A light in the darkness


7 mins read.

In this last article, When the student is ready the teacher appears, I was in the middle of talking about Venerable Geshe-la — there are just so many things to say about him, but I had to stop in order to give you time to eat your supper and scream at the TV.

Joking of course. But having said that, I do hope you’re finding time to tune into Dharma books and Buddhist TV (livestreaming meditation classes) as an antidote to all the crazy stuff going on. In these “unusual times”, and I speak here to myself as well, one thing that can be quite unhelpful is spending too much time imbibing bad news on TV or social media. If we find our anxiety, depression, irritation, or sense of powerlessness are increasing as the weeks and months go by, this could mean that we are consuming life’s appearances passively, not working with them actively*.

(*Getting pulled down the rabbit holes of addictive game-like conspiracy theories or spending hours trying to convince others of how free-thinking and right we are doesn’t count, btw. And life is so short, just a matter of months, do we even have time for that?)

Reminds me of Shantideva’s question — if there is something you can do about it, why worry? If there’s nothing you can do about it, why worry?

Legit question: How can we stay involved in social media but still cut through the noise? Samsara is nothing if not beginningless and endless noise. If we find we are getting totally caught up in it, experiencing frustration, might it be more effective and sanity-restoring to just get away from the deep diving online dialogues (monologues?!) for a while? The world probably won’t end if we stop discussing it for a bit. We could spend more time instead filling our hearts with love (and even bodhichitta) and doing something practical and “real” to help the people immediately around us, in our families and communities? Civic engagement. Volunteering. Helping our Dharma Centers. What do you think?

I think people have just spent too much time online of late, not surprisingly. We know it’s addictive. We know conspiracy theories spread in this environment. The thing I mainly don’t appreciate about conspiracy theories, as a Buddhist, is that we are supposed to be in the business of vanquishing mental elaborations and samsaric narratives, not seeking out more. We are in the business of training our minds because all of us are creating our reality with our minds. And the biggest conspiracy theorist and yarn spinner of them all is our mind of self-grasping ignorance – we have to see through its convoluted sad-world-creating lies before it’s too late.

I personally think a lot of conspiracy theories fall into the category of what Buddha described as intellectually-formed delusions, which we pile up as so much clutter on the prison floor of our innate self-grasping and other delusions, in front of the escape route. Plus holding false views as supreme, holding wrong views, and so on. Buddha knows our psychology very well, he left no stone unturned in his description of the human mind and what games we could play on ourselves. Check out How to Understand the Mind for more. We all need to be hyper-vigilant these days with respect to our own minds, not just what everyone else seems to be up to. As the saying goes:

More Dharma, less drama.

We could instead choose to take charge and advantage of how creative our mind is by using Buddha’s wisdom and compassion teachings to check what’s meaningful AND create the causes for freedom and happiness. So simple! So effective. Rather than fall victim to negative unpeaceful thoughts and hallucinations that make us feel worse and worse (and cause us to fall out with our oldest friends), we can use every appearance and experience actively to create compassion, love, unity, joy, and lasting mental freedom. Becoming more and more like those who have truly freed their minds and become a lasting source of happiness for others.

Two practical suggestions

Next time we’re about to read or see a video or article or discussion online, and are in any danger of getting sucked into yet another dystopian narrative, we can ask ourselves: “What would Buddha believe?” I find this helps me.

The other is to spend far less of our valuable days online altogether — to read Dharma books or listen to more teachings instead, schedule these in, be more disciplined.  I don’t think it’s any accident that Venerable Geshe-la’s message for us at the beginning of the last two International Kadampa Festivals has been Aryasura’s incredible benefits of listening to Dharma. We need to give ourselves this chance to stay inspired and happy. That’s really important.

What IS “in fact” going on?!

In another of Venerable Geshe-la’s recent messages to everyone, he said:

There is not much reason to worry. With respect to the difficult situations that are appearing to us, we do not know whether they are good or bad. So, we should make our own life peaceful and happy through putting Dharma into practice. This is our job. We can solve our problems through the practice of Dharma. Everything is uncertain. This is samsara’s nature of impure life. So we ourself should be an example. We can solve our problems, we should maintain a peaceful and happy mind all the time through putting Dharma into practice.

