Je Tsongkhapa Day ~ thinking globally, acting locally

7 mins read

Today, October 25th, is Je Tsongkhapa Day ~ you can read more about it in this talk. In it, Geshe Kelsang says:

Guru Sumati Buddha HerukaAlthough Je Tsongkhapa had the highest realizations of Highest Yoga Tantra he never physically showed that he was a Tantric yogi. He lived like as an ordinary pure practitioner, emphasizing by his outward appearance the pure practice of moral discipline. However, his daily life was that of a Bodhisattva, and his inner realization of experiencing the union of great bliss and emptiness day and night was the very essence of Highest Yoga Tantra.

Practicing Buddhism on different levels at the same time

So here are some short musings of what this day means to me.

Our main object of refuge in modern or Kadampa Buddhism is Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka – our Spiritual Guide is appearing as Je Tsongkhapa, with Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart, and Buddha Heruka (or Buddha Vajradhara) at his heart.

This reveals our outer, inner, and secret Dharma practice through which our Spiritual Guide is drawing us all into his heart of bliss and emptiness. We want to and can become just like him.

Guru Tsongkhapa is the embodiment of moral discipline and renunciation and, totally trustworthy and relatable, represents the visible or outer structure for helping others, such as the organized centers, ordained community, and lay Pratimoksha community. Not to mention practically helping people each day.

Je Tsongkhapa emanates from Guru Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart, who is the embodiment of his inner realizations of love, compassion, and bodhichitta, which flow effortlessly throughout the whole world of living beings.

And Buddha Shakyamuni in turn emanates from Heruka and Vajrayogini at his heart, who are the embodiment of the secret or hidden Tantric practice of bliss and emptiness that sources and pervades all phenomena, that is reality itself, that already exists as the solution.

Think globally, act locally

This always reminds me that we can and do practice on different levels: outer, inner, and secret.

Outer (renunciation)

Geshe Langri Tangpa and mouse
Look carefully …  🐭

It helps others a great deal if we are practicing renunciation, contentment, and ethics. We need to be observing the ten virtuous actions, for example, whoever we are, and trying to keep our word and avoid pretension and deceit. Whatever our walk of life, we can’t show crazy examples even if we have powerful realizations — no one can follow those, especially in these degenerate times; and, thanks to self-cherishing, everyone’s moral discipline goes to pot given half an excuse. Along with kindness and basic decency.

Whoever and wherever we are (high profile or low key) and whatever we do every day (high powered or below the radar), we are always acting moreorless locally, as it were. Geshe Langri Tangpa paid a lot of attention to one mouse, for example, and I have seen Geshe Kelsang spend many minutes blessing a bee that was dying next to his window one hot summer day.

When he first got to England, also, in the late seventies, Geshe-la would routinely be teaching the profound perfection of wisdom to an audience of … 7 people! But with the same enthusiasm with which he later taught 7 thousand.

Inner (bodhichitta)

We generally only have a certain limited number of people we are practically able to help on any given day, especially when we compare that number to countless living beings. You could say that it’s never enough, that there’s always more to be done, even if we practically die trying.

Perhaps à propos nothing, but it seems relevant to me, Joe Di Maggio was once asked by a reporter why he always played so hard, even if there were only a few people in the stands. He replied:

Because there might have been somebody in the stands who’d never seen my play before, and might never see me again.

And that reminds me of that starfish story … you know the one, I also repeat it here,  but the point being that even helping one person makes all the difference to them.

starfishSo we try to help everyone in our path each day, and the more the merrier on one level. But on another level it doesn’t really matter how many people we can meet and help directly because our heart can always be in the right place, always vast with bodhichitta, encompassing all living beings. In that way we are also making a difference on a deeper level, heading toward enlightenment rapidly so that we can help everyone all the time through emanations and blessings. Sure, Geshe-la could have been teaching thousands of people in the same amount of time he spent looking after one bee; but the fact is that this bee action was just as significant in some ways.

And if we have a big heart, each of these seemingly limited actions is a like a portal into helping everyone, so it becomes limitless.

Get out the vote! I was just thinking about voting, for example. The way to make my vote really count is to cast it with a mind of renunciation and bodhichitta, wishing for all beings to live in the freedom of bliss and emptiness. And, while I’m at it, I can pray for our dear leaders, whoever they end up being, to have wisdom and compassion.

Secret (blissful wisdom)

Then there is the solution that always lies at our hearts and at the heart of reality. If we remember that we and everything else is the nature of bliss and emptiness, we are making a difference on an even deeper level – we’re already in the process of drawing everyone into that state. We can remain tethered in the solution, and therefore in hope and refuge, as described a bit in this last article.

This way of practicing on outer, inner, and secret levels is the union of Sutra and Tantra — something else Je Tsongkhapa’s Kadampa tradition is famous for.

