What just happened?!

I was woken at 4am this morning by my mom in London: “Oh sorry darling, I didn’t mean to wake you.” (Funny how a loud ringing noise in your ear can do that). “It’s just that I was watching the royal wedding and I wished you were here.”

Today something is happening. No one can deny that. Two billion people have tuned into watch this happening, both live and recorded, and plenty more are trying to ignore it. But what is it exactly?!

In the last article I explained that when we wake from a dream it is clear to us that our dream objects do not exist independent of the mind… we don’t go searching for them as we know we will not find them. But it is the same when we are awake! Where was that wedding? What was it?! If it existed as it appeared to, out there, independent of our minds, then we should be able to find it, either within its parts or somewhere else. So was the wedding in the milling swarms of people? In Kate’s ring? In the vows? In the buildings of Westminster Cathedral or Buckingham Palace? No, none of those things were the wedding either individually or collectively – they were just parts of the wedding. But if we take the swarms, the ring, the vows, the buildings etc away, the wedding vanishes, proving it does not exist other than its parts. So it is not in its parts nor anywhere else, meaning we cannot find it anywhere, we cannot point to a “royal wedding”. It therefore does not exist as it appeared to, independent of our minds.

In dependence upon various parts appearing to our mind, we imputed or labeled “royal wedding”, and voila it existed for us. The royal wedding was therefore no more than mere label or mere name, imputed by our conceptual thought. [For a perfect explanation of all this, consult the teachings on emptiness given in Heart of Wisdom or Modern Buddhism.]

Due to our collective karma we experienced moreorless a similar appearance, and shared a conceptual label. We can say that from this point of view there was only one royal wedding – it took place in London, not Beijing for example, the main protagonists were Will and Kate, and the Queen wore a canary yellow dress. But we can also say that everyone experienced their own royal wedding — I reckon that if you were to interview every one of the two billion people they’d be telling different stories, let alone if you interviewed all those who boycotted it! And the stories they’d be telling would depend entirely upon their own individual karmic appearances and their minds. Yet they’d probably all agree that it really did happen, they really saw it or missed it.

I alone watched three royal weddings simultaneously – I don’t have a TV so I watched one on the YouTube Royal Channel to get some commentary, one on CNN to get it live (the Royal Channel was 20 seconds behind), and one on CNN mobile on my iphone as my computer kept crashing due to a virus, and in fact has now died altogether [that’s another story – I originally wrote this article on there and it was better, but its lost…You have only my word for it 😉 ] Which of the three was the real wedding?

I decided to write this article partly as I was wondering how Kate felt at having two billion people watching her every dimple. Did she feel like a fairytale princess arriving in Cinderella’s glass car and leaving in a horse-drawn carriage with her Prince Charming, with loads of black horses and marching men wearing black fuzzy hats all just for her?! Planes flying over, and her mouth could be seen saying “Perfect formation!”, and yes, all for her! People practically swooning in anticipation of that first blissful kiss, camping out all night for this?!

I know there are a lot of republicans reading this and I have no trouble respecting your point of view. Also, in a casual chit chat about the wedding, someone who shall remain nameless was heard to say “Who are Charles and Diana?”, proving conclusively I think that we live in parallel universes! But whether you’re a royalty lover, a royalty hater, or a couldn’t care lesser, there is no real wedding happening out there today. Our dreams show the power of our mind to create a whole world, with temporal and spatial coordinates all intact; and then to mistakenly believe that it has nothing to do with us. Due to our ignorance we project a wedding out there within its parts, which we believe is real, and feel annoyed, in love, or blasé about it. But to live in a pure world, and experience happiness, we need to purify our mind, whether republican or royalist. As Buddha Maitreya puts it:

Because living beings minds are impure, their worlds are impure.
When living beings purify their minds, they will inhabit a Pure Land.

To fully purify our mind we need to realize the part we are playing in creating everything so we can create something better. It is hard to over-emphasize how important this is.

