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This happens to be Article #500 on Kadampa Life! Thanks for sticking with me these last 10 years.
Although things are falling about around our ears, we nonetheless have the opportunity right now to discover deep peace. Although times are degenerating in general, for us individually this is said to be a golden age for spiritual practice because we have everything we need. Moreover, as Shantideva says:
Suffering has good qualities.
The more suffering we have, the more we have to practice with, and the stronger our mind becomes. Eventually it becomes like a blacksmith’s anvil that, no matter how hard it is hit, remains unaffected.
I know, I know, this is easier said than done. (We just got COVID in da house, here, for example, and the daily news headlines seem to get more and more dire with each passing week — in fact I’m wondering whether to just get my news from The Onion or the late night comedians so I can at least laugh grimly.) But we gotta do it because the option, to remain a hapless victim of samsara, is not feasible.
Carrying on from this article, Dealing with fears.
Fact is, all of us want to be happy all the time. It is our driving force, along with the wish to avoid even the slightest suffering.
We know that human beings want to be happy because we are one. But it’s not just us … the other day I saw hundreds of small fish in a lake, and all of them wanted to be happy too. When my shadow fell on the water, they swam away in fear. All they want is to eat and swim around with their friends and be safe, they don’t want to be eaten, chased, or impaled any more than we do.
There is nothing wrong at all with the wish to be happy all the time and avoid all pain and suffering; but if we want to fulfill these wishes we have to learn to master our minds. I don’t see any other way working, do you?
If we can learn gradually to prioritize a pure and peaceful mind over (or during) external striving, we can learn to stay happy even when bad things happen, and even when we are seriously ill and dying … imagine having that superpower! I have met and heard about plenty of people who can do this, including a number of practitioners who have died so far, such as Tessa and Mimi; and there are legions of inspiring stories in the scriptures.
Neither man nor woman …
I asked my eye doctor Dr. Kumara last week how I could stop my retina from getting thinner, and he replied that neither man nor woman has the power to stop ageing no matter how much they want to or how much kale they eat. He then explained the second law of thermodynamics. He is not a very ordinary dude.
Quick segue into divine synchronicities … My eye went wrong when I happened to be doing a one-week Dorje Shugden retreat, including requesting favorable conditions and the removal of obstacles, LOL. When my optometrist referred me to a specialist, the receptionist said: “Welcome to our five retina locations. It just so happens you will be seeing the principal.” (Dorje Shugden is the principal Buddha of five retinues for those of you wondering.) Upon meeting him, Dr. Kumara asked what I did, and then declared, “Meditation has never been more needed! You have never been more needed.” Just before he operated, he gave me a vajra instruction: “I need you to call upon the deepest reserves of your meditative experience while I do this operation on your eye.” His going home advice was, “I only want you to do one thing this week: meditate.” As you might imagine, the operation was a success. When I saw him again last week, he told me, “I was having a very good day when I fixed your eye.”
Sooner or later bodies and everything else entropies and falls apart because this is samsara, but if we learn to prioritize a peaceful mind in our daily lives it doesn’t matter nearly as much. In fact the more problems we have, the more opportunities we have to practice and the more quickly we make progress. The alternative, not to rely on a peaceful mind, is hopeless, leading to more suffering now and in the future.
How to have a happy life
Simply put, Geshe Kelsang advised in the Kadampa Festival in Brazil that (1) Everyone wants to be happy all the time. (2) If our mind is happy, we are happy, even if we are sick. (3) To have a happy mind all the time, we need a peaceful mind. (4) To develop and maintain a peaceful mind, we need two things: to tune into blessings and to practice Dharma.
1. Got blessings?
So one of the two ways to get a peaceful mind, according to Geshe-la, is through blessings. Anyone can get these whenever they tune in with faith and prayer to any enlightened being they like, believing they are there and asking for their help and protection — for example, Buddha of fearlessness, Tara, or Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara, or Buddha Shakyamuni, or Medicine Buddha, or a holy being from another tradition such as Jesus if you’re not a Buddhist.
