A guest article by a Buddhist monk.
Keep it simple – but life’s NOT simple!
There’s an expression used in business based on the acronym KISS – ‘Keep it simple, stupid!’. This reveals a profound truth; that to succeed in anything we have to have a clear idea of what we want to achieve and how to do it. The more simply and clearly this can be expressed, the clearer we are about our goals and paths.
Geshe Kelsang is a master at this, continually revising his spiritual advice to make it simpler and clearer, yet more profound. In this way, spiritual advice becomes a living, breathing, evolving thing, which is quite beautiful. Someone who really understands something can make it very simple and accessible for others. Have you ever had to explain something complicated to a child? Those skills are very useful for us to understand our own spiritual practices. If you can explain it to yourself in such a way that a child would understand it, there’s a good chance that you will understand it clearly.
We need to make our life simple too. Don’t you find that life is complicated? It seems so! We’re often left confused and bewildered by the pace of change in our life and with our own responsibilities. Our mind feels busy and it’s hard to focus on anything. Life can just become a very busy series of soul-destroying routines until we are left wondering in the small hours of the morning, trying to get to sleep, ‘what is the purpose of my life?’ These routines seem to take over our life until there’s no space left; everything feels difficult and complicated, even spiritual practice, so therefore simplicity is the key to success.
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing
It’s hard to be happy and stay that way but that’s the purpose of our spiritual life. If we are to succeed in our spiritual life, we’ve got to find a way to make our spiritual practice part of our daily life so it’s as natural and comfortable as breathing. We can do this by keeping things simple. We just need a few words that we can remember during our busy day to get our mind back on track again so that we can keep calm and happy. In this way we can refocus our life without losing its purpose in the busyness of our daily responsibilities. So here is one great piece of advice from Buddhist Master, Geshe Chekhawa from the 11th Century. He said:
Train in every activity by words.
Not much has changed since then; we really need something simple so that our mind can easily engage. How many distractions are there in an 11th Century Tibetan village compared to our busy modern information-overloaded world? We’re drowning in an ocean of information from email, the internet, texts, phones and people; but not much of it helps us to stay calm and happy. If Geshe Chekhawa’s advice was useful way back then when people enjoyed a simple, technology free life, how much more relevant is it now?
Buddha said that everything is mere name so we don’t have anything other than words to evoke the positive minds that will lead us to inner peace and happiness. But what words? Try to find something that resonates with you. I want to share some of my favourites with you from Geshe Kelsang’s books. We really need these because our mind and life are busy and so we need to RE-MIND ourself. It’s good when put like this! It means ‘to bring something meaningful back to mind’ – literally ‘re-mind’. This is the real practice of mindfulness.
We have to decide what the purpose of our life is. For those who want a meaningful life, it is transforming the mind and thereby making progress in compassion and wisdom. To this end, I like this phrase:
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
The main thing is remembering Dharma, so keeping this practice of remembering is the main thing. We need to remember to remember, otherwise we forget. What we want is to keep a happy mind all the time and to be progressing in our practice of compassion and wisdom and to do this, we need to keep it as the very core of our life by not forgetting. If we forget to transform our daily experience through Dharma thinking, we will lose many opportunities to make progress.
Our main problem is that we lose our purpose because we are constantly being hit by waves of ordinary appearances and so we develop ordinary minds in response. What we need is to make our appearances spiritual rather than the appearances making our mind ordinary and this depends upon having a method for making things spiritual, which depends upon remembering to do so. We need a simple method to remember to transform all our daily appearances into the spiritual path because this is one of the main characteristics of a person who practises Lamrim, and a Kadampa is someone who practises Lamrim, making everything spiritual and continually making progress.
As I said, it’s important to keep things simple otherwise we either won’t do it or won’t know how to do it. The main goals of a spiritual life are developing love and wisdom to keep our mind peaceful and happy, and our actions positive. Our love and wisdom are like the two wings of a bird that enable us to fly to the jewelled island of enlightenment. We forget to flap those wings during our daily life, so our main focus is to remain focused. We need reminding because otherwise we are too busy and will easily forget. Don’t forget to remember!
Here are some love re-minders that I use:
All the happiness there is in the world arises from wishing others to be happy.
All the suffering there is in the world arises from wishing ourself to be happy.
For happiness, cherish others.
First you, then me.
This person is important and their happiness matters.
Also, some wisdom re-minders:
Everything is like a dream.
All the things that I normally see do not exist.
Everything is the nature of mind, mind is the nature of emptiness.
Everything is dependent, so nothing exists from its own side.
Everything is like an illusion.