I was wondering however why people the world over do like adulating other people? It is not just the royals – just think of the magazines devoted to movie stars, or have you been to rock concert or a football match recently?! And do you remember President Obama’s inauguration?! He wasn’t just waved to his oval-shaped office and told to get on with it. We love all that pomp and circumstance, don’t we, even republicans, come on admit it, even just a little?! The question is why?

I don’t really know! But I will hazard a guess. We like to worship something we consider bigger than ourselves, larger than life, to get out of ourselves. (The sermon seemed to be somewhat about that, about cultivating a love and devotion that is bigger than ourselves and bigger than just the two of them/us as a way of transcending self and becoming a better human being.) Focusing on others in this all-absorbing way gives us a temporary respite from being stuck in self.

And it is interesting how in Buddha’s teachings (and other religions) a lot of worshipful royal symbolism is used – today is also Protector Day, for example, and I recited a prayer to Manjushri “Your princely body is…” Dorje Shugden is the “Great King”.

And what, I was also musing, are the statistical chances of a “commoner”, like Kate, marrying into a royal family in a rare ceremony that only takes place once or twice in most people’s lifetimes? (My mother has reminded me more than once that Kate and I went to the same high school – though at somewhat different times!) By developing bodhichitta we become a son or daughter of the Conquerors, a princely or princessly Bodhisattva. This is rare. And the odds of a “commoner” or ordinary being encountering the Tantric empowerments and entering the mandala palace are even rarer.

Kate and Will could have gotten married in a small church followed by fish ‘n’ chips, and still be just as married. But two billion people wanted to buy into this elegant ceremony and feel the noble tradition and lineage of the ages, even if time also is imputed by mind. People were happy to feel part of this BIG thing. Perhaps this is a promising sign that we seek transcendence? And it doesn’t have to be escapist, especially if we understand our role in creating this reality.

After all, who knows who anyone is really?! In Tantra we train in pure view, trying to see everyone as a pure holy being. Even in Sutra we try to focus on the pure potential of others, and their kind natures rather than their faults. Why?! One main reason is that mind and its objects are dependent related. If we train in viewing pure objects, our mind becomes pure by relation because our mind depends upon its objects. And as our mind becomes purer, objects appear more purely to it, because objects likewise depend upon our mind – like clear reflections will appear in a pristine mountain lake. And on it goes. According to Buddhism, this is the spiritual path leading to liberation and enlightenment.

I want to tell a short story that has a lot of meaning… I don’t even pretend to understand its full meaning, but it has made me think over these years about the nature of reality, of pure view, of what things are really. It has helped me loosen up. Things are clearly not as fixed or ordinary as they appear! Buddhas have delusion-free and obstruction-free minds so they see pure worlds full of pure beings – and this is not to discount our suffering (or they wouldn’t be trying to help us of course), but also not to buy into it so that we are forever stuck. Only our delusions deserve the name “enemy” for they deceive us grievously into thinking that what we see is what we get, that we live in a concrete and impure world independent of our mind: Enter Stage Left! Suffer a Bit or a Lot. Exit Stage Right! We don’t though. And as Geshe Kelsang has often said, “Anything can appear to mind.”

When my teacher Geshe Kelsang gave a course in London back in the early nineties, he invited the students and teachers of the new London and Bath centres for tea.

I am sitting next to Geshe-la on his left, all of us in a circle daintily sipping tea. Geshe-la suddenly asks out of the blue: “Why is London so important?” He looks at me for the answer and I think, “Well, that’s an easy one!”, and reply “Because it is the capital of England, Geshe-la.” Not the answer he wants at all. So I try again, a bit more tentatively: “Because it is one of the financial centres of the world?” Again, he shakes his head. Me, more desperately: “Because it has so many people?” Now he is looking almost disappointed. Pause. Then Geshe-la says something that I don’t think anyone was expecting:

“London is important because it was emanated for the Queen.”

“Ah” we all nod knowingly. Another pause. What?!!

“The Queen is not an ordinary woman” he continues and, casting his eyes heavenward, “She comes from higher realms.”