One reason we don’t know whether these difficult situations are good or bad is because everything depends on the mind, everything is empty of existing from its own side, objectively. Difficult circumstances, for example, can be immensely helpful, not harmful, if we use them to increase our renunciation or compassion.

What CAN we trust?!

In a world of hallucination, what can we actually trust? What can we beneficially believe? If we open our eyes and look with real empathy, coming from an understanding of who we all really are, we see so much more.

So, for example, when we see people doing or saying things we don’t like, rather than falling for the blame game and becoming upset or angry, we can remember that they are not their delusions, that they are being controlled by their delusions. Hating them is not helpful. Instead we can do the internal work of developing love and compassion for everyone concerned, and this will lead to sustained patient, skillful, and joyful actions on others’ behalf, really trying to help people in whatever practical way we can, without us succumbing to bitterness, exhaustion, or despair.

We can remember, for example, the Kadampa motto for a meaningful life, which is to harm our delusions as much as possible and help others as much as possible. Now is the time to be proactive and creative! Our world is not as solid as it appears, rather more like an illusion or a dream. Our thoughts are infinitely flexible and changeable, and we can vastly improve our own and others’ reality.

Which brings me back to the main subject of this article …

What does this have to do with relying on a Spiritual Guide? A lot, as it happens, because he or she shows exactly how we can harm our delusions and help others as much as possible – through his teachings, practical encouragement, and own uplifting example. He is a light in the darkness of the confusion, and we can follow that light right out of here — if we decide not to lose sight of it by falling down a rabbit hole.

Venerable Geshe-la has written 22 books that are extraordinary – if you haven’t read all or any of them yet, you are in for a treat (just ask Prince Harry, who recently listed Eight Steps to Happiness as his favorite motivational book.) These books flowed out from Geshe-la’s extensive learning, practice, and wisdom — for us — so that people in the modern day could practice Dharma in their everyday lives. He changed the whole presentation of this rich tradition of Kadam Dharma without adding anything or leaving a single thing out. He received permission from Trijang Rinpoche to teach the entire path of Sutra and Tantra to you and me so that we could actually practice it with all our modern issues, with everything that’s going on – in our jobs, in our families, in our societies, in our lives.

It was not always like this – there was a time when Buddhism was the precinct of monks (and to a lesser extent nuns) in monasteries, not just in Tibet but in other Buddhist countries the world over. Lay people would be considered the less serious practitioners, whose main job was to support the ordained community. Tibetan Buddhism came over to us from a monastic tradition, and in the very early days you could be forgiven for thinking you had to be a monk and sit in your room all day long to get anywhere, both spiritually AND in the organization. (Not that there is anything wrong with sitting in your room all day long, in fact it can be very helpful — I would submit that we probably all could benefit from more study and meditation if we can carve out the time, especially in these turbulent days. Point being, though, that we can go far by applying the teachings in the midst of a “normal” daily life.)

I had an hour-long conversation with Geshe-la back then about whether or not lay people could become enlightened. (The answer is ….. wait for it …. Yes!!!) The only reason I needed to ask him this was because of an attitude around at the time that to be ordained was the only proper way to be. Geshe-la never said this and, in fact, pretty much the day he landed on English soil he said he wanted there now to be four types of teacher – nuns, monks, lay women, and lay men – and that they would study together and be equal. He has always aimed for equality, but has had to skillfully offload the baggage that came over with that generation of Tibetans.

I will finish this article for now with a quote from Venerable Geshe-la:

I am working very hard to spread Kadam Dharma throughout the world because I wish each and every living being to attain real happiness, the pure and everlasting happiness of enlightenment. This depends on each and every living being having the opportunity to practice Buddha’s teaching. I am strongly applying effort to prepare this precious opportunity and with sincere strong prayer. This is my cherishing of all living beings in a practical way. You can do this too.

And, would you look at that, I am out of space again! There’s more on its way. Meantime, please share comments, stories, or anything you like in the box below.

Related articles

More Buddhist views on conspiracy theories 

Why rely on a Spiritual Guide?

What can we really know about anyone? 

