Blessings are not that mysterious

Blessings may be ineffable, but I don’t think they are entirely mysterious. It is possible for our consciousness to be affected by others’ states of mind; in fact it happens all the time.

Have you ever walked into a room where someone is feeling incredibly hostile but not saying a word nor even making a face – they are just sitting there but their negative energy is practically palpable? Before you know it, you feel uneasy as well, and if you’re not careful you can become quite negative.

Alternatively, have you ever walked into a room where someone is feeling incredibly open and loving, and again they are not saying a word but you can feel their positive energy and it uplifts your own mind?

If we can be affected by ordinary people’s minds in this way, (I think some Western psychologists call it “resonant empathy”), perhaps it is not so hard to get a sense of how blessings work.  As described in What are blessings?, blessings are “transformation through inspiration” — how? By being affected by the infinitely creative, loving and wise minds of holy beings, which are not something we randomly run into but everywhere all the time. The function of a Buddha or enlightened being is to bestow blessings, it is as if they cannot help it! Blessing everyone is their job! My teacher Geshe Kelsang’s definition in Mahamudra Tantra:

Enlightenment is defined as an omniscient wisdom whose nature is the permanent cessation of mistaken appearance and whose function is to bestow mental peace on all living beings (by bestowing blessings).

(BTW, anyone whose mind fits the definition above is a Buddha (Sanskrit for “Awakened One”), regardless of what tradition they appear in). Buddhas’ minds are always everywhere, they pervade all phenomena, including us. Why? A Buddha’s mind is inseparable bliss and emptiness free from all obstructions. Everything is always empty of inherent existence. The emptiness of all phenomena is always indivisible with the bliss of a Buddha’s mind.

It is also very helpful to remember that whenever you generate a positive mind, such as love or compassion or inner peace, this is no different to the inner peace of all enlightened beings, you are already mixing your mind with theirs. And recognizing this allows their blessings to pour into you effortlessly.

As mentioned in Blissings, we can receive the blessings of all enlightened beings through our Spiritual Guide. Our Spiritual Guide is able to appear as a person we can relate to — who can teach us or set a good example — but the actual or definitive Spiritual Guide is the so-called “Dharmakaya” (“Truth Body” or omniscient mind). This is described as the “pervasive nature of all things stable and moving”. This verse from Offering to the Spiritual Guide sent (nice) chills down my spine when I first heard it, and still does:

Pervasive nature of all things stable and moving,
Inseparable from the experience of spontaneous joy without obstructions;
Thoroughly good, from the beginning free from extremes,
O Actual, ultimate bodhichitta, to you I make requests.

(Ultimate bodhichitta from a Tantric point of view is the same as Mahamudra, the union of bliss and emptiness. There are different levels of this, and in this verse it is referring to the ultimate bodhichitta that is a Buddha’s omniscient wisdom, which is the Truth Body or Dharmakaya completely free from obstructions).

Everything is always empty of inherent existence, and where there is emptiness there is bliss. They are indivisible. Why?

Vajra and bell, always touching, symbolizing indivisible bliss and emptiness

There is no such thing as an object without a mind (or “object-possessor”) knowing it, and no such thing as a mind (object-possessor) without its object. The object emptiness is not inherently existent or “out there” independent of mind; like everything else its very existence depends on the mind knowing it. Which mind? It is the clear light mind of bliss that knows emptiness non-dualistically, that sees it directly free from any mistaken appearance, which is the actual object-possessor of emptiness. And this mind likewise cannot exist without emptiness as its object. They exist only in relationship to each other — just as you cannot have a husband without a wife or a wife without a husband.

Omniscient wisdom, the nature of bliss, is therefore always mixed inseparably with the emptiness or ultimate nature of all phenomena including you, me and everything else that exists. At the moment I have mistaken appearance that blocks me from seeing this, but it is true, and through blessings I can feel it. Eventually we will realize the union of bliss and emptiness for ourselves.

In this respect, does the Dharmakaya seem so different from my Grandfather’s understanding of a creative God?

I find even my limited and clumsy understanding of how bliss and emptiness pervade all phenomena is crucial to understanding the spiritual technology behind tuning into blessings. Wiser folks than me can make more comments on this in the box below and you can consult Great Treasury of Merit pages 189-91 for incredible commentary on the verse above.

Visualizing blessings as lights and nectars

Bliss is the same nature as love and compassion, and so it radiates eternally and spontaneously from all enlightened beings – hence, “blissings”. To feel that we are receiving blessings having asked for them, it can be really helpful to visualize them flowing from holy beings (or their minds) into us in the form of blissful lights and even nectars — clear light, white light, multi-colored lights, it doesn’t matter, whatever seems right. Different Buddhas are associated with different colors so you can find out about that whenever you want — for example, if you want healing blessings, believe you are receiving blue lights and nectars, for blue is the color of Medicine Buddha.