True refuge

refuge from the stormEverywhere we look these days there seem to be insurmountable problems – sped up climate change, factory farming, politicians and populace gone wild, mental health crises, not to mention all our own stuff. This can be immensely discouraging if we stop there, if we never get off social media and the 24/7 news cycle.

But true refuge involves not just understanding the doom and gloom of it all, but that it is all mere name, not as real and fixed as it appears deceptively to our sense awarenesses. Not an atom of it exists from its own side, so a lasting solution is possible; even though we will have to dig deeper than the delusions and karmic hallucinations to get to it.

True refuge involves not just a reasonable and woke fear of our own and others’ suffering, but faith in the solution – liberation and enlightenment — and the holy beings who have already attained it or who are on their way. Faith in enlightenment and holy beings — especially in our Spiritual Guide who is showing us an actual alternative to suffering — is crucial. We need this faith to be able to bring ourselves and others to that state, not to mention to stay sane and positive in the process.

Today I think lots about how kind my Spiritual Guide is for managing to appear in my life despite these challenging times to show me exactly how to get us out of here. There is a verse in Offering to the Spiritual Guide that expresses this for me perfectly:

To the coarse beings of these impure times who, being so hard to tame,
Were not subdued by the countless Buddhas of old,
You correctly reveal the excellent path of the Sugatas;
O Compassionate Refuge and Protector, to you I make requests.

When I think about Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka, and especially when I allow him to enter my heart and mix with my mind, it fills me with inconceivable hope. It fills me with refuge. It fills me with the energy to keep going despite the crazy appearances at every turn.

That is what Je Tsongkhapa Day means to me. I’d love to hear what it means to you, if it does. And to conclude with Geshe Kelsang’s words:

Today we remember Je Tsongkhapa’s great kindness and dedicate all our virtuous actions so that his Dharma will flourish throughout the world and provide many living beings with the great opportunity to attain liberation and full enlightenment.

Over to you.

 

Deep healing

8 mins & a video

An old friend of mine, a naturopath, has had a lot of success in healing people simply by telling them — confidently — to drop down into their hearts and feel they’re experiencing their own pure, peaceful natures, the restorative power of their own deep clear light awareness. He has been healing people like this for years, sometimes from intractable mental and physical problems that other medicines and therapies have not been able to touch.

beautiful heartExtraordinary, really, and it speaks to me of the importance of being direct and confident in our spiritual or meditation practice as well, not beating about the bush but heading straight for the source. So I thought I’d say a few things about that, starting with a little background.

The journey into the heart

We can travel all the way to enlightenment by learning to absorb deeply into our heart chakra, such that we manifest our own clear light mind. In fact, it is the only way to do it. As Buddha Shakyamuni says:

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

As the saying goes, the most important journey we will ever make is the journey into our heart.

It is inspiring to understand that inside us, at all times, is this indestructible potential for lasting happiness, healing, and freedom from all suffering. It is called our Buddha nature. Everyone has it.

There are different ways of talking about this potential – in The New Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe Kelsang says our compassion is our Buddha nature or Buddha seed because it is our compassion that will grow into enlightenment.

Elsewhere he says that our very subtle mind and body are our Buddha nature because these are the substantial causes of the mind and body of an enlightened being (rather as a rose seed is the substantial cause of a rose bush). In other words, we already have the actual ingredients for enlightenment inside us; nothing needs to be added, we just need to grow it.

Sometimes our Buddha nature refers to the emptiness of our clear light mind, which allows for everything and anything to appear and exist.

Through any of these explanations, we can understand that our mind is not set in concrete, however much it may seem like that some days; but can heal, purify, and transform completely. This means that we ourselves are also not at all fixed, but can and will one day become completely different people.

Whatever has happened up to now, if we go on this spiritual journey our future will be an entirely better story. We will end up completely free and blissful, day and night, life  radiate loveafter life, and able to bring others to the same state.

The goal …

The goal of Buddhist meditation is to use Tantric technology to deliberately manifest our very subtle mind of great bliss and use it to realize its perceived object, the emptiness of all phenomena. This bliss radiates eternally to all living beings as compassion, blessing them with mental peace. It mixes with the true nature of all phenomena, emptiness, like water mixing with water.

So cultivating bliss and emptiness, compassion and wisdom, are the way to go and the way to grow! And we also impute ourselves on this bliss and emptiness with correct imagination, thinking “This is me”, to attain enlightenment as fast as possible, even in this one short life.

Here is an illuminating extract from the teachings by Gen-la Khyenrab at the recent International Kadampa Festival in Portugal:

… is within reach already

Modern Buddhism emphasizes bringing this goal, or result, into the path. In other words, rather than laboriously working our way through all the stages of the path in a dualistic fashion — wherein we are over here all restricted and the realizations are light years away over there all transcendent — we can dip into them every day. Bathe in them, even.