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 39 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

11 thoughts on “A light in the darkness”

  1. In particular, I’m sorry to offend any QAnon supporters who read this blog, I am not against you personally at all, but I have read your stuff and, though I can understand why you may want to believe it, I do not buy it. It is fair enough in Buddhism to debate. None of us has time to debate all the points, but a Facebook friend said this today in response to someone posting a long video about QAnon, and I am sharing it because these gentle words get to the heart of what I most would like to debate about these particular ideas:

    “I don’t really understand this ..and I will be honest i have friends that follow this ..so I’m trying to be present with it all..I dont know many things . I believe in other dimensions and yes entities and nagas and spirit beings so of course there is always a possibility for darkness far beyond my own 3 dimensional projection of this world as it appears through the lens of duality. I do know however that I have black friends who are.deeply suffering and traumatised and that BLM is apparently a roose of some sort according to this Qanon .I see their pain when they are told they are just political pawns. I see the pain of the woman I’m working with who is stuck in the middle of workers who are inbedded in a systematic racist society and this is where I struggle..Do I believe that all these appearance is possibly imploding into itself for us to enter a different paradigm..Its possible..Are we going to see illusions revealed for what they are and appear more.shocking instances of Samsara so we can let go even more .It appears so ..But if that Great Awakening means ignoring the suffering and trauma of our black brothers and sisters as some kind of distraction ..that just doesn’t hold with the dharma in my heart..It feels just wonky and counter productive and cruel …For what my ramblings worth ..just needed to express that.”

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  2. It’s a tricky situation indeed. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Cuddles.

    I think humankind has been heading down a very dark path for a while. I will gladly be called a ‘conspiracy theorist’ by the many if my words encouragement only touch the hearts of a few because you only need the few to start a larger movement. People need to wake up. Not because they’re sheep or nutters but for their own good. The time has come to see beyond the divide and conquer tactics that has been used to great effect over the many thousands of years and learn how to be awesome to your fellow human being. The labels and pushing of beliefs and opinions need to stop. We’re destroying ourselves with it much to the pleasure of those who benefit from such things to keep us enslaved.

    Be awesome all you wonderful people and surely the awesomeness will spread and give us the ‘great reset’ that we really do need for the many as opposed to the few. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There were loads of conspiracy theory nutcases out and about today.

    People wearing masks in the street in order to try and convince normal people that there is a killer virus going around!

    Tin foil hatters.

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    1. Ok, there you go, as requested, I have let through your “contrary to the mainstream narrative” comment. To my mind, calling many millions of people around the world trying their best to keep themselves and others safe “nutcases” or abnormal makes this just that little bit harder for everyone, especially those who have lost people, but your call. Whatever one’s theory about where this virus comes from, or about vaccines, masks are still common sense against an airborne virus.

      I mainly agree with your name though, enlightenment is the only solution.

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  4. Sometimes though if others are being harmed, it’s our bodhisattva duty to push back even if we do get called out as a ‘conspiracy theorist’. Finally our reputation doesn’t matter. Just a good heart will suffice, some wisdom and most crucially – sincere reliance on our spiritual guide.

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  5. Thank you Kadam Luna, your teachings are like a light in a dark, scary room. And every time, they put the world I see into perspective – there is nothing to grasp at. Every time I read your article and see a picture of Geshe-la, it makes me happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for this great reminder about where to keep focus in the mayhem that is our (my) daily life (mind). It is so easy to get caught up in the news and what is going on around me that I can let my mind follow along with the noise that is constantly around me. That nearly almost – maybe almost always leads me to some kind of anxious, sad, irritated or even worse feeling.

    When I feel like this it sometimes seems that the easiest solution is to distract myself. Is it irony that I want to distract myself from my distractions? The news and news sources have some enchantment that I can feel compelled to dig into. I can justify the consumption with a need to stay aware of what is happening but I know on many levels that while its OK to know what is going on, it is never OK to give my delusions something to feed on.

    “In a world of hallucination, what can we actually trust?”

    I have been thinking about how we live in a world where we have access to literally endless amounts of information, but it can be very hard to get to the “truth” in any situation. -even if we are quite versed at it. It is comforting to know that Venerable Geshe-la is a guiding light amongst the noise. I have to say thank you to my former self for giving me the karma to have Geshe-la in my life!

    Thank you for sharing the advice on how to transform these sticky attachments of our views through the kind and clear advice of our Spiritual Guide. I particularly love the advice of seeing how others are controlled by their delusions. We know through our own experience the agitated minds of delusions, so we should be able to practice knowing that its not about us! The delusion is primarily about the person it is coming from. It is their current and future suffering that we are witnessing. I could do well to ponder this thought… for a very long time.

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