All traditions understand the power of blessings and anyone can experience them in this way. In fact Jon Dicks says on Facebook: “Maybe what we feel is a akin to the experience of Hildegard of Bingen when she had a vision: ‘And it came to pass, when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming….’  I put this in because many religions, in addition to Buddhism, talk about blessings and being blessed.”

And even if we don’t fully understand the spiritual technology, it still works.

For the previous articles on this subject, see What are blessings? and Blissings.

Your turn: please share your understanding or experience in the comments box below.

How to handle things falling apart …

subatomic particles

Quantum mechanics and laws of physics alone show that nothing stays the same, from the smallest to the biggest thing. Subatomic particles are whizzing about in your body and even the seemingly solid walls around you. The blood never stops rushing through your veins. The earth never stops journeying. Our galaxy is flying away from other galaxies at an inconceivable speed. Mentally, no moment of mind has the power to linger. Buddha explained this very clearly in his teachings on subtle impermanence. Blink and it’s a new world.

Everything is momentarily impermanent, infinitely complex and interdependent. We may feel permanent, solid and independent, but that is one hell of an illusion. Especially if we go on assuming that we are not going to die anytime soon, including today.

galaxy

Normally we try to hold tightly onto the infrastructure of our lives – our relationships, our money, our car, our pets, our children, our house, our job, our career, our status, our power, our control. Much of our current self-image is based on these very concrete, solid, pretty much permanent things that seem to define us. The more strongly we grasp at this chunky restrictive sense of self, the more attachment we will need to generate for all these things in order to keep the illusion alive, and the more fear we will have of losing them. Like trying to hang onto the deck furniture on the Titanic, or a sandcastle by the rising tide, our desires and efforts are doomed to failure. Every small loss of, say, a turret on our castle is disillusioning for us because we wanted it to be permanent and fixed, and it ended up being the opposite. Then when the whole lot gets swept away at death…

Does the idea of change frighten you? Losing everything you know? How can we learn not to be frightened of the inevitable?

I find this the most helpful consideration: we can understand that the pain and fear is not actually coming from what we must lose but from our mind that holds on.

Can you remember a time long ago when you were so in love (or attachment) that the very thought of losing that person struck you with terror? But then the years passed and you both went your separate ways and now when you see that person they are middle-aged, like you, with a pot belly and no hair? And you wonder at the love (lust) you felt for them because it has now gone, all gone. But there is no pain in that. It doesn’t matter that it has all gone, because the attachment has also gone. It is only while we had attachment that we needed this person to try and fulfill attachment’s desires. There is, in fact, no loss at all. The mind is peaceful with respect to that person. The tension of holding on has all gone.

Meditation on death is like the elephant’s deepest footprint in terms of the impression it makes on our mind as we can finally see how futile it is to try and hold onto all this stuff that is right now, and constantly, slipping between our fingers. The other day in the shower I was trying to hold onto a bar of hard slippery soap, but it kept slipping through my fingers, and it  reminded me that the more tightly I hold onto stuff, the more quickly it seems to slip from my grasp. If we want to enjoy our life while we still have it, it makes sense to stop grasping with attachment and just go with the flow of reality, like gently letting the soap rest in our hands. Take it or leave it, it is all good.

The fact is, if we relinquish our attachment, it doesn’t mean we are going to suffer loss. The opposite is true. It is only if we keep our attachment that we will experience the pain of loss. And we don’t need it.

Getting rid of attachment is not the same as relinquishing desire. We need desires – to be authentically happy, to love others, to attain liberation and enlightenment, even to put on our socks, etc. We don’t become a detached automaton without attachment. In fact, attachment deadens and dulls us as it is always hankering after an idealized image of something that we feel we must have if we are to be happy, causing us to miss out on what is actually going on under our nose. Without attachment, quite the opposite of becoming detached or hopeless, we can become connected and fully alive to each present moment.

So we don’t need to fear or resist the meditation on impermanence and death because we have nothing to lose but our attachment, and it is attachment that has given rise to all the agony of loss we have experienced since beginningless time.

Do you agree?! Please share this article if you like it. And do like Kadampa Life on Facebook if you want to see interesting links and join in or start your own discussions about meditation in daily life.

Meaning of life ~ try this experiment

Premise: If we don’t remember death each day, we are bound to neglect what is actually important in life, our perspective will be skewwhiff. True or false?

Please humor me by doing this experiment! 🙂 You’ll need 10 minutes or so. Get out a pen and piece of paper (or its hi-tech equivalent). Now please ask yourself the following questions, one by one, giving yourself time for each one to close your eyes and think carefully about it first, before moving onto the next question. Then write down your answers:

(1)   If I was never going to die, what would I do today?