Then we don’t have to wait forever to have them.

Try this for a moment if you like …

Gently close your eyes and imagine you drop from your head into your heart chakra (in the center of your chest cavity). Feel that your cloud-like distractions and worries have dissolved into an empty-like space in your heart, an inner light, like an infinite clear sky — just imagine. Feel your way into that peace, and think “This peace, however slight or relative, is my indestructible Buddha nature, my potential for lasting peace and mental freedom. It is who I really am.” It is also tuned into the enlightenment of all Buddhas. I can trust it. Believe that everything has dissolved away into the emptiness of this mind because nothing is as solid or as concrete as you thought. Bathe in that for a few moments or longer.

(By the way, if you’re not a Buddhist you can still do this — tuning into whatever holy or divine being works for you.)

reflection emptiness 2

So we dive or drop into our hearts and simply imagine, based on whatever understanding we have so far, that we are experiencing that bliss and wisdom right now. This is not make-believe going nowhere – as Gen-la Khyenrab says in that video above, imagination functions. All our thoughts are paths leading somewhere. Everything starts in the imagination. Then we can do all our step-by-step meditations in that context, not in the context of being an ordinary, deluded, inherently miserable person.

For the point is, the limited self we normally see and relate to doesn’t even exist; so there is really not much point in practicing Dharma, or meditation, in the context of that self, while believing in that self and buying into its limitations. It is far more effective and enjoyable to learn to practice in the context of feeling blissful, believing in and buying into the adamantine purity and goodness of our root mind. I mentioned this a bit before in an article where I explained how I like to meditate “backwards”, as it were.  

emptiness reflection 2I don’t think it matters how vague this bliss and emptiness are to begin with, it is still worth getting started. If we don’t take a few moments each day to dive in — to imagine dissolving ourselves and everything else away into this bliss and emptiness — our ordinary appearances and conceptions will for sure overpower us. We will go round continuing to assume that we are ordinary, others are ordinary, this world is ordinary. These ideas are not true, and both they and their objects are false hallucinations projected by the impure minds of self-grasping and ordinary conceptions. But they are so convincing and so deceptive that we can spend years lost in them.

I have met a lot of people who stop practicing meditation because they get immersed in appearances, too closely involved in the external situation as Geshe Kelsang puts it, like a dog with a bone; and in the “real” busyness of ordinary life simply forget to journey within. Only years later, when they come back to a meditation class or retreat, they realize, “I forgot who I really was! I forgot this alternative existed.” I think this scenario is something to watch out for because we are all subject to forgetfulness.

Healing ourselves, healing others

Now that we know that there’s an alternative to samsaric selves, places, and enjoyments, I think we owe it to ourselves not to forget. We can take a little time daily to taste the restorative, healing power of our own peaceful mind, for then we can regularly observe for ourselves that the neurotic or unlovable or unloving version of ourself doesn’t actually exist. So we’ll know for ourselves that we may as well stop right now trying to make that self we normally see happy or to solve its hallucinatory issues because it’s literally a fool’s game.

We can dive into our heart and experience the deeply healing power of truth, versus pandering to the barely existing but psychotropic projections that our ignorant mind takes to be concrete reality. We can let go of the thought and the labels “self”, “mine”, and “other”. “Stop grasping at labels” as Venerable Geshe Kelsang said in his Universal Compassion oral teachings. After all, everything is unfindable upon analysis. Everything is mere name. So why not rename ourselves?

No one is forcing us to keep grasping at a concrete reality that is not there. Believe me, no one needs us to be doing this.

Just as one drowning person cannot save another, however fervently he or she may wish to, so we cannot help others much if we are drowning ourselves. We need to be on at least some dry patch of reality.

I think that most of us could probably do with more confidence and directness in our approach to meditation. Bringing the result into the path is hallmark of our tradition, starting from the outset of our practice. We don’t need to skirt around the bliss and emptiness that is reality; we need to go for it as soon as possible — why not right now? We can trust it, take refuge in it. Then we can sort out our issues within the perspective of infinite space and freedom — and this process becomes so much more enjoyable, not to mention effective!

wings of a birdDharma teachings are not intended to make us all hung up on what is inherently wrong with us – there is nothing inherently nor permanently wrong with us, our problems and delusions are ephemeral clouds in the sky. (Check out these articles for more tips on how to overcome our faults and delusions without buying into them.)

We are not working our way up to blissful non-dualistic wholeness from a distant ordinary place, an OTHER place, a place of inherent lack. We are realizing that this is who we already are from one perspective, and we just need to gain this perspective. This is the quickest path to transformation.

