I seem to be here again at the Denver DMV. I thought I’d left this grimy place forever, but here I am back all over again. “Weren’t you here just the other day”? asked the man who failed me in my first test and whom I’d never felt the great urge to see again. But our karma was clearly not done. At any rate, he was a good deal more friendly this time (so I discover he is not in fact an inherently nerve-wracking smile-less robot). He was curious as to all the details of the theft of the spanking new Colorado driving license (amongst other things) that was bringing me to his desk.
I have learned many lessons from this, as it happens, which all goes to show that difficulties can be our best spiritual teachers, as explained in the Lojong teachings. I thought I’d divide this into Sutra and Tantra lessons learned. It’s a long post, sorry in advance!
Sutra lessons learned
I must have stolen in the past, and this is not even the first theft I’ve had. There were some curious incidents growing up where thieves would break into my parents’ house but only steal MY stuff. They broke in in Guyana and stole only my treasured radio. They broke in in Singapore and took a stereo my parents had literally just given me. They broke in in London and took just my relatively worthless jewelry. And when I was a supposedly innocent five-year-old, they stole the shipment of my toys alone when we were moving from Sri Lanka back to England. Yikes. This may be a good sign that my parents are as honest as the day is long, but me?!? This karmic mirror reminds me to check whether I am still being dishonest in any areas of my life.
Never safe in samsara
Another lesson bought home is that while I am in samsara, I am not safe. A good friend shared his experience of being robbed (he managed to have not just one but two MacBook Airs stolen in 1 day):
I don’t know how you are experiencing this, but for me it was very unsettling. I felt extremely vulnerable, exposed, and violated, while simultaneously holding compassion for the perpetrator, and praying for his delusions to be removed.
Nothing is truly mine, certainly not lastingly mine. In samsara, the end of collection is dispersion, and our karma to have stuff comes to an end. This samsaric entropy is also the second law of thermodynamics, I discovered the other day:
There is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state.
My appearances of a shiny new iPhone 5S, driver’s license, and handy credit cards, all contained in a beautiful new turquoise wallet, came to an abrupt dissolution on Sunday morning. All our karmic projections come to an end whether we want them to or not. And then other karmic projections come up, ones we don’t want, eg, having to sort out things we thought were already sorted rather than doing the other more fun things we had planned.
We only have so many appearances to mind left before we die.
And due to self-grasping we feel the loss, we feel vulnerable and violated as my friend pointed out. I’ll not deny that I had some attachment to my phone (not least as my mother had given it to me at Xmas). So my first reaction was some numbness – things seemed to slow down as I searched the pockets of everything I was wearing and looked in every room, and then did the same again, just in case. That sinking feeling, “It’s gone, it’s really gone.”
As Chandrakirti puts it:
I bow down to that compassion for living beings
Who from first conceiving ‘I’ with respect to the self,
Then thinking ‘This is mine’ and generating attachment for things,
Are without self-control like the spinning of a well. ~ Ocean of Nectar, page 25
This feeling of discombobulation was useful for showing my permanent-grasping at myself and my infrastructure, instead of recognizing at all times that it is as insubstantial and fleeting as last night’s dream.
I could not help but feel compassion though because I got into my nice borrowed car and went to my nice house and was able to have some nice lunch and call everyone I needed to, while meantime the perpetrator rather pathetically managed to spend all of $10.12 just getting something to eat at a 7/11 at 1.20pm EST before I closed my cards down. I may not be very rich, but I do have more than $10.12 in my account, so he could at least have treated himself to a swanky restaurant. He also got a $4 drink at Starbucks at 6.30pm with my Starbucks card, and there was a little cash in there too. (This knowledge courtesy of Find my iPhone.) It is doubtful that he (or she) has anywhere great to live, if anywhere at all; and he is clearly hungry and/or desperate enough to sneak into an unknown basement and grab what he can and get out before he is caught. And I am not oblivious to the utter privilege of having these things to lose in the first place, so lucky even compared with most human beings, including him.
The police detective called me today, two days later, offered to meet me in the parking lot if my phone shows up online again, for a “civil standby”. But I have already given the phone away, though it is useless to the thief because it is locked – not even the FBI could break in, not even with a law suit against Apple.