There are many other areas that we can explore too. Can you find phrases that move you to practise renunciation, patience, generosity, rejoicing, Tantric self-generation, and so one? Perhaps you can find one phrase to move your mind for each of the Lamrim meditations? There are many possibilities to explore.
Make it simple and practical – just do
Our path to enlightenment can be very simple – all we need to do is love others with the wish to become enlightened and see everything like a dream. Does that seem too complicated, like patting your belly and rubbing your head at the same time? It’s only two things! If it seems difficult, break it down – train in one, then train in the other. Keep remembering and remembering again and again using words that you enjoy, like spiritual poetry. Many people love poetry because it speaks to them and ignites imagery in their mind; spiritual poetry can do the same. Inspire yourself, find words that speak to your heart, or make up your own. Find something that quickly leads to the actual experience of cherishing others, compassion, patience, wisdom and other virtues.
Here, then, is my spiritual ‘to do’ list:
- Find something that works.
- Keep it clear and simple.
- Do it as often as I can remember!
Precious human life
How often you remember depends upon how important you feel it is to remember your spiritual practice, which depends upon appreciating the rarity and preciousness of this opportunity – yes, we’re back to precious human life meditation! Geshe Kelsang says that we need to meditate on precious human life to develop four determinations:
I will practise Dharma.
I can practise Dharma.
I will practise Dharma in this very lifetime.
I will practise Dharma right now.
Details can be found in Joyful Path of Good Fortune. To practise Dharma ‘right now’ we need to remember because we want to, so it’s back to mindfulness training.
The most important thing is to move our mind; find something that works. You’ll know when you find something that works because it’s easy to remember and easy to recall, and it moves your heart. Don’t be satisfied until you have found something that works, that feels natural.
We tend to get used to things, or complacent, so you might have to switch things around and try different phrases as you get used to the ones that you initially choose.
Keep tasting the real meaning of those phrases: Geshe Kelsang says that if we think deeply about these things from our heart and without distractions, we will taste the words, our mind will move and we can keep it fresh. People talk about ‘the beginner’s mind’ and this is very important. We need to keep Dharma fresh and interesting no matter how long we’ve been practising; this is a skill in itself.
So do try this method and see how it works!
Thanks for reading – I hope this approach works for you. Please feel free to share your own favourite Dharma phrases that are meaningful to you in the comments below so that we can all learn and benefit, and if you can suggest something simpler, please do because, as I said earlier, simplicity is the key to success.
My phrase is Nothing Matters but Everything Counts. I have it on a bracelet, I’m thinking about getting it as a tattoo!
Thanks for sharing Caroline 🙂
Thank you Pagpa. I have this amongst my saved items to return to. I keep little cards in my diary with the 14 Meditations written as a word or phrase re-minder (love that). When I catch myself thinking mindless drivel (every few minutes!) this is what I bring to mind. I love learning mantras too, t
Thanks Kay, I hope it helps you. I like your idea about cards to remember the lamrim meditations with 🙂
This is really helpful thanks… Does anyone have a phrase which could help stop a self cherishing self critical mind in its tracks ? I’ll sincerely be trying to simplify from now on…
Hi Tessa, how about “In the future I will be completely pure; my true nature is to benefit all living beings”? You could also use this adapted prayer from Eight Steps to Happiness:
“This fault I see is not the fault of myself
But the fault of delusion. I myself am faultless”
My reminder The things I normally see do not exist this seems to stop a lot of noise
I find that very helpful as well. I find remembering emptiness more and more helpful, thanks for your comment Joan.
” I return to the peaceful clear compassionate mind that is my true me”, emptiness pure presence overwhelms me,so much of wonders.
A good reminder of our Buddha nature, we are not a mass of delusions but the basis for infinite good qualities! Thanks Yves.
Thanks for these reminders, full of wisdom. I have note a lot of reflexions to contemplate. My main sentence is : ” Exactly like me, this person wants to be happy. Even if he doesn’t seems to use the right way to get it, he is trying, right now, to be hapy. Can I help him?”
Thanks Marie-Julie, a good heart always brings good results. Thanks for your phrase, very nice!
Thank you for this!
I love: the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!
I found it helpful too, it makes it clear what to do in life. Thanks for your comment Mark.
There’s no out there, out there, it’s all in here.
The world I normally see is like a mental holodeck.
Delusions make me hallucinate friends enemies and strangers.
Others are kind and precious. Without them who can I learn to cherish.
Thanks Gakyi, those are great phrases too. I love how the essence of spiritual practice can be condensed into a few very powerful words that really stick in the mind.
Very interesting. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. In harmony and truth. Hugs, Barbara
Thanks for taking the time to comment, Barbara, I hope you found the article useful. Hugs, all the best to you 🙂