(2)   If I was going to die in 50 years, what would I do today?

(3)   If I was going to die in 10 years, what would I do today?

(4)   If I was going to die in 1 year, what would I do today?

(5)   If I was going to die in 1 month, what would I do today?

(6)   If I was going to die in 1 week, what would I do today?

(7)   If I was going to die today, what would I do today?

***********************************************************************

Do the answers change? Which answer do you reckon is the most realistic or makes the most sense?

Can you work out from your answers what matters most in your own life? And what matters most to you today?

Looking forward to reading your feedback! Please comment below, and share this article if you like it.

Blissings

Answering the question “What exactly are blessings?” on Facebook, Robert Thomas wrote beautifully:

“It’s that moment you feel the weight lift off your heart and you can’t say why (because nothing ‘out there’ really changed) but suddenly you see a way through a problem or a pain and you start to feel “It’s going to be ok”, and you know just what needs to be done. It’s also that moment where something you never understood suddenly makes sense. Or you see a thing you thought you knew in a whole new light, in a deeper way. Particularly with respect to Buddha’s teachings, but even everyday problems like solving something to keep your job! It’s also where you suddenly see into another person’s heart and ‘soul’ where all the barriers and differences between you and me or yours and mine dissolve. And you feel strong enough and inspired enough to do anything it takes for that or those other ones to feel real lasting joy. And so much more – like seeing and feeling an underlying purity and perfection in even the most terrible thing, and knowing that’s the real truth of everything. It’s being inspired, it’s finding a strength and patience and calm you never could imagine you might have. And and …. :-)) I think some people might call it grace. It’s a gift, it’s a blessing!”

Drop in an ocean. Ocean in a drop

I am carrying this on from a previous article, What are blessings? As mentioned then, whatever our spiritual background, providing we have some faith we can tune into blessings whenever we want. Our mind, like a drop of water, can dissolve into the mind of all enlightened beings, which is like a boundless blissful ocean. The drop is then pervaded by the ocean.

Taste reality

We can taste reality because we have never, ever, been separated from it. It is only our ignorance grasping at ourselves and everything else being independent, limited and ordinary, and the dualistic appearances we project, which are obscuring reality. Let them go for a moment through faith in the infinitely more powerful pervasive omniscient wisdom of holy beings, and anything can happen. Yes, I do believe that faith can move mountains. Mountains are mere appearance to mind like everything else.

The role of a Spiritual Guide

This is one big reason why in Buddhism the practice of relying on the Spiritual Guide is considered so very effective and important, because, due to our karmic connection, he or she is an obvious (to us) window open to receiving the blessings of all Buddhas at any given moment. (“Buddha” means “enlightened being”: anyone who has removed all ignorance and mistaken appearances from their mind permanently is a Buddha). If we consider our Spiritual Guide as the same nature as all the Buddhas, possessing their omniscient wisdom and bliss (pretty much disregarding how he or she may be appearing superficially to our temporary, mistaken minds), the Buddhas can effortlessly bless our minds through our karmic and faithful connection with him or her. Right now, NPR or some other station are beaming radio waves into your room, they’re dancing all around you. Are you picking them up? That depends on whether your radio receiver is switched on. Faith is like that radio receiver.

As my teacher Geshe Kelsang puts it:

“Because right now our mind is obstructed by the darkness of ignorance, we have no opportunity to communicate with enlightened beings directly. However, we will receive the blessings of enlightened beings through our Spiritual Guide.” ~ Teachings in Singapore 2007

Watering seeds of happiness

“Meditation” in Tibetan is “gom”, which literally means familiarity, and refers to familiarizing ourselves with positive thoughts, insights, feelings and so on. According to Buddhism, we take responsibility for training our minds in meditation, which we can do both on our meditation seat and around and about in our daily lives. Traditionally, meditation is said to be like sowing seeds, and receiving Buddha’s blessings is like watering those seeds so that the crops of spiritual realizations grow. Geshe Kelsang says:

“We know that in the summertime, through the sun shining on the snow mountain, water flows down. Similarly if we, from our side, shine the sun of our faith on the snow mountain of our Spiritual Guide, then from his or her side the water of blessings will flow down upon us continually. Through this we can easily make progress in our spiritual training, we can easily fulfil our spiritual wishes, and we can make our human life really meaningful.” ~ Teachings in Singapore 2007

Ask and you shall receive. As Genevieve Mancini puts it: “When I ask Geshe-la for blessings, my mind becomes happy.”