I’ll leave you to ponder the levels of meaning Geshe-la was trying to teach us in that moment. I will just say that it was no ordinary tea party.

What do you think about all this? Is all the hype best ignored? Or is it possible to transform even a royal wedding into the spiritual path?!

Was it in fact Disney who imagined the Royal Wedding into existence?!

Am I dreaming?

Wisdom Buddha Manjushri (who was on Geshe Kelsang’s retreat in Tharpaland)

For years I have been using my dreams to gain a deeper understanding of the ultimate nature of reality. I’ve trained myself to remember my dreams first thing in the morning and compare them to my waking world in order to see for myself the truth of Buddha’s teachings that everything is like a dream.

Why do I want to do that? Because I find life is a lot more fun when I am not grasping at it in a crunchy real way, and can instead dissolve away appearances and have choice over how to impute and perceive my world. Our own dreams show how everything depends upon our mind – if our mind changes, our world changes, and if our mind ceases, the object ceases. As my teacher Geshe Kelsang says in How to Understand the Mind:

Just as all the things experienced in a dream are mere appearances to mind, so all beings, their environments, their enjoyments, and all other phenomena are mere appearances to mind. This is not easy to understand at first, but we can develop some understanding by contemplating as follows. When we are awake many different things exist, but when we fall asleep they cease because the mind to which they appear ceases. During our dreams we become a dreamer, and at that time the only things that appear are dream objects. Later, when we wake, these dream objects cease because the mind to which they appear ceases. Other than this there is no specific reason why they should cease.

So, can you all remember a dream you had recently, a vivid dream? Some people dream every night and remember it. Some people don’t dream every night, but all of you can probably remember at least one vivid dream.

Let’s say you dreamed of an elephant last night. Geshe Kelsang always uses elephants, I don’t know why. He’s got a sense of humor. This elephant in your dream had big flappy ears, a long trunk, and appeared fully and all at once in all its detail. You could see it, you could hear it, you could smell it, you could stroke it if it let you – all this is appearing vividly to your dream senses.

I actually did dream of an elephant once. He was waiting in line to use the restroom with me. He was a huge gray elephant and he was very friendly, but he accidentally trod on my toe, and I said, “Owww!” (as you might imagine), to which the elephant immediately apologized in a posh English accent, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry.” I talked with this elephant for quite some time, and only when I woke up did I realize what a fool I had been, by which point I was quite fond of my elephant and was half-wondering where he would be, where I could find him.

But of course I knew the moment I woke up that I had just been dreaming, and that there was no point pining over my new elephant friend or buying an expensive airline ticket to Borneo to look for him in the jungles over there. I realized that he never existed from his own side. However at the time of meeting my large gray friend I could talk to him, relate to him, he could make me sad, he could make me happy. Objects in our dreams can do all of these things, can’t they?

This is amazing, if you think about it, seeing as we are just making it all up. When we wake up, we know this for sure. “Oh, that was just a dream!”

Where did the elephant go? Where did it come from? Where did it disappear to? It just came from our mind, didn’t it? Where else could it have come from? If it came from anywhere else and we woke up, the elephant should be sitting there at the end of our bed; but, as Geshe-la points out, big elephants generally don’t fit in our small bedrooms. So there’s no elephant outside the mind. Is there? Or did someone ship the elephant into my dream and then ship it out again at the end? I don’t think so.

How can something disappear if it’s real? How can something disappear if it’s more than just appearance to begin with? How can things just disappear? Where do our dream appearances go? How can they just vanish if they exist from their own side? If our entire dream world is independent of our mind as it appears to be, why does it all disappear when the mind perceiving it disappears?

That elephant felt so solid and real, as if it existed from its own side, just as real as an elephant would feel like if you visited one in a zoo. But when we wake up we realize we made the whole thing up — the elephant was just a projection of my mind, just an appearance to my mind. It was never out there like it appeared to be, and yet I was taken in by it, completely and entirely, hook, line, and sinker. Again. And how many dreams have we had?!

