,
May I be the very first in your retinue;
And may everything be auspicious for me to accomplish without effort,
All temporary and ultimate needs and wishes.

There is no doubt in my mind that in a previous life Tharpa sat making this prayer with deep sincerity and devotion. The life he has just lived and left is certain proof of that.

Being born among the Spiritual Guide’s first disciples is an experience of unusual good fortune. That does not mean it is easier. Often it is harder, and requires a disciple with strong faith and plenty of guts. The first disciples are entrusted with the responsibility of being the first emissaries of the Guru in what can be an uncomprehending society. Tharpa grew up in a time where there were no Dharma books, two or three Centers, not much by way of a Sangha support network, and many superstitions and myths about what Tibetan Buddhism actually was. Yet he triumphed, and shared what he learned with many others.

Recent photo at Madhyamaka Centre.

Three weeks ago, we video-chatted. He had just left hospital where he had been diagnosed with cancer and arrived back at Madhyamaka Centre where he was the resident teacher. Obviously he was happy to be back home, but something was different. His happiness was deep and almost other-worldly. It reminded me of a deep river, gentle, smooth, yet unstoppable. I think he gained a realization, and he was ready to go because he had gained that realization. Subsequent to his death, other people told me similar things…

“He was less in this world and more peaceful. He seemed happy that something was going to change. In retrospect, it was as if he was saying goodbye. As if he was getting ready to leave.”

Or…

“He had made peace with his illness and suffering. It was not his enemy any longer.”

After Gen Tharpa passed away, over many days and in many different places people practiced the Powa transference of consciousness puja. He was so well loved.

I have absolute conviction that he is in a Pure Land, that he was guided there by Geshe-la shortly after he left his physical body. Probably Keajra because he loved the practices of Heruka and Vajrayogini so deeply.

Gen Tharpa was wise, unorthodox, courageous, and profoundly philosophical. My dear friend, I am a better person for having known you.

_____

A short clip of Gen Tharpa talking about transforming death

 

Highest Yoga Tantra: space odyssey

When we practice Highest Yoga Tantra, we are learning to do all our meditations and indeed live our lives from a more blissful place. (If that isn’t appealing, I don’t know what is.) As well as making everything more fun, bliss is a naturally concentrated mind so it helps us with all our meditations, not just realizing emptiness, though that is its chief purpose. In generation stage, this bliss arises from faith and correct imagination. In completion stage it becomes the real deal — spontaneous great bliss — which arises from the drops melting and flowing within the central channel and functions to dispel mistaken appearance. This is the blissful mind that Buddha is referring to in this famous quote: 

If you realize your own mind you will become a Buddha; you should not seek Buddhahood elsewhere.

Carrying on from this article, Happiness is the truth.

A brief summary of Highest Yoga Tantra

Just to get us caught up … In Sutra, we use the cycle of Lamrim meditations to develop the compassionate wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings and use this conventional bodhichitta to meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena, which is called ultimate bodhichitta or the perfection of wisdom. With this good heart and wisdom, we are ready for Highest Yoga Tantra.

Having mixed our mind with our Guru’s mind, we manifest our clear light of bliss first through imagination (generation stage) and then through manipulating our channels, winds, and drops (completion stage), and use this to meditate on emptiness. Because the clear light mind has no mistaken appearances, it naturally and directly mixes with emptiness like water mixing with water, the union of bliss and emptiness, the higher perfection of wisdom.

From this we arise as the Deity (Tantric Buddha) in the Pure Land and meditate on clear appearance and divine pride to overcome ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions. Furthermore, we understand that this appearance is non-dual with bliss and emptiness; they are not two objects but one, like blue being merely a manifestation of empty sky, empty sky appearing. As Venerable Geshe-la says:

Unmistaken appearance is this.

This is the union of appearance and emptiness, and meditating on it is the real quick path to enlightenment.

The clear light of bliss

Sutra is just incredible and so so necessary, and we can go a long way and become a very happy person with these meditations. However, we are doing all our meditations with grosser levels of mind and so Sutra is not the quick path. In fact, we cannot realize emptiness directly or non-conceptually with our gross mind because it still has dualistic appearances, like seeing something through spectacles. And we cannot attain the final result of enlightenment with our gross mind because is our very subtle mind that actually becomes the Truth Body of a Buddha — our gross and subtle minds have to dissolve away permanently.

As I was saying in the last article, our own very subtle mind is naturally blissful but at the moment we cannot use it. So, we learn to deliberately awaken or manifest it in meditation, and this clear light of realization is blissful, powerful, and completely undistracted. Free from mistaken appearances, it mixes effortless with emptiness, the true nature of things, like space mixing with space. This is actual Mahamudra or ultimate bodhichitta. This mind is so powerful, and it is mixed with reality, so we can attain enlightenment very quickly, in a matter of a few years. 