Practicing as if no one is watching

And, by the way, while we’re working on getting enlightened we don’t need to prove anything to ourselves or to anyone else. Thinking that we do is just another elaboration, another ego game. It is another way we distance ourselves from our own wellbeing and reify our painful, limited sense of self by feeling alternately proud and/or bad about it. I personally like to practice as if no one is watching.

If you have time, check Part Two and Part Three of this article, including some tips and tricks for getting quickly into our heart. Meanwhile, over to you … was this helpful or not? Anything to add?

Related articles

Enlightenment is reality 

Meditating “backwards”

Bringing the result into the path 

Start where you are 

Can genuine happiness be found outside our mind?

A guest article by a modern Buddhist practitioner who works full time as a manager of software engineer teams.

6 mins read.

I calculate 3 reasons why genuine happiness cannot be found outside our mind:

Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.12.12 PM1) Everything is impermanent. Our wish to find happiness from outside our mind depends on things remaining the same. We acquire a slew of external enjoyments that bring us happiness, and then work to keep them that way. Yet, in this impermanent world these enjoyments cannot help but change. As a result, we end up chasing ever-changing external conditions, which is an endless pursuit.

For example, many people invest a lot of time an effort in finding happiness in relationships. After all, isn’t the dream life one in which you meet a beautiful partner, get married, and live happily ever after? Relationships seem to be compelling sources of happiness, and society generally endorses this view.

However, if we apply the wisdom understanding impermanence,eggs-in-a-basket.png it becomes clear that putting all our eggs of happiness into relationships is not a reliable strategy. Relationships are often a roller coaster of emotion — we love the thrilling times but have no ability to be happy when things get difficult.

This doesn’t mean that we need to abandon relationships to find lasting happiness. It does mean that we need a different approach to them, which is explained below.

2) Every new thing comes with its own new set of problems. It appears as if certain conditions can make us happy, but this appearance is deceptive. That is because there is no such thing as a job, relationship, or external enjoyment without problems.

If we lack an object we desire such as a relationship, then this is only one problem: the problem of not having a relationship. If we get into a relationship, then we will have many new problems! This applies in the same way to everything we believe will make us happy.

Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.25.27 PMFor example, suppose we desire a relationship because we would like more companionship in our life. In this scenario, we have the outer problem of lacking companionship, which can lead to inner problems like feeling lonely or isolated. When we think about solving this problem by getting into a relationship we often fail to recognize that relationships have many problems:

  • we will have less time and independence for ourselves,
  • there are a lot of new expenses to attract a partner,
  • we have to spend a lot of time finding someone who is a match for us,
  • we have to deal with the frustration when the relationship goes through hard times,

and the list goes on. Again, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have relationships. It means we should address the inner problem directly instead of solving all of our problems with new ones.

3) There are no objects outside of our mind. Due to ignorance, it appears as if certain people or places are causes of happiness from their own side. For example, who would turn down a free trip to the Bahamas? Isn’t that inherently a source of happiness? In reality, the answer to that is “No” because everything depends on our experience, which is mind. If we bring angry and resentful thoughts with us on vacation, then we will have as miserable a time as we had back at the office. On the other hand, if we bring happy, peaceful thoughts, we will have a great vacation, even if we don’t go anywhere.

This again applies to relationships in that we often project qualities onto our partner that may or may not be there. When we first meet someone we find attractive, it appears as if they are drop-dead gorgeous, and that this has nothing to do with the way we are looking at them. This appearance is our desirous attachment exaggerating the good qualities of this person and ignoring any faults. Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.42.18 PM.pngWe then believe this projection to be true and later, when our desirous attachment starts to fade, problems begin to appear in our mind. All the faults we were previously ignoring start to appear more clearly. Their good qualities begin to fade away, and over time we think that they have changed. Recognizing how we are involved in the appearances to our mind is a critical life skill for learning how to be happy all the time.

How to cultivate genuine happiness from inside our mind

Let’s explore these same 3 points and how we can use them to find lasting happiness:

1) Everything is impermanent. How can we learn to find lasting happiness in an impermanent world? While we are enjoying our relationships, we can equally invest eggs of happiness in the basket of Dharma. Enjoying our relationships is often a process of seeking, enjoying, and letting go of them. While we are doing this, we can also be cultivating a reliable source of happiness within.

For example, we can use every relationship to increase our expedience of the three types of love. Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.45.45 PMThat way, when things are going well we can learn to be more loving. Later, when things get difficult, relationships are a perfect opportunity to practice patient acceptance. They are also an opportunity to learn to love selflessly without expecting anything in return.

If we view our relationships as fuel for our spiritual development, then every person we spend time with will lead us to deeper happiness within.