It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? How we get caught up and caught out by our dreams every single night? Yet when we wake up we assume we’re so much more sensible when we’re awake, and we think, “Things appear real when I’m awake, so they must be.” The experience of dreaming night after night for however many years we’ve been dreaming has not managed to convince us, once we fall asleep again, that we’re just dreaming. We still think it’s real. So why do we trust our waking perceptions to be any more valid?

Interesting thought, isn’t it? We do though, don’t we? We think the waking world is real, compared to the dream world. Guess what? It’s not.

In his new book, Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Venerable Geshe-la says:

All my appearances in dreams teach me
That all my appearances when awake do not exist;
Thus for me all my dream appearances
Are the supreme instructions of my Guru. ~ page 76

There are three points we can think about with respect to our dreams. The first one is that the elephant in our dream, say, is not our mind itself, because our mind itself is formless clarity and functions to cognize and so on, whereas the elephant is dream form, It is a big, gray, chunky thing, an appearance to the mind rather than the mind itself.

But, secondly, nor is it in any way independent of the mind. The dream elephant we see is entirely dependent upon our perception of elephant, we can’t separate it out from our perception of elephant, can we? If we could, we’d be able to find it outside the mind, for example in our room. But it is inseparable from the mind apprehending it. It cannot in any way exist independent of the mind, from its own side — not at all. There’s no part of that elephant that can exist in any way independent of our mind.

So then third point is that when our mind dreaming the elephant stops, or ceases, the elephant stops, or ceases.

The New Heart of WisdomGeshe Kelsang says in New Heart of Wisdom:

If we check carefully we shall realize that our waking world exists in a way that is similar to the way in which our dream world exists. Like the dream world, our waking world appears vividly to us and seems to have its own existence independent of our mind. Just as in the dream, we believe this appearance to be true and respond with desire, anger, fear and so on.

If you want a very helpful and profound daily reminder of the ultimate nature of reality, when you wake up from your dream in the morning you can immediately compare it to the waking reality of the day ahead using these three points. First of all, take an object in your dream for which you had strong feelings, and apply the three points to it until you know conclusively that, although it appeared utterly real, it was no more than a projection of your own mind — you owned it and could have controlled it. There is a sense of relief — you let it go because there was never anything there to grasp at in the first place.

Then you can think forward to your breakfast for example. You are going to be able to see it, smell it, touch it, taste it, feel it. It is going to feel very real, as if it exists “out there”, independent of your perceiving consciousness — you just stumbled into the kitchen and there it was waiting for you to perceive it. But in fact our breakfast shares the three points of similarity with our dream object: (1) It is not our mind, (2) it is not independent of our mind (we cannot find our breakfast out there if we look for it, for example in its parts), and (3) it only exists for as long as the mind apprehending it exists. Again, if you do this contemplation, you’ll have a sense of relief of letting go, there is nothing there to grasp at!

(In the logical meditation on emptiness, called “four essential points”, we look at the second point of similarity more closely by seeing if we can or cannot find things “out there”, or independent of our mind. For example, can you find the royal wedding!?)

In Modern Buddhism Geshe Kelsang says:

The only difference between them is that the dream world is an appearance to our subtle dreaming mind while the waking world is an appearance to our gross waking mind. The dream world exists only for as long as the dream awareness to which it appears exists, and the waking world exists only for as long as the waking awareness to which it appears exists. Buddha said:

“You should know that all phenomena are like dreams.”

When we die, our gross waking minds dissolve into our very subtle mind and the world we experienced when we were alive simply disappears. The world as others perceive it will continue, but our personal world will disappear as completely and irrevocably as the world of last night’s dream.

I’m out of space for now, but I’d like to continue this subject in a future article, particularly with reference to how a realization of the dreamlike nature of reality will free us from our problems once and for all.

How to avoid stress and burn-out at work

This is related to the article, Meditation in the Pursuit of Happiness.

Do you or any of your friends have any of the following symptoms of chronic stress or burn-out?