Dissolving the Guru

By the way, these articles are general and introductory, I am not explaining the techniques of the practice. For this you can read Modern Buddhism or one of the longer Tantric commentaries, having received empowerments or be intending to receive them next time around (eg, in Australia next year).

Our Spiritual Guide Heruka comes to our crown and descends through our central channel like a drop of dew flowing down a blade of grass, until he arrives in our heart channel wheel (Skt. chakra). As this happens, our mind becomes increasingly blissful and subtle. All of our grasping at ordinary appearances is loosened. We let go of the dreamlike hallucinations of the gross mind.

Guru Heruka mixes with our root mind in our heart and we experience his union of great bliss and emptiness. If you like, you can envisage our awareness as a small muddy stream flowing into a vast ocean of bliss and emptiness – who wins?! As a result, we imagine that we feel blissful. If you like, you can increase this bliss by transforming enjoyments as explained here.

We can remember that this bliss arises from the melting of the drops in the central channel. Unlike all our other minds, it is also free from dualistic appearances — which means that only the truth,  emptiness, is appearing to it.

As Gen Rabten said in his profound Festival retreat recently:

We completely let go, deeply relax, forget the self we have grasped at, the world we believed in, the samsara we feared. Even our own name, we forget. We become an unbounded, infinite ocean of bliss and emptiness. This infinite unbounded expanse of perfect peace, of exquisite stillness, is definitive Heruka. It is the Truth Body, the Dharmakaya. It is our real self.

We are imagining the Dharmakaya at this point, but it is correct imagination because it is based on the wisdom of emptiness and is also mixed with the definitive Guru, the Dharmakaya of all enlightened beings. This is a legitimate experience because (a) our world is not outside our mind and (b) our mind is mixed with our Guru’s mind. The key to unlock the secrets of the universe really is Guru yoga.

Permission to let go

I want to stress something at this point. Because this is a legitimate experience, we have permission to drop all ordinary appearances and conceptions completely and without guilt. There are no suffering relatives, no Afghanistan, no painful body, no unlovable self, etc etc, whom we are now ignoring. This is the direct antidote to all that hallucination.

There is no ordinary world somehow beyond or outside this world, all phenomena are gathered and absorbed into the truth. Identifying with this is correctly identifying our self — a self utterly unlike our normal self because it is mere appearance inseparable from the emptiness of all phenomena. There is no here/there, no self/other, no mind/object, no inside/outside, etc. There is no duality at all. We have permission to let go. The Guru and Deities can then take over.

When we later arise from this meditation, our ordinary body, world, to-do list, politics, and so on will appear again and we can relate to and deal with these, especially as they affect others. But we don’t need to go back to thinking of them as any more than mere name and mistaken appearances. It doesn’t help anybody to go back to grasping at these hallucinations as real.

This is the best way to actually get rid of suffering – even temporarily, let alone permanently. It is the only way, as far as I can see. Without this, the cobwebs of delusion and contaminated karmic appearances will spread forever and the only choice we will have is to try and make ourselves and others comfortable within these sticky deathtraps. It is very hard work. It is demoralizing, one sticky step forward, one sticky step back. And it is ultimately futile.

Samsara is vast and living beings are countless – so trying to help a few people or even 100 or 1000 people is never going to be enough, like helping a few drops in an ocean, and temporarily at that. It doesn’t mean that we don’t do it, of course, because everyone is important, and Bodhisattvas can and must help on different levels. But we can keep in mind that the only way to stop suffering once and for all is to drain the entire ocean of samsaric suffering (including the lower realms) through meditating on bliss and emptiness. We have then realized the deepest meaning of our human life.

The meditation on bliss and emptiness is not make-believe but the truth. For one thing, it is all our usual mistaken appearances that are gross hallucinations of the root mind, not this. To understand this, we need to keep studying the mind and how everything is the nature of the mind and mere appearance or projection. For another, we are using our Guru’s mind, so we don’t need to lack confidence. We are tuning into definite Heruka/enlightenment. From his perspective we are already an aspect of the Dharmakaya, and we are now sharing this perspective.

I think we need to give ourselves permission to let go in meditation or we will stay distracted by ordinary conceptions, whether a lot or just faintly. Even if not completely off-topic, there will still be that niggling need to sort things out solely by ordinary means: “After this admittedly enjoyable meditation, I must get back to real work, write that report, pick up the kids, pay those bills  …”

We have left suffering behind. Which means that it has actually disappeared and gone out of existence because there is no longer any basis for it.