(Last year, J, in Florida at the time, had her iPhone stolen and F and I, in New York, watched the dot zooming down I275, reporting coordinates to J and her sister, who were in hot pursuit. Forty miles later, the phone ended up in a theater parking lot, beeping away inside a black jalopy; and they waited until the thieves came out of their movie and were obliged by the police to open their car and hand over the phone. Not sure what the moral of that tale is, but it was surprisingly exciting at the time, like an OJ Simpson redux. (OK, now I have to tell you my true OJ Simpson story for I can’t imagine getting another chance. I was at Miami airport with N. early one morning, who asked if I would go over and “get us a couple of OJs” while he watched the luggage. And guess who was standing next to me at the same counter. No, I’m not kidding. Mere name, eh. And he had a beautiful blonde with him, for whom I felt a little nervous.)
I gave the stuff away so that the thief would not get the complete action of stealing. He (or she) will still incur some negative karma if he had a deluded intention, but I thought I could offset it. It can’t be offset completely as not even Buddhas can do that – if they could, it’d be impossible to create negative karma with respect to Buddhas.
After the theft, I came back to the 2 cats I am babysitting who, for some reason, were in a very demanding mood, jumping all over me and making a lot of noise while I was trying to call the bank etc. It crossed my mind to get irritated with them, but then I remembered that although they may not give a monkeys about my human problems, in fact the cat problems they have are far, far, far worse.
So I feel luckier than the perpetrator for many reasons, but mainly because he may well not have access to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, whereas I do. As another good friend JS messaged me yesterday, after her camera equipment worth 10,000 quid was stolen from right inside her own house:
There is a huge back story to people’s crime. I want to ask him questions like when did he decide this was the route to take, does he still want to carry on, what did he want to be when he was a kid … does he think it’s possible to change his life …. That’s what I will be putting in my “victim’s” statement, but who is the real victim? I have Geshe-la in my life and the Dharma, I gave up any thoughts of my possessions being important … the victim to me seems like the burglar, he has no Dharma to help him.
My theft is not really different to a theft in a dream. Overall, this has made me more determined than ever to bring an end to my own and others’ samsaric hallucinations while I still have the chance. The compassion that wants to overcome this root cause of suffering is called compassion observing the unobservable, you can read about it in Ocean of Nectar. Samsara sucks, samsara sucks for everyone, but luckily samsara is not real.
Death is on its way
It can be useful to imagine losing one thing at a time to get our heads and hearts around the fact that the entire infrastructure of our life is going to collapse. This includes the people we adore, not just our shiny gadgets. As this inevitability could be just around the corner, this is, as JS put it:
Good practice for death, when I won’t be able to take anything with me. It’s always good to see where one is at with our possessions so I thank him for that.
The kindness of others
I feel almost fraudulent to be writing this, this theft was such a small fry incident in the grand scheme of things, yet people have been astonishingly generous.
A Bodhisattva immediately, and I mean immediately, the moment he saw my stuff had been stolen, said, “Oh, this iPhone I have is spare, you can have it!” Then he wiped his phone clean and gave it to me, along with his phone number, before I had a chance to protest. And he did this utterly convincingly, not even with the slightest hesitation like the one I had when I gave my actually totally spare iPhone 4 away just last week. He reminds me of that quote from Ocean of Nectar:
If from hearing and contemplating the word ‘Give’,
The Conquerors’ Son develops a bliss
The like of which is not aroused in the Able Ones through experiencing peace,
What can be said about giving everything? ~ Ocean of Nectar page 69
Giving does feel pretty good when we manage to pull it off without any regret – the day before this theft I had given a jacket (left here by a Buddhist monk) to a homeless man in Cheesman Park. Long story, but it felt great to see Michael pull it over his skinny shoulders on a freezing day.
But the person who helped me is in a class of his own – he even went so far as to thank me for allowing him to help me. As if he meant it! Which I do believe he did. And I have to add that this same nameless (for his own sake) person said the other day just after I passed my test, “Oh, this car I have is spare, you can borrow it indefinitely!” (Naturally I am now waiting for his spare house and his spare cash.)
There are emanations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in our midst whatever we want to call them – angels, saints, or just very kind people. Maybe they don’t appear so often to a very cynical mind, but they are still there, trying to help, waiting for the first moment they can dive in there. They may appear as the regular folks around us – nurses, neighbors, co-workers, homeless people, family members, strangers at bus stops – but as a Buddha’s job description is to emanate whatever people need, it’s cool not to succumb to ordinary appearances.