  1. Do you have to drag yourself to work and, when you get home, do you have no energy left to do much other than flop in front of some entertainment?
  2. Have you become irritable or impatient, critical or cynical?
  3. Do you feel emotionally or physically exhausted?
  4. Do you feel disillusioned, discouraged or dissatisfied with your job?
  5. Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?

In this article I’ll try and explore an effective solution based on Buddhist meditation practice. There are also external triggers for stress and burn-out that you can find solutions for elsewhere on the web.

Symptoms of stress and burnout

Everywhere, working people sometimes suffer from long-term stress and burn-outs. They push too much, overdo it, and find themselves running on empty. Some hallmarks are that they feel inefficient, unenergetic and useless — their sense of accomplishment and interest wasted — and they feel emotionally and physically exhausted. Sometimes people get ill, sometimes they have to quit for good, never is it a pleasurable experience. The results can last for years. And it can happen anywhere, in any job, even in a non-profit or Buddhist Center.

We can also become a less nice person when we are burning out. Our tolerance and flexibility diminishes — we want everyone to do things our way because we think that’ll make our life more manageable. Sometimes we hold others at a distance out of a misguided self-protection but then feel isolated, as if we are doing all the work and no one is stepping up to help us.

Snowball delegation

Not to get too sidetracked from the main point of this article, but this ties in with our (in)ability to delegate and empower others. When we are stressed it seems we tend to delegate less rather than more, trust others less rather than more; but we still might get heavy with them and make them feel guilty because we don’t think they’re doing enough. Overly controlling our job and the people helping with our job is a bit like trying to push a snowball all the way down the hill ourselves — not letting go of it or giving it a gentle push and letting it just roll for a while so it picks up momentum and snow on its own. A snowball doesn’t actually grow bigger that way.

Solving the problem

Luckily this counter-productive syndrome can be averted. If we are practicing Buddha’s advice, we can stay relaxed and centered even in the midst of the busiest or most responsible job. We can maintain joyous effort, the fuel we need for both the short and the long-haul, and bring out the best in others too.

My teacher Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is a perfect example of this. Even retired, aged 80, he still accomplishes more in any given minute than the rest of us accomplish in a day ;-), yet he is always entirely relaxed, blissful, and patient, and of course the master of instigation and delegation.

Over the decades of being in various positions and jobs, I and others have tried to observe how Geshe Kelsang does it so we can emulate him. In discussion with a good friend and successful long-term meditation teacher (who like me has had any number of “responsible” jobs and positions within the New Kadampa Tradition in the last 30 years), we have come up with the following suggestions.

Identify with your potential, always

The key is to feel centered and happy in the heart, and identified with our potential rather than our limitations.

This entails relying upon at least a little meditation practice, not neglecting it however busy or responsible we feel. Even ten to fifteen minutes sitting quietly before we start work is immensely helpful if we do it properly and take refuge in it. Even a few five-minute breaks through the day can be the difference between a joyful, balanced, creative day and a day that is just stressful and draining. (Make the restroom live up to its name if you need to, go meditate in there!) And even a ten-minute unwind and let-go meditation between work and settling in for the evening or weekend (or whatever little downtime you have) can help you disengage and relax such that you enjoy your time off from work and it rejuvenates you.

You can start with some breathing meditation, such as the simple meditation taught here. If you like, you can combine this meditation with visualization: examine your mind to see what stress, problems and limited self you’re holding onto and then breathe these out in the form of dark smoke, feeling that you’ve completely let them go. Breathe in the peaceful light of wisdom and compassion blessings into your spacious heart. Then spend a bit of time simply enjoying that peace with a still mind, however slight or relative it is. Give yourself permission to be happy.

This is the important part: We need to recognize that this peace is our Buddha nature, that this slightly peaceful mind represents our actual nature, our potential for vast peace and happiness; and that therefore we are not stuck in our unhappiness or frustration, but rather we can change. We identify with this.