We need to give ourselves permission to trust this meditation. To trust Guru Buddha. To trust the generations of Bodhisattvas and Yoginis who have done this and discovered to their delight that it worked.

We keep training in all the components of both Sutra and Tantra separately as well – especially refuge, renunciation, compassion, and wisdom. But we can remember that they all culminate in or funnel into this meditation. Unmistaken appearance is this. All other appearances are mistaken.

This meditation is a bit like a transcendental worm hole to another galaxy, except that as soon as we’re there we realize the previous suffering galaxy was just a simulation. And the one before that. And all of them. Even the dimension we are in now is a simulation, except this one now pervades reality. It IS reality because we have realized the truth and become one with it. That is enlightenment.

Highest Yoga Tantra requires a lot of faith or trust. A surrender into bliss and emptiness. I am not talking about bind or instant faith, but a faith that is built up through our own gradual authentic experiences of Sutra and Tantra. And our own trust in our Tantric Spiritual Guide as someone who really does know what they are talking about.  

This meditation also depends on our understanding of emptiness, of course. So we have to keep learning about the emptiness of our body, our self, and all phenomena, and keep applying what we learn, not leave it abstract.

The red alarm button

Once our mind mixes with our Guru’s mind of bliss and emptiness, if we like, and if we are about to engage in a detailed first bringing, we can envisage this appearing as a red letter BAM or blue letter HUM. We also concentrate on these so-called seed letters when we do completion stage meditations to bring all the energy winds into the central channel and manifest the actual clear light of bliss. Like the Deity, seed-letters and mantra are also not other than bliss and emptiness appearing.

My adorable mother has a red alarm button by her bed in case she gets too confused, overwhelmed, or anxious — help comes straightaway if she remembers to press it. The red letter BAM at the heart is the bliss and emptiness of the Guru’s mind mixed with ours and contains everything and everyone. When we remember to press (or concentrate on) it, everything disappears into transcendent bliss and emptiness for ourselves and everyone else. The virtual reality of mistaken appearances immediately evaporates because it’s not there to begin with.

My dad said the other day that the world is “very untidy”. Concentrating on the letter BAM dissolves and purifies everything and everyone – we can just press on it whenever the world gets too overwhelming. We are going deeper, to the source of the illusion, the source of all this untidiness, and unplugging it.

Even if we are a regular superhero, we cannot tidy up this world without doing this. Take Mrs Incredible’s word for it:

No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for… for ten minutes!

What is Buddha’s sense of self?

From that vast space of bliss and emptiness, the purified mistaken appearance of all phenomena which is Buddha’s Truth Body, we now appear as the Form Body, Heruka or Vajrayogini, with a blue or red-colored body and so on, like in a dream. We do this entirely out of compassion for others.

(Quick note: A Buddha has four bodies – the Wisdom Truth Body (Skt. Dharmakaya), the Nature Truth Body (Skt. Svavahikaya), the Enjoyment Body (Skt. Sambhogakaya), and the Emanation Body (Skt. Nirmanakaya). You can think of these not as corporeal but like a “body of water”, ie, an accumulation of water. The Truth Body is a body or accumulation of bliss and emptiness, for example.)

To begin with, this experience is probably not that dissimilar to our present experience – instead of being Luna with a meaty body sitting in my attic apartment, I am now a blue-colored Deity sitting in a mandala. However, for Buddha, there is no difference in feeling between being the Emanation Body and the Truth Body – they are one object, with two different names.

Practically speaking, arising as Heruka or Vajrayogini in that universe is utterly unlike being Luna in this universe because our sense of self pervades all phenomena, including all environments, enjoyments, activities, and other beings. These specific visualizations are deeply rich and beneficial, as I explain more here. Manifestations or embodiments of all the stages of the path of Sutra and Tantra, they increase our experience of these minds — including bliss and emptiness — rather than taking us away from them. However, they are still mere name, mere appearance not other than the (bliss and) emptiness of all phenomena.

One thing that can maybe help us into this experience: In the first bringing according to the long Vajrayogini sadhana Quick Path to Great Bliss, our mind the letter BAM expands until it reaches the ends of space and beyond, dissolving everything into bliss and emptiness. Then it contracts back into emptiness. This is our own mind expanding and contracting – and our sense of self pervades space, is beyond space, infinite. There is no sense of me inside this pure universe and samsara remaining outside. There is no sense of me over here and the mandala and Deities over there. As with the Truth Body, there is no here/there, up/down, inside/outside. We can really contemplate the layered meanings of non-dual and we’ll come to discover that Buddha’s sense of self is utterly different to the self we normally grasp at.

In other words, there is no actual difference in feeling between our self as infinite bliss and emptiness and ourself as Vajrayogini or Heruka.