2) Every new thing comes with its own new set of problems. Instead of relying on external conditions to temporarily relieve our inner problems, we can directly resolve the problems in our mind. For example, if we have an inner problem of loneliness and feelings of isolation, we can solve this by meditating on the dependent-related nature of things. book-nesth-frnt_2016-04_2.jpgIn The New Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe Kelsang says:

We are all interconnected in a web of kindness from which it is impossible to separate our self. Everything we have and everything we enjoy, including our very life, is due to the kindness of others.

If we contemplate this deeply, we will develop insights that enable us to see the world in a way that directly counteracts loneliness. Then, we can easily engage in relationships from the perspective of using them to develop love because we won’t be depending on them to solve our problems.

3) There are no objects outside of our mind. Recognizing how we are involved in the appearances to our mind is a critical life skill for learning how to be happy all the time. If we want to become skillful at overcoming our uncontrolled desires, we need to see how they develop. Again in The New Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe Kelsang says:

It is as if we are continually chasing mirages, only to be disappointed when they do not give us the satisfaction for which we had hoped.

If we watch our mind, we can learn to see how it projects good qualities onto Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.54.38 PM.pnganother person and then feels them to be a real source of happiness. Learning how our mind projects in this way enables us to understand how the delusion of desirous attachment operates and to see through it.

Eventually, we will develop a contentment within that is naturally arising from wisdom. This contentment will give us the freedom to not chase endlessly after objects of desire. As a result we will have boundless energy for finding lasting happiness from within and helping everybody else to do the same!

Please leave comments and questions for the guest author in the box below.

The stopping practice

5.5 mins read

At the very beginning of How to Transform Your Life, on page 3 to be precise, and maybe just in case people don’t read any further, the author Geshe Kelsang Gyatso evokes the heart of the Buddhist mind-training teachings – which is basically to get over ourselves and be concerned about others instead.

ca420505775bfccb6d3e2e494a912a09In this “stopping practice”,* we stop thinking about our own happiness all the time. Why? Because it’s getting in the way of our happiness.

The author asks:

Since this world evolved, human beings have spent almost all their time and energy improving external conditions in their search for happiness and a solution to their problems. What has been the result?

We can pause to answer that question, perhaps coming up with something along these lines:

Instead of their wishes being fulfilled, human suffering and problems have continued to increase while the experience of happiness and peace is decreasing.

If we agree with this at all, what does it show us? = That our methods are clearly not working. Which means we need to change them up.

Built into the mind-set of ordinary people is grasping at a real Me who is important. The effect of this is that our wishes are very important. And this leads to attachment, or uncontrolled desire, wishing to fulfill our wishes all day and all night. This is not a good set up because our wishes cannot all be fulfilled, and certainly cannot stay fulfilled, and so we end up stressed, disappointed, angry, depressed, and so on.

Self-cherishing makes everything about me. Maybe someone brings up a topic not related to us, such as their vacation in Mexico where we have never been, and we still manage to somehow make it about us, “I was on vacation once!” And because we make everything about us we do not have the happiness we long for.

We must understand this through our own experience. If we check carefully how we are experiencing problems and unhappiness, we can understand that they are all created by our uncontrolled desire, wishing ourself to be happy all the time.

selfishnessJust to be clear, there’s nothing wrong at all with being happy or even the basic wish to be happy — quite the opposite. Buddhas are really really happy, for example. But wishing me to be happy all the time, putting me first, is what is getting in the way of fulfilling this basic wish.

We are misunderstanding where happiness comes from, thinking that it is about me and about manipulating stuff out there. When it is not.

Self-cherishing sets us up for disappointment. Try checking its psychology out in reverse next time you feel annoyed or disappointed. “I’m annoyed. Why? Because I was attached to something happening or not happening and it didn’t. Why was I attached to that? Because my wishes are so important. Why? Because I am.”

Most of our energy is going into ourselves because we are so super-duper important – how is MY life, MY diet, MY weather, accommodation, job, relationship, etc etc. This Me Me Me mind would be fine if it worked, but it doesn’t make us happy, it doesn’t solve our problems, and it doesn’t lead us to enlightenment. We have been trying and testing it for many years — since beginningless time, if Buddha is to be believed — and it hasn’t worked yet.

So we have to flip this around. Flip a switch! Just stop it!!! And wish for others to be happy all the time instead!!!

By stopping this wish and instead wishing for others to be happy all the time, we will not have any problems or unhappiness at all.

The irony is that when we stop wishing for ourselves to be happy all the time and instead wish for others to be happy all the time, we become the happiest person alive.

If we check all the times we are unhappy we shall see that we have excessive self-concern. Psychologically, samsara is the experience of the Me minds of self-grasping and self-cherishing — we are trapped in the Me of it all, an ego prison.

thA fish doesn’t notice it is wet and we usually don’t notice that we are soaked in ego-grasping. But this stopping practice helps us with our mindfulness and alertness throughout the day. It is strong, quick, and effective medicine. We can ask ourselves “Who are you thinking about? Stop it!!!”