I believe mystics and the faithful in all spiritual traditions have had access to that window or snow mountain, one way or another, my grandfather certainly did, only he didn’t know how to access it on his own. So he and I talked about how he could do that through belief and faith, and he was very interested. It turned out to be my last long private conversation with him, so I might never know if he tried it or not.

Blessings are not that mysterious, it seems to me. More coming in the next article…

Please comment in the box below, and share this article if you like it.

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Anger wrecks our day(s)

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The smallest thing can fill our mind if we have no control over our thoughts.

Someone on Facebook fessed up that they had been engaging in an “internal tantrum and imaginary arguments”, and I thought to myself, “Now ain’t that the way our delusions go!”

It is so easy to get irritated if we let ourselves due to our unchecked habit of inappropriate attention. Normally I live in a pretty peaceful place with lots of space — just cats, dogs, possums, and huge parking spots for one’s air-conditioned car — I’m not rubbing shoulders with a mass of annoying humanity as I try to get around. But I also travel to NYC from time to time, partly so as to get my fair share of shoulder-rubbing, to keep it real 🙂

On the plane recently a young man sat next to me and, despite his good health, looks and fortune, I could tell he was already feeling slightly edgy. He got out his Blackberry and engaged in some very fast texting with his two thumbs. I nosily eyed what he’d written and to my surprise the last text said “This fat b**** next to me is so large that I cannot put down my armrest.” I could tell this was the tale-end of a moan about the person sitting next to him, and I noticed to my alarm that the armrest between us was firmly up. But I’m not that big so I glanced hopefully to the other side of him just in case, and it did appear that a large lady was occupying that seat.

Relieved as I was that he wasn’t texting about me, I felt a little sorry for her, oblivious as she was to his annoyance at having to spend the next 2 hours and 48 minutes wedged next to her, thinking how mortified she’d have been if she had been as nosy as me and looked at his Blackberry. Perhaps she’d in any case sense his dislike and spend a few less than happy, confident hours as a result. Even hurtful thoughts are hurtful; they are mental actions that do leave some impression on our mind and our world. In the teachings on karma, Buddha says that no action is ever wasted.

Just as I was musing on this, he suddenly thrust his Blackberry under my nose, gesturing me to read his latest message, which just happened to be addressed to me. It said: “Don’t get weirded out if I sit closer to you, but the woman next to me is sitting half on my seat.” She wasn’t actually, and he was now sitting on my seat, but I thought I’d try and cheer him up a bit by smiling that it was no problem, sure, I don’t mind being squashed into half a seat even if he does, its not inherently bad after all… (I doubt he got all my silent messages, but I thought them anyway). The rest of the journey passed without incident, he entered his own sullen headphoned world — hopefully he cheered up later.

A tiny example of a minor irritation blown out of proportion, but these can waste every day of our whole precious life if we let them.

Got any good examples?!

Our job as a parent is to become irrelevant, part 2

Another guest article from our Kadampa working dad. The rest can be found here.

In my last post on this topic, we talked about some key principles for fulfilling our purpose of a parent to become irrelevant by helping our kids make wise decisions on their own.  In this post, we’ll look some key wisdom minds we can help our kids cultivate so that they can do this.

So what are the principles for helping our children make ‘wise decisions’ on their own?  What we try do is demonstrate to our children how basic wisdom solves most daily problems.  The trick is to package this wisdom in frequently repeated key phrases that will stick with them for the rest of their life, much like:

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

I will do a future post on quite a few key phrases that I believe serve parents well.  For now, however, I will give ‘the big three’:

(1) “I don’t care what other people are doing, you should do the right thing.”

Kids naturally understand the laws of karma because they naturally understand basic fairness and the sandbox is the ultimate arena of “instant karma.”  You explain to your kids, “If you want to change the dynamic you have with this person, then you need to always do the right thing, regardless of what the other person does.”

How do you know what the ‘right’ thing is?  We ground all of our explanations in terms of “creating good causes”.  Whatever you do to others you create the cause for them to do to you.  Whatever others do to you, you created the causes for them to do it to you.  So basically, do to others what you would have them do to you, and don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you (this obviously resonates well in Judeo-Christian cultures too).

When your kids make mistakes, don’t lecture them, just ask questions like “Would you want others doing that to you?”  Because they naturally understand basic fairness and instant karma, they generally know the answers to these questions, and your asking them will help them make their own wise decisions about what to do.

(2) “Change your mind/attitude first.”

There are several important points here.  First, the most liberating thing you can do for your children is help them understand that they have a ‘choice’ about their attitude towards or view on things.  They can choose their reactions to any event.  Most kids (and adults for that matter), frankly, are not that much different from animals in that they just respond impulsively to whatever happens to them.  Driving home again and again the fact that they always have a choice over how to view and respond to any situation that arises in their life is incredibly liberating.

