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!
It’s quite early, 6am and I have just read your article. I’ve tried to practice Kadampa Buddhism 🕉 the past 24 years or so! It was always very prominent in my life and I had time to attend classes, go to weekend teachings and attend a spring festival! My Mother, who lives with me was okay with this. Then Lockdown came and luckily I could practice with others daily online. My physical attendance at a centre had declined before this due to things beyond my control! It was so lovely to have a daily connection, being and feeling part of the Sangha again and then after about 2 years, no more online. That was stopped. I was not connected anymore! Personal attendance was back. My Mother, whose lived with me since she was 63 years is now 101! She got Alzheimer’s Dementia in Lockdown. Is deteriorating, and I’m her full time, only Carer! I only have time these days it seems to say the odd Buddhist Prayers and cannot attend a centre, go to classes and be with Monks, Nuns and Sangha. I know caring for my Mother is a good thing and I’m desperate to keep her out of institutional care, but the looking after her is increasing over time. I worry about her, and about her having a good, peaceful, death, and I worry about me and how I’m coping, and become tearful! Death and Impermanence is part of life we are taught in Buddhism, but it’s so hard to actually go through the process with a loved one! The stages of mental and physical decline/deterioration and the changing before ones own eyes, of the person you love and who loves you, and the loosing of what once was them and their essence. I much appreciated your article. It showed me that Buddhism is in my life, even though most times these days, I feel it isn’t, and it is not meaningful, and there is no one or nothing there for me. Heartfelt thanks 🙏 Jan.
Oh Lisa, you made me cry. How hard Samsara is and what a truly wonderful daughter you are.
I honestly believe that taking care of you loved ones accumulates so much merit. If you could remember (I’m not very good at it but try) to generate a Dharma intention before all of your actions and then dedicate straight after, it would have the same effect as ritualistic practice.
Gen Chodor advised us to divide the day into smaller chunks, set the intention of that chunk and then dedicate.
For example may the care I give me mother today be a cause for our enlightenment. I dedicate the merit I accumulate caring for my mother for the benefit of all living beings, to quickly attain enlightenment.
With mindfulness all your actions will be transformed.
Sending love ❤️
Thank you Jan
Inspiring & thought provoking.. I’m in a similar vein.. through Dharma I have made sense of so much & like yourself & others, realise the things good or not so good in the past are beyond change.. I now give time to others, I see dharma in everything around me & except the things my past has created
Thanks Jan x
Hi Simon, thanks for your lovely comment, that needs to be on a poster ‘these things are beyond change.’ It’s interesting in an impermanent world that so much of what we hold onto and worry about is ‘beyond change.’
Wonderful that you’re helping others,I’m sure you make a great difference to people ❤️
Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve been really struggling for a few months now, and we are living in a state with no Kadampa centers. I miss my sangha, and my practice has really fallen off as we are trying to get our farm and business going while I continue to work full time. I’m embarrassed by how much I’m struggling lately (my self-cherishing mind tells me that as a former Dharma teacher, I should be handling life much better). We’ve lost two beloved pets in as many months, and both my husband’s father and mine are currently going through their own cancer scares. Lately every day presents me with reminders of how awful Samsara is, and how nothing we do can ever fix it. But I keep forgetting to look at it that way. We even named our homestead Pure Land Homestead as a reminder to look at everything around us as beautiful offerings, and to think of the hard work it takes to maintain as offerings as well. But lately, the ripples in my mind just don’t settle back down much at all.
Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone in that, and for being the example I needed for today.
strangely I’m filled with such a strong sense of how well you’re being taken care of just now. These very difficult times, when we feel like we’re losing connection, are so necessary to our renunciation.
How would we ever want to be free if things kept working out for us?
The important thing is to ride the wave while keeping the understanding in your heart that it’s all an emanation, bringing you home. Never doubt that.
Say mantras as much as you can and always remember you are loved ❤️
Very inspiring, thank you!
Thank you for letting me know it was helpful, that makes me happy ❤️
I really enjoyed your article Jan, especially about the bluebells (my favourite spring bloom from my childhood), that there are no new beginnings without endings. Thank you for the wonderful reminder of transforming daily activities into the Path, and the beauty of impermanence.
Thank you for your lovely comment Sheila. I walked in the bluebell woods with my daughter last week. I always feel so peaceful and, as you say, it evokes other happy memories of previous years. May you see many more ❤️
Lovely! I try to practice dharma in that way too! It feels that when you live it in daily activities, the practicality of it gives a lot of power when you need to share it with someone who is suffering and open to hear!🙏
You may get this reply twice as my first one didn’t seem to save but I really wanted to respond.
There is so much kindness in what you say, that you practice for the benefit of others; and that you are skilful, making sure they are ready to receive advice.
I’m sure your kind heart benefits many people ❤️
Another lovely ‘life application’ dharma reminder Jan J. Thank you xx
Thank you Kay, I hope you’re keeping well and happy ❤️
I really liked the imagery of the dandelions. I get everything you say about them being like our karma, but I thought about lojong, and how some people like to use dandelion roots for tea, or to eat their leaves in a salad, so they are not inherently bad. But that is just an intellectual observation. I wish I could actually transform more of the apparently negatives of my life in the way you are doing with your offerings and acknowledgment of impermanence.
Hello Jan I love Luna kadampa and I also loved reading your article thank you so much.
Your brought tears to my eyes with the compassion for your daughters and your mum being and being unable to do anything as this is Samsara.
I loved your reflection on the stillness of the pond and also the actions of your younger self. These are all things that I have felt myself and I am so thankful that I have Dharma in my life to transform the ordinary events and views that I perceive to being in a pure land.
I hope one day maybe I will meet you at one of the festivals😊🙏Dawn x
Such a beautiful name you have, always new beginnings ❤️
I love Luna Kadampa too, she works so hard to help us. It’s so incredibly kind of her to share her years of experience with Geshe La with all of us.
I’m glad my thoughts were helpful and I’m sure we’ll bump into each other one day. ❤️
When I first started Dharma, I felt I was too impure to be in front of a shrine with all these holy beings, and later I realized this was exactly where I needed to be. I loved your analogy of the dandelion, it really resonated. Geshe’la has given us a true path, in which we have the opportunity to apply Dharma into all our activities. I believe the guru is always with us, teaching us the lessons we need to learn. You have shown that example in your beautiful insights. Thank you,
Thank you for your lovely comment, it really moved me. I remember that feeling when I first went to teachings at the Buddhist Centre, that I wouldn’t be a good enough person to be a Buddhist. Then I heard that we all have Buddha nature and with effort can become just like him.
You show beautiful humility and I’m sure the Buddhas are so delighted when you come before them ❤️
Thank you, this was lovely to read. I struggle with book studies so I too use the natural world and each day’s experiences as my Dharma teacher.
Thank you for leaving a comment, it’s lovely to hear what people think.
Buddha was so kind giving us all ways to practice Dharma that work for us.
May your time in nature bring you much wisdom and happiness ❤️🌸🌲