Enlightened beings are always beaming their blessings — their blessings actually pervade space – but we’re like someone in a heavy suit of self-grasping armor, feeling all alone and cut off. We need to learn to lift that visor a little bit, let the light in.
The fully developed minds of enlightened beings are universal love and omniscient wisdom mixed with the true nature of all things – so they are everywhere, we simply need to tune in. We can feel their blessings flow into us, the nature of deep protective love and peace, and our mind lifts, becomes happier, is transported to a better place. We see the light! We are in effect mixing our minds with their minds, as explained more in this good guest article on blessings, and it works very well, we often get instant relief. Our anxiety or unhappiness feels far more manageable and may even go away entirely.
Here’s a great habit to get into: as soon as we notice the grip of anxiety or dread starting to tighten around our heart, stop what we are doing and tune into enlightened minds before the anxiety takes over our mind (at which point we normally have little choice but to wait it out.) One quick and effective way to get blessings from Buddha, day or night, is to use the Liberating Prayer. We can also do this traditional refuge prayer:
I and all sentient beings, until we attain enlightenment,
Go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
Here is a short simple way to rely on Buddha Tara. Or we can just talk to holy beings in our own words, they’re listening. Their nature is that they have no choice but to respond instantly and spontaneously to our requests. Our only real job is to be open to their help.
Faith grows over time as we focus on the good qualities of enlightened beings. If we experiment with tuning into blessings, we notice we feel better, so our faith grows. Then we get more blessings and feel even better, so our faith grows more.
2. Apply Dharma
The other way to get a peaceful mind is to apply Buddha’s teachings, called Dharma, which pacify our self-cherishing and other delusions and transform our thoughts into compassion, wisdom, and other positive peaceful states. As Venerable Geshe-la says:
The purpose of meditation is to make the mind calm and peaceful. If our mind is peaceful, we will be free from worries and mental discomfort, and so we will experience true happiness. ~ How to Transform Your Life
BTW, meditation doesn’t mean just sitting on our cushion or chair with our eyes closed, but familiarizing ourselves with these peaceful thoughts during all our daily activities, identifying with them more and more.
Every Dharma mind is an effective antidote to some unpeaceful mind. For example, putting others first is an antidote to self-cherishing. Seeing everything as mere name, being less closely involved in the external situation, is an antidote to self-grasping. Renunciation with clear-sighted acceptance that we can’t expect everything to go our way all the time, at least not until we have permanent mental freedom, is an antidote to aversion and anxiety, and it makes our mind stable. Whatever Dharma we use, it has the effect of allowing our naturally peaceful mind to re-emerge and therefore stay happy.
As we get more and more used to turning to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, we find we go there naturally when we are feeling scared or sad. Receiving blessings and getting used to relying on Dharma minds, we get better and better at staying peaceful, whatever else is going on. This really is the essence of spiritual practice, fulfilling our wishes to be happy and free.
So, are we “relying upon a happy mind alone” as the great Kadampa saying goes, or are we panicking the moment something doesn’t go our way?! If we are training in keeping a pure and peaceful mind, we have no basis for worry. There are countless people who have pulled this off, and you are next in line.
And talking of fish … It’s bad enough being a human being in the age of COVID, I was thinking, but being a fish has always sucked. And what chance do they have to keep a peaceful mind and/or get enlightened if I as a relatively free and fortunate human am not even making the effort?
To conclude … all of Buddhist spiritual practice is designed to fulfill our wishes to be happy and not suffer. And as we become stronger and more peaceful, we naturally want to help others to be the same, to share what we know. Knowing from our own experience that suffering sucks, we don’t want others to suffer either. One day we decide to strive for enlightenment so that we can bring blessings and peace to each and every living being every day. Then, whether we are healthy or sick, in this body or the next, that is our priority, our actual path, and our mind and life really start to go new places.
Over to you! Please share ways in which you have been able to keep a peaceful mind even when ill, it would be so helpful.