Tantric lessons learned
When we realize that we are completely empty of inherent existence, our possessions are completely empty, and our relationship with our possessions is completely empty (the so-called “three spheres”), we can see that we already have everything we need inside us. Why? Because everything is merely projection of our own minds.
I’m going to get a bit philosophical and Tantric for a moment …
Nothing is inherently anything. If we understand this, we can say “This is not that”, about everything, and this truth frees us up. For example, “This is not Denver” frees me up to think “This is Heruka’s Pure Land”. “This is not an annoying co-worker” frees me up to think “This is an emanation of Buddha.” “These are not my possessions” frees me up to give my iPhone away happily.
Bounty of the Dharmakaya
I find myself comparing this “loss” to what I like to call “the bounty of the Dharmakaya“. Within the bliss and emptiness of the Dharmakaya (or Truth Body), everything exists and everything is possible. The divinity is there as you are mixed with the Truth Body of every Buddha. You can manifest anything out of that.
Buddha Heruka and Buddha Vajrayogini, for example, are simply the bounty and infinite good qualities of the Dharmakaya appearing – their symbolism includes absolutely everything good about Buddhahood. So when we focus on them, our bliss and good qualities and so on increase – we are able to itemize, focus on, and identify with them, and gain a greater understanding and experience of the Dharmakaya. And vice versa.
This is why these meditative practices of pure appearance, introduced by enlightened beings, are so important; and why focusing on bliss and emptiness alone, though it is the essence and truth, make it harder or perhaps even impossible to manifest the creative elements of the Dharmakaya and gain full enlightenment for the sake of all other beings.
Bliss and emptiness can appear in any form whatsoever, of course, but we may as well embrace the blissful forms of the Buddhas and their Pure Lands. Why go to the trouble of inventing the appearance of infinite good qualities, imagining how they might show themselves, when generations of enlightened beings have already shown them to us?! Why wish for mundane or ordinary good things to happen when we can set our imaginations free to have the glorious body, enjoyments, environments, and deeds of Buddha Heruka and Buddha Vajrayogini?! Their reality, as evinced in everything about the way they appear, is wild and free and blissful and compassionate already. It is a blessed and powerful expression of the completely pure mind of bliss and emptiness.
Point here being that I can and already do have anything I want within the Pure Land of Heruka and Vajrayogini, so why bother about the loss of a few ordinary appearances to an ordinary mind? Why not just stay in the Pure Land full time instead?
A similar point could be made about making mandala offerings, the offerings of entire pure universes. I can offer countless iPhones appearing from the pure mind of bliss and emptiness on behalf of me and everyone else. And these offerings will result in the appearances of bliss-inducing iPhones sooner or later …
Okay, enough of that for now, I can see my Dad shaking his head. Your comments are most welcome in the comments section below.
Who knew the entire lamrim of sutra and Tantra could be unfurled from an I phone!? Especially after manifesting its emptiness 🙏
Like manjushris cloak.
Thank you for your dharma insights ❤🙏
I understand when you say “I gave the stuff away so that the thief would not get the complete action of stealing” that this conclusion comes from the laws of karma, which explain that there are 4 conditions required to make any action complete: the basis, intention, preparation, and completion. And clearly it helps further develop your generosity and non-attachment, which are essential to your eventual attainment of Buddhahood.
But it doesn’t seem obvious to me that this was the best choice for everyone involved. For one, it’s possible that catching the thief in a “civil standby” might help dissuade him (without jail time) from stealing more in the future, which would inevitably create loads more negative karma for him and his victims. For another, one might argue that your phone helps you spread the Dharma, so it would be more beneficial overall if you were to recover it. (Yes, a friend gave you one, but if you knew that that was an option you could have given away your phone in a functional state before it was stolen.)
What I’m getting at is that the choice of whether to give a stolen object away or not is more nuanced than simply choosing generosity with the compassionate goal of reducing the thief’s negative karma. If the thief had stolen your car, house, identity, or in an urban-legend-turned-real scenario your kidneys, or even your life, then it would be even more imperative that he be prevented from continuing to create such negative karma for himself and others. Or if authorities had reported that suspected terrorists were living in your neighborhood, and the next day someone stole several of your bags of fertilizer (a component in making bombs), then simply giving it away would be reckless endangerment.