Second, it is their attitude/mind that determines their experience, not the external circumstance.  “I’m bored!”  No, “Nothing is boring, it only becomes boring if you relate to it with a boring mind.  Everything is fun if you relate to it with a fun mind.”  “Nothing is annoying, rather we allow things to annoy us.”

Third, we need to help them create the reflex in life where their “first response” to any situation is to change their mind/attitude, then they focus on how to change the external circumstance.  We can do this by helping them identify what they have control over versus what they do not.  We have complete control over our own mind and attitude, we have little to no control over external events or what others do.  So first we should work on what we have the most control over.  This is just common sense.

(3) “Put others first”.

Here it is useful to recall what Shantideva said, namely that self-cherishing is the root of all suffering and cherishing others is the root of all happiness.  We need to help our children ‘see’ the truth of this in their daily lives, not lecture them about it.  Every single problem that arises in our children’s life can be traced back to self-cherishing.  Every single good thing that arises in our children’s life can be traced back to putting others first.  If we ourselves have the wisdom to be able to see how and why this is true, then we just share our perspective and view on the situation when our children come to us.  If we see it, then when they talk to us, they will come to see it too.  When they see this, they will naturally do the right thing.

What I am about to say is sneaky, and I know it – but it works!  I have found it most useful to take the following strategy:  usually our kids come to us with problems of what other people are doing to them and how they do not like it.  When they describe to us the problem, we can help our child see how the other person is behaving in the bad way because they think their happiness is more important than others, they are being selfish.  Our kid will then say, “yeah, that’s right.”  Then we turn it on them by saying, “so don’t be like them” or “well, if you do X, then you are being just like them” or “if you do X, then how are you being any different?”

Once you have done this a few times, they will learn the principle of selfishness is the root of all problems and putting others first is the root of all happiness, and then afterwards when they come to you with what others are doing you can simply say “I don’t care what others are doing, you need to do the right thing”, but now they understand the right thing to be to abandon their own selfishness and to put others first.

Conclusion

Needless to say, our ability to instill within our kids these principles is entirely dependent upon our living our own lives by them J  If there is one thing kids can spot a mile away, it is hypocrisy.  But if we learn to live our own lives by these principles, there is a very good chance that, almost through familial osmosis alone, our kids will come to adopt these principles themselves, and then they will become fully capable individuals of making wise decisions on their own.

Then your job as a parent will be complete – you will have made yourself irrelevant!

Your turn: Are you trying out these methods with your kids? Please leave comments in the box below.

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Stand up the real Steve Jobs! 1955-2011

On Sunday I dropped my iPhone 3 down the toilet. Not deliberately, of course, but my bathroom is small, the toilet crammed next to the basin, and the phone slipped from my loose pocket as I was brushing my teeth.

My iPhone 3, deceased

Along with my iPhone it felt like I’d flushed my whole life – photos, contacts, passwords, videos, apps, etc. I managed to stay calm, thinking: “Okay, good time to practice patience, non-attachment, mindfulness of impermanence etc etc!” But it was a little wake-up call, and not just reminding me to back up my data in future 😉 (Why do we always have these good ideas only AFTER disaster has struck?!) Even after three days submerged in rice, the phone is dead. All that is left from its data is what I can remember. It is a bit like dying and only taking my mind with me to my next life.

A hair pulled from butter

The Tibetans have a saying about death, that it is like a hair pulled from butter. They like yak butter tea, (or yuck butter tea as I can’t help thinking of it), and the butter arrives wrapped in a yak skin. Some yak hairs inevitably get into the butter and have to be pulled out. They come out smoothly, leaving all the butter behind – in the death analogy, this would be our body, possessions, home, career, people, gross minds and personality. All that continues to our next life is our subtle mental continuum and our karmic imprints, from which a whole new world is going to arise like another dream.

Can you find Steve Jobs within his parts?

Steve Jobs, co-creator of Apple, probable genius and Buddhist, died yesterday from pancreatic cancer at the age of 56, apparently peacefully. Like a hair pulled from a ton of butter, he has left the entire empire he built behind. What has gone with him? Of course there are varying opinions about whether what he did was brilliant or exploitative, generous or self-seeking… It is impossible for us to judge what karma he has created — that depends entirely on his intentions for doing what he did, which only he could have known. But I think it’s fair to assume that he created very strong karma in that he influenced much of the world and provided insanely cool gadgets used (or abused) by millions of people. My teacher Geshe Kelsang once said that modern technology is rather like “modern miracle powers”, and its true – imagine showing someone born in the 19th century your iPad?! Even when I demonstrated my iPhone offline to some children in a Brazilian rainforest (who’d didn’t have running water or electricity, let alone any space-age gadgets), they got very excited! Tom the Talking Cat, anyone?!