Meditating skilfully

The main point here is that we don’t need to be great meditator to discover our potential. In truth, even if we are just able to stay with the breath for three consecutive rounds, our mind will become slightly more peaceful than it was. If we give ourselves permission and a few moments to abide with that slight peace, to savor it with a still mind, to enjoy it, we will discover that the actual nature of our mind is peaceful. It is only the delusions that produce agitation.

If we have time to go onto other meditations, the rest of our meditation, whatever it is, happens from that peaceful, happy place onwards. It is easy to develop any Lamrim mind when we are connected to our happiness and our potential. It is actually impossible to generate any Lamrim mind when we are identified with the self that we normally perceive, in other words when we are identifying with our limitations.

In fact when we “try” to generate a mind of renunciation, for example, while grasping at ourself as an inherently angry, unhappy or unlovable person, we end up relating to liberation dualistically, as something other than and outside of our own mind.

I am always here, freedom is always there, never the twain shall meet.

Consequently our meditation gives rise to tension or guilt, rather than an authentic and deeply joyful and relaxing peace.

We don’t need to give ourselves a hard time – our delusions do a very good job of that already, that’s why they’re called our “inner enemies”. Don’t let them. They are no match for our pure potential, any more than clouds are a match for the sky.

Try an experiment

To see if this is true, those of you who know the Lamrim cycle already, try this experiment. Meditate on your precious human life while not identifying with your potential but identifying with your limited, faulty self. What happens? Do you feel guilty for not doing enough, do you start giving yourself an even harder time? Meditate on your impending death with a mind of not identifying with your potential and what happens? Do you feel doomed?!

But meditate on your precious human life from the vantage point of being naturally pure, and what happens? You feel very joyful and lucky, your effort increases. Meditate on death from this vantage point and what happens? Your joyful effort increases even more, you know you can make the most of the time you have, everything falls into perspective and your worries and negative thoughts diminish. You can try this experiment with any of the Lamrim or Tantric meditations!

Back to work

When you rise from a meditation like this, I promise you’ll feel far more ready for what comes next, you are ready to be productive at work again. It is amazing how much burn-out will be averted if we actually experience the restorative powers of our own pure natures. And when we are happy, we naturally engage with the world, feel involved, and are efficient.

And when you start to stress out again later in the day, because it is a bad habit, take yourself off to rest in that room for five minutes! It is always going to be worth it.

Please let us know in the comments section if this method works for you and/or if you’ve had other successful ways of overcoming stress and burn-out.

Please like Kadampa Life on Facebook if you do!

Anyone can try!

(Anyone who is stressed out can learn to do five or ten minutes simple meditation a day and hopefully get something out of this article. I met someone in the ocean just yesterday who has never meditated and knows nothing about Buddhism, but he is experiencing stress at work due to new bossy middle management, so I gave him advice based on this article and he seemed very ready to try it out.)

If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with

Equanimity, feeling equal warm affection toward others, was my first favorite meditation and I still rely on it today to put me in a good mood whenever I need. If I am missing anyone in particular, this meditation is the best antidote. I may be using Stephen Still’s lyric in entirely the wrong context but it works for me:

“If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with!”

If I feel lonely, this meditation makes me feel connected again. If I am experiencing irritation, this meditation helps me see the person in a totally new light. If I find people uninteresting, if I look right past them, this meditation helps me see that they are lovable and worth paying attention to.

The strangling incident

After university, I did a year’s postgraduate certificate of education at another college in York, England, training as a secondary school teacher. I did this at the time mainly as I thought it’d be a soft option — I wanted an excuse to stay near Madhyamaka Centre and also delay an inevitable real grown-up job. However, it really was not a soft option. It was gruelling. It was like being a policeman, but without a gun. The class 4D was my most challenging. Another teacher accompanied me to my first lesson and, when I asked why, told me that it was to make sure they didn’t throw chairs around, as was their apparent habit with student teachers. Even getting them to stop talking was a major endeavor, let alone trying to teach them anything. One day I actually went over to one of the 15 year-old boys and, much to everyone’s surprise, including my own, I put my hands around his neck and started to strangle him…

Luckily I recovered my wits before he was dead, but this incident showed me how crucial it was that I developed equanimity as quickly as I could if I and my students were to survive the year. I needed an equal affection for everyone, not just the nice quiet girl at the back who never gave me a hard time, did her homework, and actually listened when I spoke.