To bring this back to your situation, I even wonder whether it would have been more effective to have given away your phone to the thief AT a civil standby. You could have reactivated it, cleared it of personal data, and given him the phone as a powerful lesson in generosity.
I feel like what is needed in complicated situations such as this is a rule of thumb that could help guide us to the best overall choice. Clearly we want, for ourselves, to “rely upon a happy mind alone”, such as the mind of generosity over miserliness. And our intentions must be driven by compassion, so that our mental actions create positive karma. But without the insight of omniscience, even our best intentions might be misguided.
What are your thoughts on this?
Michael Repucci +1-718-288-4554 email@example.com http://michael.repucci.org/
Interestingly, the detective found video footage of the thieves (a man and a woman) and has sent it out to officers to find them. I wasn’t expecting that level of sleuthing and I may be called upon to press charges, or not. You make some very good points and i’m going to think more about it. Perhaps others might weigh in too, hope so.
I have a problem that some one knows meditative skill very well, sends negative energy to my family because of some revenge motive. I believe that every thought comes from inside us, but my little 6 yrs girl after her sending negative energy has become very anxious and frightful, she starts crying without any reason and she couldn’t control her tears while she wasn’t never such that.
can you help me with some meditation skill or something else to neutralize such bad effect on my daughter?
hi Mary, if u send me your email address we can talk privately.
I wrote down, “We already have everything we need inside us because everything is merely projection of our minds.” This statement is so profound! I know I’ve heard this before many times, but just now it really spoke to me. I will meditate on this. I’m so amazed! Thank you, Luna.
That is very cool, Norma.
After a similar experience I came to the conclusion that it was not so much the loss of the phone but all the extra hassle of cancelling stuff organzing new stuff etc. I decided this was just pure laziness on my part so I made huge effort to generate patience and compassion for the poor folks at the other end who had to deal with me. (Rather than irritation and discouragement ) . Actually the phone was returned to me after all that and to be honest I struggled to understand the teaching in there for me any ideas?
Yes, at the DMV I was thinking that I only have to come in this once (again), whereas they have to deal with people like me all day every day … So, your phone was returned, and I don’t know what the teaching is in that?! But there must be one — does anyone reading this have any ideas?!
Thanks for that yes others are countless and I’m only one! Also on reflection I guess I had a lesson in the laziness of discouragement, if I’m honest that same heavy feeling can spring up towards dharma practice at times ( did so in recent counting retreat and I found purifying through Vajrasatva transformed discouragement into joy and determination) . Also I had a laugh on the phone and made someone’s difficult job a bit easier ( I hope) and it was never lost in the first place lol just think of all the wasted energy I could have spent on negative minds thank goodness for dharma thank goodness for Geshla and all his emanations 😀
Went back to this the day after my house got broken into. The simple act of remembering to give away our stolen possessions has lightened the load and lessened the stress considerably. Plan to go back and digest the rest of your teachings, especially the Tantra parts. Thank you for giving us reminders about how fortunate we are, too. Compassion really purifies a tight and anxious mind. Love and thanks to you Luna!
I am very pleased that giving your stuff away helped, i hoped it would help someone experience peace of mind in a similar situation. x
You are a living Milarepa, who said that he didn’t need books…all life is a dharma lesson. I LOVE your posts and look forward to seeing you in San Francisco.
thank you! Now i just need his realizations 😉
Wow. Inspired and inspiring.
The best way to never have your iphone stolen is just never having one.
yes, of course, you have a point. More we have, more we have to lose. Contentment is another lesson to learn 🙂
I always enjoy your posts, thanks so much for sharing all your insights with us. So glad you managed to turn around a potentially upsetting experience into something worthwhile – and for all of us in the form of this post, too!
Cheers Matt 🙂
Fabulous and fun!
🙂 Glad you liked it.
That was great. Clever and funny.
thank you Cindy x
Reblogged this on Into the Crevasse.
Thank you for reblogging. Keep up the good bloggy work 🙂
Enjoying your thoughtful posts. Many thanks
my pleasure! thank you for reading.