A guest article
My name is Jan J and I’ve been a practising Kadampa for many years. I work full time and, like many, have family commitments and responsibilities, which means that finding the time for formal Buddhist or Dharma practice can be difficult.
Some years ago I realised that I had to change my relationship with Dharma practice if I really wanted to make progress. Rather than trying to force Dharma practice into the tiny space of time I had ‘available’ between all the other responsibilities in my life, I had to take seriously the advice of my teacher, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, and turn all my activities into Dharma practice. There is not a single activity that cannot be transformed into Dharma practice. I aspire to live a life like Milarepa:
I have no need of books for everything around me teaches me Dharma.
As I live and work in busy, crowded cities, I escape to my garden or the countryside whenever I can. Nature has been the source of many inspiring lessons for me, a few of which I share with you here.
The seeds of change
I recently moved back to a house I had rented out. I’m happy to be back, but two things have unexpectedly been appearing to me: the first being the many dandelions now growing in what was a newly turfed, beautifully smooth lawn. I have started digging them up — it is hard, seemingly endless work. The second isghost-like memories of events and relationships from when I lived in this area all those years ago.
Many of those events and relationships took place before I met Dharma, and many caused me, and others, a great deal of suffering. As I turn the corners on roads I travelled at that time, pass familiar houses, and visit familiar places, I am reminded of decisions and actions I made back then that contributed to my own and others’ pain. I feel weighed down by it all – sad, haunted and somewhat ashamed. Especially now that I have Dharma in my life, some of those previous decisions and actions seem even more thoughtless or selfish, even unkind.
Reflecting on these sad thoughts while digging up the dandelions, I noticed that a full head of seeds had appeared on one, a beautiful white, delicate globe. As a child I was fascinated by these dandelion ‘clocks,’ counting the puffs as the small white parachutes took off and floated away. The seeds that I blew all those years ago will have spread; more dandelions will have grown from them, producing more seeds, and so on, spreading through time and space … until, maybe, one eventually settled and spread across this lawn. In which case, my actions as a child have led to me here, now, digging up these plants. So, should I blame her, that curious child, my younger self? Should I be angry with her for blowing those seeds and creating these weeds?!
Of course not, that would be absurd. She didn’t intend to grow weeds in my or anyone else’s garden. She didn’t know back then what the effects of her actions would be. How can I blame her when she was just trying to be happy?
This is how I understood that I must also stop blaming my younger self for decisions and actions made back when I lacked the wisdom I have now. I simply wanted to be happy and, in my ignorance, with a mind darkened by desirous attachment to people and enjoyments, I chose badly. If I had known how those choices would have turned out, if I’d had the wisdom of Dharma back then, I would have chosen differently.
Vajrasattva is the Buddha of purification; and I think that the most beautiful thing about him is how he “looks at us with eyes of compassion.” The Buddhas do not blame and judge us harshly because they understand that we are ignorant, temporarily controlled by delusions. They also teach me that, just as I can dig up the dandelions, so I can purify all the negativity I created in the past.
Through this practice we can swiftly and joyfully cleanse our mind of all impurity and eventually become a pure being, abiding in a pure world with the power to draw others to the bliss of perfect freedom. ~ Ven Geshe Kelsang
On my daily walks, I offer the beautiful things that appear to the Buddhas. My beautiful environment becomes a 100 million four continents – the entire universe transformed into the Pure Land of a Buddha. The beautiful plants, warming sun, gentle rain, and breath-taking views are all unowned offerings on my virtual shrine.
The birds, insects, and passing people are all my kind mothers of former lives, reminding me of the urgency of attaining enlightenment so I may effortlessly benefit all living beings.
The footpaths become the paths of Lamrim, Lojong and Mahamudra, leading me to everlasting happiness and joy.
Once I noticed seven puddles evenly spaced along the path, like the seven water bowls upon my shrine. Using mantra I transformed them into pure nectar and increased them so I could offer them to the Field of Merit that fills the sky in front of me. The Buddhas were delighted. My Spiritual Guide’s instructions can transform even muddy puddles into moments of heart-bursting bliss.
Mourning a poppy
For as long as I’ve had a garden I’ve desperately wanted to grow poppies, without success. I once planted poppy seeds and tenderly nurtured the seedlings, only to discover they were not poppies at all. I see poppies wherever I go, except in my garden. That is, until this year — a poppy appeared! Such excitement as I imagined all the other poppies that would now surely follow.
This morning, though, while weeding, I was distracted by some unhappy thoughts and accidentally dug up the poppy. This lovely thing that I had wanted for so long had been taken from me by another of life’s ‘injustices’. I wasn’t sure whether to stomp about or cry.
I know! How selfish and silly of me. Thousands of people sick, livelihoods being lost, apartment blocks collapsing – and I am mourning a poppy. So I kept looking at the poppy wilting on the floor and asked Geshe-la to show me the lesson.
Two minutes later I was in tears. In the last two days my mum has had a potential cancer scare and is struggling mentally; and my beautiful daughter opened up to tell me how worried she is for her future: “Is this it, Mum? Do I work every day and then just die? What is the point of life?”
Neither of them have Dharma and it’s hard to comfort them properly without that. In that moment of intense grief for my family I realised that, hard as I try, I will never be able to make samsara right. Just as I cannot stop poppies from dying, so I cannot stop my mum from dying. Whether it’s now or in 10 years’ time, whatever I do, she will die. Just as I cannot force poppies to grow, so I cannot change the world for my daughters. I am absolutely powerless in the face of all the suffering in samsara.
This poppy provided a precious realisation of humility and renunciation. I cannot do these things now as an ordinary person, but I do have a Spiritual Guide who has taught me that, if I attain enlightenment, I can help them and all living beings to become safe and permanently happy. I must work harder to make this happen. I can fill my Pure Land with poppies and love. May it be soon.
A rippling pond
Sitting by a pond, I was contemplating the similarities between the surface of the pond and my mind. Just as the pond reflects everything that appears around it, so too does my mind appear everything.
When the pond was still, everything was reflected in it perfectly; but as soon as a leaf fell on it, a fish came up for air, or a duck paddled across it, the reflections were distorted beyond recognition. Quite quickly, though, the ripples would still, and mirror-like, clear images would re-appear.
In the same way my peace can be disturbed by events – a perceived criticism, a separation, or an unwanted arrival – at which point my mind distorts everything, my whole world agitated by anger or grief.
One difference between the pond and my mind is that the pond ripples but quickly calms, whereas when my mind is disturbed it can take so much longer for the effects to end because I keep revisiting the event in my memory. I keep stirring up my mind with judging, criticising, complaining responses long after the event has come and gone.
How much simpler and less painful my life would be if I could observe and accept events and let them pass, almost unnoticed, in the same way that the pond, when disturbed, simply absorbs the ripples and returns to its natural state. Not anticipating, not remembering, just peacefully reflecting the world.
When the turbulence of distracting thoughts subsides and our mind becomes still, a deep happiness and contentment naturally arises from within. ~ How to Transform Your Life
The impermanence of bluebells
Walking in the woods at the end of winter, I am thinking about how it won’t be long now until the bluebells are blooming again. How many more times will I see them bloom in my lifetime? 25? Once? Who knows. But I can’t be unhappy about my own death because everything is impermanent; and is it not impermanence that makes beauty like this possible? Without impermanence there is no death, but also no birth, no growth, no renewal. Just as I welcome the bluebells, so must I learn to welcome the endings that make the new beginnings possible.
Your comments for our guest writer are very welcome below!