Every morning before going to school I got up a half an hour earlier and did a meditation on equanimity. I used the one in Joyful Path of Good Fortune, and I would recommend it to anyone. You start by believing that in front of you are three groups of people or three individuals – on our  right, our current best friend, on our left our current object of annoyance, and in the middle someone in the checkout line, that is, anyone we’re not bothered with either way.

Pigeon-holes

At any moment in time, we are pigeon-holing people into these three categories. And they feel very real. Our best friend really is an inherently fabulous person, even if other people don’t get it; our enemy is inherently dreadful, even if their mother strangely seems to love them; and the stranger is just, well, inherently boring, even if they have kids and a dog who adore them.

Have you ever noticed that every friend you have today started off as a stranger, perhaps even as an enemy? And that is not even taking past lives into account. The fact that people are jumping from category to category every day, even every hour, and that even one person can jump into all three pigeon holes in the course of a day (e.g. our beloved/annoying/boring partner) usually escapes our attention. And as a result, at any given moment we are feeling attached, annoyed, or indifferent (a facet of ignorance). These myopic, self-seeking and unbalanced delusions are the cause of all our daily ups and downs, as well as all the racial, sexual, religious and cultural discrimination in the world today.

Life in Technicolor

But in the meditation on equanimity we bust everyone out of those rigid categories and develop an equal affection and warm feeling for all – like our affection for our best friend, the one we’re currently delighted to see. We bring everyone up to their level, we are not going for “bland” (and this point is clear if we understand that equanimity is the foundation for universal love and compassion.) As a result we start to have a fine time, really enjoying everyone we meet or think about, wherever we go.

Without equanimity the mass of other living beings appear annoying or, mainly, just plain dreary, and often as not in my way. It is like living in a black and white world, with just a few splashes of color for the people I happen to like at the moment. Meditation on equanimity transforms the entire world into brilliant beautiful technicolor.

Tuning into the way things really are

This meditation is in fact very powerful and profound because it tunes right into emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality. My teacher Geshe Kelsang gives as an example of emptiness the fact that Sheila can appear to three different people in entirely different ways – as beautiful, as evil, as tedious — so stand up the real Sheila! Of course she cannot, because there is no real Sheila.

I won’t explain the whole meditation here, not enough space, and it is beautifully presented in Joyful Path. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Postscript

I will always be grateful to Class 4D for being my experimental equanimity lab that year – our relationships improved as bit by bit and one by one I made friends with them (while acting tough too so as not to be eaten alive.) So dramatic was the overall change that when the examiner came in months later to observe me teach, Class 4D all sat as quiet as mice and behaved like such model students that I thought I had gone to a parallel universe. Thanks to this kindness of theirs coupled with their fearsome reputation, I passed my teacher training course with distinction!

If Tarra and Bella can be friends, might there not be hope for the rest of us?!

Transforming a great sadness: a Buddhist nun’s tale

Here is an article from a guest writer, Kelsang Chogma.

I will explain how Dharma transformed a very difficult situation for me. This may seem like an extreme situation, but hey, this is samsara and you have to work with whatever it throws at you.

A few years ago my brother was killed in Afghanistan, along with thirteen other soldiers. It was a horrendous death in which their bodies were apparently ‘fragmented’; which meant that they had to be repatriated to the UK before all their parts could be identified using DNA sampling. What this meant for my family, and the other thirteen families, was of course a lot of pain, but through it all I also learned an incredible amount about the truth of Dharma, Buddha’s teachings.