 Stand up the real Steve Jobs!

Many people are feeling affected one way or another by Steve Jobs’s death. But stand up the real Steve Jobs! Who were you? Comments on Kadampa Life’s Facebook wall include: Joan Boccafola: “I was on the plane back to NY when I heard he died. Tears streamed down my face. He was such a genius, a visionary. He has touched my life with his creativity. I write this on my Mac.” Robert Thomas: “Sad news, I pray that he takes a fortunate rebirth where he can complete his inner training (assuming he hadn’t already). He certainly touched everyone profoundly and so much good has arisen through his life, like how so many of us stay connected via iPhones and even share a little Dharma too.” But Adam Head reminds us there are other perspectives: “Hmmm…is it appropriate to mention another side of things? – mega-wealthy business-man with multiple sweat-shops in the “third world” – on top of the capitalist food chain!” And Tamara Cartwright says: “While it is sad that one man has died, we are all celebrating extreme commercialism … he taught people to crave the next thing and buy it while their previous thing was still valid and functioning.” Gee Gibson suggests: “As a Buddhist, then Steve Jobs would understand that his physical wealth was worthless. It was the wisdom in his heart and mind that he would have valued. We should not be judging anyone other than ourselves. I’m sure he left more of a positive mark than a negative. Maybe we should take a few minutes to show some compassion and send positive energy to him.” 

Whatever his motivation and effects on other people, Steve Jobs did make my own life a little easier when I was living out of suitcases for a while and didn’t have a computer or any other gadgets to stay in touch with family and friends. His invention enabled me to take photos of the wonderful places and people I visited, gave me the ability to maintain this blog, helped me navigate new streets, and entertained me. Sure, my entertaining iPhone could distract me too (a lot), and I’m not celebrating my admitted attachment to technology, but I’m not going to blame Steve Jobs for that – I’m a big girl now and can take responsibility for controlling my own time and mind. For me, overall, he was kind.

Trying to live your best life

Steve Jobs clearly thought a lot about life and death, and he said some pertinent things that I want to share here. For whether he succeeded or failed at it, at least it seems he tried to live his best life:

“Life is brief, and then you die, you know?”
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.”

“Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Stand up the real Amanda Knox!

Another big story that touched hearts poignantly or painfully this week was the acquittal of Amanda Knox. Was she guilty or not? We may never know for sure. (I always thought she was innocent, but that’s just my opinion.) In any event, she has suffered a great deal these past four years and if she is guilty of murder her karma will catch up with her – so I’m glad she has the chance to go home at least for now. Did you see her face while she was waiting for the 3:30pm ruling on Monday? The tension was extraordinary. How did that feel? We’ll find out ourselves soon enough, within a few hundred months at most, when we are a hair pulled from butter … will the karma we have created condemn us to a dank lonely cell or send us home to freedom?

In the press conference in Seattle after her release, Amanda Knox said:

“I’m really overwhelmed right now,” she said. “I was looking down from the airplane and it seemed like everything wasn’t real.”

She’s right, it isn’t. Every now and then, usually when things are changing too fast for us to get a fixed handle or label on them, we have a natural glimpse into the ever-moving dream-like nature of our lives.

What I’ve learnt from this week’s news

Steve Jobs had an empire and is receiving glowing eulogies from all quarters, including the President, none of which he can hear. Amanda Knox’s life changed from a pleasant dream to a nightmare and back to a pleasant dream in a few dramatic years – which is like our moving between good dreams and nightmares over the course of many lifetimes, until we cut the cycle of suffering once and for all by realizing the dream-like nature of our reality. As Vide Kadampa said: “You never know what is around the corner – karma can give you quite a ride :-)” So, I’m deciding once again to make the most of the dream-like time I have left, keep my nose clean, love others as much as possible, and pack for the future. If I die today, where will I be tomorrow? As Venerable Atisha says in his Advice

Since you will definitely have to depart without the wealth you have accumulated, do not accumulate negativity for the sake of wealth.

And:

Since future lives last for a very long time, gather up riches to provide for the future.

Fiona Layton puts it this way! “Death is great! If I am feeling guilty about the past or anxious about the future death stops me in my tracks and helps me to BE HERE RIGHT NOW! Then I can relax with a beautiful mind that has let go of all the shit of this life and I am free then to enjoy all the magic instead!!! Death Rocks!”

Kelsang Dechen also reminds us that everyone has to die and indeed many did die yesterday, let’s pray for them too: “With a mind of equanimity, let us remember all sentient beings – our kind mothers – who died yesterday. OM MANI PÄME HUM.”