Not feeling like the maid

As Gen Rabten said:

With a blissful relaxed mind, without any grasping, we enjoy our emptiness appearing ourselves as a Conqueror Buddha, destroyer of samsara, protector of all living beings. We are surrounded by our retinue inside our celestial mansion as vast as space.

We hold this clear appearances with concentration because it a direct antidote to ordinary appearances. We don’t need to be in any rush to get back to our ordinary world – we should never meditate in a hurry, especially not now. This is the possibly the most important activity in the world. Our actions of mind are in any case thousands of times more powerful than actions of body and speech, so, even if this meditation is nowhere near perfect, we are creating umpteen potentials to be reborn in a Pure Land and free everyone.

We also do a beautiful practice called the yoga of purifying migrators where we instantly fill all living beings with blessings. The only reason we have gone to this trouble of  becoming a fully enlightened being is to help others in this way — it is the very definition of enlightenment:

Enlightenment is the inner light of wisdom that is permanently free from all mistaken appearance, and whose function is to bestow mental peace upon each and every living being every day. ~ Modern Buddhism

Stay on the Dharma side

Approximately 4 decades ago as a new Buddhist, I stumbled upon this verse, a praise to Je Tsonkghapa, and stuck it on my wall at Madhyamaka Centre because I love it so much:

Your mind on bliss and emptiness inseparable
The flow of events appeared as a rainbow.
One body sends endless clouds of emanations
To set this world ablaze with joy.

~ A Song Rapidly Invoking Blessings by Lama Gyalwa Kelsang Gyatso, the 7th Dalai Lama

During the day, if we stay on the Dharma side like this, as Venerable Geshe-la recommends, we can focus on one person at a time as usual. We definitely do cherish the individual people around us, we get through our to-do lists and do the practical physical and verbal actions to help as many people as we can. But we don’t have to get sucked back into believing this is all real such that we get overwhelmed again, trying to figure things out piecemeal, shiffling around in the cobweb.

Is this escapism?

Before we have a deep realization of emptiness, we might be concerned that our meditation in general and Tantra in particular is a form of  escapism. But it’s not. We are not escaping reality but going to its heart. You don’t need to worry — all the things you normally see will reappear again soon enough, probably minutes after the meditation! Including all this world’s small and big problems alike. But we can believe it less and less.

If we take the time to go looking for anything, we will not find it. There is nothing actually there — everything is mere name not other than emptiness. Everything is like a dream. Yet sentient beings are suffering because they believe the hallucination is real. The Awakened Ones, or enlightened beings, are trying to wake us all up.

Our renunciation and compassion are utterly genuine and pervade this practice, giving it its meaning.

Have you noticed how in Sci Fi movies heaven is often depicted like lakes and mountains in Italy or an opulent country club in Florida? So pleasant! Nothing ever goes wrong again! Everyone is so polite! You can do whatever you want forever! You can bounce around on a cloud! (Happily oblivious to the poor sods left on earth.) And of course people tire of this because it is meaningless.

Plus we haven’t “made it” at all — an environment, enjoyments, and body perceived to be outside of the mind, however pleasant, just generates the suffering of change, naturally leading to existential boredom sooner or later. How much time can you spend on a beach, for example?!

Going to the Pure Land is not like this at all. It is realizing that all appearances are the nature of bliss and emptiness. Our aim is not to end up wandering around in some scenic god-like realm with ice cream on tap, but to become one with reality so that we can draw everyone to that state.

I find this verse helpful to remember in the meditation break:

Through the wheel of sharp weapons of the exalted wisdom of bliss and emptiness,
Circling throughout the space of the minds of sentient beings until the end of the aeon,
Cutting away the demon of self-grasping, the root of samsara,
May definitive Heruka be victorious. ~ The New Essence of Vajrayana 

And don’t worry

I want to finish this (sorry) long article with some reassurance from Gen Rabten:

“Many of you have received these empowerments for the first time, so it’s possible we don’t have much familiarity and the thought “I am Heruka” is a quiet thought compared to the loud thought ‘I am not Heruka and my knee hurts’. These meditations are however having a powerful impact on the mind. Many people have been doing this for years, and an ebb and flow are usual. Energy can wane and enthusiasm slip away, and we can lose conviction — then maybe we receive an empowerment and get back into it. All that is normal. And it can really help us to know that every moment we spend in these meditations we are obliterating our samsara, actively cutting through the chains that bind us to suffering, even if it doesn’t feel that way.”

Apparently we are out of space and time, but I do have more up my sleeve for another day if you’re still there.

Over to you – would love your comments, feedback, questions, and so on.

Related articles

Using Tantra to destroy everyday delusions

More on emptiness 

When the student is ready, the teacher appears

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