The first thing I learned is that we need to have a knee-jerk, reflex action of going for refuge to the Three Jewels. It needs to be the most familiar reaction to any situation, so that it’s instantaneous, spontaneous. For in the first few minutes when I saw my mum almost hysterical with the pain from hearing the news of her son’s death, I forgot to go for refuge. Those few minutes taught me a lot. They taught me how it feels to experience samsara completely exposed without it’s deceptive veneer; how people without any refuge experience such unbearable pain that you feel like your heart has been ripped out and you’ll just die on the spot; and how the moment we go for refuge and pray for others with all our heart, that pain subsides and we become a source of refuge for the people we pray for.

The coffins of the authors brother and his thirteen friends

Within a few days each family got to spend time with all fourteen coffins in a make-shift chapel on an RAF base in Scotland. I remember they looked quite beautiful all lined up together in two neat rows of seven, with Union Jack flags draped perfectly in line with each other; and the smell of the wooden coffins filling the room. As I sat there in silence with the rest of my family, we just gazed at the coffins. At first all the coffins were equal to me as I had no idea which one contained my brother’s remains, for all I knew it might be all of them. Each coffin was just as important as all the rest, and in turn my feelings toward the men who’d died felt equal and my mind felt surprisingly peaceful. I started wondering which coffin my brother was in, and I focused on the one nearest to me, wondering if it contained his body. Immediately my mind became unpeaceful and I started getting really upset. What upset me most wasn’t that here might be my brother’s body but that suddenly that one coffin was the only one that mattered and the other thirteen coffins were irrelevant to me, like they didn’t even exist. It came as quite a shock and it just felt so wrong – these were my brother’s friends, his colleagues, who’d died in just the same way; and yet suddenly they didn’t matter. I will never forget that moment when I realised how immediate the painful effect of delusion is in our mind and how horrible it feels to disregard people who really do matter. I reminded myself that I didn’t know which coffin my brother was in and how all these guys were equally important – and my mind became peaceful again. I realised that what I was experiencing was the beautiful peace of equanimity.

Another thing that struck me as I sat there is that the parts of the body are definitely not the body, just as Geshe Kelsang explains in his books. If someone had come along right then and shown me all the fragmented parts of my brother’s body all put back in the right places, it could never have satisfied my wish to see my brother’s body as a whole, solid, unitary thing. I wished to simply see my brother’s body, not it’s parts assembled together. Nothing anyone could ever show me would match up with the image in my mind, but isn’t it the same now with all phenomena?

Another thing I learned was that even simple meditations done for just a few seconds can have an amazing immediate effect. At my brother’s funeral I was asked to read out fond memories of him that family members had written. I remember sitting in the chapel with his coffin in front of me and a picture of him on the wall above. He was given full military honours and many of his RAF colleagues and other officers were present; with the flag draped over his coffin and his RAF hat laid on top. As the service progressed I could feel myself getting more and more anxious as it came closer to the time for me to get up. I could feel my legs shaking and I didn’t know if I’d be able to even stand, let alone speak. I tried to imagine that my brother’s photo was a picture of Geshe-la, like the one I have above my shrine at home, gazing at me, smiling and encouraging me. I suddenly remembered a meditation Geshe-la had taught at the festival that year, from Mahamudra Tantra, the meditation on turning your mind to wood – absorption of cessation of gross conceptual thoughts – so I did just that. I stopped listening to the service, I stopped feeling anything, thinking anything, held my mind still, and imagined I was an inanimate object, completely without thought. Just for a few moments it felt like slipping the gearbox out of gear, like things were going on around me but I wasn’t engaged at all. Then I started listening again and found that it had worked! I was ok, I had my Spiritual Guide with me and in a very distressing, adverse condition I had remembered some of his instructions and I’d put them into practise and felt their benefit. I knew that I’d be ok, and I was. I got through it with a picture of Geshe-la and one of Tara on the lecturn with me, and with my mala in my hand and my Guru at my heart.

We did a Powa, transference of consciousness, for my brother and I’m certain he went to the Pure Land – he sure has helped me get a little bit closer.