7.5 mins read.
One advantage of living in a mountainous region is that you can walk up a mountain and look back at the huge city in which you live. And now it’s tiny. You can hold it in the palm of your hand. You can hold everyone in it in the palm of your hand. You can hold all their innumerable problems in the palm of your hand. I did that today. I instantly felt a weight off.
Denver is tiny from the distance. And it is also hundreds of miles from the next large city, so it is a tiny city surrounded by a vast expanse of largely empty land. I was picturing all the huge cities criss-crossing the globe, all even tinier than Denver from where I was looking.
It’s really good to get out of our lives from time to time. When we get some distance, we can see how much we have been investing in what seems so real. When we’re all wrapped up in it, there seems to be such a real solid city full of real worrying problems – loads of problems, far more problems than there are people. Even my teeny-tiny house that I can’t even begin to see from here, or the teeny tiny building where I work, or the even teeny tinier co-workers, can and sometimes do preoccupy me fully. There seem to be endless things that need sorting out when we are right in the thick of it, surrounded in all directions. But when we get out of that perspective and get some space, we can see that we have been too caught up in the details and we are all in our feelings, as a wise friend of mine talks about here.
Space solves problems
An old friend, the first administrative director at Geshe Kelsang’s first Centre (Madhyamaka Centre in North Yorkshire), would make sure he walked up the hill behind it at least once a week. This way he could see it in the distance and put his job and life back into perspective, as well as appreciate the beauty of the building again. This created space in his mind such that he could recalibrate his motivation and get back to work happily without grasping at it so tightly.
Nothing is as solid, real, or even important as it seems when we are all completely caught up in it with no space, our moods going up and down like a yo yo depending on the slightest vagaries or off-handed comments:
Such fluctuations of mood arise because we are too closely involved in the external situation. We are like a child making a sandcastle who is excited when it is first made, but who becomes upset when it is destroyed by the incoming tide. ~ How to Transform Your Life
Vasten the mind
Buddha encourages us to aim for large spacious universal minds, such as love for all beings without exception and omniscient wisdom!
We can come to understand that everything is mere appearance arising in the mind like a rainbow in an empty sky. In the Isolated Body chapter of Tantric Grounds and Paths, Geshe Kelsang helps us with this:
Whenever a form appears to us, we need complete conviction that this form is a manifestation of emptiness, and that, apart from its emptiness, there is no form existing from its own side.
He gives the example of a wristwatch:
We can hold a wristwatch in our hands but, if we examine it more closely to find the “real” watch, we cannot find anything at all. When we try to point to the watch, all we can ever point to are parts of the watch. The parts of the watch are not the watch itself, but, besides these parts, there is no watch.
You can try this for yourself – imagine the parts of the watch disappear. What happens to the watch?
By the way, from a distance, as I said, we can also hold Denver in our hands. And the same applies as for the watch – if we examine it more closely to find the “real” Denver, we cannot find anything at all. As Geshe-la says:
This very unfindability is the real nature of the watch…. The real nature of the watch is just its emptiness, but this very emptiness appears to us in the aspect of a watch.
Same for Denver and for wherever you live.
Holding Denver and its innumerable problems in the palm of my hand gives me that sense that they are empty, that they will be easier to solve and dissolve if I realize I can’t find them anywhere.
Up the mountain looking at Denver, I couldn’t point to anything that was actually Denver. It was clear that I was just thinking or labelling “Denver” on those far-away buildings and people. Later as I drove back into the city and more and more of its parts or details appeared, it became even harder to point to anything that could be called “Denver.” Everything I pointed to was in fact NOT Denver – such as the buildings, sidewalks, pedestrians, or cars. These are just buildings, sidewalks, pedestrians and cars, not “Denver”. And if you put them all together you still have just a collection of things that are not Denver. (As explained more here.) Denver cannot be found existing in and of itself. Far from being solid or real, it is mere imputation of mind, created by conceptual thought. Which is why every person has a different Denver.
Ignorance makes us believe things and people are real and exist from their own side. That there is a fixed world outside of our mind. The illusion is persistent. Because we tend to get so overwhelmed by appearances — always have done since beginningless time — we readily believe in the truth of everything we see. But I can from time to time at least imagine that I am back up that mountain, looking at all these seemingly solid insurmountable details from afar.
What exactly is a job?
I like my job in Denver very much, but it is as unreal as the rest of Denver, nothing behind the label. Lately it’s been occurring to me a lot, what else is my job other than an opportunity to help others? Who else are my coworkers other than people giving me an opportunity to help others? Beyond that, what need is there to hold onto all this and build it up with mental elaborations as some solid findable thing? When it isn’t?
This gets me thinking that wherever we go, providing we are trying to remember a Bodhisattva’s motivation, our lives will always have areas in which we can serve others. As Nagarjuna says:
Even if we are not able to help others directly
We should still try to develop a beneficial intention.
If we develop this intention more and more strongly,
We shall naturally find ways to help others. ~ Universal Compassion
Given that compassion increases our opportunities to help, it seems we don’t need to get too attached to our current circumstances, however nice they are or even however helpful we feel we are able to be. For wherever we are, and whether things are going well or badly, with the right mind-set don’t we always have an opportunity to improve ourselves and help others? We don’t need to buy into being a success or a failure because it is who we are each day rather than what we do that is most important; and that is something we have control over.