Postscript

At the risk of sounding like I did in fact drop my iPhone 3 down the toilet deliberately, I discovered I was just out of contract with AT & T and so had to/was obliged to/had no choice but to upgrade to an iPhone 4 😉 (I wasn’t going to, I promise, I’m not that addicted to possessing all the latest new gadgets… ?!)

I pray that our next life is also an upgrade.

Please leave your comments on the blog, and share this article if you like it.

What are blessings?

Everyone is blessed

Anyone can receive blessings any time. We just have to believe in, or tune into, or even actually mix with, the fount of blessings, however we may construe it, and blessings will always come streaming into us like sunshine into a darkened room.

Some of my Facebook friends posted beautiful comments in response to the question: “What exactly are blessings?” Here are some of them.

Eileen Quinn kicked it off with: “Good things that flow into your mind from the Buddhas…. I think of the sudden feelings of peace or happiness – out of the blue – as blessings.” Adam Head calls blessings “divine love/inspiration”. Debbie Howard describes them as: “Good healing energy zapping the negativity in our minds and filling them with positivity.” Victoria Kaya says: “It’s when you realise you’re not alone and you feel a peace that flows through you and emanates to others.”

MJ Weaver emailed me: “Francesca Fremantle wrote in her book Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead: “The Tibetan literally means ‘an engulfing wave or flood of splendor and power.’ I saw elsewhere that the Sanskrit word ‘adhisthana’ literally meant ‘uplift’. And they’ve been described as ‘waves of grace’, which certainly rings true for me.”

And there were more great comments that I’d like to share in future articles. Please add your own in the box below too!

Transformation through inspiration

Blessings, in Tibetan “jin gyi lob”, means “transformation through inspiration”. Our minds can mix with the minds of holy beings (however we construe them) and transform from sad to happy, dark to light, negative to positive, very smoothly. Not just my FB friends, but many people from all backgrounds around the world can attest to the power of blessings transforming their hearts and lives. If blessings don’t exist, then don’t you find it a coincidence how many millions of people over millennia have given such similar descriptions of what it is like to receive them?!

Once we’ve tasted blessings, it is obvious that they exist, even if we don’t immediately understand them or trust they are what they are. The trick is, how can we tune in more deliberately so that we can receive blessings whenever we want, on tap as it were? How can we deliberately throw open that window so the sunshine pours in?

Grandpa

Some years ago, when he was in his late nineties, I had a very interesting conversation with my mother’s father. A very bright doctor, scientist and religious skeptic his entire life, my extraordinary grandfather received an epiphany in his sixties, when everything dissolved away into “clear light” (his words) and he saw deeply how his mind was mixed with the mind of God (his words). He described this experience to me as “spontaneous great bliss”, which somewhat surprised me as that expression is used in Tantric Buddhism yet he had never come across Tantric Buddhism. He said that, much as he loved his family and had derived great joy from them, this blissful and connected experience transcended and surpassed everything he had ever known. He saw that everything, including his family, his career and his entire life, just arose like a reflection from the clear light of his mind mixed with God’s mind and had no existence separate from it. And that clear light was pervaded by love, a deep feeling for the interconnectedness of everything.

We then had a discussion about how everything is created by mind. Whether God’s mind or our own minds we left open to discussion, but in Buddhism there is a way to reconcile the two understandings. Buddhists don’t believe in a creator God as a person who is all-powerful and who creates us like a carpenter creates a table. But we do see how everything can be understood to manifest from the mind of omniscient wisdom and bliss that is not inherently different to our own very subtle clear light mind, even if our mind is at present obstructed by ignorance and mistaken appearance. (You can understand a lot more about this if you read Geshe Kelsang’s clear teachings in Mahamudra Tantra.)

My grandfather’s mystical experience was marvelous and life-changing, and he also had further experiences like it. But they were always random, he said. They would “descend” upon him when he was just in the garden tending his flowers, or playing the piano, or taking his long daily walk. Sometimes they came when he was in Guildford cathedral or his local church, more often when he was relaxed at home.

So I said to him: “You know, there is a method to tune into that experience of spacious loving bliss whenever you want.” Because there is. Blessings are blissings. If we know how to tune in, we can access this mystical experience by mixing our minds with the minds of all enlightened beings, who are always experiencing this clear light of bliss inseparable from the ultimate nature of all phenomena. Our mind, like a drop of water, can dissolve into their mind, which is like a boundless blissful ocean. The drop is then pervaded by the ocean.

Drop in an ocean. Ocean in a drop.

(I love this subject and have written loads more here! And please leave your comments in the box below.)

Breathe your way to inner peace

This is the last installment of the how not to worry articles.

Breathing meditations can help enormously in instantly alleviating our worry, and anyone can do them if they have a mind to.