We can then think about anybody at all and wish for them to be happy all the time, providing they are somebody other than us.

We can also bear in mind that I am only one single person and the reality is that there are billions or trillions of other living beings, human and otherwise, so of course my happiness is not as important as theirs. If I take this reality on board, I’ll be a lot happier. This is a massive spiritual shift. And it works where nothing else has worked.

If we sincerely practice every day stopping wishing for ourself to be happy all the time and instead wishing for others to be happy all the time, then we will understand from our own experience that through this practice, which prevents attachment to the fulfillment of our own wishes, we will have no experience of problems or unhappiness at all.

self-cherishingI love the simplicity of this practice and the clear injunction to just get on with it. We can try it for a day or half a day or 100 times and see if it works — just Stop It! And wish for others to be happy all the time instead. We can do this experiment on everyone we meet and see if it works. If it doesn’t, we can go back to self-cherishing the very next day. What is there to lose?

The same actions can have a very different meaning through this practice, even giving our whole life a far larger sense of fulfillment, while simultaneously creating the causes or karma for a whole different and better world to appear in the future.

For example, I can eat that grilled veggie sandwich (which I’m about to order in Whittier café) with a boring small-minded motivation, just wolfing it down out of attachment because I want to be happy all the time. Or I can be smart and eat it with the wish to nourish my life so that I can better use it to help others be happy all the time, starting with the friend who is joining me later. Same number of calories maybe, but everything else is different. We can transform all our daily stuff into the path to lasting happiness and mental freedom just by changing our heart.

ignoranceThere are hundreds of reasons given in this and other books that show why this stopping practice is so effective, but sometimes it’s good to stop analyzing and just get on with something to see if it works. “I am going to try something different.” And the proof will be in the pudding, as they say.

Comments welcome below.

(*Thank you to Gen Rigpa for coining this phrase! If any of you are in LA, be sure to check out his teachings — they’re clear, interesting, and excellent.)

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Meditation and mental health

Our guest author is an 18-year-old student living in Leicester, UK.

5.5 mins read.

Last year I very nearly ditched school.

I was torn between two worlds: my father in Wales — an intelligent and charismatic individual characterised by his grand, magical thinking, and my mother in Leicester, who had always been kind and patient. After years of not understanding the conflict between the two, I had to find out more about my dad’s world. I left for Wales in January 2017 planning not to return.

However, I was back in Leicester the following week, having experienced my dad’s coercive tirades and destructive behaviour first hand. This was enough for me to realise what it is actually like to live with mental health problems, and that I needed a reliable method to be able to control my own mind.

high-school-dropoutLots of people my age have to deal with disturbing relationships, identity and gender issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and the struggles of long-term mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Some go for counselling to manage these problems, and others have turned to their medical doctors for help. Whilst these are valid avenues, for me the solution has been meditation.

How do I meditate?

When meditating, I sit cross-legged, shut out the outside world, and focus on developing specific positive feelings, such as love or compassion. Sometimes the only thing I can focus on is the pain in my knees, but when all my distractions cease I can feel a profound sense of calm and peace.

‘So what?’ you might say — ‘I feel pretty relaxed after a couple of pints. This sounds like airy-fairy nonsense to me.’

I would have probably agreed with that a year or two ago. In fact, it’s true that for the first sessions you may not experience instant results. Hence, there is a lot of confusion about meditation. Some people think it is about losing yourself, whilst others think it is about finding yourself; some think meditation is about being mindless like a stone, or even listening to whale noises. For me, after enduring so much pain and confusion during my childhood, I was determined to find a method that, based on logical reasoning, was bound to produce lasting positive results.

Meditating-1After researching various traditions and schools of meditation, I came across the clarity of the Kadampa teachings and discovered that a key part of the meditative process is being able to identify the states of mind that produce negative feelings and then working to reduce them, and identifying positive states of mind and working to increase them. Therefore, meditation is a methodology for familiarising the mind with positivity.

How does meditation improve our mental health?

The principal driving force of meditation is concentration and mindfulness. By learning to concentrate solely on positive states of mind without distractions, we train in developing positive thought patterns. This is akin to a musician practising scales and chords, or training our muscles in the gym through repeated exercises. Eventually through training in meditation, positive mental sequences become ingrained and it becomes possible to tap into them effortlessly. Since good mental health comes from positive states of mind, we can thus understand how meditation, when practised correctly, has great power to improve our mental health.

The evidence

To find out more about how meditation has helped others, I made a case study of five people who use meditation: a doctor, a Buddhist practitioner, a researcher, and two of my friends at college.

A doctor:

doctor

Doctor Judith Casson, a GP at Hinckley surgery, has been practising mindfulness meditation for fifteen years. She has found it to be an invaluable tool for her own mental health and has witnessed the positive implementation of mindfulness practices in junior doctors and her patients. She thinks of meditation as like “planting a seed from which grows long-term compassion and patience”.