If we are motivated by genuine concern for others we’re going to be doing helpful things mentally, verbally, and physically; and if we’re not, it doesn’t really matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, our help is going to be more limited. Geshe Kelsang has told me twice now:
Your main job is to practice Dharma. Everything else will follow naturally from that.
If you’re still here …
If we know that everything is merely imputed by conceptual thought, not other than its emptiness, then it is not hard to see that if we purify our thoughts, we purify our world.
AND … if we realize this true nature of all phenomena with the mind of great bliss, then we see everything not just as a manifestation of its emptiness but of great bliss and emptiness. Which gives rise to even more bliss. As Venerable Geshe-la explains about Tantric Yogis in Tantric Grounds and Paths:
Because they have a deep recognition of emptiness and their mind of bliss as the same nature, they can view all phenomena that appear to their mind as manifestations of their bliss, and this special way of looking at phenomena causes them greatly to increase their experience of bliss, just as a fire will increase if more fuel is added to it.
If you like the sound of this, do read that chapter when you get a chance. It is a very clear explanation of a Yogi’s actual experience (and of OUR actual experience one day).
I promised someone the other day that I’d make my articles shorter and more frequent again (as opposed to longer and rarer), lol. So you can read part 2, Everything is relative, now or later! Either way, over to you, I would love to hear your comments in the box below.
I’ve been reading you for quite some time but never wrote… I just want you to know that it is thanks to you that I have come back to my dharma practise,after so many years being quite passive… I cannot thank you enough for your perseverance and priceless texts… I really feel you close to me on the other side of my phone…Please never leave the beautiful work you are doing…. Thank you so much from the depths of my heart……
This means a lot to me, I am very glad you are back; so i thank you very much too for writing to let me know.
Thank you for the encouragement 😊😍
Dear Luna Kadampa, After enjoying many Kadampa Life posts, I only now figured out how to respond to them to express my gratitude. Perfect timing , because this teaching on emptiness using Denver as the vehicle really spoke to me. Wrist watches and blenders never quite worked, but seeing Denver from the mountain was very profound. So thank you very much for these thoughtful, modern illustrations of Kadampa Buddhist teachings.
Sent from my iPad
It is so nice to read this comment, thank you Gail!
Very beautiful analogy 😉
Thank you. I find it really helpful.
Reading this at 5am having been awake since 3am having had a dream that has made me realise a whole heap of personal stuff I gave been going through and why it is what it is. This article has added to the sense of rightness and happiness in this moment. When mired in the detail, the momentary situations and feelings I forget why I am having these issues. Yes it all links back to general day to day mundane stuff on one level. But the big picture is mind blowing in its simplicity when looked at from a distance. Perspective really is everything.
Great comment, thank you!
I had two very “aha” moments during my life that underscored this most recent post and they immediately came to mind. So very small and yet they each remain. I went to work on an early Saturday morning to play “catch up”. I had a lot filing to be done and just could not get it done. I first separated it alphabetically and began my task. I worked in a stand alone cubicle in a corporate setting in a large open area of other cubicles. I started in the lower drawers and worked my way up. I happen to be short (5′) on a good day. The walls to all cubes were also 5′ tall. Hence, I laughingly thought I could just see disembodied heads go past all day long. This particular day, I decided to stand on a chair (against all rules) to complete my task and avoid getting the rail lubricant on my blouse. When I got on the chair and started filing, I looked up. Suddenly I realized that I could see into each and every other cube. Had it been a normal workday, I would have seen them full of people going about their work. Golly. It was there all along, but I just couldn’t see it. The second moment came years later after I had attained my goal of being a professional photographer with my partner and husband. It was a hot and humid August morning with the sun already blazing at 9AM. I was having a “pity party” because it was the one day were closed and with no rain, I had to play hose queen and water the large garden areas I had designed and planted for outdoor portraits. I had already moved the hose several times, going back to our studio to do admin work and was headed out to move it yet again. When I looked down into this particular bed and saw the sprinkler doing its job, water floating in the air, I thought; there should be a rainbow there over that bed given the angle of the sun. I stopped in mid stride. I began to move two or three steps in each direction. Suddenly, I saw the glow of all of the colors hovering above this cutting bed. It was pure magic. I got very excited and my dour mood changed to one of gratitude. Here I was working in total beauty, taking care of what I created and I got the “rainbow bonus”. It was at that moment that I knew that not only is “it” there, I knew that you sometimes have to put yourself in the right place to see it.
Love those cubicles and rainbow! Thank you for sharing these magic doorways.
So helpful Luna,thank you 🙏🏻
Glad to hear it 🙂
They can’t love you back when you are so far away.
😄 Who can’t?
Such a lovely article Luna 😊. Whilst we’re caught up in the midst of our complicated lives we tend to forget to take a step back and look at the world and everyone else’s problems. Such a lovely analogy to step back from a distance and hold a full city in the palm of our hand. Thank you ☺️
Thank you Nigel, I’m really glad you like this.
Mindblowing, beautiful. Thank you ✨
Thank you Luna, very helpful and practical as always. I love the advice from Geshela and reminder to keep things in perspective.
😍 Me too.