Simple breathing meditation

Worrying affects us physiologically, from shallower breathing and the inability to relax through to full blown panic attacks when we can hardly breathe. When the mind is calm, our breathing tends to be deeper, and vice versa. So one way to confront the problem is to follow our breath and calm ourselves down that way. Here is a simple five-minute breathing meditation you can try anytime, even now!

You’ll get three specific benefits from doing this breathing meditation:

(1) There is a close relationship between our mind and our breath. Our breath is related to our subtle inner energy winds (Skt. prana). We can understand this by remembering what happens when, for example, we are anxious and our breathing quickens, or when we are calm or concentrated (e.g. threading a needle) and it slows down. As we calm the breath in breathing meditation, our mind naturally calms down too.

(2) The breath is a neutral object, so meditating on it temporarily pacifies our worries because we forget about them. It is like putting our car into neutral. We can then move into forward gear by meditating on a positive object such as patience.

(3) Our mind can only hold one object at a time. If we focus single-pointedly on our breath, which is not too difficult an object to find, our worries will naturally diminish and disappear.

Taking and giving mounted upon the breath

As mentioned in the previous article on overcoming worry, we can also combine our breathing meditation with taking and giving, thereby increasing our love and compassion at the same time as reducing our worry and stress.

OM AH HUM breathing meditation
OM AH HUM

And we can also get two for the price of one if we combine breathing meditation with receiving blessings from the holy beings in the profound OM AH  HUM meditation based on Tantric principles that renowned Buddhist teacher Geshe Kelsang explains in The New Meditation Handbook. This meditation also cleanses our subtle inner energy winds (chi, prana), upon which all our minds are “mounted”. As a result, so-called “wisdom winds” flow and our mind naturally becomes peaceful and positive. You can find out what is behind this profound meditation and how to do it here.

And now some final thoughts on the subject of overcoming worry in no particular order…

Focus on your precious human life and death
Click on picture for blind turtle analogy

Instead of thinking inappropriate thoughts itemizing all the things that can go wrong, we can count our blessings and current opportunities. Victoria Kaya says: “Only through my practice of putting others first before myself do I find the antidote to my worry. Not always easy — however I believe that if I contemplate the suffering of others, and realise how bad things could be, I am grateful for every moment of this very short human life.”

And we can recall: “If I die today, where do I want to be tomorrow?” Ironically, perhaps, remembering impermanence totally reduces our mental stress and helps us to relax. We don’t sweat the small stuff because it just doesn’t seem important any more.

Jb Christy told us of her rather radical approach to remembering impermanence: “Skydiving worked for me. For 9 months after jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, I’d get in situations that normally would cause me to worry, and I’d start to get anxious, and then I’d think “Hey, there’s no planet rushing up to pulverize me,” and then whatever was making me anxious really didn’t bother me anymore. After a few months of that, I got out of the habit of worrying, and really don’t worry much at all anymore. But that might not work for everyone :)” (Ed: and you didn’t read it here!)

Overcome attachment

Why do we worry so much more about our own cat or child than other people’s? Yes, love is in the mix, but the worry is not coming from the love (or the compassion) but from the attachment. It’s worth thinking about? And I am, in some articles I’m writing on whether compassion is a sad or happy mind, with help from Facebook feedback…

Emptiness

Who is worrying?! Where are they? What are they worrying about? Shantideva says:

If there were a truly existent I,
It would make sense to be afraid of certain things;
But, since there is no truly existent I,
Who is there to be afraid?

This is my favorite approach. You can recall the emptiness of the three spheres – the person doing the worrying, the worrying mind, and the object of worry. As mentioned in this article, the sharper our worry, the sharper our sense of a limited self, the bigger our target, and the freer we are when we knock it down in our meditation on no self! Mirja Renner puts it like this: “I tend to look at how worry is just a thought, and how the self that thinks it couldn’t handle the situation (should it arise) doesn’t exist.” Victoria Kaya says: “Interesting, only the realization of the way things really are could eradicate worry from my mind because it is only due to grasping at externals that we worry.”

To conclude…

As mentioned in the first of these anti-worry articles, all the stages of the path (Lamrim) have the side-effect of overcoming worry! As Fiona Layton put it: “Seems like we need to keep practicing the Lamrim and all will become worry free!” These are just a few ways of getting started with some different ways of thinking. As our experience of overcoming delusions, increasing our compassion and wisdom etc grows, our worries grow fewer and fewer until one day we can’t even remember what it is like to be worried about a thing. That’s the truth. In the meantime, we can use our worry to look at our minds and go deeper into its solutions.

Got anything to share? Have we missed anything crucial? Please add your comments in the box below, and share these articles with anyone who might find them useful.