A researcher:

There is abundant scientific evidence for meditation improving mental health. Neurobiologist Sara Lazar, PhD, states in an interview with the Washington Post that after conducting studies, meditation was found to increase grey matter in different parts of the brain, including the left hippocampus which is associated with regulating emotions. This could prove a direct neurobiological link between emotional stability and meditation.

A Buddhist practitioner:

Derek is a Buddhist practitioner who started meditating nearly fifty years ago. As a child, he struggled with serious health problems and nearly died. “I had to learn to deal with a wealth of suffering and mental torment, which acted as a big incentive to try to work with my mind.” 45 years later, he is now able to maintain mental stability despite ongoing health challenges.

Two of my friends at college:

After just one month of practising a basic breathing meditation, my friend Ellie, who suffers from PTSD and anxiety, says, “Meditation has allowed me to find peace in the most difficult times – it has been an absolute lifeline.” Similarly, my friend Alex who suffers from cerebral palsy and depression has also turned to meditation. In his words, “It’s given me clarity when rationality goes out the window.”

Me:

After a year and a half of practising meditation, I myself am much better able to deal with daily challenges, my stress has reduced, I don’t fall into frustration so easily, and I rarely get depressed. Most of the time I’m not fazed when things don’t go the way I expect. My empathy and compassion have dramatically increased and I’m also better able to think clearly and organise my time. I’m not perfect, but I can clearly see an upward trajectory of peace and mental stability.

Where am I now?

It has been a year and a half since I’ve had to cut ties with my dad, and although I am still dealing with grieving and loss, meditation has helped me to move on and I can face my adversities with a happy mind. Through meditating on compassion, I have also learned to see things from my dad’s perspective, which has been an eye-opener in understanding his suffering due to his mental health disorder.

Despite the rocky territory I have passed through in the last year and a half, I finished my A Levels in June 2018 with great results. I have just started an art course at De Montfort University in Leicester, and, let me tell you, I am loving life! Through the special qualities of modern Kadampa Buddhism, I can now take my peaceful mind wherever I go and do all the normal student things at the same time.airplane

Just like becoming a pilot takes many years of training and knowledge, from my own experience I believe that through consistent practice we can fly our mind to profoundly better mental health through meditation.

Ed: This week (Oct 7-13) is Mental Health Awareness Week …. Please share this guest article to raise awareness of the benefits of meditation in helping with mental health issues.

To find a meditation class near you, click here.

For articles on getting started with breathing meditation, click here.

 

I just want to stop suffering

7.5 mins read

While we continue to harbor the 2 ego-centered minds of self-grasping ignorance and self-cherishing, our lives can quickly take a sinister turn. Everything that was working out for usinisters can so quickly go wrong when our own and others’ delusions such as anger, attachment, pride, and jealousy wreck everything – work, supreme court nominations, families, marriages, these can all implode and leave us finding everything and everyone so weird and distasteful, even the people we thought we understood.

Do you ever have thoughts like this: “I don’t like this! I want to escape! I want to get away from all these annoying and/or demanding people and crushing responsibilities/anxieties/stressors! I want to get away and forget about it all — the worrying family, the depressive exes, the needy friends, the daily grind, the constant pressure of the endless to-do list, the boring commute, the insane politics, the scary climate change, the racist system, the cruelty everywhere I look, the sickness and ageing and death ….” And that’s just for starters.

Maybe we save up all year to go on vacation to get away from it all, but before long we want to get away from the airport queues, the sunburn, the sand in our teeth, the vacationcredit card debt, and the bad memories and anxieties we accidentally brought along in our luggage.

The thing is, regardless of our circumstances, and wherever we find ourselves in samsara, the only way we are going to finally get away from our suffering is if we learn how to increase our inner peace and, above all, learn how to dissolve all suffering into (bliss and) emptiness. We need to take time to do this every single day. Even taking ourselves off to a deserted cave in the middle of nowhere to do a long solitary retreat is not going to crack it otherwise.

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has explained over and over again in all his books on Sutra and Tantra exactly how we can do this. I find this too incredible for words. Because these methods work every single time. No matter how busy or over-scheduled I become, giving myself a little time to meditate on emptiness is to find the way out of the feelings of being overwhelmed, the tight crowded thoughts that make everything seem unmanageable.

And the more we have to do, and the more people who need our attention, the more we need to apply this wisdom, as I talk about in this article, “Going wide means going deep.”

Moreover, quite the opposite of being irresponsible, Geshe Kelsang explains in his mind-boggling new commentary on Avalokiteshvara practice how cultivating the recognition of all forms, sounds, and thoughts as mere name not other than emptiness is the only way to quickly release all six classes of being from suffering. Please read this latest book, The Mirror of Dharma, when you get a chance; it feels very blessed to me.

