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 us 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 credit 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
I 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.
A 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?
From 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.
I 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?! 😄
Just who do you think you are?
Tired, yet, of living a cliche?
Lovely article, thank you. Yesterday my daughter picked me up to take me to lunchtime meditation. She asked how I was, ‘Stressed.’ I replied. As I took my shoes off to go into the Gompa I muttered, ‘I need this,’ and I heard her mutter back, ‘yes, you do.’ 😀
It was body of light as the object and at the moment that my entire body dissolved into light literally all of my stress and the causes of the stress left me.
Nothing else would have been as helpful, no advice, no positive thinking tips, no warm baths or massage, just that, disappearing into my true nature, emptiness.
An answer to every problem, we are so lucky to have these methods, this truth. ❤️
A great read second thing in the morning right after I counted my blessings. Thanks for these reminders.
Thank you for reading 😊
I awoke with a call from my daughter having just finished a night shift on children’s A&E. She was upset after witnessing a nurse yelling at a teenager who had taken a drug overdose and who appeared to prefer to attend to her parents needs over the young persons. She hugged them and sent the Young Person outside the cubicle. As I was listening, I felt my heart sink. I work with young people every day and so many are filled with despair. I was left with my own despair thinking there are too many of them suffering and not enough love and compassion to go round. Then I read your article. It gave me the wisdom perspective I needed today. I particularly loved the suggestion of using those words in the liberating prayer as our own basis of imputation. Now I am able to face the day ahead. 😊
Beautiful article, it is easy to see how the past is like a dream. Attachment to the “I” esp in the US is so strong, I believe due to less community, can create fear. In addition to finding the emptiness of the “I” for those suffering this week, as it is an important part of their identity, maybe moving into the pain of past experiences and allowing it to dissolve into emptiness as part of healing. I think it is difficult to go from disassociation from the I to emptiness without an in-between step or two. I suppose that is patient acceptance, love, by taking in the pain we can find spaciousness, or lead to taking and giving with the breath. So many ways to work with it, but denial does not heal.
Thanks Luna. Yes this is a good topic to discuss when everyone seems to be losing their common sense over certain things. I was mulling it over this morning that we are all like monkeys sitting in front of a bank of unmarked buttons, pressing them at random to see which cause suffering and which cause happiness. Somehow I’m sitting in front of a couple of buttons which *are* marked: “Dharma”. I need to focus on pressing those!
Thank you so so much for this ray of clarity and light. It is a very timely wake-up call and reminder for me ….a beautiful practice.
Good morning today I am a diamond 💎
Tomorrow I could well be a carrot 🥕
This is such a helpful article. thank you
I’m so glad you like it! TY.