A quick fix meditation

happy mind aloneI shared my thoughts on how to meditate on the emptiness of the self in this article. Once we have gotten a taste of that, we can try this quick-fix meditation – it is my main go-to when I’m feeling oversubscribed or worried about anything.

So, let’s say you’re feeling upset or overwhelmed. Soon as you can, take yourself off to a quiet place (even if that means letting the restroom live up to its name.) Sit down, breathe a little and get into your heart, and ask yourself:

Who is upset?

Answer: ME. I am.

Then ask yourself: Is my body upset? Is my mind upset?

Answer: No. I am upset. That I or Me seems to exist all on its own, from its own side, pretty darned solid and real and upset; and I seem to be grasping at it without question.

But now I will question it. So now look for this I or Me. Is it your body? No. That’s just flesh and bone. Is it your mind? No. That’s just formless awareness, just thoughts, no me embedded in them. I am not just a thought, I am ME.

So take away the body and mind, and the I or Me remains? No. Not at all. It’s gone.

When we have some experience of this searching and not finding, our strong sense of self disappears. There is empty-like space there, the absence of self, NO self — and big relief.

It is not the appearance of our I and other things existing in a certain fixed way, or external to the mind, but the belief in that appearance as being true that leads to our being upset. If we can let go of that belief that our I or me exists in a certain fixed way by observing how it dissolves into emptiness, this frees us up to name or impute or project our self, our world, and other people differently. We can arise within the space of that emptiness, inseparable from that emptiness, as a mere appearance who is very relaxed and happy, or a Bodhisattva, or a Buddha, or whoever we want.

“The Pure Land is closer than thought”, a friend just messaged me. Make of that what you will.

Getting some context

If we are confident in our path to liberation and enlightenment, and hold that as our main priority and job, we are less inclined to become “too closely involved in the external situation” as Geshe Kelsang puts it in How to Transform Your Life — like children building sandcastles, excited when it’s built and anxious when it’s swept away. Instead, it can be an enjoyable daily challenge to use the arising and subsiding of all fleeting, insubstantial cloud-like appearances as fuel for our renunciation, compassion, and wisdom. We have a big mind perspective, like the sky, and thus the space to play with the clouds.

leaving past behindA practical idea … instead of reaching for the Smartphone first thing in the morning (get another alarm clock!) and/or starting to itemize all the things to worry about that day and/or ruminating on everything that is going wrong with our life, thus cramming our mind with clouds before we’ve even got to the coffee, it is a really good idea to start the day by counting our blessings. We can do that by tuning into our precious human life and the kindness of others, for example, letting happiness wash over us.

We can also set ourselves in flight by remembering impermanence — laying down the heavy burden of the past (which is in fact no more substantial than the dream from which we have just awoken). Considering that this could be our last day on Earth, we may as well use it to be a Bodhisattva or Buddha.

Wanna be a wishfulfilling jewel?

wishfulfilling jewelFrom a Tantric point of view, as someone said the other day on Facebook, what’s stopping us from thinking of ourselves in this way, using the words from the Liberating Prayer:

Your body is a wishfulfilling jewel,
Your speech is supreme, purifying nectar,
And your mind is refuge for all living beings.

This is a description of Buddha Shakyamuni and, if we play our cards right, one day this will be a description of us. In Buddhism, faith in Buddha necessitates faith in our own enlightened potential. We may as well start practicing.

Maybe just give this thought a go and see what it feels like. What’s it like to think outside the box about ourselves? There is nothing to stop us arising from emptiness as a Buddha or, if we don’t feel ready for that yet, as a magic crystal:

It is said that there exists a magic crystal that has the power to purify any liquid in which it is placed. Those who cherish all living beings are like this crystal — by their very presence they remove negativity form the world and give back love and kindness. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

How are you?

Someone asked me how I was the other day, and for some reason I couldn’t find the words to reply. But it got me thinking that a more interesting question than “How are you?” might be “Who are you?” For who we think we are will be determining both how we feel and what we plan on doing, including the karma we create.  

Geshe-la 1-1I don’t suppose this question will take off 😄 But I find it useful because it reminds me of who I want to be and what I want to do, rather than just how I am feeling at that moment. “Who are you and what do you seek?” as it asks us in Heruka Tantra.

Atisha used to ask the people he met,

Do you have a good heart?

This question might not take off either, but I think it could help society if it did, putting the emphasis on what we are all intending rather than how we are all feeling.

Our intentions are more significant than our feelings or experiences as they are what create the causes or karma for our feelings and experiences – not much we can do about the ripening of our previous karma, but much we can do about the karma we are creating now. What do you think about that?

And who are you today?! 😄

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